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Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

Executive Summary

In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea. In March 2014, Russia claimed that Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” and Resolution 75/192 of December 28, 2020, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine),” 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. Russian occupation authorities continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, one of the country’s oldest human rights groups, following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, many religious communities were essentially driven out of the peninsula through registration requirements under newly imposed Russian laws. Only the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) was exempt from these registration requirements. The Russian government reported there were 907 religious communities registered in Crimea, including in Sevastopol, compared with 891in 2019, representing a drop of more than 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, including Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) members and clergy. At year’s end, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for their faith. According to the NGO Crimea SOS, as of October, 69 Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. Russian occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention, especially if authorities suspected the individuals of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir. In September, Russia’s Southern Area Military Court sentenced seven Crimean Muslim Tatar prisoners arrested in 2017 and 2018 to a maximum-security penal colony. All were initially arrested for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai. According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, Russia continued to prosecute individuals for some types of worship, including imams leading prayers in their own mosques, as “illegal missionary activity.” Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities and that they continued to be required to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all. The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches. According to the OCU, Russian occupation authorities continued to pressure the OCU Crimean diocese in an effort to force it to leave Crimea. 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 having links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”

According to the Krym Realii news website, on the eve of the 76th anniversary of the Soviet authorities’ forced deportation of the Crimean Tatar people from Crimea, unidentified vandals destroyed several tombstones in an Islamic cemetery in Vladyslavivka Village, Nyzhnyohirsk Region. Local police reportedly refused to investigate the incident, attributing it to a family dispute. In April, on the eve of Ramadan, unidentified vandals threw rotten eggs at a mosque in Cheremyzivka Village.

The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and called international attention to religious abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials as well as messaging on social media. In a February press statement, the Secretary stated, “Russian occupation authorities continue their assault on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Russian occupation authorities severely limit religious freedom, target religious believers with bogus terrorism charges, and seized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine cathedral in Simferopol. The United States calls on Russia to free all Ukrainians it has wrongfully imprisoned in retaliation for their peaceful dissent and to end Russian abuses of fundamental freedoms in Crimea.” 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, Orthodox, and Protestant 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 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, is 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.

According to 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 RCC, 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 2014 Russian occupation; no updates have been available since the occupation began. The 2001 census, the most recent, records 671 Karaites.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the ARC 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, Russian occupation authorities continue their implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory. The Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered a terrorist organization under the law of the Russian Federation, but not under Ukrainian law. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation authorities continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

According to occupation authorities, fines for individuals conducting illegal missionary activity range from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67 to $670); the fine for legal entities is 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300 to $13,400).

Government Practices

In December, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution urging Russia to end its “temporary occupation” of Crimea. In his February speech at the UN General Assembly plenary meeting, then-Foreign Affairs Minister of Ukraine Vadym Prystaiko told the UN delegates of the continued large-scale abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Russian occupiers, spotlighting discrimination against Ukrainians of various ethnic and religious minority groups, including Crimean Tatars, Muslims, and members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

According to the Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), which has offices in Kyiv, 109 individuals were unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned due to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea during the year, compared with 89 in 2019.

Human rights groups said occupation authorities continued to impede the rights of Crimean Tatars following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.” Detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year. According to Crimea SOS, as of October, 69 Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Occupation authorities placed three additional Crimean residents under supervision and two more under house arrest. Russian authorities often accused Muslims of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. In June, OHCHR reported Russian occupation authorities had detained 63 citizens of Ukraine for alleged involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir activities, 20 of whom had been convicted, including seven individuals who were sentenced in 2019 to prison terms ranging from seven to 19 years.

On September 21, Russian occupation authorities released Tatar blogger Nariman Memedeminov after he had served nearly one year of his sentence. Occupation authorities had detained Memedeminov on terrorist charges in 2018, citing his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russia’s North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don had sentenced him to two and a half years in prison in October 2019. Human rights activists linked the original verdict to his reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea.

In September, Russia’s Southern Area Military Court sentenced seven Crimean Muslim Tatar prisoners arrested in 2017 and 2018 to a maximum-security penal colony. Marlen Asanov received 19 years, Memet Belialov 18 years, Timur Ibragimov 17 years, Seyran Saliyev 16 years, Server Mustafayev 14 years, and Server Zakiryayev and Edem Smailov both 13 years. The judge found Ernes Ametov not guilty and released him. All were initially arrested for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai.

According to the CHRG, in December, the “Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea” extended into January 2021 the detention of 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. Their cases were under judges’ consideration at year’s end. The group was arrested in March 2019 when armed representatives of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Russian 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.

On December 8, the “Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea” extended the detention period to January 14, 2021 for Krymska Solidarnist (Crimean Solidarity) activist Remzi Bekirov. On December 10, the “Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea” extended the detention period to January 14, 2021 for his fellow activists Osman Arifmemetov and Vladlen Abdulkadyrov. The Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol had ordered the arrest of all three men in 2019 on charges related to “terrorism” for their suspected involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir following searches of their homes. Law enforcement officers reportedly beat Abdulkadyrov while he was in detention.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation authorities continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. According to the OHCHR, all 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Crimea had lost their right to operate since the Russian Supreme Court’s 2017 ban on the religious group. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses who practice their faith risked retaliation by law enforcement. According to Forum 18, in 2019, a Russian court charged Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Filatov and Artyom Gerasimov with organizing an “extremist” organization following a raid by Russia’s FSB on eight homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Alupka and Yalta. The Russian FSB had arrested Filatov, a former head of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Dzhankoy, in 2018. On March 5, the Yalta City Court initially fined Gerasimov 400,00 rubles ($5400); the Dzhankoy District Court sentenced Filatov to six years imprisonment on extremism-related charges. On May 26, Filatov lost his appeal. On June 4, the “Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea” revoked Gerasimov’s fine and sentenced him to six years in prison, matching Filatov’s sentence. Forum 18 stated authorities transferred Filatov and Gerasimov to a prison in Russia during the summer and, as of September 30, had not allowed them to receive letters.

Forum 18 reported authorities transferred Muslim prisoner of conscience Renat Suleimanov to Russia in January and did not allow him to receive letters written in his native Tatar language.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on May 26, armed FSB, Russian National Guard, and masked riot police raided four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kerch, arresting Artem Shabliy. Reportedly, Shabliy was accused of having “drawn others into the activities of an extremist organization” by discussing the Bible with them.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 1, armed searches on nine Jehovah’s Witness homes in Sevastopol led to the arrests of four men: Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, Volodymyr Sakada, and Ihor Schmidt. All four remained imprisoned at year’s end. According to Forum 18, in November, Svetlana Sakada, the wife of one of the four detained, said her husband was not guilty of extremism-related charges. Forum 18 reported the four faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted on “extremism”-related charges, and that another Jehovah’s Witness, Viktor Stashevsky, was on trial on the same charges.

OHCHR reports consistently found that a pattern of criminalization of affiliation with or sympathy toward Muslim groups banned in the Russian Federation that continued to disproportionately affect Crimean Tatars. According to the report, these cases raised concerns about the right to a fair trial, as the detainees’ hearings often banned cameras, media, and family members from the courtroom. OHCHR reported that Russian courts in Crimea cited the “need to ensure the safety of the participants in the proceedings,” but that the defendants’ lawyers and family members said Russian occupation authorities excluded the public from court hearings to limit public awareness of trials, restrict public scrutiny, and exert additional pressure on the defendants.

On April 1, “prosecutors” reportedly charged Imam Yusuf Ashirov with conducting “illegal missionary activity” for leading Friday prayers at the Yukhary-Jami Mosque in Alushta. Ashirov denied the charges, explaining to the “deputy prosecutor” that he preached only to other mosque members and that he had “no desire to break the law.” Ashirov stated he suspected the charges against him stemmed from authorities’ attempts to transfer the mosque to the “state.” Similarly, in March, a court in Simferopol reportedly fined Imam Rasim Dervishev for “illegal missionary activity” for leading services. Devishev’s lawyer stated, “It is absurd to require anyone to ask permission to conduct religious rituals,” and he argued that Dervishev had not spoken to anyone outside the mosque about his religious belief. Dervishev paid a fine of between 5,000 and 30,000 rubles ($67 and $400). Reportedly, in April, Imam Dilyaver Khalilov faced similar charges for leading services at a mosque in Zavetnoye. Occupation authorities withdrew charges against Khalilov after the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In August, authorities seized Khalilov’s mosque, stating it was not registered as a mosque but rather as a sports complex. The Muslim community had repaired the dilapidated building and registered it as a mosque with the Ukrainian authorities in 2000.

According to the CHRG, in September, occupation authorities charged members of four churches (Catholic, Baptist, and two evangelical) with “illegal missionary activity.”

Forum 18 reported that occupation authorities brought 20 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community on websites or meeting places, compared with 11 such cases the previous year. Sixteen of the cases involved fines of 30,000 rubles ($400, one month’s average local wage), while three defendants received a warning. The remaining case was under review at year’s end. On November 20, a member of one of the fined religious communities told Forum 18, “The prosecutor told us we would get a warning, but when the case came to court, it was a different prosecutor, who demanded that we be fined. We didn’t expect this turn of events.”

According to Krymska Solidarnist and Forum 18, local authorities continued a 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. A Russian labor camp relocated Tablighi Jamaat Muslim Renat Suleimanov from the camp’s punishment cell to its “strict section.” The camp administration stated he was being punished for a conflict with another prisoner, but Suleimanov’s lawyer stated the accusation was fabricated as an excuse to punish his client. In January 2019, a Simferopol court had jailed Suleimanov for four years on “extremism”-related charges for meeting openly in mosques with three friends to discuss their faith.

The Ministry of Justice of Russia said 907 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, including 108 in Sevastopol, as of year’s end, compared with 891 and 105, respectively, in 2019. The number of religious organizations had dropped by more than 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available. Registered religious organizations included the two largest – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

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

The RCC reported it continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican. Polish and Ukrainian RCC 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 leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities and continued to have to operate as a part of the pastoral district of the RCC.

According to the OCU, Russian occupation authorities continued to place 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 reregister after the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) joined the unified OCU, were functioning in 2019-2020, compared with five in 2018 and eight in 2017. At year’s end, three of those were “on the verge of closure.” According to RFE/RL, Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group stated the OCU was one of the few remaining symbols in Crimea of “Ukrainian identity,” making it a target for the local Russia-installed leaders. Describing Russia’s treatment of believers in Crimea, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy told RFE/RL, “This is reminiscent of the Stalin era of the U.S.S.R., when churches were destroyed.”

In March, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers placed the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol and the location of the OCU diocesan administration, under state ownership in an attempt to draw international organizations’ support to help defend it from the occupiers. On July 23, Russian occupation authorities ordered Archbishop Klyment, elevated to Metropolitan on August 9, to demolish the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Yevpatoriya or face criminal prosecution. Klyment’s appeal of the order continued through year’s end.

According to Freedom House, the Russian FSB encouraged residents to inform on individuals who expressed opposition to the purported annexation, including support for Crimean Tatars, condemnation of the designation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hizb ut-Tahrir as extremist groups, or the oppression of the OCU.

Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear of certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups that were designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Krym Realii, on the eve of the 76th anniversary of the Soviet authorities’ forced deportation of the Crimean Tatar people from Crimea, unidentified vandals destroyed several tombstones in an Islamic cemetery in Vladyslavivka Village, Nyzhnyohirsk Region. Local police reportedly refused to investigate the incident, attributing it to a family dispute. According to the Advet.org news website, in April, on the eve of Ramadan, unidentified vandals threw rotten eggs at a mosque in Cheremysivka Village.

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 Russia-led forces and occupation authorities in Crimea, especially on actions taken by those forces and authorities against Muslims and Christians, through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials, as well as messaging on social media. In a statement on February 26, the Secretary said, “Russian occupation authorities continue their assault on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Occupation authorities severely limit religious freedom, target religious believers with bogus terrorism charges, and seized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine cathedral in Simferopol. The United States calls on Russia to free all Ukrainians it has wrongfully imprisoned in retaliation for their peaceful dissent and to end Russian abuses of fundamental freedoms in Crimea.” U.S. government and embassy officials condemned the continuing intimidation of Crimean citizens. The Acting Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs participated in an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe side event on Crimea, stating, “Russian occupation authorities continue to harass, arrest, and prosecute activists, journalists, and members of civil society, simply for their expressing their opposition to the occupation or for being a member of an ethnic or religious minority group on the peninsula. They sustained a brutal campaign of repression against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Crimea, raiding mosques, homes, and workplaces without justification or process and leaving these communities in a state of constant fear.”

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, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders from Crimea. The leaders discussed their concerns over actions taken against congregations by Russian occupation authorities and reassured the religious leaders of continued U.S. support for the right of all to practice their religious beliefs. In August, embassy officials met with Metropolitan Klyment and discussed pressures on his church in Crimea. Embassy officials told religious leaders the United States would continue to support religious freedom in Crimea and would press Russian occupation authorities to return confiscated property and release prisoners incarcerated for their religious or political beliefs.

Read a Section

Ukraine

Taiwan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief. Domestic service workers and caretakers are not covered under the labor standards law and are therefore not legally guaranteed a weekly rest day. Due to this exclusion, many domestic workers continued to be unable to attend religious services. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) stated foreign caregivers and household workers whose employers denied them a weekly rest day to attend religious services could report their cases to the ministry. According to Pusin Tali, Taiwan’s Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, in most cases it was brokers rather than employers who were prohibiting migrant domestic workers from attending religious services. Ambassador Tali suggested this problem might be ameliorated if workers used brokerage services provided by Taiwan authorities. Taiwan authorities continued to expand accommodations for Muslims, including building new prayer rooms in public places such as train stations, libraries, and tourist destinations. In August, Taipei Beitou Health Management Hospital became the second halal-certified medical facility in Taiwan. In March, the Ministry of Education (MOE) issued an order prohibiting the Rainbow Family Life Education Association from teaching courses in public schools. In 2019, several legislators and city councilors had called on the MOE to address concerns raised by some parents that volunteers from the association were using school recess time to teach courses that were religious in nature, in violation of the Educational Fundamental Act that forbids public schools from promoting any specific religious belief. In February, then Vice President-elect William Lai visited Washington, D.C. as a private citizen and attended the National Prayer Breakfast.

In June, the Institute for National Policy Research hosted a conference focused on what panelists said was the Chinese government’s increased efforts to use Taiwan temples as a vehicle to interfere with domestic elections. Panelists called for legislation that would better regulate temple registration and property management and require religious organizations to disclose their financial statements.

