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Belgium

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation. Federal law bans covering one’s face in public. On March 7, the Court of Assizes in Brussels (the highest criminal court) convicted French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche of murder in the killings of four persons at the Belgian Jewish Museum in 2014 and sentenced him to life in prison. Longstanding applications for government recognition by Buddhists and Hindus remained pending. As previously announced, the federal government’s termination of Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels became effective on March 31; the mosque remained open under management of the local Muslim community, pending a more permanent restructuring. The Flemish minister of interior withdrew the recognition of one mosque, reducing the number of recognized mosques nationally to 83. Pending responses to questions it posed to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the Constitutional Court postponed a ruling on challenges by Jewish and Muslim groups to laws in Wallonia and Flanders that came into effect during the year and that banned the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. In June the Liege prosecutor dropped discrimination charges against a man who in 2014 posted a sign outside his cafe saying dogs were welcome but Jews were not. In November the West Flanders public prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute four supporters of the soccer team Club Brugge for participating in anti-Semitic chants during a match in August 2018.

There were incidents of religiously motivated violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Jews and Muslims. The government’s Center for Equal Opportunities, Unia, preliminarily reported for 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, 101 anti-Semitic incidents (109 in 2017), and 307 incidents (319 in 2017) against other religious groups, 90 percent of which targeted Muslims. Unia also reported a large increase in online hate speech during the first six months of the year, with 740 reported instances, compared with 369 in 2018 for the same period. In September a European Commission study found that 65 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey indicating 50 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem. Media reported that in March a driver attempted to run over two veiled Muslim sisters while they were picking up their children from school. According to Unia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media, incidents of religious discrimination toward Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in media and in schools during the year, including ones related to the Holocaust. Media reported in March during the Aalst Carnival, a group displayed a float depicting negative Jewish stereotypes. During the campaign leading up to general elections in May, unknown individuals photoshopped or tagged on social media anti-Semitic statements or caricatures on the campaign material or photographs from several candidates, including Prime Minister Charles Michel.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice to discuss anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and discrimination. Embassy officials also discussed with government officials the continued efforts of Buddhist and Hindu groups to obtain recognition and the status of the government’s plans to encourage more mosques to apply for official recognition as places of worship. The Department of State Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their concerns. The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with NGOs and religious leaders in Brussels and other communities to address anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment, and to promote religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.6 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a December 2018 survey conducted by GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, 57.1 percent is Roman Catholic, 2.3 percent Protestant, 2.8 percent other Christian, 6.8 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 0.6 percent Orthodox, 0.3 percent Jewish, 0.3 percent Buddhist, 9.1 percent atheist, 20.2 percent “nonbeliever/agnostic,” and 0.5 percent other. A 2015 study by the Catholic University of Louvain estimates the Muslim portion of the population is 7 percent. According to the study, a plurality of Muslims resides in Flanders (42.2 percent); it estimates 35.5 percent of Muslims reside in Brussels and 22.3 percent in Wallonia. According to Catholic University of Louvain sociologist Jan Hertogen, based on data in the 2015 study, 24.2 percent of the Brussels population and 7.5 percent of the Antwerp population is Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of worship, including its public practice, and freedom of expression, provided no crime is committed in the exercise of these freedoms. It states no individual may be required to participate in any religious group’s acts or ceremonies or to observe the group’s religious days of rest, and it bars the state from interfering in the appointment of religious clergy or blocking the publication of religious documents. It obligates the state to pay the salaries and pensions of religious clergy (according to law, to qualify these clergy must work in recognized houses of worship and be certified by those religious groups), as well as those of representatives of organizations recognized by the law as providing moral assistance based on a nonconfessional philosophy.

The law prohibits discrimination based on religious or philosophical (e.g., nonconfessional) orientation. Federal law prohibits public statements inciting religious hatred, including Holocaust denial. Discrimination based on Jewish descent is distinguished from discrimination against Jewish religious practices. The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year in prison.

The government officially recognizes Catholicism, Protestantism (including evangelicals and Pentecostals), Judaism, Anglicanism (separately from other Protestant groups), Islam, Orthodox (Greek and Russian) Christianity, and secular humanism.

The requirements to obtain official recognition are not legally defined. The legal basis for official recognition is the constitution and other laws and interpretations, some of which predate the constitution itself. A religious group seeking official recognition applies to the Ministry of Justice, which then recommends approval or rejection to parliament, which votes on the application. The government evaluates whether the group meets organizational and reporting requirements and applies criteria based on administrative and legislative precedents in deciding whether to recommend granting recognition to a religious group. The religious group must have a structure or hierarchy, a “sufficient number” of members, and a “long period” of existence in the country. It must offer “social value” to the public, abide by the laws of the state, and respect public order. The government does not formally define “sufficient number,” “long period of time,” or “social value.” Final approval is the sole responsibility of the federal parliament; however, parliament generally accepts the ministry’s recommendation.

The law requires each officially recognized religion to have an official interlocutor, such as an office composed of one or more representatives of the religion plus administrative staff, to support the government in its constitutional duty of providing the material conditions for the free exercise of religion. The functions performed by the interlocutor include certification of clergy and teachers of the religion, assistance in the development of the religious curriculum in schools, and oversight of the management of houses of worship.

The federal government provides financial support for officially recognized religious groups. The subsidies for recognized groups include payment of clergy salaries and for maintenance and equipment for facilities and places of worship, as well as tax exemptions. Denominations or divisions within the recognized religious groups (Shia Islam, Reform Judaism, or Lutheranism, for example) do not receive support or recognition separate from their parent religious group. Parent religious groups distribute subsidies according to their statutes, which may also include salaries to ministers and public funding for renovation or facility maintenance. Unrecognized groups do not receive government subsidies but may worship freely and openly.

There are procedures for individual houses of worship of recognized religious groups to obtain recognition and state subsidies. To do so, a house of worship must meet requirements set by the region in which it is located and by the federal Ministry of Justice. These requirements include transparency and legality of accounting practices, renunciation of foreign sources of income for ministers of religion working in the facility, compliance with building and fire safety codes, and certification of the minister of religion by the relevant interlocutor body. Recognized houses of worship also receive subsidies from the linguistic communities and municipalities for the upkeep of religious buildings. Houses of worship or other religious groups that are unable or choose not to meet these requirements may organize as nonprofit associations and benefit from lower taxes but not government subsidies. Houses of worship in this situation (i.e., not completing the recognition process) may still be affiliated with an officially recognized religious group.

There is a federal ban on covering one’s face in public. Women who wear the full-face veil in public face a maximum fine of 137.50 euros ($150).

Bans on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning enacted by the Flanders and Walloon regional governments took effect on January 1and September 1, respectively. The Brussels region still allows ritual slaughtering without stunning. The legislation does not prevent halal and kosher meat from being imported from abroad.

The constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief. The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes. All public schools offer religious or “moral” instruction oriented toward citizenship and moral values. Outside of Flanders, these courses are mandatory; parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses. Francophone schools offer a mandatory one-hour per week “philosophy and citizenship” course plus an additional one-hour mandatory course on either philosophy and citizenship or the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling.

Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference. Teachers of religion are permitted to express their religious beliefs and wear religious attire, even if school policy otherwise forbids such attire. Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister. Private, authorized religious schools (limited to schools operated by recognized religious groups), known as “free” schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes. Teachers at these religious schools are civil servants, and their salaries, as well as subsidies for the schools’ operating expenses, are paid for by the respective linguistic community, municipality, or province.

Unia is a publicly funded but independent agency responsible for reviewing discrimination complaints, including those of a religious nature, and attempting to resolve them through mediation or arbitration. The agency lacks legal powers to enforce resolution of cases but may refer them to the courts.

The justice minister appoints a magistrate in each judicial district to monitor discrimination cases and oversee their prosecution, including those involving religion, as a criminal act.

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

Government Practices

Some observers continued to state a number of mosques opted not to seek official recognition because they received sufficient foreign funding and preferred to operate without government oversight. Notwithstanding a stated government policy of extending recognition to more mosques (which would make them eligible for government funding) and curbing foreign, radical Islamic influence over them by reducing the mosques’ reliance on foreign funding and providing authorities with greater oversight, the number of recognized mosques decreased. The Flemish regional minister of interior questioned the existing recognition of some mosques and withdrew recognition of one of them during the year, reducing the number of recognized mosques nationally from 84 to 83. The Flemish government, formed on September 30, announced a strengthening of the recognition criteria by strengthening the security screening of mosques to ensure imams and worshippers were not radicalized and were not subject to direct foreign influence.

Longstanding applications for government recognition by Buddhists and Hindus remained pending at year’s end. Buddhists filed a request for recognition in 2008, and Hindus in 2013. Representatives of the Buddhist and Hindu communities said they did not receive an official explanation for the delay as of year’s end. There were no other pending recognition requests by religious groups. Despite the lack of recognition, Buddhists continued to receive federal government subsidies. The government did not give Hindus any subsidies. In September a member of parliament submitted a draft bill calling for the recognition of Buddhism and for a 74,100 euro ($83,300) annual subsidy to Hindus.

The government maintained its ban on the wearing of religious symbols by employees in public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public. The September agreement forming a coalition government in Flanders stated the Flemish network for public schools, Go!, would enforce a general ban on wearing headscarves. The ban applied to schools in Flanders and Flemish schools in Brussels. Even before the Flemish government’s announcement, virtually all public schools in Flanders maintained such a ban. Most public schools outside of Flanders also continued to ban headscarves, in accordance with government policy allowing individual schools to decide whether to impose such bans. According to media reports, at least 90 percent of Francophone community public schools banned headscarves.

There were no reported changes in procedures by city and town administrations, which Muslim groups have said withhold or delay approval for the construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers. In Court-St.-Etienne, construction of a mosque financed with private contributions began in February. Local authorities approved the project in 2018 after delays and four previous rejections. In April city authorities in Lodelinsart approved a mosque construction project, with revisions, after neighbors filed 119 complaints against the project. In September city authorities denied a proposed mosque construction in Jette; neighbors had filed 154 complaints against that project, citing such issues as the scope of the construction and its impact on parking and transportation.

As announced in 2018 following a parliamentary commission report on terrorist attacks, the federal government terminated Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels effective March 31. The government said it terminated the lease because the Great Mosque was spreading Wahhabi Salafism, which the government stated played a role in spreading violent radicalism. Saudi Arabia had signed a 99-year lease for the building in 1969. The government called for the creation of a new, pan-Islamic institution to manage the mosque and said the Muslim Executive, the Muslim community’s official representative in discussions with the government, would be responsible for creating the institution and ensuring it began managing the mosque by the lease termination date. The transition, which was not completed by March 31, continued at year’s end. The Great Mosque, however, remained open, operated by the Muslim Executive under a temporary contract.

The Jewish and Muslim communities maintained their legal challenge to the decisions by the Flanders and Walloon regional governments to ban slaughter without prior stunning. The Walloon ban went into effect on September 1. There were no temporary slaughterhouses authorized in Brussels and Walloon Region to carry out slaughter without prior stunning during Islamic holidays. A large slaughterhouse that performed ritual slaughter continued to operate in Brussels but could not accommodate all requests. The Belgian Constitutional Court had been scheduled to decide the issue on April 4 but postponed its ruling and sought guidance from the CJEU. Specifically, the Constitutional Court asked the CJEU to clarify restrictions and exemptions regarding ritual slaughter, the scope of these rules and their compatibility with religious freedom, and the distinction between ritual slaughter and other forms of animal killing. At year’s end, the CJEU had not responded to the Constitutional Court’s queries. More than 50 religious groups appealed to the Constitutional Court to overturn the slaughter ban, according to Religion News Service.

In April eight religious leaders representing the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim communities issued a public statement calling for schools in the country to maintain compulsory religion courses, which they said encouraged dialogue among cultures and religions. The statement followed recommendations by some politicians to introduce secularism in the constitution, which some observers said could eventually lead to an end of religious courses in schools. The government decided not to consider a change in the constitution.

According to a report on the website of state broadcaster Belgian Francophone Radio and Television, following the May general elections, federal railway agency employees in Brussels who supported what political analysts described as far-right parties delivered Nazi salutes and made racist comments at work. The company opened an internal investigation of these acts and released a public statement denouncing them.

Media reported that in June the Liege prosecutor dropped discrimination charges against a Turkish man who in 2014 put a sign on the door outside his cafe reading in French, “Entrance allowed for dogs, but not for Zionists” and in Turkish, “In this establishment, dogs are allowed, but Jews will never be.” A spokesperson for the Liege prosecutor’s office did not provide a reason for dismissing the charges.

Media reported that in November the West Flanders public prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute four supporters of the soccer team Club Brugge for singing anti-Semitic songs during a match in August 2018. The individuals were among a group of fans who chanted, “My father was a commando, my mother was in the SS, together they burned Jews, ‘cause Jews burn the best.” In 2018 the national soccer association banned the four from entering all major stadiums in the country for three years. According to media, prosecutors explained their decision saying the stadium ban was sufficient punishment. Michael Freilich, a Jewish parliamentarian (MP) from the New Flemish Alliance Party, criticized the decision.

In 2018, the most recent year for which information was available, the Ministry of Justice allocated approximately 112 million euros ($125.8 million) to religious and secular humanist groups (up slightly from 111 million euros [$124.7 million] in 2017): 92.3 million euros ($103.7 million) to recognized religious groups (including 4.9 million euros [$5.5 million] to Muslims; the individual allocations to other religious groups were unavailable), 19.5 million euros ($21.9 million) to secular humanists, and 160,000 euros ($180,000) to Buddhists. According to the 2018 report of the Observatory of Religions and Secularism at the Free University of Brussels, the Muslim community, unlike other recognized religious groups, continued to receive a smaller percentage of the government’s allocation than what nongovernmental sources estimated was its current share of the population.

Police continued to offer a voluntary, day-long course, “The Holocaust, the Police, and Human Rights” at the Dossin Barracks in Malines, site of a Holocaust museum and memorial. The training consisted of a visit to the museum at the barracks site from which Nazis transported Jews and Roma to concentration camps to the east during World War II, and a workshop focusing on radicalization, collective violence, exclusion, and polarization. The training was a joint collaboration among federal and local police, the center at the Dossin Barracks, and Unia. According to federal police, approximately 10,000 persons, approximately one-fifth of the total force, had undergone the training since its inception in 2014.

In January the government revived a federal-level taskforce to combat anti-Semitism, in response to Unia’s request to reactivate the “Anti-Semitism Council.” The council was created in 2004 to combat anti-Semitism but had not met since 2013. Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Equal Opportunities Kris Peeters said the government revived the taskforce in response to evidence from national and European Union (EU)-level rapporteurs that violent, anti-Semitic incidents were on the rise in recent years.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media and NGOs, including Amnesty International, the Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium, and Unia reported incidents of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews during the year. Unia reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents – which it defined as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against Jewish religious practices and tracked separately – and 307 complaints of other religious discrimination or harassment in 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 109 anti-Semitic incidents and 319 other complaints in 2017. Approximately 90 percent of incidents targeted Muslims. There were three incidents against Christians, 12 against Jewish religious practices, and four against nonbelievers. According to Unia, 37.1 percent of the incidents in 2018 involved speech in media or on the internet (slightly less than half of these media/internet complaints involved Facebook postings); 18.2 percent concerned discrimination in the workplace; and 23.3 percent occurred in the education sector (where a plurality of incidents involved restrictions or prohibitions on wearing of the hijab).

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 65 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Belgium, while 34 percent said it was rare; 82 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 93 percent said they would be with an atheist, 92 percent with a Jew, 89 percent with a Muslim, and 92 percent with a Buddhist. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 97 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 89 percent if atheist, 82 percent if Jewish, 84 percent if Buddhist, and 71 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 50 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Belgium, and 48 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 57 percent; on the internet, 61 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 52 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 59 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 54 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 56 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 52 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 46 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 45 percent.

In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 50 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Belgium; 38 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 40 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

In January the Brussels Criminal Court sentenced an Orthodox Christian woman to three years in jail for stabbing her daughter in the abdomen and under the chin after the daughter converted to Islam and secretly married a Muslim.

According to media reports, on March 22, a driver cursed at and attempted to run over two veiled Muslim sisters while they were picking up their children from school. One of the women told the press that in 10 years in the country they had never experienced problems before. “I am still in shock,” she said. Police arrested the driver. As of year’s end no further information was available on the case.

Media reported that on June 11, security guards stopped an Iraqi man carrying three knives as he tried to enter the Romi Goldmuntz Synagogue in Antwerp during a Jewish holiday. Police arrested the man. As of year’s end no further information was available on the case.

Unia reported 56 complaints of workplace discrimination based on religion in 2018, compared with 82 in 2017. The reported discrimination principally targeted Muslims.

According to Unia, NGOs, and media, incidents of religious discrimination toward Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements.

In May Unia supported a complaint to the labor court filed by a Muslim woman who said the Brussels public transportation company denied her employment because she wore a headscarf. In its plea the Unia legal advisor alleged general discrimination specifically against Muslim women who wear the headscarf, rather than more broadly against Muslims or women within the company.

Unia preliminarily reported a doubling of notifications of online hate speech during the first six months of the year to 740, compared with 369 notifications during the same period in 2018. Unia stated notifications consisted of initial reports, not all of which it would, after investigation, accept as actual instances of discrimination. In addition, some notifications were duplicate reports of the same incident, and not all online hate speech notifications were linked to religion. According to Unia, the run-up to the general elections, which took place in May, was a “traditional peak” time for online hate speech.

During the campaign leading up to general elections in May, unknown persons photoshopped or tagged on social media anti-Semitic statements or caricatures on the campaign material or photographs from several candidates, including Prime Minister Michel. In April a Communist Party activist posted on Facebook a photoshopped picture depicting Prime Minister Michel as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. The man subsequently removed the post.

Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in media and in schools during the year, including on the Holocaust. La Derniere Heure, a daily newspaper, reported that on November 16, a high school teacher in Huy, who taught about Islam as part of the religious studies curriculum, posted on his Facebook page a video of an imam’s sermon. In the video, the imam said, “For those who cooperate with the Jews, work with the Jews, and those who plot with the Jews, O Allah, take them very quickly and without delay, O Allah, shake their bases and destroy their structures.” Education ministry officials in Wallonia said they filed a hate speech complaint against the teacher with police.

In September the European Jewish Association issued a statement protesting an online sign language video dictionary compiled by the public University of Ghent, which included a gesture signaling a hooked nose as the definition of “Jew.” European Jewish Association Director Menachem Margolin called that and another video depicting Jews racist and demeaning and asked the university to remove them from the dictionary. The university subsequently added a label under the video showing the hooked nose gesture indicating the sign had a “negative connotation.”

In March during the Aalst Carnival, the group Vismooil’n displayed a float depicting Orthodox Jews with crooked noses standing atop bags of gold coins, with one of the figures carrying a white rat on its shoulder. A number of Jewish groups, including B’nai B’rith International and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said they were “sickened” or “disgusted” with the display, and several, including the Coordination Committee of Jewish Organizations of Belgium (CCOJB), filed a complaint with Unia. In a statement, the groups said, “…at worst, this is a reproduction of the worst anti-Semitic caricatures of the Nazi era.” According to the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper, a spokesperson for the European Commission stated, “It is unthinkable that such imagery is being paraded on European streets 70 years after the Holocaust.” While Unia did not assess the float to be illegal, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) condemned the parade and said it was considering removing the annual event from its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Citing freedom of expression, Aalst Mayor Christoph d’Haese said the float should be allowed. In early December, shortly before the date UNESCO had said it would announce its decision on the status of the carnival, d’Haese requested UNESCO remove the carnival from the heritage list, stating the organization was biased and had already made the decision to drop the carnival. On December 13, UNESCO removed the carnival from the heritage list, stating it had done so because of the “repetition of racist and anti-Semitic representations.”

In a February video posted on social media, students at Pater Jozefleten Catholic High School in the town of Melle were shown dressed as “Saudi Muslims.” One of the students dressed as a suicide bomber, wearing a black face mask and a belt of fake explosives. The video also showed female students wearing full veils and a fake imam leading students in a simulated prayer session. Following the appearance of the footage, there was a wave of criticism on social media. In a statement posted on the school’s Facebook page, the school principal later said the event in question was a school tradition, part of the pregraduation celebration for students in their senior year, during which the students dressed in different costumes on different days; their intention, he added, was not to insult anyone.

In April the Islamic Union in Brussels launched a “Good morning, I’m Muslim” campaign in that city and in the cities of Antwerp, Charleroi, Genk, Liege, and Namur. Muslim volunteers engaged in conversations with the public and distributed flyers and red roses in what organizers said was an effort to dispel anti-Muslim prejudice.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed continued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment in meetings with representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice; and regional governments. Embassy officials also discussed with government officials the continued efforts of Buddhist and Hindu groups to obtain government recognition and the status of the government’s plans to encourage more mosques to apply for official recognition as places of worship.

The Department of State Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism visited Brussels in May and met with head of the Jewish Consistoire Philippe Markiewicz, with Unia directors, and with the director of the human rights division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Special Envoy also met with Jewish groups on issues of concern, particularly the ban on ritual slaughter in Flanders and Wallonia. With the Ambassador, he visited the Jewish Museum in Brussels and attended an iftar for Jews and Muslims organized by the museum in a show of support for interreligious dialogue and tolerance.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with religious leaders to discuss incidents of religious discrimination and ways to counter public manifestations of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment. They continued engagement with activists from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities, including with leaders from the Consistoire (official representatives of authorities for Jewish community matters with the government), the Muslim Executive, and the CCOJB to promote interreligious understanding.

From October 2018 through March, the embassy sponsored an exhibit at the Jewish Museum featuring a well-known Jewish-American photographer. At the embassy’s request, museum officials brought in disadvantaged youth (mainly Muslim) for a guided tour of the exhibit and to talk about empowerment, community activism, and art as peaceful tools to bring about positive societal change. The Ambassador also toured the exhibit together with museum officials.

On October 2, the Ambassador visited the Great Synagogue of Europe in Brussels with head of the Consistoire Markiewicz and Great Rabbi Albert Guigui. They discussed the Jewish community’s concerns about the rise of anti-Semitism.

On October 28, the Ambassador and other embassy officials visited the Jewish Orthodox community of Antwerp at the invitation of a federal MP. Embassy officials discussed with community representatives issues of concern, including what they saw as the secular and anticlerical nature of the country, the ban on ritual slaughtering, and possible future hurdles to Jewish religious practices.

During Ramadan, the embassy hosted a panel discussion on Muslim identity featuring several prominent Muslims who had previously participated in embassy-funded exchange programs in the United States. The audience consisted of other former participants of embassy exchange programs, all of whom participated in an iftar immediately after the panel, where there was continued discussion of issues of religious freedom and tolerance.

The embassy used social media to promote religious freedom. In October the embassy posted to its Facebook page about the Ambassador’s visit to Antwerp, during which he met with Jewish community leaders to discuss anti-Semitism, visited the Antwerp Grand Synagogue, and paid his respects at the Holocaust Memorial monument for the Jews deported during WWII. In November the embassy posted on its Facebook page about the meeting in Ghent between the Ambassador and founders of CIRRA.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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Ukraine

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government does not regulate religious instruction in private schools.

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

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

The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

Denmark

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs. It establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, which has privileges not available to other religious groups. Other religious groups must register with the government to receive tax and other benefits. A state-funded institute reported Christian converts and practitioners at Muslim-majority asylum centers were at risk in potential conflict situations the government could not control. The government revoked the registration of nine religious groups during the year. Parliament again took up consideration of, but did not vote on, a citizen’s petition that would legislate a ban on the circumcision of minors. Additional provisions of the government’s action plan against “vulnerable neighborhoods,” which included Muslim-majority areas, entered into force on July 1. The plan included education of Christian holiday traditions in mandatory daycare for children of families receiving government benefits. The country’s largest Muslim school closed in December 2018 after the government ceased funding it amid what it stated were concerns about the school leadership’s handling of finances and quality of education. The Stram Kurs Party, which advocated deporting all Muslims and banning Islam, garnered enough signatures to run candidates for parliament in June elections and held demonstrations in which it burned the Quran; it received 1.8 percent of the vote, short of the threshold to enter parliament. Muslim candidates in those elections reported significant harassment from other Muslims. The government added eight new persons to a list of foreign preachers it banned from the country and removed five, bringing the total on the list to 13 persons.

Police reported 112 religiously motivated crimes in 2018, the most recent year for which data were available, 21 percent fewer than in 2017. There were 63 incidents against Muslims and 26 against Jews. Most incidents involved harassment, hate speech, and vandalism, including desecration of cemeteries. Separately, the Jewish community reported 45 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, 50 percent more than in 2017, including assault, physical harassment, threats, vandalism, discrimination and hate speech. There were also reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents during the year. Jewish and Muslim community leaders stated most victims did not report incidents because they believed police would not follow up. In September a man operating a city bus in Norrebro drove the vehicle into a group of marching Muslims while shouting, according to witnesses, “Go home.” There were no injuries. Prosecutors charged the driver with willful endangerment. According to a European Commission (EC) survey, 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. Another EC survey found 43 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 50 percent said it had increased over the previous five years.

U.S. embassy officials met with national police representatives to discuss religiously motivated hates crimes and upcoming programs to combat them, and separately engaged with staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Freedom of Religion Unit. The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with religious groups, including Jews, Muslims, and Christian groups, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), to discuss their concerns and stress the importance of religious tolerance and diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to an October estimate by Statistics Denmark, a government entity, 74.7 percent of all citizens are ELC members.

The University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies estimated in January there are 320,000 Muslims, 5.5 percent of the population. Muslim groups are concentrated in the largest cities, particularly Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include, in descending order of size, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Baptists, Buddhists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pentecostals, the Baha’i Faith, and nondenominational Christians. According to a survey released in October by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, approximately 11 percent of the population does not identify as belonging to a religious group or identifies as “atheist.” Although estimates vary, the Jewish Society (previously known as Mosaiske) stated there are approximately 7,000 Jews, most of whom live in the Copenhagen metropolitan area.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the ELC as the country’s established church, which shall receive state support and to which the reigning monarch must belong. The constitution also states individuals shall be free to form congregations to worship according to their beliefs, providing nothing “at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done.” It specifies that “rules for religious bodies dissenting from the established Church shall be laid down by statute.” It stipulates no person may be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs, and that these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with civic duty. It prohibits requiring individuals to make personal financial contributions to religious denominations to which they do not adhere.

The law prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech, and specifies as penalties a fine (amount unspecified) or a maximum of one year’s imprisonment. If a religious leader disseminates the hate speech, the penalties increase to a fine or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment.

The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary taxes paid through payroll deduction from its members. Members receive a tax credit for their donations to the ELC. Voluntary taxes account for an estimated 86 percent of the ELC’s operating budget; the remaining 14 percent is provided through a combination of voluntary donations by congregants and government grants. Members of other recognized religious communities cannot contribute via payroll deduction but may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive an income tax credit. The ELC and other state-recognized religious communities carry out registration of civil unions, births, and deaths for their members.

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups, besides the ELC, through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration. The law requires individual congregations within a religious community to formally register with the government to receive tax benefits. According to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, there are 448 religious groups and congregations the government officially recognizes or that are affiliated with recognized groups: 338 Christian groups, 66 Muslim, 16 Buddhist, seven Hindu, three Jewish, and 18 other groups and congregations, including the Baha’i Faith, the Alevi Muslim community, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr.

Recognized religious groups have the right to perform legal marriage ceremonies, name and baptize children with legal effect, issue legal death certificates, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive tax-deductible financial donations and various value-added tax exemptions. The law allows only religious communities recognized before 1970 to issue birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates. This privilege will expire for all religious communities except the ELC in 2023. Members of other religious communities or individuals unaffiliated with a recognized religious group may have birth and death certificates only issued by the health authority.

Groups not recognized by either royal decree or the government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration. Members of those groups, however, must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted full tax-exempt status, but contributions by members are tax-deductible.

The law codifies the registration process for religious communities other than the ELC and treats equally those recognized by royal decree and those approved through registration. A religious community must have at least 150 adult members, while a congregation, which the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs considers a group within one of the major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam), must have at least 50 adult members to be eligible for approval. For congregations located in sparsely populated regions, such as Greenland, the government applies a lower population threshold, varying according to the total population of the region.

Religious groups seeking registration must submit to the Faith Registry in the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs a document on the group’s central traditions; a description of its most important rituals; a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure; an audited financial statement (which they must submit annually); information about the group’s leadership; and a statement on the number of adult members permanently residing in the country. Groups also must have formal procedures for membership and make their teachings available to all members. The Ministry of Justice makes the final decision on registration applications after receiving recommendations from a group consisting of a lawyer, religious historian, sociologist of religion, and nonordained theologian. Religious groups that do not submit the annual financial statement or other required information may lose their registration status.

The law prohibits masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs, in public spaces. Violators face fines ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 Danish kroner ($150-$1,500). The maximum fine is for those who violate the law four or more times.

The law bans judges from wearing religious symbols, such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes while in court proceedings.

A law enacted in 2018 that came into effect on January 1 requires persons to shake hands during their naturalization ceremonies to obtain Danish citizenship.

All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. The Ministry of Education has oversight authority of private schools, which includes supervision of teaching standards, regulatory compliance, and financial screening. The Board of Education and Quality conducts systematic monitoring and has authority to issue directives to individual institutions, withhold grants, and terminate financial support. Public schools must teach ELC theology. The instructors are public school teachers rather than persons provided by the ELC. Religion classes are compulsory in grades 1-9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing. No alternative classes are offered. The ELC course curriculum in grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity. In grades 7-9, the curriculum adds a module on world religions. The course is optional in grade 10. If the student is aged 15 or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption. Private schools are also required to teach religion classes in grades 1-9, including world religion in grades 7-9. The religion classes taught in grades 1-9 need not include ELC theology. Collective prayer in schools is allowed, but each school may regulate religious activities in a neutral, nondiscriminatory manner. They may consist of ELC, other Christian, Islamic, or Jewish prayers, and students may opt out of participating.

Military service, typically for four months, is mandatory for all physically fit men older than 18. There is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including on religious grounds, allowing for alternative civilian service. An individual wishing to perform alternative service as a conscientious objector must apply within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service. The application is adjudicated by the Conscientious Objector Administration and must demonstrate that military service of any kind is incompatible with the individual’s conscience. The alternative service may take place in various social and cultural institutions, peace movements, organizations related to the United Nations, churches and ecumenical organizations, and environmental organizations.

The law prohibits ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning, including kosher and halal slaughter. The law allows for slaughter according to religious rites with prior stunning and limits such slaughter to cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. All slaughter must take place at a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouses practicing ritual slaughter are obliged to register with the Veterinary and Food Administration. Violations of this law are punishable by fines or up to four months in prison. Halal and kosher meat may be imported.

The law requires clergy members with legal authorization to officiate marriages to have an adequate mastery of the Danish language and to complete a two-day course on family law and civil rights administered by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs. The law also requires that religious workers “must not behave or act in a way that makes them unworthy to exercise public authority.” Religious workers the government perceives as not complying with the provisions may be stripped of their right to perform marriages.

By law, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration may prevent foreign religious figures who do not already have a residence permit from entering the country if it determines their presence poses a threat to public order. In such cases, the ministry places the individuals on a national sanctions list and bars them from entry into the country for two years, a period which it may extend.

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

Government Practices

An April report from the independent, but state-funded Danish Institute for Human Rights on “Religious Freedom in Danish Asylum Centers” stated Christian converts, atheists, women, and LGBTI residents constituted a vulnerable group in asylum centers with a Muslim majority. According to the report, these groups were particularly at risk for religiously motivated harassment or negative social pressure, and the centers lacked the resources to manage potential conflicts. It also stated religiously motivated harassment at asylum centers of Christian converts and the other vulnerable groups was underreported. On May 9, in response to an earlier question by parliament’s Integration and Immigration Committee requesting her reaction to the report, then-minister for immigration, integration and housing Inger Stojberg declined to comment, citing the forthcoming general election.

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs announced on December 18 it had revoked official recognition of nine religious communities for not providing required information to the Faith Registry. The ministry revoked the status of the following six groups for failing to report information on their religious beliefs, rituals, or bylaws as required by a law that came into force in 2018: the Congregation of Christians in Denmark in the Name of Jesus, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Sree Abirami Amman Temple, the Sikh Community Foundation of Denmark, the Jesus is Lord Church, and the Korean Church of Denmark. Loss of recognition entailed the loss of rights to conduct marriages and of tax benefits. The ministry revoked recognition of the other three religious groups, the Worldwide Church of God, the Danish Muslim Center, and the Majlis Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya, for not reporting required annual financial statements for 2018.

The total number of registered religious communities and congregations increased from just over 300 in 2018 to approximately 450 following full implementation of a 2018 law codifying the registration process for religious groups other than the ELC, as well as a government decree later that year requiring individual congregations within a religious community to register to receive tax benefits. According to a press release from the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, the increase came as religious congregation structures were clarified and some newly recognized faith groups were added to the list.

On October 3, members of parliament (MPs) of all major political parties except for the ruling Social Democrats and the leading opposition Venstre Party reintroduced a 2018 citizen proposal to ban full or partial circumcision of boys and girls under the age of 18. If adopted, the resolution, which called for a criminal penalty of up to six years in prison for violators, would require the government to introduce legislation banning circumcision of minors. In November the governing Social Democratic Party announced it would not support a ban on circumcising male children. Representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities said they remained staunchly opposed to the proposal. Henri Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Society and a physician, said in an interview with the Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper that the Jewish community continued to see the proposed ban as a very serious matter. At year’s end, parliament had tabled the resolution pending a review by the Danish Health Authority. Parliament debated the ban in 2018-19 but did not vote on it, and the proposal expired with the formation of a new government following elections in June.

From August 2018 to August 2019, the first 12-month period after the law banning masks and face coverings went into effect, authorities reported filing preliminary charges for violations of the law in 39 cases, of which 22 involved wearing of the burqa or niqab; of the 39 cases, authorities ultimately fined 23 persons.

The final provisions of the previous government’s action plan to eliminate “parallel societies,” which the government said emerged from what it called “ghetto” communities or “vulnerable neighborhoods,” went into effect on July 1. Media widely interpreted the concept of “vulnerable neighborhoods” to mean Muslim-majority communities. The government identified 30 districts across the country that it labeled “ghettoes.” The government’s definition of “ghetto” community was an area with more than 1,000 residents and where the share of immigrants and their descendants from non-Western countries was more than 50 percent.

To be deemed a “vulnerable neighborhood” and included on the “ghetto list,” two of the following criteria must also be met: the share of residents aged 18-64 who were unemployed or not enrolled in a formal education program exceeded 40 percent over the previous two years; the share of residents convicted of breaking the criminal code, the weapons or drug laws was at least three times greater than the national average over the previous two years; the share of residents aged 30-59 with only a basic education exceeded 60 percent; and the average gross income for taxable 15-64-year-olds (excluding those seeking education) was less than 55 percent of the average gross income for the same age group in the region.

Parliamentary initiatives enacted as part of the “ghetto package” included doubling of penalties for crimes committed in communities police designated as high crime (a provision that entered into force on January 1) and mandatory enrollment of children in daycare (effective on July 1). According to media reports, members of the Muslim community criticized the compulsory daycare program – which included instruction on “Danish values,” Christmas customs, and Easter traditions – for interfering in their ability to raise their children. Samiah Qasim, a social worker and mother of two living in Copenhagen, told TV2 News in July that she “felt excluded from the community” since she was not allowed to control what happened to her children. She said the rules were “very unreasonable” and that she did not believe daycare enrollment had anything to do with integration into Danish society. Rulla el-Ali, a mother of an 18-month-old son living in Slagelse, told the Berlingske newspaper in July that the law was “decidedly cruel,” stating it was not fair “to discriminate and take away our rights because we live in a ghetto.” El-Ali added she thought the program was “definitely a human rights violation.” The teachers’ union said the law created distrust between parents and educators.

According to the Information newspaper, only eight children had begun compulsory daycare as of November (four months after the law came into force). Information reported that a teacher’s trade magazine stated the low numbers were due to focused outreach efforts by the Copenhagen and Odense municipal governments aimed at convincing families in vulnerable housing areas to voluntarily enroll their children in daycare. Both compulsory and voluntary daycare have the same basic content, although the compulsory program is a separate 25-hour-per-week program as set out in a section of the Daycare Law. Voluntary daycare is available to all residents and is typically available 50 hours per week.

According to a Deutsche Welle article, four young women from one of the so-called ghettos, Tingbjerg, wrote an open letter to Housing Minister Kaare Dybvad, protesting the annual “ghetto list.” With NGO ActionAid Denmark, the women launched a petition signed by more than 9,000 persons urging the minister to put an end to the list. Amina Safi, one of the initiators of the letter and a Danish-born daughter of Afghan immigrants, stated, “The ghetto list stigmatizes us.” She called the criteria for the list discriminatory and said it made residents “feel like second-class citizens.” In December, a few days after the government issued its most recent list, Dybvad responded to the four women, writing, “I am sorry you feel stigmatized… The ghetto list is a tool to reduce the difference between the vulnerable residential areas and the more well-functioning residential areas.”

In December 2018, the country’s largest Muslim private school, Iqra Privatskole, located in Copenhagen’s Northwestern District, lost the financial support of the government and closed, affecting more than 500 children. The Agency for Education and Quality stated the school’s positions were incompatible with the country’s democratic values and that there were problems with the school’s finances, the quality of its teaching, and other issues. The Agency for Education and Quality ordered the school to repay 16 million kroner ($2.4 million) in state grants it had received, ultimately resulting in the school’s closure.

On April 28, Rasmus Paludan, lawyer and founder of the political party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), which cited in its platform “the unacceptable behavior exhibited by Muslims” and what it described as the need to deport all non-Western residents, qualified to run for parliament by collecting more than 20,000 signatures. Paludan organized protests against Muslims and Quran-burning demonstrations throughout the year in Muslim-majority immigrant neighborhoods across the country, citing freedom of speech. At one Quran-burning demonstration in Norrebro on April 14, there were approximately 200 counterdemonstrators, some of whom attacked Paludan, whom police escorted away, and engaged in riots, burned cars, and rock-throwing. Police arrested 23 persons. The party received 1.8 percent of the vote in the June elections and won no seats in parliament.

In June newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad reported that Muslim politicians experienced increased threats and other harassment, primarily from other Muslims, while campaigning for the June 5 general election. According to the newspaper, one threat was from a man “with a Kurdish background” who called the daughter of MP Halime Oguz and said her mother “would be held up against a rain of gunfire,” and in another, a man accused a politician of “working for a Zionist,” and told the politician’s campaign manager in person outside the politician’s home that he was watching everything she was doing. The article also cited “constant threats” against Muslim politicians from supporters of Turkey’s president and said Muslim youth on neighborhood streets called Muslim politicians “traitors” for holding views that were perceived as contradictory to Islam. Social Democrat MP Lars Aslan Rasmussen called the election “the worst I have experienced. The smear campaigns and harassment from certain Muslim groups have become systematic.” Socialist People’s Party MP Halime Oguz stated she had received death threats and harassing messages, and Ali Aminali, a candidate for the Conservative Party said, “Verbal attacks from Muslim minority communities have unfortunately become part of my everyday life.” The Kristeligt Dagblad article stated Muslim politicians were subjected to “double pressure” since they received harsh criticism from both right-wing anti-Islamic groups and from Muslim communities.

Critics, who included several parliamentarians and political commentators, of the new law requiring new citizens to shake hands during their naturalization ceremony said it targeted Muslims, who might decline on religious grounds to shake hands with members of the opposite sex. According to DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) News, several mayors, for example Thomas Andresen, the mayor of Aabenraa, protested the law by refusing to participate in the mandatory naturalization ceremonies, instead sending another official. Andresen said the law reminded him of Nazism in that one must show “devotion to a particular political ideology” by extending the right hand. One municipality, Hedensted, adopted a modified ceremony in which applicants could shake hands with either the male mayor or a female city council member. In Tonder, another municipality, Bent Paulsen, the deputy mayor and Danish People’s Party member, said, “We know that there are some Muslims who will not shake hands, but if one wants to live in Danish society – and the law requires it – then they must shake hands to become a citizen.” The Danish Institute for Human Rights 2019 report to parliament stated, “the handshake requirement may create indirect differences in the treatment of applicants based on their religious beliefs…” and cited the “potentially serious consequences of noncompliance with the requirement.”

During the year, the immigration service added eight new persons, including two U.S. citizens, to a national sanctions list for religious preachers that barred them from entering the country. The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated these individuals threatened the nation’s public order. The service removed five persons from the list without explanation, bringing the total number of preachers on the list to 13, of whom three were U.S. citizens. Entry bans remained in force for two years from the date of issuance and could be extended. Foreign nationals holding a residence permit, along with European Union (EU) nationals and residents, could not be placed on the sanctions list. The chairman of a mosque in Aarhus said the process for adding individuals to the sanctions list was opaque.

The government continued to provide armed security, consisting of police and military personnel, for Jewish sites it considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue, community center, and schools, along with the Israeli embassy and ambassador’s residence.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to police statistics released in late October, there were 112 religiously motivated crimes in 2018, the most recent year for which statistics were available, 21 percent fewer than the 142 reported in 2017. In 2018, there were 63 religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims (67 in 2017), 26 against Jews (38), 14 against Christians (30) and 9 against other religions (seven in 2017, not 37, as incorrectly stated in a previous report). Police did not provide a precise breakdown of religiously motivated crimes by type of incident. Sixteen crimes, most frequently vandalism, occurred at gravesites or religious institutions; 37 in public settings such as supermarkets, parks, or buses; 31 on the internet; 20, typically involving graffiti, at private residences; and five in the workplace or schools. There were three religiously motivated hate crimes at an asylum center. Examples of religiously motivated hate crimes highlighted in the police report included a swastika carved onto the hood of a Jewish woman’s vehicle and a face-to-face death threat made against a member of the Jehovah’s Witness community.

Representatives of Copenhagen’s Jewish Society reported 45 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, 50 percent more than in 2017. The incidents included four cases of assault and physical harassment, one threat, three cases of vandalism, 35 cases of anti-Semitic statements, one case of discrimination, and one case of uncategorized harassment. Jewish community leaders from the Jewish Society stated Muslims were primarily responsible for anti-Semitic behavior.

In one example the Jewish Society reported from 2018, a Jewish high school student who wore a necklace with a Star of David reported three incidents of anti-Semitic behavior. The first incident took place at a party at his high school north of Copenhagen, where a fellow student noticed the necklace after the two bumped into each other. The other student, whom the society described as an “ethnic Dane,” grabbed the necklace and yelled, “you [expletive] Jewish pig.” The same Jewish student reported two similar incidents of harassment against him involving men of “Middle Eastern appearance” at nightclubs in Copenhagen.

Although there were no statistics on religiously motivated crimes during the year, there were reports from various sources of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents. Both Jewish and Muslim community leaders continued to state victims did not report most incidents because they believed police would not follow up or prosecute perpetrators.

In September a driver operating a city bus drove into a Muslim group marching in Norrebro while security guards attempted to stop him. There were no injuries. Witnesses heard the driver shouting “Go home” to the marchers. The prosecutor’s office subsequently charged the driver with willful endangerment, and his trial was scheduled for 2020. The bus company also reportedly dismissed the driver.

In March, May, and October an unidentified man broke into the residence of a senior diplomat of the Israeli embassy. In October the man confronted the diplomat’s partner and shouted anti-Semitic slurs. The diplomat reported the incidents to police, who did not make any arrests.

On November 9, the 81st anniversary of the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) pogrom against Jews in Germany, police reported there were incidents of harassment and vandalism against Jews in five cities in the country. In a statement, police said neo-Nazi groups were implicated in the incidents. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and several other public officials publicly condemned the acts.

In one incident on that date, at a Jewish graveyard in Randers, Ostre Kirkegard, vandals covered more than 80 tombstones in green paint. Police arrested two persons and charged them with vandalism and, preliminarily, with a hate crime under the “racism clause” for “abusing a certain population group based on their religion.” In another incident in Silkeborg, Jutland, unknown persons glued a yellow star with the word “Jew” on a mailbox belonging to Lars Bjorn Helm Nielsen, the Chairman of the Northern Jutlanders Friends of Israel association, a group that disseminates information on Israeli culture. The star resembled those Jews were required to wear on clothing during the Nazi era.

In other incidents on the Kristallnacht anniversary, unknown persons wrote “Jew” in large, black letters on one of the walls at a Jewish cemetery in Aalborg. In Vestegnen, just outside Copenhagen, unknown persons painted a Star of David and the word “Nordfront” (The Northern Front), the name of a neo-Nazi group, outside the home of a Jewish family. Police were investigating the incidents at year’s end.

In May vandals spray-painted “Death to Israel” in Swedish at the Nordhavn train station. Police took down the message after two months and made no arrests.

On July 21, a man spray-painted the number “666” on 87 tombstones at Hadsund Church Cemetery in North Jutland. Three days later police arrested and charged the man with vandalism. On September 27, he was convicted and sentenced to psychiatric treatment for a maximum of five years. He was also ordered to pay restitution to the parish council that manages the cemetery.

In August unknown vandals defaced the Muslim World League’s (MWL) building by painting the word “terrorists” on it. MWL Director Basri Kurtis reported the incident to the police, who made no arrests.

On March 26, the City Court of Copenhagen sentenced pan-Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir-linked Imam Mundhir Abdallah to a suspended sentence of six months prison, in the first conviction under the law prohibiting hate speech in religious preaching, popularly known as the “imam law.” During a 2017 sermon in the Masjid Al-Faruq in Norrebro, the imam had quoted Islamic scriptures allegedly calling for the killing of Jews. The court also convicted Abdallah of racism for his statements.

On June 18, the newspaper Berlingske published an editorial criticizing the decision by the Copenhagen Municipality to allow the Hovedstadens swimming club in Tingbjerg to segregate swimming lessons for children and teenagers by gender. The initiative was part of a municipality-funded integration project. The newspaper said municipalities should insist on a society characterized by gender equality instead of bowing to religious demands for gender separation. The editorial added it could not support that Muslims and non-Muslims should swim separately and cited the father of a six-year-old girl who objected to the segregation and to not being allowed to watch his daughter swim. The municipality told the father to find another pool, according to the newspaper, which described the policy as “a perverted logic that sexualizes children’s bodies” and supported norms of social control that did not belong in a society of gender equality.

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: 41 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Denmark; 19 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 28 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

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, 61 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Denmark, while 35 percent said it was rare; 71 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, 89 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 85 percent said they would be with an atheist, 86 percent with a Jew, 85 percent with a Buddhist, and 84 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 84 percent if atheist, 81 percent if Jewish, 79 percent if Buddhist, and 66 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC issued 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, 43 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Denmark, and 50 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, 37 percent; on the internet, 42 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 38 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 38 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 34 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 42 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 25 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 23 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 25 percent.

According to a 2019 citizen survey by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration based on a sample size of 2,660 persons, 35 percent of “non-Western” immigrants said there should be restrictions placed on newspapers to protect religions. For descendants of immigrants “with non-Western origin” that number was 39 percent, while for those of “Danish origin” it was 13 percent. Just under 20 percent of “ethnic Danes” said criticism of religion should be banned, while 42 percent of immigrants and 48 percent of their descendants agreed. Commenting on the results, daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten wrote that Danish democratic freedom was under pressure when so many immigrants supported a ban on religious criticism.

An official of the Jewish Society in Denmark and a representative from the Muslim World League said the two communities worked well together in forming an interreligious working group to lobby government leaders against the proposed ban on circumcision.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials met with national police representatives, who report to the Ministry of Justice, to discuss religiously-motivated hates crimes and upcoming programs to combat them, and separately engaged with staff from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Freedom of Religion Unit to review religious freedom efforts.

Embassy officials met with religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year. They met with representatives from the Muslim World League and the Center for Danish-Muslim Relations to discuss challenges for Muslim residents in the country and with Jewish Society and Zionist Federation representatives to discuss anti-Semitism and the perspectives of Jewish community member on religious freedom. Embassy officials also met with Christian groups, including representatives from the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On November 20, the Ambassador participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Zionist Federation, the principal Jewish political group in the country. During the discussion the Ambassador cited the importance of freedom of religion, highlighted recent anti-Semitic incidents in the country, discussed U.S. efforts to advocate and monitor religious freedom in the country, and emphasized that everyone must be permitted to practice their faith without fear of reprisal. She stated it was an absolute moral imperative to fight to ensure “each person is free to believe, free to assemble, and free to teach the tenets of his or her own faith.”

In April the embassy sponsored the visit of an imam from the United States to speak in Copenhagen about religious tolerance, community engagement, the importance of interfaith dialogue, and preventing parallel societies. The imam spoke with government officials, board members from five mosques, various civil society organizations, and representatives from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious organizations.

Finland

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

France

Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced that since 2018 authorities had closed 159 institutions open to the public, including 13 places of worship, to combat Islamism and secluded communities. President Emmanuel Macron and other government officials again condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government augmented from 7,000 to 10,000 the number of security forces it deployed to protect religious and other sensitive sites. President Macron publicly stated anti-Semitism had grown and reached its worst level since World War II. He called anti-Zionism a modern form of anti-Semitism and said it was why the government would implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The National Assembly separately passed a resolution adopting the IHRA definition. Interior Minister Castaner and Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet announced additional measures to combat anti-Semitism, including enhanced security for religious sites and improved guidance for prosecutors evaluating hate crimes. As part of the 2018-2020 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism, the government awarded the first annual national anti-racism prize and dedicated 2.3 million euros ($2.58 million) for local projects on the issue. The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools and by officials offering public services. Police in Grenoble fined female Muslim protesters for bathing in burkinis in a public swimming pool. An assemblyman in Dijon turned away a Muslim woman accompanying her son to the regional legislature for refusing to remove her hijab. Interior Minister Castaner included “rigid religious practice, particularly exacerbated in Ramadan,” and “regular and ostentatious practice of ritual prayer” in a list of possible indicators of Islamist radicalization. The minister of the armed forces acknowledged government responsibility for the 1942 roundup of 13,000 French Jews deported to extermination camps.

Religiously motivated crimes included attempted murder, assault, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism. The government reported 1,052 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or arson of churches and cemeteries, compared with 1,063 in 2018; 154 incidents targeting Muslims, including attempted murder, compared with 100 in 2018; and 687 anti-Semitic incidents, including a violent assault against a Jewish taxi driver, death threats against a mayor, harassment of a prominent Jewish philosopher, and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, an increase of 27 percent compared with the 541 incidents recorded in 2018. The rise in anti-Semitic incidents stemmed from a 50 percent increase in threats; other incidents, including attacks on persons – which fell by 44 percent – declined by 15 percent. Authorities charged a man with attempted murder for shooting outside a mosque two persons who caught him as he tried to set fire to the mosque. A court ruled the confessed killer of a Jewish woman in 2017 could not be held criminally responsible because he was in a delusional state from smoking marijuana before the killing. Lawyers for the family announced their intention to appeal the ruling. A Paris court of appeals convicted Abdelkader Merah of complicity in the 2012 killings by his brother of seven persons outside a Jewish school. A study found 42 percent of Muslims reported experiencing religious discrimination at least once in the previous five years. A European Commission (EC) survey found 72 percent of respondents thought anti-Semitism was a problem in the country and another EC survey found 69 percent believed religious discrimination was widespread. A sports retailer cancelled plans to sell a hijab for runners after widespread criticism of the measure.

The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH). The Ambassador and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance. The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously-motivated hate crimes. The embassy sponsored the participation of interfaith representatives in a U.S. program with themes of religious cooperation and pluralism. It also funded religious tolerance workshops for youths led jointly by Jewish and Muslim organizations in Bordeaux.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 67.6 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The law prohibits government collection of data based on race, ethnicity, or religion. However, a wide range of unofficial statistics and studies circulate.

A report released in July by the Observatory for Secularism, a government-appointed commission, in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, presented estimated figures of those who identified as part of a religion or felt tied to a religion. According to the report, whose figures are consistent with other estimates, 48 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 2 percent Buddhist, 0.7 percent Jewish, 0.6 percent, and 1 percent other religion; 34 percent said they have no religious affiliation and 7 percent preferred not to respond. The same report estimates “other” religions’ numbers as follows: Jehovah’s Witnesses, 140,000-250,000, and Hindus, 150,000-300,000. In addition, the observatory’s report stated 31 percent consider themselves nonbelievers or atheists.