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) representatives engaged with legislators and ministries, as well as Ambassador Tali. AIT representatives encouraged religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of faith-based social service organizations to continue promoting religious freedom in Taiwan as well as overseas. The AIT Director spoke about the importance of religious freedom at public outreach events, and AIT used social media to engage the public on religious freedom issues.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 23.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a survey by the Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology released in 2019, 49.3 percent of the population practices exclusively traditional folk religions, 14 percent practices Buddhism, and 12.4 percent practices Taoism, with 13.2 percent identifying as nonbelievers. The rest of the population mainly consists of Protestants (5.5 percent), I-Kuan Tao (2.1 percent), Catholics (1.3 percent), and other religious groups, including Sunni Muslims, Tien Ti Chiao (Heaven Emperor Religion), Tien Te Chiao (Heaven Virtue Religion), Li-ism, Hsuan Yuan Chiao (Yellow Emperor Religion), Tian Li Chiao (Tenrikyo), Pre-cosmic Salvationism, the Church of Scientology, the Baha’i Faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mahikari religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).

Some studies found that as many as 80 percent of religious practitioners combine multiple faith traditions. Many adherents consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist, and many individuals also incorporate some aspects of traditional folk religions, such as shamanism, ancestor worship, and animism, into their belief in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or other religions. Some practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism, and other religions also practice Falun Gong, a self-described spiritual discipline. According to the leadership of the Falun Gong Society of Taiwan, Falun Gong practitioners number in the hundreds of thousands.

According to recent MOL statistics, the Council of Indigenous Peoples, and religious leaders, the majority of the indigenous population of 575,000 is Protestant or Roman Catholic. There are an estimated 1,000 Jews, approximately half of whom are foreign residents. There are an estimated 699,000 foreign workers, primarily from Southeast Asia. The largest single group of foreign workers is from Indonesia, consisting of approximately 267,000 persons, who are predominantly Muslim. Workers from the Philippines – numbering approximately 153,000 persons – are predominately Roman Catholic.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise and equal treatment under the law of all religions, which “shall not be restricted by law” except as necessary for reasons of protecting the freedoms of others, imminent danger, social order, or public welfare.

Male citizens born after January 1, 1994 are subject to four months of compulsory military service. The Enforcement Statute for Substitute Services provides for six months of alternative military service for conscientious objectors who oppose military service on the basis of their religious belief.

Religious organizations may voluntarily obtain an establishment permit from the MOI. The permit requires organizations to have real estate in at least seven administrative regions valued at 25 million New Taiwan dollars (NT$) ($891,000) or more and possess at least NT$5 million ($178,000) in cash. Alternatively, the organization may register if it possesses cash in excess of NT$30 million ($1.07 million). The organization may also apply for an establishment permit from local authorities, who have lower requirements than the island-wide level authorities, to receive local benefits.

A religious group may register with the courts once it obtains an establishment permit. The group must provide an organizational charter, list of assets, and other administrative documents to register. Registered religious groups operate on an income-tax-free basis, receive case-by-case exemptions from building taxes, and must submit annual reports on their financial operations. Nonregistered groups are not eligible for the tax advantages available to registered religious organizations. As of the end of 2019, there were more than 15,000 registered religious groups representing more than 20 religions. Many groups choose not to register individual places of worship and instead operate them as the personal property of the group’s leaders.

The Falun Gong Society is registered as a sports organization and not as a religious organization.

The 1929 Act of Supervising Temples provides that temples are under the management of a trustee monk or nun. The act states, however, “They cannot take charge as trustee monk/nun if they are not citizens of the Republic of China.” The act does not apply to temples that are administered by Taiwan authorities, local public organizations, or private persons. In 2004, the Grand Justices declared several articles of the act unconstitutional for imposing strict restrictions on how religious organizations transfer their properties.

The MOI separates religious and charitable organizations based on an organization’s articles of association. The MOI stated that there is no law or policy that oversees a religious organization’s use of donations made to that organization, whether for religious or charitable activities, or that requires a religious organization to establish a separate charitable entity to conduct charitable activities. The law, however, prohibits charitable foundations from using donations for noncharitable purposes. Some religious organizations establish separate charitable foundations to promote their charitable activities, according to the MOI. An organization whose primary objective is philanthropy is not eligible to register as a religious organization.

Authorities permit religious organizations to operate private schools. Authorities do not permit compulsory religious instruction in any MOE-accredited public or private elementary, middle, or high school. High schools accredited by the ministry may provide elective courses in religious studies, provided such courses do not promote certain religious beliefs over others.

The MOI and city- and county-level governments are responsible for accepting complaints from workers who believe the government or individuals have violated their rights and interests for religious reasons.

Because of its unique status, Taiwan is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it enacted a domestic law in 2009 to adhere voluntarily to the covenant.

Government Practices

The labor law continued to not guarantee a weekly day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which limited their ability to attend religious services. As in years past, this problem was particularly salient among the island’s approximately 253,000 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominately from Indonesia and the Philippines, including Muslims and Catholics wanting to attend weekly religious services. Authorities said they viewed the domestic service workers’ inability to attend religious services as a part of a broader labor issue. The MOL stated that foreign caregivers and household workers whose employers denied them a weekly rest day to attend religious services could report their case to the ministry. Representatives of the Presbyterian Church said that since the labor standards law was insufficient to guarantee a weekly rest day, the Church encouraged employers to permit domestic workers to attend religious services on Sundays. A representative of the Taipei-based Chinese Muslim Association said the authorities should not demand that employers permit domestic workers to attend religious services, since this was a matter of private contracts. According to Ambassador Tali, in most cases, brokers rather than employers prohibited migrant domestic workers from attending religious services. Ambassador Tali said some problems affecting immigrant workers, including obtaining a weekly rest day to attend religious services, could be ameliorated if the workers used brokerage services provided by the authorities.

The Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s unicameral parliament, in 2018 drafted but failed to pass legislation – entitled the Religious Groups Law – to better regulate temple registration and property management and to require temples to disclose their financial statements. While many legislators remained concerned about these issues, no new bill was introduced in 2020.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many local authorities canceled public Eid al-Fitr commemorations, although the Taipei city government hosted a virtual concert in May to commemorate the holiday. Authorities continued to expand accommodations for Muslims by building new prayer rooms in public places, such as train stations, libraries, and tourist destinations. In August, Taipei Beitou Health Management Hospital became the second halal-certified medical facility in Taiwan, with accommodations for Muslims, such as halal showers, meals, and prayer rooms. The certification was part of a collaboration between the hospital and the Taipei city government, which sought to boost medical tourism by making hospitals in the city more accommodating to Muslim visitors.

One religious leader stated that authorities should allow charitable foundations run by religious entities to use donations for religious activities. Another religious leader stated that maintaining separate religious and charitable organizations made financial record keeping cumbersome and time consuming.

In March, the MOE issued an order prohibiting the Rainbow Family Life Education Association from teaching courses at public schools. In 2019, several legislators and city councilors had called on the MOE to address concerns raised by some parents that volunteers from the association were using recess to teach elementary and junior high school students life education courses that the parents said were religious in nature, in violation of the Educational Fundamental Act, which forbids public schools from engaging in activities promoting any specific religious belief. The association denied that the courses were religiously oriented.

According to the MOL, there were no reports of complaints of religious discrimination from workers during the year.

Ambassador Tali attended the virtual 2020 Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief in November. In a prerecorded message to attendees, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu called for continued international efforts to safeguard religious freedom from authoritarianism and announced that in 2021, the island would host a regional forum on defending religious freedom.

In February, then Vice President-elect William Lai visited Washington, D.C. as a private citizen and attended the National Prayer Breakfast. Lai spoke about religious freedom in Taiwan at the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, which was attended by approximately 300 people from more than 20 countries, saying religious freedom was one of the most important contributions that Taiwan has made to the international community, and that Taiwan was dedicated to making the world free from religious persecution, in collaboration with the United States and other countries.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In June, the Institute for National Policy Research hosted a conference focused on what panelists said was the Chinese government’s growing influence on Taiwan temples. The panel, composed of religious leaders, an academic, and legislators, alleged that in addition to sponsoring temples to publish booklets in opposition to specific candidates during election seasons, Beijing had “infiltrated” local temples throughout Taiwan with assistance from local “collaborators,” such as the Chinese Unification Promotion Party, with the aim of using temples as a vehicle to interfere with local elections. One panelist stated that “taking into account that there is no religious freedom in China, all Chinese religious organizations could be Beijing’s agents who are working to infiltrate Taiwan’s local temples.” The panelists also stated that it was challenging for authorities to investigate the amount of Chinese donations to temples, since temples were not required to file tax returns. Noting that two articles of the Act of Supervising Temples were declared unconstitutional by the Grand Justices in 2004 for imposing strict restrictions on how religious organizations transferred their properties, panelists called for legislation to better regulate temple registration and property management and to require religious organizations to disclose their financial statements.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

AIT representatives engaged with legislators and ministries, such as the MOI and MOL, as well as with Taiwan’s Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, on issues such as the rights of domestic workers and caregivers and the relationship between religious organizations and the authorities.

AIT representatives continued to increase outreach to religious groups and scholars throughout the country, including in Taipei, Hsinchu, New Taipei, and Taoyuan. They met with scholars and leaders of various religious faiths, including the Chinese Muslim Association, the Tibet Religious Foundation, and the YMCA to discuss religious freedom in Taiwan. In August, AIT representatives met with a Catholic Church-affiliated organization providing shelter services to migrant workers in Taoyuan. AIT representatives encouraged Taiwan’s nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders, and representatives of faith-based social service organizations to continue promoting religious freedom and religious harmony.

The AIT Director incorporated the promotion of religious freedom into his public speeches at numerous official engagements throughout the year, including the opening of an exhibition entitled “U.S.-Taiwan Relations Since 1979” in March, the Hsieh Nien Fan Dinner hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan in August, the Forum on Supply Chain Restructuring in September, and the capstone session of the 2020 U.S.-Taiwan Consultations on Democratic Governance in October.

AIT continued to highlight religious freedom issues through social media, including Facebook and Instagram. For example, AIT reposted a statement by the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom on International Religious Freedom Day in October that the United States would not tolerate religious oppression. The message reached more than 66,800 viewers and prompted thousands of supportive responses. Local media emphasized AIT’s stance in support of religious freedom.

Tajikistan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right, individually or jointly with others, to adhere to any religion or to no religion, and to participate in religious customs and ceremonies. The constitution states “religious associations shall be separate from the state” and “shall not interfere in state affairs.” The law restricts Islamic prayer to specific locations, regulates the registration and location of mosques, and prohibits persons younger than the age of 18 from participating in public religious activities. The government Committee on Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations, and Ceremonies (CRA) maintains a broad mandate that includes approving registration of religious associations, construction of houses of worship, participation of children in religious education, and the dissemination of religious literature. The government continued to detain and prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusal to serve in the military. In some cases, there were allegations of physical abuse. Jehovah’s Witnesses have unsuccessfully sought registration since 2007, and some adherents have claimed harassment by authorities. In April, a Shohmansur district court in Dushanbe convicted independent journalist Daler Sharifov of “inciting religious hatred,” sentencing him to one year in prison. Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at Hanafi Sunni mosques. Government officials continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in religious organizations identified by authorities as extremist and banned, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The government continued to imprison approximately 20 imams in Sughd Region for membership in banned “extremist organizations.” In March, Prosecutor General Yusuf Rahmon said that law enforcement officials had arrested 154 individuals suspected of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. In August, a Sughd Region court sentenced 20 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood to between five and seven years of prison for their membership in a banned organization. Law enforcement agencies continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or support of groups banned by the government, including groups that advocated for Islamic political goals and presented themselves as political opponents to the government, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Authorities continued a pattern of harassing men with beards, and government officials again issued statements discouraging women from wearing “nontraditional or alien” clothing, including hijabs. According to international NGOs, the CRA levied heavy fines on four Protestant churches between August 2019 and January 2020 for arranging translation of the Bible into Tajik without prior CRA approval, as required by law. The CRA denied the NGO report, stating that translation of religious literature does not fall under its purview. The government noted its intent to reschedule a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to assess the religious situation in the country and make suggestions to address concerns. The visit planned for 2020 did not take place due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Individuals outside government continued to state they were reluctant to discuss issues such as societal respect for religious diversity, including abuses or discrimination based on religious belief, due to fear of government harassment. Civil society representatives said discussion of religion in general, especially relations among members of different religious groups, remained a subject they avoided.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government on a frequent basis during in-person meetings, virtual gatherings, and calls to adhere to its commitments to respect religious freedom. Embassy officers raised concerns regarding the participation of women and minors in religious services, restrictions on the religious education of youth, the situation facing Jehovah Witnesses in the country, and harassment of those wearing religious attire.

In 2016, the country was designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 2, 2020, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a CPC and announced a waiver of the required sanctions that accompany designation in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.9 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to local academics, the country is more than 90 percent Muslim, of whom the majority adheres to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam. Approximately 4 percent of Muslims are Ismaili Shia, the majority of whom reside in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, located in the eastern part of the country.

The largest Christian group is Russian Orthodox. There are small communities of evangelical Christians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, and nondenominational Protestants. There also are smaller communities of Jews, Baha’is, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country a secular state and “religious associations shall be separate from the state and shall not interfere in state affairs.” According to the constitution, everyone has the right individually or jointly with others to profess any religion or no religion and to take part in religious customs and ceremonies. Since October 2007, the government has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses for carrying out religious activities contrary to the country’s laws, such as refusing obligatory military service.

The establishment and activities of religious associations promoting racism, nationalism, enmity, social and religious hatred, or calling for the violent overthrow of constitutional order or organizing of armed groups is prohibited. The constitution prohibits “propaganda and agitation” that encourages religious enmity. In accordance with provisions of the constitution, no ideology of a political party, public or religious association, movement, or group may be recognized as a state ideology.

The law prohibits provoking religiously based hatred, enmity, or conflict as well as humiliating and harming the religious sentiments of other citizens.

The law defines extremism as the activities of individuals and organizations aimed at destabilization, subverting the constitutional order, or seizing power. This definition includes inciting religious hatred.

The law prohibits individuals from joining or participating in what it considers to be extremist organizations. The government maintains a list of “extremist organizations” that it alleges employ terrorist tactics in an effort to advance Islamic political goals, including the National Alliance of Tajikistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafi groups, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

The CRA is the government body primarily responsible for overseeing and implementing all provisions of the law pertaining to religion. The Center for Islamic Studies, under the Executive Office of the President, helps formulate the government’s policy toward religion.

The law defines a religious association as any group composed of persons who join for religious purposes. A religious association is a voluntary association of followers of one faith, with the purpose of holding joint worship and celebration of religious ceremonies, religious education, as well as spreading religious beliefs. To register a religious association, a group of at least 10 persons older than the age of 18 must obtain a certificate from local authorities confirming the adherents of their religious faith have lived in a local area for five years. The group must then submit to the CRA proof of the citizenship of its founders, along with their home addresses and dates of birth. The group must provide an account of its beliefs and religious practices and describe its attitudes related to education, family, and marriage. A religious association must provide information on its houses of worship, which includes religious centers, central prayer houses, and religious educational institutions. The group must specify in its charter the activities it plans to undertake, and once registered as a religious association, must report annually on its activities or face deregistration.