The report stated the number of residents linked to Islam in the poll was likely underestimated, as some Muslim and Muslim-affiliated residents may have declined to state their religion. According to the report, the “most precise” estimate of the Muslim population, based on multiple polls and demographic extrapolation, is likely between 3.3 and 5.0 million residents. The report stated the Muslim population corresponds with the arrival of immigrant populations, particularly from the Mediterranean and West Africa. The report also tied Hindu and Buddhist populations to immigrant communities.

The report attributes the growth in the Protestant community, from 2.5 percent of the population in 2010 to 3.1 percent during the year, to the growing number of Evangelical Christians, who number approximately one million.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and shall respect all beliefs. The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.

The law, as well as international and European covenants to which the country adheres, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion. Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and imprisonment of one month. Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.

Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group. Additional penalties beyond those for the underlying crime for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000 to 75,000 euros ($50,600-$84,300), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries. For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, defined as an allegation of fact that affects the honor of a person or body, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($50,600). The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.

Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status. Religious groups may register under two categories: associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt. Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state. An association of worship may organize only religious activities. Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations. Religious groups normally register under both of these categories. For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.

Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status. In order to qualify as an association of worship, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include liturgical services and practices, religious training, and the construction of buildings serving the religious group. The association must also engage in public worship and respect public order. Among excluded activities are those that are purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature. To apply for this tax-exempt status, the association must provide to the prefecture its estimated budget for the year, annual accounts for the previous three years or since the association’s creation, whichever is shorter, a written justification of eligibility for the status, and the number of members of the association. In Paris, the association must have a minimum of 25 members. Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide. The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive. If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status. According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have tax-exempt status. The number of cultural associations, many of which are not associated with religious groups, is in the thousands and changes frequently. Cultural associations may be declared using an online form through the government’s public administration website. Cultural associations, even if associated with religious groups, may operate without applying for government recognition.

The law states, “Detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion. They may practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”

Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.” The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court. Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,400). The core provisions of the legislation will expire at the end of 2020 unless renewed by parliament.

The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters. If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity. According to the law, police officials may not remove it themselves. If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity. Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours. Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course. Individuals who coerce another person to cover his or her face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($33,700) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison. The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.

The law prohibits agents of the administration, public services, and companies or associations carrying out public services from demonstrating their religion through visible signs of religious affiliation, such as the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross. The prohibition applies during working hours and at the place of employment.

By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship. The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates. The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes. The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905. The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.

The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories. Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group. Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the interior ministry, and the country’s president, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg. The prime minister appoints the chief rabbi and the presidents of the Jewish and Protestant consistories in Alsace-Moselle, and the interior minister appoints ministers of the three Christian churches in the region. Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings. The overseas department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church. Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups. This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.

Public schools are secular. The law prohibits public school employees from wearing visible signs of religious affiliation and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses. Public schools do not provide religious instruction except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories. In Alsace-Moselle, religious education regarding one of the four recognized faiths is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may opt for a secular equivalent with a written request from their parents. Religious education classes are taught by laypersons who are trained and nominated by the respective religious groups but are paid by the state. Elsewhere in the country, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum. Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool or send their children to a private school. Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.

By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations. In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of their religious affiliation. The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools or whether students must be allowed to opt out of such instruction.

Missionaries from countries not exempt from entry visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country. All missionaries from non-exempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country. Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.

The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”

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

Government Practices

On November 28, at a conference of the country’s prefects, Interior Minister Castaner announced the nationwide expansion of an initial program authorities had implemented since February 2018 to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the latter term referencing, according to the Observatory for Secularism, a trend for community withdrawal and separation from the rest of society, up to and including enforcement of rules specific to that community. The initial project targeted 15 communities “particularly touched by the phenomenon of political Islam,” according to Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior Laurent Nunez in a November 15 interview. In these communities, the MOI had conducted 1,030 inspections of establishments open to the public, including pubs, cafes, and liquor stores; cultural and sports establishments; private schools; and places of worship. As a result of the inspections, during that period the MOI closed 133 drinking establishments, 13 places of worship, four schools, and nine cultural establishments because, according to Nunez in his interview, those establishments employed a “communitarian” or “political Islam” discourse that put “the laws of God before the laws of the Republic.” The government did not identify the specific sites it closed under the initial program.

The prefect of Isere, who is subordinate to the minister of interior, closed the Al-Kawthar Mosque in Grenoble for six months starting February 7. The MOI stated it closed the mosque because it posted videos on its YouTube channel that incited hatred and violence towards Christians and Jews; its imam’s sermons justified armed jihad; and the mosque was frequented by known extremists. There were no reports the mosque reopened after the six-month period. The government said it closed one other mosque and monitored 63 mosques during the year but did not identify them or provide other details. On June 13, the association Action Muslim Rights (ADM) released a report criticizing the MOI’s closures of mosques. ADM stated that while the mosques were shut down, the government did not investigate them for terrorist ties. According to the report, none of the mosques had reopened, although the law limits the closures to a period not to exceed six months.

Between January 1 and July 18, the interior ministry expelled 44 foreigners it considered radicalized, a new record, Le Point magazine reported. While the article did not cite 2018 deportations, it reported that in 2017 the country deported a total of 20 radicalized foreigners. (A 2018 report the country had expelled 300 radical imams since 2017 was incorrect.)

On October 8, as President Macron paid tribute to four victims of an insider knife attack at the Paris police headquarters, he stated the country must develop a “society of vigilance” in which citizens look out for signs of individuals being influenced by Islamist extremist networks in the fight against the “hydra” of Islamist militancy. The attacker, a police employee who had converted to Islam, had contacts with individuals believed to be linked to an Islamist Salafist movement, according to prosecutors, who also said they believed the attacker harbored work-related grievances linked to his disabilities.

In response to the same knife attack, Interior Minister Castaner spoke before the National Assembly October 8 and articulated several signs that might indicate a person’s radicalization through changes in behavior, including “rigorous religious practice, particularly exacerbated during the period of Ramadan,” “wearing a beard,” whether or not he greets a woman with a traditional kiss on the cheek, if the person “has a regular and ostentatious practice of ritual prayer,” and the presence of hyperpigmentation on the forehead, widely interpreted as a reference to the zabiba, a mark often resulting from repeated contact of the forehead with a prayer rug.

The government maintained the deployment of security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship, and increased their number from 7,000 to 10,000. After the March terrorist attacks against mosques in New Zealand, the MOI increased patrols around religious sites.

At year’s end, the Paris Appeals Court had not issued a ruling in the case of Lebanese-Canadian academic Hassan Diab, who was charged with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four and injuring 40. In 2018 investigating magistrates dismissed the court case against Diab and ordered his release. Prosecutors appealed the case’s dismissal, and the Paris Appeals Court requested additional expert testimony before ruling. Upon his release in 2018, Diab returned to Canada where he remained at year’s end.

In June police fined a group of Muslim women 35 euros ($39) each for bathing in burkinis at a municipal swimming pool in Grenoble in protest of local regulations banning the garment. Women from the same association reported the Citizen Alliance of Grenoble had carried out a similar protest “Operation Burkini” in May, which they called an “act of civil disobedience.” One of the women told the BBC they were being deprived of their civil rights and that “We must fight against discriminatory policies and prejudice in France….” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed support for the mayor of Grenoble and the regulations, saying, “No citizen can be released from the respect of the law or the common regulation on the basis of his religious convictions.” Marlene Schiappa, Junior Minister of State for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, said, “There is a political message” behind the burkini, which is: “cover up.” She added, however, “Women, whatever their religion or their way of life, must be able to access municipal swimming pools.” In 2016 the Council of State, the country’s highest court on administrative matters, overturned several burkini bans on the basis that local authorities could only restrict individual liberties if there was a “proven risk” to public order. The court ruling did not overturn other anti-burkini regulations nor did it make them illegal; other anti-burkini regulations thus remained in force unless mayors or prefectures suspended them. The ruling did, however, set a legal precedent upon which persons could contest those regulations.

Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported three cases in which authorities had interfered with proselytizing during the year. They did not provide additional details on the incidents.

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 2017, the latest year for which statistics were available, the penitentiary system employed the following number of chaplains: 695 Catholic, 347 Protestant, 224 Muslim, 76 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, 170 Jehovah’s Witness, and 19 Buddhist. In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray. Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.

At year’s end, the government did not respond to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) following the latter’s October 2018 finding that French authorities violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing niqabs in two separate cases in 2012. The UNHRC gave the government a deadline of 180 days to report to it action taken to respond to the violation and prevent other such violations. According to a statement the government issued on the same day as the UNHRC ruling, the law prohibiting concealment of the face in public spaces was legitimate and did not infringe upon freedom of religion. The government added it would convey its views to the UNHRC in a follow-on report.

During an October 11 meeting of the Burgundy-Franche-Comte Regional Assembly in the central-eastern part of the country, Julien Odoul, an elected official representing the National Rally (RN) Party, told a woman who was accompanying her son on a school outing to the legislature to remove her hijab or leave. The law does not prohibit women from wearing hijabs while attending an assembly session. In response, Junior Minister Schiappa said that “it is by publicly humiliating mothers in front of their children that we create divisions” in society. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, however, said, “The law does not prohibit veiled women from accompanying children, but we do not wish to encourage the phenomenon,” which is “not in agreement with our values.” Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stated the veil “is legal, but not necessarily desirable.” The woman filed one legal complaint against Odoul with the Dijon public prosecutor’s office for violence of a racial nature by persons of authority, and a separate legal complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office for “incitement of racial hatred by elected officials.” The complaints were pending at year’s end.

In April the Ministry of Culture created a five-person Mission for Research and Restitution of Spoliated Cultural Property in April to seek out the rightful owners or heirs of artworks, including those in museums and galleries, stolen or sold under duress during the country’s occupation. In the spring the government transferred authority for final decisions on art restitution claims from the Ministry of Culture to the Commission for the Compensation for Victims of Spoliation, a separate administrative body reporting directly to the prime minister, in order to address criticism that museum officials would be reluctant to hand over valuable artwork. On April 1, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attended a ceremony returning artwork to its pre-WWII owners at the French consulate in New York.

The government continued to implement a 2018-2020 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the country, with a strong focus on countering online hate content. As part of the plan, Prime Minister Philippe awarded the first annual national anti-racism prize, named for Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man tortured and killed in 2006. In October DILCRAH dedicated 2.3 million euros ($2.58 million) and announced a call for local projects addressing education, prevention, training, and aid for victims of racism and anti-Semitism. The government also continued with an initiative for European Union legislation to require faster removal of illegal content online; created a national reaction team to improve education countering racist and anti-Semitic behavior; funded two thesis grants annually to finance work on racism and anti-Semitism; and established an online precomplaint system for victims of discrimination or racist or anti-Semitic acts.

Prime Minister Philippe advocated for a bill requiring websites to remove “obviously hateful” content, specifically racist or anti-Semitic content, within 24 hours. Deputy Laetitia Avia introduced the draft bill at the direction of Prime Minister Philippe and as part of the 2018-2020 national plan to combat racism and anti-Semitism. The National Assembly passed the bill in July, but the senate did not vote on it by year’s end. Among other critiques on freedom of expression grounds, the European Commission published a letter November 22 raising concerns about the bill’s impact on freedom of expression and its potential conflict with European Union free speech directives. Facebook and others questioned the 24-hour window to remove content, citing the legal analysis needed to evaluate posts.

On April 2, Minister of Justice Nicole Belloubet introduced a circular, which she said was part of the effort to combat anti-Semitism, urging prosecutors to use simplified, faster procedures (such as civil referrals to block access to “hate sites”) and criminal orders (trial without a hearing) to prosecute and convict authors of “racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic” writings.

In a September 12 speech before the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) in Bordeaux, Interior Minister Castaner detailed several government measures to fight what he called “the poison of anti-Semitism,” including enhanced surveillance of 800 places of worship, the dissolution by decree of the Council of Ministers of several neo-Nazi groups, including Bastion Social and six affiliated associations, Combat 18, and Blood and Honor Hexagon, and an increase in the government contribution for the Shoah Memorial. He repeated President Macron’s February statement that the National Assembly would take up a proposal to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, and said, “Anti-Zionism often has nothing to do with criticism of the foreign policy of the State of Israel; it is too often aimed at people of Jewish faith. It has become a disguised anti-Semitism.”

On July 10, the Observatory for Secularism, a body composed of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its sixth annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals. According to the report, the subject of secularism remained a sensitive one, although “direct attacks on secularism” appeared better contained, for the third year in a row. The report credited a proliferation of training on secularism and treatment of religious subjects, as well as improved targeting of implementing partners for the training. Since 2013, the Observatory for Secularism said it had directly or indirectly contributed to training more than 250,000 persons to respond to questions of secularism in the workplace.

On April 14, a fire broke out at the Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, destroying the roof and spire and causing extensive damage to the windows and vaulted ceilings. President Macron, Prime Minister Philippe, and Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior Nunez visited the cathedral, which is government-owned, while the fire still burned. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement June 26 that a preliminary investigation found no signs the blaze was started deliberately, and that it was likely due to negligence. Macron vowed in a televised address on April 16 that the country would rebuild the cathedral in five years.

Interior Minister Castaner did not attend the iftar hosted by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), but attended an iftar in Strasbourg hosted by the Alsace Regional Council of Muslim Faith (Alsace CRCM) on May 29. At that event, Castaner, whose ministry oversees government relations with religious communities, expressed his disappointment with CFCM for its “reluctant” approach to implementing reforms. He praised the Alsace CRCM, however, as a “laboratory of ideas for the future of Islam in France.” He lauded the “peaceful and constructive approach” of the Alsace CRCM, specifically its work on prevention of radicalization, creation of a council of imams and religious leaders, and interreligious dialogue. Attendees at the event included regional Muslim community leaders, interfaith leaders, other government officials, and the mayor of Strasbourg.

Interior Minister Castaner continued a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the structure and the funding of Islam in the country. In his New Year’s address to CFCM at the Grand Mosque of Paris on January 23, he called for “powerful representatives” of Islam in the country, and stated, referencing the recurring “Yellow Vest” cost of living protests in the country, that he counted on Muslim leaders “to influence public debates including on nonreligious issues such as the protests”. “Islam,” he said, “like every organized religion, has its place in France. There is no incompatibility between praying to Allah and loving the Republic.” In December prefects in each department held a second round of listening sessions with local representatives from the Muslim community on issues related to institutional representation, financing of Islamic places of worship, and training of imams.

On October 28, President Macron met with Muslim leaders of the CFCM and called on them to fight Islamism and “communitarianism,” which he called a form of “separatism” in the country. He urged the CFCM to adopt clear position on issues including public wearing of the veil, women’s roles, and education in the Muslim community.

On August 29, President Macron met with the newly elected President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of France, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, to discuss reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral, migration, relations between religions and the state, and proposed legislation on access to medically-assisted reproduction treatments. Archbishop Moulins-Beaufort expressed his concern about the proposed legislation, but said it was not the role of the bishops to prescribe political actions to Catholics. In September the archbishop stated those who were concerned about the law should protest it, but did not call on Catholics to do so. At year’s end, the national assembly passed the legislation, but the senate did not vote on it.

On September 19, Interior Minister Castaner attended the inauguration of the French Institute of Muslim Civilization (IFCM), a new national Islamic cultural center in Lyon. At the opening ceremony, Castaner spoke out against anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and all types of hate, and called the organization an essential initiative to fight prejudice and make Islam better understood in the country. Secretary General of the Muslim World League Mohammed al-Issa and Lyon Mayor Gerard Collomb also delivered remarks at the event. Collomb expressed his expectation that the IFCM would be “an instrument of peace.” The project was funded by one million-euro ($1.12 million) grants each from the central government, the city of Lyon, and the greater metropolitan region of Lyon, in addition to 1.5 million euros ($1.69 million) from the Muslim World League.

On January 9, Interior Minister Castaner, Justice Minister Belloubet, then-government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux, and Junior Minister for the Disabled Sophie Cluzel attended a CRIF-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where four years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.

On February 20, President Macron delivered a televised speech at the annual CRIF dinner. Among the guests in attendance – who all wore badges reading “All united against Anti-Semitism” – were First Lady Brigitte Macron, former president Francois Hollande, former prime ministers Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve, 10 current cabinet members, the U.S. Ambassador, and the Israeli Ambassador. Macron stated anti-Semitism had grown and reached its worst level since World War II in the country and Europe and had gotten “worse in recent weeks.” He said he was drawing “new red lines” in the fight against hatred of Jews and announced a package of measures – some previously announced, some new – to combat the rise of anti-Semitism. Among these were that the country would define “anti-Zionism as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism,” putting it in line with the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The government adopted the IHRA definition based on this direction, and the National Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution adopting the definition on December 3. Macron also announced the Ministry of Education would investigate the phenomenon of parents pulling their Jewish children out of public school over fears of anti-Semitism, and the government would dissolve several far-right extremist groups.

In response to a May 13 written request from Parliamentarian Meyer Habib of the Union of Democrats and Independents Party, Interior Minister Castaner declined to prohibit regular protests in favor of BDS in Paris. The minister cited as justification the right of assembly and protest enshrined in the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Before the July 25 Europa League match between Strasbourg Racing and Haifa Maccabi (professional soccer teams from France and Israel, respectively), the local police subprefecture announced a ban on any display that could serve to identify someone as a supporter of Haifa Maccabi in key areas of Strasbourg – including in all areas in and around the stadium. The ban included not only team logos, clothing, and paraphernalia, but any “national flag” associated with the team, widely accepted as a reference to the Israeli flag. The police notice specifically stated the risk for violence, referencing that contact had been established between “violent supporters of both teams, some of whom are politicized or identified as being at the origin of manifestations of anti-Semitism.” The notice, which stated identifying as a Haifa supporter “implicated risk” to that person, was followed by an outcry on social media in both France and Israel. Critics said the ban limited freedom of expression of the potential victims of anti-Semitism rather than demanding and enforcing law-abiding behavior from all fans. Following outreach to the interior ministry by leaders of the Jewish community and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the Israeli Embassy in Paris, the subprefecture issued a new notice on July 25 – just before the match – rescinding the rules.

On July 21, Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in which 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps. “France betrayed its own children,” Parly said in her statements, adding, “The roundup … was the work of the French government, accomplished by the French.” She also promised to take up the late 19th century Dreyfus Affair, where authorities wrongly convicted Jewish army officer Alfred Dreyfus of treason before eventually pardoning and reinstating him in the army. Parly said it was time to posthumously recognize the honor and years taken from Dreyfus and said she would take up the case “personally.”

President Macron and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial, the same day thousands marched in Paris and elsewhere in protest of anti-Semitic acts; the February 20 annual CRIF dinner; the March 19 commemoration of the seventh anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; and the June 1 Judaism Day observance. On October 29, President Macron, along with several government officials, attended the inauguration of the European Center of Judaism in Paris. “Judaism has played a key role across the continent to build all that is thought and all that is European civilization, to fundamentally forge who we are,” said President Macron in his speech.

As part of an established exchange program, the government continued to host the visit of 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities. The imams’ countries of origin paid their salaries. During Ramadan, when there was an increased number of worshippers, between 250 and 300 imams came to the country temporarily, including 164 from Morocco.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The MOI reported 154 registered incidents targeting Muslims, compared with 100 in 2018. Of the 154, 91 were threats and 63 were other acts, two of which involved shootings in front of a mosque in Brest in June and in front of a mosque in Bayonne in October. The government had not yet released figures on the number of acts of vandalism against Muslim places of worship (there were 45 in 2018) and of desecration against Muslim cemeteries (six in 2018) that occurred during the year. Reported anti-Semitic incidents (threats or acts) totaled 687, of which 536 were threats and 151 other acts, compared with 541 total incidents in the previous year. The rise in anti-Semitic incidents came entirely from an increase (of 50 percent) in anti-Semitic threats, whereas other acts – including attacks against persons, which fell by 44 percent – declined by 15 percent from 2018. The government also reported 1,052 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property, compared with 1,063 in 2018. Of the anti-Christian incidents, 56 were threats and 996 other acts, primarily of vandalism or arson against churches and cemeteries.

On October 28, police arrested an 84-year-old man, Claude Sinke, suspected of shooting and seriously injuring two elderly Muslim men as they approached after spotting him trying to set fire to the door of the mosque in the southwestern city of Bayonne. Sinke ran in 2015 as a local candidate in Seignanx for the National Rally Party, the party confirmed in a statement. President Macron condemned the “odious attack” in a tweet and vowed to “do everything” to punish attackers “and protect our Muslim compatriots.” The country “will never tolerate hate,” he said. Interior Minister Castaner called for “solidarity and support for the Muslim community.” National Rally leader Marine Le Pen tweeted, “These crimes must be treated with the most total severity.” At year’s end, police placed Sinke in custody for attempted murder, and judicial police opened an investigation, but the national anti-terrorism prosecutor declined to investigate the case as a terrorist incident.

On May 22, perpetrators mugged and beat a Jewish driver working for a ride-sharing company in a Paris suburb because of his Jewish-sounding name, according to authorities. The victim reported a man in his 20s was waiting for him at the appointed place and asked to sit in the front seat. Then a group of approximately 10 young men surrounded the car. One of the perpetrators told him, “You must have money, we’re going to need to frisk you.” The men then beat the driver, causing him to lose consciousness. He sustained injuries and a concussion. In July authorities charged four persons with the attack and placed one teenager in pretrial detention, stating they considered the anti-Semitic nature of the attack to be an aggravating circumstance. The others were not held in pretrial detention, either because they were minors or because of the level of charges against them. There was no further information on the case at year’s end.

On September 21, a man crashed a car into a mosque in Colmar, in the eastern part of the country, breaking down the gate and doorway of the mosque before hitting a wall. Police subdued the man, who was shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”), in the prayer hall. No one was injured in the attack, although the former president of the Grand Mosque of Colmar stated approximately 60 persons were about to arrive for prayer. At year’s end, the attacker was in pretrial detention, and his motive was still under investigation. The public prosecutor of Colmar stated he charged him with attempted murder, degrading a place of worship, and willful violence with a weapon.

Authorities continued to investigate the 2018 killing of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, which they were treating as a hate crime, but had not set a trial date by year’s end. The two individuals arrested in connection with the killing remained in pretrial detention.

On December 19, the investigative chamber of the Paris Court of Appeals determined that Kobili Traore, charged with the 2017 killing of his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, was “criminally irresponsible” for her killing. In a reversal of a 2018 ruling, the court ruled Traore could not be held criminally responsible because he was in a delusional state from smoking marijuana heavily in the hours before the killing. The court maintained anti-Semitism as an aggravating circumstance. Traore, who confessed to killing Halimi, was reportedly heard yelling in Arabic, “Allahu Akbar” and “Shaitan” (“Satan”) as he beat Halimi. Psychiatric evaluations of Traore differed in their assessment of his mental state. The third evaluation, released March 18, judged he acted during a “delusional state” caused by cannabis use. Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against anti-Semitism (BNVCA), said, “There has been a series of failures” in police and judiciary handling of the case. He added, “Today I no longer have full confidence that anti-Semitic hate crimes in France are handled properly.” CRIF President Francis Kalifat called the decision “unsurprising but difficult to justify.” He criticized a system that “renders a murderer, who is voluntarily under the influence of drugs, unfit for trial, while condemning with greater severity a motorist who has committed an accident under the influence of the same drug.” In April 39 intellectuals wrote an opinion piece in Le Figaro newspaper expressing outrage over the possibility Traore would not stand trial. On December 20, lawyers for the family said they would appeal the ruling. At year’s end, Traore was held in a psychiatric hospital.

On April 18, the Paris Special Criminal Court convicted Abdelkader Merah of complicity in the killing by his brother, Mohammed Merah (who was killed by police), of seven persons outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. The court overturned the 2017 acquittal of Abdelkader Merah on the complicity charge by a Paris criminal court, which convicted him on the lesser charge of criminal terrorist conspiracy. The Special Criminal Court ordered Abdelkader Merah to serve his existing 20-year prison sentence on that lesser conspiracy charge concurrently with the 30-year sentence for complicity.

On July 16, the BNVCA reported the judge in charge of investigating the September 2017 attack on a Jewish family in Livry Gargan did not order anti-Semitism be added to the case as an aggravating circumstance. The suspects are accused of breaking into the home of Roger Pinto, the president of Siona, a group that represents Sephardic Jews, and beating Pinto’s son and wife. One of the burglars said, “You Jews have money,” according to family members.

Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported four incidents of physical assault against their members and two cases of vandalism during the year. In one case, Church officials reported a man punched a Jehovah’s Witness in the chest and stated he “did not want to see” Jehovah’s Witnesses. In another, a man apparently under the influence of alcohol interrupted two Jehovah’s Witnesses while they were evangelizing and asked what they were doing. Church officials said the man then held a knife to the throat of one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and threated to kill him if he returned. In both cases, the individuals filed complaints with the police. As of year’s end, law enforcement did not file charges in either case.

On February 2, police arrested 19 persons in Strasbourg when approximately 50 Yellow Vest protesters threw rocks at police and tried to damage local property, including the main synagogue. Some protesters shouted anti-Semitic insults and launched firecrackers toward the synagogue entrance.

On June 21, authorities found death threats and racist and anti-Semitic graffiti targeting Thal-Marmoutier Mayor Jean-Claude Distel on the walls of the city hall of the nearby town of Schirrhoffen in the Bas-Rhin Department. Schirrhoffen has a large Jewish population, and Distel is a supporter of refugees and migrants. The graffiti included swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs, and the threats included, “A stabbing is coming quickly,” and “Distel you are going to die.” Another threat, “Distel-Lubcke,” referred to a pro-immigrant German leader who was assassinated in early June.

On March 21, Education Minister Blanquer announced that among 130 racist and anti-Semitic acts teachers reported occurring in schools during the first three months of the year, 16 percent were anti-Semitic. The figures were the result of the online platform the government established in late 2018 to enable teachers to report these cases. The ministry did not release figures of anti-Semitic acts in schools that occurred later in the year.

In a joint study released November 6, the French Institute of Public Opinion and the Jean Jaures Foundation found that 42 percent of Muslims in the country reported being targets of discrimination due to their religion at some point during their life, and 32 percent said they had been targeted in the previous five years. The study reported the most common contexts for discrimination were in interactions with police (28 percent), while searching for employment (24 percent), and while seeking housing (22 percent). The study, commissioned by the DILCRAH, was the first time the government publicly researched the experiences of the Muslim community. According to the survey, 45 percent of women – and 60 percent of those who regularly wore a veil – reported experiencing discrimination, compared with 35 percent of men.

The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the prime minister, released in April, included the results of an Ipsos poll conducted in November 2018 and involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,007 residents over the age of 18. The results were almost identical to a poll Ipsos conducted a year earlier. According to the poll, 36 percent of the respondents (2 percentage points fewer than in 2017) believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 20 percent thought Jews had too much power in the country. The poll found 29 percent of respondents had a negative image of Islam and 44 percent of them considered it a threat to national identity. The commission’s report again cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as women wearing a veil. It also stated there was an increase in anti-Semitic acts, which numbered 541, up 74 percent from 311 acts in 2017.

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: 32 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to France; 29 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 31 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

In January the EC issued 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, 72 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in France, and 51 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, 78 percent; on the internet, 74 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 80 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 80 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 84 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 83 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 73 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 59 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 63 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, 69 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 27 percent said it was rare; 83 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, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 95 percent said they would be with an atheist, 94 percent with a Jew, 93 percent with a Buddhist, and 92 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if a child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups , 94 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 93 percent if atheist, 90 percent if Jewish, 87 percent if Buddhist, and 81 percent if Muslim.

A Pew Research Center survey released in October found 22 percent of residents had an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, down 7 percentage points from 29 percent in 2016. Individuals aged 60 and older were much more likely to hold an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, at 38 percent, than those aged 18 to 34 (11 percent). The same survey found that 6 percent of persons had an unfavorable opinion of Jews.

On October 2, a Paris criminal court convicted Alain Bonnet, known as Alain Soral, of public anti-Semitic insults and “provocation to discrimination, hatred, or violence against Jews” and sentenced him to one year in prison for referring to the Pantheon, a national mausoleum of French notables, as a “kosher wasteland” in a video posted on his website. The court stated his language evoked the dehumanization and suffering Jews faced in concentration and death camps. The court also ordered Soral to take down the video and pay 1,000 euros ($1,100) in damages to the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, as well as one euro ($1) in symbolic damages to three other civil society organizations. It was Soral’s fourth conviction of the year, following previous violations for Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic insults, and publishing an anti-Semitic video, for which he was sentenced to one year, one year, and 18 months, respectively, in addition to multiple earlier convictions on similar charges. Soral remained free while he appealed all four convictions.

In February a Muslim convert, Benjamin Weller, shouted anti-Semitic epithets, such as “Go back to Tel Aviv,” and “We are the French people, France is ours,” at Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Yellow Vest protest. Finkielkraut is a member of the Academie Francaise, the country’s preeminent intellectual institution, and the son of a survivor of Auschwitz. In response, President Macron tweeted, “The anti-Semitic insults he was subjected to are the absolute negation of what we are and what makes us a great nation. We will not tolerate them.” Interior Minister Castaner and then-government Spokesperson Griveaux, among others, also condemned the incident. On July 12, the Paris Criminal Court convicted Weller of making public insults based on “origins, ethnic origin, country, race, or religion” and sentenced him to a suspended two-month prison sentence.

On February 10, unknown persons wrote the word “Juden” (German for “Jew”) on the window of a bagel shop in central Paris. Minister of Interior Castaner and then-government spokesperson Griveaux both condemned the act. The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “aggravated voluntary damage” and “provocation to racial hatred.” At year’s end, authorities did not identify any suspects.

On February 11, unknown persons chopped down a tree planted in a Paris suburb in memory Ilan Halimi, the Jewish man killed in 2006. Police opened an investigation, and DILCRAH Head Prefect Frederic Potier described the incident as “ignominious.” Interior Minister Castaner said anti-Semitism was spreading like poison, and the attack on Halimi’s memory was an attack on the republic.

In February in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, vandals defaced more than 90 graves at a Jewish cemetery. President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner visited the site on February 19, and prefecture and local politicians condemned the attack. On December 2, vandals desecrated more than 100 graves in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, a town near Strasbourg. Spray-painted swastikas and the number “14,” associated with white supremacy, covered headstones. On the same day, residents found similar graffiti scrawled on the synagogue and the mayor’s office in the town of Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, approximately 12 miles from Westhoffen. Both President Macron and Interior Minister Castaner condemned the acts, and Castaner visited the Westhoffen cemetery with community leaders on December 4. The gendarmerie in Westhoffen opened an investigation into the incident there, led by a special investigative unit.

Following a series of anti-Semitic incidents in the eastern part of the country, in April the Departmental Council in the Lower Rhine Department approved a list of 10 initiatives, mostly aimed at youth, to counter anti-Semitism and foster a culture of mutual understanding and respect. Citizen volunteers, Jewish and non-Jewish, also organized a Jewish cemetery watch in the Upper Rhine Department.

In March workers building a mosque in the southwestern town of Bergerac found a pig’s head and animal blood at the entrance to the site. The Bergerac police commissioner condemned the act.

In April two persons filmed themselves urinating on the property of UEJF at Dauphine University in Paris and streamed it live on social media. The UEJF called the act anti-Semitic and filed a police complaint against the men.

In late December 2018, according to press reports, a car belonging to a Jewish family in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles was broken into, filled up with trash, and had a mezuzah glued to its windshield. The mezuzah had been stolen from the family’s home months earlier. The family filed a complaint with police for a hate crime.

On May 13, police opened an investigation into the vandalism of a commemorative plaque in Paris devoted to Jewish children arrested by the Vichy government in the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup and deported to Nazi death camps. The graffiti included the number 4,115, representing the number of Jewish children arrested by the Vichy police and the word “extermination.” Paris 15th District Mayor Philippe Goujon denounced the act, and Paris City Hall and BNVCA filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor’s office. At year’s end, authorities did not identify any suspects.

In February there were reports of at least 10 incidents of vandalism and desecration of Catholic churches. Incidents included smashing statues, knocking down tabernacles, scattering or destroying the Eucharist host, burning altar cloths, and tearing down crosses. Individuals vandalized five churches in separate incidents over the span of a week in Dijon, Nimes, Lavaur (Tarn Department), Maisons-Laffitte, and Houilles (Yvelines Department). At the Notre-Dame-Des-Enfants Church in the southern city of Nimes, vandals broke the tabernacle, damaged religious objects, and smeared excrement in the shape of a cross on the interior walls. In May police arrested a 21-year-old local resident, who admitted involvement in the Nimes incident. His trial was scheduled for March 2020. In response to the acts, Prime Minister Philippe said, “In our secular republic, we respect places of worship. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned.” He also discussed the incidents with the Conference of Bishops. In June unknown persons toppled more than 100 tombstones in the main Catholic cemetery in Toulouse, The Catholic Herald reported.

A Jewish school in southern Paris received a letter in February with anti-Semitic messages, including “France is the base for Zionism in Europe” and “If Adolf Hitler had exterminated all the Jews, the Arab countries would live in peace.” The school filed a complaint with the police, who opened an investigation. At year’s end, they did not identify any suspects.

After reports that an administrator at an Orthodox Jewish high school leaked national exam materials to students in an effort to boost the school’s results, users posted hundreds of anti-Semitic posts on Twitter. The tweets included accusations that the students would avoid punishment because of their “protected community” status and that Jews “control everything” in the country.

On October 27, nearly 100 graves in a Christian cemetery in Cognac were vandalized and Christian symbols, including crosses, crucifixes, and angels, were damaged. Police arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the incident. In online postings, the suspect had written about being a “Satanist” and “hating religion,” and also stated that “voices tell [him] to do certain things.” Prosecutors said he would undergo psychiatric evaluation before facing trial. Authorities placed him under a curfew and judicial control (similar to parole), pending trial.

On November 4, three burglars gained access to the Oloron-Sainte-Marie Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques Region, by ramming and destroying its medieval wooden door with their car. They then stole art and artifacts from the cathedral’s treasury, including gold and silver works, a chalice, and a monstrance. Local police launched an investigation.

In December France 24 reported the country’s Uighur Association said the Chinese government was threatening members of the Muslim Uighur community in France to induce it to spy on fellow Uighurs. The report cited a spokesperson for the association, who said a French Uighur provided personal information to Chinese police on her Uighur work colleagues out of fear of reprisals against her family in Xinjiang. Another Uighur testified his family in Xinjiang was arrested because he refused to return to China. The spokesperson added the Chinese government had successfully sowed distrust within the local Uighur community.

In November CRIF held its tenth annual convention in Paris, titling it, “Fractured France: Can We Unite Against Anti-Semitism?” CRIF President Francis Kalifat cited the challenges of growing anti-Semitism and stated 12 Jews had been killed in the country in the previous 20 years because they were Jewish. Education Minister Blanquer outlined the government’s strategy to combat anti-Semitism in schools and Interior Minister Castaner said, “I want zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism,” adding that the government was committed to combating online hate speech.

On June 16, Strasbourg celebrated the 12th anniversary of its interfaith dialogue initiative, which continued to bring together religious leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths.

In August for the third consecutive year, young Christians and Muslims from across the country, Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East participated in a three-day “weekend of friendship” event at the Taize Ecumenical Community in the Department of Saone-et-Loire. The approximately 200 participants attended panels and shared religious experiences. The conference focused on two themes: hospitality; and the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” a joint statement signed in February by Pope Francis and Egypt’s Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar.

The Council of Christian Churches in France, composed of 10 representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to serve as a forum for dialogue. One observer represented the Anglican Communion on the council. The council met twice in plenary session and twice at the working level.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs. The Ambassador met with Interior Minister Castaner and DILCRAH Head Prefect Potier. Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.

In November embassy personnel and the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counselor for Religious Affairs Ambassador Jean-Christophe Peaucelle, Ambassador at Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues Francois Croquette, and other government, religious, and civil society leaders to discuss means of countering anti-Semitism. The Ambassador met in Paris with Rector of Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris Patrick Chauvet to exchange views on religious freedom and tolerance and to express support for the reconstruction of the cathedral.

On November 26, the Ambassador hosted a roundtable dinner of civil society, business, and government leaders, and the Israeli Ambassador to solicit recommendations and share best practices on combating anti-Semitism. On November 23, the Ambassador spoke at the 75th anniversary of the discovery of the Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp on the issue of religious freedom and combatting religiously based hate crimes.

Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity. Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives and NGOs such as Coexister and AJC Europe. They also hosted meetings with representatives from CRIF, the Israelite Central Consistory of France (the main Jewish administrative governance body), the CFCM, and the Paris Great Mosque, Catholic priests, and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.

The Ambassador and mission personnel engaged regularly with senior Israeli embassy representatives on efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in the country. Embassy officials closely monitored and reported on the official government position on the BDS movement and anti-Semitic incidents. The embassy highlighted such incidents on embassy social media platforms to bring more visibility to the issue and to publicly express U.S. concern.

The embassy continued to support Coexister, a local association promoting interfaith dialogue and social cohesion, with funding assistance for the association’s Interfaith World Tour. With some embassy funding, four young interfaith representatives began an eight-month world tour in August to meet and conduct interviews with interfaith leaders in 25 countries, including the United States. The team will produce a documentary film from the tour to be used for presentations at French public schools and conferences with the aim of deepening awareness of, and interest in, international initiatives on interfaith dialogue.

The embassy also funded the participation of a representative from the Hozes Institute – which, among other activities, provides civic and French language classes for imams – in an exchange program in the United States to examine the role and impact of religion in society and bridge gaps among faith groups.

Through a grant, the embassy and the APP in Bordeaux supported a film shown in November and December on national television channel ARTE. The film, the story of an imam in Mont-de-Marsan, was shown to youth audiences and associations in and around Bordeaux to encourage dialogue and religious tolerance.

Through a grant for past participants in U.S. government-funded exchange programs, one Jewish organization and one Muslim organization in Bordeaux began a series of workshops in September to promote religious tolerance among youth.

In September the Consulate General in Marseille hosted an interfaith lunch with Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox clergy, where participants discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, and local, private efforts to increase communication and interfaith social engagement.

Also in September the Consulate General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith lunch with key local government, civil society, and religious authorities to present key points from the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom held in Washington in July and to solicit recommendations for actions the United States could take to combat the rise in anti-Semitic acts in eastern France.

On October 25, the embassy hosted a ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life Synagogue attack in Pittsburgh. Addressing an audience that included France’s Grand Rabbi Haim Korsia, government officials, and Jewish, Muslim, and Christian community representatives, the Ambassador noted the rise of anti-Semitic attacks around the world, including locally. She used the event to condemn acts of intolerance and call for unity and action against hate.

The embassy regularly amplified messages from the Secretary of State and Department of State on religious freedom via embassy social media platforms in French and in English. The embassy also complemented Washington messaging with original content in French, for example in marking the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief and the International Day of Religious Freedom. Embassy social media outreach highlighted the importance of religious freedom as a core American value and demonstrated how France and the United States worked together on the issue.

Greece

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship, with some restrictions. It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” On June 11, the parliament passed legislation amending the penal code to remove laws criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insult. The penal code passed in June requires court witnesses to take a secular oath, thereby removing the option to choose a religious oath. In April the parliament approved eight million euros ($8.99 million) for the construction of the Holocaust Museum of Greece. In September the country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State (CoS), ruled the curricula for religious education in elementary and secondary schools violated the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and should be restructured to further differentiate Orthodox Christianity from other religions and to better develop an Orthodox Christian conscience, as mandated by the constitution. The CoS also ruled the inclusion of religious identity on student transcripts at the secondary level was unconstitutional. In June a presidential decree specified how official muftis in Thrace would administer decisions made under Islamic law, following a 2018 legislative amendment requiring notarized consent from all parties if they wished to adjudicate family matters using sharia instead of the civil courts. The same decree included organizational requirements for muftiates providing public sector services. A criminal trial continued for 69 members and supporters of the Golden Dawn (GD) political party accused of a series of violent attacks and arson, including targeting Muslim migrants. In July the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs granted a house of prayer permit to a religious community that worshipped ancient Greek gods. The government issued an additional 12 new house of prayer permits, including to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim groups, and Pentecostals, but revoked five others on the grounds the houses of worship had ceased operation or did not comply with construction or security regulations. The Greek Orthodox Church, the Muslim minority of Thrace, Jewish communities, and the Roman Catholic Church continued to receive some government benefits not available to other religious communities. Some members of Thrace’s Muslim minority continued to oppose the government’s appointment of muftis, stating the community should elect them. The government continued to fund Holocaust education programs. In February the government adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and in November, Greece became the first country to adopt the alliance’s working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion.

Vandalism of religious properties, including Holocaust memorials, a Muslim cemetery in Alexandroupolis, and Greek Orthodox churches, continued. On January 24, a previously unknown organization, the Iconoclastic Sect, claimed responsibility for a December 2018 explosion outside a Greek Orthodox church. Unknown vandals desecrated a monument marking the site of a former Jewish cemetery on the campus of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church and government officials, including the then mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris, denounced the attack. On April 10, individuals vandalized two metal memorial plaques at the Thessaloniki port dedicated to persons who perished during the Holocaust. In September the country’s first crematorium began operations, implementing a 2006 law permitting the cremation of remains.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting U.S. government officials, and other embassy and consulate representatives met with officials of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, including the minister and the secretary general for religious affairs, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and governors. They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants. In meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches. On May 7- 8, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Mount Athos and met with the governor of the peninsula, representatives of the governing Holy Community, an abbot, and monks from three monasteries, emphasizing U.S. support for religious freedom. He and his advisors also held meetings with the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, the secretary general for religious affairs, the three official muftis in Thrace, advocates of the religious rights of ethnic Turks, representatives of Pomaks and of Alevites, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, and members of the Evangelical Church.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate), with 81 to 90 percent identifying as Greek Orthodox, 4 to 15 percent atheist, and 2 percent Muslim.

In Thrace, there are approximately 140,000 Muslims, according to government sources using 2011 data; they are largely descendants of the Muslim minority officially recognized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. According to a Pew Research Center study released in November 2017, an additional 520,000 Muslims – mostly immigrants and asylum seekers from Southeastern Europe, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa – reside throughout the country, clustered in communities by their countries of origin or in reception facilities. Government sources estimate half reside in Athens.

According to data provided by other religious communities, their members combined constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population. These include Old Calendarist Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). . Independent and media sources estimate Ethiopian Orthodox number 2500, and Assyrians less than 1,000. The Armenian Orthodox Archbishop, interviewed in 2018, estimated there are 100,000Armenian Orthodox

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.” It states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law, with some restrictions. The constitution prohibits “proselytizing,” defined by law as “any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion with the aim of undermining those beliefs through inducement, fraudulent means, or taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect, or naivete.” The constitution prohibits worship that “disturbs public order or offends moral principles.” It allows prosecutors to seize publications that “offend Christianity” or other “known religions.” The law provides penalties of up to two years in prison for individuals who maliciously attempt to prevent or who intentionally disrupt a religious gathering for worship or a religious service, and for individuals engaging in “insulting action” inside a church or place of worship. On June 11, the parliament passed legislation that amended the penal code by abolishing articles criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insult. The constitution enumerates the goals of public education, including “the development of religious conscience among citizens.” Greek Orthodox priests and government-appointed muftis and imams in Thrace receive their salaries from the government.

The constitution states ministers of all known religions are subject to the same state supervision and obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church. It states individuals are not exempt from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.

The Greek Orthodox Church, Jewish community, and Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official religious public law legal entities. The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches automatically acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law. The same law also allows groups seeking recognition to become “religious legal entities” under civil law.

The recognition process requires filing a request with the civil courts, providing documents proving the group has “open rituals and no secret doctrines,” supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, demonstrating there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and showing their practices do not pose a threat to public order. Once a civil court recognizes a group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions. Under the law, all religious officials of known religions and official religious legal entities, including the Greek Orthodox Church, the muftiates of Thrace, and the Jewish communities, must register in the electronic database maintained by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

The law also provides a second method for groups to obtain government recognition: any religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer is considered a “known religion” and thereby acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes. Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities. Local urban planning departments in charge of monitoring and enforcing public health and safety regulations certify that facilities designated to operate as places of worship fulfill the necessary standards. Once a house of worship receives planning approvals, a religious group must submit a description of its basic principles and rituals and a biography of the religious minister or leader to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for final approval. The application for a house of prayer permit requires at least five signatory members of the group. The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, European Union nationals, or legal residents of the country, and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience. A separate permit is required for each physical place of worship.

A religious group possessing status as a religious legal entity may transfer property and administer houses of prayer and worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities. Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law. Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and in operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.

All recognized religious groups are subject to taxation on property used for nonreligious purposes. Property used solely for religious purposes remains exempt from taxation, as well as from municipal fees, for groups classified as religious legal entities or “known religions.”

The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne accords the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations (awqaaf). A 1991 law authorizes the government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, to appoint three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office which may be extended. The law also allows a regional official to appoint temporary acting muftis until this committee convenes. The law mandates official muftis in Thrace must request notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter based on sharia. Absent notarized consent from all parties, family matters fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts. The law also provides for the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to assume all operating expenses for the muftiates in Thrace, under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Directorate General for Fiscal Monitoring.

The law establishes an individual’s right to choose his or her burial or cremation location and mandates that death certificates detail this information. In the presence of a notary, individuals may designate the location and method of funeral service under conditions that adhere to public order, hygiene, or moral ethics, as well as to designate a person responsible for carrying out funeral preferences.

The law allows halal and kosher slaughtering of animals in slaughterhouses but not in private residences or public areas.

Home schooling of children is not permitted. The law requires all children to attend 11 years of compulsory education in state or private schools, including two years of preschool education, in accordance with the official school curriculum. Religious instruction in primary and secondary schools is included in the curriculum. School textbooks focus mainly on Greek Orthodox teachings; however, they also include basic information on some other “known religions.” Students may be exempted from religious instruction upon request if their parents state in writing that the students are not Greek Orthodox believers. Exempted students have a free hour, but no alternative class is offered.

The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros. The law also includes provisions to make it easier for schools to hire and retain religious instructors for those optional courses. On January 29, the parliament amended legislation regarding Catholic teachers who serve in public schools and become bishops in the Catholic Church. Upon teachers’ requests, the law grants them exemption from teaching and administrative duties to undertake responsibilities related to Catholic teaching and the lifelong training of Catholic teachers, which allows them to keep a salary, which bishops do not receive.

The law allows Muslim students in primary and secondary schools throughout the country to be absent for two days each for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

According to the law, parents may send their children to private religious schools. Private Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish schools operate in the country. As per the Lausanne Treaty, the government operates bilingual secular schools in Thrace, which totaled 128 in 2018-2019. Bilingual schools operate in Greek and Turkish, and their number may vary according to the number of registered students, with a minimum of five students per school. There are two Islamic religious schools in Thrace. Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may attend after-hours religious classes in mosques.

The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority in Thrace to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions. Similarly, 2 percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy are required to be from the Muslim minority in Thrace.

The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the nine-month mandatory minimum military service for men. Conscientious objectors must serve 15 months of alternative service in state hospitals or municipal and public services. On May 3, parliament amended legislation regarding conscientious objectors.

Individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred based on religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($5,600-$22,500). Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled. The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred or has a threatening or abusive nature towards groups of individuals.

The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs. Witnesses in trials must also take oaths before testifying in court. The new penal code that took effect July 1 requires witnesses in courts to take only a secular oath. Previously, witnesses could choose a religious or secular oath.

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

Government Practices

On May 7, the parliament passed legislation defining as “religious community archives” all the archival material filed or processed at the muftiates of Thrace; the Central Board of the Jewish Communities in Greece; the organizations for the management of awqaaf land property on the islands of Rhodes and in Kos; the private awqaaf of Rhodes; religious and ecclesiastical legal entities; and known religions and licensed houses of worship. The law also provides that archives be preserved in good condition, be accessible to the public, and be catalogued under the national directory for archives of the state archives authority. The law includes similar provisions for the archives of the Church of Greece, the Church of Crete, the dioceses of the Dodecanese Islands, the Patriarchal Exarchate of Patmos, Mount Athos, monasteries, parish churches, and Orthodox Church foundations.

The criminal trial of 69 GD party members and supporters, including 18 of its former members of parliament, continued through the end of the year. The charges related to a string of attacks, including on Muslim migrants and Greeks, and included murder, conspiracy, weapons possession, and membership in a criminal organization.

On September 17, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs announced it would comply with a recommendation by the Data Protection Authority and stop indicating religion and nationality in school records. Following an appeal by the Hellenic League for Human Rights and the Atheist Union, the authority ruled that references to religion and nationality in school records were unconstitutional, unlawful, and contrary to the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights. The authority also ruled that requiring written declarations that students who were not Christian Orthodox be exempted from attending religious class was unlawful. According to the authority, a written declaration by students (or their parents, in the case of minors) requesting exemption on the grounds of religious conscience was sufficient. On October 31, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of five Greek plaintiffs who had appealed ministerial decisions requiring written declarations that they were not Christian Orthodox. According to the ECHR, such requirements placed an undue burden on parents to disclose information that implied that they and their children held, or did not hold, a specific religious belief. The court ruled the requirement for such declarations could discourage exemption requests, especially from families residing on small islands where the risk of stigmatization was higher. The judgment found the requirement to be a violation of the right to education, and cited freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. On September 25, the CoS ruled the inscription of religion on school transcripts at the secondary level of education was unconstitutional. According to the CoS, “Freedom of religious conscience entails, inter alia, the right of persons not to disclose, whether directly or indirectly, their religion or religious beliefs. No state authority or body is allowed to seek a person’s religious belief and, even more, enforce its disclosure.”

On September 20, the plenary session of the CoS ruled the curricula for religious education in primary and secondary schools must be restructured because they were unconstitutional and violated the European Convention on Human Rights. The constitution requires the state to develop a religious conscience in students, and it was not doing so, the CoS ruled. Because non-Orthodox Christian students may request and be granted an exemption from religious classes, the CoS ruled that the teaching of religion, as currently implemented, must focus on the Orthodox Christian students who take the classes. The current curricula did not provide a holistic approach to the tradition and ethics of Orthodox Christianity and clearly differentiate it from other religions, and ultimately did not serve the needs of Orthodox Christian students, the CoS ruled. The ruling also reiterated that if a “sufficient” number of students were excused from the religious classes, the state would be obliged to hold a different class for them during that time slot.

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Athens and an Old Calendarist group applied to the courts seeking recognition as religious legal entities. Their applications were pending at year’s end.

On July 31, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs announced it would close five primary minority schools, citing low student attendance. From 2011-2019, 50 minority schools in Thrace closed according to government data.

Religious groups lacking religious-entity status and no house of prayer permits, including Scientologists and ISKCON, continued to function as registered, nonprofit civil law organizations. The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of those religious groups, whose only option was a civil marriage.

On July 3, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs granted for the first time a house of prayer permit, in Athens, to a religious community that worships ancient Greek gods. The government also approved an additional 12 permits for houses of prayer, including nine for Jehovah’s Witnesses (in Attica Region and in the cities of Serres, Trikala, Aegio, and on Paros Island), one for Pentecostals, and two for Sunni Muslim groups in the municipality of Aspropyrgos and in the district of Metaxourgio, in greater Athens. The government revoked permits of the Armenian Evangelical Church in Athens and in Thessaloniki because the churches ceased operations. The government also revoked the permit of a Jehovah’s Witness house of prayer in Thessaloniki on the grounds the facility did not meet fire protection requirements. It also revoked a permit of an Old Calendarist group on the grounds its facility did not conform with construction regulations, as well as one permit of an evangelical Christian group on the island of Zakynthos because the group had changed its official name. There were no pending applications at year’s end. The government approved the construction of three Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls and one structure for the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church. On December 10, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs licensed three mosques on the islands of Kos and Rhodes that had been operating as places of worship prior to 1955 but lacked construction permit documents, according to media reports. The lack of permits had resulted in several bureaucratic issues regarding licensing, operation, and restoration requirements.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report some doctors in public hospitals did not understand or respect their refusal to receive blood transfusions.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding for religious leaders’ salaries, estimated at 200 million euros ($224.7 million) annually; the religious and vocational training of clergy; and religious instruction in schools. Greek Orthodox officials stated the government provided this direct support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and as compensation for religious property previously expropriated by the state, a statement that government officials acknowledged. The government also provided direct support to the muftiates in Thrace, including salaries for the three official muftis and for teachers contracted to teach the optional class of Islamic religion in local public schools.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing instead for direct election of muftis by the Muslim minority. The government continued to state that government appointment was appropriate because the muftis retained judicial powers and because the constitution does not permit the election of judges. On June 11, a presidential decree determined how official muftis in Thrace would administer decisions made under Islamic law in the wake of a 2018 legislative amendment requiring notarized consent of all parties if they wished to adjudicate family matters using sharia instead of the civil courts. The same decree also included provisions on how the muftiates would operate in terms of internal organization, staffing, and transparency. During the year, all three muftiates in Thrace continued to be led by temporary, acting muftis appointed under the latter procedure.

Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the awqaaf, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect these members. Muslim leaders continued to criticize the lack of Islamic cemeteries outside Thrace, stating this obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials. They also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring exhumation of bodies after three years because of a shortage of space contravened Islamic religious law. At least three sites, on Lesvos Island, in Schisto, and near the land border with Turkey in Evros, continued to be used unofficially for the burial of Muslim migrants and asylum seekers.

The government completed the construction and landscaping of a government-funded mosque in Athens in June. According to government sources, however, time-consuming requirements for hiring new personnel prevented the mosque from opening by year’s end. On May 20, a presidential decree determined the bylaws of the managing committee of the mosque made it a public organization under private law. The bylaws addressed internal administration, personnel, budget, procurement, and contracts. On April 2, the mosque’s managing committee unanimously recommended the appointment of Moroccan-born, naturalized Greek citizen Zaki Mohammed as its imam.

In the absence of an official mosque in Athens, central and local government authorities continued to provide space free of charge to groups whose members requested places of worship during Ramadan and for other religious occasions.

On March 13, media reported that the Ministry of Environment issued a decree determining the location and use of space for the establishment of a municipally managed crematorium in Eleonas, Athens.

The government continued to fund Catholic religious training and teachers’ salaries in state schools on the islands of Syros and Tinos, trips for non-Jewish students to Holocaust remembrance events and Auschwitz, and Holocaust education training for teachers. Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, 120 students participated in a government-funded educational trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The government also supported and organized initiatives promoting religious tolerance. In a February 12 statement, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) hailed the adoption on February 11 by the General Secretariat for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Education of a working definition of anti-Semitism, in accordance with the IHRA. On November 8, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis affirmed this position. During the same period, the country became the first to adopt the IHRA’s working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion.

On October 10, KIS issued a statement denouncing an anti-Semitic attack in Germany and welcomed the timely response by the Ministry for Citizen Protection that provided protection for the headquarters of Jewish foundations in Greece. It hailed the statement by Minister of Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus condemning the incident. On April 23, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for the first time hosted a Passover seder, organized by the Jewish community of Athens. In addition to 350 Jewish participants and the ministry’s leadership, Archimandrite Dionysios represented the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece at the event. On February 28 and March 1, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized an international conference on religious and ecclesiastical diplomacy in the 21st century that brought together religious leaders of various faiths, as well as academics and government officials. Participants from Orthodox churches, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Coptic Christians, Assyrians, and Syrian Orthodox Christians all discussed ways they could cooperate.

On May 3, a large delegation including then parliament speaker Nikos Voutsis, President of Jewish Communities of Greece David Saltiel, and other members of parliament participated in the 31st annual “March of the Living” at the site of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The march highlighted the history of Greek Jews in the Holocaust; Voutsis marked the occasion by presenting artifacts from the new permanent Greek exhibit in the Auschwitz museum. The exhibit, entitled “Remember Me, as I Remember You,” was funded by parliament and organized through cooperation with the Jewish Museum of Greece.

On February 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a conference in conjunction with the country’s leadership of the International Tracing Service that focused on the work of the International Documentation Center on Nazi Persecution. The ministry also hosted an exhibition, “Stolen Memory,” which featured the efforts of victims of Nazi atrocities to trace their relatives and recover personal items stored at the Arolsen Archives.

On February 28, then deputy foreign minister Markos Bolaris addressed the fifth National Peace Symposium, organized in Athens by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greece. Bolaris highlighted the importance of cross-cultural efforts to promote peace.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to label as discriminatory the discrepancy between the length of mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors (15 months) and the length of mandatory minimum military service (nine months).

On several occasions, government officials publicly denounced the vandalism of several Holocaust memorials and Jewish sites around the country.

On July 13, the Minister for Agricultural Development and Food, Makis Voridis, defended himself against accusations he had expressed anti-Semitic views in the past. Voridis said he “denounced any action, omission, or tolerance of any action by a third party that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi.” On July 16, KIS issued a statement that it “takes into consideration and values the explanations” provided by the minister and that it hoped to see him undertake concrete initiatives to demonstrate his sincerity and to combat intolerance and anti-Semitism. On July 22, Voridis visited the Jewish Museum of Greece to signal the government’s support in highlighting the history and longstanding presence of Jews in the country.

On April 24, the parliament passed legislation to grant eight million euros ($8.99 million) for the construction of the Holocaust Museum of Greece.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Statistics by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) for 2018, the most recent year available, showed 74 cases in which immigrants or refugees were targeted for their religion, among other grounds, compared with 34 cases in 2017, a development it attributed to global political polarization, among other factors. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as solely or primarily based on religious identity. The RVRN recorded nine incidents in which the targets were sacred or symbolic for the Jewish community: six incidents of desecration of Holocaust memorials in Athens and Thessaloniki, two involving the desecration of the Jewish cemeteries in Nikaia and Trikala, and one incident of vandalism of the synagogue in Volos.

In its 2018 report, the RVRN included information communicated to the network by police regarding incidents reported to law enforcement authorities that potentially involved racist motives. Based on this information, police received 28 reports of racist violence based on religion – as many as in the previous year. Police reported, without providing details on specific cases, that approximately 40 percent were hate-speech related cases, without any physical violence. Hate-crime-related data provided to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe by police in 2018 showed eight cases of anti-Semitism, six cases of bias against Muslims, six against Christians, and three against other religious groups.

On January 25, media reported that a court held a trial in absentia for an Old Calendarist, excommunicated monk (“Father Kleomenis”), who had attacked and vandalized the Holocaust Monument in Larissa in July 2017. The court sentenced him to an 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 7,500 euro fine ($8,400). Police spotted and arrested him on November 17.

On April 18, a misdemeanor appeals court in Thessaloniki sentenced a medical doctor to a suspended 14-month jail term for displaying an anti-Semitic sign in 2014 at his municipal practice that read, “Jews Are Not Welcome Here” in German.

On January 19, a previously unknown group called the Iconoclastic Sect claimed responsibility in a post on a Spanish website for a December 2018 explosion outside the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Dionysios, in central Athens. The group stated on the website that its objective was to cause the “greatest possible damage to a priest and/or to the herd of the faithful.”

Vandalism of Holocaust monuments and memorials continued in the city of Thessaloniki. On January 25, unknown individuals damaged a monument on the campus of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki marking the site of the former Jewish cemetery. On January 28, Archbishop Ieronymos of the Greek Orthodox Church denounced the attack, identifying “the desecration and vandalism of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, and Holocaust memorials” as “hideous acts that brutally offend our history, culture, nation, and faith.” Government officials, including then mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris, denounced the incident and held a silent protest at the site.

Incidents targeting places of religious importance by such means as vandalism, burglaries, and the placement of explosive devices increased by 6 percent in 2018 from the previous year, according to the annual report released on December 19 by the Ministry of Education’s Department of Religious Freedom and Interfaith Relations, Secretariat General for Religions. In total, 591 incidents were recorded, 569 of which targeted Christian sites, 20 Jewish sites (an increase of 81 percent, compared with 2017), three Jehovah’s Witnesses sites, and two Islamic sites. On April 10, perpetrators vandalized two memorial plaques at the port of Thessaloniki dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. Throughout the year, media and police recorded numerous incidents of vandalism targeting Greek Orthodox premises and chapels. For example, on March 3 media reported that unknown individuals vandalized a church on the island of Chios, also removing ecclesiastical objects. On August 26, the anarchist group Nucleus of Anarchist Witches vandalized a chapel in the district of Sepolia, western Athens, using graffiti to desecrate five religious icons displayed in the shrine. On May 28, unknown perpetrators desecrated the Muslim cemetery in Alexandroupolis in the Thrace region, spray-painting graffiti, nationalist slogans, and the GD emblem, and scattering flyers that proclaimed, “Greece belongs to the Greeks.” On May 29, GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos denounced these acts and denied his party’s involvement. On May 30, the then secretary general for transparency and human rights referred the case to the public prosecutor. No arrests were reported for any of these 2019 incidents.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 50 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Greece, while 49 percent said it was rare; 66 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 99 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 82 percent said they would be with an atheist, 82 percent with a Jew, 78 percent with a Buddhist, and 73 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 99 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 67 percent if atheist, 63 percent if Jewish, 56 percent if Buddhist, and 48 percent if Muslim.

The direct and indirect linking of Jews to conspiracy theories with regard to the country’s sovereignty continued; individuals mostly expressed these views on social media. On September 7, several local media reported that Jews do not suffer from cancer because they control chemotherapy medication bound for non-Jewish persons around the world and use for themselves “biological methods” to address cancer, such as body, mind, and soul detoxification, and healthy nutrition.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 68 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Greece, and 52 percent believed it has stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 36 percent; on the internet, 32 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 31 percent; expression of hostility or threats targeting Jews in public places, 30 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 33 percent; physical attacks on Jews, 31 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 29 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 30 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 28 percent.

According to the Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey released in October, 57 percent of respondents in the country expressed unfavorable opinions of Muslims, while 38 percent expressed unfavorable opinions of Jews.

On May 13, KIS expressed concern about political cartoons and images in media that exploited political controversies by using Jewish symbols and comparisons to the Holocaust, or by equating Jews with Nazis. KIS issued a statement criticizing journalist Kostas Vaxevanis for using in a political commentary a cartoon that displayed the “Arbeit macht Frei” (“Work sets you free”) sign at the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Vaxevanis said he was arguing against statements by then-opposition leader Mitsotakis supporting a seven-day work week, paraphrasing the entrance sign as “12 hours of labor set you free.”

On March 26, media reported a private citizen in Chania, Crete, filed a complaint with the Supreme Court prosecutor accusing the author of the book Redemption, Dimitris Alikakos, of religious insult and spreading inaccuracies. In his book, Alikakos said the Holy Fire, which is lit every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday before Easter, was not the result of a miracle, as per Orthodox Christian tradition. There were no reports of action taken by the Supreme Court prosecutor.

On September 30, the country’s first crematorium, located in Ritsona and privately owned, began operations. Prior to the facility’s establishment, cremation was not an option for residents, many of whom had to travel to neighboring countries for the procedure. Efforts by some local governments to establish municipally owned crematories continued throughout the year.

There was no public decision on the 2018 judicial complaint filed by the NGO Greece Helsinki Monitor against local governments, Orthodox priests, and some media for propagating the custom of the “burning of Judas” during Orthodox Easter celebrations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, visiting officials, and embassy and consulate representatives discussed religious freedom with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, including the minister and the secretary general for religious affairs, and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, such as Deputy Minister Markos Bolaris, Special Secretary for Religious and Cultural Diplomacy Eftsathios Lianos Liantis, and Civil Governors for Mount Athos Kostis Dimtsas and Athanasios Martinos. They discussed the ability of minority religious communities to exercise their rights to religious freedom, government initiatives affecting both the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants, progress regarding the opening of the first public mosque in Athens, the enforcement of counter-proselytism legislation by law enforcement, keeping the independence of churches and religions from foreign malign influence, and government initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue. U.S. officials expressed concerns about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric throughout the year and denounced vandalism of religious sites, including the desecration of the Islamic cemetery in Alexandroupolis. The Ambassador worked with the minister of defense to facilitate Ministry of Defense contributions to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum archives.

On May 7-8, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Mount Athos and met with the governor, representatives of the governing Holy Community, an abbot, and monks from three of the monasteries. The Ambassador and his advisors met with Archbishop Ieronymos, Secretary General for Religious Affairs Kalantzis, the three official muftis in Thrace, advocates of the religious rights of ethnic Turks, representatives of Pomaks and of Alevites, the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, and members of the Evangelical Church.

Embassy officials, including the Ambassador and the Consul General, met with religious leaders, including the archbishop and other representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and diversity. Through these meetings, the embassy monitored the ability of minority religious groups to practice freely their religion and the extent of societal discrimination against both indigenous religious minorities and newly arrived minority religious group migrants.

The Ambassador met with representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Ieronymos, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Archbishop of America Elpidophoros, and the Metropolitan of Karpenisi. The Ambassador discussed with Greek Orthodox leaders the importance of religious tolerance and dialogue. The Ambassador also met with representatives from the Athens and Thessaloniki Jewish communities.

On October 17-18, the Consul General in Thessaloniki visited the monastic peninsula of Mount Athos and met with the governing Holy Community, abbots, and monks from two monasteries. The Consul General also met with the Metropolitans of Thessaloniki, Langadas, Xanthi, Komotini, and Alexandroupoli, with David Saltiel, president of the Greek Jewish community, with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Greece, as well as with academics and theologians, to discuss the status of religious freedom in the northern part of the country and concerns of religious communities. The Consul General attended events organized by the Thessaloniki Jewish Community to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and promote tolerance, including a January 28 silent protest denouncing vandalism of Jewish sites at the former Jewish cemetery on the Aristotle University campus. He met with government officials, including then mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris, in February.

Iceland

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and practice, as long as it is not prejudicial to good morals or public order, and it protects the right to form religious associations. It names the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the state church, to which the government provided financial support and benefits not available to other religious groups, including treating ELC ministers and general staff as civil servants. According to a September agreement, effective on January 1, 2020, ELC clergy and staff will no longer have civil service status; instead, the government will make an annual lump-sum payment to the ELC, which will then pay salaries and benefits to clergy. Other religious and humanist “life-stance” groups must register to receive state subsidies. The government registered one Buddhist and one life-stance group during the year. In November the government announced a change in the implementation of a data protection law to allow all religious groups, not just the ELC, to access a list of their members.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) cited five religiously motivated incidents in the country during the year, three of which occurred in the Reykjavik region. One incident resulted in formal charges. In July an unknown perpetrator spat on three Muslim women and attempted to remove the hijab of one of them. According to a September Gallup Iceland poll, 34 percent of the public expressed trust in the ELC, a result virtually unchanged from 2018 and down from 41 percent 10 years earlier.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives from the MOJ and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, and the local authority responsible for registering religious groups to discuss the status and rights of religious groups. Embassy officials also maintained contact with representatives of religious groups and life-stance organizations, and expanded contacts with minority religious groups, to discuss their views on religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and the role of religious groups in education and refugee integration.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 347,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to January figures from Statistics Iceland, members of the ELC make up 65.2 percent of the population; Roman Catholic Church 3.9 percent; Free Lutheran Church in Reykjavik 2.0 percent; Free Lutheran Church in Hafnarfjordur 2.8 percent; Asatruarfelagid 1.3 percent; non-Christian, life-stance, and other Christian groups 5.0 percent; other or unspecified groups 13.0 percent; and persons not belonging to any religious group 7.0 percent. The Association of Muslims in Iceland estimates there are 1,000-1,500 resident Muslims, primarily of immigrant origin. The Jewish community reports there are approximately 250 resident Jews.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes the ELC as the national church and stipulates the government shall support and protect it. The constitution states all individuals have the right to form religious associations and practice religion in accordance with their personal beliefs, as long as nothing is “preached or practiced which is prejudicial to good morals or public order.” It stipulates everyone has the right to remain outside religious associations and no one shall be required to pay personal dues to any religious association of which he or she is not a member. The constitution also specifies individuals may not lose their civil or national rights and may not refuse to perform civic duties on religious grounds. The constitution bans only religious teachings or practices harmful to good morals or the public order. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion.

The law grants the ELC official legal status, and the government directly funds it from the state budget. The state treats the ELC bishop, vice bishop, the 135 other ELC ministers, and general ELC staff as civil servants under the MOJ and pays their salaries and retirement benefits as well as the operating costs of the bishop’s office. Effective in 2020, ELC clergy and staff will cease to have civil service status, and the government will no longer pay them directly but instead make an annual lump-sum payment to the ELC. The ELC also receives funding from government-levied church taxes, as do other registered religious and life-stance groups.

The penal code establishes fines of no specified amount and up to two years’ imprisonment for hate speech, including mocking, defaming, denigrating, or threatening a person or group based on religion by comments, pictures, or symbols.

Religious groups other than the ELC and life-stance organizations may apply for recognition and registration. Only registered groups are eligible for state funding and entitled to legal recognition of religious ceremonies, such as marriages, that they perform. Groups apply for recognition to a district commissioner’s office (at present, designated as the district commissioner of Northeast Iceland), who forwards the application to a four-member panel that the minister of justice appoints by law to review applications. The University of Iceland faculty of law nominates the chairman of the panel, and the university’s Departments of Social and Human Sciences, Theology and Religious Studies, and History and Philosophy, respectively, nominate the other three members. The district commissioner then approves or rejects the application in accordance with the panel’s decision. Applicants may appeal rejections to the MOJ, resubmitting their application to the district commissioner with additional information. The same four-member panel reviews appeals.

To register, a religious group must “practice a creed or religion,” and a life-stance organization must operate in accordance with certain ethical values and “deal with ethics or epistemology in a prescribed manner.” The law does not define “certain ethical values” or the prescribed manner in which groups must deal with ethics or epistemology. Religious groups and life-stance organizations must also “be well established,” “be active and stable,” “not have a purpose that violates the law or is prejudicial to good morals or public order,” and have “a core group of members who participate in its operations, support the values of the organization in compliance with the teachings it was founded on, and pay church taxes in accordance with the law on church taxes.” The law does not define “well established” or “active and stable.”

According to the district commissioner’s office of Northeast Iceland, any unregistered religious group or organization may work in the same way as any company or association, provided it has, as these other organizations do, a social security number. Unregistered religious groups may, for example, open bank accounts and own real estate. Members are free to worship and practice their beliefs without restriction, as long as their activities do not cause a public disturbance, incite discrimination, or otherwise conflict with the law.

The law specifies the leader of a registered religious group or a life-stance organization must be at least 25 years of age and fulfill the general requirements for holding a public position. These include being physically and mentally healthy and financially independent, not having been sentenced for a criminal offense as a civil servant, and possessing the general and specialized education legally required for the position. Unlike the requirements for most public positions, the religious or life-stance group leader need not be a citizen, but he or she must have legal domicile in the country. All registered religious groups and life-stance organizations must submit an annual report to a district commissioner’s office (currently the district commissioner’s office of Northeast Iceland) describing the group’s operations during the previous year. Registered religious groups and life-stance organizations are required to perform state-sanctioned functions, such as marriages and the official naming of children, and preside over other ceremonies such as funerals.

The law provides state subsidies to registered religious groups and life-stance organizations. For each individual 16 years of age or older who belongs to any of the officially registered and recognized religious groups or life-stance organizations, the government allocates an annual payment out of income taxes, called the “church tax,” to the individual’s respective, registered organization. The per capita payment amount varies every year according to the annual budget bill. The government allocates the payment regardless of whether the individual pays any income tax. The government registrar’s office maintains a tally of the number of members of each registered group, recording the religious affiliation or nonaffiliation of each citizen at birth and adjusting the information if individuals report a change.

Persons who are not members of registered organizations are still required to pay the church tax, but the government retains their contributions as general revenue rather than allocating them to religious or life-stance organizations.

By law, a child’s affiliation or nonaffiliation with a registered religious or life-stance group is as follows: (1) if the parents are married or in registered cohabitation and both belong to either the same registered organization or no organization, then the child’s affiliation shall be the same as its parents; (2) if the parents are married or in registered cohabitation, but have different affiliations or if one parent is nonaffiliated, then the parents shall make a joint decision on what organization, if any, the child should be affiliated with, and until the parents make this decision, the child shall remain nonaffiliated; (3) if the parents are not married or in registered cohabitation when the child is born, the child shall be affiliated with the same registered organization, if any, as the parent who has custody over the child. Change in affiliation of children younger than age 16 requires the consent of both parents if both have custody; if only one parent has custody, the consent of the noncustodial parent is not required. The law requires parents to consult their children about any changes in the child’s affiliation between ages 12 and 16. After turning 16, children may choose affiliation on their own.

By law, schools must operate in such a manner as to prevent discrimination on the basis of religion. Grades one through 10 (ages six to 15) in public and private schools must provide instruction, by regular teaching staff, in social studies, which includes Christianity, ethics, and theology, as well as some content on other world religions. The law specifies the curriculum for these classes must adopt a multicultural approach to religious education, encompassing a variety of beliefs. The law also mandates that “the Christian heritage of Icelandic culture, equality, responsibility, concern, tolerance, and respect for human value” shape general teaching practices.

Parents wishing to exempt pupils from compulsory instruction in Christianity, ethics, and theology must submit a written application to the school principal. The principal may request additional information, if necessary. The principal then registers the application as a “special case” and writes an official response to the parents, accepting or denying the request. School authorities are not required to offer other religious or secular instruction in place of these classes.

Of the 12 largest municipalities in the country, eight have adopted guidelines or rules governing the interaction between public schools and religious and life-stance groups. The Reykjavik City Council prohibits religious and life-stance groups from conducting any activities, including the distribution of proselytizing material, in municipal preschools and compulsory schools (grades one through 10) during school hours or during afterschool programs. Reykjavik school administrators, however, may invite the representatives of religious and life-stance groups to visit the compulsory classes on Christianity, ethics, and theology, and on life skills. These visits must be under the guidance of a teacher and in accordance with the curriculum. Any student visits to the gathering places of religious and life-stance groups during school hours must be under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religion and life-stance views. During such classes or visits, students may only observe rituals, not participate in them. The municipality of Hafnarfjordur has similar rules governing the interaction between schools and religious/life-stance organizations. The municipalities of Kopavogur, Gardabaer, Mosfellsbaer, Arborg, Fjardarbyggd, and Seltjarnarnes have either adopted or adapted guidelines on these interactions that the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture has set. The ministry’s guidelines are broadly similar to those of Reykjavik and Hafnarfjordur.

Private schools must follow the same curriculum as public schools, including the Christianity, ethics, and theology taught in social studies classes. Private schools are free, however, to offer additional classes not in the public-school curriculum, including classes in specific religious faiths.

The law prohibits all forms of discrimination in all fields of society, including that based on religious beliefs. The Equality Complaints Committee reviews complaints and issues fines in cases of violations, unless other applicable statutes specify more severe penalties.

In June parliament enacted legislation eliminating restrictions on the ability of businesses providing recreational services, such as clubs, bars, and movie theaters, to operate during ELC religious holidays.

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

Government Practices

In September the government and the ELC signed a subsidiary agreement to their existing agreement that, according to an MOJ press release, would give the ELC more fiscal autonomy. In the ELC’s assembly, 28 of 29 members voted in favor of the subsidiary agreement. On December 17, parliament passed the required amendments to three laws. According to the agreement, which will become effective on January 1, 2020, ELC clergy and staff will no longer have civil service status. Instead, the government will make a lump-sum annual payment to the ELC equivalent to what the government previously paid in salaries and benefits of Church clergy and staff. The ELC will then assume responsibility for paying those salaries and benefits directly.

The government church tax payment to registered religious and life-stance groups was 11,110 kronur ($92) for each member age 16 or older. The church tax in 2020, according to the government budget bill enacted in November, will be 11,700 kronur ($97) per member.

According to the official state bill, in 2018, the latest year for which data were available, the government allocated approximately 6.9 billion kronur ($57.14 million) to the ELC, of which 4.8 billion kronur ($39.75 million) was in direct subsidies, and 2.1 billion kronur ($17.39 million) was in church tax. The other 47 recognized religious and life-stance groups received a total of 452 million kronur ($3.74 million) in church tax.

The government said it had approved the registration of Buddhist organization Demantsleid Buddismans and life-stance organization Vitund during the year, bringing the number of registered groups to 50. At year’s end, according to the government, the district commissioner in Northeast Iceland was reviewing the applications of life-stance organizations Lakuish Yoga and the Theosophical Society. The country’s only rabbi stated the Jewish community was preparing its registration application and expected to complete it in 2020.

The life-stance organization Sidmennt (Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association), Islamic foundation, and Baha’i community all expressed concerns that, following implementation of a data protection law in 2018, the government had blocked access to official group membership lists. Sidmennt also expressed concerns that the same restriction had not been applied to the ELC, which received a limited exemption allowing it to access the list of its members after complaining to the registrar’s office. On November 19, the registrar’s office announced in a press release that, effective December 1, religious organizations would regain access to their membership lists. The press release added the Icelandic Data Protection Authority could overturn the decision if it found the change violated privacy rights, but absent such a finding, the lists would be made available.

The ELC continued to operate all cemeteries, and all religious and life-stance groups had equal access to them. Gufunes Cemetery had a special area designated for burials of Muslims and persons of other faiths.

The ELC and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the public University of Iceland continued to train theology students for positions within the ELC.

State radio continued to broadcast Lutheran worship services every Sunday morning as well as a Lutheran daily morning devotion. According to the station’s chief of programming, other religious groups could also broadcast their religious services, but none had sought to do so.

The government continued to require persons applying for a passport to present proof of religion from a religious organization if they wished to receive a religious exemption allowing them to wear a head covering for their passport photographs.

During the drafting of the legislation removing limitations on the ability of businesses to operate during ELC religious holidays, parliament invited all registered religious and life-stance organizations to submit their views. The ELC was the only group to submit a review of the draft legislation and expressed support for it.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The MOJ cited five instances of religiously motivated incidents in the country, three of which were in the Reykjavik region. One incident resulted in a police investigation and formal charges. In an instance in May, a man yelled derogatory comments at Muslims. In a separate incident in July, an unknown person spat on three Muslim women and attempted to remove the hijab of one of them. None of the victims chose to pursue further action after giving their reports to police, and authorities did not file any charges. According to police, victims sometimes refrained from further action due to fear of retribution from the perpetrator.

In February a member of the Jewish community spoke to students at the University of Reykjavik about the Jewish concepts of leadership and tolerance and posted about it on social media. In September, according to the Jewish community, individuals – most using non-Icelandic names – added several anti-Semitic comments to the then-seven-month-old post. Members of the Jewish community said they had not reported the incident to law enforcement for further action.

A Gallup Iceland poll, conducted in September and released on October 28, found 34 percent of the public expressed trust in the ELC, compared with 33 percent in 2018, 41 percent in 2009, and 61 percent in 1999. The poll found 55 percent supported the separation of church of state, compared with 54 percent in the previous year. Support for ELC Bishop Agnes Sigurdardottir grew from 14 percent in 2018 to 19 percent.

The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation, whose membership consisted of registered religious and life-stance groups – including the ELC; Protestant, Catholic, and other Christian groups; Muslims; and Buddhists – met nine times. The forum facilitated the first-ever visit by ELC Bishop Sigurdardottir to the Grand Mosque of Iceland to discuss the importance of religious tolerance and respect following March 15 attacks against two mosques in New Zealand. Although the interfaith forum allowed unregistered groups to apply to join it, none had done so.

The Islamic Foundation of Iceland organized community information and integration programs for Muslim migrants with representatives from local government and legal offices on such issues as voting and women’s rights in the country. The foundation also provided translation assistance to asylum seekers.

In April the Ahmadiyya Muslim community organized an annual peace conference on promoting religious freedom and tolerance, which included participation by leaders of other religious groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with representatives from the MOJ, MFA, members of parliament, and the district commissioner’s office of Northeast Iceland to discuss the roles of religious equality and religious tolerance in the country. Specific topics included the status and rights of religious groups in the country, the effect of the data protection law on religious and life-stance organizations, the impact of the subsidiary agreement between the government and the ELC, and the incidence of religiously motivated hate crimes and their prosecution.

Embassy officials established or maintained contact with leaders of several religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Baha’i Center in Iceland, and Jewish community. Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of the ELC, Islamic Foundation of Iceland, and life-stance organization Sidmennt to discuss such issues as their relations with the government, religious tolerance, the extent of their involvement in interfaith dialogue, their views about the implementation of data protection legislation, and the role of religious groups in education and refugee resettlement.

Embassy representatives also met with other members of civil society, including attending a meeting by the Interfaith Forum, a nongovernmental organization.

In April embassy officials attended and spoke at the fourth Ahmadiyya Muslim annual peace conference in Reykjavik, stressing the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and protecting religious rights.

Ireland

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion. It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion. On December 21, President Michael Higgins signed a law entering into force in January 2020 which ends the prohibition on blasphemy after it was eliminated from the constitution following a 2018 referendum. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, the government barred “national” (publicly funded, primary) Catholic schools from making admission decisions based on students’ religion; other national religious schools could continue to do so if they are oversubscribed. The national police announced in April it would allow male Sikh and female Muslim members of the force to wear, respectively, turbans and hijabs on the job. There were reports some school authorities in national Catholic schools gave preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to urge the government to adopt hate crime legislation, including for religiously motivated crimes, and improve monitoring of such incidents. In October the government launched a public consultation on hate speech as part of a planned update of the criminal law prohibiting incitement to hatred. In October police introduced a working hate crime definition that included religiously motivated crime. In December the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) cited a high level of hate crime in the country, including against women wearing headscarves in public, and called on the government to make a “clear time-bound commitment” to reform its legal framework on hate crime. President Higgins and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

In May media reported two separate attacks on Muslim men in Limerick during Ramadan in which a total of three men were beaten and hospitalized. Media reported in August teenagers pushed a Muslim girl to the ground and forcibly removed her hijab in Dublin. A group in Dublin worked to establish a network of safe spaces in the city for Muslim women encountering harassment. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported from January to June it received 15 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion. A European Commission (EC) survey on perceptions of discrimination published in September found 42 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. In January another EC survey reported that 69 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in the country. In July a mosque was vandalized in Galway. In August Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson wrote an open letter to imams and other Muslim leaders in the city, expressing sorrow and solidarity with victims of attacks in the country targeting Muslims.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Education and Skills, and the police. Embassy officials met with religious groups and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The 2016 census (the most recent) indicates the population is approximately 78 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 1 percent Muslim, 1 percent Orthodox Christian (including Greek, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox), 1 percent unspecified Christian, and 2 percent other religions, while 10 percent stated no religious affiliation, and 3 percent did not specify their religion. There are small numbers of Presbyterians, Hindus, Apostolic Pentecostals, Pentecostals, and Jews. The census estimates the Jewish population to be 2,500. The number of Christians and Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, Muslims and Hindus from South Asia, and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe continues to grow, especially in larger urban areas. NGOs such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanists Association of Ireland said the census overestimates religious affiliation by asking, “What is your religion?” which they said was a leading question.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees the free profession and practice of religion, subject to public order and morality. The constitution references “the Most Holy Trinity” and “our divine Lord, Jesus Christ,” and stipulates the state shall hold the name of God in reverence and honor and respect religion. The constitution requires the president, judges, and members of the council of state to swear a religious oath, which begins with a reference to “Almighty God.” It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and guarantees not to endow any religion.

The constitution stipulates every religious denomination has the right to manage its own affairs, own and acquire property, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes. It prohibits the diversion of property of any religious denomination except for necessary works of public utility and upon payment of compensation. The constitution states legislation providing for government aid to schools shall not discriminate among schools under the management of different religious denominations nor affect the right of a child to attend any school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The constitution was amended in November 2018 to remove blasphemy as an offense following an October 2018 referendum approving the change. On December 21, President Higgins signed legislation entering into force on January 17, 2020 to revoke the law making blasphemy a crime. The constitution had been amended in November 2018 to remove blasphemy as an offense following an October 2018 referendum. Until its repeal, the law defined blasphemy as uttering or publishing language “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion,” when the intent and result are “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” Violations were punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($28,100), but the government had last prosecuted blasphemy in 1855.

The law forbids incitement to hatred based on religion, among other categories, and carries a maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 25,400 euros ($28,500). The law does not address or define hate crimes other than incitement.

There is no legal requirement for religious groups to register with the government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religious group. Religious groups may apply to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (the tax authority) as a charity to receive tax exemptions, and the groups must operate exclusively for charitable purposes, which under the law may include “the advancement of religion.” The law requires all charitable organizations carrying out activities in the country to register with and provide certain information relating to their organization to the Charities Regulator, a government-appointed independent authority. The regulator maintains a public register of charitable organizations and ensures their compliance with the law. Organizations must apply their income and property solely toward the promotion of their main charitable object, as set out in their governing instruments (such as constitution, memorandum and articles of association, deed of trust, or rules).

Under the law, individual medical professionals are able to opt out of participating in certain legal procedures, such as abortion, on conscience grounds; however, institutions may not refuse to perform such procedures.

Under the constitution, the Department of Education and Skills provides funding to privately owned and managed primary schools – most of which are affiliated with religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church – referred to as national or just primary schools. Most children receive their elementary-level education at these privately-owned schools. The government pays most of the building and administrative costs, teachers’ salaries, and a set amount per pupil.

Ninety percent of all national schools are Catholic, 6 percent Church of Ireland, 2 percent multidenominational, 1 percent other religious groups, and 1 percent not religiously affiliated. Patrons, who are usually members of the religious groups and affiliated with religious organizations with which the school is associated, manage the schools themselves or appoint a board of management to do so. Patrons often provide land for schools and contribute to building and administrative costs.

According to legislation enacted in 2018 that became effective with the 2019-2020 school year, Catholic national schools are no longer allowed to discriminate on religious grounds when making admissions decisions. National schools under the patronage of other religious groups may continue to discriminate in admissions on religious grounds in order to preserve, according to the law, their distinct religious identities, but only in schools which are oversubscribed. The law prohibits discrimination in admissions based on religious beliefs in secondary schools.

In funding schools, the constitution stipulates the state shall have due regard “for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.” The government permits, but does not require, religious instruction, faith-based classes, or general religion classes in national schools. Although religious instruction is part of the curriculum of most schools, parents may exempt their children from such instruction. Religious schools teach about their religion, while multidenominational schools generally teach about religion in a broader context. Students may opt out and sit in a classroom where religious instruction is not being conducted. The Catholic Church certifies teachers of religion classes in Catholic schools.

Approximately half of secondary schools are religiously affiliated. The government funds religiously affiliated secondary schools.

Vocational schools are state run and nonreligious.

The WRC hears cases of reported workplace discrimination, including claims based on religion. The WRC may refer cases for mediation, investigate these cases, or decide the case itself. If the adjudication officer finds there has been discrimination, he or she can order compensation for the effects of discrimination and/or corrective action. Litigants may appeal WRC decisions in the courts.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is an independent public body accountable to parliament, whose stated purpose is to protect and promote human rights and equality and to build a culture of respect for human rights, including religious freedom. The commission works at the policy level to review the effectiveness of human rights and equality law, as well as public policy and practice. It also works with communities, including religious and other civil society groups to monitor and report on the public’s experience of human rights, religious freedom, and equality.

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

Government Practices

In April the police announced Commissioner Drew Harris had decided the force would allow Sikh members to wear turbans and Muslim women members to wear the hijab while on the job. The Muslim Sisters of Eire said they wished to “acknowledge and celebrate the decision” and the Immigrant Council of Ireland tweeted it was “encouraging news.” The police representative association called it “a useful measure.”

Atheist Ireland, the main secularist advocacy group in the country, said Catholic charities engaged in political activities, but government authorities overlooked their actions.

School patrons, generally affiliated with religious denominations, continued to define the ethos of schools and to determine the development and implementation of the religious education curriculum in primary schools. Curricula varied by school and could include teaching about the patron’s religion, the religious history of the country, or an overview of world religions. Atheist Ireland criticized the government for primarily delivering moral formation through religion and not offering students moral education outside of religion classes.

Atheist Ireland and the media reported incidents of school authorities giving preferential treatment, such as homework exemptions, to students in national Catholic schools that engaged in activities such as singing in religious choirs or preforming altar services in church. According to media reports, in September the Yellow Furze National School (Catholic) in County Meath had a policy of allowing children who attended religious ceremonies to skip their homework. School authorities said they were “rewarding positive behavior” by issuing church-going children a “homework pass.” The school said students were still free to opt out of religious events but would not be “rewarded” for it.

In September The Irish Times newspaper reported Atheist Ireland said it was aware of dozens of cases where school authorities told parents religion was a core subject from which their children could not opt out. According to the article, one mother had twice requested in writing that a school exempt her child from religion classes. The woman said school officials told her verbally that religion was compulsory and the child could leave the premises during religion classes or go to another school.

The government continued to encourage patrons to open more schools with nonreligious or multidenominational patronage. Seventeen new multidenominational national schools opened during the year as part of the government’s plan, announced in 2018, to encourage the establishment of 42 nonreligious or multidenominational national schools in 2019-22. The Department of Education and Skills said it would poll parents for their preferences among a list of potential patrons in regions where the department perceived a need for new schools, and encourage the preferred patrons to sponsor the new schools. The department said it expected in most cases parents would express a preference for nonreligious or multidenominational patronage. On November 19, the department issued an invitation for patronage applications for four new primary schools scheduled to open in September 2020.

In November Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland made a joint submission to CERD, arguing the government was moving too slowly in establishing new nondenominational schools and divesting existing schools from religious bodies. The submission argued, “The state should stop ceding control of almost all schools to private patron bodies, the vast majority of which have a self-interested religious prejudice while providing an essentially public service.” CERD recommended the government monitor school admissions, to encourage diversity and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs in the education system, and incidents of discrimination on the basis of belief.

There were no reports of complaints by parents or others about the law forbidding Catholic national schools from taking students’ religion into account when making admissions decisions, while allowing other national schools to continue to do so. In rural areas, parents said finding non-Catholic national schools was especially difficult.

Catholic religious orders remained affiliated with 20 of the country’s 45 hospitals.

In May the media reported Minister of Justice and Equality Charles Flanagan invoked for the first time a 20-year-old immigration power to bar a U.S. preacher from entering the country “in the interest of public policy,” following an online petition signed by 14,000 individuals calling for the government to ban his visit. According to the petitioners and some media reports, the preacher, the founder of an independent Christian group, had made anti-Semitic statements, including Holocaust denial, and denounced homosexuality and Hinduism.

In February a commission established by Minister for Health Simon Harris issued a report on the role and status of voluntary organizations providing health and personal social services. The report said the state was legally entitled to attach reasonable conditions to any funding it provided and was free to refrain from funding organizations that refused to provide certain lawful services, such as abortion or prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also said health services run by religious organizations should be “cognizant of the impact of decor” (e.g., religious symbols, icons, or the presence of chapels) on patients and “strive to ensure their personal preferences in this regard are met to the greatest extent possible.” Media reported Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in an interview the report was not a recommendation to force hospitals to remove religious symbols from public areas, but it was “a message to charities and voluntary bodies that do run hospitals and schools just to have regard to these things.” The prime minister said he wanted to see more diversity in religious symbols in publicly funded healthcare institutions, to reflect that many patients were not Roman Catholic. Harris stated the findings required “further deliberation.” The government had not taken action on the report by year’s end.

In June the WRC found the National Transport Authority (NTA) had not discriminated against John Hamill, a member of the Congregationalist Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarians), whom The Irish Times described as “a prominent atheist,” when it denied him free travel to a park to attend a ceremony of his group in 2018, while providing free travel to Catholics attending a papal mass at the same park on that day. According to media, Pastafarians were meeting to celebrate their non-Catholicism and discuss the benefits of not being Catholic. The man had requested the transit benefit in advance. NTA responded via letter that it was not able to provide free travel to the event, stating, “The primary reason for making travel free for those attending the papal Mass is crowd safety at the main boarding locations.” The Irish Times reported the WRC found the man’s complaint, despite its satirical tone, raised a serious point and was not “frivolous, vexations, or misconceived,” but determined it failed on procedural grounds.

Several state agencies, including IHREC, WRC, and the police’s National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU) continued to enforce equality legislation and work on behalf of minority religious groups. These agencies helped to organize community events to educate the public on interfaith issues. In September the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, which received state and European Investment Fund funding, and the Dublin City Council organized a free festival involving up to 15 different faith communities, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. According to GNDIU representatives, GNDIU’s liaison officers continued to engage regularly with immigrant minority religious groups to inform them of police services and educate them on their rights. In October the police launched its 2019-21 Diversity and Integration Strategy, with the stated aim of protecting all minorities and diverse groups (including religious groups) in society. The strategy focused on improving the identification, reporting, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes. It introduced a working definition of hate crime for the police; emphasized human rights as a foundation for providing policing services; and initiated diversity, integration, and hate crime training within the police.

Although there were no laws addressing hate crimes, in October the police introduced a working hate crime definition as part of its diversity and integration strategy, with the goal of ensuring a uniform response to dealing with reported incidents. The strategy defined a hate crime as: “Any criminal offense which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, color, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.” The police’s official website further clarified that “[r]eligion includes ‘non-believers.’” According to a report in August by The Irish Times, in August the government’s Central Statistics Office stated it had seen “no objective proof” the police had addressed the concerns the office had cited in 2018, when it estimated the police underestimated hate crimes by at least 27 percent.

NGOs, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), Immigrant Council of Ireland, Anti-Racism Network Ireland, National Steering Group Against Hate Crime, and European Network Against Racism Ireland (ENAR-I), as well as IHREC again advocated better monitoring of hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents, legislation against hate crimes and more stringent laws against hate speech, and action to ensure authorities took prejudice into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing criminals.

In October Justice and Equality Minister Flanagan and Minister of State for Equality, Immigration, and Integration David Stanton launched a seven-week consultation of the public’s views as the government prepared to update the criminal law prohibiting incitement to hatred. Several NGOs, including ICCL and ENAR-I, said the consultation resulted in part from their efforts.

In a review in December, CERD said the level of hate crimes in the country was high, “in particular against women wearing headscarves in public,” and criticized the government for failing to reform its legal framework on hate crime. CERD called for a “clear time-bound commitment” to make the necessary changes in law. CERD also praised NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland and its efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

On January 27, President Higgins, Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, Minister for Justice and Equality Flanagan, and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration. In his remarks, the president paid tribute to Holocaust survivors and said the world needed to “work together to ensure that hatred and inhumanity is not allowed to once again spread its dark shadow across Europe and the world.” The NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, in association with the Department of Justice and Equality, Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, and Dublin City Council, organized the event, which included readings, survivors’ remembrances, and music, as well as the lighting of six candles symbolizing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May media reported two separate attacks on Muslim men in Limerick during Ramadan. In one attack, three individuals punched and kicked two Muslim men walking towards a mosque. Both were hospitalized. Separately, a man approached a Muslim who was walking towards a mosque and hit him in the face. Two other men joined in beating the Muslim man, who was hospitalized. Police were investigating both assaults.

In August online footage showed teenagers pushing a 14-year-old girl to the ground and forcibly removing her hijab in Dublin. Police said they were investigating but had no evidence the incident was religiously motivated. Minister of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan condemned the assault. Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland told The Irish Sun newspaper the incident was “an attack on this girl’s religious identity.” Selim said he did not think anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise, but called for hate crime legislation to protect the increasingly multicultural and multifaith nature of society.

In February the WRC found that a print company had discriminated against a gay man by refusing to print invitations for his civil partnership ceremony in 2015 on the grounds of his sexual orientation and ordered it to pay the man 2,500 euros ($2,800). In a statement issued after the WRC ruling, the print company said, “We are not against people who choose to practice homosexuality, but as Bible-believing Christians, we cannot in good conscience go along with printing invitations for same-sex unions.”

The WRC reported that from January to June it received 15 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion.

In May the EC carried out a study in each European Union (EU) member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 42 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Ireland, while 52 percent said it was rare; 92 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 98 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 96 percent said they would be with an atheist, 95 percent with a Jew, 93 percent with a Buddhist, and 91 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 96 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 89 percent if atheist, 88 percent if Jewish, 84 percent if Buddhist, and 80 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 69 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Ireland, and 53 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 21 percent; on the internet, 29 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 18 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 20 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 18 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 18 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 19 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 20 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 23 percent.

In a survey of residents of the country IHREC published in October 2018, 7 percent of respondents said they believed members “of a certain religion” (the question did not identify any religious groups) were those most likely to have their human rights infringed or experience discrimination.

In October CNN reported that in July unknown individuals vandalized the Ahmadiyya Maryam Mosque in Galway, breaking windows, wrecking an office, and destroying the mosque’s video security system. The mosque’s imam, Ibrahim Noonan, said that prior to the incident, he had received an anonymous phone call warning him that individuals planned to attack the mosque and harm him. Following the break-in, a police spokesperson told CNN that police were “investigating a burglary.” Noonan stated that, since nothing was stolen, treating the incident as a burglary was insulting to the Muslim community. He added that the vandalism was targeted and premeditated. Mahmoud Rashid, President of Galway’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community, told CNN there was a wider anti-Muslim current in society and that the narrative was applied to Muslims and other migrant groups.

The same CNN report cited another incident during the summer in which a senior lecturer on contemporary Islam at University College Cork said he received a voice mail calling him a “scumbag and terrorist” and adding, “I hope you are executed.”

In March The Irish Times reported that abusive and threatening behavior towards Muslim women had prompted a group of Muslim women from the Dublin Mosque to establish a network of safe spaces in the city, where Muslim women could seek immediate shelter if harassed. The women said they were designing a large yellow sticker reading, “Ask for Help,” which they hoped participating establishments would post prominently.

In August Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson wrote an open letter to imams and other Muslim leaders in the city, expressing sorrow and solidarity with victims of attacks in the country targeting Muslims.

According to media, in March the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference objected to an advertisement for two consultants at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. The job announcement said candidates for consultant positions in obstetrics/gynecology and anesthesia must be willing to participate in elective abortions. The bishops’ conference said this precondition denied some candidates employment on the basis of conscience. According to the media, the hospital responded that the positions in question were specifically for providing abortion services and were therefore for individuals willing to provide those services. The hospital said the conscientious objection guidelines for staff remained unchanged.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Human Rights Unit, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Education and Skills, and the police. Embassy officials also met with representatives of religious groups, interfaith organizations, and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Italy

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions. The constitution specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support. Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring. Religious groups must register to request an accord. On July 30, the government signed an accord with the Church of England; at year’s end, it was awaiting parliamentary approval. Unregistered religious groups operate freely but are not eligible for the same benefits as groups with accords; however, they may apply separately for benefits. In October the senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes; 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. In November the Milan prefect granted Segre a police escort after she received threatening anti-Semitic messages, and a prosecutor opened an investigation. The Muslim community, which does not have an accord, continued to experience difficulties in acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques or to continue operating existing ones. According to a weekly newspaper, Panorama, there were 1,200 unofficial Muslim places of worship. Politicians from several political parties, including leader of the League (Lega) Party Matteo Salvini, who served as deputy prime minister and minister of interior from June 2018 until September 2019, again made statements critical of Islam and against the construction of new mosques. In March the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) President Yassine Lafram told the general assembly in Bologna that Islamic communities were not able to open “dignified” places of worship and said it was “inconceivable” that Muslims had to worship in “basements.”

There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, including harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. The Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), identified 251 anti-Semitic reported incidents during the year, compared with 181 in 2018 and 130 in 2017. Of those incidents, 172 involved hate speech on social media or the internet. The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Milan, and Pisa. While there is no official government data from institutions or public agencies on anti-Muslim incidents, local and European NGOs reported physical and verbal attacks against Muslims, especially involving hate speech, on social media, and in the press. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 22,523 tweets containing negative messages targeting Muslims between March-May, compared with 26,783 from March-May 2018. On March 21, a woman forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s hijab on a public bus in Turin and taunted her, according to press reports.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths. They also discussed the efforts to integrate new migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu, and second-generation Muslims. Embassy, consulate, and Department of State representatives met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, social inclusion of immigrants, the empowerment of faith groups through social media, and the mobilization of youth leaders among faith groups. The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level. Embassy officials met with the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among self-defined far-right groups and civil society.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 62.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to a 2019 survey by Doxa, an independent Italian research center, approximately 67 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. According to government officials, religious groups together accounting for less than 10 percent of the population include other Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Union of Pentecostal Churches (UCP), and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, an Indian spiritual movement. Non-Catholic Christian groups account for approximately 16 percent of the population and include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and several smaller Protestant groups. According to the national branch of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are approximately 26,000 adherents in the country. According to national newspaper La Repubblica, most followers are in Lombardy, Sicily, and Lazio Regions. The UCEI estimates the Jewish population numbers 28,000. According to the legal counsel of the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism (FIEP), FIEP has approximately 600 members, and includes both Jews who are registered and unregistered in the local communities. The country’s progressive Jews are organized into four congregations in Rome, Florence, and Milan and represented by the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism, part of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Doxa reports 15 percent of the population are nonbelievers or have no religious affiliation.

According to the UCOII, approximately 2.5 million Muslims – approximately 4 percent of the population – live in the country. According to the Ministry of interior (MOI) and the national agency for statistics, the Muslim population is composed of native-born citizens, immigrants, and resident foreigners, but most of its growth comes from large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the majority of whom live in the north. Moroccan and Albanian-origin Muslims make up the largest established groups, while Tunisia and Pakistan are increasingly important sources of seaborne migrant arrivals. The MOI reports Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion and are free to profess their beliefs in any form, individually or with others, and to promote them and celebrate rites in public or in private, provided they are not offensive to public morality. According to the constitution, each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes as long as these do not conflict with the law. The constitution stipulates the state may not impose special limitations or taxes on the establishment or activities of groups because of their religious nature or aims. The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other, and treaties, which include a concordat between the government and the Holy See, govern their relations.

By law, insulting any divinity is blasphemy, a crime punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($57-$350).

The constitution states all religious groups are equally free, and relations between the state and non-Catholic groups are governed by law based on agreements (“accords”) between them. Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister. The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve. The prime minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval. Once parliament approves the implementing legislation, the accord governs the relationship between the government and the religious group, including state support. Twelve groups have an accord: The Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Jesus Christ, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, the Italian Apostolic Church, Buddhist Union, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Hindus.

The law provides religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities, once they have completed a registration process with the MOI. Legal registration is a prerequisite for any group seeking an accord with the government. A religious group may apply for registration by submitting to a prefect, the local representative of the MOI, an official request that includes the group’s statutes; a report on its goals and activities; information on its administrative offices; a three-year budget; certification of its credit status by a bank; and certification of the Italian citizenship or legal residency of its head. To be approved, a group’s statutes must not conflict with the law. Once approved, the group must submit to MOI monitoring, including oversight of its budget and internal organization. The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in its activities. Religious groups not registered may still operate legally as NGOs and obtain tax-exempt status, legal recognition of marriages, access to hospitals and prisons, and other benefits, but having an accord with the government facilitates the process. The Catholic Church is the only legally recognized group exempted from MOI monitoring, in accordance with the concordat between the government and the Holy See.

An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis. An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent of personal income tax set-aside on taxpayer returns. Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.

National law does not restrict religious face coverings, but some local authorities impose restrictions. Regional laws in Liguria and Veneto prohibit the use of burqas and niqabs in public buildings and institutions, including hospitals.

The concordat with the Holy See provides for the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in weekly “hour of religion” courses taught in public schools. The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend may study other subjects or, in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent. Church-selected instructors are lay or religious, and the instruction includes material determined by the state and relevant to non-Catholic religious groups. Government funding is available for only these Catholic Church-approved teachers. If a student requests a religion class from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must provide the teacher and cover the cost of instruction; it is not required to seek government approval for the content of the class. Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools, usually but not always Catholic, that meet government educational standards.

Schools are divided into “state-owned” and “state-equivalent” categories. The “state equivalent” school includes public (municipality, provinces, regions or other public institutions owned) or private, of which the private ones may be religiously affiliated. All state-equivalent schools receive government funding, if they meet criteria and standards published every year by the Ministry of Education. The funding is released through the regional offices for education.