The government subdivides associations formed for “conducting joint religious worship” into religious organizations and religious communities, which also are defined by law. To operate legally, both are required to register with the government, a process overseen by the CRA.

A religious organization provides for religious education and the spreading of religious faith. Types of religious organizations include the Republican Religious Center, central Friday mosques, central prayer houses, religious education entities, churches, and synagogues. Religious organizations are legal entities and function on the basis of charters. They may be district, municipal, or national organizations.

A religious community, unlike a religious organization, is not a legal entity. Its members gather to conduct other religious activities, which are not defined by law. For example, individuals gather for joint prayer, attend funeral prayers, and celebrate religious holidays. Types of religious communities include Friday mosques, five-time prayer mosques, prayer houses, and other places of worship. A religious community functions on the basis of a charter after registering with the CRA, and the nature and scope of its activities are determined by the charter. A religious community must adhere to the “essence and limits of activity” set out in its charter.

The law provides penalties for religious associations that engage in activities contrary to the purposes and objectives set out in their charters, and it assigns the CRA responsibility for issuing fines for such activities. The law imposes fines for carrying out religious activities without state registration or reregistration; violating provisions on organizing and conducting religious activities; providing religious education without permission; performing prayers, religious rites, and ceremonies in undesignated places; and performing activities beyond the purposes and objectives defined by the charter of the religious association. For first-time offenses, the government fines individuals 406 to 580 somoni ($36-$51), heads of religious associations 1,160 to 1,740 somoni ($100-$150), and registered religious associations, as legal entities, 5,800 to 11,600 somoni ($510-$1,000). For repeat offenses within one year of applying first fines, penalties are increased to 696 to 1,160 somoni ($61-$100) for individuals, 2,320 to 2,900 somoni ($200-$260) for heads of religious associations, and 17,400 to 23,200 somoni ($1,500-$2,000) for registered religious associations. If a religious association conducts activities without registering, local authorities may impose additional fines or close a place of worship.

The law allows restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion deemed necessary by the government to ensure the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protection of the foundations of constitutional order, security of the state, defense of the country, public morals, public health, and the territorial integrity of the country. In addition, religious organizations annually must report general information about worship, organizational, educational, and outreach activities to the state, and the state must approve the appointments of all imams.

The Law on Freedom of Conscience (the Law) stipulates that no party, public or religious association, movement, or group may be recognized as representing state ideology. The Law also asserts that the state maintains control over religious education to prevent illegal training, propaganda, and the dissemination of extremist ideas, religious hatred, and hostility.

The Law broadly empowers the CRA to create regulations to implement state policies on religion, such as establishing specific guidelines for the performance of religious ceremonies. In addition to approving the registration of religious associations, organizations, and communities, the CRA maintains a broad mandate that includes approving the construction of houses of worship, participation of children in religious education, and the dissemination of religious literature.

The CRA oversees activities of religious associations, such as the performance of religious rites, and the development and adoption of legal acts aimed at the implementation of a state policy on the freedom of conscience and religious associations. Religious associations must submit information on sources of income, property lists, expenditures, numbers of employees, wages and taxes paid, and other information upon request by the CRA.

The Freedom of Conscience Law recognizes the special status of Sunni Islam’s Hanafi school of jurisprudence with respect to the country’s culture and spiritual life. This status is aspirational, however, and does not have any specific legal bearing.

The Freedom of Conscience Law restricts Islamic prayer to four locations: mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines. It regulates the registration, size, and location of mosques, limiting the number of mosques that may be registered within a given population area. The government allows “Friday mosques,” which conduct larger Friday prayers as well as prayers five times per day, to be located in districts with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 persons; it allows “five-time mosques,” which conduct only daily prayers five times per day, in areas with populations of 100 to 1,000. In Dushanbe, authorities allow Friday mosques in areas with 30,000 to 50,000 persons, and five-time mosques in areas with populations of 1,000 to 5,000. The Law allows one “central Friday mosque” per district or city and makes other mosques subordinate to it.

Mosques function according to their charters in buildings constructed by government-approved religious organizations or by individual citizens, or with the assistance of the general population. The Law states the selection of chief-khatibs (government-sanctioned prayer leaders at a central Friday mosque), imam-khatibs (government-sanctioned prayer leaders in a Friday mosque, who deliver a sermon at Friday noon prayers), and imams (government-sanctioned prayer leaders in five-time mosques) shall take place in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs.” The CRA must approve imam-khatibs and imams elected by the founders of each mosque. Local authorities decide on land allocation for the construction of mosques in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs.” The CRA disseminates recommended talking points for Friday sermons drafted by the Islamic Center. Individual imam-khatibs can modify or supplement the talking points, and, according to the CRA, there is no penalty for noncompliance.

The Law on Regulation of Traditions and Celebrations regulates private celebrations, including weddings, funeral services, and observations of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, including limiting the number of guests, and it controls ceremonial gift presentations and other rituals. The statute also states that mass worship, religious traditions, and ceremonies must be carried out according to the procedures for holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and peaceful processions. This statute also bans the traditional sacrifice of animals at ceremonies marking the seventh and 40th day after a death. Traditional sacrifices are permissible during Ramadan and Eid al-Adha.

According to the Law on Regulation of Traditions and Celebrations, “Individuals and legal entities are obliged to protect the values of the national culture, including the state language and national dress.” According to customary (not official) interpretation, “national dress” does not include the hijab, although it does include a traditional Tajik form of covering a woman’s head, known as ruymol. The Code of Administrative violations (the Code) does not list the wearing of a beard, hijab, or other religious clothing as violations.

The Law allows registered religious organizations to produce, export, import, and distribute religious literature and materials containing religious content after receiving CRA approval. Only registered religious associations and organizations are entitled to establish enterprises that produce literature and material with religious content. Such literature and material must indicate the full name of the religious organization producing it. The Code allows government authorities to levy fines for the production, export, import, sale, or distribution of religious literature without CRA permission. According to the Code, violators are subject to confiscation of the given literature, as well as fines of 1,740 to 4,060 somoni ($150-$360) for individuals; 2,900 to 8,700 somoni ($260-$770) for government officials; and 5,800 to 17,400 somoni ($510-$1,500) for legal entities, a category that includes all organizations. According to the Code, producing literature or material containing religious content without identifying the name of the religious organization producing it entails fines of 2,900 to 5,800 somoni ($260-$510) and confiscation of the material.

The Law on Parental Responsibility for Education and Upbringing of Children prohibits individuals younger than the age of 18 from participating in “public religious activities,” including attending worship services at public places of worship. Individuals younger than 18 may attend religious funerals and practice religion at home, under parental guidance. The statute allows individuals younger than 18 to participate in religious activities that are part of specific educational programs in authorized religious institutions.

The Law requires all institutions or groups wishing to provide religious instruction to meet the Ministry of Education and Science’s statutory requirements. In practice, however, such permission is usually not granted because madrassahs are not able to meet the ministry’s requirements relative to classrooms, qualified teachers, and curriculum. Central district mosques may operate madrassahs, which are open only to high school graduates. Other mosques, if registered with the government, may provide part-time religious instruction for younger students in accordance with their charter and if licensed by the government.

With written parental consent, the Law allows minors between the ages of seven and 18 to obtain religious instruction provided by a registered religious organization outside mandatory school hours. According to the Law, this may not duplicate religious instruction that is already part of a school curriculum. As part of the high school curriculum, students must take general classes on the “history of religions.” The CRA is responsible for monitoring mosques throughout the country to ensure implementation of these provisions.

According to the CRA, parents may teach religion to their children at home provided they express a desire to learn. The Law forbids religious instruction at home to individuals outside the immediate family. The Law also restricts sending citizens abroad for religious education and establishing ties with religious organizations abroad without CRA consent. To be eligible to study religion abroad, students must complete a degree in religious studies domestically and receive written consent from the CRA. The Code stipulates fines of 2,900 to 5,800 somoni ($260-$510) for violating these restrictions.

The Law on General Military Duty and Service requires men to serve one year in the armed forces if they have a university degree and two years if they have not graduated from a university. This same statute allows for alternative service, although the government has yet to adopt implementing regulations that specify acceptable forms of alternative service.

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

Government Practices

In January, authorities charged independent journalist Daler Sharifov with “inciting racial and religious hatred.” According to international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, police raided his apartment in January and confiscated religious books and materials and his computer. In February, the Prosecutor General’s Office said that Sharifov had published more than 200 articles and notes containing extremist content aimed at inciting religious intolerance. According to government religious experts, Sharifov published a treatise extolling the Muslim Brotherhood movement and jihadist ideology. In April, a Shohmansur district court sentenced Sharifov to a one-year prison term.

In November, Forum 18 reported that authorities arrested Rustamjon Norov, a 22-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, in the northern city of Khujand for refusing military service on grounds of conscience. Prosecutors accused him of falsifying his medical history to evade military service, which he denied. Norov had offered to perform alternative civilian service. He filed an appeal, which was dismissed on October 28, according to Forum 18. At year’s end, he was in pretrial detention in Khujand.

On April 2, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that a military court in Dushanbe sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Jovidon Bobojonov to two years in a labor camp, beginning in January, for refusing compulsory military service, rejecting his offer of alternative service, according to Forum 18. On November 1, Bobojonov was freed by the 2020 nationwide amnesty decree signed by President Emomali Rahmon. In October 2019, enlistment officers had forcibly put Bobojonov on a train to an assigned military unit. According to Forum 18, Bobojonov was tortured while in the unit, transferred to prison in Dushanbe in January, and lost his appeal of his sentence in April. In 2019, government and military authorities denied that Bobojonov had the right to claim conscientious objection, stating that although the Law on General Military Duty and Service referred to the possibility of alternative service, there was no alternative in practice because the government had not defined acceptable forms of alternative service. The authorities said Bobojonov’s refusal to serve therefore was a crime and that the actions of enlistment officers were lawful. The Dushanbe’s military prosecutor’s office stated that Bobojonov was given the option to serve in construction battalion that did not carry arms but refused.

Another Jehovah’s Witness, Shamil Khakimov, remained in prison at year’s end, serving five-and-a-half years for “inciting religious hatred,” with his release scheduled for May 2024, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives. The Sughd Regional Court dismissed his appeal on October 26. Khakimov also received a three-year ban on proselytizing once he is released from prison.

In July, Forum 18 reported a climate of impunity for security officials accused of torture in the country, citing lack of official action on allegations of torture from Nilufar Rajabova, Bobojonov, and other prisoners detained or arrested in connection to their religious beliefs.

Authorities continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or supporting banned extremist organizations. International NGOs continued to state that some of these organizations were considered to be potential political opponents of the government but in fact had never advocated for or participated in acts of violence. Local and international human rights organizations continued to say that the government “intimidates and arrests” opposition figures on the pretext of combating terrorism and extremism.

In January, Forum 18 reported that Khayriddin Dostakov had been arrested at Dushanbe Airport upon his return from visiting relatives in Russia. According to Forum 18, police questioned him about whether he had become a Shia Muslim or spread Shia beliefs and beat him and used electric shocks on him in prison. On August 25, authorities dropped all criminal charges and released Dostakov from custody after an eight-month detention.

On January 20, Radio Ozodi, the Tajik-language outlet of RFE/RL, reported that law enforcement officials had arrested approximately 70 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization banned in the country since 2006. On March 20, according to RFE/RL, Prosecutor General Yusuf Rahmon said that law enforcement officials had identified 314 individuals and arrested 154 of them, including the 70 mentioned in January, for their suspected ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to a June 8 RFE/RL report, Imam-Khatib Muhammadsayid Akramov and three of his brothers were convicted by the Khatlon regional court of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They reportedly were in custody for approximately four months prior to the trial, at which point their sentences were suspended and they were released.

On July 7, the Supreme Court began considering criminal cases against 116 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members, including 114 Tajik citizens and two Egyptian citizens. The defendants were charged with financing terrorist activities, making extremist statements, and organizing extremist activities. At year’s end, the Supreme Court continued prosecuting these cases.

The government continued to imprison approximately 20 imams in Sughd Region, most of whom had received religious education abroad, for membership in banned extremist organizations.

In January, RFE/RL reported that a district court in Dushanbe sentenced Sadriddin Mulloyev, a member of Jamaat Tabligh, a Salafist movement banned by the government, to 12 years in prison for terrorism and extremism activities. Authorities had arrested Mulloyev in September 2019 after he returned to the country in response to a government amnesty program, according to Forum 18. Forum 18 said in January that Mulloyev had served an earlier prison term, from 2008 to 2013, for being a member of the same movement.

On November 12, according to his relatives, State Committee for National Security (GKNB) officers detained Sirojiddin Abdurahmonov, widely considered to be the leader of the Salafi movement in the country. Although law enforcement agencies did not comment on Abdurahmonov’s arrest, RFE/RL cited an anonymous judiciary source in reporting that a Dushanbe court authorized his detention. Abdurahmonov’s relatives told RFE/RL that authorities confiscated the cleric’s computer and religious texts at the time of his arrest. He was previously arrested in 2009 on charges of inciting religious hatred but released from prison in 2013 following an amnesty. He remained in detention at year’s end.

Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council that prohibited women from praying at mosques. Ismaili Shia women were permitted to attend Shia services in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region and Dushanbe.

The CRA stated that it did not receive any new applications for registration from non-Islamic religious associations during the year. The CRA reported that there remained 66 registered non-Islamic religious organizations, including the Russian Orthodox Church and the Baha’i Faith.

In its October census, the government included a question on religious identity for the first time since 1937. According to Forum 18, some religious groups expressed fear that census answers could be used to target individuals and organizations because of their faith. Government officials were unclear on why the question was included, according to Forum 18. The Statistics Agency, responsible for conducting the census, stated the data was solely to collect demographic information and that it would publish the results in 2022.

NGOs reported continued government restrictions on imam-khatibs and imams, such as centrally selecting and approving sermon topics, as well as prohibiting some imam-khatibs from performing certain ceremonies.

In a 2019 submission to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), which international observers stated remained factual, HRW stated the government “severely curtails freedom of religion or belief, proscribing certain forms of dress, including the hijab for women and long beards for men.” While there remained no legal prohibition against wearing a hijab or a beard, NGOs reported authorities continued to discourage “nontraditional or alien” clothing. In a 2019 submission to the UN, the NGOs Human Rights Vision Foundation, Eurasian Dialogue Institution, and the Tajik Freethinkers Forum said official media stigmatized and persecuted religious women and that local police and ruling party activists organized surprise public inspections of women wearing hijabs, requiring them to remove the headwear. The NGOs also said female patients wearing hijabs were refused treatment in public health clinics and faced restricted access or were denied entrance to educational establishments and administrative buildings. Local women were permitted to cover their hair in a ruymol, in which the scarf covers a woman’s hair and is tied in the back.