According to law, hate speech, including instances motivated by religious hatred, is punishable by up to four years in prison. This law also applies to denial of genocide or crimes against humanity.

All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not European Union members or signatories to the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country. An applicant must attach an invitation letter from his or her religious group to the application.

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

Government Practices

Although the government generally does not enforce offenses of blasphemy, local leaders called for enforcement of the law as part of a larger effort for measures to promote “civility.” In July the city council in the small northern town of Saonara enacted a local law prohibiting 75 types of “uncivil” behaviors, including blasphemy “against any faith or religion” and using foul language in public. Those found guilty of blasphemy face a fine up to 400 euros ($450).

According to leaders of the Rome Islamic Cultural Center, the government again did not make significant progress on an accord despite ongoing dialogue with Muslim religious communities. On May 4, Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire reported sociologist Maurizio Ambrosini of Milan University commenting on the lack of an agreement between the government and the country’s Muslim communities, stating, “In several cities Muslims cannot access legal and proper places of worship and meet in semi-clandestine temporary venues difficult to monitor.” The MOI continued to only legally recognize as a religious entity the Cultural Islamic Center of Italy, in charge of the Great Mosque of Rome. The government recognized other Muslim groups only as nonprofit organizations.

On July 30, the government signed an accord with the Church of England that at year’s end was awaiting parliamentary approval.

On July 31, the Council of Ministers legally recognized the following religious entities: ISKCON, UCP, the Baha’i Community of Italy, and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha. The Office of the President approved the recognitions on August 8. Legal recognition by the government is one of the steps required before formally applying for an accord.

On October 30, the senate approved a proposal from Senator for Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre to establish an extraordinary committee to fight intolerance, anti-Semitism, and hate crimes; however, 98 center-right senators abstained in the vote. Segre, who was expelled from school for her religion in 1938 and sent to Auschwitz in 1943, stated, “There is a mounting wave of racism and intolerance that should be stopped in all possible ways.” Lega leader Salvini urged the far right to abstain on the vote stating, “We are against racism, violence, hate, and anti-Semitism, but we don’t want somebody on the left to stigmatize as racism something that for us is belief and right: [the principle of] Italian first.” In November the Milan prefect granted Segre a police escort after she received a wave of threats and anti-Semitic hate speech on social media, including statements of Holocaust denial. An Italian prosecutor opened an investigation of the threats.

According to press reports, on November 28, police detained 19 suspects linked to a group seeking to build a new Nazi party in the country. Media reported some members of the group, which calls itself the “Partito Nazional Socialista Italiano dei Lavoratori” (Italian National Socialist Workers’ Party), had weapons, access to explosives, and conducted recruitment activities on social media. The group frequently engaged in hate speech against Jews and center-left politicians, including Laura Boldrini and Emanuele Fiano, the latter a prominent Jewish MP of the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, or PD). Prosecutors in Caltanissetta, Sicily, led the countrywide investigation of the network through the end of the year.

In June a Palermo principal of a public school reported its art teacher, Gino Giannetti, to national authorities for Holocaust denial under a 2016 anti-Semitism law. Giannetti reportedly told his students concentration camps contained “swimming pools for Jews’ amusement” and said he doubted the veracity of Holocaust accounts. A female student reported receiving anti-Semitic Facebook messages from Giannetti. In a June 29 Facebook post Giannetti denied being an anti-Semite, saying he had exposed students to factual accounts of the Holocaust in class.

According to the FIEO’s legal counsel, because relations between the government and the country’s Jews are governed by an accord between the state and UCEI, the UCEI defined the terms of Jewish identity and practice in the country. The counsel said the growth of progressive Judaism in the country had encountered resistance from the largely orthodox-Jewish UCEI. For example, progressive Jewish rabbis were not recognized by the UCEI and were therefore ineligible for Italian visas and residence permits, and they could not perform marriages having civil validity.

Regional governments and Muslim religious authorities recognized five mosques, one each in Colle Val d’Elsa in Tuscany, Milan, Rome, and two in Emilia-Romagna Region, in Ravenna and Forli, respectively. In addition, there were many sites recognized as places of worship by local governments but not considered full-fledged mosques by Muslim authorities because they lacked minarets or other key architectural features.

There were 800-1,200 unofficial, informal places of worship for Muslims, known colloquially as “garage” mosques. According to the press, authorities allowed most of these unofficial sites to operate, but they did not officially recognize them as places of worship.

According to media reports, Muslims continued to encounter difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques. Local officials, who were entitled to introduce rules on planning applicable to places of worship, continued to cite lack of zoning plans allowing for the establishment of places of worship on specific sites as a reason for denying construction permits.

On May 19, under a legal provision entitling national and local governments to purchase certain types of facilities as “cultural assets,” the Lombardy regional administration and its governor announced plans and allocated funds to buy a chapel building from a Muslim association that planned to convert it into a mosque, according to the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. The Association of Muslims of Bergamo, Lombardy Region, bought the chapel at auction in October 2018 from the main public hospital in Bergamo owned by regional authorities. The building had initially been assigned to a Christian Orthodox group as a place of worship but was not being used as such when it was sold. After the Association of Muslims of Bergamo bought the former chapel, the governor, a member of the League Party, required the association to sell it back under a law allowing public authorities to buy assets deemed to be of cultural significance. Later, the governor said he would allow the Christian Orthodox community to use the church building because it would not require any structural changes.

In April police in Rome closed the Masjeed-e-Rome Mosque and cultural center in Topignattara, a neighborhood with a sizable Bangladeshi Muslim community, citing administrative and criminal violations. On May 6, the president of the local association for Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Indian Muslims Dhuumcatu, Siddique Nure Alam, said the city did not provide the mosque due warning to address violations raised in the closure order, as the city had done in the past.

In April the Como City Council refused a local Turkish association use of public space for Ramadan iftars. Vice Mayor Alessandra Locatelli, a member of the League Party, said in a statement, “[Islam] does not respect the fundamental rights of our society and culture,” and that “men and women are not equal” in the Islamic faith.

In June the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court ordered the closing of an unlicensed mosque and cultural center in a former workshop located in the courtyard of an apartment building in Milan, rejecting a petition submitted by the Sri Lanka Muslim community that would allow the area to be used as a place of worship. The cultural center opened in 2015 without a regular permit to use the workshop as a place of worship. The court ruled that changing the use of a property would require a permit issued by the city administration.

In September the Court of Cassation in Milan upheld a six-month prison sentence and 9,000 euro ($10,100) fine against a representative of the Bangladesh Cultural and Welfare Association, who was charged with violating city regulations by contracting a construction company to convert a storage site into a place of worship without prior approval. By law, no appeal was possible. This was the first time the court considered it as a criminal matter; in previous cases this type of violation generally incurred administrative penalties.

The Islamic association in Pisa appealed to the Tuscany regional administrative tribunal a September 10 decision of the city council to amend the zoning plan preventing the association from building a mosque on a piece of land it had bought. In July the Pisa Islamic Association had organized a sit-in in the town square after the Pisa City Council blocked the construction of the mosque and debated the possibility of turning the planned site into a parking area. City officials stated the lot was not large enough for the planned building. Imam Mohammad Khalil said the city council had always been hostile to the mosque and noted the city government had not met with the association since August 2018.

On December 5, the Constitutional Court ruled that two provisions of a law adopted by the Lombardy Regional Council in 2015 were unconstitutional because “… freedom of religion includes the freedom of worship, authorities cannot obstruct the establishment of religious sites.” The two measures the court considered unconstitutional required a specific procedure for obtaining authorization to establish all places of worship regardless of their impact on the sites and the discretionary authority of local authorities to adopt a zoning plan that would reflect their decisions to permit or prohibit the establishment of new places of worship. The president of the House of Islamic Culture of Milan, Benaissa Bounegab, characterized the ruling as “a step toward normality,” while the president of the National Evangelical Conference, Riccardo Tocco, noted that based on regional law, 27 places of worship had been closed down; however, the decision opened up negotiations for a new policy with the local authorities. In October 2018, the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy had accepted an appeal by the Muslim community of Varese of a denial of a permit to build a mosque in Sesto Calende, requesting the Constitutional Court re-examine the constitutionality of the 2015 regional law.

According to Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire, on December 5, the Council of State (the highest administrative court) upheld the March 2018 ruling of the Regional Administrative Court of Lombardy annulling the 2017 decision of the city council of Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. The ruling blocked the construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque on the grounds the center did not comply with all the requirements agreed to by the city council and the Muslim community. The president of the local Islamic cultural center, Gueddouda Boubakeur, said, “The ruling guarantees the right to worship that is a basic need, not a luxury.” In April 2018 local authorities had appealed the regional court’s ruling to the Regional Administrative Court.

On October 11, the Milan City Council approved a zoning plan authorizing two Buddhist temples, seven evangelical Christian and Baptist churches, three Orthodox churches, four Islamic places of worship (a designation determined by Islamic authorities in the country), and seven Catholic churches. Only places of worship authorized in the zoning plan have legal status; Milan has 25 Islamic places of worship and approximately 100 evangelical Protestant churches. Muslim leader and member of the municipal council Sumaya Abdel Qader called the decision “a historic step, even if not fully satisfactory, for the rights to worship of all minorities.” She noted that the center-right opposition in the municipal council had requested additional requirements that only applied to Muslim communities, but its proposal was rejected as inconsistent with the regional law on zoning.

Muslim associations said in Lombardy dedicated areas for Muslim burials in cemeteries were insufficient to meet the needs of the communities.

In February the League Party, other center-right parties, and the Five Star Movement (M5S) members of the Lombardy Regional Council approved an amendment that negated a provision of the 2009 funerary law compelling private associations to allow burials in their allocated spaces in public cemeteries regardless of sex or religion. League Party member Andrea Monti sponsored the bill and said the law would stop “predominantly Muslim ghettoization” of cemeteries. Muslim leaders said the law likely would limit cemetery space for Islamic burials.

On July 4, the council of the Commune of San Donato Milanese, a Milan suburb, reserved 25 spaces for Islamic burials in the Monticello public cemetery. Muslim leaders stated this was an insufficient number of spots for the Muslim community.

Local governments continued to rent out public land at discounted rates to religious groups, usually Catholic, for constructing places of worship. Government funding also helped preserve and maintain historic places of worship, which were almost all Catholic.

Politicians from several parties, including League, Brothers of Italy (FdI), and Casa Pound, a far-right political association established in 2003 and named after the anti-Semitic poet Ezra Pound, again made statements critical of Islam. In March OCOII President Lafram wrote to then deputy prime minister and interior minister Salvini, leader of the League Party, requesting increased protection of mosques following the March 15 terrorist attacks on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. According to press reports, Salvini publicly condemned the New Zealand attacks as “odious,” but also stated, “The only extremism that merits attention is the Islamic kind.” Lafram also told the general assembly in Bologna that Islamic communities were not able to open “dignified” places of worship and said it was “inconceivable” that Muslims had to worship in “basements.”

On January 21, M5S Senator Elio Lanutti referenced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and an online anti-Semitic article in a tweet that said, “Even today [the Rothschild family] controls the banking system.” PD party leader Nicola Zingaretti condemned the statement on Twitter and PD Senate Vice President Ettore Rosato requested M5S to expel Lanutti. In a Facebook post, M5S party leader and then deputy prime minister Luigi di Maio wrote, “On behalf of the M5S I distance myself from the comments made by Senator Lanutti.” President of the Jewish Community Ruth Dureghello reported Lanutti to the Rome Public Prosecutor’s office, which opened an investigation in February.

Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni criticized a U.S. Jewish philanthropist for his contributions to European election campaigns. In a March 24 tweet, she called him a “usurer,” a term with anti-Semitic connotations in Italian.

In April a Muslim woman, Nasry Assiya, ran as M5S candidate for Montoro City Council. Media reported Brothers of Italy Senator Antonio Iannone said her candidacy was an endorsement of “cultural expressions distant from our West” such as sharia, child marriage, and polygamy. Online comments protested her wearing a veil in official campaign photographs.

In May then Ministry of the Interior undersecretary Nicola Molteni stated he opposed the Lombardy Regional Court’s decision to permit prayer in a space owned by Asslam, an Islamic Cultural Association in Cantu, Lombardy Region. Molteni cited an MOI April 30 directive that warned mass migration and Islamic cultural centers were potential vectors for extremism, citing this concern as justification for his opposition to allowing prayer space. Molteni also made statements calling for the suspension of all mosque construction until the government approved an accord with Muslim leaders.

On April 9, the Council of the State, the country’s highest administrative court, upheld the city of Genoa’s order to remove a billboard erected by the Union of Atheists, Agnostics, and Rationalists protesting laws allowing doctors to refuse to conduct medical procedures for reasons of religion or conscience. The city said the billboard violated religious liberty and personal expression.

In June the Islamic Cultural Center of Bologna held the first Muslim summer camp in the country. According to the press, League Counselor of the Commune Umberto Bosco said the camp was the start of “auto-ghettozation,” and political party Italian Force (Forza Italia) parliamentarian Galeazzo Bignami stated, “Wake up Bologna, before it’s too late.” The presidents of two Christian associations, Christian Associations of Italian Workers and Christian Action, made public statements supporting the camp.

On October 6, the New Force Party (Forza Nuova), commonly identified as far right, held a protest in Bologna against a local decree granting a Muslim association the right to use a piece of land for 99 years on which it had already established an Islamic cultural center. Protestors carried banners reading, “Christian Bologna, never Muslim” and “No Mosque.”

Amnesty International reported 79 tweets from the country’s political party leaders during the April 15-May 24 European parliamentary election campaign were anti-Islamic, representing 0.9 percent of the tweets.

On January 24, Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Sergio Mattarella hosted a ceremony to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and stressed the need to remain vigilant, stating, “The evils of Auschwitz and the Shoah can come back as a lethal virus.” He concluded, “We should monitor and fight all forms of racism.”

On October 30, parliament approved the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate intolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism proposed by Italian-Jewish Holocaust survivor and Senator for Life Liliana Segre, modeled on the Council of Europe’s No Hate Parliamentary Alliance that would replace the now-suspended Jo Cox Commission.

In November Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi held a contest among high school students to rename two streets originally named after two 1930s fascist-era scientists who promoted anti-Semitic race laws. The streets were renamed in honor of scientists from the same era who were Jewish or who opposed fascism.

In November the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan announced it would establish a project to monitor anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other types of hate speech based on religious and cultural affiliations. According to the university, the project will be partially funded by the National Office Against Racial Discrimination and will work with CDEC and the Italian Young Muslim Association to identify and analyze trends in hate speech. While the CDEC previously primarily focused on trends in anti-Semitism and online hate speech targeting Jews, this project will be the first independent research center to track and report on trends in hate speech against Muslims and anti-Muslim sentiment.

In May the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that affirmed the rights of patients to grant power of attorney to an agent who will uphold the patient’s decision to refuse a blood transfusion, in accordance with the position advocated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On June 23, Badar Eddine Mennani became the first Muslim national police officer (carabiniere) which media said was a sign of increased government openness to diversity.

The city of Rome continued to foster collaboration among the Jewish community, Waldensian Evangelical Church, Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, and Italian Buddhist Union to promote better knowledge of different faiths, primarily among students. Rome officials and leaders of these religious groups signed an agreement on interfaith cooperation in 2001. During the year, religious leaders organized several cultural events and presentations in public schools to increase awareness of religious diversity.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The CDEC recorded 251 incidents of anti-Semitism over the year, compared with 181 in 2018. Reports of anti-Semitic incidents published on CDEC’s website included discrimination, verbal harassment, particularly at soccer matches and other sporting events, online hate speech, and derogatory graffiti. Internet and social media hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic incidents, according to CDEC, which continued to operate an anti-Semitism hotline for victims of, and witnesses to, anti-Semitic incidents.

On March 21, a woman forcibly removed a Muslim woman’s hijab on a public bus in Turin and taunted her, according to press reports. Seeing the Muslim woman was uncomfortable sitting near a dog on the bus, the woman also reportedly said, “You’re afraid of a dog but not to blow yourself up.” Other passengers reportedly voiced their support for the Muslim woman, chanting, “We [are all] Italy.”

On September 20, the Bangladeshi community organized a demonstration to protest racism and anti-Muslim sentiment in Naples following an incident in August in which attackers threw stones at two Bangladeshi street vendors. Demonstrators told media they wanted more protection and said they felt unsafe in Naples and throughout the country.

According to NGO Italian Observatory on Human Rights, 76 percent of tweets (15,196) sent in the country about Jews during the European parliamentary election campaign were negative. The NGO Vox Diritti reported 15,196 tweets containing anti-Semitic messages between March and May compared with 26,783 in the same period of 2018. Many anti-Semitic tweets came from Rome, Milan, and Turin. The NGO said spikes in tweet traffic correlated with national media stories involving Jews, including the harassment of journalist Gad Lerner at a New Force rally in Prato March 23 (700 tweets), and Georgia Meloni’s “usurer” tweet March 27 (approximately 500 tweets). The largest spike (approximately 3,150 tweets) occurred on April 16, the day media reported a Ferrara public middle school student threatened to “reopen Auschwitz” to a Jewish classmate student. The principal told a local newspaper he would review the incident with teachers. Jewish Community of Ferrara President Andrea Persano told the Association of Italian Journalists anti-Semitism was on the rise. The same organization said 74 percent of all tweets (22,532) regarding Muslims were negative during the same period, a 6.9 percent increase from 2018. Most anti-Muslim tweets originated in Turin, Bologna, Milan, and Venice.

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 76 percent of Italians supported some restrictions or a total ban on female Muslim religious clothing, including the hijab. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey on “Being a Christian in Western Europe,” 53 percent of respondents in the country agreed with the statement that Islam is “fundamentally incompatible with [Italy’s] culture and values.” Sixty-three percent of practicing Christians in the country concurred.

According to a 2018 survey from the National Statistics Agency of Italy, 18 percent of second-generation Muslims (20 percent of men and 18 percent of women) experienced faith-based workplace discrimination. Of immigrants arriving in the country before 12 years of age, Muslim respondents stated they experienced religious discrimination more frequently than other kinds of discrimination (20 percent) compared with the Christian Orthodox (16 percent) and Catholic (14 percent) faiths. Twenty-nine percent of respondents belonging to other Christian denominations and Jews reported they most frequently experienced societal discrimination for not being Catholic.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 48 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Italy, while 47 percent said it was rare; 81 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 92 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 91 percent said they would be with an atheist, 86 percent with a Jew, 83 percent with a Buddhist, and 79 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 90 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 91 percent if atheist, 82 percent if Jewish, 77 percent if Buddhist, and 66 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 58 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Italy, and 38 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 61 percent; on the internet, 59 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 60 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 61 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 59 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 60 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 58 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 50 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 53 percent.

In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 51 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Italy; 31 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 45 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

The press reported examples of anti-Semitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in Rome, Milan, Pisa and other cities.

On May 30, media reported unknown individuals in Rome’s former Jewish ghetto defaced a stolperstein or “stumbling block,” an engraved brass plaque placed on a cobblestone in front of the original place of residence of Holocaust victims. Unidentified individuals defaced the plaque with a sticker in German that said, “A murderer always returns to the scene of the crime.” Jewish community leaders said a police surveillance camera protecting the site was disabled before the incident.

On August 12 and 21, members of animal activist groups Animal Front and Animal Revolution protested outside a halal butcher shop during Eid al-Adha in the town of Robecca sul Navaglio in Lombardy. Media reported protesters called Muslims “assassins” and encouraged Muslims to “sacrifice their kids” instead of animals. Photographs from the demonstration showed banners reading “bloodthirsty Muslims.”

On January 14, in Rome, the Church of Jesus Christ inaugurated its first temple and cultural center in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives from the embassy and consulates general met with representatives of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Ministry of Interior, and local government officials in Rome, Sicily, Naples, Milan, Turin, Bologna, Florence, Modena, Reggio Emilia, and Pisa to discuss the establishment of new places of worship requested by religious groups, relations between the government and Muslim religious communities, anti-Semitic incidents, and assistance in tracing the contents of the Jewish communal library of Rome, which the Nazis looted in 1943. During these meetings, embassy and government officials also discussed the integration of asylum seekers and migrants, many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu.

The embassy and consulates general and visiting Department of State officials met with the Muslim and Jewish communities to stress the importance of interfaith dialogue and to share U.S. best practices regarding education, integration of second-generation Muslims, and social media networking.

In May the embassy and consulate general in Milan hosted iftars that included representatives from Muslim communities, government officials, and youth leaders promoting interfaith dialogue.

Embassy and consulates general officials continued to meet with representatives of civil society groups, including Caritas, Sant’Egidio, and Anolf, as well as Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders in cities throughout the country. U.S. officials urged the social inclusion of immigrants, many of whom were Muslim, and dialogue among various religious groups, and monitored groups’ ability to practice their religion freely.

The Consulate General in Milan awarded a grant to a Muslim youth group in Turin to support a three-day workshop to foster greater community dialogue among persons of different religions and respect for religious diversity. The event was hosted in an Islamic cultural center located in one of the city’s most religiously diverse neighborhoods and included youth trainers from the Muslim and Catholic communities.

The embassy and consulates continued to use their social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays as well as amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the local level. They also retweeted Department of State statements and tweets on the International Religious Freedom Act and related topics.

Embassy officials met with the president of UCEI and Rome Jewish community leaders to discuss how to support their efforts to counter anti-Semitism among far-right groups and civil society.

The Ambassador attended a November 21 ceremony led by Rome Mayor Raggi of the M5S to change the names of two Rome streets named after fascist-era scientists who signed the “Race Manifesto” of 1938 that became the basis of Mussolini’s Race Laws. Also present were the UCEI chair, the president of Rome’s Jewish community, and the Israeli ambassador.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides every person the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and specifies the separation of church and state. By law, eight “traditional” religious groups (seven Christian groups and Jews) receive rights and privileges other groups do not. In addition, six new religious groups registered during the year. Draft legislation to provide restitution to Jewish Holocaust victims in accordance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration was withdrawn after a procedural defeat in parliament in June. On March 16, approximately 250 persons, including 10-15 veterans of the Nazi Waffen-SS and four members of the National Alliance (NA) party, participated in the annual march for Latvian Legionnaires who fought as conscripts of the Waffen-SS against the Soviet Union in World War II (WWII). An estimated 1,100 people were in the total crowd of supporters, protesters, media, observers and passersby, according to police, one third less than recent years. In its Freedom of the World 2019 report, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom House said support for the event continued to decline. Various groups, including the Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee, again condemned the march.

A European Commission (EC) survey published in September showed that 12 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 67 percent said it was rare. A Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism published in January showed that 14 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 7 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. Jewish and Muslim groups again cited instances of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech on the internet.

The U.S. embassy repeatedly engaged with government officials, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Office of the Ombudsman, and parliamentarians on the importance of religious tolerance, restoring expropriated property to the Jewish community by passing a restitution bill satisfying Latvia’s commitments under the Terezin Declaration, and Holocaust education. Embassy officials also engaged with the NGOs MARTA and Safe House, as well as representatives of various religious groups, including the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Latvian Orthodox Christian churches, the Jewish community, and the Islamic community, on the role they could play in promoting religious tolerance and acceptance in the country. The embassy funded a cultural project highlighting the experiences of a Latvian Jew during the Holocaust.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the Annual Report of Religious Organizations and their Activities published by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), based on 2018 data (the most recent available), the largest religious groups are Lutheran (36 percent), Roman Catholic (17 percent), and Latvian Orthodox Christian (9 percent), the latter predominantly native Russian speakers. Thirty-five percent of the population is unaffiliated with any religious group. The Latvian Orthodox Church is a self-governing Eastern Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Central Statistical Bureau reports there are 4,567 persons who identify as Jewish, and the Council of Jewish Communities believes there are between 6,000 and 8,000 persons with Jewish heritage. The Muslim community reports approximately 1,000 Muslims, while the MOJ’s report of religious organizations lists 134 Muslim community members in 15 congregations. There is a small Ahmadi Muslim community. Other religious groups, which together constitute less than 5 percent of the population, include Baptists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Old Believers, evangelical Christians, Methodists, Calvinists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states everyone has the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and “the church shall be separate from the state.” It allows restrictions on the expression of religious beliefs to protect public safety, welfare, morals, the democratic structure of the state, and others’ rights. The law gives eight “traditional” religious groups – Lutherans, Catholics, Latvian Orthodox Christians, Old Believers, Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jews – some rights and privileges not given to other religious groups, including the right to teach religion courses in public schools and the right to officiate at marriages without obtaining a civil marriage license from the MOJ. These eight groups are also the only religious groups represented on the government’s Ecclesiastical Council, an advisory body established by law and chaired by the prime minister that meets on an ad hoc basis to comment and provide recommendations on religious issues. These recommendations do not carry the force of law.

Separate laws define relations between the state and each of these eight groups. The rights and activities of other religious groups are covered by a law on religious organizations.

Although the government does not require religious groups to register, the law accords registered religious groups a number of rights and privileges, including legal status to own property and conduct financial transactions, eligibility to apply for funds for religious building restoration, and tax deductions for donors. Registration also allows religious groups to perform religious activities in hospitals, prisons, and military units and to hold services in public places, such as parks or public squares, with the agreement of the local government. The law accords the same rights and privileges to the eight traditional religious groups, which it treats as already registered.

Unregistered groups do not possess legal status and may not own property in the name of the group, although individual members may hold property. Unregistered groups may not conduct financial transactions or receive tax-free donations. They may not perform religious activities in hospitals, prisons, or military units, and generally may not hold worship services in public places without special permission. The law stipulates fines ranging from 40 to 200 euros ($45-$220) if an unregistered group carries out any of these activities.

By law, to register as a congregation, a religious group must have at least 20 members age 18 or older. Individuals with temporary residency status, such as asylum seekers and foreign diplomatic staff, may count as members for the purpose of registration only during the authorized period of their residency permits. To apply, religious groups must submit charters explaining their objectives and activities; a list of all group members (full name, identification number, and signature); the names of the persons who will represent the religious organization; minutes of the meeting founding the group; confirmation that members voted on and approved the statutes; and a list of members of the audit committee (full name, identification number, and title). The audit committee is responsible for preparing financial reports on the group and ensuring it adheres to its statutes. The MOJ determines whether to register a religious group as a congregation. The ministry may deny an application if it deems registration would threaten human rights, the democratic structure of the state, public safety, welfare, or morals. Groups denied registration may appeal the decision in court.

Ten or more congregations – totaling at least 200 members – of the same faith or denomination, each with permanent registration status, may form a religious association or church. Groups with religious association status, or status as a private society or foundation, may establish theological schools and monasteries. The law does not permit simultaneous registration of more than one religious association of a single faith or denomination, or of more than one religious group with the same or similar name. For example, the law prevents any association other than the Latvian Orthodox Church from registering with the word “orthodox” in its name. Other Orthodox groups, such as Old Believers, are registered as separate religious associations.

According to the law, all traditional and registered religious organizations are required to submit an annual report to the MOJ by March 1 regarding their activities and goals. They must also provide other data, including congregation size, number of clergy, number of weddings and other ceremonies performed, and details of group governance and financial status.

The law criminalizes hate speech and the incitement of hatred on the basis of religious affiliation but requires legal proof, determined at trial, of substantial harm for conviction. Penalties range from community service to up to 10 years of imprisonment. Committing a crime for religious reasons may also be considered an aggravating factor at trial.

The government funds required religion and ethics classes in public schools in first through third grade. The school must receive the approval of the parents of at least 10 students in order to hold religion classes in any of the eight traditional groups; if such approval is not obtained or if they prefer not to enroll in religion classes, students take courses on general ethics. The Center for Educational Content at the Ministry of Education must review the content of the classes to verify they do not violate freedom of conscience. Starting in fourth grade, religious subjects are incorporated into elective ethics and social science classes. If there is demand, schools are permitted to teach classes on the history of religion. Students at state-supported national minority schools may attend classes on a voluntary basis on the religion “characteristic of the national minority.” Other nontraditional religious groups without their own state-supported minority schools may provide religious education only in private schools. Religion courses in public schools range from doctrinal instruction by church-approved government-certified instructors, usually at the lower grades, to nondenominational Christian teachings or overviews of major world religions by certified teachers who are proposed by a religious group, and approved by the Ministry of Education, usually at higher grades.

The law establishes an independent Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights. Its mandate includes helping to resolve cases of religious discrimination through collaboration with authorities. While it does not have enforcement powers, it may issue recommendations to specific authorities. Parliament appoints the ombudsman.

The law stipulates foreign missionaries may be issued a residency permit, hold meetings, and proselytize only if a registered domestic religious group invites them to conduct such activities. Visa regulations require foreign religious workers to present letters of invitation, typically from a religious organization, and either an ordination certificate or evidence of religious education that corresponds to a local bachelor’s degree in theology. Religious workers from European Union (EU) or Schengen countries do not require visas.

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

Government Practices

The MOJ approved the applications of six religious groups that applied to register for the first time: the Orthodox Congregation of St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker in Rezekne, the Hindu Bhakti Marga Latvian Congregation, the Latvian Orthodox Autonomous Church, the Orthodox Church of Riga Apostles St. Peter and Paul, the Orthodox Church of St. Alexander Nevsky in Daugavpils, and the Riga International Baptist Church “Grace” of the Latvian Baptist Insurance Union.

In June the parliament debated a Holocaust-era property restitution bill that would have established an approximately 40 million euro fund ($44.9 million, funded over 10 years) for the Jewish community in accordance with the 2009 Terezin Declaration. The bill also called for measures to provide assistance, redress, and remembrance for victims of Nazi persecution. The bill was withdrawn after a procedural defeat. According to news reports and the head of the Development/FOR parliamentary faction Daniels Pavluts, a combination of political infighting, a difficult fiscal environment, the historical complexity of the original thefts, and inertia from previous restitution attempts prevented the bill’s passage. Misunderstandings about details of the bill – which provided fiscal transparency and government control, had protections to prevent the funds benefiting only a few individuals, and supported projects and events linked to common Latvian-Jewish historical and cultural heritage – added to the difficulty. Conferees at the Terezin Declaration Conference in December said local Jewish community leaders, and the legislation’s sponsors in parliament, planned to reintroduce Holocaust property restitution legislation in 2020 following a public education and advocacy campaign.

According to a 2018 (the latest available) report on Latvia by the NGO National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ), the government made progress in recognizing Jewish issues and commemorating the Holocaust, adding that problems remained with regard to property restitution and vandalism of Jewish sites.

Authorities continued to monitor Muslim community activities according to the annual report of the security police. Muslim community members, including community leader Zufars Zainullins, said in December they did not feel pressured or singled out due to their faith.

The new prayer center of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Latvia (ICCL) remained closed since 2016 due to what the Riga City Construction Board said was a failure to meet city fire and safety requirements in the center’s old building. Muslim leader Zainullins said lack of ICCL leadership also slowed the project, rather than government pressure. Muslim students at universities continue to have access to campus religious facilities such as prayer rooms and Riga Stradins University’s Muslim student society (Ibn Sina).

Former president Raimonds Vejonis and other senior government officials, including Speaker of the Parliament Inara Murniece, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins, and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, attended or spoke at Holocaust memorial events, including International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Latvian Holocaust Memorial Day, and the Rumbula Forest Massacre Memorial. In July, at a commemoration of the 1941 burning of the Great Choral Synagogue with victims inside, Murniece stated, “The victims of the Holocaust should be kept in eternal commemoration by teaching about what happened to the young generation.” She added that “Latvia, as a democratic, legal, socially responsible, and national state, is based on human dignity and freedom, recognizes and protects fundamental human rights, and respects minorities.” In his speech at the same event, former president Vejonis stated, “Much has been done to heal the wartime wounds, but there also remain those (Holocaust survivors) whose healing will take time and mutual understanding.”

In September, as part of a speech commemorating a WWII battle against the Soviet army, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks praised the Latvian side, which at the time was under Nazi operational control. When the Simon Wiesenthal Center later protested those comments, the defense ministry edited the headline of the issued press release but kept the content unchanged. In November Pabriks spoke at the Rumbula Forest Holocaust memorial event, where he condemned the actions of Latvian citizens who participated in crimes committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish people. He apologized to the Jews that Latvia had failed to protect them at the time, because Latvia had been occupied.

In June the government granted refugee status to a woman who said she had fled Russia after she and her family had been persecuted for being Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On March 16, the annual march commemorating Latvian Legionnaires who fought in the grenadier divisions of the Waffen SS against the Soviet Red Army in WWII took place in Riga. As in recent years, an estimated 250 persons participated in the event, with police estimating the total crowd of supporters, protesters, media, observers and passersby numbering approximately 1,000, one third less than recent years. Ten to fifteen SS veterans and four members of parliament from the NA party participated. International media reported a large police presence and a small number of counterprotesters at the event. The organizers, the Daugava Hawks group, called the day a “commemoration of Latvian soldiers who were involved in World War II battles between superpowers and fought for their country” rather than as a glorification of Nazism. In a statement issued the same day, the MFA noted “March 16 is not an official remembrance day,” but an event organized by individuals “on their own private initiative to pay respects to fallen soldiers.” The statement added that “senior officials and members of the government do not participate” in this commemoration. Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins publicly discouraged cabinet officials from participating. As in previous years, the march drew strong condemnations from various groups, including the Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee. The Latvian Russian Union’s Miroslavs Mitrofanovs said the march was where “people gather together to glorify neo-fascist ideology”.

On November 30, approximately 500 persons lit thousands of candles at the Freedom Monument in Riga in memory of the approximately 30,000 Jews killed in the Rumbula Forest by the Nazis in 1941. A separate Rumbula Forest memorial service was well attended, including by members of the NA party.

In November and December, media reported multiple instances of NA Secretary-General Raivis Zeltits supporting extremist organizations. While initial reports outlined texts and meetings with a supremacist website and 2015 meetings with the founder of a British neo-Nazi organization “National Action,” subsequent articles illustrated ongoing ties with and support to the Ukrainian ultranationalist Azov movement. Zeltits said he accepted that his views were ultranationalist but refuted claims of any racist or anti-Semitic beliefs. An NA representative stated Zeltits’ actions did not reflect NA’s ideology. Subsequent social media posts by prominent NA members, however, defended engagement with Azov.

In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 12 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Latvia, while 67 percent said it was rare; 70 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 85 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 79 percent with an atheist, 78 percent with a Jew, 70 percent with a Buddhist, and 63 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their adult child were in a “love relationship” with a member of a different religious group, 85 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 73 percent if atheist, 66 percent if Jewish, 53 percent if Buddhist, and 42 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 14 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Latvia, and 7 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 18 percent; on the internet, 19 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 13 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 11 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 20 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 10 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 11 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 11 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 10 percent.

Neither survey categorized results by religious groups to assess if Jews and Muslims perceived these issues differently from the Christian majority.

Riga Jewish Community Executive Director Gita Umanovska said anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet was mostly in the form of posts on social media and comments in news articles, although none were reported to police. For example, one online commenter wrote, “We need to clean up our public administration from Jews,” Another wrote, “As if we would need to choose the poorest (the worst) people, we would need to choose Jews” (directed at newly elected President Egils Levits, of Jewish heritage). Another poster wrote: “The Jew is one of the greatest evils in any case.”

As in previous years, Muslim community leader Zainullins said Muslims generally did not feel suppressed or discriminated against; however, some anti-Muslim hate speech appeared on social media and the internet, mostly in individual posts and comments in news articles. For example, one site had the comment, “We must get them out of our politics and definitely keep them out of our country as much as possible. We TOTALLY need to shut down all mosques. The devil resides in them.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged in regular discussions with government officials, including at the MFA, MOJ, Office of the Ombudsman, and with members of parliament, on the importance of restoring expropriated property to the Jewish community, religious tolerance, and Holocaust education. Embassy officials also met with Foreign Minister Rinkevics, other MFA officials, and members of all the political parties represented in parliament specifically to encourage passage of the restitution bill, an important step to meet the country’s obligation under the Terezin Declaration.

Embassy staff met with leaders of the Lutheran Church, Roman Catholic Church, Latvian Orthodox Christian Church, Jewish community, and the Muslim community to discuss their concerns about religious tolerance and acceptance in the country. They also met with the NGO MARTA, which worked with immigrant women, including those who might be at risk of victimization as a result of their religious beliefs. Embassy staff also engaged representatives of the NGO Safe House, which assists with transition support and education for immigrants and refugees, many of whom are of minority faiths.

The embassy funded a project with the Zanis Lipke Memorial Museum to support an upcoming exhibit by a Latvian-born Jewish American artist, focusing on his experience surviving the Holocaust in Latvia and later his life in a Latvian enclave of New York City.

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates everyone is free to choose his or her faith. It makes the state responsible for “protecting the religious…interests of the People” and establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion. It stipulates other religions may practice their faith within the bounds of morality and public order. There are criminal penalties for public incitement to hatred towards a religious group, religious discrimination, or “debasement” of any religion. The state-subsidized, nonprofit Liechtenstein Institute said Muslims remained unable to obtain local authorities’ permission to establish their own cemetery or build a mosque, and the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein was unable to establish a prayer room. On January 27, government officials held public film screenings and discussions on the Holocaust, and Minister for Home Affairs, Education, and Environment Dominique Hasler spoke on the importance of remembering and raising awareness of the Holocaust.

There was one Muslim prayer room in the country belonging to the Turkish Association. Religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request.

The U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, which is responsible for diplomatic relations with the country, continued to encourage the promotion of religious freedom in discussions with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), focusing primarily on access to religious education, particularly by Muslims, and the establishment of religious infrastructure, such as a mosque or Muslim burial sites. Embassy staff discussed religious freedom issues, such as the extent of societal discrimination and the difficulties Muslims encountered in establishing religious infrastructure, with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, Liechtenstein Institute, and the Liechtenstein Human Rights Association.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 39,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2015 census, religious group membership is as follows: 73.4 percent Roman Catholic, 6.3 percent Protestant Reformed, 5.9 percent Muslim, 1.2 percent Lutheran, 1.3 percent Christian Orthodox, 1.8 percent other religious groups, 7 percent no religious affiliation, and 3.3 percent unspecified.

According to the Liechtenstein Institute, the majority of Muslims are Sunni, predominantly immigrants and descendants of immigrants from Turkey, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. The Jewish community consists of approximately 30 individuals. Immigrants, who comprise approximately one-third of the country’s population, come mainly from Switzerland and Austria and belong predominantly to the same religious groups as native-born citizens.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all persons shall have the freedom to choose their faith and the state shall be responsible for ‘‘protecting the religious…interests of the People.” The constitution specifies Roman Catholicism is the state religion, which “shall enjoy full protection from the state.” The constitution stipulates other religions may practice their beliefs and hold religious services “within the bounds of morality and public order.”

Municipalities provide the Catholic Church with certain unique benefits that vary by municipality, including financial support and state maintenance of buildings and grounds owned by the Church.

There is no law requiring the registration of religious groups. Religious groups other than the Catholic Church may organize themselves as private associations, which enables registration in the commercial registry, and must do so to receive government funding for such activities as providing religious education in schools or executing projects to promote social integration of religious minorities, such as offering language courses for foreigners. To register in the commercial registry, the association must submit an official letter of application to the Office for Justice, including the organization’s name, purpose, board members, and head office location, as well as a memorandum of association based on local law, a trademark certification, and a copy of the organization’s statutes.

All religious groups are exempt from certain taxes. The government has not indicated how it determines whether groups not registered in the commercial registry are religious groups entitled to the tax exemptions.

The law prohibits the slaughter of animals without anesthetization, making the kosher and halal slaughter illegal. Importation of such meat is legal.

The criminal code prohibits any form of public incitement to hatred or discrimination against, or disparagement of, any religion or its adherents by spoken, written, visual, or electronic means. The criminal code also prohibits the denial, trivialization, and justification of genocide and other crimes against humanity by spoken, written, visual, or electronic means. Penalties may include a prison sentence of up to two years. The criminal code prohibits refusing service to a person or group of persons based on religious affiliation as well as membership in any association that aims to promote discrimination against a person or persons based on religious affiliation.

The law requires the inclusion of religious education in the primary and secondary public school curriculum. Catholic or Protestant Reformed religious education is compulsory in all primary schools. Parents may request exemptions for their children, without providing a reason, from the Office of Education. Children exempted from religious education or who are neither Catholic nor Protestant must attend a class called “Ethics and Religions.” The law also grants the Office of Education the right to organize and finance Islamic education as an elective in public primary schools. Catholic, Protestant Reformed, and Muslim groups provide the teachers for religious instruction, and the Office of Education pays for some or all of their salaries. The Catholic Church determines the Catholic curriculum, with minimal supervision from municipalities. Other religious groups registered as associations may provide teachers for optional religious classes if there is a demand for them and may apply for partial funding of the teachers’ salaries from the government’s integration budget.

At the secondary school level, parents and students may choose between a Catholic religious education course, which the government finances and the Catholic religious community organizes, and a general course in religion and culture taught from a sociological perspective.

To receive residency permits, foreign religious workers must have completed theological studies, command a basic level of German, belong to a “nationally known” religious group (the law does not define “nationally known”), and be sponsored by a resident clergy member of the same religious group.

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

Government Practices

In August the Liechtenstein Institute said Muslims had still not been able to obtain permission from local authorities to establish an Islamic cemetery or build a mosque in the country. All religious groups, including Muslims, were allowed to bury their dead in cemeteries owned by municipalities. According to the institute, municipalities did not categorically oppose mosques, but there was little political will among citizens to address the issue.

The institute also stated the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein remained unable to establish a prayer room in the country. The institute reiterated that Muslims faced difficulties in finding suitable rental space for use as prayer room spaces due to societal skepticism and wariness towards Islam, a wariness which it said was also reflected in the reluctance of municipalities to issue a permit for an Islamic cemetery.

During the 2018-19 school year ending in July, public primary schools in six municipalities offered Islamic education twice each month to a total of 66 students between the ages of six and 12.

Public schools continued to include Holocaust education as part of their curriculum and held Holocaust discussion forums to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. In February senior high school students at the Liechtenstein Grammar School traveled to Dachau, Germany to learn about the history of the Holocaust.

In January three high schools, including the secondary school in Eschen, and the University of Liechtenstein hosted the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem’s exhibition “SHOAH. The Holocaust. How was it humanly possible?” Several schools also invited the honorary president of the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, Evelyne Bermann, to speak with students about the Holocaust.

Funding for religious institutions continued to derive mainly from the municipalities. Municipalities provided Catholic and Protestant Reformed churches annual subsidies in proportion to membership. The MFA stated municipalities allocated funding for specific purposes, such as paying the rent for places of worship, and remained in regular contact with religious representatives regarding the funding.

According to the MFA, authorities in 2018 dropped criminal proceedings against persons suspected of violating the antidiscrimination law by spray-painting a swastika on an outdoor trash can. The MFA stated authorities concluded that, despite the implied support for Nazi ideology, painting the swastika did not amount to anti-Semitic activity.

The government immigration and passport office continued to issue residency permits to religious workers, valid for five years, instead of visas. Religious workers from Schengen member countries did not require permits or visas. The Turkish Association’s imam was not replaced after his 2018 departure – neither the government nor the Turkish Association indicated whether authorities denied a permit for a replacement or the association failed to apply for one.

On January 27, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Minister for Home Affairs, Education, and Environment Hasler hosted government officials and the public at the Takino cinema in Schaan for film screenings and discussions on moral guilt, radicalization, the maintenance of historical records, and ways of dealing with the truth about the Holocaust. Parliament President Albert Frick and Liechtenstein Police Chief Jules Hoch attended the opening, which screened the 1924 silent movie “The City Without Jews.” In her speech, Hasler stated the “darkest chapter of humanity’s history” cannot be forgotten and emphasized the need for the government to continue its efforts to raise awareness of the Holocaust.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no mosques in the country; there was one Islamic prayer room, operated by the Turkish Association, in leased space in Triesen. The Islamic Community of Liechtenstein had a prayer room in the canton of St. Gallen in neighboring Switzerland.

According to the MFA, religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request, including to Orthodox and Islamic groups. For example, the Catholic Church of Schaan continued to make its church available to the Christian Orthodox community to hold an Orthodox Easter Sunday service.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy staff continued to discuss religious freedom issues, focusing primarily on access to religious education by different religious groups, particularly the Muslim community, and the establishment of religious infrastructure, such as a mosque or Muslim burial sites, with the MFA’s specialist for human rights and international law.

Embassy staff also continued to discuss the effects of laws on religious practices and the extent of societal discrimination with the Liechtenstein Friends of Yad Vashem, the Liechtenstein Institute, and the government-supported Liechtenstein Human Rights Association, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom of religious practice, and state recognition of religious organizations, provided they do not contradict the constitution or the law. The government extends special benefits to nine traditional religious groups and more limited benefits to four recognized religious groups. Religious groups must register with the government to gain legal status. Parliament did not approve the recognition application by the indigenous religious group Romuva, despite a favorable recommendation by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and again did not consider the recognition application from the United Methodist Church, pending since 2001. The MOJ did not provide a recommendation to parliament for the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ recognition application, pending since 2017. In October a court dismissed an appeal by a Jehovah’s Witness who, as a conscientious objector, refused any form of service under military authority. In March a local court dismissed a case against the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania brought by a U.S. citizen who sued the center for concluding that Jonas Noreika, an anti-Soviet partisan leader, did not participate in the mass killing of Jews in the country during World War II (WWII). In December the center issued a report stating that Noreika was actually an anti-Nazi resistance fighter who worked to save Jews from the ghetto; academics, Jewish groups, and NGOs criticized this report as factually unsupported (it cited a single source from the 1980s) and misleading. In July the Vilnius mayor removed a plaque honoring Noreika, but it was reinstalled subsequently without permission by the nationalist NGO Pro Patria. The government continued with plans to begin the conversion of a Soviet-era sports arena, which was built on top of a Jewish cemetery, into a conference center. A Lithuanian Jew residing in Israel petitioned to stop construction on the grounds that it would disturb human remains. On December 2, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Ambassador-at-Large for Jewish Issues Dainius Junevicius and Member of Parliament and chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (International Commission) Emanuelis Zingeris attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration. On December 10, the MFA organized a session on the importance of religious freedom and belief during the country’s second annual human rights forum. Experts participating in the session included an MOJ official.

There were six recorded anti-Semitic acts of vandalism between September and November, including one on October 6 in Vilnius involving an unknown person spray-painting a swastika on the side of a building and leaving an apparent makeshift explosive near the entrance of that building. On November 13, three teenagers spray-painted the words “Heil Hitler” on a Kaunas synagogue’s information board. On November 17, three teenagers broke the windows of a mosque in Kaunas. In March some participants at a nationalist march in Vilnius of approximately 1,000 persons wore fascist symbols and carried banners of Lithuanian partisans who critics said were Nazi collaborators. Some participants at another nationalist march of 300 persons in February carried a banner with a picture of a WWII-era anti-Semite, Kazys Skirpa. Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim internet postings in response to articles about Jewish or Muslim issues were common, but observers said media portals generally removed them when these postings were brought to their attention.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met with government officials, including Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, ministers and vice ministers at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, and the speaker and members of parliament (MPs). They also met with the International Commission and the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) to discuss ways to combat intolerance and anti-Semitism and to resolve compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. In September the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues released a statement on social media encouraging Lithuanians to review objectively the actions of historical anti-Soviet resistance fighters whose actions directly led to the persecution and mass killing of persons during the Holocaust. On October 27, the Charge d’Affaires attended the opening of a Holocaust education seminar for teachers and delivered remarks emphasizing the responsibility of teachers in educating youth about the country’s role in the Holocaust. On October 29, the Charge attended the unveiling of a memorial stone commemorating the individuals killed during the Holocaust in the forest near Zarasai on August 26, 1941. On December 2, the Charge and other embassy officers attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 90 percent of the population that responded to the question about religious affiliation, 86 percent are Roman Catholic, and 7 percent do not identify with any religious group. Religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Russian Orthodox, Old Believers, Lutherans, Reformed Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Greek Catholics, Karaite Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Full Gospel Word of Faith Movement, Pentecostals/Charismatics, Old Baltic faith communities, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, and members of the New Apostolic Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the 2011 census, approximately 5,100 persons identified as followers of Romuva, a religion practiced in the country since before the introduction of Christianity. According to the census, the Jewish population is predominately concentrated in larger cities and is estimated at 3,050. The population of Karaite Jews, who traditionally live in Trakai and in the greater Vilnius region, is estimated at 250. The Sunni Muslim population numbers approximately 2,800, the majority of whom are Tatars, a community living primarily in Vilnius and Kaunas. The Muslim community also includes recent converts, migrants, refugees, and temporary workers from the Middle East and Africa, most of whom are Sunni Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates there is no state religion and provides for the right of individuals to choose freely any religion or belief, to profess their religion and perform religious practices, individually or with others, in private or in public, and to practice and teach their beliefs. It states no one may compel another person (or be compelled) to choose or profess any religion or belief. The constitution allows limits on the freedom to profess and spread religious beliefs when necessary to protect health, safety, public order, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It restricts freedom of expression if it incites religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. It stipulates religious belief may not serve as justification for failing to comply with laws.

Under the constitution, the government may temporarily restrict freedom of expression of religious belief during a period of martial law or a state of emergency.

The constitution acknowledges the freedom of parents or guardians to oversee the religious and moral education of their children without interference and stipulates public education shall be secular, although schools may provide religious instruction at the request of parents. The constitution grants recognition to traditional religious groups and provides for recognition of other religious groups if their teachings and practices do not conflict with law or public morals. It states the status of religious groups shall be established by agreement or law and recognized religious groups shall be free to carry out their activities as long as they are not in conflict with the constitution or laws.

The law requires the police to take preemptive measures against illegal activities, giving special attention to maintaining order on specific historical dates and certain religious or cultural holidays.

The law defines religious groups as (1) religious communities, (2) religious associations, which comprise at least two religious communities under common leadership, and (3) religious centers, which are higher governing bodies of religious associations.

The law recognizes as “traditional” those religious groups able to trace back their presence in the country at least 300 years. The law lists nine “traditional” religious groups: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Russian Orthodox, Old Believer, Jewish, Sunni Muslim, and Karaite Jewish. “Traditional” religious groups may perform marriages that are state recognized, establish joint private/public schools, provide religious instruction in public schools, and receive annual government subsidies. Their highest-ranking leaders are eligible to apply for diplomatic passports, and they may provide chaplains for the military, social care institutions, hospitals, and prisons. The state provides social security and healthcare insurance contributions for clergy, religious workers, and members of monastic orders of the traditional religious groups. Traditional religious groups are also not required to pay social and health insurance taxes for clergy and most other religious workers and members of monastic orders.

Other religious groups and associations may apply to the MOJ for state recognition if they have legal entity status, meaning they have been officially registered in the country for at least 25 years. Parliament votes whether to grant state recognition status upon recommendation from the MOJ. The Evangelical Baptist Union of Lithuania, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Pentecostal Evangelical Belief Christian Union, and New Apostolic Church of Lithuania are the only state-recognized “nontraditional” religious groups registered in this manner.

Recognition entitles “nontraditional” religious groups to perform marriages that will be recognized by the state, similar to marriages officiated by traditional religious groups, and to provide religious instruction in public schools. Recognition also grants “nontraditional” religious groups eligibility for annual subsidies from the state budget and for certain social security and healthcare contributions by the state.

The MOJ handles official registration of religious communities, associations, and centers. Groups wishing to register must submit an application and supporting documentation to the MOJ, including bylaws describing their religious teachings and governance, minutes of the founding meeting, and a list of the founders, at least 15 of whom must be citizens. Upon approval of its application, a religious community, association, or center may register as a legal entity with the State Enterprise Center of Registers. Registration is voluntary for religious communities, associations, and centers affiliated with traditional religious groups and mandatory for nontraditional communities wishing to receive legal status.

Registration of “traditional” religious communities, associations, and centers is free of charge, while “nontraditional” communities pay a fee of 32 euros ($36). Traditional communities also have a simpler registration procedure and need to submit only an application, decisions of their governing body on the appointment of their leader, and their headquarters address. The MOJ may refuse to register a religious group if full data are not included in the application, the activities of the group violate human rights or public order, or a group with the same name has already registered. According to the Center of Registers, there are 1,121 traditional and 197 nontraditional religious communities, associations, and centers that are officially registered legal entities.

For all religious groups, official registration is a prerequisite for opening a bank account, owning property, and acting in a legal or official capacity as a community. The law allows all registered religious groups to own property for use as prayer houses, homes, and other functions, and permits construction of facilities necessary for religious activities. All registered groups are eligible for public funds from municipalities for cultural and social projects.

The country has compulsory military service for males between the ages of 19 and 26 and up to the age of 38 for those with higher education. The country has approximately 3,500 conscripts each year. Military service is for nine months. Clergy from registered groups are exempt from compulsory military service. In the event of a military conflict, clergy would be called to serve as chaplains. The Constitutional Court recognizes the right to conscientious objection on any grounds. The law provides an alternative to military service in civilian institutions unless the military deems it necessary to perform an alternative service in a national defense institution.

Unregistered communities have no legal status, but the constitution allows them to conduct worship services and seek new members.

The Interministerial Commission to Coordinate Activities of Governmental Institutions that Deal with Issues of Religious, Esoteric, and Spiritual Groups coordinates investigations of religious groups if there is a concern a group’s actions may be inconsistent with what the commission perceives to be “principles that stress respect for human freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”

The Journalist Ethics Inspectorate, a government-sponsored organization whose head is appointed by parliament, investigates complaints involving the violation of regulatory laws governing the provision of information to the public, including print media and the internet. These laws include prohibition of the publication of material that fuels religious hatred. The inspectorate may levy administrative fines on newspapers or refer cases to the Office of the General Prosecutor.

The Soviet Union nationalized all religious buildings on June 19, 1948, some of which continued to serve religious communities. On March 21, 1995, the national government passed a law on the restitution of religious property permitting registered religious communities to apply to the appropriate ministry or municipality for restitution or for compensation of religious property they owned before June 19, 1948. The deadline to apply for restitution of religious property was in 1997. The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 1997 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal ministry or municipality decisions in court. Unregistered religious groups could not apply for restitution.

In 2011 the national government adopted a law permitting registered religious groups to register previously nationalized religious property that was not officially registered under their name but which they owned before 1948 and continued to use during the Soviet period. The deadline for registered religious groups to register this property was in 2014. The government continues to review cases from registered religious groups filed by the 2014 deadline but is not accepting any new claims. Religious groups may appeal the MOJ’s decisions in court.

For individuals, the country’s private property restitution laws provided a mechanism through which the country’s citizens who had received citizenship before the restitution deadline (December 31, 2001) and resided in the country had the right to submit a claim for private property restitution. The laws excluded those who either lacked citizenship or regained it after 2001.

For Jewish-owned communal property nationalized under totalitarian regimes, a compensation fund was established in 2011 to support Jewish educational, religious, scientific, cultural, and healthcare projects with public benefits. Pursuant to the law, the government is committed to disbursing a total of 36 million euros ($40.45 million) over the decade ending March 1, 2023. Funds go to the Good Will Foundation, a public institution governed by national and international Jewish leaders.

The country has no law for the restitution of heirless private property.

The government allocates funds to traditional religious communities for refurbishing houses of prayer, restoring old cemeteries, and preserving cultural heritage sites. Each traditional religious group receives 3,075 euros ($3,500) every year as a base fund plus an additional amount that is calibrated according to the number of adherents in each community.

The constitution and other laws permit and fund religious instruction in public schools for traditional and state-recognized religious groups. Most religious instructors are regular state-employed teachers, but some are priests, seminarians, or monks. Parents must choose either religious instruction or secular ethics classes for their children but may not opt out of both offerings. Schools decide which of the traditional or state-recognized nontraditional religious groups will be represented in their curricula based on requests from parents of children up to the age 14, after which students present the requests themselves.

There are 30 private schools established by religious communities, 26 Catholic and four Jewish. Students of different religious groups may attend these schools. All accredited private schools (religious and nonreligious) receive funding from municipalities and the Ministry of Education and Science through a voucher system based on the number of pupils. Each private school receives 1,099 euros ($1,200) per student. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, national minority schools, which include schools established by the Jewish community, receive 20 percent more – 1,318.80 euros ($1,500) – per student than other private schools. The per-student stipend covers only the program costs of school operation. Private school operators generally bear responsibility for covering capital outlays; however, per an agreement the government signed with the Holy See, the Ministry of Education and Science funds both the capital and operating costs of private Catholic schools.

The criminal code prohibits incitement of hatred and discrimination based on religion and stipulates fines or up to two years in prison for violations. The code penalizes interference with religious ceremonies of recognized religious groups, with community service, fines, or detention for up to 90 days. The law does not address interference with or incitement of hatred against unrecognized religious groups.

The Office of the Equal Opportunities (OEO) ombudsperson investigates complaints of discrimination, including those based on religion, directed against state institutions, educational institutions, employers, and product and service sellers and producers. Parliament appoints the ombudsperson for a period of five years. The office conducts independent investigations, publishes surveys and independent reports on discrimination, and provides conclusions and recommendations on any discrimination-related issues. The office also makes proposals to state and municipal institutions and government agencies concerning the improvement of legal acts and priorities of the implementation of equal rights policy. The OEO ombudsperson does not levy monetary penalties.

The parliamentary ombudsperson often works with the OEO ombudsperson but is a separate entity. The parliamentary ombudsperson examines the conduct of state authorities in serving the population. The law governing the parliamentary ombudsperson specifically includes religious discrimination within its purview. The OEO and parliamentary ombudsperson may investigate complaints, recommend changes in the law or draft legislation to parliamentary committees and ministries, and recommend cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office for pretrial investigation.

The criminal code prohibits public display of Soviet and Nazi symbols or national anthems. Violators are subject to fines of 144-289 euros ($160-$320).

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

Government Practices

In March a local court dismissed a case against the state-funded Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania, brought by a U.S. citizen who lost relatives in Holocaust-era killings attributed to Jonas Noreika, a Soviet-era partisan and Nazi collaborator who signed documents establishing a Jewish ghetto and confiscating Jewish property in Siauliai during WWII. The U.S. citizen sued the center for concluding that Noreika did not participate in the mass killing of Jews in Lithuania during the war. In December the center issued a report stating Noreika was an anti-Nazi resistance fighter who actively worked to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, based solely on the 1986 testimony of a Jesuit priest in a U.S. district court. The LJC and a number of prominent academics rejected this claim because it was based on a single witness whom they stated was of dubious credibility.

On July 27, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius removed a plaque honoring Noreika based on historical evidence that concluded Noreika was a Nazi collaborator. On July 30, President Gitanas Nauseda called for a moratorium on the removal of WWII-era monuments and proposed an initiative to provide municipalities with criteria to evaluate historic property.

In July the Vilnius City Council voted to rename a street, Skirpa Alley, previously named in honor of Kazys Skirpa, the leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front, a WWII anti-Soviet resistance group that was also found to have cooperated with the Nazis in the roundup of Lithuanian Jews. According to media reports, because of Skirpa’s anti-Semitism, the street was renamed Trispalves Aleja. On August 7, media reported that approximately 300 individuals gathered in central Vilnius to protest the city’s decision to rename Skirpa Alley. Attendees also protested the removal of the Noreika plaque.

On September 5, the nationalist NGO Pro Patria reinstalled the Noreika plaque without permission from the Vilnius municipality. Mayor Simasius told media the municipality would not remove the plaque again. On September 6, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told media that glorifying figures like Noreika would harm the country’s international image.

On June 27, parliament voted 46 (31 opposed and 15 abstentions) to 40 against granting Romuva state-recognized religious association status, despite their receiving a positive recommendation from the MOJ in 2018. According to the Romuva, a member of the Conference of Lithuanian Bishops sent a letter to MPs advising them against granting state recognition to Romuva. The letter, which was subsequently made public, asserted that state recognition of Romuva as a religion would “unduly mislead Lithuanian citizens and discriminate against all other religious communities.” Some MPs told media the Romuva did not present a counterargument to the claims raised in the letter, and other MPs said they viewed Romuva as a cultural organization rather than a religious institution. The law stipulates that Romuva must wait 10 years before reapplying for recognition. Sources stated that the rejection of Romuva led other religious organizations to hesitate before advocating for their applications.

The MOJ was still reviewing the Jehovah’s Witnesses 2017 application for state-recognized religious association status at year’s end. The MOJ says it was conducting research to verify the application dates before recommending the group to parliament.

An application for religious association status by the United Methodist Church of Lithuania, which the MOJ submitted to parliament with a favorable recommendation in 2001, remained pending. According to the MOJ, it was incumbent on the United Methodist Church to advocate for its application in parliament, but the group had not done so. United Methodist Church minister Remigijus Matulaitis said an application rejection would devastate the morale of the Methodist community, and thus the group decided to wait until after parliamentary elections in 2020 to consider advocating for the proposal in parliament.

In April Yousef Yizhak, a Lithuanian Jew residing in Israel, petitioned a Lithuanian court to prevent the renovation of the Vilnius Sports Palace, located on the site of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery, stating the renovation into a conference center “would…disturb the human remains surrounding the Sports Palace, and [the remains] that the Soviets mixed into the Sports Palace’s building materials.” The government said the claim would not affect renovation plans until the court made a final decision, expected in 2020 or 2021. The LJC concurred with the government’s decision to continue with the renovations in the meantime. In April the government approved plans to create a permanent exhibition in the conference center devoted to the history of the Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery. On September 23, members of the Vilnius Jewish Community, one of 33 regional branches of the LJC, and visiting rabbis from abroad gathered in front of the Sports Palace with signs urging the government, “to stop these disgraceful plans for construction and allow the dead to rest.”

The government again disbursed 3.62 million euros ($4.07 million) to the Good Will Foundation, in accordance with its agreement with that institution.

The government said it was open to discussions with the LJC, World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), and American Jewish Committee to find a mechanism to compensate the country’s Jewish citizens whose personal property was confiscated during the Nazi and Soviet eras.

The government provided 1.2 million euros ($1.35 million) to traditional religious groups to reconstruct religious buildings and to support other religious community activities. Of this total, it granted one million euros ($1.12 million) to the Roman Catholic Church (some of which was to assist with preparations for the visit of Pope Francis in September) and 61,100 euros ($68,700) to the Russian Orthodox community. The remaining 139,000 euros ($156,000) was divided among the Old Believer, Evangelical Lutheran, Evangelical Reformed, Sunni Muslim, Karaite and other Jewish, and Greek Catholic communities. These levels were all identical to the previous year’s funding.

The OEO ombudsperson received five complaints of discrimination based on religion. The OEO decided that three of these complaints fell outside its jurisdiction; the OEO considers only complaints based on protected categories such as ethnicity, religion, or gender. The fourth complaint was regarding the process to obtain a temporary residence permit. The fifth complaint was related to employment discrimination. The ombudsperson ruled that neither case constituted religious discrimination.

On September 19, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman reported Muslim detainees at the Pabrade Foreigners’ Registration Center, a detention center for migrants and asylum seekers, complained about the lack of halal food options and poor sanitary conditions.

The government and civil society organizations continued to work together to promote Holocaust education and tolerance in schools. On January 27, the International Commission for the Evaluation of Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (the International Commission) held an annual conference entitled “Stories of Jewish Kids” in honor of International Remembrance Day of Holocaust Victims. Students from schools across the country prepared theatrical performances and retold the stories of child victims of the Holocaust.

On July 24, the government approved the 2020 schedule of commemoration events in honor of Vilna Gaon, a prominent 18th century rabbi. In 2018 parliament unanimously dedicated 2020 to Gaon’s legacy and to the history of Lithuanian Jews. Vice Chancellor Deividas Matulionis told media these events would raise public awareness of the country’s “rich history, which is inseparable from the history of Lithuania’s Jews.” The government coordinated with the LJC and cultural institutions to schedule public lectures and design exhibitions to highlight the contributions of Lithuanian Jews and the country’s role in the Holocaust.

On September 23, the International Commission coordinated a student march to massacre sites around the country entitled “Memory Road.” The program included 165 schools traveling to more than 35 different Holocaust sites.

In October the International Commission cosponsored a Holocaust education teacher training with Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum coordinated a seminar for teachers entitled “Pages of Jewish History” and provided teachers with materials to use during classroom instruction. On October 27, the International Commission and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in partnership with the Olga Lengyel Institute sponsored a week-long Holocaust education seminar for teachers. The program included presentations, discussions, group work, videos, visits to Holocaust sites, and survivors’ testimonies.

On June 16, Mayor of Birzai Vytas Jareckas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended the unveiling of a memorial stone. Attendees walked the historic path from the train station through the forest to a mass killing site. In opening remarks, Jareckas said, “This event taking place in Birzai will be an opportunity to remember and honor former residents of our country.” Government officials continued to participate in ceremonies to commemorate the Holocaust.

In July government and nongovernmental bodies organized events to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Kaunas and Siauliai ghettos. On July 14, Mayor of Kaunas Visvaldas Matijosaitis, MPs, the Catholic Archbishop of Kaunas, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended commemoration events in Kaunas. On July 15, Mayor of Siauliai Arturas Visockas, MPs, the LJC, and foreign dignitaries attended two commemoration events in Siauliai. In opening remarks, Visockas recounted the stories of Jews from Siauliai who died during the Holocaust and emphasized the importance of remembering Jewish contributions to the development of the city.

On July 19, the Jurbarkas municipality, with support from the Good Will Foundation and foreign donors, erected a Holocaust memorial to commemorate the lives of Jews who lived in Jurbarkas. According to a press statement by Mayor of Jurbarkas Skirmantas Mockevicius, the memorial “is a wonderful creation, commemorating the city’s history and people who lived here as well as Jurbarkas residents who saved Jews during the war.”

President Nauseda’s address on September 20 during a state ceremony to honor families that helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust condemned intolerance and any attempts to intimidate Jewish citizens.

On September 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, Speaker of Parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, Minister of Culture Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Vice Chancellor Matulionis, Mayor of Vilnius Simasius, MPs, foreign dignitaries, the LJC, and Lithuanian Jewish organizations from Israel and Poland attended a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the Paneriai Memorial. Pranckietis in his remarks said, “Let this heavy, cruel, and inhumane burden of responsibility teach Lithuanians how to proceed today.” Also on September 23, in his remarks given near the site of the former Vilnius ghetto, Prime Minister Skvernelis stated, “Every effort must be taken to stamp out any manifestations of incitement to ethnic hatred or anti-Semitism in the modern, democratic state of Lithuania.”

On October 4, Mayor of Sakiai Edgaras Pilypaitis with the support of Rami Reznik, an Israeli with Lithuanian Jewish heritage, dedicated a memorial stone to mark the entrance of a previously unmarked Jewish cemetery in Pilviskiai. Mayor Pilypaitis and Reznik restored the old cemetery. Members from the municipality, the LJC, and Lithuanian Jews from Israel attended the commemoration event. In October Mayor of Zarasai Nikolajus Gusevas and the LJC unveiled a Holocaust memorial to commemorate the lives of Zarasai’s Jews lost during the Holocaust.

On December 2, MFA Ambassador-at-Large for Jewish Issues Dainius Junevicius and MP and chairman of the International Commission Emanuelis Zingeris attended a regional conference in Vilnius commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration. The Good Will Foundation, in cooperation with WJRO and the International Commission, organized the conference. Experts from the United States, Israel, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Hungary, Moldova, and the Czech Republic shared best practices for restituting Holocaust-era assets.

On December 10, the MFA organized a session on the importance of religious freedom and belief during the country’s second annual human rights forum. Experts included MOJ official Donatas Glodenis; Vytautas Magnus University sociologist and Religious Studies Professor Milda Alisauskiene; a priestess from the Romuva religious community, Migle Valaitiene; and the director of Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions, Massimo Introvigne. Forum participants discussed the Catholic Church’s intervention in parliament’s decision not to approve the application for recognition submitted by the Romuva community, despite a favorable recommendation by the MOJ. Professor Alisauskiene said parliament had only approved recognition applications from Christian organizations, and minority religions such as Romuva experienced discrimination as a result.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 15 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Lithuania, while 73 percent said it was rare; 60 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 95 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 80 percent said they would be with an atheist, 79 percent with a Jew, 67 percent with a Buddhist, and 62 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 93 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 68 percent if atheist, 65 percent if Jewish, 50 percent if Buddhist, and 35 percent if Muslim.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 75 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was not a problem in Lithuania, and 63 percent believed it had stayed the same over the previous five years. The percentage who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 19 percent; on the internet, 21 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 23 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 30 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 17 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 13 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 15 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 15 percent.

On November 13, three teenagers spray-painted the words “Heil Hitler” on the Kaunas synagogue’s information board. Police said they suspected the same teenagers broke the windows of a mosque in Kaunas on November 17. Police launched a pretrial investigation into both acts of vandalism on November 25 and detained an 18-year-old suspect on November 28. The Kaunas municipality removed the graffiti from the information board.

On October 6, media reported that a swastika and a homemade bomb were left outside of a building in Vilnius. Police removed the apparent bomb and launched an investigation.

On February 16, nationalists held a march in Vilnius to commemorate the anniversary of the restoration of the country’s independence, similar to previous years. The march attracted approximately 1,000 participants, an increase from 300 in the previous year, which some NGOs attributed to better organization and publicity. Some of the participants held torches and carried national Lithuanian flags. The march included a banner with a picture of, and a quote by, WWII-era anti-Semite Kazys Skirpa. Nationalists also organized a march in Vilnius on March 11, the country’s official Restoration of Independence Day, involving approximately 1,000 persons, similar to the previous year. According to media, some of the participants displayed fascist or neo-Nazi symbols, such as a skull-and-crossbones flag, and carried a banner with the images of Lithuanian partisans who were Nazi collaborators, such as Kazys Skirpa and Jonas Noreika.

Anonymous anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments on the internet were common, for example, on Lithuanian media portal Delfi. Examples of anti-Semitism in this forum included statements that Jews who collaborated with the KGB should be condemned by the LJC for “serving in the repressive Soviet structures and participating or otherwise contributing to the genocide of the Lithuanian nation.” Anti-Muslim examples included equating Muslim refugees entering the country with “a swarm of insects” and urging the government and citizens “to chase those [Muslim] refugees from Lithuania.” Media portals generally removed such comments promptly after becoming aware of them.

In the wake of the Noreika controversy, LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky reported to media the LJC had received threatening calls and letters, and on August 6, she temporarily closed the local synagogue and the Jewish community’s headquarters. In response, Prime Minister Skvernelis condemned all examples of ethnic hatred and called on law enforcement to guarantee the security for every citizen and every community living in the country. Kukliansky reopened the synagogue and community center shortly thereafter.

On September 15, media reported an unidentified person created a large soil swastika near the LJC headquarters. The swastika appeared during the Festival of the Nations, an annual festival displaying the country’s national minority cultures. Prime Minister Skvernelis in a press release denounced it as an act of vandalism and warned that such activities tarnished the country’s image internationally. Foreign Minister Linkevicius condemned the act as “deplorable” and called for police to investigate. On September 16, police launched an investigation; no results were available at year’s end.

In October three more anti-Semitic acts of vandalism took place around the country. On October 5, media reported that an unknown person painted a swastika on a statue of Chaim Frenkel, a 19th century Jewish industrialist, in Siauliai. The Siauliai municipality removed the swastika. The following day, someone spray-painted a swastika on a street in Vilnius. On October 12, a group vandalized a mural representing Jewish cultural life in Vilnius with a swastika. The Vilnius municipality removed all of the swastikas.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy continued to maintain regular dialogue with senior government officials on the importance of religious freedom. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with Prime Minister Skvernelis, Speaker of Parliament Pranckietis, presidential advisors, a vice chancellor, mayors, ministers and vice ministers of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Culture, and Education, and MPs and continued to engage them on ways to promote tolerance and integration of religious minorities, including Muslim refugees, into society and combat anti-Semitism. Embassy representatives urged the government to address the remaining issues regarding compensation for Jewish private property seized during the Nazi and Soviet eras. Embassy officials also discussed Holocaust education, remembrance, and property restitution at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government offices and with MPs.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met regularly with the Jewish community to discuss issues of concern, including property restitution, preservation and restoration of heritage sites, combating intolerance, and Holocaust remembrance.

On February 25, the Ambassador met with Minister of Culture Kvietkauskas to discuss embassy programs related to Holocaust education and preservation of Jewish cultural sites.

On March 7, the Ambassador spoke with Vice Chancellor Matulionis about the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act and the embassy’s outreach to government and nongovernmental agencies to discuss property restitution issues and Holocaust education. The Ambassador also spoke about the issues covered in the JUST report with Minister of Education, Science, and Sports Algirdas Monkevicius on March 18.

On May 9, the Ambassador accompanied an American Jewish Committee representative and LJC Chairwoman Kukliansky to meetings with Foreign Minister Linkevicius and Vice Chancellor Matulionis to discuss the removal of the Noreika plaque, the renovations of the Snipiskes Sports Palace, and private property restitution.

In June embassy officers attended the unveiling of the memorial stone in Birzai. On June 21, an embassy officer attended the unveiling of the YIVO plaque in Vilnius. On June 28, the Ambassador spoke with Foreign Minister Linkevicius about the importance of increasing societal tolerance for religious minorities, government visibility at annual Holocaust remembrance events, and support for Holocaust education and preserving Jewish cultural heritage sites.

On July 10, the Ambassador and Prime Minister Skvernelis discussed the necessity of government support for the Jewish community and continued cooperation and open discussions over the renovation of the Snipiskes Sports Palace. On July 14, a senior embassy official participated in a ceremony honoring the 75th Holocaust Memorial Day in Kaunas. The next day, embassy officials delivered remarks at the 75th Holocaust Memorial Day event in Siauliai, commenting on the importance of remembrance and Holocaust education. In July the embassy provided financial support for an expedition to discover a lost Jewish shtetl located beneath a lake. In his remarks at a July 16 reception announcing the results of the expedition, a senior embassy official highlighted the archaeological team’s contributions to the discovery and preservation of Jewish cultural heritage sites in the country.

In September the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues released a series of tweets in response to the Noreika controversy encouraging Lithuanians to objectively review the actions of historical figures. The envoy advocated against honoring those whose actions directly led to the persecution and killing of Jews during the Holocaust. On September 23, the Charge d’Affaires participated in a ceremony at the Paneriai memorial in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day.

On October 27, the Charge attended the opening of a week-long Holocaust education seminar for teachers and delivered remarks emphasizing the role of teachers in educating the youth about the country’s role in the Holocaust. On October 29, the Charge travelled to Zarasai to attend the unveiling of a memorial stone commemorating the individuals killed in the forest on August 26, 1941. In his remarks, the Charge acknowledged the government’s efforts to preserve Jewish history and cultural heritage and to raise awareness of the country’s role in the Holocaust. On December 2, the Charge and other embassy officers attended the regional conference commemorating the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Terezin Declaration.

Netherlands

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief. It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred. In August the government implemented a ban of face coverings in schools and some public spaces, but institutions involved with enforcing the law expressed reluctance to enforce the ban. In April the country’s highest administrative court ruled the government must finance and facilitate the establishment of an Islamic primary school in Westland after the city council there denied the school a permit. The national railway company began accepting applications for compensation to Jewish and other survivors, as well as close relatives of deceased persons, whom it had transported to transit camps ultimately leading to concentration camps during the Nazi occupation. In May the government allocated three million euros ($3.4 million) to combat anti-Semitism after the Jewish community requested greater government attention to the issue. Construction of the National Holocaust Monument in Amsterdam started on July 9, after the Amsterdam Administrative Court dismissed all objections to its development. Politicians from several parties made anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic statements during the year.

Government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, involving nonlethal violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism. One NGO reported 182 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 135 in 2018. Police registered 275 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, slightly less than in 2017, and 137 incidents against Muslims, a decline of 29 percent from 2017. There were two violent anti-Semitic incidents reported by NGOs involving homes of Jewish families. A study by the European Commission found 65 percent of respondents viewed anti-Semitism as a problem in the country. According to Report Islamophobia, 95 percent of the Muslims it surveyed said they had experienced an anti-Muslim incident in the previous five years. The Jewish community expressed worry about increasing anti-Semitism and said many members avoided attending Jewish events or wearing Jewish symbols or clothing in public. Monitoring organizations said there were increases in anti-Muslim hate speech online and protests near mosques, particularly by what they consider extremist groups, and that many instances of workplace discrimination against Muslims were directed at women wearing headscarves. In October an Amsterdam court sentenced an Afghan man, who stabbed two U.S. citizens in 2018 because of what he said were Dutch insults to Islam, to almost 27 years in prison.

The U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of support for all faiths and interfaith dialogue in formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials – including at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Justice and Security, of Social Affairs and Employment, of Education, Culture, and Science, and of local governments – and with parliamentarians. Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society. In April the Ambassador spoke about the history of religious tolerance in the United States and the relationship between the Christian communities of the United States and the Netherlands to a public television broadcaster. During the international Istanbul Process conference in November on combating religious intolerance, a senior Department of State official spoke on implementing measures to combat intolerance based on religion or belief.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 17.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). In a 2017 survey of persons age 15 or older by Statistics Netherlands, an official source of government statistics, 51 percent of the population declared no church affiliation, 23.6 percent self-identified as Roman Catholic, 14.9 percent as Protestant (6.4 percent Reformed, 2.9 percent Calvinist, and 5.6 percent unspecified Protestant), 5.1 percent as Muslim, and 5.6 percent as “other,” including Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Baha’i.

Most Muslims live in urban areas and are of Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese background. The Muslim population also includes recent immigrants and asylum seekers from other countries, including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. While there are no official estimates, most Muslims are believed to be Sunni. The Liberal Jewish Community, the largest Jewish community in the country, estimates there are 40,000-50,000 Jews. A Statistics Netherlands study from 2015, the most recent available, estimates the number of Hindus at 10,000, of whom approximately 85 percent are of Surinamese descent and 10 percent of Indian descent. The Buddhist community has approximately 17,000 members, according to a 2007 report by the governmental Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), the most recent estimate available.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and provides for the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, without affecting their responsibilities under the law. The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs outside of buildings or enclosed spaces to protect health, ensure traffic safety, and prevent disorder.

The law makes it a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred and provides a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,100), or both. To qualify as hate speech, statements must be directed at a group of persons; the law does not consider statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” (as opposed to “Muslims”) as criminal hate speech.

The law does not require religious groups to register with the government. If the tax authorities determine a group meets specific criteria, they grant it exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes. Under the tax law, to qualify for tax exemptions such groups must be “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contribute to the general welfare of society, and be nonprofit and nonviolent.

On August 1, the ban on full-face coverings – including ski masks, helmets, niqabs, and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings – came into force. According to the law, authorities must first ask individuals violating the ban to remove the face covering or to leave the premises. Those refusing to comply may be fined 150 euros ($170).

The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector. Members of religious communities for whom the Sabbath is not Sunday may request similar exemptions.

The Council of State and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) are responsible for reviewing complaints of religious discrimination. The Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country, and its rulings are binding. The NIHR serves as the government’s independent human rights watchdog, responsible for advising the government and monitoring and highlighting such issues, including those pertaining to religion. The NIHR hears complaints of religious discrimination, often involving labor disputes, and issues opinions that do not carry the force of law but with which the addressed parties tend to comply. If they do not comply with NIHR’s opinion, plaintiffs may take their case to a regular court.

Local governments appoint antidiscrimination boards that work independently under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. These local boards provide information on how to report complaints and mediate disputes, including those pertaining to discrimination based on religion. Parties involved in disputes are not forced to accept mediation decisions of the local boards.

The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions must meet government educational standards as well as minimum class size and healthcare requirements. The constitution stipulates that standards required of religious or ideology-based (termed “special”) schools, financed either in part or fully by the government, shall be regulated by law with due regard for the freedom of these schools to provide education according to their religion or ideology.

The constitution stipulates public education shall pay due respect to the individual’s religion or belief. The law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools. Teachers with special training to do so teach classes about a specific religion or its theology in some public schools, and enrollment in these classes is optional. All schools are required to familiarize students with the various religious movements in society, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation. Religion-based schools that are government funded are free to determine the content of their religious classes and make them mandatory, if the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses. Approximately 71 percent of government-funded schools have a religious, humanist, or philosophical basis. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science is responsible for setting national curriculum standards that all schools must comply with and for monitoring compliance.

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

Government Practices

The August 1 implementation of the law banning full-face coverings – including niqabs and burqas – in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings generated societal debate. On August 9, a few dozen women wearing niqabs and other supporters demonstrated against the ban in The Hague. They argued the ban limited the individual freedom of women and isolated Muslim women who might be afraid to take their children to school or a hospital. Advocates of the ban insisted that the law be enforced, including one advocate, Party for Freedom (PVV) leader and Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, who described it as a prelude to a future ban on headscarves. Opponents of the law viewed it as largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small, estimated by officials to be between 150 and 400. The Federation of Islamic Organizations, among others, urged authorities not to enforce the law.

The institutions involved in the ban expressed reluctance to enforce it, stating the ban should not interfere with their regular business. Hospitals stated they would never refuse care to a woman for wearing a niqab. Public transportation companies stated they were obliged to transport anyone with a valid ticket and objected to any interruption of their regular service. Police stated they would not prioritize responses if called about these types of incidents. Following the introduction of the ban, there were two incidents, one involving a bus in Stein, Limburg, on August 19, and the other a train at Rotterdam Central Station on September 16, in which women wearing niqabs refused to show their faces or to leave the vehicles. In both cases, the women eventually left the vehicles after police insisted on compliance with the law, and neither was fined. Activists posted video on Facebook showing the train conductor involved in one of the incidents, who became the target of threats.

After the ban came into force, the local Rotterdam-based Islamic political party NIDA offered to pay the fine on behalf of any woman cited for violating the face-covering ban, stating it viewed the ban as an infringement on religious freedom. The women’s rights organization Femmes for Freedom filed a complaint against NIDA, stating that NIDA was breaking the law by offering to pay the fine.

The Central Appeal Council, one of the highest administrative courts, ruled on several cases in February in which social welfare recipients refused employment and training based on religious belief. In one case, a Muslim man refused to shave off his beard, a requirement for wearing a safety hood in a specific training job. The council ruled that in this case the legal requirement of wearing the safety hood, which protected the employee, outweighed the individual’s right to freedom of religion.

During the campaign for March provincial council elections, PVV leader Wilders reiterated that his party’s primary objective was to promote the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands” through a series of measures, including closing all mosques and Islamic schools, banning the Quran, and shutting out all asylum seekers and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. He used social media to disseminate his message. Wilders’ Twitter account contained hundreds of entries criticizing Islam. For example, on September 27, Wilders tweeted, “Islam is a sect of hatred and violence. Islam and freedom do not go together, anywhere. That is why all Islamic schools and mosques must be shut…” On April 22, he tweeted, “We need (inter)national laws to declare Islam a violent totalitarian ideology. We should not grant freedom to a doctrine that takes our freedom away from us.”

In May the Council of State – which reviews and issues advisory opinions on any legislation before it is considered in parliament – issued a negative opinion on a draft law Wilders proposed in 2018 that would close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public, and levy substantial fines on violators. According to the council, the proposed legislation “seriously and unacceptably devalues the core elements of the democratic rule of law and violates the constitutional right of freedom of religion.” The council rejected Wilders’ assertion that Islam is “a totalitarian ideology of conquest” and stated the redefinition of a religion is illegal. Wilders stated he intended to proceed with the parliamentary review of his proposal; no other party supported the bill. Parliament had not scheduled a debate on the draft law by year’s end.

Wilders’ appeal at the Hague Appellate Court of his 2016 conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally continued at year’s end.

The Forum for Democracy Party did not support the PVV campaign for “de-Islamization” of the country and closure of all mosques, but party leader Thierry Baudet stated Islam posed a threat to society, opposed the construction of new mosques, objected to school visits to mosques, characterized submitting children to fasting during Ramadan as child abuse, and favored amending the constitutional right to freedom of education to preclude the foundation of Islamic schools.

On September 12, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Wouter Koolmees and Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker wrote a letter to parliament based on findings from a task force the government created to advise and assist with what it described as problematic behavior within the Salafist community. The ministers stated Muslim communities were those most affected by “the problematic influence of these Salafist protagonists, as a result of which children turn their back on society,” and because others blamed the Muslim community as a whole for the problems of a small group. They added the government supported Islamic voices who spoke out against problematic behavior. Created in 2018, after a 2017 Ministry of Social Affairs report stating Salafist groups were growing and promoting intolerance, the task force worked with police, local authorities, and communities. A February 11 letter from Koolmees to parliament stated the government focused only on “criminal and/or problematic behavior from the perspective of the democratic rule of law within segments of the Salafist movement.”

Parliament continued to pressure the government to counter the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions to stop the influence of Salafist and radical ideas. The government worked on legislation to make foreign financing transparent but stated it was reluctant to ban foreign financing altogether, considering potential diplomatic repercussions, erosion of national credibility on human rights and the rule of law, and possible negative repercussions to national NGOs active abroad. It also worked on legislation to ban financing of civil society organizations from “unfree” countries and to obtain more powers to ban entities whose activities violate public order, but it had not presented either piece of legislation to parliament as year’s end.

The press reported in September that 44 of the 52 Islamic primary schools used a sexual diversity textbook that states boys and girls should not look at each other or wear clothing of “the infidel,” and that “Allah despises homosexuality.” The Education Inspectorate saw no reason to intervene because the “basic values of the democratic rule of law are not violated.”

The Education Inspectorate reproached the Jewish Cheder primary school and the Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum for using inappropriate civics curricula based on their own interpretation of religious rules. Both schools received government funds that required them to adhere to a minimum state requirement on curriculum content. Authorities found problems with the Jewish Cheder primary school’s religious curriculum not including information on homosexuality and the school’s policy of separating boys and girls into different religious classes instead of holding mixed-gender classes. Authorities had no concerns with Islamic Cornelius Haga Lyceum’s curriculum but found problems with its management. Media also reported that most private afterschool Salafist classes taught their students a strict interpretation of Islam and to turn their back on Dutch society.

There was growing political pressure from various secular parties, including Labor Party and Democrats 66, to amend Article 23 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of education, to give the minister of education the power to intervene in order to prevent the foundation of schools supporting radical and undemocratic views. In response, Education Minister Arie Slob of the Christian Union (CU) party stated, “Parents must be able to choose a school that befits their education. It is wrong to assume that problems can be resolved by restricting the freedoms of a certain group.”

In July the city council of the predominantly Christian community of Westland denied a permit to start an Islamic primary school, even though the school met the criteria, according to Minister of Education, Culture, and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven. In April the Council of State ruled the Ministry of Education must facilitate and finance the new school over the objections of local authorities. There were continuing discussions between the Ministry of Education and the local government at year’s end.

On August 5, the national railway company Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) began accepting online applications for compensation to Jewish, Roma, and Sinti Holocaust victims whom NS transported to transit camps ultimately leading to concentration and extermination camps during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation. The company said it would pay between 7,500 and 15,000 euros ($8,400-$16,900) to an estimated 500 Holocaust survivors and 5,000 widows and children. The application window was scheduled to remain open until August 5, 2020.

The government continued to state that it accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism but was not legally bound by it. In February the government reported the Ministry of Justice and Security shared the indicators from this definition with the police and prosecutor’s office so that they could take them into account when dealing with incidents of anti-Semitism.

In February the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan Against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Islamic sentiment and anti-Semitism. It stated the government must continue to implement existing measures vigorously. These included projects to train teachers to deal with discrimination issues including on the basis of religion, and leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouragement of interfaith dialogue through the Building Bridges project, which establishes local networks of persons from different religious communities. The update tightened the instructions for the prosecutor’s office to facilitate prosecution of discriminatory expression, including religious, on social media. The government also appropriated nine million euros ($10.1 million) for the education work by museums and commemoration centers, the Anne Frank Foundation, and the National May 4 and 5 Committee to incorporate contemporary issues, such as combating anti-Semitism and discrimination, into education on World War II.

In May the cabinet appropriated three million euros ($3.4 million) to enhance existing efforts to combat anti-Semitism following an April paper by parliamentarians Gert-Jan Segers of the CU party and Dilan Yesilgoz of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which made concrete proposals to combat anti-Semitism and other calls for action. The paper proposed the following measures: improving mandatory education about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, including the history of the Jewish community in the country; increasing support to teachers to raise these subjects in the classroom; creating a safe environment at school; reaching out to Jewish youth; focusing attention on the Holocaust, World War II, and freedom of religion in the mandatory integration courses for immigrants; providing structural security to Jewish institutes and synagogues; training police to recognize anti-Semitism; promoting policies to encourage victims to file complaints with police; pursuing zero tolerance with respect to anti-Semitism on the internet and during soccer matches; appointing a national anti-Semitism coordinator; and developing an action plan to combat anti-Semitism. Segers stated, “We have failed if we cannot offer a safe existence to the Jewish community…”

In January several political parties in Amsterdam presented a nine-point plan to combat anti-Semitism more effectively, including: stimulating improved education on the Holocaust and the history of Jews in the capital; fighting prejudice; requiring every student to visit Westerbork Camp (from which Jews and others were transported to concentration camps to the east); launching a campaign to encourage victims of anti-Semitic incidents to file complaints; and advocating the appointment of a local coordinator for combating anti-Semitism in Amsterdam. The city implemented these measures during the year.

The mayors and responsible aldermen in larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, again met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest. These city governments continued to support a range of projects, such as educational programs to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, remained particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Camp. On a March visit to the Westerbork Camp, State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis expressed his desire to make the discussion of anti-Semitism in the classroom mandatory. In May The Hague said it would finance school excursions to the Westerbork and Auschwitz concentration camps.

In May the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) proposed several measures to combat anti-Semitism more effectively: improve education on the Holocaust and Jews; help teachers recognize and combat anti-Semitism; teach immigrants about the Holocaust, Jews, and democratic rule of law; identify anti-Semitic incidents more clearly; accelerate the reporting procedures for such incidents; encourage victims to report incidents; train policemen in handling anti-Semitism complaints; impose heavier penalties on anti-Semitism; make clearer agreements with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association (KNVB) about halting matches after an anti-Semitic incident; and observe zero tolerance for criminal discrimination online, including anti-Semitism. The government began implementation of several of recommendations, while others remained pending.

CIDI organized a demonstration in front of the Dutch parliament on May 29 to support the wearing of the yarmulke, or kippah, after the German government’s anti-Semitism ombudsman warned Jews not to wear them in public because of the increasing likelihood of being attacked. During this demonstration Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus and spokespersons of the main political parties expressed solidarity with the Jewish community and spoke out for a more vigorous approach to combat anti-Semitism.

Local governments, in consultation with the national government, continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. Eddo Verdoner, chairman of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), said his organization worked closely with national and local authorities to provide security to Jewish institutions so that Jews could feel safe without withdrawing from society. The volunteer organization For Life and Welfare also provided private security to Jewish institutions and events.

Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions as necessary, and local authorities worked with Islamic institutions on enhancing the security and resilience of mosques and other religious institutes, as well as their visitors. The national government continued to support this local approach and developed materials to assist religious institutes and local governments in implementation measures. The national government published a “Security of Religious Institutes” manual in consultation with the Muslim community, local governments, and police. Local and national authorities, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV), and police consulted closely on security issues with representatives from religious communities.

In January Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema announced the city would provide more security to Islamic institutions based on threat assessments by local and national authorities. The city engaged in talks with Islamic institutions on maximizing security and adopted supplemental security measures, similar to those it adopted in previous years for Jewish institutions.

In response to the March attacks on mosques in New Zealand, Justice and Security Minister Grapperhaus informed parliament that authorities were closely monitoring threats, and the NCTV maintained close contacts with local authorities, which in turn consulted with mosques on increased security measures, including greater police presence but also increasing self-reliance of mosques to protect themselves by discussing best practices, including installing closed-circuit television cameras and monitoring who is entering the mosque. The NCTV also met with the Dutch Islamic Council, and local mayors visited mosques.

Several politicians and the CJO condemned the October 9 attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany. “Sickening, cowardly, and terrible,” tweeted VVD parliamentarian Dilan Yesilgoz. The CJO asked if anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe and wrote, “The CJO calls in the Netherlands for education and information. Only by knowing each other do we diminish mutual hatred…CJO calls on everyone not to be intimidated. Be yourself and live your culture without fear.”

On May 3, the CU and Reformed Calvinist parties and CIDI launched a petition calling on the European Commission to make combating anti-Semitism in Europe one of its priorities. They stated Jews continued to be targets of prejudice and hatred and synagogues and Jewish schools required protection. The petition also called for a more effective approach of anti-Semitism in Europe. Within a few weeks, more than 19,000 people had signed the petition, including several leading politicians from other parties.

The NIHR reported receiving 17 complaints of religious discrimination in 2018 – mostly in the workplace – compared with 13 in 2017 and issued opinions in nine cases. In one case, it judged that a primary school did not make a prohibited distinction on the grounds of religion when it refused to offer an internship to a woman who refused to shake hands with men. The NIHR stated the school policy on etiquette was consistent and objective. In another case, it judged that a Protestant school could elect not to hire a teacher wearing a headscarf because the school held a consistent and legitimate policy prohibiting clothing reflecting non-Christian religious beliefs based on the school’s Protestant values.

The Animal Rights Party introduced draft legislation to ban ritual slaughter of animals. In May the Council of State said the proposed legislation “constitutes a serious infringement on freedom of religion, violates the human rights of Jews and Muslims,” and should therefore not be introduced. The council stated that the interest of protecting animal welfare did not outweigh the freedom of religion. Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme stated she would continue to seek parliamentary support for the ban. At year’s end, parliament had not scheduled a debate on the proposed legislation.

In June parliament adopted a nonbinding resolution calling for the deployment of specialized detectives to deal with complaints about anti-Semitic incidents or other incidents of discrimination. Parliamentarians of several parties, including Democrats 66, Labor Party, and Denk, stated they hoped the measure would encourage victims to file complaints. According to CIDI, those who reported an incident often believed police did not take them seriously, and in some cases this dissuaded them from filing a complaint.

Government and security officials met throughout the year with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual slaughter. The CJO; Netherlands-Jewish Congregation; Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism; Contact Body for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; and CIDI attended such meetings.

In its most recent report covering the year, CIDI reported three anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the Denk Party and PVV. For example, the report cited multiple anti-Semitic comments on Facebook in response to a video posted by Denk party leader Tunahan Kuzu while visiting Palestinians in Hebron, such as “The Holocaust never happened, it was invented by Jews to snatch away land”; “Zionist Jews do the same as what Hitler did”; and “If Hitler had dealt with Jews properly, Palestine would be free today.” CIDI criticized Denk for failing to remove the comments.

Citing freedom of expression, authorities in Amsterdam declined to act against the weekly demonstration of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the Dam Square, despite the frequent use of anti-Semitic texts and Israeli flags covered in swastika and cockroach designs. CIDI appealed directly to the mayor to intervene after police did not respond to repeated complaints; the mayor’s office took no action.

Although authorities, the KNVB, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation had multiple agreements in place to discourage anti-Semitic behavior at soccer matches, participants did not always carry out the terms of the agreements. For example, one agreement stipulated that if anti-Semitic chanting arose, clubs would ask fans to stop immediately and, if they did not, suspend the match; however, the matches were rarely suspended. In one example, on January 27, Feyenoord soccer club hooligans engaged in anti-Semitic chanting outside the stadium in Rotterdam ahead of the Feyenoord-Ajax match. Police intervened and arrested five supporters, who were fined 500 euros ($560) each. That same day, similar chanting occurred ahead of a match between Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar. AZ Alkmaar developed a policy to discourage such chanting, which it said was becoming more effective.

The Anne Frank Foundation continued to organize government-sponsored and government-funded projects, such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter anti-Semitic chanting by educating soccer fans on why their actions were anti-Semitic. Another foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination among soccer fans.

In April several political parties and CIDI urged the state secretary for migration to deny a U.S.-based preacher entry to the country because of what they described as his offensive anti-Semitic and homophobic statements based on his own biblical interpretations. The preacher canceled the visit.

In January the government, most political parties, the Protestant Church Netherlands (PKN), and other groups protested the signing by approximately 250 Protestant ministers and others of the evangelical Christian Nashville Statement on the relationship between men and women, which rejected homosexuality and transgender identity. On behalf of the government, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven said the statement showed “emancipation is far from over. This is a step back in time. We still have a long way to go.” PKN president Rene de Reuver characterized the Nashville statement as “theologically one-sided and pastorally irresponsible.”

The Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers (COA) – the agency charged with overseeing asylum centers – said it prohibited religious activities in the centers to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment. COA continued to prohibit religiously affiliated organizations from proselytizing at asylum centers. It allowed the Consultation Body for Jews, Christians, and Muslims (OJCM), however, to organize pilot programs at two asylum centers discussing freedom of religion and the importance of nondiscrimination in Dutch society. The OJCM requested COA to allow it to organize such talks at all asylum centers.

The government continued to require asylum seekers seeking to obtain a residence permit to sign a statement of participation in civic integration. The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of fundamental values, including freedom of religion.

The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country. This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries and those with association agreements with the EU, such as Turkey, whose Religious Affairs Directorate appoints approximately 140 Turkish imams to serve in the Netherlands. The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch.

After the Amsterdam Administrative Court dismissed all objections to its development on July 9, construction started on the National Holocaust Monument in Amsterdam, which is government and privately supported and will carry the names of all 102,000 Dutch victims of the Holocaust. Local residents said the monument was too large, the expected large numbers of visitors would become a nuisance, and the residents were not sufficiently consulted.

At the request of parliament, in July the cabinet appointed Jos Douma as the first Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief. Douma stated his goal was to promote tolerance: “The issue is that we protect people, whether they are believers or not.” The Democrats 66 party requested that the envoy also speak out vigorously on the rights of nonbelievers.

An investigation begun in 2018 into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements in 2017 continued at year’s end.

According to Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, the National Police continued to disregard an NIHR finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.

The government is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of violence, threats, discrimination, verbal abuse, and vandalism against Jews and Muslims. Agencies collecting data on such incidents stated many occurrences went unreported. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

CIDI reported 182 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 135 in 2018. CIDI also reported 127 incidents of hate speech online during the year compared with 95 in 2018. These included two violent incidents, 59 incidents of intimidation, 32 incidents occurring during the course of daily life (such as at school and work or among neighbors), 14 incidents of vandalism, and 152 incidents of hate speech, including 127 online. On September 19, an unknown man stopped his car next to an individual recognizable as Jewish and expressed profanities and spit at his face before driving on – spitting in the face is a violent incident under Dutch law. On June 25, a person from Brabant reported she was called by her neighbors “a cancer Jew,” allegedly because she was incorrectly perceived as Jewish, although she is not. On April 26, a law enforcement officer in Rotterdam heard someone shouting at a subway station, “All Jews should be killed.” CIDI stated it believed the overall vulgarization in public discourse contributed to the higher number of incidents. CIDI stated the registered incidents were likely only a small fraction of all incidents and pointed to a 2018 study by the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, which found that only 25 percent of Dutch respondents who were victims of anti-Semitism in the previous five years had reported the incident or filed a complaint to police.

Police reported 275 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 – compared with 284 in the previous year – constituting 8 percent of all discriminatory incidents registered by police. Most incidents occurred in the immediate living environment of those targeted, often involving insults from neighbors or anti-Semitic graffiti or written threats on walls, mailboxes, or personal property. Approximately 57 percent of anti-Semitic incidents involved the use of slurs. Persons frequently shouted at police officers, calling them “Jews.” Ten incidents were soccer related, including the chanting of “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” Twenty-nine incidents concerned vandalism involving swastikas or anti-Semitic texts sprayed on property and, in one case, a Jewish monument.

The antidiscrimination boards received 48 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, 1 percent of all reports, compared with 67 reports of anti-Semitic events in 2017. Most concerned aggression against Jews, including slurs or disputes between neighbors, soccer-related incidents, or vandalism. The National Expertise Center for Discrimination, part of the prosecutor’s office dealing exclusively with cases of discrimination, reported that it processed 79 new cases of discrimination in 2018, of which 19 percent were related to anti-Semitism and 13 percent were related to anti-Muslim sentiment.

Police registered 137 incidents against Muslims in 2018 (the most recent year for which data was available) including harassment, verbal abuse, and vandalism, compared with 192 in 2017. Multiple incidents concerned harassment of women on the street because they were wearing a headscarf, as well as incidents involving anti-Muslim stickers and posters. For example, in one report an unknown man told a woman at a shopping mall “get lost to your own country. You are not allowed to walk around here with a headscarf.” The police also found stickers saying “Islamists not welcome. Identitarian Resistance.” A dozen incidents targeted mosques.

Antidiscrimination boards registered 200 anti-Muslim incidents in 2018 – compared with 192 in the previous year – half of which concerned experiences in the labor market and workplace, often involving women who were discriminated against for wearing a headscarf. For example, a Muslim woman participating in an internship at a healthcare facility was told her internship would be terminated if she did not remove her headscarf, in response to patient complaints. The woman was assigned a different internship.

CIDI categorized two incidents as violent during the year. In one incident, fireworks were thrown into the house of a Jewish family, which had been subjected to repeated anti-Semitic incidents by a group of unknown youth in the town of Hippolytushoef. The family had faced years of threats and harassment, being cursed, and having swastikas scratched in the family’s car. Numerous complaints were made to police, but the offenders were not identified. In 2014 a group of youth were fined and carried out community service for threatening and using profane language toward the family.

In a second case, on August 31, an unknown passenger of a party bus fired shots that smashed a window displaying a star of David. No one was injured. The inhabitant reported the incident to CIDI, then contacted police and the organizer of the party bus, but neither was able to track down the offender. The organizer apologized to the inhabitant and offered to pay for the damaged window.

A Jewish man, identified only as Joram, told local newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that a group of approximately 50 men pushed, shoved, and verbally accused him with anti-Semitic insults him in The Hague on May 5, the country’s national holiday of liberation from the Nazis. Joram stated he had asked the men to stop singing a song about gassing Jews. The men, wearing Feyenoord soccer club jerseys, then began pushing him. Joram told Algemeen Dagblad that he believed the men targeted him because he was wearing an Ajax cap, Feyenoord’s rival team, which is widely associated with Jews. He later told CIDI he did not believe the incident had anything to do with the soccer teams. After consulting CIDI, he reported the incident to police.

In April pro-Israel activist Michael Jacobs was involved in a physical altercation with a crowd of men near an anti-Israel rally in Amsterdam. The Times of Israel stated that 20 pro-Palestinian protesters confronted Jacobs by pushing and shoving him and shouting “Jew” and “Zionist” at him at the Dam Square while he was wearing an Israeli flag around his shoulders. In a separate incident in March, Jacobs filmed himself with a body camera standing alone at the Dam Square. An anti-Israel protester called two police officers who told Jacobs he was disturbing public order. According to the article, Jacobs had been arrested several times for ignoring police orders, which aim to uphold public order by keeping demonstrators apart, while demonstrating in favor of Israel at the Dam Square, “at times amid violence by the anti-Israel crowd and anti-Semitic hate speech.”

CIDI stated the large number of anti-Semitic incidents demonstrated that Jews were disproportionately targeted for discrimination, given the small number of Jews in the country. CIDI also said that persons who were recognizable as Jewish because of dress or outward appearance, for instance wearing a yarmulke, were sometimes targets of confrontations.

A Pew Research Center survey released in October found 28 percent of residents held an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, compared with 35 percent in 2016. The same survey found that 5 percent of persons had an unfavorable opinion of Jews.

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 50 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the Netherlands, while 47 percent said it was rare; 91 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 97 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 96 percent said they would be with an atheist, 97 percent with a Jew, 96 percent with a Buddhist, and 94 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 93 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 88 percent if atheist, 91 percent if Jewish, 87 percent if Buddhist, and 79 percent if Muslim. The poll did not attempt to break out respondents by religion.

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: 43 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the Netherlands; 20 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 31 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

In January the European Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews conducted in December 2018 in each EU member state. According to the survey, 65 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism as a problem in the Netherlands, and 55 percent believed that it had increased over the previous five years. The percentages who believed that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 56 percent; on the internet, 66 percent; graffiti or vandalism, 65 percent; expressions of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 61 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 51 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 50 percent; in schools and universities, 37 percent; in political life, 29 percent; and in the media, 40 percent.

An April poll among 800 readers of the NRC Handelsblad newspaper, including 163 Jewish respondents, found that anti-Semitism was on the rise. Of the Jewish respondents, 70 percent held that opinion, even if they did not experience it themselves, while 84 percent of the Jewish respondents were worried about increased anti-Semitism.