On January 22, RFE/RL reported that a court in Dushanbe denied Nilufar Rajabova’s appeal after she was fined 550 somoni ($49) for insulting a law enforcement official. According to December 2019 press reports, she accused Dushanbe police of insulting her and threatening her after she was detained, along with two dozen others, in a raid targeting women wearing hijabs. She told Forum 18 that she had also been hit by an officer, falling and injuring her spine as a result.

On February 13, Hilolbi Qurbonzoda, the chairwoman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs, said during a press conference that the issue of women wearing hijabs would not be sensitive if it were not for terrorist attacks involving women wearing hijabs in other countries. Qurbonzoda added that the international community was taking steps to protect state interests and some countries had already adopted rules on women wearing hijabs. Qurbonzoda said it is important for Tajik women to keep their identity and not be confused with Arab women.

In August, RFE/RL reported that Vanj District officials said a group of individuals protested against being forced to shave, since officials in that area regarded beards as a foreign intrusion on local culture or a sign of religious extremism. Vanj District chairman Jabbor Qosim told RFE/RL that he would hold discussions with these individuals to look into their complaints.

The government mandated that anyone wishing to study religion abroad should receive government approval and should study at a government-approved religious institution.

In July, CRA chairman Davlatzoda said 3,901 citizens who had been illegally studying abroad at religious educational institutions had returned home over the previous 11 years. Some of these individuals reportedly returned involuntarily. The government sometimes sent these students to government boarding schools for secular reeducation. For example, on September 16, a member of the banned IRPT told RFE/RL that his 15-year-old son was “being held hostage” at a boarding school for children who misbehave. Mahmadzarif Saidov, who lives in exile in Europe, said that his son had been studying at a Bangladeshi madrassah when he was detained in Dubai and returned to the country in 2019. He said authorities had placed him in a special boarding school and prohibited contact with relatives. A district government source told RFE/RL on September 16 that Saidov’s son had been “brainwashed” at the madrassah for nearly four years and needed time to receive a secular education.

In its 2019 review (the most recent) of the government’s adherence to its commitments under the ICCPR, which international observers stated remained accurate, the UNHRC stated that it remained concerned “that interference by the State in religious affairs, worship, and freedom of religion and the ensuing restrictions… are incompatible with the Covenant.” The UNHRC identified these restrictions as including: (a) interference with the appointment of imams and the content of their sermons; (b) control over books and other religious materials; (c) the requirement of state permission for receiving religious education abroad; (d) the prohibition against entering a mosque for those younger than 18 years of age; (e) the regulations regarding the registration of religious organizations; (f) the regulations on wearing clothes during traditional or religious celebrations and the prohibition of certain attire in practice, such as the hijab; and (g) restrictions imposed on Christian religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A planned visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to assess the government’s actions as they pertain to religious practice did not occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At year’s end, the government was coordinating with the special rapporteur to reschedule the visit once conditions permitted.

According to Forum 18 in March and Voice of the Martyrs in May, between August 2019 and January 2020, the CRA fined four Protestant churches 7,000 to 11,000 somoni ($620-$970) each for arranging translation of the Bible into Tajik. One congregant told Forum 18 that these fines were “huge,” given that the average monthly collection in some churches was only 500 somoni ($44). The CRA denied the NGO report, stating that translation of religious literature does not fall under its purview.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Individuals outside government continued to state they were reluctant to discuss issues such as societal respect for religious diversity, including abuses or discrimination based on religious belief, due to fear of government harassment. Civil society representatives said discussion of religion in general, especially relations among members of various religious groups, remained a subject they avoided. Individuals said they were more comfortable discussing abuses of civil rights than discussing sectarian disagreements or restrictions on religious freedom.

The NGO Open Doors 2021 World Watch List report, which covers events in 2020, stated that because the country’s ethnic identity is directly tied to Islam, Christians who have converted from Islam face criticism by family, friends, and community.

Leaders of some minority religious groups continued to state their communities enjoyed positive relationships with the majority Hanafi Sunni population, who, they said, did not hinder their worship services or cause concern for their congregations. Other minority religious group leaders stated that converts from Islam experienced social disapproval from friends and neighbors.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In separate meetings throughout the year with the Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister, CRA senior representatives, and other government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to raise concerns regarding restrictions on minors and women participating in religious services, the situation of Jehovah Witnesses in the country, and restrictions on the religious education of youth. Embassy officers also raised the issue of harassment of women and men for religious dress and grooming.

Because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the embassy did not host any in-person public events dealing with freedom of religion issues. Embassy officials had limited engagements in virtual formats with civil society, NGOs, and religious leaders from Christian organizations on the issue of religious freedom.

U.S. officials emphasized with government representatives the importance of steps to ameliorate restrictions on freedom of religion through national legislation and with regards to alternative service. U.S. embassy officers sought amnesty for conscientious objectors and prisoners of conscience. Embassy officials also discussed with religious leaders how they conducted services during the pandemic amid closures of religious associations, such as mosques and churches throughout the country, in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Since 2016, Tajikistan has been designated a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 2, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions as required in the important national interest of the United States.

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The constitutions of the union government and of the semiautonomous government in Zanzibar both prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religious choice. Since independence and by tradition, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents. Some Muslims said they believe the government used the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTW) to unjustly attack, kill, or imprison Muslims. Twenty-two members of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO), an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody without trial since their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges. Some religious leaders said that they were under increased pressure to support the President and that they were told to stay out of politics or their religious organizations would face deregistration by the Registrar of Societies. According to civil society organizations, the government used a 2019 process requiring all previously registered religious institutions and community faith-based organizations to verify their registration status to intimidate religious leaders. Under this process, the Registrar of Societies verified the registration of 213 societies. According to civil society organizations, religious organizations that usually were accredited to observe elections were denied accreditation by the National Electoral Commission to observe October 28 national elections.

Following an attack on a village on October 28, the Islamic State issued a statement claiming its fighters had burned three villages in Mtwara “inhabited by Christians.” Witchcraft-related killings continued in the country. In January in Kasulu, community members killed four persons from the same family for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

The U.S. embassy met with prominent religious leaders to discuss religious freedom and freedom of speech. The embassy brought together youth leaders and religious and community leaders to discuss local concerns around violent extremism related to religion and conflict.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 58.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). A 2020 Pew Forum survey estimates approximately 63 percent of the population identifies as Christian, 34 percent as Muslim, and 5 percent practice other religions. According to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Christians are approximately evenly divided between Roman Catholics and Protestant denominations. Other local observers believe that Roman Catholics constitute the majority of Christians, with Lutherans as the second largest denomination. Additional Christian groups include other Protestant denominations such as Anglicans, Pentecostal Christian groups, Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The majority of Muslims are Sunni, although significant minority communities exist, including Ismaili, Twelver Shia, Ahmadi, and Ibadi Muslims. On the mainland, large Muslim communities are concentrated in coastal areas, with some Muslim minorities located inland in urban areas. Other groups include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, animists, and those who did not express a religious preference. A separate 2010 Pew Forum report estimates more than half the population practices elements of African traditional religions.

Zanzibar’s 1.3 million residents are 99 percent Muslim, according to a U.S. government estimate. According to a 2012 Pew Forum report, two-thirds are Sunni. The remainder consists of several Shia groups, mostly of Asian descent.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitutions of the union government (United Republic of Tanzania) and Zanzibar both provide for equality regardless of religion, prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and stipulate freedom of conscience or faith and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change one’s faith. The union government constitution allows these rights to be limited by law for purposes such as protecting the rights of others; promoting the national interest; and safeguarding defense, safety, peace, morality, and health. The Zanzibar constitution allows rights to be limited by law if such a limitation is “necessary and agreeable in the democratic system” and does not limit the “foundation” of a constitutional right or bring “more harm” to society.

Since independence and by tradition, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents who appoint a prime minister from the other religious group with the endorsement of parliament.

The law prohibits religious groups from registering as political parties. To register as a political party, a group may not use religion as a basis for approving membership, nor may it follow a policy of promoting a religion.

The law prohibits a person from taking any action or making any statement with the intent of insulting the religious beliefs of another person. Anyone committing such an offense may be punished with a year’s imprisonment.

On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases. In family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce, and the adoption of minors, the law also recognizes customary practices, which could include religious practices. In such cases, some Muslims choose to consult religious leaders in lieu of bringing a court case.

Zanzibar, while also subject to the union constitution, has its own president, court system, and legislature. Muslims in Zanzibar have the option of bringing cases to a civil or qadi (Islamic court or judge) court for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law. All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of Zanzibar’s qadi courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs. The President of Zanzibar appoints the chief qadi, who oversees the qadi courts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran. There are no qadi courts on the mainland.

Religious groups must register with the Registrar of Societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar. Registration is required by law on both the mainland and in Zanzibar. The fines for offenses under the Societies Act, including operating without registration, range from one million to ten million shillings ($430 to $4,300).

To register, a religious group must provide the names of at least 10 members, a written constitution, resumes of its leaders, and a letter of recommendation from the district commissioner. Such groups may then list individual congregations, which do not need separate registration. Muslim groups registering on the mainland must provide a letter of approval from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA). Muslim groups registering in Zanzibar must provide a letter of approval from the mufti, the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community. Christian groups in Zanzibar may register directly with the registrar general.

On the mainland, BAKWATA elects the mufti. On Zanzibar, the President of Zanzibar appoints the mufti, who serves as a leader of the Muslim community and as a public servant assisting with local governmental affairs. The Mufti of Zanzibar nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises all mosques on Zanzibar. The Mufti also approves religious lectures by visiting Islamic clergy and supervises the importation of Islamic literature from outside Zanzibar.

Public schools may teach religion, but it is not a part of the official national curriculum. School administrations or parent-teacher associations must approve such classes, which are taught on an occasional basis by parents or volunteers. Public school registration forms must specify a child’s religious affiliation so that administrators can assign students to the appropriate religion class if one is offered. Students may also choose to opt out of religious studies. Private schools may teach religion, although it is not required, and these schools generally follow the national educational curriculum unless they receive a waiver from the Ministry of Education for a separate curriculum. In public schools, students are allowed to wear the hijab but not the niqab, a veil for the face that leaves the eyes clear.

The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics. Police reports must state religious affiliation if an individual will be required to provide sworn testimony. Applications for medical care must specify religious affiliation so that any specific religious customs may be observed. The law requires the government to record the religious affiliation of every prisoner and to provide facilities for worship for prisoners.

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

Government Practices

Twenty-two members of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO), an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody on the mainland following their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges.

According to some religious organizations, various governmental bodies, including the National Electoral Commission, enforced measures that served to exclude religious groups or societies from any perceived political role, ostensibly to enforce 2019 changes related to the organizational status and operational scope of religious societies,. Human rights groups said that this led to the exclusion of religious organizations, including the Tanzania Episcopal Conference, from organizing domestic election observation missions or from providing civic and voter education, which they said had been a longstanding and positive role played by many religious organizations.

On July 9, the Council of Imams issued a document calling for the government to ensure independent and fair elections, legislative reform, and equality for Muslims. On July 11, police arrested Sheikh Issa Ponda, secretary of the Council of Imams, at his office in Dar es Salaam. Media reported that he was “allegedly circulating a document containing elements of incitement and breach of peace towards the 2020 general election.” Police detained Ponda for nine days, then released him on bail. Ponda also reported that some Muslims believed the government was using the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTW) to unjustly attack, kill, or imprison Muslims.

There were additional instances where, according to some religious leaders, the government penalized prominent religious leaders for voicing views it deemed political. Examples included the government questioning the citizenship of several religious leaders when they expressed concerns about the actions of the government. Some religious leaders had their passports confiscated, according to observers.

The government used various public forums to emphasize that religious organizations should be self-funded and not rely on international donors. On August 23, President John Magufuli used a church event to raise money to build a mosque in Dodoma. According to media reports, this was a gesture to illustrate religious tolerance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 14, the Islamic State in Mozambique (IS-M) conducted a significant attack in Mtwara Region along the country’s southern border in which approximately 20 persons were killed. This was the first IS-M attack in the country since November 2019, and the first ever in the country to be claimed by the Islamic State. On October 23, the police inspector general said that 300 fighters took part in the attack and escaped across the border into Mozambique. On October 28, IS-M fighters conducted another attack in Mtwara region, killing approximately five persons in one village. On October 30, Islamic State issued a statement saying its fighters had burned three villages in Mtwara “inhabited by Christians,” along what it described as the country’s “artificial border” with Mozambique. The statement did not specify the date of the attack or the names of the villages, but it was the second attack in the country claimed by Islamic State.

In February in Moshi, 20 persons were killed and at least a dozen others were injured during a stampede that occurred at a church meeting. It was reported that worshippers were told they could give an offering in order to walk on “anointed oil” following a prayer that was led by preacher Boniface Mwamposa of the Arise and Shine Ministry of Tanzania. The government reported that it was investigating the incident and cited it as an example of the reasons for registering religious organizations, including the need to ensure that religious leaders did not use their positions for financial gain, to launder money, or to commit other financial crimes.

Witchcraft-related killings continued in the country, although the government outlawed witchcraft in 2015. In January in Kasulu, community members killed four persons from the same family for allegedly practicing witchcraft. The victims included a pregnant woman.

The Interreligious Council for Peace Tanzania continued its work as an independent body representing more than 120 groups nationally. The groups provided a platform for interfaith dialogue on social issues facing communities throughout the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy met with religious leaders to discuss the October elections and how the religious community could help to maintain peace if needed in a potentially politically tense post-election environment.

A U.S.-funded program brought together youth and religious and community leaders to discuss local concerns around violent extremism related to religion and conflict. The program included town hall meetings and information sessions that addressed issues of religious intolerance. The embassy continued to provide small grants to youth groups in five districts to support an interfaith dialogue platform between Christians and Muslims. These activities continued without disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic, with appropriate precautions and mitigation efforts and in accordance with local regulations.

Thailand

Executive Summary

The constitution “prohibits discrimination based on religious belief” and protects religious liberty, as long as the exercise of religious freedom is not “harmful to the security of the State.” The law officially recognizes five religious groups: Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. The Ministry of Justice allows the practice of sharia as a special legal process outside the national civil code for Muslim residents of the “Deep South” – described as the four southernmost provinces near the Malaysian border, including three with a Muslim majority – for family law, including inheritance. Ethnic Malay insurgents continued to attack Buddhists and Muslims in the Malay Muslim-majority Deep South, where religious and ethnic identity are closely linked in a longstanding separatist conflict. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Deep South Watch, violence during the year resulted in at least 116 deaths – among them 83 Muslims, 29 Buddhists and four individuals with unidentified religious affiliation – compared with 180 deaths, including 123 Muslims, 54 Buddhists, and three with unidentified religious affiliation, in the same period in 2019. Observers attributed the decline to a combination of the resumption of peace talks, improved security operations, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Muslim community in the Deep South continued to express frustration with perceived discriminatory treatment by security forces and what they said was a judicial system that lacked adequate checks and balances. On July 16, a group of activists from the Federation of Patani Students and Youths (PERMAS) submitted a petition to the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights asking that the military stop collecting DNA from military conscripts in the Deep South, who were predominantly Muslim, as this practice was not conducted in other regions. Compared to previous years, immigration authorities conducted fewer raids to detain refugees (including those fleeing religious persecution) registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as a part of what the government said were routine measures against illegal immigration. Media and NGOs reported during the year that several dozen Uyghur Muslims from China remained in immigrant detention centers (IDCs) across the country, most of them detained since 2015.