In May CJO Chairman Verdoner stated that, although there was no organized violence against Jews in the country, people tended to normalize anti-Semitism as they would stealing a bicycle. He called for a coalition of people and organizations, including representatives of various religions, schools, and online moderators, to stand up against anti-Semitism, “because if only Jews take offense, it is too late.” Jacques Grishaver, president of the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee, stated one could “hardly walk around Amsterdam with a kippah on.” Conversely, Ruben Vis, secretary general of the Netherlands Jewish Congregation, dismissed that as “nonsense,” stating that he went everywhere wearing his kippah.

The government-sponsored, editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MiND Nederland) registered 67 inflammatory statements made against Muslims on the internet in 2018, compared with 101 in 2017. According to MiND Nederland, the decrease was likely due to the low incidence of reporting rather than to an actual drop in prevalence. MiND Nederland also reported 145 instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet in 2018, 25 percent of all registered instances of discrimination, compared with 236 in 2017. It had no clear explanation for the decrease but cited a sharp decrease of reported discriminatory expressions on social media following government agreements with companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to remove such statements.

CIDI described numerous instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric and other content on the internet. For example, Dutch preacher David Sorensen posted multiple anti-Semitic comments on social media, such as “Jews complain that they were persecuted by Hitler, but they are doing exactly the same to millions of Palestinians.” He also disseminated conspiracy theories about Jews, including one that the founding of Israel was a plot between Freemasons and the Rothschilds.

In January supporters of the Rotterdam-based Feyenoord soccer club chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a soccer match against Ajax, including, “My father was with the commandos, my mother with the SS, and together they burn Jews because Jews burn best.” Police intervened and arrested eight supporters, who were each fined 500 euros ($560). A week earlier, fans in Leeuwarden chanted anti-Semitic slogans ahead of a match between Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar. In February supporters of ADO Den Haag sprayed anti-Semitic texts around Amsterdam ahead of a match against Ajax. Following public and political outcry, CIDI filed police complaints related to anti-Semitic actions during the January and February games, and investigations continued at year’s end.

On July 16, the prosecutor’s office in The Hague announced that it would prosecute an imam who stated those who are not Muslim, or who are Sunni, are pigs. The imam did not deny making the statement but claimed it was allowed on the grounds of religious freedom.

In June CIDI revealed that a rapper calling herself “Anne Frank” had a long history of anti-Semitic statements, such as “if Taylor Swift were Jewish, I would have gassed her personally.” She also denied that Anne Frank had been killed by the Nazis. Following a public outcry, the rapper dropped the name and apologized, stating that she meant no harm.

On September 26, national broadcasting organization BNNVARA apologized for a nighttime radio program in which the moderator had allowed a caller to express numerous anti-Semitic statements for eight minutes. CIDI director Hanna Luden expressed shock, saying, “Such a long phone call in which virtually every anti-Semitic prejudice was raised – it’s amazing that the moderator did not intervene.” CIDI received dozens of angry phone calls and messages and filed a complaint with police.

According to academic researcher on anti-Muslim sentiment Ineke van der Valk’s book Mikpunt Moskee (Target Mosque), Islam was growing in the country while other religions were increasingly restricted to the private domain due to secularization. At the same time, she wrote, there was a strong negative reaction to Islam and its increasing visibility in public life. According to van der Valk, Muslims were not united on how to deal with this situation. They declined to join forces with other groups facing discrimination, such as Jewish and LGBTI communities, as they rejected acknowledgement of such discrimination within their own ranks. In the book, Van der Valk observed that many Muslims perceived a hostile social climate and lack of acceptance and experienced exclusion and discrimination. She stated media and politics played important roles in the negative representation of Muslims and Islam. According to the book, construction of some new mosques faced delays due to protests despite compliance with all procedures and legal regulations, although most building plans were carried out.

Van der Valk also cited 26 acts of aggression, ranging from arson to threats, against mosques in 2018, adding that many incidents remained unreported. The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and NCTV stated in their annual reports that the threat against mosques came from both those with jihadist and extreme right ideologies. They reported an increase of anti-Islamic activity by the extreme right online, particularly in the use of more aggressive language. The AIVD and NCTV reports estimated the likelihood of violence by known extremist groups to be low but cited the risks posed by lone actors.

The Islamophobia Report in the Netherlands: National Report 2018, part of the European Islamophobia Report, stated that 95 percent of Muslims it surveyed said they had experienced at least one anti-Muslim incident in the previous five years.

Societal research released in January by SCP found that 48 percent of residents had a negative view of Muslims, while 21 percent supported closing all mosques.

On January 4, the Amsterdam District Court convicted three men for offending and inciting discrimination against homosexuals and fined them 500 euros ($560) each for distributing pamphlets in mailboxes in predominantly migrant neighborhoods in Amsterdam with quotations from the Bible, Torah, and Quran condemning homosexuality.

On October 14, the Amsterdam District Court convicted an Afghan man, Jawed Santani, of attempted murder with terrorist intent and sentenced him to 26 years and 8 months in prison and to pay 2.6 million euros ($2.9 million) in material and immaterial damages for stabbing two U.S. citizens at Amsterdam Central Station in 2018. The suspect told police he believed the Dutch had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam, and the Quran.

Police also arrested Pakistani Junaid I. in August 2018 at The Hague Central Train Station. Junaid had traveled to The Hague with plans to attack Geert Wilders, reportedly because of Wilder’s plans, later cancelled, to hold a Muhammad cartoon competition. On November 18, the district court of The Hague found the suspect guilty of planning a terrorist attack and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Wilders resumed the cartoon contest on December 28. The next day he announced an anonymous winner, who would receive the $10,000 prize, and posted the winning image to his Twitter feed.

In April a man placed several garbage bags at the front door of the Esdoornlaan mosque in Leeuwarden and set them on fire. On October 3, the District Court in Leeuwarden convicted the man of arson, sentencing him to 36 months in prison and ordering him to pay damages to the mosque. Following the incident, the mosque took additional security measures.

On May 1, The Hague District Court convicted a man for offending Jews and sentenced him to 120 hours of community service and a visit to Westerbork Camp for chanting, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” during a soccer game in 2017.

The Security Pact Against Discrimination – a movement established by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organizations to combat anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and other forms of discrimination – organized events to promote mutual solidarity. The group’s membership included the Council of Churches, the representative body of main Christian churches in the country, and several NGOs, including the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation, the Humanist Alliance, the Liberal Jewish Congregation of Amsterdam, the National Council of Moroccans, and the Platform to Stop Racism and Exclusion. The group’s events included a gathering following the mosque attacks in New Zealand in March and another meeting after the synagogue attack in Halle in October.

For Holocaust Remembrance Day, artist Daan Roosegaarde installed light-up stones across 150 municipalities. The display was installed in museums and public spaces, including the Groningen synagogue in the north.

In December 2018 SCP published a major study of Christians living in the country. The report found the percentage of residents who considered themselves Christian dropped to 31 percent in 2018 from 43 percent in 2002. Three-quarters of respondents reported that their view of organized churches did not align with their view of the meaning of life. SCP found that young church members are strong believers. According to the report, the approximately one million Christian immigrants in the country were often surprised and disappointed about the secular nature of Dutch society.

CIDI continued to conduct programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities in schools, working with a network of teachers to improve education on the Holocaust. CIDI invited 25 teachers for an annual visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for a seminar on how to teach students about the Holocaust. More than 250 teachers had participated in the program since its inception. Upon their return, they become members of the World War II Education Platform, an organization providing information and lectures about World War II. CIDI regularly organized symposia and lectures for this platform. It also continued to lead anti-Semitism workshops for police and prosecutors at the police academy.

There were multiple initiatives to promote interfaith dialogue among Jews, Muslims, and Christians, initiated by NGOs such as OJCM and Belief in Living Together. For example, the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam continued its youth outreach project entitled “Get to Know Your Neighbors,” which invited students into a synagogue to explain Jewish practices. The Mo&Moos (Mohammed and Moshe) program of the Amsterdam-based Salaam-Shalom NGO and Platform for Islamic Organizations in Rijnmond again brought together young Muslim and Jewish professionals. NGO INS Platform maintained a website where citizens could meet “ordinary” Muslims. In Amstelveen, Jewish and Muslim groups continued to meet with local authorities and political parties to discuss issues of safety, religion, education, and discrimination involving Jews and Muslims.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In conversations with officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Justice and Security, of Social Affairs and Employment, and of Education, Culture, and Science, local governments, and with parliamentarians, staff from the U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and discussed measures to safeguard religious freedom, ritual slaughter, and male circumcision.

The embassy and consulate general highlighted the need for religious tolerance and interfaith understanding and discussed issues of religious integration and violent extremism in outreach to youth, academics, and religious leaders from various backgrounds, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Baha’i, and Falun Gong adherents, as well as community organizations such as CJO, CIDI, OJCM, the Transatlantic Christian Council, and the Anne Frank Foundation. Embassy representatives met with NGOs such as Amnesty International to discuss religious freedom issues and related factors, such as equal treatment from law enforcement and housing authorities. Embassy officials also met with members of the Iranian community in the country to discuss freedom of religion issues in asylum centers.

In January the Ambassador participated, on behalf of the United States as a member of the IHRA, in the annual Holocaust remembrance event, hosted by the Dutch Auschwitz Committee, in Amsterdam to show solidarity for the Jewish community and religious tolerance. In April the Ambassador toured the synagogue of the Liberal Jewish Community (LJG) of The Hague and discussed the opportunities and challenges of the congregation regarding expression of faith. In September a senior embassy representative discussed the history and role of the Jewish community in the country, as well as the importance of protection of the community against anti-Semitism, with CJO chairman Verdoner. The same representative then met with the rabbis and the chairman of the LJG of Amsterdam to discuss the importance of religious freedom and dialogue between the Jewish community and rest of society, as well as the promotion of Holocaust remembrance.

In an April interview with public broadcasting association Evangelische Omroep for a documentary on the U.S.-Dutch relationship, the Ambassador spoke about the history of religious tolerance in the United States and the relationship between the Christian communities of the United States and the Netherlands. The documentary was scheduled to be broadcast in the country in 2020.

In May the Ambassador attended the National Iftar Dinner in The Hague, also attended by the mayor of The Hague and more than 200 government officials, politicians, business leaders, and members of NGOs. The Ambassador discussed the importance of shared compassion, respect, and support for people of all faiths and backgrounds.

In October embassy officials visited the Al Hijra Islamic Center in Leiden and joined the mayor of Leiden and community leaders in a roundtable to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the Muslim community regarding religious freedom, interfaith dialogue, and civic integration.

In September the embassy sponsored the participation of a representative of the Jewish community in a program in the United States focused on advancing interfaith relations.

On November 10, a senior embassy representative attended the Kristallnacht commemoration event hosted by CJO at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. During the event, the representative engaged with other attendees on the importance of promoting religious freedom and tolerance in a pluralistic society.

Officials from the U.S. Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom attended the Istanbul Process in The Hague, hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 18-19. A senior Department of State official spoke at a session attended by numerous international and local delegations and advocacy groups on implementing measures to combat intolerance based on religion or belief. During the visit, the same official met with Dutch religious leaders and religious freedom advocates to discuss ways to enhance religious freedom in the country.

Norway

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s religion. It declares the Church of Norway is the country’s established church, and the government continued to provide it with exclusive benefits, including funds for salaries and benefits of clergy and staff. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. After concerns expressed by religious and life stance groups, the government revised a draft law governing these groups, which, among other changes, would establish a minimum threshold of 50 members for groups to be eligible for government funding. Parliament did not vote on the law by year’s end. The government continued to implement an action plan to combat anti-Semitism, particularly hate speech, and said it would renew it for five more years; it announced it would develop a similar plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment. A state television station broadcast an anti-Semitic cartoon. The government continued to provide financial support for interreligious dialogue.

During the year police received 144 reports of religiously based hate crimes. Police arrested a man for an attempted mass shooting at an Islamic center in an Oslo suburb. Several groups reported anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment remained prevalent among extremist groups and internet hate speech against Jews and Muslims increased during the year. A court sentenced a man to 60 days in prison for sending 1,300 anti-Semitic emails in 2016.

U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Children and Families (MCF) to discuss the draft law on religion, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and financial preferences for the Church of Norway. Embassy staff discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes. Embassy staff continued to meet with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), numerous faith groups, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, and humanists to discuss issues including religious freedom and tolerance and integration of minority groups. The embassy routinely used social media to share messages of religious tolerance and highlight religious groups celebrating religious holidays or events.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to Statistics Norway, the official government statistics office, 70 percent of the population (June 2019 figure) belongs to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran church, a decline of 3 percentage points over the previous three years.

Statistics Norway, which assesses membership in a religious group using specific criteria based on registration, age (15 years and older), and attendance, reports registered membership in other religious and life stance communities is approximately 12.6 percent of the population (December 2019 estimate); 6.7 percent belongs to other Christian denominations, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, at 3 percent, and 3.2 percent is Muslim. There are approximately 21,000 Buddhists, 11,400 Hindus, 4,000 Sikhs, and 800 Jews registered in the country. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) states it has approximately 4,600 members.

According to Statistics Norway, approximately 1.8 percent of the population participates in life stance organizations, nonreligious or philosophical communities with organizational ethics based on humanist values. The Norwegian Humanist Association reports approximately 94,000 registered members, making it the largest life stance organization in the country.

Immigrants, whom the statistics bureau defines as those born outside of the country and their children, even if born in Norway, comprise the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway. Immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Philippines have increased the number of Catholics, while those from countries including Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia have increased the size of the Muslim community. Catholics and Muslims generally have greater representation in cities than in rural areas. Muslims are located throughout the country, but mainly concentrated in the Oslo region. Most of the Jewish community resides in or near the cities of Oslo and Trondheim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of religion, and all religious and philosophical communities shall be supported on equal terms. The constitution also states “the King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion,” national values “will remain our Christian and humanistic heritage,” and the Church of Norway shall remain the country’s established church and be supported by the state. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion. Any person older than age 15 has the right to join or leave a religious community. Parents have the right to decide their child’s religion before age 15, but they must take into consideration the views of their children once they reach the age of seven and give those views priority once the children reach the age 12.

The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on religion or expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups.

By law, the government provides direct financial support to the Church of Norway through an annual block grant that covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. Contrary to prior years, municipal governments phased out most support to individual Church of Norway congregations, although they still provide funding for the Church and occasionally other religious groups, to maintain facilities of shared religious responsibility, such as municipal cemeteries (which are open to the general public) and preserve public parks, and historical churches, cathedrals, and other buildings of cultural value.

All registered religious and life stance organizations are eligible to apply for financial support from the government. Nearly 800 such organizations receive state support, based on the number of each group’s members.

To register, a faith or life stance organization must notify the county governor and provide its creed and doctrine, activities, names of board members, names and responsibilities of group leaders, operating rules – including who may become a member – voting rights, and the processes for amending statutes and dissolution. A group registers nationally only once in one county but reports its national tally of members annually. If a religious group does not register, it does not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities. Most religious organizations and life stance communities register and receive government funding. By law, life stance communities, but not religious groups, must have a minimum of 500 members to qualify for government funding. Under the law, churches may not include children younger than age 15 as registered members.

Public schools include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10. State-employed instructors teach the CKREE course, which covers world religions and philosophies while promoting tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism. Up to 50 percent of the CKREE course content is devoted to Christianity. Students may not opt out of this course. Schools do not permit religious ceremonies, but schools may organize religious outings, such as attending Christmas services at a local Church of Norway church. At their parents’ request, children may opt out of participating in or performing specific religious acts, such as a class trip to a church. The parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption. Students may apply to be absent to celebrate certain religious holidays, such as an Eid or Passover, but there is no celebration or observance of these holidays in public schools.

The law bans clothing that mostly or fully covers the face at educational institutions. The prohibition applies to students and teachers wearing burqas or niqabs in schools and day-care centers.

Passport regulations allow applicants to wear religious headwear in passport photographs, as long as the applicants’ face and ears are visible.

Police are responsible for investigating criminal cases of discrimination, including those involving religion, such as hate crimes. The government-funded but independent Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombudsman reviews noncriminal discrimination and harassment cases, including those involving religion.

Individuals may apply for a full exemption from the required registration for a year of military service for religious reasons and are not required to perform alternative service.

According to the law, an animal must first be stunned or administered anesthetics before slaughter, making most traditional kosher and halal slaughter practices illegal. Halal and kosher meat may be imported.

Foreign religious workers are subject to the same visa and work permit requirements as other foreign workers.

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

Government Practices

In June the government presented to parliament a revised draft law governing religious life, which has been under debate since 2017. The government revised the draft with significant input from the Church of Norway and other religious and life stance communities. The previous version would have required religious groups, not just life stance groups, to have at least 500 registered members to be eligible to receive government funding. The revised draft would establish the threshold for government funding eligibility at 50 members for all religious and life stance groups and count children younger than 15 as members.

Under the terms of the revised draft, the government would provide the Church of Norway an annual grant based on its number of members, identical to the formula used for all other registered religious and life stance organizations. The annual per capita grant would be in lieu of a block grant paying the full cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. The government would also provide additional funding to the Church of Norway for maintenance of cemeteries and religious buildings. In addition, the draft law would set limits on policies and restrictions the government could impose on a religious organization as a condition to receiving state funding. The Norwegian Humanist Association and the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL) stated these changes would make it easier for these groups to qualify for government funding and addressed the concerns of their members, which viewed the previous version of the law as possibly limiting their autonomy, as well as providing preferential financial treatment to the Church of Norway.

Parliament did not vote on the law by year’s end, but according to the MCF and STL, the proposed legislation had broad support, and parliament would likely enact it in 2020.

In March the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by the Catholic Church to overturn rulings by the Borgarting Court of Appeal and the Oslo District Court that stated the Catholic Church had received more government funds than it was entitled to because it had inflated the numbers of its membership rolls. As a result, the court ordered the Catholic Church to refund the government 40 million kroner ($4.6 million), payable over a five-year period.

The government continued to implement its action plan to counter anti-Semitism, funding projects carried out by government and academic institutions and the Mosaic Community (DMT), the country’s principal Jewish organization. The plan emphasized data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture and space. For example, the government funded the Dembra program at the Holocaust Center, an independent research and educational center associated with the University of Oslo, which developed a series of online educational resources to assist schools in creating programs and plans for teaching about and addressing anti-Semitism. Also under the plan, police authorities continued to revise their training curriculum to improve the reporting, processing, and investigation of religiously based hate crimes and continued to collect statistics on hate crimes, including on anti-Semitic incidents.

In September, describing the action plan against anti-Semitism as a success, the government announced it would renew the plan for another five-year period commencing in 2021. Leading NGOs involved in religious freedom such as the STL, the Center against Racism, and Amnesty International Norway endorsed the government’s decision to extend the plan, as did Ervin Kohn, the leader of the DMT. One of the Holocaust Center’s lead researchers said the plan’s renewal was evidence of its success.

In August, following a shooting at an Islamic center in the Oslo suburb of Baerum, the government announced it would accelerate implementation of a similar plan to counter anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, to launch in 2020. The Ministry of Education and Research indicated that many of the grants and programs designed to address anti-Semitism and hate speech would serve as models for developing components in the action plan against anti-Muslim sentiment. Media reports cited broad support for both action plans across the political spectrum.

The government continued implementation of a separate strategy to combat hate speech. The strategy contained elements that addressed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech using educational programs, provided support to religious and civil society groups engaged in promoting religious tolerance, expanded efforts to encourage reports of hate crimes by victims, and called for more focused legal efforts to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

The police continued to prohibit officers from wearing religious symbols, including religious headwear, with police uniforms. Other uniformed organizations allowed the use of religious headwear. The military provided some religious headwear that conformed to military dress regulations.

The United Sikhs of Norway and Young Sikhs again objected to passport regulations which allow the use of religious headwear in passport photographs but require applicants’ ears to be visible. According to government officials, the requirement allowed for enhanced accuracy of facial recognition software and manual photographic examination. The Sikh representatives stated showing the ears was unnecessary and offered only a negligible improvement in facial recognition. They also stated, except for France, no other European or North American nation set this requirement for religious minorities.

In January the United Sikhs and the Young Sikhs challenged the photograph requirement at the UN Human Rights Committee in a case involving the denial of a passport renewal application of a Sikh man who refused to comply with the regulation. In a private meeting with Prime Minister Erna Solberg, representatives of the United Sikhs pressed for a change in the regulation and later submitted a written proposal to the government to do so. Sikh representatives described the meeting as “positive.” At year’s end, the government was still reviewing the proposal, and the photograph requirement remained in place.

Christian, Muslim, and humanist chaplains served as officers in the military. Religious and humanist groups provided chaplains at their own expense in hospitals and prisons.

In July a satirical website operated by the government-funded National Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) published an anti-Semitic cartoon with a derogatory caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man playing Scrabble with another man who had constructed the word jodesvin (Jewish swine) with his tiles. After widespread criticism from the Jewish community and organizations such as the STL and the Center against Racism, NRK removed the cartoon from its website and issued a public apology.

In March, after a criminal investigation, Director of the Norwegian Prosecuting Authority Tor Aksel Busch said the Prosecuting Authority would not prosecute Norwegian rapper Kaveh Kholardi, against whom several Jewish organizations filed criminal complaints in 2018 for using the phrase “[expletive] Jews” during a concert. Busch said the phrase in question could be considered “legitimate criticism” of Israeli policies. Critics responded that during the incident, Kholardi did not mention particular policies or actions or use the words “Israel” or “Israeli.” The group With Israel for Peace, one of the original complainants against Kholardi, said Busch’s decision not to prosecute was “alarming because [he] finds ambiguity where there is none.”

NGOs and religious communities worked with police and other government agencies to facilitate more reporting of hate crimes and cooperation on public education measures to counter discrimination and build trust between government agencies and religious and ethnic minority communities subject to discrimination.

The Oslo Synagogue, in coordination with the DMT, worked with the National Police to coordinate security, funded by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, for the synagogue and Jewish heritage sites and acted as an intermediary between the Jewish community and police to facilitate timely reporting and monitoring of hate crimes.

The Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN) worked with the National Police to provide outreach and education to encourage Muslims, some of whom were members of immigrant communities that MDN said distrusted law enforcement, to report discrimination and hate crimes to authorities. Police and security services provided additional protection for mosques following the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand in March. Authorities increased security further after the shooting at the Islamic center in Baerum in August.

The Center against Racism continued to provide training and advisory services to police on detecting, investigating, and prosecuting both racial and religiously motivated hate crimes. Police continued to assign personnel to support and coordinate these efforts, including providing resources to maintain hate crime investigators in each of the country’s 12 police districts.

The National Criminal Investigation Service continued to maintain a website for the public to contact police regarding hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents.

The national CKREE curriculum continued to include a component on Judaism and teaching about the Holocaust. The Ministry of Education and Research completed a review of the curriculum during the year and announced that Holocaust education would remain. In addition, the ministry continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech. The government also continued to fund a Jewish life module through which young Jews engaged with high school students about Judaism and being Jewish in the country. In many instances, these grants were provided as part of the government’s action plan against anti-Semitism.

Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. The government and local schools continued to support extracurricular programs that took secondary school students to Nazi concentration camps and other sites to educate them about the Holocaust. The trips, which generally lasted three to five days, were primarily arranged by two Norwegian NGOs – Hvite Busser (White Buses) and Aktive Fredreiser (Travel For Peace). The government allocated 15 million kroner ($1.7 million) to support these efforts, and the schools facilitated fundraising activities among the students as well. According to the NGOs involved, approximately 15,000 Norwegian students per year participated in these programs.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food continued to waive import duties on halal and kosher meat and provided guidance on import procedures to both the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Beginning in January, the government shifted responsibility for religious affairs and the funding of religious institutions from the Ministry of Culture to the MCF. According to the STL and the MCF, the transfer had a negligible impact on day-to-day administration of religious affairs, since the civil servants assigned to this portfolio simply moved from one organization to another.

State support to religious and life stance organizations from both the national and municipal governments totaled approximately six billion kroner ($683 million) during the year. The government provided approximately 2.5 billion kroner ($285 million) to the Church of Norway for salaries and operating expenses during the year, including for pensions and benefits of church employees and clergy. The MCF stated the grant to the Church would continue at a high level in order to cover the costs of Church employees and retirees after the removal of those employees from the state payroll following the Church’s separation from the government in 2017. The government provided other registered religious and life stance organizations approximately 344 million kroner ($39.2 million) in total or 1,300 kroner ($150) per registered member. The Church of Jesus Christ continued to be the only major religious community choosing to decline government funding as a matter of policy. Some representatives from these groups, including the STL and Norwegian Humanist Association, stated the size of the grant to the Church of Norway was not only based on the size of its membership, and that the Church’s privileged relationship with the state continued. The criticism particularly concerned continued state and municipal funding for maintenance of Church property such as church buildings and cemeteries, which other religious communities have to fund on their own.

Consistent with previous years, the MCF provided two million kroner ($228,000) to religious umbrella organizations such as the Christian Council of Norway (500,000 kroner [$56,900]), MDN (500,000 kroner [$56,900]), and STL (one million kroner [$114,000]), among others, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life stance organizations.

The government continued to fund workshops and other intervention programs targeting practitioners working with groups that included members of religious minorities to promote their economic and social integration into society. Efforts focused on youth education and engaging local community stakeholders. For example, the government provided financial support to the Forum for Integration and Dialogue, an NGO. Founded by the Muslim Union, this organization worked to integrate youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and encourage positive relationships among diverse groups in Kristiansand, a city in the southern part of the country. The government also funded the program for Democratic Preparedness Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Undemocratic Attitudes, which provided speakers, resources, and training to teachers working with at-risk youth to advance these objectives.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year police received 144 reports of religiously based hate crimes, a 28.6 percent increase from 2018 when there were 112 reports in the same category. Religiously based hate crimes constituted 17 percent of all hate crimes reported to the police in 2018. Police statistics did not cite specific examples of these crimes or provide details on which religious communities were targeted.

On August 10, the first day of Eid al-Adha, Philip Manshaus, armed with two shotguns and a pistol, shot his way into an Islamic center in Baerum, a suburb of Oslo. When Manshaus entered the center, there were three elders of the mosque inside, including a retired Pakistani military officer who subdued him without any shots fired. The man who subdued Manshaus sustained minor injuries. Police apprehended Manshaus and opened an investigation, which continued at year’s end. Also at year’s end, Manshaus remained in pretrial detention and had not been formally charged. Authorities said his case would likely go to trial in 2020. Prior to going to the center, Manshaus shot and killed his stepsister. According to police, Manshaus had been active in online forums for white supremacists, praised Vidkun Quisling, head of the Nazi collaborationist government in World War II, and had been inspired by other mass shootings, including those at a mosque and Islamic Center in New Zealand in March and at a synagogue in California in April. Prime Minister Solberg and all political parties in parliament condemned Manshaus’ attack, and political and religious leaders jointly attended a ceremony of solidarity with members of the Al-Noor center and the country’s Muslim community the day after the incident.

The Holocaust Center and the leader of the DMT reported anti-Semitism remained prevalent among far-right and far-left groups. They also said groups widely considered anti-Semitic, and in many instances also anti-Muslim, such as the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), with an estimated 100-200 members in the country, were well funded and maintained a strong online presence. According to the investigative news site Filter Nyheter, Nordiske Styrka, a new splinter faction of the NRM, was also active in the country.

Police and NGOs such as the Holocaust Center, Defense Research Institute, Amnesty International, DMT, and Center against Racism said religiously motivated hate speech, particularly online, remained prevalent. The NRM, Document.no, Stop Islamization of Norway (SIAN, with 2,500-3,000 members), Resett.no, and Vigrid were among the most active.

Police and NGOs also stated there was a small but active minority of persons who participated in online chat rooms, message boards, and forums such as 4chan, 8chan, and EndChan, which regularly featured anti-Semitic and/or anti-Muslim content. In November Filter Nyheter published an article describing an active online community that routinely amplified and shared articles and viewpoints from anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant sources. Among the chat forums cited in the article were Iron March, whose slogan is “Gas the Kikes! Race War Now! 14/88 Boots on the Ground,” referencing gassing Jews, race war, a neo-Nazi slogan, and actions all at once. Some of the participants, according to the article’s authors, used instant messaging networks such as Skype or Telegram to develop direct links to right-wing extremist organizations, such as Atomwaffen.

As in previous years, the DMT expressed concern about what it viewed as continued tolerance for anti-Semitic expression in national media and stated online anti-Semitism increased again during the year. It said there were websites operated by SIAN, NRM, and Document.no that tended to espouse an extreme, far-right ideology, including anti-Semitic and racist positions associated with the Nazis.

The Holocaust Center also stated anti-Muslim organizations such as SIAN, Human Rights Service, and Document.no again increased their activity during the year, including by writing articles online or in print media. The Holocaust Center stated the groups were relatively small but maintained a strong and well-organized presence on the internet. In many instances, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views were closely linked.

In June, according to press reports citing Turkish news agency Anadolu, Anna Braten, leader of SIAN, delivered a speech in Drammen, stating that Islam had no place in the country and that all Qurans must be destroyed. Braten reportedly took out a Quran to deface it and threw it on the ground when police intervened to stop her. Police shut down the event and ordered participants to leave the venue. Braten was not charged.

In June Tore Tvedt, leader of Vigrid, was convicted in the Aust-Agder District Court of racism and hate speech after sending 1,300 emails, mostly in 2016, to schools and day-care institutions in which he stated that schools “brainwashed children into worshippers of Jews” and referring to Jews as “reptiles” and “parasites” on his blog. Tvedt was sentenced to 60 days in prison.

On November 2, the Danish group Scandza Forum, frequently characterized as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim, organized a conference in Oslo featuring several U.S. and European speakers known for their anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim viewpoints. Shortly before the event, the Police Security Service arrested one of the scheduled speakers, a U.S. citizen, on the grounds that he was a foreigner who could influence others to commit violence. Authorities deported him two days later. The man’s attorney stated that he intended to take legal action seeking compensation for unlawful detention and violation of his freedom of speech. Police also arrested 28 counterprotesters who disobeyed police instructions and attempted to storm the conference.

The Holocaust Center continued to conduct programs on the Holocaust and to combat anti-Semitism, with financial support from the government. The center developed instructional materials on tolerance of religious diversity and distributed them to high schools nationwide. It published numerous articles and books documenting anti-Semitism and the persecution of religious minorities throughout the world. The center operated a website that provided a comprehensive overview of anti-Semitism and served as a foundation for the center’s educational efforts. It also screened materials used in public schools for anti-Semitic content. In addition, the center continued to operate a museum and library supported by its research organization and offer a wide range of educational materials, programs, exhibitions, and publications. For example, in December the center deployed an online history of the Holocaust for schools and children. The center also developed a program to highlight the importance of Holocaust Remembrance Day and organized a memorial ceremony at the Oslo monument to the victims of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Center continued to play a significant role in the action plan against anti-Semitism by developing educational materials and online platforms for the Ministry of Education and Research and monitoring anti-Semitic (and anti-Muslim) attitudes throughout society. It conducted research on Jewish life in the country and on anti-Semitism in Scandinavia, religious extremism and radicalization, and hate crimes, both on its own initiative and on behalf of parliament and government ministries. It advised the STL. The center’s staff frequently spoke out in the media as legal, policy, or historical experts about the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, religious issues, and ethnic/religious oppression and genocide internationally.

The STL continued to foster interfaith dialogue by holding joint meetings with all its member communities. Its mandate was to promote the equal treatment of religious and life stance communities and respect and understanding among all individuals and religions and life stance communities through dialogue. It received support from the government, as well as financial and in-kind contributions from its member organizations. The STL announced it would play a coordinating role in developing the action plan against anti-Muslim sentiment, with a primary role in facilitating input and participation by Muslim organizations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy staff met with officials from the MCF who worked on religious issues. The discussions centered on the proposed law on religion, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and perceptions by some religious groups of financial preferences for the Church of Norway. Embassy staff regularly met with the special envoy for freedom of religion at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy representatives also met with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security to discuss efforts to track, investigate, and prosecute religiously based hate crimes.

The embassy used social media to honor a range of religious holidays celebrated by different faiths in the country and, in the aftermath of the attempted mass shooting at the Al-Noor Islamic center, posted messages of condolence and support for the Muslim community.

Embassy staff engaged a wide range of religious and civil society groups to discuss religious freedom, integration of minority groups, life as a religious person, and their efforts to promote religious tolerance in the country, as well as their concerns about religious discrimination and perceptions of government favoritism for the Church of Norway. These groups included the STL, DMT, MDN, Catholic Church, Church of Norway, the Church of Jesus Christ, Islamic Community Center – Norway, Humanist Association of Norway, Amnesty International, Sikh and Uighur groups, and the Holocaust Center, among others.

Poland

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion. It states religion is a personal choice, and all churches and religious organizations have equal rights. A concordat with the Holy See defines relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Statutes and agreements determine relations between the government and 15 religious groups. The law prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment. The government decided 151 religious communal-property restitution cases out of 3,089 outstanding cases. The president, prime minister, and interior minister denounced anti-Semitism. Senior government officials participated in Holocaust remembrance events. During the year, the government and various political parties rejected calls for broad, expedited private property restitution. Jewish groups criticized as insensitive some statements by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other public figures about property restitution. Ruling party leaders also made statements during the year that were criticized as insensitive by Jewish groups and other observers. Some opposition parliamentarians made anti-Semitic comments during the year.

The government investigated 429 incidents in 2018 (the most recent data available) in which the motivation of the perpetrator was the religious affiliation of the victim, compared with 506 in the previous year. The 2018 data did not specify which religious groups were targeted in these incidents. Civil society groups said the figures were not comprehensive. News media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and Jewish groups reported the level of anti-Semitic speech remained relatively high, especially in online messaging and internet media websites, after an increase in 2018. There were incidents of physical attacks against Roman Catholic clergy and vandalism at Jewish and Roman Catholic sites. Most Poles believed religious discrimination in Poland was rare, although a significant portion of the population believed anti-Semitism was a problem, according to opinion polls.

The U.S. Ambassador, other embassy staff, and visiting U.S. officials discussed with government officials the status of property restitution and countering anti-Semitism. In February the Secretary of State publicly urged the government to move forward with comprehensive private property restitution legislation for those who lost property during the Holocaust. In May and September, the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism engaged with government officials and Jewish community leaders on efforts to combat anti-Semitism. The Ambassador and other embassy staff also met a wide variety of groups, including Jewish groups, to discuss restitution and other issues, such as anti-Semitism and Holocaust remembrance and education. The Ambassador co-led the first official U.S. government delegation to the March of the Living event at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The embassy and the consulate general in Krakow engaged with Jewish and Muslim leaders on countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and sponsored exchanges, roundtables, cultural events, and education grants promoting interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 38.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). The 2019 Polish government statistical yearbook, which publishes the membership figures for religious groups that voluntarily submit the information for publication, reports 86 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. The next largest religious groups are the Polish Orthodox Church, with approximately half a million members (religious groups report that the number of Orthodox worshippers doubled since 2014, given an influx of migrant Ukrainian workers), and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with approximately 117,000 members. Other religious groups include Lutheran, Pentecostal, the Old Catholic Mariavite Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Church of Christ, Methodist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Buddhist. Some Jewish groups estimate there are 20,000 Jews, while other estimates put the number as high as 40,000. Muslim groups estimate there are 25,000 Muslims, mostly Sunni. Approximately 10 percent of Muslims are ethnic Tatars, a group present in the country for several hundred years.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It states freedom of religion includes the freedom to profess or to accept a religion by personal choice as well as to manifest that religion, either individually or collectively, publicly or privately, by worshipping, praying, participating in ceremonies, performing rites, or teaching. It states freedom to express religion may be limited only by law when necessary to defend state security, public order, health, morals, or the rights of others. The constitution states, “Churches and other religious organizations shall have equal rights.” It stipulates the relationship between the state and churches and other religious organizations shall be based on the principle of respect for autonomy and mutual independence. The constitution specifies that relations with the Roman Catholic Church shall be determined by an international concordat concluded with the Holy See and by statute, and relations with other churches and religious organizations by statutes adopted pursuant to agreements between representatives of these groups and the Council of Ministers.

According to the constitution, freedom of religion also includes the right to own places of worship and to provide religious services. The constitution stipulates parents have the right to ensure their children receive a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions and their own religious and philosophical beliefs. It states religious organizations may teach their faith in schools if doing so does not infringe on the religious freedom of others. The constitution acknowledges the right of national and ethnic minorities to establish institutions designed to protect religious identity. The constitution prohibits parties and other organizations with programs based on Nazism or communism.

The criminal code outlaws public speech that offends religious sentiment. The law prescribes a fine, typically 5,000 zloty ($1,300), or up to two years in prison for violations.

By law, anyone who publicly assigns the “Polish state or nation” responsibility or joint responsibility for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich during World War II (WWII) may be sued by the Institute of National Remembrance and relevant NGOs, fined, and/or forced to retract the offending statement and pay compensation to the state or a charity.

Specific legislation governs the relationship of 15 religious groups with the state, outlining the structure of that relationship and procedures for communal property restitution. The 15 religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Polish Orthodox Church, Evangelical-Augsburg (Lutheran) Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Methodist Church, Baptist Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Polish National Catholic Church, Pentecostal Church, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, Mariavite Church, Old Catholic Mariavite Church, Old Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim Religious Union, and Karaim Religious Union. Marriages performed by officials from 11 of these groups do not require further registration at a civil registry office; however, the Mariavite Church, Muslim Religious Union, Karaim Religious Union, and Old Eastern Orthodox Church do not have that right. An additional 166 registered religious groups and five aggregate religious organizations (the Polish Ecumenical Council, Polish Buddhist Union, Biblical Society, Evangelical Alliance, and Council of Protestant Churches) do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state.

The law on freedom of conscience and religion states that relations between the state and all churches and other religious unions are based on the respect of freedom of conscience and religion. This includes separation of churches and other religious unions from the state; freedom to perform religious functions; equality of all churches and religious unions, no matter how their legal situation is regulated; and legal protections for churches and other religious groups within the scope defined by the law. In accordance with the law, the government and the Roman Catholic Church participate in the Joint Government-Episcopate Committee, co-chaired by the Minister of Interior and Administration and a bishop, currently the Archbishop of Gdansk, which meets regularly to discuss Catholic Church-state relations. The government also participates in a joint government-Polish Ecumenical Council committee, co-chaired by a Ministry of Interior and Administration (MIA) undersecretary and the head of the Polish Ecumenical Council (an association composed of seven denominations and two religious associations, all of them non-Roman Catholic Christian), which meets to discuss issues related to minority Christian churches operating in the country.

Religious groups not the subject of specific legislation may register with the MIA, but registration is not obligatory. To register, the law requires a group to submit a notarized application with the personal information of at least 100 citizen members; details about the group’s activities in the country; background on its doctrine and practices; a charter and physical address; identifying information about its leaders; a description of the role of the clergy, if applicable; and information on funding sources and methods of new member recruitment. If the ministry rejects the registration application, religious groups may appeal to an administrative court. By law, the permissible grounds for refusal of an application are failure to meet formal requirements or inclusion in the application of provisions that may violate public safety and order, health, public morality, parental authority or freedom, and rights of other persons. Unregistered groups may worship, proselytize, publish or import religious literature freely, and bring in foreign missionaries, but they have no legal recognition and are unable to undertake certain functions such as owning property or holding bank accounts in their name. The 186 registered and statutorily recognized religious groups receive other privileges not available to unregistered groups, such as selective tax benefits – they are exempt from import tariffs, property taxes and income tax on their educational, scientific, cultural, and legal activities, and their official representatives are also exempt from income and property taxes – and the right to acquire property and teach religion in schools.

Four commissions oversee communal religious-property restitution claims submitted by their respective statutory filing deadlines: one each for the Jewish community, Lutheran Church, and Orthodox Church, and one for all other denominations. The commissions function in accordance with legislation providing for the restitution to religious communities of property they owned that was nationalized during or after WWII. A separate commission overseeing claims by the Roman Catholic Church completed its work in 2011. The MIA and the respective religious community each appoint representatives to the commissions. The law states decisions by the commission ruling on communal property claims may not be appealed, but the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 that parties could appeal commission decisions in administrative courts. There have been no reports of parties filing such appeals. The law does not address communal properties the government sold or turned over to new private owners after WWII.

There is no comprehensive national law governing private property restitution. Members of religious groups, like other private claimants, may pursue restitution through the courts.

The law authorizes Warsaw city authorities to resolve expeditiously longstanding restitution cases affecting Warsaw properties being used for public purposes. Warsaw city officials must post a notification of specific public properties for a six-month period during which original owners of the property must submit their claims. At the end of the six-month period, Warsaw city authorities may make a final determination on the disposition of the property, either declaring that the property shall remain public and not be subject to any future claims, or returning the property or monetary compensation to the original owner.

In accordance with the law, all public and private schools teach voluntary religion classes. Schools at all grade levels must provide instruction in any of the registered faiths if there are at least seven students requesting it. Each registered religious group determines the content of classes in its faith and provides the teachers, who receive salaries from the state. Students may also request to take an optional ethics class instead of a religion class; the ethics class is optional even if students decline to take a religion class.

Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom, and the law prohibits discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief.

The constitution recognizes the right to conscientious objection to military service on religious grounds but states such objectors may be required to perform alternative service as specified by law.

The human rights ombudsman is responsible for safeguarding human and civil freedoms and rights, including the freedom of religion and conscience, specified in the constitution and other legal acts. The ombudsman is independent from the government and appointed by parliament.

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

Government Practices

According to MIA statistics, the religious community property commissions resolved 151 communal property claims during the year, out of approximately 3,089 pending claims by religious groups, compared with 87 claims resolved the previous year. At year’s end, the commissions had partially or entirely resolved a total of 2,852 of 5,504 claims by the Jewish community deemed valid by the commission (40 were previously dismissed by the commission as invalid), 981 of 1,182 claims by the Lutheran community, 365 of 472 claims by the Orthodox Church, and 89 of 170 claims by all other denominations.

Critics continued to point out the laws on religious communal property restitution do not address the issue of disputed communal properties now privately owned, and the government left several controversial and complicated cases unresolved. These included cases in which buildings and residences were built on land that included Jewish cemeteries destroyed during or after WWII. The Jewish community continued to report the pace of Jewish communal property restitution was slow, involved considerable legal expense, and often ended without any recovery of property or other compensation for claimants. For example, the process of returning the old Jewish cemetery in the city of Kalisz started 19 years ago, and it remained unresolved at year’s end.

During the year, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 law intended to end abusive practices in the trading of former property owners’ claims. Legal experts expressed concern the law limited the ability of claimants to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners during the WWII and communist eras, including from Jews and members of other religious minorities. On May 10, Warsaw city authorities stated that since the 2015 law entered into force, the city had resolved approximately 100 dormant claims filed before 1950, which included the refusal of 82 restitution claims against public properties. These included schools, preschools, a park, a police command unit site, a hospital, and city-owned apartment houses. There was no information available as to the identity of those claiming prior ownership or how many of them belonged to religious minorities.

A special government commission continued to investigate accusations of irregularities in the restitution of private property in Warsaw. On June 3, the commission reported it had reviewed 806 prior restitution cases and issued 97 decisions since 2016. The commission chair also estimated the commission issued decisions regarding the payment of compensation worth 4.2 million zloty ($1.11 million). Several NGOs and lawyers representing claimants, including lawyers representing Holocaust survivors or their heirs, stated the commission had a negative effect on private property restitution cases, as administrative and court decisions had slowed down in response to the commission’s decisions.

During the year, the government and various political parties rejected calls for broad, expedited private property restitution. At a party convention on May 17, Prime Minister (PM) Morawiecki stated Poland should not be saddled with financial obligations in providing restitution payments, saying that such a move would defy basic principles of international law and would be “Hitler’s posthumous victory.” Law and Justice Party (PiS) chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski stated on June 4 that as long as PiS was in power, the party was “a guarantee that Poland will not pay for German crimes of World War II. If Jews have any claims, let them turn to Germany. Poles owe them absolutely nothing.” Responding to a question about Holocaust-era property restitution, PM Morawiecki said on September 26, “Demanding any compensation from Poland is not only inappropriate but is also an insult to basic historical truth.” On May 15, Robert Winnicki, a member of the lower house of parliament (Sejm) and the far-right Confederation Party, said PiS, the majority party in the Sejm, “want[s] to sell Poland to the Jews” after the Sejm declined to review a bill that would ban heirless property restitution. Stanislaw Tyszka, then a deputy speaker of the Sejm with the Kukiz’15 Party, said on May 15 that PiS’s refusal to take up the legislation “shows that the Polish government is no longer on its knees, but is lying flat in front of [the United States] and Israel.”

In August PiS expelled Senator Waldemar Bonkowski, who was suspended from the party in 2018 for posting anti-Semitic material on his Facebook page, including a video edited from Nazi propaganda movies. Media reported that he was expelled partly because of his anti-Semitic comments.

In May, then European Parliament (EP) candidate and current parliamentarian for the Confederation Party Grzegorz Braun said in a press conference, “The American empire is here the political, and also military, tool of Jewish blackmail against Poland.” The same month, Braun said in a far-right magazine that Jews “have waged war for centuries” against Poles and “the whole Christian world.”

In August Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich addressed an open letter to Veterans Affairs Minister Jan Kasprzyk criticizing the government’s decision to honor WII ultra-nationalist fighters of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, which killed Poles it suspected of being communist, including many Jews. Schudrich called his invitation to the event a “personal insult.” “There are so many other Polish heroes, we don’t need to choose the ones who actually killed other Poles, and in this case, many of them of the Jewish religion,” Schudrich said, dubbing the ceremony “dangerous” historical revisionism.

In February Sejm member Pawel Kukiz (then from the Kukiz’15 party, afterward from the Polish Coalition) posted tweets listing persons of Jewish origin whom he alleged worked for the communist regime after the war and were responsible for death sentences against Polish soldiers. His tweets were in response to comments from then acting Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who in the same month said many Poles had collaborated with the Nazis, and Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.” In his tweets, Kukiz said, “Since Minister Katz talks about Poles involved in the murder of Jews (and unfortunately they were), I allow myself to remind [others] about the Jews who murdered Poles in the service of the Soviets.” After facing public criticism, Kukiz announced he would take legal action against anyone who called him an anti-Semite.

During a May 18 televised debate in Kielce, Confederation Party candidate for the EP Konrad Berkowicz placed a kippah over the head of Anna Krupka, a PiS candidate for the EP elections that month. Berkowicz said “[PiS] bow[s] down to Jews,” who would “sell this country for money.” The country’s then-ambassador to Israel condemned the incident, stating that all expressions of “racially motivated” hatred were unacceptable. Berkowicz was elected to the Sejm on October 13.

On January 17, Deputy Prosecutor General Krzysztof Sierak announced 105 prosecutors around the country had been selected to work exclusively on hate crime and hate speech cases. He made assurances that they would not be assigned any other cases and said that all hate speech and hate crime cases would be supervised by district and regional prosecutors’ offices and by the National Prosecutor’s Department of Investigations.

Crucifixes continued to be displayed in both the upper and lower houses of parliament, as well as in many other public buildings, including public school classrooms.

In March media reported that a newsstand in the Sejm offered a right-wing newspaper that advised readers on “How to identify a Jew” and “How to defeat them.” On March 13, the Sejm press office said the newsstand was run by an outside contractor who was responsible for the newspaper selection, and that parliament would request the periodical be withdrawn. The contractor said it was unable to comply with the request due to laws prohibiting restrictions on dissemination of press publications because of their content.

On March 18, police and the Internal Security Agency detained three men and accused them of promoting fascism and inciting hatred. The agency’s officers found neo-fascist literature, clothes and labels with neo-fascist symbols, axes, hatchets, and knives in the men’s apartments.

On June 26, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that a law used to punish a print shop worker for refusing to produce LGBTI material was unconstitutional. The case was brought by the prosecutor general, who argued that there should be a right to refuse service based on “religion and conscience,” including “the right not to support homosexual content.” The case originated in a 2016 court ruling that fined the print shop employee for refusing to accept a printing order from an LGBTI group, telling the group that he did not want to “contribute to the promotion of the LGBTI movement.” A lower court had found the employee violated the law, which prohibits “refusing service without just cause.”

In January the Constitutional Tribunal struck down a provision of the 2018 Institute of National Remembrance law which criminalized denial that Ukrainian nationalists had committed crimes against Poles between 1925 and 1950 and had collaborated with Nazi Germany. The tribunal ruled that the creators of the provision used vague and imprecise wording when referring to “Ukrainian nationalists” and the location of their crimes, which created uncertainty regarding the applicability of the provision.

On May 6, police arrested a person suspected of creating posters of the icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag, which appeared in the city of Plock. The suspect was charged with offending religious sentiment but was released the same day. Then-minister of interior Joachim Brudzinski called the posters “cultural barbarism” and said, “No fairy tales about freedom or tolerance give anyone the right to offend the feelings of the faithful.”

In November the Czestochowa-North District Prosecutor’s Office reopened an investigation into the use of an icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa with her halo painted in the colors of the rainbow flag during the June 16 Equality March in Czestochowa. The same prosecutor’s office had previously discontinued proceedings in October after stating there was no evidence that the march participants had committed the crime of offending religious sentiment.

In November local media reported Tomasz Greniuch, historian and nationalist, was nominated to head the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) office in Opole. Greniuch was the chief of the National-Radical Camp (ONR) in Opole, a group the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers fascist and has called upon Poland to ban for promoting “national hatred.” In 2005, Greniuch was an organizer of a march commemorating a 1936 anti-Jewish pogrom in Myslenice.

In January PM Morawiecki and other political and religious leaders joined Holocaust survivors to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On May 15, following an attack in Israel against the Polish ambassador, President Andrzej Duda said, “Just as I fight all instances of anti-Semitism, which I regard as something vile and unworthy, I will never accept any anti-Polish act.”

In an October 25 letter to the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Prime Minister Morawiecki declared the country was committed to fighting all forms of anti-Semitism and condemned all acts of violence against members of Jewish communities or attacks on their places of worship. The letter was written in response to the Jewish Agency’s request that the country secure its synagogues and other Jewish institutions following an October 9 attack outside a synagogue in Halle, Germany.

On January 27, responding to a nationalist march in front of Auschwitz, then-Minister of Interior Joachim Brudzinski declared on social media he would never tolerate any kind of Nazi or anti-Semitic propaganda. “I said it many times, and I will repeat again, there will never be any approval from my side to any activities promoting Nazism and anti-Semitism,” he wrote on social media.

In March, at the Israeli government’s request, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz stated that Poland would deny entry to English author and Holocaust denier David Irving, who planned to lead a tour of Nazi death camps in Poland in September. The minister said, “Denial of the Holocaust is not allowed by Polish law; therefore, he will not be welcome here in Poland if he wants to come and present his opinions.”

In November, media reported that the Foundation of Cultural Heritage, which is partially supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, completed a mausoleum in the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery for Jews who fought for the nation’s independence. Construction originally started in 1939, but World War II intervened.

In November, a musical on divergent Polish-Jewish narratives of the Holocaust titled “Letter from Warsaw” premiered in Warsaw with financial support from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The musical tells the story of a family of American Jews that rediscovers its Polish-Jewish roots when informed they are the remaining heirs of unclaimed property in Warsaw.

On May 2, Agriculture Minister Krzysztof Ardanowski marched with Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau, Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, and U.S. representatives, among others, in the International March of the Living from Birkenau to Auschwitz. The March of the Living is an annual educational program that brings individuals from around the world to study the history of the Holocaust.

In January the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, after the Supreme Administrative Court in 2018 rejected its final appeal to register as a religious organization.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each EU member state on perceptions of discrimination; it published the results in September. According to the findings, 29 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country, while 64 percent said it was rare; 82 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, 89 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 84 percent said they would be with an atheist, 81 percent with a Jew, 77 percent with a Buddhist, and 70 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 88 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 76 percent if atheist, 72 percent if Jewish, 66 percent if Buddhist, and 55 percent if Muslim. The study did not break out respondents by religion.