Authorities blamed Muslim insurgents for a February 24 bomb attack in Songkhla Province that injured at least 10 people, including nine Buddhists and one Muslim. Authorities said they believed the attack was in retaliation for the killing of five Muslim villagers in Narathiwat Province on February 23. In contrast to previous years, there were no reports of attacks on monks or temples during the year.

U.S. embassy officials met with officials from the National Buddhism Bureau (NBB) and the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) at the Ministry of Culture, as well as a broad range of religious leaders, academics and members of civil society, to discuss efforts to promote religious pluralism, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue. The Ambassador met the country’s highest Buddhist official, gave a speech on religious freedom at the country’s oldest Buddhist academic institution, hosted a religious freedom roundtable, and released an op-ed commemorating the country’s promulgation of the 1878 Edict of Religious Tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population at 69.0 million (midyear 2020 estimate). The 2010 population census, the most recent available, indicated 93 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and 5 percent Muslim. NGOs, academics, and religious groups state that 85 to 95 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and 5 to 10 percent Muslim. Other groups, including animists, Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and Taoists, constitute the remainder of the population.

Most Buddhists incorporate Hindu and animist practices into their worship. The Buddhist clergy (sangha) consists of two main schools of Theravada Buddhism: Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttika. The former is older and more prevalent within the monastic community.

Islam is the dominant religion in three of the four southernmost provinces (Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani) near the Malaysian border, commonly referred to as the Deep South. The majority of Muslims in those provinces are ethnic Malay, but the Muslim population nationwide also includes descendants of immigrants from South Asia, China, Cambodia, and Indonesia, as well as ethnic Thai. Statistics provided by the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) of the Ministry of Culture indicate that 99 percent of Muslims are Sunni.

The majority of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese practice either Mahayana or Theravada Buddhism. Many ethnic Chinese, as well as members of the Mien hill tribe, also practice forms of Taoism.

The majority of Christians are ethnic Chinese, and more than half of the Christian community is Roman Catholic.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all persons are equal before the law regardless of religious belief and allows all persons to profess, observe, or practice any religion of their choice as long as the exercise of these freedoms is not “harmful to the security of the State.” The constitution empowers the state to patronize and protect Buddhism as well as other religions, but it also provides for special promotion of Theravada Buddhism through education, propagation of its principles, and the establishment of measures and mechanisms “to prevent the desecration of Buddhism in any form.”

A special order issued by the former military government in 2016 and still in effect guarantees the state’s promotion and protection of “all recognized religions” in the country, but mandates that all state agencies monitor the “right teaching” of all religions to ensure they are not “distorted to upset social harmony.” Defaming or insulting Buddhism and Buddhist clergy is specifically prohibited by law. Violators may face up to one year’s imprisonment, fines of up to 20,000 baht ($670), or both. The penal code prohibits the insult or disturbance of religious places or services of all officially recognized religious groups. Penalties range from imprisonment for one to seven years, a fine of 20,000 to 140,000 baht ($670-$4,700), or both.

The law officially recognizes five religious groups: Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. While there is no official state religion, the constitution requires the King to be Buddhist and declares he is the “upholder of religions.”

Religious groups associated with one of the five officially recognized religions may register to receive state benefits that include access to state subsidies, exemption from property and income taxes, and preferential allocation of resident visas for the registered organization’s foreign officials. Registration as a religious group is not mandatory, and religious groups may operate without government interference whether or not they are officially registered or recognized. The RAD is responsible for registering religious groups, excluding Buddhist groups, which are overseen by the NBB, an independent state agency under direct supervision of the Prime Minister.

The RAD may register a new religious denomination outside one of the five recognized religious groups only if it meets the following qualifications: the national census indicates the group has at least 5,000 adherents, it possesses a uniquely recognizable theology, it is not politically active, and it obtains formal approval in a RAD-organized meeting of representatives from the concerned ministries and the five recognized umbrella religious groups. To register with the RAD, a religious group’s leader also must submit documentation on its objectives and procedures, any relationship to a foreign country, a list of executive members and senior officials, and locations of administrative, religious, and teaching sites. In practice, however, the government as a matter of policy will not recognize any new religious groups outside the five umbrella groups.

The constitution prohibits Buddhist priests, novices, monks, and other clergy from voting in an election, running for seats in the House of Representatives or Senate, or taking public positions on political matters. According to the NBB, as of August, there were 239,023 clergy who were thus ineligible to vote or run for office. Christian clergy are prohibited from voting in elections if they are in formal religious dress. Except for the Chularatchamontri (Grand Mufti), imams are not regarded as priests or clergy and are thus allowed to vote in elections and assume political positions.

The Sangha Supreme Council serves as Thai Buddhism’s governing clerical body. The King has unilateral authority to appoint or remove members from the Sangha Supreme Council irrespective of the monk’s rank and without consent or consultation with the Supreme Patriarch, whom the King also has legal authority to appoint.

The law requires religious education for all students at both the primary and secondary levels; students may not opt out. The curriculum must contain information about all of the five recognized umbrella religious groups. More instruction time is dedicated to teaching Buddhism than other religions. Students who wish to pursue in-depth studies of a particular religion may study at private religious schools and may transfer credits to public schools. Individual schools, working in conjunction with their local administrative boards, are authorized to arrange additional religious studies courses. There are two private Christian universities and one Catholic-run college, which provide religious instruction open to the public. There are approximately 350 Catholic- and Protestant-run primary and secondary schools, whose curricula and registration the Ministry of Education oversees. The Sangha Supreme Council and the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, respectively, create special curricula for Buddhist and Islamic studies required in public schools.

The Central Islamic Council of Thailand, whose members are Muslims appointed by royal proclamation, advises the Ministries of Education and Interior on Islamic issues. The government provides funding for Islamic educational institutions, the construction of mosques, and participation in the Hajj. There are several hundred primary and secondary Islamic schools throughout the country. There are four options for students to obtain Islamic education in the Deep South: government-subsidized schools offering Islamic education in conjunction with the national curriculum; private Islamic schools that may offer non-Quranic subjects such as foreign languages (Arabic and English) but whose curriculum may not be approved by the government; private Islamic day schools offering Islamic education according to their own curriculum to students of all ages; and after-school religious courses for children in grades one through six, often held in mosques.

The Ministry of Justice allows the practice of sharia as a special legal process outside the national civil code for Muslim residents of the Deep South for issues involving family law, including inheritance. Provincial courts apply this law, and a sharia expert advises the judge. The law officially lays out the administrative structure of Muslim communities in the Deep South, including the process for appointing the Chularatchamontri, whom the King appoints as the state advisor on Islamic affairs.

The RAD sets a quota for the number of foreign missionaries permitted to register and operate in the country: 1,357 Christian, six Muslim, 20 Hindu, and 41 Sikh. Registration confers some benefits, such as longer visa validity. Representatives of the five officially recognized religious groups may apply for one-year visas that are renewable. Foreign missionaries from other religious groups must renew their visas every 90 days.

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

Government Practices

Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of violence due to the Malay Muslim insurgency as being primarily based on religious identity.

According to Deep South Watch, during the year violence in the country resulted in at least 116 deaths – among them 83 Muslims, 29 Buddhists, and four individuals with unidentified religious affiliation – compared with 180 deaths, including 123 Muslims, 54 Buddhists, and three with unidentified religious affiliation, in 2019. Observers attributed the decline to a combination of the resumption of peace talks, improved security operations, and the impact of COVID-19. Local NGOs reported insurgents often considered teachers, along with their military escorts, as affiliated with the state and hence legitimate targets. According to statistics collected from the daily reports of the Provincial Police Region 9, no teachers or students were killed in insurgent attacks during the year. There were insurgent attacks in July and August on teacher protection units, however, that resulted in the deaths of three army rangers.

In February, a paramilitary unit exchanged gunfire with a group of suspected Muslim insurgents, killing five of them, during a raid in Narathiwat Province. Deep South Watch described the incident as an extrajudicial killing. A bomb attack the following day, reportedly in retaliation, left 10 people – mostly Buddhists – injured.

According to Radio Free Asia, authorities sentenced seven Uyghurs who broke out of a Mukdaharn immigration detention center in January to two years in prison. The seven had also attempted to escape in February 2019. The article stated they were among approximately 50 Uyghurs remaining in the country from among the more than 400 who fled persecution from China around 2014. Chalida, the head of the Thai NGO that worked to assist Uyghurs in the country, said the seven broke out because they could no longer tolerate living conditions at the center.

The Muslim community in the Deep South continued to express frustration with perceived discriminatory treatment by security forces and what they said was a judicial system lacking adequate checks and balances. On July 16, a group of activists from PERMAS submitted a petition to the House Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights asking that the military stop collecting DNA from military conscripts in the Deep South, who were predominantly Muslim. In the previous year, the military collected DNA from conscripts in the Deep South, but not from conscripts in other regions. A spokesperson for the Internal Security Operation Command for Region 4, which is in charge of the Deep South, said the military would continue to collect DNA from military conscripts on what he called a voluntary basis.

Authorities continued to use the emergency decree and martial law provisions in effect in the Deep South since 2005 and 2004, respectively, that gave military, police, and civilian authorities significant powers to restrict certain basic rights, including extending pretrial detention and expanding warrantless searches. Authorities delegated certain internal security powers to the armed forces, often resulting in accusations of unfair treatment by Muslims – such as disproportionate searches of vehicles with Muslim passengers.

In June, members of the Muslim community in the Deep South expressed frustration concerning a search of an Islamic school in Saba Yoi District, Songkhla Province, in which the military seized a large number of unused gas tanks. The military stated it was concerned the gas tanks might be used to make bombs for insurgent attacks. The school said the tanks were discarded fuel canisters, and that it did not support insurgent movements.

According to human rights groups and media reports, many of the refugees and asylum seekers in the country were fleeing religious persecution in their countries of origin. According to UNHCR, local law considered refugees and asylum seekers who entered the country without valid visas to be illegal aliens, and thus they faced the possibility of arrest, detention, and deportation, regardless of whether they had registered with the agency. Compared with previous years, immigration authorities conducted fewer raids to detain persons living illegally in the country, including some UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers, according to UNHCR. According to refugee advocates, during the year authorities conducted sporadic immigration raids, arresting at least 10 Pakistani Christians and 13 Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims, several of whom had asylum-seeker or refugee status. The government and UNHCR said the raids did not target any specific religious group and that the arrests were part of ongoing immigration enforcement against illegal aliens.

Authorities generally did not deport persons holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status. The government generally allowed UNHCR access to detained asylum seekers and refugees. In some cases, UNHCR-recognized refugees, including those fleeing religious persecution, reported staying in immigrant detention centers (IDCs) in crowded conditions for multiple years. The government, in many cases, placed mothers and children in shelters, in accordance with a policy to cease detention of migrant children; in practice, such shelters provided greater space than IDCs, but still severely restricted freedom of movement. There were multiple instances during the year, however, of the government detaining refugee and asylum seeking minors, including Rohingya Muslims fleeing religious and ethnic persecution in Burma, in IDCs or local police stations.

Human rights activists reported during the year that police periodically monitored or detained Falun Gong practitioners, who were recognized refugees from China. UNHCR assessed the majority of asylum seekers and refugees from China, including those in detention, were not at risk of refoulement to China.

Media and NGOs reported during the year that several dozen Uyghur Muslims from China remained in IDCs across the country, most of them in detention since 2015. Humanitarian organizations reported that Chinese authorities continued to pressure the government to return the Uyghurs to China against their will. The humanitarian groups called on the government to allow these individuals to relocate to a safe country of their choosing.

The government continued to investigate and prosecute embezzlement crimes allegedly committed by senior Buddhist monks and government officials from the NBB. In March, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) announced it had completed 11 cases and that there were ongoing ones involving the theft of 26.7 million baht ($892,000). By the end of the year, NACC said it had forwarded 27 cases to the police for further investigation and 25 additional cases to public prosecutors and the courts for prosecution. It said more than 30 cases were still under NACC review.

The government did not recognize any new religious groups and has not done so since 1984. Despite the lack of formal legal recognition or registration, civil society organizations continued to report that unregistered religious groups operated freely and that the government’s practice of not recognizing or registering new religious groups did not restrict their activities. A leading member of Falun Gong, however, reported security authorities continued to closely monitor and sometimes intimidate practitioners distributing Falun Gong materials. Although registration provided some benefits, such as visas with longer validity, religious groups reported being unregistered was not a significant barrier to foreign missionary activity, and many unregistered missionaries worked in the country without government interference.

Monks and temple authorities continued to comply with a 2018 Sangha Supreme Council order prohibiting the use of temple land for political activities or rallies, meetings, or seminars for purposes that violated the law or affected national security, social order, or public morals. While there were no media reports of monks defying the council order, a small number of monks participated in anti-government street protests.

The law denying legal recognition to female monks (bhikkhunis) remained in effect despite the National Human Rights Commission’s 2015 recommendation that the government amend the law. The Sangha Supreme Council continued to prohibit women from becoming monks; women wishing to join the monkhood usually travelled to Sri Lanka to be ordained. Of the approximately 239,023 Buddhist clergy in the country, between 250 and 300 were women. Since a gender equality law exempts cases involving “compliance with religious principles,” bhikkhunis were excluded from gender equality protection by the government. Officials continued to neither formally oppose nor support female ordination. Officials allowed bhikkhunis to practice and establish monasteries and temples. Without official recognition, however, monasteries led by women continued to be ineligible for any of the government benefits received by other sanctioned Buddhist temples – primarily tax exemptions, free medical care, and subsidies for building construction and running social welfare programs. Unlike male monks, bhikkhunis continued to receive no special government protection from verbal and physical attacks.

The only government-certified Islamic university in the Deep South, Fatoni University, continued to teach special curricula for Muslim students, including instruction in Thai, English, Arabic, and Bahasa Malayu; a mandatory peace studies course; and the integration of religious principles into most course offerings. At year’s end, approximately 3,000 students and 250 academic personnel were affiliated with the school.

Muslim students attending a public school on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Muslim-majority Pattani Province in the Deep South continued to wear religious head scarves, pending the outcome of a case before the Yala Administrative Court on the legality of their attire that was ongoing at year’s end. The case was based on a 2018 challenge by Muslim parents to a new Ministry of Education regulation that barred students from dressing in accordance with their religious belief and required them to wear the uniform agreed to by the school and temple, without accommodation for personal religious attire.