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, 41 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 18 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who felt that anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 43 percent; anti-Semitism on the internet, 40 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 45 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 41 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 41 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 38 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 31 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 37 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 36 percent. The study made no effort to break out respondents by religion.

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: 64 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Poland; 56 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 74 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2018, the most recent period for which data were available, prosecutors investigated 429 religiously motivated incidents, compared with 506 in the previous year. The 2018 data did not specify which religious groups were targeted in these incidents. The NGO Never Again Association and religious groups stated government tracking of religiously motivated incidents was not comprehensive or systematic.

During the year, there were several physical attacks against Roman Catholic clergy and lay people, as well as against a Muslim. There were also cases of desecration of Roman Catholic, Jewish, and other religious sites, such as churches, temples, and cemeteries.

On July 28, three men attacked a priest and a member of church staff in St. John’s Basilica in Szczecin. The priest was taken to the hospital. He said the attackers verbally abused him, bit him in the face, and demanded his liturgical vestments. On September 23, the Szczecin District prosecutor’s office indicted the three, whose pretrial detention, which began in July, was extended to at least five months. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison for, among other charges, using violence or criminal threats against someone on the grounds of their religious identity. On July 29, the chief of the Conference of Polish Bishops wrote an open letter to the priest expressing deep concern with what he characterized as the growing frequency of acts of hate against believers, including priests, and against religious buildings, sites, and objects of worship.

On June 10, a man stabbed a priest in front of a church in Wroclaw. The priest was walking to the church to lead morning Mass. In November the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office indicted the man with attempted murder. According to media reports, a spokesperson for the archdiocese said he believed the suspect’s intent was to attack any “man in a cassock.”

On July 26, four persons came to the parish office in Wloclawek to submit the required official documents in order to renounce their faith. When the priest explained that an act of apostasy could only be signed by a parish priest who was not present at that moment, the persons verbally abused the priest, and one man attacked him with a cross and threw him out of his chair.

On August 27, a man wearing a Star of David necklace entered a pub in Lodz city center. The man said the bartender refused to serve him and said the pub’s security guard used vulgar anti-Semitic comments and demanded he leave. The man called the police, who confirmed they received a notification about a possible crime of public offense of a person or group based on their national, ethnic, racial, or religious origin. The president of the pub’s board apologized for the incident and said the pub would take immediate steps to prevent similar incidents in the future.

In September media reported on the case of a judge – a member of the National Council of the Judiciary – who in 2015 allegedly used an anonymous online account to make anti-Semitic comments, including calling Jews “a vile, rotten people [who] do not deserve anything.” On September 16, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office announced it had launched an investigation into the case.

On May 4, the Oswiecim regional court sentenced far-right activist Piotr Rybak to one year of community service for incitement to hatred on national grounds after he led a January 27 protest of approximately 200 nationalists in front of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp. During the demonstration, he said International Holocaust Remembrance Day glorified Jewish victims and discounted the deaths of Poles, adding, “It’s time to fight against Jewry and free Poland from them.” Rybak was jailed previously for burning an effigy of a Jew in 2015.

On November 11, former Roman Catholic priest and far-right activist Jacek Miedlar led a “March of Poles” in Wroclaw to celebrate the country’s independence day. City officials decided to terminate the march after some participants, including Miedlar, shouted anti-Semitic slogans. On December 13, the Internal Security Agency arrested Miedlar on charges of public incitement of hatred against Jews. The spokesman for the national security services said on Twitter that Miedlar had been arrested in connection with his manifesto, which accuses Jews of betraying the country when it regained independence in 1918. Miedlar was released the same day. He had previously made anti-Semitic comments and engaged in anti-Semitic activities, including organizing a nationalist march with Piotr Rybak in Wroclaw in 2018.

On April 19, residents of the town of Pruchnik enacted an annual ritual that involved hanging, burning, and beating an effigy of Judas Iscariot, who was dressed to look like an Orthodox Jew. On April 22, the Catholic Church condemned the ritual, and then-minister of interior Brudzinski called it “idiotic, pseudo-religious chutzpah.” On May 14, the Przemysl prosecutor’s office said it would not open an investigation into the incident based on incitement to hatred on national grounds, describing the event as a 100-year-old tradition in Pruchnik whose purpose was to condemn the specific behavior of a historical person (Judas) rather than to incite general hatred against Jews.

On November 11, a coalition of groups, including the ONR and All Polish Youth, both of whose ideologies are considered extremist and nationalist by human rights groups, led an annual Independence Day March. March organizer Robert Bakiewicz said in a speech preceding the march, “Jews want to plunder our homeland.” There were no reports of violence, but participants chanted slogans such as “Great Catholic Poland,” and a small number displayed a white supremacist version of the Celtic cross.

On May 11, a nationalist-organized protest against Holocaust-era property restitution and the U.S. Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act took place outside the prime minister’s chancellery and the U.S. embassy in Warsaw. Several thousand people participated. The protest was peaceful and lasted several hours, with marchers chanting “No to Restitution” and “Stop [the] JUST Act.” Leaders of far-right organizations, including ONR and All-Polish Youth, spoke to the crowd. They criticized the governing PiS Party for allegedly bowing to foreign interests at the expense of the nation and vowed that the government would not pay “a single penny” in restitution. They said the JUST Act was a problem created by Jewish organizations and called on President Trump to abolish it. Marchers also chanted “This is Poland, not Polin” (the Hebrew name for Poland) several times in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, with some participants wearing T-shirts with the same message.

On April 19, the U.S. Ambassador’s tweet of Passover holiday wishes generated over 1,500 comments, the vast majority of which were negative and anti-Semitic.

Groups such as National Rebirth of Poland and Blood and Honor continued to espouse anti-Semitic views, but according to the Never Again Association, they were not as active as in previous years.

On October 1, unknown perpetrators painted vulgar anti-Semitic slogans and a swastika on the walls of the former ghetto in Krakow. City authorities immediately removed the graffiti. Police were looking for perpetrators at year’s end.

On September 3, media reported the Lublin prosecutor’s office discontinued an investigation into graffiti discovered inside the demolished workshop of a stonemason who was renovating a Holocaust memorial in Wawolnica. The perpetrator had painted the inscription “Jews away” inside the building before running through it with a bulldozer. Because the graffiti was not in a public area, it was not considered “public hate speech,” which is illegal.

On July 21, unknown individuals defaced a recently renovated wall of the Jewish cemetery in Tarnow with an anti-Semitic inscription. Tarnow mayor Roman Ciepiela immediately condemned the incident and said city authorities would cover the expenses of removing the inscription. Police were looking for perpetrators at year’s end.

On June 11, unknown individuals threw stones at a Roman Catholic church in Konin. They broke stained glass windows and damaged a monument to a Polish saint in front of the church. On June 18, police detained a man and charged him with destruction of property; he pled guilty. If convicted, he could face three months to five years in prison.

On July 9, unknown individuals placed vulgar pictures and the club logo of a Warsaw soccer team in three chapels belonging to a monastery in the town of Krzeszow. On July 15, media reported police managed to identify two teenagers, a 13-year-old and 15-year-old, who admitted to placing the pictures. They claimed they did not realize “how serious the situation was.” Their case was referred to a family court.

On May 30, unknown individuals destroyed a figure of Jesus Christ in a Roman Catholic church in Plonsk. Police initiated an investigation into the incident.

On August 10, during an on-stage performance, a drag queen participating in an LGBTI “Mr. Gay Poland” gala event in Poznan simulated cutting the throat of an effigy of Krakow Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, who had criticized what he called “LGBTI ideology” in a sermon. Minister of Interior Mariusz Kaminski said prosecutors would look into the incident and noted such behavior was unacceptable, no matter which religion was under attack.

On June 8, at a side event of Warsaw’s Equality Parade, three men, including an LGBTI activist who stated he was a bishop of the Free Reformed Church, dressed as priests and held what many observers considered a mock Roman Catholic Mass. The Polish Bishops’ Conference issued a statement protesting the event, and the man was charged with offending religious sentiment.

On May 25, during Gdansk’s equality march, a group of participants displayed a banner with an image of a vagina imitating a monstrance. The person who carried the banner was dressed as a priest. The Polish Bishops’ Conference issued a statement that said the incident showed a lack of respect for believers and violated the right to freedom of religion. Prosecutors opened an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.

On August 9, the Rzeszow local prosecutor’s office pressed charges against a man who allegedly attacked a Polish Muslim woman and her three-month-old baby in Rzeszow. The man was charged with making threats and offending the woman on the grounds of religious affiliation. The incident took place when the woman was walking with her baby in a stroller along the river. The man verbally abused her and tried to flip over the stroller. He also made death threats against the woman and shouted “Heil Hitler” and “white power.”

On April 17, the Przemysl local court sentenced 20 men to 30-40 hours of community service for disrupting a religious procession of Greek Catholic and Orthodox Church believers in 2016. The procession was en route from the local cathedral to the Ukrainian war cemetery in Przemysl at the time.

On December 24, four men broke into a Sikh temple in Warsaw. At year’s end, police were looking for the perpetrators, who were accused of desecrating the area used for performing religious services and stealing two chairs.

In April following the discovery that some bags sold in the Auchan supermarket chain in Krakow had swastikas on them, an Auchan spokesperson said the bags in question were provided by a third party supplier and that store staff did not immediately notice, since the swastikas were printed on only one out of 10 bags. The chain withdrew the bags from its stores. Separately, the Zabka supermarket chain said it would remove all anti-Semitic publications from its convenience stores after media reported it sold periodicals published by a well-known anti-Semite, which included stories such as “How Adolf Built Israel” and “How Jews Collaborated with Germans [During World War II].”

In February local media reported several Jewish leaders, including the Chief Rabbi of Poland and the executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, said they felt safe in the country. Media pointed out that although there was practically no anti-Semitic violence in the country, anti-Semitic speech was prevalent, mainly on the internet. Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich observed that people with anti-Semitic views had become more confident and open about their views in the last few years.

According to the Never Again Association, during the year anti-Semitism returned as a topic to the public debate, mainly due to the far right Confederation Party’s vocal opposition to comprehensive private property restitution during EP elections in May and parliamentary elections in October. According to the NGO, anti-Semitic messages appeared in online messaging, as well as on nationalist and far-right YouTube channels and internet media websites. The NGO said that while Jews had not been physically attacked, there were cases of vandalism targeting Jewish monuments and cemeteries.

On January 26, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the 19th Annual Day of Islam with the stated purpose of promoting peace among religious groups. The Church hosted an event titled “Christians and Muslims – From Competition to Cooperation” in Bialystok, which included discussions, readings from the Bible and Quran, and prayers. The Joint Council of Catholics and Muslims also issued a statement appealing to Catholics to cooperate with “Muslim brothers.”

The Polish Council of Christians and Jews organized joint Catholic and Jewish prayers to encourage tolerance and understanding on the October 27 Simchat Torah Jewish holiday. On November 11, the council organized the first-ever bus pilgrimage to sites important to the Hasidic movement in Judaism called “Following the Routes of Tsaddiks” under the honorary patronage of Roman Catholic Bishop Rafal Markowski, the chairman of the Polish Bishops Committee for Dialogue with Judaism.

On October 26, the John Paul II Center of Thought organized an interreligious prayer for peace in Warsaw, which included Archbishop of Warsaw Kazimierz Nycz, Chief Rabbi Schudrich, and Mufti of the Muslim League Nedal Abu Tabaq, as well as representatives of the Orthodox Church, Polish Ecumenical Council, and Sant’Egidio Roman Catholic organization.

Human Library projects, funded by European Economic Area grants and coordinated by NGOs Diversja Association and Lambda Warsaw, continued in several cities and towns around the country, including Warsaw, Olesnica, Wroclaw, and Lodz. The projects involved a diverse group of volunteers, including representatives of Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups, who told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books. The stated intent of the project was to foster greater tolerance in general, including religious tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In February the Vice President joined PM Morawiecki and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, during which thousands of Polish Jews perished. The Vice President said in remarks to Prime Minister Netanyahu at the nearby POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, “…It is very humbling for me to be here with you in this very special place on this sacred ground, to hear a prayer sung, to remember the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. To be able to share this moment with you and with members of the Jewish community here in Poland is deeply meaningful.” The Vice President, with President Duda, also placed candles at a memorial to Holocaust victims at the Birkenau death camp.

In February, during a joint appearance with the foreign minister, the Secretary of State publicly urged the government to move forward with comprehensive private-property restitution legislation for those who lost property during the Holocaust era.

In May the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government officials responsible for combating anti-Semitism and working with the Jewish community. He also gave broadcast and print media interviews in which he stressed the importance of combating anti-Semitic speech and explained the purpose of the 2017 JUST Act, which requires the Department of State to report to Congress on the steps taken by the signatories to the Terezin Declaration to compensate Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution. In September the Special Envoy again met with government officials to discuss relations with the Jewish community and measures to combat anti-Semitism.

The Ambassador, officers from the embassy and consulate general in Krakow, and visiting U.S. Department of State representatives met with government officials from the interior, foreign affairs, and justice ministries; the president’s office; the prime minister’s office; parliament; and Warsaw and other city offices to discuss private property restitution, communal property restitution to religious groups, anti-Semitism, and antidiscrimination.

The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general staff also met with members and leaders of the local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities to discuss issues of concern, including private and communal property restitution and the communities’ concerns over rising intolerance, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslim sentiment.

On March 25, the Ambassador met with Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation representatives to discuss the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 2020. In a tweet about the meeting, the Ambassador noted U.S. government support for the foundation’s mission to combat anti-Semitism and protect Holocaust memorial sites.

On April 19, the Ambassador attended a ceremony commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

On May 2, the first-ever official U.S. delegation to the March of the Living took part in the annual commemorative walk between former Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau. Six U.S. ambassadors – to Poland, Israel, Germany, Spain, the Holy See, and Switzerland – participated, joined by the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Their participation highlighted the continuing importance of combating anti-Semitism and support for the Jewish community. In her tweet about the event, the Ambassador to Poland noted participation in the March of the Living was a U.S. public statement against anti-Semitism, adding the United States would always combat hatred and work together with others for dialogue and tolerance.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador used social media to call for respect and tolerance for all religions, to underscore religious freedom as a fundamental pillar and value of strong democracy, to condemn violence based on religious beliefs, and to highlight U.S. government support for combating anti-Semitism and protecting places related to the Holocaust.

On June 28, staff from the consulate general in Krakow participated in the Ride for the Living, a 90-kilometer (56-mile) bicycle ride from the gates of the Birkenau death camp to Krakow’s Jewish Quarter to commemorate the Holocaust and celebrate the revival of Jewish life in Poland.

The embassy continued to employ exchange programs, student roundtables, and grants for education and cultural events to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Highlights included the “Letter from Warsaw” musical on divergent Polish-Jewish narratives of the Holocaust, the Isaac Bashevis Singer Festival in Warsaw, the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, an exhibit on Poles who helped save Jews during the Holocaust, and a concert commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The embassy also supported educational programs such as a hackathon, in which computer programmers and others collaborated intensively over two days to create apps to combat anti-Semitism, and a speaker program featuring a U.S. citizen who spoke to audiences in Krakow and Warsaw about his experiences engaging in dialogue with members of hate groups to encourage them to leave organizations such as the KKK. In addition, the embassy provided support for six teachers to attend a Department of State-funded Holocaust teacher training program in the United States, in cooperation with the POLIN Museum and the U.S.-based Association of Holocaust Organizations.

The consulate general in Krakow provided grant funding for an educational project led by Christian Culture Foundation ZNAK that included workshops for Polish elementary and high school students promoting human rights and constitutional rights, including religious freedom.

In July and August, the consulate general in Krakow funded a series of basic and advanced seminars for 50 teachers organized by Galicja Jewish Museum, whose goal was to educate high school teachers about contemporary Jewish life and culture in the country and to raise awareness of its multicultural and multireligious society. The consulate general also funded the Summer Academy for Anti-Discrimination Education, an intensive one-week course for a select group of 16 high school teachers and NGO activists that focused on teaching about anti-Semitism.

Portugal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government granted citizenship in the first 10 months of the year to 4,026 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition. Minority religious groups said the government favored the Roman Catholic Church over other religious groups, for example by designating Catholic priests, but not others, as chaplains in hospitals, prisons, and the military. There were reports state hospitals transfused blood to Jehovah’s Witnesses without their approval in emergency situations, and hospitals and prisons did not accommodate Muslim dietary requirements.

A European Commission (EC) survey published in September found 41 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in the country. An EC Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism published in January found 41 percent of respondents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in the country, and 18 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with officials from the independent Commission for Religious Freedom (CLR) and the government’s High Commission for Migration (ACM). They discussed the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups. The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders, including from the Ismaili Imamat, Jewish Community of Lisbon, and Islamic Center of Bangladesh in Lisbon, to discuss religious tolerance and interfaith collaboration. Topics discussed included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-clerical sentiment in the country, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, and access to non-Catholic chaplains in hospitals and the military.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.3 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census (from 2011), 81 percent of the population older than 15 years old is Roman Catholic. Other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include Orthodox Christians; various Protestant and other Christian denominations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Lutheran Church of Portugal, Universal Church of Jesus Christ, New Apostolic Church, Portuguese Evangelical Methodist Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ); and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, Zoroastrians, and Baha’is. In the census, 6.8 percent of the population said it does not belong to any religious group, and 8.2 percent did not answer the question. According to the census, non-evangelical Protestants number more than 75,000 persons, and there are more than 56,000 members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, most of whom are immigrants from Eastern Europe, primarily from Ukraine. There are more than 163,000 members of other Christian groups including other evangelical Christians, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other Protestants, and approximately 3,000 Jews. Jewish community leadership estimates the resident Jewish population is approximately 2,000, half in the greater Lisbon area. The Muslim community estimates there are approximately 60,000 Muslims, of which 50,000 are Sunni, and 10,000 Shia, including Ismaili Shia.

A more recent survey conducted in April-August 2017 by the Pew Research Center indicates the percentage of the population that identifies as Christian has fallen substantially (84 percent in 2002 to 72 percent in 2014) while the share of the adult population that is religiously unaffiliated, including individuals who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” is 15 percent.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship, which may not be violated even if the government declares a state of emergency. It states no one shall be privileged, prejudiced, persecuted, or deprived of rights or exempted from civic obligations or duties because of religious beliefs or practices. The constitution states authorities may not question individuals about their religious convictions or observance, except to gather statistical information that does not identify individuals, and individuals may not be prejudiced by refusal to reply. Churches and religious communities are independent from the state and have the freedom to determine their own organization and perform their own activities and worship. The constitution affords each religious community the freedom to teach its religion and use its own media to disseminate public information about its activities. It bars political parties from using names directly associated with, or symbols that may be confused with those of, religious groups. The constitution and the law recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds; they require conscientious objectors to perform equivalent alternative civilian service.

The CLR is an independent, consultative body to parliament and the government, established by law. Its members include representatives of various religious groups in the country, such as the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Evangelical Alliance, Jewish Community of Lisbon, Islamic Community of Lisbon, Hindu Community of Lisbon, and Aga Khan Foundation, as well as laypersons appointed by the MOJ. The Council of Ministers appoints its president. The CLR reviews and takes a position on all matters relating to the application of the law on religious freedom, including proposed amendments. The CLR alerts the competent authorities, including the president, parliament, and others in the government, of cases involving religious freedom and discrimination, such as restrictions or prohibitions on the right to assembly and the holding of religious services; the destruction or desecration of religious property; assaults on members and clergy of religious groups; incitement of religious discord; hate speech; and violations of the rights of foreign missionaries.

The CLR may file formal complaints at the national level with the ombudsman, an official position created by the constitution and supplemental legislation to defend the rights and freedoms of individual citizens, and at the international level with the European Court of Human Rights. The ombudsman has no legal enforcement authority, but he or she is obligated to address complaints and provide an alternative remedy for dispute resolution.

Religious groups may be organized in a variety of forms that have national, regional, or local character. A denomination may choose to organize as one national church or religious community or as several regional or local churches or religious communities. An international church or religious community may establish a representative organization of its adherents separate from the branch of the church or religious community existing in the country. A registered church or religious community may create subsidiary or affiliated organizations, such as associations, foundations, or federations.

All religious groups with an organized presence in the country may apply for registration with the registrar of religious corporate bodies in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The requirements include providing the organization’s official name, which must be distinguishable from all other religious corporate bodies in the country; the organizing documents of the church or religious community associated with the group applying for registration; the address of the organization’s registered main office in the country; a statement of the group’s religious purposes; documentation of the organization’s assets; information on the organization’s formation, composition, rules, and activities; provisions for dissolution of the organization; and the appointment method and powers of the organization’s representatives. Subsidiary or affiliated organizations included in the parent group’s application are also registered; if not included, they must register separately. The MOJ may reject a registration application if it fails to meet legal requirements, includes false documentation, or violates the constitutional right of religious freedom. In the case where the MOJ rejects an application, religious groups may appeal to the CLR within 30 days of receiving the MOJ’s decision.

Religious groups may register as religious corporations and receive tax-exempt status. Registered groups receive the right to minister in prisons, hospitals, and military facilities; provide religious teaching in public schools; participate in broadcasting time on public television and radio; and receive national recognition of religious holidays. The government certifies religious ministers, who receive all the benefits of the social security system. According to the law, chaplaincies for military services, prisons, and hospitals are state-funded positions open to all registered religious groups. A taxpayer may allocate 5 percent of his or her tax payment to any registered religious group.

Religious groups may also register as unincorporated associations or private corporations, which allow them to receive the same benefits granted to religious corporations. The process for registering as unincorporated associations or private corporations involves the same procedures as for religious corporations. There are no practical differences between associations and private corporations; the different categories distinguish the groups’ internal administration. Unregistered religious groups are not subject to penalties and may practice their religion but do not receive the benefits associated with registration.

By law, religious groups registered in the country for at least 30 years or internationally recognized for 60 years may obtain a higher registration status of “religion settled in the country.” To show they are established, religions must demonstrate an “organized social presence” for the required length of time. These groups receive government subsidies based on the number of their members; may conclude “mutual interest” agreements with the state on issues such as education, culture, or other forms of cooperation; and may celebrate religious marriages that are recognized by the state legal system. The government has mutual interest agreements with Jewish and Islamic religious bodies and a concordat with the Holy See that serves the same function for the Catholic Church.

Public secondary schools offer an optional survey course on world religions taught by lay teachers. Optional religious instruction is available at government expense if at least 10 students attend the class. Religious groups are responsible for designing the curriculum of the religious classes and providing and training the teachers. Private schools are required to offer the same curriculum as public schools but may provide instruction in any religion at their expense. All schools, public and private, are required to accommodate the religious practices of students, including rescheduling tests if necessary.

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of religion and requires reasonable accommodation of employees’ religious practices. According to the labor code, employees are allowed to take leave on their Sabbath and religious holidays, even if these are not nationally observed.

The ACM, an independent government body operating under the guidelines of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, has a statutory obligation to advocate religious tolerance, including the “promotion of dialogue, innovation, and intercultural and interreligious education” and “combating all forms of discrimination based on color, nationality, ethnic origin or religion.”

The law provides for the naturalization of Jewish descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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

Government Practices

The government reported that, in the first 10 months of the year, it approved the naturalization of 4,026 Sephardic descendants of Jews expelled from the country during the Inquisition and rejected 27 applications, out of 20,955 new applications submitted. Since the beginning of this program in February 2015, 47,560 applications have been submitted: 9,711 have been approved, 31 have been rejected, and 37,818 remained pending at year’s end. Beneficiaries of the program included persons from Israel, Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, and the United States.

Representatives of some religious minorities, such as evangelical Christians, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the Catholic Church received privileges not available to other religious groups. For example, most prisons, state and private hospitals, and military services designated Catholic priests to provide chaplaincy services, while other religious groups did not. Other concerns were that hospitals and prisons did not comply with Muslim dietary needs, and hospitals performed blood transfusions on Jehovah’s Witnesses in violation of a tenet of their faith. In May CLR Chairman Jose Vera Jardim said there were no serious grievances from religious groups about their treatment in hospitals and prisons, and the special needs of minority groups were protected on a case-by-case basis. He said hospitalized Muslims could request a special diet, for example. Regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jardim said transfusions were administered only in life or death emergency situations. The government covered the costs of religious assistance to non-Catholics in hospitals, prisons and the military, but there were no official statistics on the percentage of chaplaincies each religious group held.

According to High Commissioner for Migration Pedro Calado and ACM Coordinator of Intercultural Dialogue Cristina Rodrigues, the ACM’s Interfaith Dialogue Group (IDG), which includes representatives from 14 religious groups, published educational material on religious acceptance that was distributed for teachers to use in schools around the country. The IDG also published a guide to religious and spiritual groups present in the country, which it updated during the year.

During the year, the ACM also trained 224 police personnel and prison guards to promote better understanding of and respect for different religious traditions.

In July the IDG organized a meeting in Castelo Novo, where 19 youths from eight religious communities – Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Anglican, Baha’i, Ismaili, Hindu, and Church of Jesus Christ – were challenged to reflect on the current world situation and debate intercultural and interreligious ideas. The focus of lectures and debates was centered on the importance of religious freedom, respect for differences, and the willingness to conduct a dialogue for peace. There were also opportunities to socialize and share experiences and values, including an evening of music, poetry, and other forms of religious and cultural expressions.

In May the ACM organized an event, “Out of Doors,” to promote interreligious dialogue that featured workshops, musical performances, and other activities hosted by members of religious communities, including Anglicans, Catholics, evangelical Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.

In September the ACM held a day-long Citizenship and Religion Congress focused on interreligious dialogue, which brought together political leaders, representatives of various religious denominations, and international guests to discuss challenges facing various religious communities in the country, share best practices, and promote dialogue and cooperation among them.

The state-run television channel RTP continued to broadcast a half-hour religious program five days a week and a separate weekly half-hour program, with segments for both written by registered religious groups.

On December 4, Portugal became a full member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In November a referee did not allow a 13-year-old Pakistani girl to play in a game because she wore a black long-sleeved jersey under her regular uniform, which the referees said was against regulations. The girl explained that she wore the long sleeves because her religion (Islam) did not allow her to show her arms, but the referees disqualified her. The national Basketball Federation (FPB) later presented her with another undershirt that she could wear and also meet regulations. In a public statement, the FPB denied discriminating against the girl in any way.

In May the EC carried out a study in each European Union (EU) member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 41 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Portugal, while 53 percent said it was very rare; 90 percent would be comfortable with having a person of different religious than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 92 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, 86 percent said they would be with an atheist, 81 percent with a Jew, 81 percent with a Buddhist, and 75 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 92 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 84 percent if atheist, 74 percent if Jewish, 72 percent if Buddhist, and 59 percent if Muslim.

In January the EC published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in December in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 41 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Portugal, and 18 percent believed it had increased over the previous five years. The percentage who believed anti-Semitism was a problem in nine different categories was as follows: Holocaust denial, 43 percent; on the internet, 40 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 45 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 41 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 41 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 38 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 31 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 37 percent; and anti-Semitism in media, 36 percent.

In May Sunni and Shia leaders described relations within the country’s Muslim communities as excellent. Lisbon Central Mosque Sheikh David Munir said the mosque was active in assisting recently arrived refugees, most of whom were Muslims from Syria and Iraq.

Former Jewish Community President Gabriel Szary Steinhardt said in May the country was a “paradise for Jews in Europe.” He stated that while anti-Semitism acts occurred occasionally, the majority of the population appreciated and had an interest in Judaism and the Jewish people.

In May CLR President Jardim and Vice President Fernando Loja described the state of relations among all religious groups in the country as excellent. The CLR leaders said they had not perceived any Sunni-Shia tensions arising from the planned opening of the Ismaili world headquarters in Lisbon. The headquarters building was undergoing final renovation work at year’s end.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to meet regularly with CLR and ACM officials and discussed the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups. In May embassy officials and a visiting Department of State official met with CLR President Jardim and Vice President Loja, and High Commissioner for Migrations Calado to discuss religious freedom issues, among other things.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives continued to meet with leaders of religious groups, including the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim communities, to discuss issues of religious tolerance and encourage interfaith collaboration and dialogue. The Ambassador met with Sheikh Munir and Arif Z. Lalani, head of the Department for Diplomatic Affairs of the Ismaili Imamat, to discuss ways in which the Muslim community and the embassy could work together to promote religious acceptance and tolerance.

Embassy officials continued to meet with Gabriel Szary Steinhardt and Esther Mucznik, president and vice president, respectively, of the Jewish Community of Lisbon; Maria Antonieta Rebelo Vinagre Becker-Weinberg, president of the Somej Nophlim Jewish Association; Rabbi Eliyohu Rosenfeld of Chabad Lisbon; Rana Uddin, president of the Islamic Center of Bangladesh in Lisbon; President of the Islamic Community Vakil; and Archimandrite Philip Jagnisz, vicar of Portugal and Galiza of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed the importance of freedom of expression of religious views and promoting tolerance and understanding among religious communities. Other topics included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-clerical sentiment in the country, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, and access to non-Catholic chaplains in hospitals and the military.

In May embassy officials and a visiting Department of State official met with CLR President Jardim and Vice President Loja, the High Commissioner for Migrations (ACM), Islamic Community leadership, including President of the Islamic Community Vakil and Sheikh Munir, and representatives from the Catholic Church, and the Jewish communities. They discussed international Muslim support for refugees in the country and funding for the Central Mosque, ACM-supported training materials and events to promote interfaith understanding, and relations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the country.

Russia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one’s religion. The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law identifies Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Throughout the year, authorities continued to enforce the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that banned and criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremist” by raiding homes, seizing personal property, detaining hundreds of suspected members, and sentencing individuals to prison. There were reports that authorities physically abused Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other religious minority groups in detention. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media reports, on February 15, Investigative Committee officials in Surgut detained seven male Jehovah’s Witnesses. The detainees said that during their interrogation, authorities put bags over their heads, sealed the bags with tape, tied the men’s hands behind their backs, beat them, stripped them naked, doused them with water, and shocked them with stun guns. Authorities continued to fine, detain, and imprison members of other religious minority groups and organizations for alleged extremism, including individuals belonging to the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. As of the end of the year, the human rights NGO Memorial identified 245 persons who were imprisoned for their religious beliefs or affiliation, an increase from 177 in 2018. The majority were Muslim, including 157 detained as of October for alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses estimated between 5,000 to 10,000 members had fled the country since the start of the government’s crackdown and related societal violence in 2017. Reports persisted that local officials fined members of religious groups for using land, including private homes, for religious services. On November 14, the Constitutional Court ruled providing residential premises to religious organizations for worship “does not constitute a violation of the law and cannot serve as the basis for prosecuting citizens under [the administrative code].” Critics said the court’s ruling, which included limitations based on the rights of neighbors and health and safety requirements, was vague and gave law enforcement too much discretion to stop home worship activities. Authorities continued to fine, arrest, and prosecute individuals under the Yarovaya Package, a set of legislative amendments passed in 2016 that prohibits, among other things, “unauthorized missionary activity.” Authorities fined a Buddhist man for organizing a meditation meeting at a boathouse without a permit, and a Baptist pastor for publicly baptizing a new congregant in a river. Officials continued to delay and/or prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land, and denied renovation or construction permits for houses of worship. They also continued to deny religious organizations ownership of property expropriated during the Soviet era, such as churches and church-affiliated schools. The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to any other church or religious association, including the right to review draft legislation and greater access to public institutions. The government fined and issued deportation orders for foreign nationals, including a Baptist pastor from Germany, for what authorities said was illegal religious activity.

A December 2017 opinion poll by the independent Levada Center, however, found that approximately 10 percent of the population held negative views about Jews. According to the Levada Center poll, approximately 15 percent held negative views about Muslims. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they were harassed at their workplaces and in some cases dismissed or forced to resign when their coworkers became aware of their religious beliefs. According to the NGO SOVA Center for Information and Analysis (SOVA Center), there were 19 reported cases of religiously motivated vandalism during the year, compared with 34 in 2018. These included individuals setting fire to Russia’s largest yeshiva, located in the Moscow Region, as well as unknown individuals knocking down a cross at the site of a tenth century Christian church near Stavropol, defacing the grave of a 19th century rabbi in Kaliningrad, and damaging 13 headstones in an Islamic cemetery in the Astrakhan Region. According to the SOVA Center, national and local media, including state-run media, continued to publish and/or broadcast defamatory material about minority religious groups, shaping the public perception that certain religious minorities were dangerous.

During the year, the U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials met with a range of government officials to express concern over the treatment of religious minorities, particularly the use of the law on extremism to restrict their activities. The Ambassador also met with representatives of the ROC and minority faiths to discuss concerns about religious freedom in the country. In June senior officials from the Department of State met with the chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation to discuss the status of the Muslim community in the country. Representatives from the embassy and consulates general in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok met regularly with religious leaders and representatives from multiple faiths to discuss legislation impacting religious liberty, government practices, and specific religious freedom cases. The embassy organized speakers and programs designed to promote religious tolerance and used its social media platforms to highlight religious freedom concerns. On September 10, the U.S. government imposed visa restrictions on two members of the Investigative Committee in Surgut for their involvement in “torture and/or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of Jehovah’s Witnesses” held in detention there in February.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Russia on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 141.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). A poll conducted during the year by the Public Opinion Foundation found that 65 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian, and 7 percent identify as Muslim. Religious groups constituting approximately 1 percent or less of the population each include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists, and Falun Gong practitioners. The 2010 census estimates the number of Jews at 150,000; however, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia states the number of Jews is approximately one million, most of whom live in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) estimates the Jewish population is nearly 1.5 million. According to Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation, the Muslim population reached 25 million in 2018, approximately 18 percent of the total population. Immigrants and migrant workers from Central Asia are mostly Muslim. The majority of Muslims live in the Volga-Ural Region and the North Caucasus. Moscow, St. Petersburg, and parts of Siberia also have sizable Muslim populations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

The law states those who violate religious freedom will be “held liable under criminal, administrative, and other legislation.” The administrative code and the criminal code both punish obstruction of the right to freedom of conscience and belief with imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($3,200) or 500,000 rubles ($8,000), depending upon which code governs the offense.

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

In December 2018, the government amended anti-extremism legislation, stipulating speech or actions aimed at “inciting hatred or enmity” on the basis of group affiliation (including religion) are punishable by administrative, rather than criminal, penalties for first-time offenses. These penalties include administrative arrests of up to 15 days or administrative fines of up to 20,000 rubles ($320) for individuals and up to 500,000 rubles ($8,000) for legal entities. Individuals who commit multiple offenses within a one-year period are subject to criminal penalties, including fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,000), compulsory labor for up to four years, or imprisonment of up to five years.

The law criminalizes “offending the feelings of religious believers.” Actions “in public demonstrating clear disrespect for society and committed with the intent to insult the feelings of religious believers” are subject to fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($4,800), compulsory labor for up to one year, or imprisonment for up to one year. If these actions are committed in places of worship, the punishment is a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,000), compulsory labor for up to three years, or a prison sentence of up to three years.

Participating in or organizing the activity of a banned religious organization designated as extremist is punishable by a fine of up to 800,000 rubles ($12,800) or imprisonment for a term of six to 10 years, with deprivation of the right to hold “certain positions” or engage in “certain activities” (without specifying what these might be) for up to 10 years and restrictions on freedom for a period of one to two years. These restrictions may include house arrest or constraints on travel within the country. For persons with official status, a term which applies to anyone working for the government or state-owned entities, as well as to persons in management roles at commercial or nongovernment entities, the prescribed prison term is seven to twelve years, or a fine of up to 700,000 rubles ($11,200). First-time offenders who willingly forsake their membership in banned religious organizations are exempt from criminal liability if they committed no other crimes.

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

A Supreme Court 2017 ruling declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center an extremist organization, closed the organization on those grounds, and banned all Jehovah’s Witnesses activities, including the organization’s website and all regional branches. The court’s ruling states the constitution guarantees freedom of religious beliefs, but this right is limited by other rights, including “existing civil peace and harmony.”

The Supreme Court has banned the activities of several Islamic organizations on the grounds of extremism, including Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2003; Nurdzhular (a russification of the Turkish for “followers of Said Nursi”) in 2008; and Tablighi Jamaat in 2009. In 2015 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) added the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community to its Federal List of Extremist Organizations.

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

The “religious group” is the most basic unit and does not require registration with the state. When a group first begins its activities, however, it must notify authorities, typically the regional MOJ, of the location of its activity, its rites and ceremonies, and its leader(s) and members. A religious group may conduct worship services and rituals and teach religion to its members with proper notification to authorities. It does not have legal status to open a bank account, own property, issue invitations to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, or conduct worship services in prisons, state-owned hospitals, or the armed forces. A religious group may use property bought for the group’s use by its members, residential property owned or rented by its members, or public spaces rented by its members to hold services.

An LRO may register with the MOJ if it has at least 10 citizen members who are 18 or older and are permanent local residents. LROs have legal status and may open bank accounts, own property, issue invitation letters to foreign guests, publish literature, receive tax benefits, and conduct worship services in prisons, hospitals, and the armed forces. CROs may register with the MOJ at the regional or federal level by combining at least three LROs of the same denomination.

To register as an LRO or CRO, an association must provide the following: a list of the organization’s founders and governing body, with addresses and internal travel document (“internal passport”) data; the organization’s charter; the minutes of the founding meeting; certification from the CRO (in the case of LROs); a description of the organization’s doctrine, practices, history, and attitudes toward family, marriage, and education; the organization’s legal address; a certificate of payment of government dues; and the charter or registration papers of the governing body in the case of organizations whose main offices are located abroad. Authorities may deny registration for reasons including incorrect paperwork, failure to meet different administrative requirements, national security reasons, or placement on the list of extremist or terrorist organizations. Denial of registration may be appealed in court. By law, CROs and LROs receiving funding from abroad must report an account of their activities, a list of leaders, the source of foreign funding, and plans for how the organization intends to use the foreign funds or property obtained through foreign funding. Reports are annual by default, but the MOJ may require additional ad hoc reports. LROs and CROs may invite foreign citizens to carry out professional religious activities. LROs and CROs may produce, acquire, export, import, and distribute religious literature in printed, audio, or video format, “and other religious items.”

The Expert Religious Studies Council, established by the MOJ, has wide powers to investigate religious organizations. Some of the council’s powers include reviewing organizations’ activities and literature and determining whether an organization is “extremist.” The council also advises the MOJ on the issue of granting religious organization status to a religious group.

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

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

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

The Ministry of Defense chaplaincy program requires members of a religious group to comprise at least 10 percent of a military unit before an official chaplain of that group is appointed. Chaplains are not enlisted or commissioned, but are classified as assistants to the commander. Chaplains are full-time employees of the Ministry of Defense, paid from the defense budget. The program allows for chaplains representing only the four traditional religions. Currently, there are more than 120 chaplains in the program.

The country’s 83 federal subjects (excluding Russian-occupied Crimea and Sevastopol) have varying policies on wearing the hijab in public schools and/or government institutions. Hijabs are banned in public schools in Stavropol and Mordovia, rulings that have been upheld by the Supreme Court. The law in Chechnya permits schoolgirls to wear hijabs.

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

Engaging in missionary activity prohibited by law carries a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($80 to $800) for individuals and 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,600 to $16,100) for legal entities, which includes LROs and CROs. Foreign citizens or stateless persons who violate restrictions on missionary activities may be fined 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($480 to $800) and are subject to administrative deportation.

The law does not provide precise criteria on how written religious materials may be classified as “extremist.” Within the MOJ, the Scientific Advisory Board reviews religious materials for extremism. Composed of academics and representatives of the four traditional religions, the board reviews materials referred to it by judicial or law enforcement authorities, private citizens, or organizations. If the board identifies material as extremist, it issues a nonbinding advisory opinion, which is then published on the MOJ website and forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. In addition to the Scientific Advisory Board, regional experts also may review religious materials for extremist content.

Prosecutors may take material to a court and ask the court to declare it extremist, but materials introduced in court during the consideration of administrative, civil, or criminal cases may also be declared extremist sua sponte, i.e., of the court’s own accord. By law, publications declared extremist by a federal court are automatically added to the federal list of extremist materials. Courts may order internet service providers to block access to websites containing materials included on the federal list of extremist materials. There is no legal procedure for removal from the list, even if a court declares an item should no longer be classified as extremist, but lists are reviewed and reissued on a regular basis and publications may be dropped from lists. The law makes it illegal to declare the key texts (holy books) of the four traditional religions in their original languages – Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Quran, and Tibetan Buddhist Kangyur (Kanjur) – to be extremist. The law does not specify that foreign language translations of these texts cannot be declared extremist.

According to the administrative code, mass distribution, production, and possession with the aim of mass distribution of extremist materials by private individuals may result in 15 days’ imprisonment or a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 rubles ($16 to $48), or 2,000 to 5,000 rubles ($32 to $80) for public officials, as well as confiscation of these materials. Courts may suspend for 90 days the operations of legal entities found to be in possession of extremist materials and fine them 100,000 to 1,000,000 rubles ($1,600 to $16,100). Individuals who produce materials later deemed extremist may not be punished retroactively but must cease production and distribution of those materials.

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

The law allows religious organizations to use buildings that were not originally authorized for religious purposes if they are part of a property that serves a religious purpose. The law allows, for example, a group to establish a Sunday school in a warehouse on the property of a church. If a structure (e.g., the warehouse) does not meet legal requirements and is not made legal by submitting proper paperwork by 2030, it will be destroyed.

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

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

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

Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is compulsory, but the constitution provides for alternative service for those who refuse to bear arms for reasons of conscience, including religious belief. The standard military service period is 12 months, while alternative service is 18 months in a Ministry of Defense agency or 21 months in a nondefense agency. Failure to perform alternative service is punishable under the criminal code, with penalties ranging from an 80,000 rubles ($1,300) fine to six months in prison.

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

The ROC and all members of the Civic Chamber, a state institution composed of representatives of public associations, are granted the opportunity to review draft legislation pending before the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, on a case-by-case basis. No formal mechanism exists for permanent representation of religious organizations in the Civic Chamber, but individuals from both traditional religions and other religious groups may be selected to serve in the chamber, initially by the president. Subsequently, the selectees themselves choose additional members to serve in the group. The State Duma passed legislation in 2007 barring any member of an organization that had been accused of extremism from serving in the Civic Chamber.

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

Foreigners engaging in religious work require both a contract with a legally registered religious organization and a work visa. Religious work is not permitted on “humanities visas,” which allow foreigners to enter the country to strengthen academic or cultural ties or take part in charitable work. There are no missionary visas.

Amendments to the law enacted in May and July grant religious organizations the exclusive right to manage pilgrimage activities, both on a paid and free-of-charge basis.

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

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

Government Practices

Religious groups and human rights NGOs reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, arrest, imprison, torture, and/or physically abuse individuals on account of their religious beliefs or affiliation. Authorities continued to accuse religious minority groups of extremism.

As of December 31, Memorial identified 245 persons persecuted for their religious belief or affiliation whom it considered to be political prisoners, meaning they were either already imprisoned or were in custody or under house arrest awaiting a sentence to enter into force. This was an increase from 177 in 2018. In October Memorial’s list of persons it identified as political prisoners included 66 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 157 persons accused of involvement with the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that Memorial characterized as a “non-violent international Islamic organization.” According to Memorial, none of the political prisoners being persecuted for their religious beliefs or affiliation called for violence or planned violent acts. In October Memorial also identified an additional 140 Jehovah’s Witnesses as “victims of politically motivated prosecutions” whom it did not consider to be political prisoners because they had not been placed in custody.

Authorities continued to enforce the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that criminalized the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist. Jehovah’s Witnesses and human rights NGOs reported authorities raided homes, seized personal property, and detained hundreds of suspected members. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, human rights NGOs, and media, authorities physically abused adherents while in detention. On February 15, Investigative Committee officials in Surgut in west Siberia’s Khanty-Mansiysk Region detained seven male Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the men, during their interrogation at the police station, authorities put bags over their heads, sealed the bags with tape, tied their hands behind their backs, and beat them. Authorities stripped the men naked, doused them with water, and shocked them with stun guns for two hours. Authorities demanded to know where local Jehovah’s Witnesses met and who attended the meetings. Multiple domestic and international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses called for an investigation into the accusations of abuse. In March the Khanty-Mansiysk Investigative Committee division said after an internal investigation it found no evidence its staff had used unlawful force. The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a case with the ECHR.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on June 26, law enforcement officers in Kaluga raided the home of Roman Makhnev and took him and Dmitriy Kuzin into custody. At the station, officers handcuffed Makhnev to a pipe and left him there overnight. For the next three days, officers denied him food while they interrogated him. Authorities charged Makhnev and Kuzin with organizing extremist activity and held them in pretrial detention for six months. On December 25, a judge approved their release from the facility, but according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the case remained pending at year’s end.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 6, authorities in Uray conducted searches of eight Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes and took Andrey Sazonov into custody. The officers beat the man on the palms of his hands, forced him to kneel during his interrogation, and threatened him. According to Sazonov, when he would not answer questions about fellow believers, investigators turned off the recording machine, beat him more severely, and then resumed the interrogation. Two days after the search, Sazonov’s mother was expelled from the marketplace where she sold goods and her market stand was destroyed. On August 22, an appellate court banned Sazonov from participating in Jehovah’s Witnesses religious activities.

According to the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, while exact numbers were unavailable, 5,000 to 10,000 adherents had fled the country in fear of persecution since the start of the government’s crackdown and related societal violence in 2017. The association estimated more than 150,000 adherents remained in the country. One source estimated there were at least 26,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia continuing to worship clandestinely.

The SOVA Center reported criminal charges against Jehovah’s Witnesses were initiated in 21 new regions, meaning criminal prosecutions were ongoing in 52 regions at year’s end. The SOVA Center stated authorities accused 313 individuals of belonging to the group and filed charges against 213 of them during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported as of November, 287 members were subject to ongoing criminal prosecution. Of these, 46 adherents were in pretrial detention, 23 were under house arrest, and at least 135 were under travel restrictions.

According to the SOVA Center and Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives, 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses were convicted of extremism for practicing their religion during the year in criminal cases; nine of them were sentenced to prison, including three who received six years in a penal colony. The remainder received suspended sentences, probation, fines, and/or community service. According to media and Jehovah’s Witnesses sources, on February 6, a judge in Oryol sentenced Danish citizen Dennis Christensen to six years in prison, making him the first Jehovah’s Witness to receive a prison term for “organizing the activity of a banned extremist organization.” Authorities had detained Christensen since May 2017. On May 23, the Oryol Regional Court denied his appeal and on June 6 authorities transferred him to a penal colony in Lgov, Kursk Region.

Media and Jehovah’s Witness representatives said that in September the Leninsky District Court in Saratov sentenced six Jehovah’s Witnesses to prison terms of between two and 3.5 years for organizing the activity of a banned extremist organization. In November a judge in Tomsk sentenced local resident Sergei Klimov to a six-year prison sentence for the same offense. Klimov had been held in pretrial detention since June 2018. In December a court in Penza sentenced Vladimir Alushkin to six years in prison, also for organizing the activity of a banned extremist organization.

According to the international human rights NGO Forum 18, a court in Khabarovsk sentenced Valery Moskalenko to two years’ forced labor followed by six months’ probation for “participating in the activity of a banned extremist organization.” Forum 18 reported the prosecution based its argument on a 10-minute recording of Moskalenko reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount at a Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering.

Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the Investigative Committee, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents, officers of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Countering Extremism, police officers, and riot police carried out raids in the homes and places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 44 regions between January 2018 and October 2019. Citing Jehovah’s Witness sources, Human Rights Watch reported 491 raids on homes and apartments during the year, compared to 289 in 2018. According to Jehovah’s Witness sources, during these raids, authorities entered homes, often in the early morning, and conducted unauthorized, illegal searches, and verbally and physically abused members. Authorities often entered the residences by forcing open the door. They held individuals, including children and the elderly, at gunpoint and seized personal belongings, including religious materials, personal correspondence, money, mobile phones, and other electronic devices.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on April 19, agents from the Center for Countering Extremism and FSB agents disrupted a religious meeting in the home of an 81-year-old adherent and searched her home for five hours, during which the woman fell ill and required medical attention. On April 3 in Porkhov, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported masked FSB agents dressed in camouflage broke into the apartment of one Jehovah’s Witness couple. They struck the man several times on the head and legs and knocked him to the floor. Officers accessed his online accounts and seized electronic devices and money. They took the couple into custody and interrogated them. Authorities charged the man with participating in the activities of an extremist organization. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that on October 10 in Sochi, groups of armed and masked security officers, some with dogs, conducted 36 home searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Authorities took Vyacheslav Popov and Nikolay Kuzichkin into custody and charged them with “organizing the activity of a banned extremist organization.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives, at year’s end the group had 49 applications pending with the ECHR and five complaints against the government pending with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including for detentions of practitioners, censorship of religious literature and the organization’s website, and raids on or other interference with religious meetings.

According to Memorial, during the year, the government detained, arrested, and/or sentenced at least 25 individuals it accused of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir. This number excluded individuals from Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula who were initially detained by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea before being transferred to Russia where they were tried and sentenced. While banned in Russia, Hizb ut-Tahrir was legal in Ukraine.

On September 12, media reported authorities completed a criminal investigation of Eduard Nizamov, whom the government alleged to be the head of the country’s branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and charged him with financing terrorism and “preparing for a violent seizure of power.” Nizamov denied the charges. Authorities arrested Nizamov in October 2018 and, according to Memorial, beat and verbally abused him while in pretrial detention. As of year’s end, his trial was pending.

Individuals continued to receive harsh sentences for their alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. According to the human rights monitoring and reporting outlet OVD-Info, on March 13, the Volga District Military Court sentenced five men from Tatarstan to between 14 and 22 years in a maximum-security prison. The judge found one of the men guilty of participating in the activities of a terrorist organization and the others guilty of organizing the activities of a terrorist organization.

The courts continued to sentence individuals for what authorities said was membership in other Islamic organizations. Local media reported that on September 25, a court in Tatarstan sentenced three persons to prison terms of between two and six years for their involvement in Tablighi Jamaat, which Memorial characterized as a peaceful international Islamic missionary movement. On October 4, the FSB detained a Kyrgyz preacher whom authorities said was linked to Tablighi Jamaat. A court in Smolensk subsequently ruled that the man, a Kyrgyz national, be deported to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Although the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi continued to be banned, authorities did not pursue any new cases against his followers during the year. Experts from the SOVA Center continued to state that Nurdzhular, an organization purportedly based on Nursi’s teachings and banned as extremist by the authorities, did not actually exist in the country, and a number of individuals accused of belonging to the organization also denied its existence as part of their defense.

Several individuals continued to serve out prison sentences for what authorities said was their adherence to Nursi’s teachings. According to Forum 18, Ziyavdin Dapayev, Sukhrab Kaltuyev, Artur Kaltuyev, and Ilgar Vagif-ogly Aliyev continued to serve prison sentences ranging from three to eight years for organizing the activities of a banned religious organization. Imam Komil Odilov was released in March after serving nine months of a two-year sentence in a labor camp, but was ordered to spend the next eight years on probation and under curfew (not allowed to leave his home between 10 PM and 6 AM). According to Forum 18, Odilov remained on the government’s list of terrorists and extremists.

In May the SOVA Center reported authorities stripped Yevgeny Kim, a naturalized Russian citizen since 2005, of his citizenship due to what they said was his allegiance to Nursi. This decision rendered Kim, who was nearing the end of a four-year prison sentence, stateless, since he had previously given up his Uzbek citizenship. At year’s end it was unclear whether authorities deported him; experts believed he remained in a detention center in Russia.

On June 19, a district court in Kazan sentenced five members of the Fayzrakhmani Islamic community to five to seven years in prison. Although the Fayzrakhmani group was considered an extremist organization, the SOVA Center described it as a “typical closed religious community” that lives a secluded life and maintains religious practices different from traditional Islam.