For the October 1, 2019-September 30, 2020 fiscal year, the government allocated the RAD a budget of approximately 435 million baht ($14.54 million) to support non-Buddhist initiatives, compared with 415 million baht ($13.87 million) the previous fiscal year. Approximately 341.8 million baht ($11.42 million) of that allocation went to strategic planning for religious, artistic, and cultural development, including promotion of interfaith cooperation through peace-building projects in the Deep South, compared with 341.5 million baht ($11.41 million) the previous fiscal year. The government also allocated approximately 22.7 million baht ($759,000) for dissemination in honor of the previous King, Rama IX. The NBB, funded separately from the RAD, received 4.85 billion baht ($162.1 million) in government funding, the same amount as the previous fiscal year. Of that amount, 1.87 billion baht ($62.5 million) went to empowerment and human capital development projects, 1.6 billion baht ($53.48 million) to personnel administration, 1.1 billion baht ($36.76 million) to education projects, and 242 million baht ($8.09 million) for Deep South conflict resolution and development projects.

The government continued to recognize elected provincial Islamic committees. Their responsibilities included providing advice to provincial governors on Islamic issues; deciding on the establishment, relocation, merger, and dissolution of mosques; appointing imams; and issuing announcements and approvals of Islamic religious activities. Committee members in the Deep South continued to report some acted as advisers to government officials in dealing with the area’s ethnonationalist and religious tensions.

Buddhist monks worked as missionaries, particularly in border areas among the country’s tribal populations, and received some public funding. According to the NBB, 5,383 Buddhist missionaries worked nationwide. Buddhist missionaries were required to pass training and educational programs at Maha Makut Buddhist University or Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University before receiving appointments as missionaries by the Sangha Supreme Council. Per government regulations, no foreign monks were permitted to serve as Buddhist missionaries within the country.

During the year, there were 11 registered foreign missionary groups with visas operating in the country: six Christian, one Muslim, two Hindu, and two Sikh groups, unchanged from the previous year. There were 1,357 registered foreign Christian missionaries. Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus had smaller numbers of foreign missionaries in the country. Many foreign missionaries entered the country using tourist visas and proselytized without the RAD’s authorization. Non-Buddhist missionaries did not receive public funds or state subsidies.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), which is not an officially recognized religious group, continued to fill its special quota of 200 foreign missionaries, granted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Security Council. The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent immigration restrictions significantly reduced the number of Church of Jesus Christ missionaries entering the country during the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Reports of violence against religious groups were largely confined to the Deep South, where ethnic Malay Muslim insurgents continued to attack Buddhists and Muslims. Authorities blamed Muslim insurgents for a February 24 bomb attack in Songkhla Province that injured at least 10 persons, including nine Buddhists and one Muslim. The victims included a deputy district chief, security volunteers, villagers, and students. Authorities said they believed the attack was retaliation for the killing of five Muslim villagers in Narathiwat Province on February 23, which Deep South Watch said was extrajudicial. There were no reports of attacks on monks or temples, and no reports of major attacks on security checkpoints, in contrast to previous years.

Some Buddhist groups expressed frustration with perceived special allowances for Muslims, such as financial assistance, job placement, and lower testing standards for Muslim university students.

In February, the Chiang Mai Provincial Islamic Committee petitioned authorities regarding anti-Muslim activities in Chiang Mai and Lamphun by “the Buddhism Protection Organization for Peace,” which the committee called an extremist movement. During a June parliamentary session, a member of the coalition Democrat Party raised a motion with the Prime Minister against the group, citing its efforts to organize anti-Muslim events and materials and to obstruct the construction and registration of mosques. In June, Deputy House Speaker Supachai Phosu and Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office Tewan Liptapanlop, whose responsibilities included overseeing religious affairs, responded by stating the NBB and the Supreme Sangha Council had already instructed monks and temples not to associate with the movement.

Buddhist activists continued to campaign to designate Buddhism as the country’s official religion. The Pandin Dharma (Land of Dharma) Party, led by Buddhist nationalist Korn Meedee, had a platform that advocated making Buddhism the state religion and called for the establishment of segregated, Buddhist-only communities in the country’s three southern Muslim-majority provinces. As of October, the party had 8,573 members with five regional party offices, according to the Election Commission of Thailand.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with officials from the National Buddhism Bureau (NBB) and the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) at the Ministry of Culture, as well as diverse groups of religious leaders, academics, and members of civil society, to discuss efforts to promote religious pluralism, tolerance, and interfaith dialogue. In September, the Ambassador hosted 16 religious leaders, government officials, and representatives of civil society and academia for a roundtable discussion commemorating the 142nd anniversary of the country’s 1878 Edict of Religious Tolerance. Participants discussed religious tolerance in the context of the country’s cultural, legal, and economic history, and considered how religious freedom could promote social and economic development. The embassy published an op-ed by the Ambassador in both English and Thai language news outlets emphasizing religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation.

In August, the Ambassador addressed a group of monks at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU), the country’s oldest Buddhist university. The audience included “diplomat” monks who would eventually pursue residencies in Thai Buddhist temples around the world, including in over 100 Thai Buddhist temples in the United States. The speech highlighted religious freedom in both the United States and Thailand and the positive role religious freedom can play in a country’s social and economic prosperity. The visit also supported the ongoing partnership between MCU and the embassy in promoting interfaith dialogue, including between the Buddhist majority and the Thai Muslim community.

In June, the Ambassador met with Supreme Patriarch Somdej Phra Ariyavamsagatanana, the most senior Thai Buddhist figure, and discussed the potential for joint activities to promote religious freedom.

Tibet

Read A Section: Tibet

China | Xinjiang | Hong Kong | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.” CCP regulations allow only Chinese citizens to take part in officially approved religious practices and stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security.” CCP regulations control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools, and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities said included Tibetans in exile, particularly the Dalai Lama. The CCP continued to promote “Sinicization” policies that aimed to interpret religious ideas in accordance with CCP ideology and to emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state. The CCP’s Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations regulation, released in February, further formalized the administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism. In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas there were reports of forced disappearances, arrests, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detentions without trial of individuals due to their religious practices. There were reports of individuals dying in custody after being beaten, and one nun in a detention facility committed suicide. There were multiple reports of individuals who had been released from detention dying as a result of long-term illnesses and injuries suffered following beatings and mistreatment during incarceration. According to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and academic research, the PRC government undertook a large-scale and aggressive campaign of “reeducation” or “vocational training” in military-style camps to conduct forced political indoctrination and to transform traditional farmers and herders into laborers in other industries; the vocational training process required “diluting the negative influence of religion.” In some cases, this program involved transferring Tibetans away from their home districts as part of so-called labor transfer programs. Authorities arrested multiple writers, singers, and artists for promoting Tibetan language and culture. Media and human rights groups reported that local officials in Tibetan areas explicitly stated supporters of the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders could be arrested under the government’s nationwide anti-organized-crime program and that Tibetans were told to inform security officials of anyone who “links up with the Dalai clique.” The PRC government continued to restrict the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries and prohibit them from practicing elsewhere. While exact numbers were difficult to ascertain because access to Tibetan areas remained restricted, according to multiple sources, between 2016 and 2019, authorities evicted between 6,000 and 17,000 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes. Satellite imagery and photographs showed that thousands of dwellings at these locations had been destroyed since 2018. PRC authorities continued to restrict the religious practices of monks, nuns, and laypersons. Travel and other restrictions hindered monastics and laypersons from engaging in traditional religious practices and pilgrimages. Repression, including arbitrary surveillance, increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The government canceled some religious festivals, citing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, although some sources stated this was a pretext. The government surveilled religious sites, encouraged families to inform on their neighbors, and attempted to control access to social media. It continued to force monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag and required Tibetans to replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas with portraits of prominent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao and General Secretary and PRC President Xi Jinping, in their homes. Media and NGOs reported that authorities erected two Chinese-style pagodas in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site generally considered to be the most sacred temple in Tibet, and closed the square in front of the temple to worshippers. PRC authorities continued to restrict children from participating in many traditional religious festivals and from receiving religious education. As part of efforts to Sinicize the population, schools in some areas required instruction in Mandarin, and some students were sent to other parts of the country to expose them to Han culture. Authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in monastic practices, including by appointing government and CCP personnel and government-approved monks to manage religious institutions. The government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervised their religious and political education. It continued to force monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology. Religious leaders and government employees were often required to denounce the Dalai Lama and express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu. Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama and promoting the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism. In a statement issued in December, the Standing Committee of the Tibetan People’s Congress stated reincarnations of lamas were to take place in accordance with state laws regulating religious affairs and the reincarnation of living buddhas. The statement said the 14th Dalai Lama’s own selection had been reported to the government for approval. Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

Some Tibetans continued to encounter societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, and traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources.

The PRC continued to tightly restrict diplomatic access to the TAR and deny the U.S. embassy in Beijing and the then-open consulate in Chengdu requests to visit the area. No U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit the TAR during the year. The outbreak of COVID-19 in January led to country-wide restrictions on travel within the PRC and entry into the PRC, which also affected the ability of foreign diplomats, journalists, and tourists to travel to the TAR and other Tibetan areas. U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels. U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Ambassador to China, and other embassy officers continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government. U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the succession of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by faith leaders and raised concerns about the continued disappearance of Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, missing since 1995. On July 7, the Secretary of State announced the United States was imposing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials that it had determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018. In November, Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) President Lobsang Sangay met in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. On December 27, the President signed into law the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020. The law states in part that decisions regarding the selection, education, and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders are exclusively spiritual matters that should be made by the appropriate religious authorities. The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of Chinese citizens.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from the 2018 estimate of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the total population of the TAR is 3,371,500, of which Tibetans make up approximately 90 percent. Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent. Other ethnicities comprise the remainder. Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported. Outside the TAR, official census data show Tibetans constitute 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within prefectures and counties of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

Most ethnic Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion. Small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism. Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau, most of whom also follow the Dalai Lama and consider themselves also to be Tibetan Buddhists. Scholars estimate there are up to 5,000 Tibetan Muslims and 700 Tibetan Catholics in the TAR. Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Taoism, Confucianism, or traditional folk religions, or profess atheism, as well as Hui Muslims and non-Tibetan Catholics and Protestants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The majority of ethnic Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China live in the TAR, Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs), and counties in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces. The PRC constitution, which cites the leadership of the CCP and the guidance of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping Thought, states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” The constitution bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion. It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution states religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.” The government recognizes five official religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

CCP regulations regarding religion are issued by the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). The UFWD’s Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Work manages religious affairs through the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA).

The UFWD controls the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including lamas. Regulations stipulate that, depending on the perceived geographic area of influence of the lama, relevant administrative entities may deny permission for a lama to be recognized as reincarnated (a tenet of Tibetan Buddhism), and that these administrative entities must approve reincarnations. The UFWD claims the right to deny the recognition of reincarnations of high lamas of “especially great influence.” The regulations also state no foreign organization or individual may interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within China. The CCP maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Regulations issued by the UFWD allow only Chinese citizens to take part in officially approved religious practices; these regulations assert CCP control over all aspects of religions, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools. Through local regulations issued under the framework of the national-level Management Regulation of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, governments of the TAR and other autonomous Tibetan areas control the registration of monasteries, nunneries, and other Tibetan Buddhist religious centers. The regulations also give the CCP formal control over building and managing religious structures and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings.

The central government’s Regulations on Religious Affairs require religious groups to register with the government, impose fines on landlords who provide facilities for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions. The regulations require religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities say include Tibetans in exile, particularly the Dalai Lama. The regulations submit religious schools to the same oversight as places of worship and impose restrictions on religious groups conducting business or investments, including placing limits on the amount of donations they may receive, thereby constraining property ownership and development. Publication of religious material must conform to guidelines determined by the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee.

The regulations also require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” While the regulations stipulate that religious groups must abide by the law, safeguard national unity, and respond to “religious extremism,” the term “extremism” is undefined. Measures to safeguard unity and respond to “religious extremism” include monitoring groups, individuals, and institutions, and recommending penalties such as suspending groups and canceling clergy credentials. The regulations stipulate that the online activities of religious groups must be approved by the provincial UFWD.

Children younger than the age of 18 are prohibited from participating in religious activities and receiving religious education, even in schools run by religious organizations. Enforcement and implementation of these rules vary widely across and within regions. One regulation states that no individual may use religion to hinder the national education system and that no religious activities may be held in schools. These regulations have effectively barred Tibetan youth from entering monasteries prior to reaching 18 years of age.

On January 11, the government adopted the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region.” These require “equal opportunities” for non-Tibetan ethnic groups at all levels of government and in schools, private business companies, religious centers and the military in the TAR.

A government policy introduced in 2018 requires Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in CCP ideology. Monks and nuns must not only demonstrate competence in religious studies, but they must also show “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and a willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.”

Self-immolation (setting oneself on fire as a form of protest) is considered homicide, and family members, teachers, and religious leaders may be charged as accessories to homicide if a relative, pupil, or follower chooses to self-immolate.

To establish formal places of worship, religious organizations must receive approval from the local UFWD, both when the facility is proposed and again prior to the first time any services are held at that location. Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents to register during these approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members. Religious communities not going through the formal registration process may not legally have an established facility or worship meeting space; they must seek a separate approval from CCP authorities each time they want to reserve a space for worship, such as by renting a hotel or an apartment. Worshipping in a space without prior approval, either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity that may be criminally or administratively punished.

Individuals must apply to the TAR CCP Committee to take up religious orders and the committee may deny any application. Regulations also require monks and nuns to obtain permission from officials in both the originating and receiving counties before traveling to other prefectures or county-level cities within the TAR to “practice their religion,” engage in religious activities, study, or teach. TAPs outside the TAR have similar regulations.

At the central level, the CCP Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group and the UFWD are responsible for developing and implementing religious management policies, which are carried out with support from the five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations: The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (Protestant), the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Chinese Taoist Association, the Islamic Association of China, and the Buddhist Association of China (BAC). At local levels, party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the BAC are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries.

CCP members and retired government officials, including Tibetans, are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices. CCP members who are found to belong to religious organizations are subject to various types of punishment, including termination of their employment and expulsion from the CCP.

Government Practices

The government continued carrying out its 2019-2024 five-year plan to Sinicize all religious groups in China by emphasizing loyalty to the CCP and the state. The plan included Tibetan Buddhism, with the involvement of the state-run BAC. The CCP’s Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations regulation, released in February, further formalized the administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism. Article 17 stated that religious organizations shall “follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, abide by laws, regulations, rules and policies, correctly handle the relationship between national law and canon, and enhance national awareness, awareness of the rule of law, and citizenship.”