Media reported in May that Sahib Aliyev, an accountant in the St. Petersburg branch of the Church of Scientology (COS), pled guilty to organizing an extremist community, illegal entrepreneurship, and “humiliation of human dignity.” Authorities arrested Aliyev and four other members of the COS in June 2017 as part of a probe into what police said was possible “illegal entrepreneurship,” incitement of hatred, and organizing an extremist conspiracy. According to Newsweek, in March police raided the offices of the COS in Moscow and St. Petersburg in connection with fraud investigations. Authorities accused the COS of raising approximately 2.8 billion rubles ($45 million) in seminars and other events around the country and sending the money to the United States. They also said the group stole money from investors. The state news agency TASS reported that in November authorities released from custody Ivan Masitsky, the head of the COS in St. Petersburg, after he spent more than two years in a pretrial detention facility. At year’s end, the case against Masitsky and COS officers Konstantsiya Yesaulkova, Galina Shurinova, and Anastasiya Terentyeva remained pending.

Media continued to report official harassment against Muslims. Moskovskaya Gazeta reported on March 27 that police detained 27 Muslims praying at a mall in Moscow and accused them of violating the rules for holding public events. According to the SOVA Center, the men received administrative fines.

Authorities continued to refuse to register the St. Petersburg and Moscow COS branches as religious organizations despite a 2014 ECHR ruling that the government’s refusal was a violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

According to the Ministry of Justice, at the end of 2018 (the latest year for which information was available) there were 30,896 registered religious organizations (LROs and CROs) in the country, most of which were ROC-affiliated. According to the SOVA Center, laws creating and regulating the activities of religious groups, LROs, and CROs contained imprecise language that left room for interpretation by local and national authorities.

The SOVA Center, independent media, and religious groups continued to say the Expert Religious Studies Council members lacked appropriate academic and religious credentials to advise the MOJ about which groups should be permitted to register as religious organizations or to review an organization’s literature and activities to determine whether the organization was “extremist.”

Representatives of minority religious associations and NGOs continued to state the Yarovaya Package, enacted for the stated purpose of enhancing the country’s antiterrorism capability, was employed by authorities to limit religious freedom. They said officials often cited concerns about missionaries being sources of foreign influence. They said the broad definition of missionary activity in the legislation included not only proselytizing, but also disseminating religious materials, preaching, and engaging in interfaith discussions about religion, including in private residences, without prior authorization. In 2018, Forum 18 said the legal framework for an individual exercising his or her beliefs outside a designated place of worship was unclear and authorities applied the law inconsistently.

The SOVA Center stated in its annual report, “Persecution of religious organizations for ‘illegal’ missionary activity on the basis of the Yarovaya-Ozerov amendments package continued, although, judging by the Supreme Court data for the first half of 2019 [the time period for which data was available], its intensity ha[d] slightly diminished.” The majority of the 174 cases initiated under “violation of the law on freedom of conscience, religion, and religious associations” during the first six months of the year were for missionary activity. Seventy-four individuals, two officials, and 26 legal entities received penalties, mainly in the form of administrative fines. The SOVA Center calculated the total amount of fines imposed by courts in the first six months was 1,899,100 rubles ($30,500), compared with 2,471,000 rubles ($39,700) for the same period in 2018.

Forum 18 and the SOVA Center reported that on January 15, authorities in Yoshkar-Ola fined Sergei Roshchin and Valery Turkin, members of an unregistered Baptist group, 5,000 rubles ($80) each for passing out literature at a bus stop in Ryazan without a permit; on March 6, a district court ruled their actions constituted illegal missionary activity and upheld the fine. On February 7, authorities fined a Buddhist man in Sochi 5,000 rubles ($80) for organizing a meditation meeting at a boathouse without a permit.

According to the SOVA Center, in November a municipal court in Ryazan fined a man identified as Oleg Alekseyevich K. 5,000 rubles ($80) for illegal missionary activity for distributing Bibles at Ryazan State Radio Engineering University. The SOVA Center also reported that in August, the Mufti of Moscow, Ildar Alyautdinov, and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Moscow were fined 30,000 rubles ($480) each for distributing literature without proper markings. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, in February authorities in Novosibirsk fined two Jewish lecturers, one from the United States and one from Israel, 2,000 rubles ($32) each for conducting missionary work while on tourist visas. The men spoke at a seminar for Jewish youth hosted by the Beit Menachem Jewish Community Cultural Center. The SOVA Center and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that on April 7, authorities, including police and FSB officers, firefighters, and representatives of the city administration, disrupted services in a house in Verkhnebakansky, a town near the Black Sea, at which Pastor Yuri Korniyenko and 50 Baptist congregants were celebrating the Annunciation. On April 9, the prosecutor charged Korniyenko with engaging in illegal missionary work. Authorities sealed the house and banned the pastor and congregants from using it for religious purposes.

RFE/RL also reported that in November authorities fined a Baptist pastor in Tatarstan 20,000 rubles ($320) for organizing an unsanctioned public gathering in June at which a group of adherents assembled to watch him baptize a new member in the Kama River. On December 11, Kommersant reported a judge in the city of Satka fined the New Generation Church of Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) 50,000 rubles ($800) for holding weekly meetings in a cafe without proper documentation.

On October 10, the Constitutional Court overturned a lower court 2018 decision imposing a fine on the Reconciliation Church of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, registered in Yoshkar-Ola, for illegal missionary activities for distributing printed materials outside the borders of the municipality in which the group was registered. The Constitutional Court ruled the scope of missionary activities of religious associations was wider than the territorial scope of their main religious activities.

In December the Russian Union of Evangelical Christina-Baptist reported that a Baptist pastor from Germany who had lived in Sverdlovsk Region since 1994 was deported after the regional office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs revoked his residence permit. The group said that without evidence, the FSB alleged he “advocated a violent change of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation” and “urged citizens to refuse to fulfill their legal duties and to confront the Russian Orthodox Church.” According to media reports, in March two American volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ were detained in Novorossiysk, fined 30,000 rubles ($480), and deported for teaching English without a license and violating the terms of their visas.

Religious minorities said local authorities continued to use the country’s anti-extremism laws to ban sacred religious texts and other books relating to religion, other than the four holy books recognized by law. The MOJ’s list of extremist material grew during the year to 5,003 as of December, compared to 4,514 as of October 2018. There were reportedly no new Islamic or Jehovah’s Witnesses materials added to the list during the year but there were additions of anti-Semitic and anti-Orthodox Christian materials. During the first six months of the year, authorities imposed 1,964 sanctions for distribution of extremist materials, compared with 1,133 during the same period in 2018. According to Forum 18, in some cases, those in charge of places of worship and other public or semipublic spaces were held responsible for distribution of banned religious publications, which could have been left at the site by anyone at any time, including before the ban. The government’s ban on all Jehovah’s Witnesses websites, imposed in 2017, remained in effect.

As of year’s end, the government did not act on the 2018 ECHR finding that court decisions to prohibit Nursi’s books violated the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The ECHR ruled the country’s courts did not provide sufficient and relevant grounds for interfering with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression, and their intervention could not be considered necessary in a democratic society. The court further ruled the government should pay one of the plaintiffs 7,500 euros ($8,400) in compensation for non-pecuniary damages.

The SOVA Center reported that on September 11, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree requiring religious organizations to alter their places of worship to conform with specific counterterrorism measures in order to qualify for safety permits for their real property. Among other requirements, all facilities had to be guarded during services by members of public organizations. Facilities with maximum building occupancy limits between 500 and 1,000 had to have “panic buttons” and video surveillance systems. Buildings with occupancy limits of more than 1,000 had to be guarded by private security guards or Rosgvardiya (National Guard) personnel. The SOVA Center stated, “It is obvious that few religious organizations have the financial ability to meet these requirements, and the penalty for noncompliance is high: fines of up to 100,000 rubles [$1,600].”

Reports persisted that local officials fined members of religious groups for using land, including their homes, “not for its intended purpose,” i.e., for religious services. Officials reportedly continued to prevent minority religious organizations from obtaining land, and continued to deny construction permits for houses of worship. Forum 18 stated in September, “Since municipal authorities are usually unwilling to permit the construction of purpose-built churches and mosques, congregations can be obliged to meet in residential, agricultural, or commercial buildings. This leaves them vulnerable to the complexities and contradictions of the legislation which regulates the use of land.” Forum 18 reported that between January and October there were 21 known instances of individuals being fined for using homes as places of worship, compared with 10 in 2018. Forum 18 reported on November 14, however, that the Constitutional Court ruled that providing residential premises to religious organizations for worship and/or for use as a legal address “does not constitute a violation of the law and cannot serve as the basis for prosecuting citizens under [the administrative code].” The court stated religious use of residential premises must take into account the rights and legitimate interests of residents and neighbors, as well as health, safety, and environmental requirements. The court further stated it would be “unacceptable” for a dwelling to lose the features of a residential premises and acquire those of a religious or administrative building. The case involved a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Rostov who allowed the congregation to use her home as its legal address and meet there for four hours per week for religious purposes. According to Forum 18, on November 20, human rights lawyer Vasily Nichik said in a blogpost, “Some words in the ruling do not have regulatory certainty, which leaves ample room for interpretation by law enforcement.”

Authorities continued to demolish houses of worship. According to Forum 18, on May 22, authorities demolished an Islamic prayer house located on private farmland in Chernyakhovsk District of Kaliningrad Region after several raids by FSB agents. Officials said the mosque violated planning regulations by being used for nonagricultural purposes.

Authorities continued to confiscate the property of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Administrative Center. In February the Syktyvkar City Court seized a house of worship after ruling the real estate agreement concluded in 2007 transferring the property to the Jehovah’s Witnesses was void, and returned the building to the municipality.

Media in August reported Sverdlovsk regional authorities rejected proposals made by members of the Buddhist Shedrub Ling Monastery to preserve the stupas and outdoor Buddha statues around the monastery on Mount Kachkanar. A court ordered the religious buildings and statues to be demolished to allow for mining operations in the area. On October 18, the Sverdlovsk Region vice governor announced the mining company and the Buddhist community had signed an agreement whereby the community would relocate to a different area but would have periodic access to the religious structures on Mount Kachkanar until their demolition. A Buddhist leader interviewed by Novaya Gazeta stated the agreement was contrary to his community’s interests but there was no other way to avoid conflict with the company and the local population. Under the agreement, the Buddhists must leave the area permanently by November 2020, after which the company plans to demolish most of the religious structures.

Forum 18 reported that on January 25, a Moscow court ordered the Moscow Theological Seminary of Evangelical Baptists to suspend all activities for 60 days after the federal education inspectorate Rosobrnadzor found fault with the organization’s theological bachelor’s degree program and the qualifications of its staff. In February the seminary was prohibited from admitting new students. Representatives of the seminary told Forum 18 Rosobrnadzor inspectors said staff had not undergone required medical examinations and the seminary was not following approved curricula. The seminary stated it was allowed under the education law and the religion law to develop nonaccredited courses that were not subject to the same requirements as state-accredited equivalents. The court subsequently suspended the seminary’s license to engage in educational activities indefinitely. At year’s end, the case was pending.

In December media reported Rosobrnadzor posted on its website that it had prohibited the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg from admitting new students for “failing to comply with requests in a timely manner.” Rosobrnadzor did not provide further details.

As in years past, according to NGOs and independent experts, the government continued to cooperate more closely with the ROC than with other religious organizations, with officials often interpreting the law recognizing the “special role” Orthodox Christianity plays in the country’s “history and the formation and development of its spirituality and culture” as granting special privileges or benefits to the ROC as an institution. The ROC continued to benefit from a number of formal and informal agreements with government ministries that gave it greater access than other religious organizations to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, the police, and the military. The government also continued to provide the ROC patriarch with security guards and access to official vehicles, a privilege accorded to no other religious organization. In its annual report, the SOVA Center stated the ROC was the most frequent recipient of properties the government granted to religious organizations. During the year, Saratov Region authorities transferred the former Old Believers Kazanskaya (Gorinskaya) Church to the Russian Orthodox Gymnasium after refusing to return it to the Old Believers community. Per a decision by the Property Relations Committee of St. Petersburg, authorities gave the building housing the School of Olympic Reserve Specializing in Nordic Combined to the Orthodox Spaso-Pargolovsky parish over the objection of school staff and parents. No archival documents confirming that the ROC had previously owned the building were presented to the parents or school staff.

Some government officials continued to make anti-Semitic statements publicly. According to media, during a visit to Jordan in August, Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov told a group of expatriate ethnic Chechens that Jews were “the main enemies of Islam.” The meeting was broadcast on Chechen state television. The month prior, he told a group of Chechen police that Israel was a “terrorist organization.” In an op-ed published on the Zavtra news website on May 6, Sergey Glazyev, an advisor to President Vladimir Putin, wrote that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, together with American and “extreme right-wing forces in Israel,” could orchestrate a “massive relocation” to replace the ethnic Russian population of eastern Ukraine with “inhabitants of the Promised Land.” Glazyev denied the op-ed was anti-Semitic, saying it did not mention Jews. On April 24, the acting mayor of Lipetsk, Yevgeniya Uvarkina, responded to a question at a public hearing from a local resident seeking to halt local stadium construction by wondering aloud whether the resident had a “Jewish last name.” She apologized for the remark the next day.

Multiple officials supported the construction of Orthodox churches, stating the country was an Orthodox nation. According to the Moscow Times, Yekaterinburg City Deputy Alexander Kolesnikov expressed public support for a proposed plan to build a new cathedral in a popular central park. Kolesnikov said, “If there is no cathedral, there will be mosques, and you will get another Switzerland. The government will work better if church bells are ringing.” According to media, in May thousands demonstrated for several days to protest the municipal government’s unilateral decision to locate the cathedral in the park without consulting local residents. Following a referendum, municipal authorities made plans to construct the cathedral at an alternate location.

The government continued to withhold property expropriated during the Soviet Union from minority Christian groups. Media reported Father Grigory Zvolinsky, a Catholic priest in the city of Kirov, had lost five court appeals since 2011 for the return of the Alexander Church, a Catholic church built by the Polish community in 1903. For several years, the church has been used as a concert hall. The city administration allowed Zvolinsky to rent the church for Mass on certain days but informed his lawyer near the end of the year that he would be allowed to continue doing this only if he dropped his court case altogether. Zvolinsky refused and declared his intention to continue trying to reclaim the church, despite being subject to official harassment and surveillance.

The SOVA Center reported authorities returned some properties to religious communities during the year. In June in the Altai Region, following lengthy litigation with the Barnaul city administration, the Catholic community regained ownership rights to its church building that had for many years housed a pharmacy. Media reported that in August the municipality of Syzran in the Volga Region returned a synagogue to the local Jewish community approximately 90 years after Soviet authorities had closed it. The community of approximately 150 members requested the return of the synagogue in 1943. Its request was denied at the time and the synagogue became a cultural center. The reports stated the community planned to rededicate the synagogue within two years.

Among issues cited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses were government seizures of properties valued at 79.2 million euros ($89 million), which remained pending before the ECHR at year’s end.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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: 39 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Russia; 50 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 50 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

A December 2017 opinion poll by the independent Levada Center concluded that attitudes toward various religious denominations remained relatively unchanged over the past 10 years. Nearly all Russians held positive views about Christians, and the majority held positive or neutral views about members of the other religions included in the survey (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus). Approximately 10 percent admitted to holding negative views about Jews and approximately 15 percent admitted to holding negative views about Muslims.

Media reported that in August a group of Krasnodar residents entered a synagogue and interrogated a rabbi for an hour, accusing him of spreading alien religious practices. The group’s leader later announced that she would commence “partisan actions” against a Jewish community center.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report adherents were increasingly harassed at their workplaces and in some cases dismissed or forced to resign when their coworkers became aware of their religious beliefs. The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in April a Jehovah’s Witness working as a psychotherapist in Chelyabinsk was forced to resign after a woman posted on the website of the city’s health department that the therapist had used her professional role to promote a banned organization. In February authorities dismissed a firefighter in Surgut after two decades on the job due to his religious affiliation as a Jehovah’s Witness.

The SOVA Center reported 19 incidents of religiously motivated vandalism during the year, compared with 34 incidents in 2018, continuing the general downward trend of such vandalism over the past decade (from a high of 177 incidents in 2010).

The SOVA Center reported that on April 18, the day before the beginning of Passover, unidentified individuals set fire to the country’s largest yeshiva, Torat Haim, located in the Ramensky District of Moscow Region, and drew swastikas on the walls. No one was injured, but a storehouse burned down. In March unknown individuals in Kaliningrad defaced the grave of Israel Salanter, a 19th century rabbi, drawing on the tombstone a swastika and abbreviations associated with a neo-Nazi movement. The same month, unknown persons near Stavropol knocked down a granite cross erected on the site of a tenth century Christian church; the cross had been previously defaced with swastikas and pagan runes in October 2018. On June 2, unknown individuals set fire to a building belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kabardino-Balkaria. In September police arrested a man accused of setting fire to an Orthodox church in St. Petersburg. On June 18, unknown individuals damaged 13 headstones in an Islamic cemetery in the village of Osypnoy Hill in Astrakhan Region. On June 17, police arrested a woman who attempted to set fire to the door of a Catholic church in St. Petersburg.

According to the SOVA Center, national and local media continued to publish and/or broadcast defamatory material about minority religious groups, shaping the public perception that certain religious groups were dangerous. The state-owned television channels Rossiya-1 and Zvezda broadcast negative stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology, respectively. In April the St. Petersburg TV channel 78 broadcast a story about Falun Gong practitioners, accusing them of extremism and espionage. According to the SOVA Center, in October the Tatarstan-based internet information agency Sobytiya made defamatory and xenophobic statements about Jehovah’s Witnesses when announcing an upcoming October trial of the organization’s members in Naberezhnye Chelny. The former head of the Department of Religious Studies at Kazan State University, Larisa Astakhova, invited as one of the experts, said that Jehovah’s Witnesses “had to be disposed of” since the government had made the decision to ban them.

Many congregations said they pursued ties with other faith communities. A leader in the Catholic Church in Yekaterinburg said his church had ongoing relationships with local ROC, Muslim, and Protestant communities, as well as with immigrant communities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with a range of government officials throughout the year and expressed concern regarding the treatment of religious minorities, particularly the use of the law on extremism to restrict the activities of religious minorities. They also urged authorities to investigate the credible claims of torture and abuse that Jehovah’s Witnesses and alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir made against local law enforcement officials.

In June senior officials from the Department of State met with Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, chairman of the Religious Board of Muslims of the Russian Federation, to discuss the status of the Muslim community in the country.

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

The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with members of religious and nongovernmental organizations and held discussions with leaders from multiple religious organizations to emphasize a commitment to religious freedom and the value of interfaith dialogue. In April the Ambassador met with Dr. Yuri Kanner, president of the Russian Jewish Congress, to discuss interfaith relations and combating anti-Semitism. The Ambassador also participated in events with other Jewish leaders, including Chief Rabbi of Russia Berl Lazar, emphasizing the U.S. commitment to combating anti-Semitism, and discussing the challenges the Jewish community faced. Throughout the year, the Ambassador also met with representatives of the ROC, representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses, legal representatives of the COS, and a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ to discuss concerns about religious freedom in the country. In November the Charge d’Affaires held a roundtable with representatives from Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, and Orthodox Christian organizations to explore how the embassy could facilitate better cooperation among them. The embassy also partnered with religious organizations, such as the Russian Jewish Congress, for a number of events, including one honoring American citizens recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

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

The embassy used its social media platforms during the year to highlight issues related to religious freedom, including expressing specific concern on Twitter over the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On February 6, the embassy spokesperson posted on Twitter, “Deeply concerned by the six-year sentence imposed on Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen. We agree with President Putin that persecuting peaceful believers is utter nonsense, and call on Russia to respect freedom of religion. #ReligiousFreedom.” The embassy also invited speakers and organized programs designed to promote religious tolerance and interfaith understanding, especially through art and music. In June the embassy funded the visit of the Chicago-based theater company Silk Road Rising to Moscow and St. Petersburg to perform American playwright Jamil Khoury’s play Mosque Alert in Russian. The play addressed the topics of anti-Muslim sentiment and Muslim-American relations. In November the embassy sponsored performances by Joseph Malovany, a leading American cantor, at the Moscow Conservatory to promote the importance of Jewish musical traditions.

On September 10, the U.S. government imposed visa restrictions on Vladimir Petrovich Yermolayev, Head of the Investigative Committee in Surgut, and Stepan Vladimirovich Tkach, Senior Investigator at the Investigative Committee in Surgut, and their immediate family members, for Yermalayev and Tkach’s involvement in “torture and/or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of Jehovah’s Witnesses” held in detention in Surgut in February. When making the announcement, the Department of State spokesperson said, “Russia should end its unjust campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and immediately release the over 200 individuals it currently has imprisoned for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.”

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Russia on a Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Slovakia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith. Registration requirements for religious groups include the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents. Members of some religious groups said stringent registration requirements hindered religious freedom. Some groups registered as civic associations in order to function. Members of parliament (MPs) from both the government coalition and opposition parties continued to make anti-Muslim statements. Authorities criminally prosecuted some members of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) for defaming minority religious beliefs and Holocaust denial. In November parliament adopted an amendment, effective in 2020, increasing the annual state subsidy to government-recognized religious communities by approximately 10 percent.

In August a court convicted a man of inflicting bodily harm and sentenced him to four years in prison for a December 2018 knife attack against Turkish and Albanian proprietors of a kebab bistro in Banska Bystrica, where he shouted anti-Muslim slurs and threats. The prosecutor appealed for a longer sentence to the Supreme Court. Unregistered religious groups said the public tended to distrust them because of their lack of official government recognition. The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media, which it attributed mostly to inflammatory public statements by politicians portraying Muslim refugees as an existential threat to the country’s society. According to a survey by a local think tank, nearly 60 percent of citizens would oppose a Muslim family moving into their neighborhood; for a Jewish family, the corresponding figure was 17 percent. Organizations media described as far right continued to organize gatherings and commemorations of the World War II (WWII)-era, Nazi-allied Slovak state and to praise its leaders. In December unknown persons vandalized two Jewish cemeteries in the towns of Namestovo and Rajec, damaging more than 80 gravestones.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers repeatedly raised public awareness of the importance of religious freedom, using private and public events to highlight the need for tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy officers also raised with government officials at the Ministries of Culture and Interior and parliamentarians the treatment of religious minorities and the difficulties those groups faced regarding registration, as well as measures to counter what religious groups and others described as the increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. Embassy officials also met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to raise the issue of hate speech and highlight the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance. The embassy provided additional funding for a local NGO that developed a curriculum for secondary schools to foster religious tolerance through interfaith discussions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.4 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census in 2011, Roman Catholics constitute 62 percent of the population, members of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession 5.9 percent, and Greek Catholics 3.8 percent; 13.4 percent did not state a religious affiliation. There are smaller numbers of members of the Reformed Christian Church, other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Orthodox Church, Jews, Bahai’s, and Muslims. In the 2011 census, approximately 1,200 persons self-identified as Muslim, while representatives of the Muslim community estimate their number at 5,000. According to the census, there are approximately 2,000 Jews. According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 2,600 Jewish residents.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law prohibits establishing, supporting, and promoting groups dedicated to the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as “demonstrating sympathy” with such groups, which are commonly interpreted to include Nazis and neo-Nazis. Violators are subject to up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Church Affairs in order to employ spiritual leaders to perform officially recognized functions. Clergy from unregistered religious groups do not officially have the right to perform civil functions such as presiding at weddings or funeral ceremonies (although they may do so unofficially) or ministering to their members in prisons or government hospitals. Unregistered groups may apply to provide spiritual guidance to their adherents in prisons, but they have no legal recourse if their requests are denied. Unregistered groups may conduct religious services, which the government recognizes as private, rather than religious, activities. Unregistered groups lack legal status and may not establish religious schools or receive government funding.

According to the law, organizations seeking registration as religious groups must have a minimum of 50,000 adherents. The 50,000 persons must be adult citizens or permanent residents and must submit to the Ministry of Culture an “honest declaration” attesting to their membership, knowledge of the articles of faith and basic tenets of the religion, personal identity numbers and home addresses, and support for the group’s registration. All groups registered before these requirements came into effect in 2017 were grandfathered as officially recognized religions; no new religious groups have attained recognition under the revised requirements. According to the law, only groups that register using the title “church” in their official name may call themselves a church, but there is no other legal distinction between registered “churches” and other registered religious groups.

The 18 registered churches and religious groups are: the Apostolic Church, Baha’i Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Methodist Church, Greek Catholic Church, Christian Congregations (Krestanske zbory), Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, and Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities. Registered groups and churches receive annual state subsidies. All but the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Greek Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, and Roman Catholic Church have fewer than 50,000 members, but they registered before this requirement came into effect.

The Ministry of Culture’s Department of Church Affairs oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations, which it allocates according to the number of clergy each group reports having. The ministry may not legally intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups or direct their activities.

In November parliament adopted a legislative amendment scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020, increasing the total state subsidy to registered churches and religious communities by approximately 10 percent, to four million euros ($4.49 million) per year and basing the funding for each group on the number of adherents, rather than the number of clergy. Under the new law, religious groups have more leeway to determine the use of the government subsidies, since these are no longer predominantly earmarked towards covering clergy salaries, and future payments will be adjusted for inflation.

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

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

The law does not allow burial earlier than 48 hours following death.

All public elementary school students must take a religion or ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences. Schools have some leeway in drafting their own curricula for religion classes, but these must be consistent with the Ministry of Education’s National Educational Program. Representatives of registered religious communities are involved in the preparation of the National Education Program. Although most school religion classes teach Catholicism, if there is a sufficient number of students, parents may ask a school to open a separate class focusing on the teachings of one of the other registered religious groups. All schools offer ethics courses as an alternative to religion classes. Alternatively, parents may request that teachings of different faiths be included in the curriculum of the Catholic religion classes. There are no clear requirements as to content when teaching about other faiths in the Catholic classes. Private and religious schools define their own content for religion courses. In both public and private schools, religion class curricula do not mention unregistered groups or some of the smaller registered groups, and unregistered groups may not teach their faiths at schools. Teachers normally teach about the tenets of their own faith, although they may teach about other faiths as well. The Roman Catholic Church appoints teachers of Catholic classes. Depending on the registered religious group and the school, other religious groups may appoint the teachers of their classes. The government pays the salaries of religion teachers in public schools.

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

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

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

The law prohibits Holocaust denial, including questioning, endorsing, or excusing the Holocaust. Violators face sentences of up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits denial of crimes committed by the Nazi-allied WWII-era fascist and post-war communist regimes.

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

Government Practices

The Ministry of Culture again failed to reconsider its 2007 rejection of the registration application of the Grace Christian Fellowship, despite Supreme Court rulings in 2009 and 2012 ordering it do so. The ministry said it based its rejection on an opinion by a religious affairs expert registered with the Ministry of Justice that the group promoted hatred toward other religious groups and shared characteristics associated with “sects” (a term not defined by law).

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

Representatives of the Jewish community reported that authorities were generally willing to make exceptions on grounds of religious belief and allow burials to take place within 24 hours, rather than requiring community members wait the legally mandated 48 hours.

Members of the Muslim community again reported the lack of official registration meant they could not establish a mosque in the country. Although Muslims had registered as a civic association, they continued to state that the lack of recognition as a religious group made obtaining the necessary construction permits for other sites for religious worship such as prayer rooms more difficult. They said the officials would seek technical grounds, such as zoning regulations, to reject their applications or fail to act on them.

The government allocated approximately 47.5 million euros ($53.37 million) in annual state subsidies to the 18 registered religious groups, compared with 42.5 million euros ($47.75) in 2018. Up to 80 percent of each group’s subsidy was used to pay the group’s clergy and operating costs as stipulated by law.

Some members of religious groups continued to state their groups’ reliance on direct government funding limited their independence and religious freedom, and they said religious groups self-censored potential criticism of the government on sensitive topics to avoid jeopardizing their finances.

The Ministry of Culture’s cultural grant program continued to allocate funding for the upkeep of religious monuments and cultural heritage sites owned by religious groups. In 2018, the ministry allocated 5.1 million euros ($5.73 million) for these purposes, compared with 3.2 million euros ($3.6 million) in 2017.

Many political parties, including the largest party represented in parliament, Smer-SD, continued to express anti-Muslim views in their public statements. In a May media interview ahead of European Parliament elections, Richard Sulik, the leader of Freedom and Solidarity, a major opposition political party in parliament, again stated Islam was an “incompatible ideology” with national culture and that his party strictly opposed migration because Arab immigrants posed a risk to that culture. During a parliamentary debate on the UN Global Compact on Migration in December 2018, LSNS leader and MP Marian Kotleba said he would not allow any “mujahideens” to come to the country.

Representatives of the Central Association of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (UZZNO) stated the repeated statements during the year of former prime minister Robert Fico, who was also chairperson of Smer-SD, part of the three-party governing coalition, undermined efforts to combat anti-Semitic comments and hate speech on the internet and social media. Fico, without citing evidence, continued in public statements and via traditional and social media to accuse a well-known Jewish American financier of instigating a coup against his government by organizing public protests that forced him to resign as prime minister in 2018. Fico referred to civil groups that organized the protests as “the [Jewish American financier]’s children” and said they were a “reserve cadre” of opposition parties.

Parliamentary European Affairs Committee Chairman Lubos Blaha (Smer-SD) posted content on social media in which, according to security analysts – including former prosecutors and law enforcement officials – he implied that then presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova was secretly funded by Jews, condoned anti-Semitic hate speech on the internet, and contributed to the spread of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews secretly manipulate world affairs. In June Blaha released a video on his Facebook page attacking a U.S. diplomat serving in the country, using language that security analysts described as anti-Semitic. The video provoked hundreds of anti-Semitic comments and posts, calling the diplomat a “Zionist” and “agent of the Rothschilds” who should “go back to Israel,” with some of them openly calling for violence. At year’s end, the video and Blaha’s followers’ anti-Semitic responses to it, as well as other material critics described as inappropriate, remained on Blaha’s Facebook page.

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

In July the Supreme Court upheld the July 2018 Specialized Criminal Court acquittal of LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik of extremism charges in a case concerning a January 2017 Facebook post in which he criticized then president Andrej Kiska for giving state awards to persons of Jewish origin and to defenders of “gypsies and Muslims.” The Supreme Court accepted the argument there was insufficient evidence to prove Mizik wrote the statement.

In April the Supreme Court dismissed a motion the prosecutor general submitted in 2017 to dissolve the LSNS. The prosecutor alleged party members’ programs, activities, and statements violated the constitution and other laws prohibiting support for groups and movements aimed at the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms and defamation of race, nation, or religious belief. The Supreme Court ruled the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence. The prosecutor general did not appeal the verdict to the Constitutional Court.

In May police arrested Mizik’s defense attorney, Frantisek Polak, and six other persons on extremism charges after uncovering a large collection of Nazi paraphernalia during a search of their homes. Authorities released the individuals, who were not indicted, pending the results of an investigation that was ongoing at year’s end. In October the Specialized Criminal Court convicted LSNS Trencin regional chairman Anton Grno for publicly demonstrating sympathy toward a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms by shouting the greeting of the WWII-era Slovak fascist state’s paramilitary force during a Supreme Court hearing in 2018. The court issued a criminal order (an expedited court decision without trial) requiring Grno to pay a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,600) or serve a six-month prison sentence. Grno appealed the criminal order, and the case was scheduled to go to full trial in February 2020. Media reported Grno’s social media profiles contained several openly racist and anti-Semitic posts.

In November the Specialized Criminal Court opened proceedings and scheduled the first court hearing for January 29, 2020, in a case against LSNS leader Kotleba for his donation of 1,488 euros ($1,700) to three families at a 2017 event marking the founding of the Nazi-allied WWII-era Slovak state. The indictment cited official experts on extremism and modern history registered with the Ministry of Justice, who stated the amount of the donation was a symbolic representation of a 14-word white supremacist phrase and the numeric representation of a salute to Hitler.

In February the special prosecutor’s office withdrew an indictment for Holocaust denial and supporting groups aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms against Marian Magat, a 2016 LSNS parliamentary candidate, for comments he made on social media. The prosecutor did not provide a reason for withdrawing the indictment.

In March, on the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Nazi-allied WWII-era Slovak state, which deported more than 70,000 of its citizens to Nazi extermination camps, the LSNS party issued a press release lauding the wartime Slovak state as an “island of sought-after calm and prosperity.” The statement said Slovaks could be “rightfully proud” of the founding, which it called a defining moment. The party also organized a celebration of the anniversary in the northern town of Ruzomberok, where LSNS Chair Kotleba and other party members praised the wartime Slovak state. Kotleba said he wanted to recognize the “true patriots that protected the Slovak people during the difficult times of WWII.” Ruzomberok Mayor Igor Combor stated LSNS representatives misled the local government and withheld information about the true aim of the event by claiming they were organizing a political rally ahead of presidential elections.

In April on the anniversary of the execution of Jozef Tiso, the president of the wartime Slovak state, one of the city boroughs of Bratislava played the unofficial national anthem of that regime through a public speaker system. Local councilor Radoslav Oleksak, whom media labeled as a far-right extremist, organized the broadcast. UZZNO strongly condemned the broadcast.

In January then president Kiska met with representatives of the Roman Catholic, Augsburg Lutheran, Greek Catholic, and Reformed Christian Churches and UZZNO to discuss the state of religious freedom and tolerance in society and to thank them for their service to the religious community and their charitable work.

In September Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and several cabinet ministers commemorated Slovak Holocaust and Ethnic Violence Remembrance Day by laying wreaths at the Holocaust memorial in Bratislava. In his speech on the occasion, Pellegrini said politicians had a responsibility to fight to educate youth against “those who contort the truth about the Holocaust and World War II …, humanize the fascist regime, and deny the existence of concentration camps.” The prime minister stated that a recent survey showing 4 percent of youth considered the Holocaust and extremism “a good thing” was a “shocking discovery and a great warning.” President Caputova and government representatives, including the prime minister, also participated in a wreath-laying ceremony organized by the Jewish community in Sered and a victim name-reading ceremony in Bratislava.

During a press conference in September, Prime Minister Pellegrini criticized Smer-SD Party Chair Fico for his statements in a social media video earlier that month defending LSNS politician Milan Mazurek, convicted of making remarks against the Roma. Pellegrini said it was unacceptable to defend anyone who denies the Holocaust or promotes terror against anyone because of religion, race, or belief.

In February the government organized an international conference on anti-Semitism as part of its 12-month chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The conference included a series of expert panels on the security of Jewish communities, Holocaust remembrance initiatives, anti-Semitism in traditional and social media, and cooperation with civil society.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In August the Specialized Criminal Court convicted and sentenced a citizen to four years in prison for a December 2018 knife attack on the Turkish and Albanian proprietors of a kebab bistro in Banska Bystrica, where he shouted anti-Muslim slurs and threatened to kill all Muslims. The prosecutor charged the man with attempted murder aggravated by a deliberate extremist motive, punishable by a prison sentence of up to 21 years; the court downgraded the incident to inflicting bodily harm. The prosecutor appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court, and the case remained pending at year’s end.

Two NGOs, the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia and Forum of the World’s Religions – Slovakia, said they continued to encounter difficulties altering negative public attitudes toward smaller, unregistered religious organizations because of the social stigma associated with not having the same legal benefits accorded to registered religions. Representatives of unregistered religious groups said the public tended to view their activities with mistrust and perceive them as “fringe cults” because of their lack of official government recognition as religious communities.

The Islamic Foundation again reported continued online hate speech toward Muslims and refugees, which it attributed mostly to the social controversy ensuing from the 2015 European migration crisis and inflammatory public statements by local politicians portraying Muslim refugees as an existential threat to the country’s society and culture. Hate speech, mostly on social media, included frequent portrayal of Muslims as “barbarians,” “terrorists,” and a “threat to European culture and way of life.” This also included calls for violence against refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, many of whom were believed to be Muslim, attempting to reach Europe. Muslim community leaders said they perceived increased anti-Muslim sentiment, and they continued to maintain a low profile regarding their activities and prayer rooms to avoid inflaming public opinion.

Police reported seven cases of defamation of race, nation, or religious belief and eight cases of incitement of national, racial, and ethnic hatred in the first 10 months of the year, compared with three cases of defamation and seven cases of incitement of hatred in all of 2018. Police provided no further details.

In May the European Commission (EC) carried out a study in each member state of the European Union (EU) on perceptions of anti-discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 13 percent believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Slovakia, while 74 percent said it was rare; 84 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 93 percent said they would be comfortable working with a Christian, and 88 percent said they would be with an atheist, 82 percent with a Jew, 75 percent with a Buddhist, and 64 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 94 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 82 percent if atheist, 70 percent if Jewish, 53 percent if Buddhist, and 40 percent if Muslim.

A survey conducted in February by the Public Affairs Institute, a local think tank, found nearly 60 percent of respondents would oppose a Muslim family moving into their neighborhood, and 17 percent would object to a Jewish family moving there.

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, 20 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism was a problem in Slovakia, was as follows: Holocaust denial, 32 percent; on the internet, 26 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 24 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 21 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 29 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 19 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 18 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 22 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 21 percent.

Sociologists and Jewish community leaders said they perceived anti-Semitism was increasing, citing repeated references by public officials to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the increased polling support for LSNS, and desecration of Jewish cemeteries in December.

Organizations the media characterized as far right – including the civic organizations Museum of the Slovak Armed Forces 1939-1945 and the Slovak Historical Society, as well as the state-funded but independent cultural heritage organization the Historical Institute of the Matica Slovenska – continued to issue statements praising the anti-Semitic, Nazi-allied Slovak state government and organize gatherings where participants displayed symbols of that government. Organizers often included photographs showing WWII symbols, such as the double-barred equal-armed cross or photographs of President Tiso in online posts promoting their events. On March 14, two civic organizations, Heritage of our Fathers and the Andrej Hlinka Society, organized a conference to commemorate the 1939 founding of the wartime Slovak state. Media reported the LSNS, including elected officials, was well represented at this event. According to media, speakers praised the wartime Slovak state for protecting the citizenry and improving living standards, without mentioning the mass deportation of Jews to Nazi extermination camps during that period. Commenting in major media outlets, historians of the 20th century and the wartime Slovak state accused some of the speakers at the conference of historical revisionism and denying the crimes of the Slovak state. One of the main speakers was Martin Lacko, a historian who was dismissed from the Nation’s Memory Institute and who, according to press reports, had expressed support for LSNS leader Kotleba and described the United States as the aggressor in WWII.

On December 16, the Specialized Criminal Court convicted Tibor Eliot Rostas, editor-in-chief of Zem a Vek (Earth and Age) magazine, for “defamation of a nation, race, or belief” for a 2017 article titled “The Jewish Wedge Among Slavs.” The court ordered Rostas to pay a 4,000-euro ($4,500) fine or spend three months in prison. Rostas’ court hearings were attended by former supreme court justice and 2020 parliamentary candidate Stefan Harabin, who was escorted from the courtroom after the court found him in contempt for disturbing the proceedings by shouting comments that observers described as anti-Semitic, including calling the judge a “pug of [a prominent Jewish financier].”

Media reported on December 17 that unknown persons knocked over 60 gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in the city of Namestovo. On December 23, media reported the vandalism of a second Jewish cemetery in the town of Rajec, approximately 70 miles from Namestovo, where unidentified persons damaged approximately 20 gravestones. Police opened a criminal investigation.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local NGO, continued to organize a series of public debates and school lectures with a variety of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers repeatedly raised the treatment of religious minority groups and the continued presence of anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism with government officials, including officials from the culture and interior ministries, the speaker of parliament, and lawmakers from across the political spectrum. Embassy officers continued to express to government officials their concerns that requiring religious groups to have 50,000 members in order to register impeded these groups from enjoying the rights and benefits accruing from official recognition.

The embassy provided additional funding for NGO Forum of the World’s Religions – Slovakia to design a special curriculum for secondary school teachers to build religious tolerance through interfaith discussions.

In December the embassy funded the travel of a group of prosecutors and police investigators to Budapest, Hungary for specialized training on countering bias-motivated crimes, including religious bias, at the U.S.-funded International Law Enforcement Academy.

The embassy used its social media channels to commemorate Slovak Holocaust Remembrance Day and International Religious Freedom Day. In December the embassy issued a statement on its social media accounts condemning acts of vandalism against Jewish cemeteries.

On February 5, the Ambassador spoke out against anti-Semitism at an international conference on combating anti-Semitism in the region hosted by the government in its capacity as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Embassy officers met with registered and unregistered religious organizations, including the Islamic Foundation, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and civil society groups, including the Center for Research of Ethnicity and Culture, to raise the issue of hate speech directed against Muslims, anti-Semitism, and the negative impact on religious minorities of membership and other registration requirements. In January the Ambassador met Roman Catholic Archbishop Stanislav Zvolensky, addressing religious freedom and the quality of interfaith relations in the country.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs in public and private. It states all religious communities shall enjoy equal rights and prohibits incitement of religious hatred or intolerance. The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and Ministry of Justice continued a joint research project to establish the scope of Jewish heirless properties seized by the Nazis or their collaborators. Mufti Nedzad Grabus of the Islamic Community of Slovenia expressed concern about what he said were rising levels of anti-Islamic sentiment in the country and urged the government to dedicate more attention to combating hate speech. Muslims asked the government to provide pork-free meals in public institutions. Muslim groups reported difficulties in receiving services in hospitals, prisons, and the military.

Muslim groups reported obstacles in accessing halal food and spiritual care, and in circumcising their male children. They also reported anti-Muslim sentiment in news media and online. In March an advisor to former prime minister Bernard Brscic formed a new far-right anti-migrant party, the Homeland League. During a media interview, Brscic said Islam was a totalitarian ideology rather than a religion and that Muslims had the goal of destroying Western civilization. Construction of the country’s first mosque continued after delays due to funding shortages. Muslims held services elsewhere in the interim. The Serbian Orthodox community reported the construction of a church in Koper was delayed due to opposition from the local municipality that refused to approve the construction.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for upholding religious freedom, including the Ministry of Culture (MOC) Office for Religious Communities, to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, and the status of circumcision of male children. In May the embassy cosponsored a roundtable on religious plurality, and an embassy representative delivered remarks on the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. The embassy sponsored the participation of Secretary-General of the Islamic Community of Slovenia Nevzet Poric in an exchange program in the United States on advancing interfaith relations. In October the Ambassador hosted representatives of the Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox communities to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, hate speech, and relations with the government. In February the Charge d’Affaires hosted a lunch for representatives of the Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues related to religious freedom, including circumcision of boys, legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals, and the Islamic Community’s project to open the country’s first mosque. The embassy amplified its engagement on religious freedom issues through social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). In 2003 the government ceased asking about religious affiliation in censuses, so accurate statistics about membership in religious groups are difficult to obtain. Estimates of the Catholic community’s size range from one million to 1.5 million persons. According to the secretary-general of the Islamic Community, the Muslim population remained at approximately 100,000. Estimates of the Serbian Orthodox Church community’s size range from 30,000 to 45,000 persons. The head of the Protestant community estimates its size at 10,000 persons. The Jewish community estimates its size at 300 persons. The Orthodox and Muslim communities include a large number of immigrants from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A number of refugees and immigrants, including foreign workers, are part of the Muslim community. The Buddhist community, made up mostly of ethnic Slovenians, is estimated to number 2,000 persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

Registered religious groups are also eligible for rebates on value-added taxes and government cofinancing of social security contributions for their religious workers.

To register with the government, a religious group must submit an application to the MOC providing proof it has at least 10 adult members who are citizens or permanent residents; the name of the group, which must be clearly distinguishable from the names of other religious groups; the group’s address in the country; and a copy of its official seal to be used in legal transactions. It must pay an administrative tax of 22.60 euros ($25). The group must also provide the names of the group’s representatives in the country, a description of the foundations of the group’s religious beliefs, and a copy of its organizational act. If a group wishes to apply for government cosponsorship of social security for clergy members, it must show it has at least 1,000 members for every clergy member.

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

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

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

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

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

The constitution provides for an independent human rights ombudsman to investigate and report on alleged human rights violations by the government. The president nominates and the national assembly appoints the human rights ombudsman and allocates the office’s budget, but otherwise the ombudsman operates independently of the government. Individuals have the right to file complaints with the ombudsman to seek administrative relief regarding abuses of religious freedom committed by national or local authorities, but appellants must exhaust all regular and extraordinary legal remedies before turning to the ombudsman. The ombudsman’s office may forward these complaints to the State Prosecutor’s Office, which may then issue indictments, call for further investigation, or submit the claims directly to a court, whereupon the complaints become formal. The ombudsman also submits an annual human rights report to the national assembly and provides recommendations and expert advice to the government.

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

The law allows for circumcision, but a nonbinding opinion by the human rights ombudsman states that, based on the constitution and the law, “circumcision for nonmedical reasons is not permissible and constitutes unlawful interference with the child’s body, thereby violating his rights.” Some hospitals do not offer circumcision because of this opinion.

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter.

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

On hate speech, the law prohibits the incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance based on nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, skin color, social status, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, and disability in a way that could threaten or disrupt public order.

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

Government Practices

The Samanadipa Forest Buddhist Hermitage applied to register as an official religious group. At year’s end, the registration process remained pending.

The WJRO and Ministry of Justice continued a joint research project to establish the scope of heirless properties in the country seized by the Nazis or their collaborators. The research teams planned to complete their study in 2020. Restitution efforts remained complicated by an earlier law on property nationalization claims, which generally excluded property seized from Jewish families prior to 1945.

According to a Muslim community leader, an earlier request to the government by the Muslim community to reserve special locations in cemeteries for graves for Muslim and allow gravestones to face Mecca had been delegated by the central government to local governments. This leader said he did not see this as a major problem and had not yet addressed it with the relevant local governments. The Muslim community requested the government make pork-free meals readily available in hospitals, schools, prisons, and other public institutions.

According to the Office for Religious Communities, an inability to provide spiritual care in the military, hospitals, and other public institutions remained a problem for some minority religious communities. While many hospitals had Catholic chapels, members of other faiths had fewer opportunities to attend collective religious services while hospitalized. The armed forces (SAF) employed full-time Catholic and Protestant clergy to provide religious services but no Muslim imams, Orthodox priests, or Jewish rabbis. While Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the SAF had access to their local religious communities while serving domestically, such opportunities were not always available during deployments or training abroad. The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country, Reverend Aleksandar Obradovic, attributed the SAF’s lack of Orthodox clergy to low numbers of qualified Orthodox priests in the country, rather than to inadequate government support. The Orthodox community said it was preparing two candidates for service as chaplains in the SAF by 2023. Muslim community leaders said the Ministry of Defense had not employed an imam in the SAF, despite their requests to do so. The Jewish community did not have any rabbis in the country; a rabbi in Trieste, Italy, remained responsible for Slovenia and routinely visited the country during the year. Catholic officials said their request for the government to employ an ordained bishop in the SAF to oversee the organization of Catholic chaplains in the military remained pending.

The Islamic Community of Slovenia continued to provide certificates to companies producing meat from stunned animals, confirming the meat was halal. The Jewish community raised concerns about the law requiring slaughtering with stunning, stating this violated kosher laws, and imported kosher meat from neighboring countries. The government defended the law as necessary to comply with EU regulations to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals.

The Office for Religious Communities and leaders of the Muslim and Jewish communities said continuing confusion regarding the legal status of circumcision resulted in many hospitals not offering the procedure. As a result, some Muslims and Jews continued to have the procedure performed in Austria. Muslim and Jewish leaders objected to the human rights ombudsman’s opinion that circumcision violated the rights of children, calling it religious discrimination.

In his annual Ramadan remarks in June, Mufti Grabus expressed concern with what he stated were rising levels of Islamophobia in the country. Grabus said that extremist and nationalist platforms in Europe were partly responsible, which was apparent in certain media outlets, on social media, and in some political platforms that often depicted Islam as a violent religion. Grabus also expressed concerns about hate speech targeting Muslims and urged the government to dedicate more attention to combating hate speech.

In a case involving Roma, in August the Supreme Court ruled that incidents involving threats, abusive language, or insult do not necessarily need to jeopardize public order and peace to be treated as crimes. Before this ruling, hate activity typically required violence to occur. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said the ruling set an important precedent for combating incitement to hatred, violence, and intolerance.

According to the Slovenian Press Agency, in April Office for Religious Communities Director Gregor Lesjak said there were practically no legal disputes regarding religious freedom, and that the European Court of Human Rights had never processed a case of violation of religious freedom in the country.

High-level government officials attended observances marking the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Government officials confirmed the country supported IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim groups said Muslims faced obstacles in obtaining access to halal food and spiritual care, and in circumcising their male children. In contrast to previous years, these groups reported Muslim workers did not have difficulties obtaining time off for Islamic holidays.

There were manifestations of anti-Islamic sentiment in the conventional media and on social media platforms. In March adviser to former prime minister Bernard Brscic formed a new far-right antimigrant party, the Homeland League. During an interview in May, Brscic said Islam was a totalitarian ideology rather than a religion, and Muslims had the goal of destroying Western civilization. The general state prosecutor was conducting an internal investigation to ascertain why a local prosecutor declined to prosecute Brscic for alleged Holocaust denial in 2017. This investigation was pending at year’s end. Muslim community leaders, government representatives, and NGO groups stated that anti-Islamic sentiment had declined from 2018 levels and that it seemed to be aimed more at migrants than Muslims as a whole.

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

In May the European Commission carried out a study in each EU-member state on perceptions of discrimination and published the results in September. According to the findings, 33 percent of respondents believed discrimination on the basis of religion or belief was widespread in Slovenia, while 62 percent said it was rare; 81 percent would be comfortable with having a person of a different religion than the majority of the population occupy the highest elected political position in the country. In addition, 93 percent said they would be comfortable working closely with a Christian, and 88 percent said they would be with an atheist, 84 percent with a Jew, 82 percent with a Buddhist, and 82 percent with a Muslim. Asked how they would feel if their child were in a “love relationship” with an individual belonging to various groups, 91 percent said they would be comfortable if the partner were Christian, 81 percent if atheist, 72 percent if Jewish, 73 percent if Buddhist, and 68 percent if Muslim.

In January the Commission published a Special Eurobarometer survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism based on interviews it conducted in each EU-member state. According to the survey, 16 percent of residents believed anti-Semitism to be a problem in Slovenia, and 12 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, 19 percent; on the internet, 19 percent; anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism, 17 percent; expression of hostility or threats against Jews in public places, 15 percent; desecration of Jewish cemeteries, 14 percent; physical attacks against Jews, 14 percent; anti-Semitism in schools and universities, 15 percent; anti-Semitism in political life, 15 percent; and anti-Semitism in the media, 16 percent.

Trieste-based Rabbi Ariel Haddad characterized Slovenia as a safe place for Jews and said Jewish-related events in the country attracted high-level attendance, a view not shared by other leaders, such as Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Igor Vojtic.

Construction of the country’s first mosque continued in Ljubljana. The Islamic community expected the mosque to open in 2020. In the interim, it rented places for worship, including large sports halls for major events.

The Orthodox community’s only church was also located in Ljubljana, and Orthodox representatives continued efforts to build churches in Koper and Celje. The Orthodox community reported the construction of the church in Koper was delayed due to opposition from the mayor, who had not put the issue to the city council for a vote since it was first raised in 2018. Representatives of the Orthodox community purchased land in the center of Koper in 2018 for the church but reported the mayor offered land outside of town instead. The Orthodox community rejected the proposal, because the offered location was too far from the city center. In the interim, they were holding services at a local Catholic church. Catholic churches around the country routinely granted access for local Orthodox communities to host events and religious ceremonies.

Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant communities continued to report productive relations among members of different religious groups, including an active interfaith dialogue at workshops and conferences. They also reported good relations with the government in general but expressed a need for more dialogue with the government on issues related to religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for religious freedom, including the MOC’s Office for Religious Communities. Issues discussed included the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, circumcision of male children, and interfaith dialogue.

In April the U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues, along with representatives from the WJRO, met with senior government officials and members of the local Jewish community to discuss the joint study on heirless properties. They also discussed possible government gestures toward the Jewish community, such as offering the community a government property that could serve as its headquarters and a venue for gatherings and ceremonies, as well as a provision of funds to support Holocaust survivors. In November the embassy supported another visit of WJRO representatives to meet with senior government officials to continue the dialogue on Holocaust restitution issues and the course of action to be taken following completion of the joint study.

In October the Ambassador hosted an event for representatives of the Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox communities to discuss issues related to religious freedom, including interfaith dialogue, hate speech, and relations with the government. In February the Charge d’Affaires hosted an event for representatives of the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues related to religious freedom, such as circumcision of boys, legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of a