Human rights groups and media reported that during a high-level meeting in Beijing held August 29-30, President Xi announced plans to intensify efforts to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism and the “reeducation” of Tibetans. According to the government media outlet Xinhua, “Xi stressed that patriotism should be incorporated into the whole process of education in all schools. He called for continuous efforts to enhance recognition of the great motherland, the Chinese nation, the Chinese culture, the [CCP], and socialism with Chinese characteristics by people of all ethnic groups. Tibetan Buddhism should be guided in adapting to the socialist society and should be developed in the Chinese context, Xi said.”

During President Xi’s remarks at the Seventh Tibet Work Forum in September, he stressed the PRC should help guide Tibetan Buddhism “to adapt to the socialist society and promote the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.” Many Tibetan organizations condemned Xi’s remarks, including the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said, “Xi’s campaign of Sinicization is a model of anti-rights policies, especially as far as religious freedom is concerned.”

Human rights groups stated authorities used the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region” that were adopted in January to further impose central government control and Han culture on the Tibetan population and to encourage Tibetans to become informants on each other. The NGO International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) stated, “The regulations reflect the culmination of Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping’s focus on consolidating power in the party and eliminating threats, as well as the ideas of a new generation of ethnic policy thinkers who advocate for the dilution of ethnic difference. These thinkers seek to force the assimilation of Tibetans and therefore further undermine Tibetans’ inherent freedom to preserve their unique culture, religion and way of life.”

On September 28, the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) published a report entitled In Prison for their Faith 2020. In the report, HRWF stated, “Due to [the] strong link to the Dalai Lama, the CCP considers religious beliefs in Tibet to be intrinsically opposed to socialism and the Chinese state. As a result, the CCP suppresses their Tibetan Buddhist religious identity, including any association with the Dalai Lama. Instead, the aim is to establish Buddhism with so-called Chinese characteristics and without Tibetan characteristics, in line with Chinese socialism. The religious laws in place allow for this state intervention into religious affairs since religious activities must align with political goals to safeguard ethnic unity and preserve socialism.” HRWF stated the CCP “seeks to gain maximum control over every aspect of societal activities that it considers a threat to its legitimacy, by using any means possible. Although the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the CCP’s objective is to control the lives of all Buddhists, their temples and their institutions.” According to HRWF, every monastery and nunnery had an official state-imposed management committee that was involved in the internal decision-making process of that institution. In its report, HRWF stated, “It is the politicisation of Buddhism that drives the persecution of Buddhists in Tibet.”

In October, HRW reported a herder named Lhamo from Driru County, Nagchu Prefecture, died in August in a hospital where police sent her for treatment of injuries she suffered while in police custody. Sources said police detained Lhamo and her cousin, Tenzin Tharpa, in June on charges of sending money to family members and other Tibetans in India. According to HRW, Lhamo was in good health prior to her arrest, but when family members were summoned to the hospital, they found her badly bruised and unable to speak. Konchog Rinchen, a Tibetan living in exile, told Radio Free Asia (RFA), “Her family believes her death was caused by severe torture she suffered in custody.” Rinchen said the family wanted to perform traditional funeral ceremonies, but authorities forced them to cremate the body immediately. HRW noted the cremation also prevented Lhamo’s family from obtaining an autopsy.

There were no reported cases during the year of Tibetans self-immolating as a means of protesting against government policies, compared with one individual in 2019. According to the ICT, from 2009 to December 2019, 156 Tibetans set themselves on fire in protest against what they said was the occupation of Tibet and abuses of Tibetans’ religion and culture under PRC rule. Some experts and local sources attributed the decrease in the number of self-immolations to tighter control measures by authorities and the fear that family members and associates of self-immolators might be punished, including by being charged as accessories to homicide.

The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetan Buddhists, remained unknown since his 1995 forced disappearance by Chinese authorities. Nyima was six years old at the time he and his family were reportedly abducted. Media reported that on May 19, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Nyima “received free compulsory education when he was a child, passed the college entrance examination, and now has a job.” Zhao said neither Nyima nor his family wished to be disturbed in their “current normal lives.” The Panchen Lama is considered by the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to be the second-most-prominent leader after the Dalai Lama. On April 25, Tibetans in exile marked the occasion of Nyima’s 31st birthday. Advocacy groups called on the government to release him and allow him to resume his religious duties.

In September, Tenzin Dhadon, a member of the UN and Human Rights Desk staff of the CTA (the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India) stated, “Chinese authorities disappearing and secretly sentencing Tibetans are their key political tool in suppressing the Tibetan dissent in Tibet. The Chinese government has been practicing enforced disappearances by detaining incommunicado Tibetans deemed a threat to PRC’s unity and stability.”

Media reported that on December 2, authorities arrested Tibetan writer and poet Gendun Lhundrup in Rebkong (Chinese: Tongren) County, Malho (Huangnan) TAP, Qinghai Province. Lhundrup, a former monk, was a proponent of preserving Tibetan culture and language, and he released an anthology of poems entitled Khorwa (cycle of repeated birth) in October. He also contributed to a website called Waseng-drak that promotes freedom of expression for writers and artists. His whereabouts were unknown at year’s end.

In December, the ICT issued a statement calling for the release of Rinchen Tsultrim, a Bon monk whom authorities continued to hold incommunicado following his arrest in August 2019 for “suspected incitement to split the country.” According to the ICT, police originally took Tsultrim into custody in Barma (Waerma) Township, Ngaba County, Sichuan Province for “peacefully expressing his thoughts on a range of Tibetan political, social and culture issues” on WeChat. The ICT stated it was concerned Tsultrim might be tortured while in custody.

Sources reported that the whereabouts of several monks remained unknown. These included Dorje Rabten, who in September 2018 protested against government policies restricting young people from becoming monks; Tenzin Gelek, who had protested Dorje’s detention; Lobsang Thamke, who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced on July 30 to four years in prison on unknown charges; Lobsang Dorje, who was arrested in August 2018; and Thubpa, whom police took from the Trotsik Monastery in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, toward the end of 2017.

Sources told media that authorities routinely abused Tibetan prisoners. In May, a Tibetan former political prisoner told RFA, “Living conditions in Chinese prisons are extremely poor. Especially while inmates are being pressed to confess under questioning, interrogators use extreme violence against them that is beyond anyone’s imagining.”

Sources told RFA many monks and nuns who were evicted from Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute were placed in internment camps, where treatment of detainees was poor. RFA reported that an unnamed nun who had been expelled from Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute in 2019 and held at an internment camp in Sichuan Province committed suicide in February at the camp due to the harsh conditions. According to a source, “She was defiant of the political reeducation in the camp and always protested against the Chinese officials’ instruction and education, which often resulted in her being beaten.”

There were multiple reports of individuals who had been released dying as a result of illnesses and injuries suffered following beatings and mistreatment during incarceration. In August, RFA reported that authorities released a woman named Dolkar due to failing health after 15 months’ incarceration. She was convicted in May 2019 of telling others that her nephew publicly called for the release of the Panchen Lama. Sources told RFA, “While she was in prison, she was tortured and made to lift heavy stones and do other hard work, and her body is all bruised. Because she was not able to get treatment on time, her limbs are crippled, and she is now immobilized.”

Media reported that Gendun Sherab, a Tibetan monk arrested in 2017 and charged with sharing politically sensitive materials on social media, died in April shortly after being released. According to a source, authorities had charged Sherab with “sharing and disseminating politically sensitive documents on WeChat and social media.” He had shared a letter from the Dalai Lama on WeChat that recognized the reincarnation of religious figure Choedon Rinpoche, from Sera Je Lhopa Khantsen. The source said that during his incarceration, Sherab’s health deteriorated due to beatings, torture, and poor prison conditions, while authorities denied him medical treatment. The source said, “The torture was so bad that he could not even move his body and was unable to speak. They only let him go because it was pretty clear he was about to die.” Before his arrest, Gendun had been expelled from Rongpo Rabten Monastery in Sog County, TAR, for holding what the source said were controversial political views.

Tibetan Review reported that in May, Choekyi, a former monk, died at home in Serthar (Seda) County, Sichuan Province, after authorities denied him permission to travel to a hospital in Lhasa to be treated for damage to his liver and kidneys suffered as a result of torture during his incarceration from 2015 to 2019. According to Tibetan Review, Choekyi had been jailed in 2015 in Sichuan’s Mianyang Prison for making a T-shirt that celebrated the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama.

The India-based Tibetan media outlet Phayul reported that in February, Samdup, a former monk from Drepung Monastery in TAR, died of diabetes-related complications linked to his seven-year incarceration. Authorities had arrested Samdup for taking part in peaceful protests in 1992 and had not allowed him to return to his monastery after his release.

RFA reported that Tsering Bagdro, a former monk at the Ganden Monastery, died on April 26 in Maldro Gongkar (Mozhugongka) County, near Lhasa. A source told RFA, “His untimely death is certainly related to the physical torture and suffering he endured while he was in prison.” Authorities had arrested Bagdro and others in 1992 for demonstrating in Lhasa for Tibetan independence and carrying the Tibetan flag. He was released in 2000. One source said, “During his time in prison, he experienced physical torture and psychological trauma like the other political prisoners held there…. He was not really free even after his release, though. Like other former political prisoners, he lived under constant surveillance by the Chinese authorities, and his movements, activities, and speech were restricted.”

In September, the Jamestown Foundation published a report entitled Xinjiang’s System of Militarized Vocational Training Comes to Tibet. The report noted that government documents indicated TAR authorities had launched a large-scale and aggressive “reeducation” or “vocational training” campaign to transform farmers and herders into laborers. The report also stated the vocational training process required “diluting the negative influence of religion.” Satellite imagery from 2018 showed that facilities built for “reeducation” purposes included high walls and large-scale, barracks-style buildings. According to the report and human rights advocates, the government claimed the campaign was aimed at poverty alleviation, but there was evidence that farmers and herders were forced to participate in the program and were then subjected to coercive labor practices. According to the report, CCP documents showed these programs used “military drill and military-style training to produce discipline and obedience; emphasize the need to ‘transform’ laborers’ thinking and identity, and to reform their ‘backwardness’; teach law and Chinese; aim to weaken the perceived negative influence of religion; prescribe detailed quotas; and put great pressure on officials to achieve program goals.” The report stated, “While some documents assert that the [training and labor assignment] scheme is predicated on voluntary participation, the overall evidence indicates the systemic presence of numerous coercive elements.”

The report stated there was evidence that internment camps in the region were increasingly transitioning from political indoctrination to labor training facilities, with detainees being sent to other regions within the TAR, as well as to other parts of the country, to work in low-skilled jobs that included road construction, cleaning, mining, cooking, and driving as part of so-called labor transfer programs. In September, RFA reported Tibetans were also being forced to work in cotton and textile factories.

Limited access to information and travel restrictions, due both to government policies limiting access to Tibetan areas and to the COVID-19 pandemic, made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of individuals imprisoned because of their religious beliefs or affiliation, or to determine the charges brought against them or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered.

In its report In Prison for Their Faith, HRWF stated “It is common for Buddhists to be imprisoned with no official criminal charges or convictions. Instead, they often face vague accusations such as: ‘possession of banned photos of the Dalai Lama’, ‘praying to the Dalai Lama’, ‘found with books and religious audio recordings of the Dalai Lama’, ‘taking part in birthday celebrations of the Tibetan spiritual leader’, ‘inciting self-immolation and sending information on self-immolations abroad’, and ‘leading a conspicuous protest in public against the law of the land, calling for the release of a Tibetan spiritual leader.’ These accusations have no legal basis in the Constitution or the Penal Code and are often related to the Dalai Lama. As the Dalai Lama is considered to be a ‘splittist’ by the CCP, any affiliation with him is seen as against the communist state.”

In July, authorities sentenced lyricist Khadro Tseten and singer Tsego to seven years and three years in prison, respectively, for “subversion of state power” and “leaking state secrets” after they composed and circulated a song praising the Dalai Lama on social media.

Sources told media that officials handed down long prison sentences to writers, singers, and artists for promoting Tibetan national identity and culture. The NGO Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported that in June, authorities sentenced Tibetan singer Lhundrub Drakpa to six years in prison for performing the song “Black Hat,” which denounced years of repressive policies and practices. Authorities arrested Drakpa two months after “Black Hat” debuted and held him in pretrial detention for one year with no access to legal representation.

According to multiple sources, political prisoners, particularly monks and nuns, often were forced to perform patriotic songs and dances praising the CCP and to watch propaganda films. If participants seemed uninterested, authorities considered it evidence of disloyalty to the state and subjected them to severe punishment, including beatings, and refused them permission to receive gifts of food or clothing from visiting family members.

In September, Tibet.net, the news outlet of the CTA, reported that according to official sources, in September, authorities released Phagba Kyab, whom the CTA described as a Tibetan political prisoner, in Khanlo TAP, Gansu Province. Authorities had arrested Kyab in 2012 and had held him for more than eight years in a Chinese prison for his involvement in the case of a Tibetan who self-immolated in 2012. According to local sources, during a series of interrogations, authorities beat him, deprived him of sleep and food, and told Kyab to denounce the Dalai Lama. Following his release, he was forbidden to travel outside his home village.

The NGO Dui Hua reported that from June to August, the Kardze (Ganzi) TAP Intermediate People’s Court in Sichuan Province convicted nine individuals of “inciting splittism.”

According to Dui Hua’s political prisoner database, at year’s end there were 1,008 known cases of Tibetans detained due to “ethnic minority activism.” It was unclear how many of these cases were connected to religion, but often charges contained vague references to political or religious activities. Observers stated they believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the lack of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult. Authorities continued to hold an unknown number of persons in pretrial detention facilities and in “reeducation centers” rather than prisons. Human rights groups continued to report extensions of pretrial detention periods were common for Tibetans accused of engaging in prohibited political activities or threatening national security, resulting in suspects spending long periods of time in jail without being formally charged or brought to trial.

Security officials could confine citizens to reeducation centers without formal legal procedures. Local sources said stays in reeducation centers could last more than one year.

Media and human rights groups reported local officials in Tibetan areas explicitly stated supporters of the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders could be arrested under the government’s nationwide anti-organized crime program and that Tibetans were told to inform on anyone who “links up with the Dalai clique.” In January, authorities charged 12 villagers from Sog County, Nagqu Prefecture, TAR, for running a “criminal gang.” Court documents stated these individuals had disseminated “negative religious influences” throughout their village.

Sources told tibet.net that from November 2019 through January, officials in Dze Mey Township, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, arrested nearly 30 persons, including monks from the Dza Wonpo Ganden Shedrub Monastery, on a variety of charges, including scattering pro-independence leaflets in front of a government building, using social media, displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama, and having contact with individuals outside of Tibet. Sources said authorities held the detainees for more than a month. The detainees were fed only barley flour and attended political reeducation classes for two weeks. One source told RFA that following the arrests, Chinese police patrolled the streets in Wonpo Township and other nearby townships, conducted mobile phone searches and interrogations, and extracted forced confessions.

RFA reported that in January and February, authorities detained seven Tibetans in Chamdo (Changdu) Prefecture, TAR, and charged them with “spreading rumors” about the spread of COVID-19. Tengchen County authorities punished a man identified as “Tse” for posting messages to WeChat asking readers to recite prayers 10 times in order to protect themselves against the virus. Tse also requested that readers share the post with their friends and families. Local authorities held him in administrative detention for seven days for positing information that did not comply with laws and regulations.

Media reported that sources said on or about December 30, 2019, police in Dzogang (Zuogong) County, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR, arrested 75-year-old Jampa Dorje and his son for listening to recordings of the Dalai Lama’s teachings on a mobile phone and for communicating with Dorje’s daughters living in exile in India. A source said authorities subsequently released them after recording the phone numbers on their phones and forcing them to sign a document stating they would not communicate with the women or listen to recordings of the Dalai Lama again.

The NGO Free Tibet reported that in February, authorities released a man named Chochok, a monk at the village monastery in Zamey Wonpo, Serchul County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, after imprisoning him for two years for a message he posted on WeChat in which he used the picture of Konpe, a Tibetan monk who self-immolated in December 2017, as the background.

RFA reported that on December 14, the Golog People’s Intermediate Court in Qinghai Province sentenced Lhundup Dorje, a nomad, to one year in prison, followed by one year of probation, for promoting “separatism.” According to a source, in 2019 Dorje posted a New Year’s greeting message to the CTA on his Weibo account and a 10-second video clip of teachings by the Dalai Lama. The source said that on March 11, he posted slogans calling for Tibetan independence, and that on May 3, Dorje posted a picture of the Dalai Lama as a young man, “along with praises and compliments to him.” According to the source, these postings were viewed on social media at least 2,383 times, and all were listed separately in the indictment against Dorje.

Media reported that in late March or early April, authorities released a shopkeeper named Sonam Dhargyal from prison. According to sources, Ngaba County police had arrested Dhargyal in 2015, two months after he attended the Monlam prayer festival at Ngatoe Goman monastery, where he carried a blue religious flag showing a world peace symbol and a color photograph of the Dalai Lama with two other prominent Tibetan figures.

The government continued to place restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries. While exact numbers were difficult to ascertain, human rights groups and local sources said that between 2016 and 2019, authorities evicted between 6,000 and 17,000 Tibetan and Han Chinese monks and nuns from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes, both in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province. Monastics expelled from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes were specifically prohibited from transferring to other monasteries to continue their religious education.

In October, India.com reported that authorities destroyed large portions of the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. Accompanying the article were before-and-after photographs of each institute showing large areas where structures had been demolished. Media and local sources stated that during the year, authorities completed demolition of many structures at both Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institutes, and that authorities encouraged Han Chinese to visit the sites as tourists or to move there.

During the year, the government reportedly continued its policy of resettling previously nomadic Tibetans in government-subsidized housing units. In many areas, these were located near township and county government seats or along major roads that had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship. The government prohibited construction of new temples in these areas without prior approval. Traditionally, Tibetan villages were clustered around monasteries, which provided religious and other services to members of the community. Many Tibetans continued to view such measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities.

The TAR government reportedly maintained tight control over the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics and declared them, religious buildings, and religious institutions to be state property. Sources continued to report that while authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they continued to exercise control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypersons, confining many such activities to officially designated places of worship and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies. Religious figures and laypersons frequently reported difficulty traveling to monasteries outside their home regions, both within the TAR and in other parts of the country. Travelers said they encountered roadblocks and police checkpoints surrounding major monasteries, with security personnel often checking their identity cards and refusing entry to nonresidents. Tibetans wishing to visit family members residing in monasteries noted frequent refusals or limits on their ability to visit. Local sources reported similar restrictions on their movements and said checkpoints and fear of detention prevented them from visiting monasteries and participating in religious events. Many monks expelled from their monasteries after 2008 protests in Lhasa and other areas, such as Ngaba, had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

According to sources, PRC authorities, citing COVID-19 concerns, continued to restrict many major monasteries across the Tibetan Plateau from holding large scale religious events. Many of these sources said officials were using pandemic restrictions to prevent individuals from participating in religious activities. In March, ICT reported that authorities cancelled public religious festivals and prayer ceremonies for Losar (Tibetan New Year) in February, citing COVID-19 restrictions.

On April 17, ICT reported that in similar notifications, dated April 14 and 15, respectively, Samye and Yasang Monasteries in Lhokha (Shannan) Prefecture, TAR announced they were closed as “per circular from higher authorities, and in accordance with the need of work relating to the prevention of the infectious coronavirus.” According to ICT, “These announcements are surprising, as China claims that there were no newly confirmed or suspected cases for 78 consecutive days in the TAR.” ICT stated the PRC, “to bolster its image internationally and indicate a sense of normalcy after the coronavirus crisis,” announced on March 30 that some monasteries in Lhasa would reopen, but with restrictions.

Local sources said the government continued to suppress religious activities it viewed as vehicles for political dissent. There were reports that local authorities again ordered many monasteries and laypersons not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 85th birthday on July 6, or to commemorate the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising or the March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau. TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such times, and pilgrimage sites were heavily policed.

A source told RFA that officials visited monasteries in Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces and parts of Kanlho (Gannan) TAP, Gansu Province, warning staff not to host “outside visitors” on the Dalai Lama’s birthday. In Kardze Prefecture, Sichuan Province, a government group led by Wang Shu Yin, a CCP official and head of the local police department, inspected Ganden Phuntsok Ling Monastery in Rongdrag (Danba) County on July 5. The source said that during their tour, the Chinese officials “urged the residents to become ‘exemplary and patriotic’ monks and watch out for any outside visitors in the area and in the monastery itself. The officials urged the monks to report any suspicious persons to the local government or police department.”

In May, Asianews.it reported authorities banned Tibetan students and civil servants from participating in religious events during Saga Dawa, the month-long festival that marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death. Sources said authorities threatened there would be “serious consequences” for individuals who defied the ban. Authorities intensified surveillance of and restrictions on access to the Jokhang Temple complex on the fifteenth day of Saga Dawa, the holiest day of the month. Free Tibet reported, “The residents of Lhasa have been watched carefully by the local police, military personnel and officers dressed in civilian clothes. The offering sites at the temple and the circumambulation areas were packed with these police officers patrolling around. Tibetans who intended to go to the temple to carry out circumambulations and make offerings were stopped and their mobile phones were checked, reportedly making some of them feel anxious.”

According to local sources, security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and religious anniversaries. Police maintained heavy security during the Shoton festival held from August 15-25 in Lhasa. There were large numbers of uniformed and plain-clothes police monitoring crowds of worshippers. Officials delivered speeches at the festival denouncing the Dalai Lama and urging attendees to be loyal to the CCP.

In August, the NGO Tibet Watch reported authorities barred Tibetan government workers, school children, and retirees from entering the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, considered the most sacred temple in Tibet, while an increasing number of Chinese tourists were allowed in during the year. A source told Tibet Watch the Chinese tourists did not respect sacred Buddhist spaces. The source said, “The Chinese visitors smoke in holy sites like the central Barkhor area and the Potala Palace. They litter the ground with empty bottles and throw waste everywhere.”

In August, the government again banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival from occurring at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. Authorities cited overcrowding and COVID-19 concerns as reasons for the ban. The ban marked the fifth consecutive year the government prohibited the 22-year-old festival from taking place.

According to local sources, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu provincial authorities warned major monasteries in Tibetan areas, including Labrang, Amchok, and Bora monasteries, that those holding special events or celebrations would face unspecified “severe consequences.”

Local authorities often invoked regulations concerning safeguarding national unity and responding to “religious extremism” in order to monitor individuals, groups, and institutions, and to punish adherents of religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama.

There were reports that party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-controlled BAC continued to station party and government officials, including security agents, in monasteries in Tibetan areas. Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to establish police stations or security offices adjacent to or on the premises of many monasteries and nunneries. While no updated statistics were available, sources estimated that in 2018, more than 15,000 government employees were working in approximately 3,000 Tibetan monasteries.

According to human rights groups and local sources, authorities continued to install overt camera surveillance systems at monasteries. RFA reported in October that authorities had opened “security centers,” or convenience police stations, throughout Lhasa. RFA described the security centers’ role as “subverting local indigenous populations through surveillance.”

According to multiple sources in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, officials there continued to maintain a security watch list of family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors and, in some cases, deprived them of public benefits.

The report Xinjiang’s System of Militarized Vocational Training Comes to Tibet stated that the government employed “grid management” and a “double-linked household” system to surveil and control communities. Under the grid management system, neighborhoods and communities were divided into smaller units with dedicated administrative and security staff who maintained detailed databases on everyone living in that grid. The “double-linked household” system “corrals regular citizens into the state’s extensive surveillance apparatus by making sets of 10 ‘double-linked’ households report on each other.”

According to human rights groups and media sources, authorities frequently checked mobile phones for pictures of the Dalai Lama and other content that was considered sensitive. There were reports that authorities surveilled ordinary Tibetans for years after finding such material. In May, RFA reported authorities continued to surveil a walnut seller named Jampa Sonam eight years after police arrested him for a photograph of the Dalai Lama they found on his mobile phone in a random search. A Tibetan living in exile told RFA, “Now, whenever Jampa Sonam needs to go outside his place of residence, he needs to ask permission from the Chinese authorities, first at the village and then at the township level. Thus, he has remained in a virtual prison for the last eight years.”

In a March report entitled Repressed, Removed, Re-Educated: The stranglehold on religious life in China, the NGO CSW (formerly Christian Solidarity Worldwide) reported the presence of military surveillance and armed police in riot gear at monasteries during religious occasions such as prayer days. CSW wrote “religious ceremonies can resemble military exercises.”

Sources stated authorities forced monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag.

In April, Free Tibet reported authorities expanded the requirement that families replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas with portraits of preeminent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao and President Xi, in their homes. Previously, this policy was only compulsory for families that were dependent on state support under the poverty alleviation program. According to Tibet Watch’s sources, authorities in the region stated that, in order to “remember the gratitude of the party and in the spirit of following the party, all households, monasteries, schools and offices must display the portrait of top party leaders.” As part of the program, authorities across Tibet gathered villagers together and distributed images of party leaders for them to hang on their walls or altars. Authorities also distributed images to be hung in schools, monasteries, and offices. Sources said authorities conducted inspections of each household to check for compliance. Tibet Watch reported an estimated 14,000 images of President Xi and other CCP leaders were distributed.

In June, RFA reported authorities ordered that prayer flags and the flagpoles from which they hung be taken down in TAR villages as part of what sources said the government called an “environmental cleanup drive” and “behavioral reform” program. One source said this was “an act of contempt and utter disregard for local Tibetans’ customs and faith.” In June, Bitter Winter, an online publication that tracks religious liberty and human rights abuses in China, reported TAR officials embarked on a campaign to remove Tibetan prayer flags from hilltops and villages. Bitter Winter stated the CCP “is trying to destroy Tibetan religion and culture, leaving only a ‘Disneyfied’ version for the benefit of naive tourists.”

According to HRW, the department under the TAR party committee in charge of overseeing retired government employees issued an official notice requiring TAR party and government officials, including nonparty members, to submit a list by August 18 of any retired personnel performing the kora, a Tibetan practice of circumambulating a sacred site or temple while reciting prayers or mantras. The kora is a standard form of religious devotion among Tibetan Buddhists, particularly the elderly, for whom it is often a daily religious practice, as well as a form of exercise. Those named faced the potential loss of pensions and social benefits.

The CCP reportedly continued to forbid its members from participating in religious activities of any kind, despite reports that many local government officials and CCP members held religious beliefs. The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with exiled Tibetans.

According to The Diplomat, on April 1, officials used bulldozers to demolish a building under construction that was to house 16 monks at Langdi Monastery in Markham County, Chamdo Prefecture, TAR. The building was reportedly built by the local community in traditional Tibetan style. The abbot of the monastery appealed against the demolition, but he was beaten. Authorities threatened to imprison him and two other monks. According to The Diplomat, photographs taken prior to the demolition showed two Chinese flags displayed on the main building, with Tibetan prayer flags beside them. The Diplomat reported, “Now the monastery is empty, as all the [20] monks were compelled to leave.”

Sources reported that authorities destroyed Tibetan religious sites outside the TAR. According to Bitter Winter, in July, the local government demolished the Fuyan Temple, a 1,000-year-old Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province, and expelled the monks. The Fuyan Temple was a popular tourist attraction, but in November 2019, local authorities ordered the removal of Tibetan prayer flags and two statues of Buddha. Accompanying the article were “before” photographs that showed the temple, which contained both Tibetan and Chinese architectural styles, and “after” images of the barren field where the temple had stood. According to an eyewitness, prior to bulldozing the temple, police, urban management officers, and village officials had broken some statues, looking for valuables inside them, and taken away all mahogany tables and chairs.

Media and NGOs reported that in April, authorities began erecting two Chinese-style pagodas in front of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site originally built in 652 that is generally considered to be the most sacred temple in Tibet. In February 2018, a fire had damaged the temple complex, and the government started renovations that included laying pipes under the square in front of the temple that were aimed at improving security and firefighting facilities at the complex. ICT said the alterations appeared to be incompatible with traditional Tibetan architecture. In October, RFA reported the construction was completed in August but that the square in front of the temple remained closed to worshippers. One source told RFA the square was surrounded by fencing that barred entry to devotees. The source said, “The pilgrims have nowhere to prostrate and worship, and only Chinese police and Chinese visitors can come inside the fenced enclosure. You don’t see any activities by Tibetan Buddhist devotees.”

In addition to the prohibition on the open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, the government continued also to ban pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and nearly all Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama. In some counties of the TAR, punishments for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included expulsion from monasteries. Local sources told RFA that officials from government bureaus monitoring religious practice visited Tibetan schools and warned teachers and students not to keep or display photographs of the Dalai Lama.

Local sources reported that “The 20 Prohibitions” were still in force. These regulations, instituted in the TAR in 2019, forbade monks from using social media to “incite subversion, defame or insult others, assist extremist religious groups, provide undisclosed information of the state to domestic or foreign individuals or organizations, or receive or release illegal information.” TAR government offices also announced that those who misused social media could be imprisoned for up to eight years.

Authorities increased the surveillance of and efforts to restrict access to WeChat and other social media. In May, HRW stated that a TAR official from Lhasa said, “The government monitors the WeChat and social media activity of monks even more strictly than that of ordinary citizens.” In June, Tibetan Review reported that according to Free Tibet, TAR officials also blocked the WeChat accounts of monks and nuns living outside the PRC. According to Tibet Watch, these measures were designed to restrict and control communication between Tibetan monks living abroad and friends and family inside Tibet. According to Tibet Watch, TAR officials investigated 4,000 to 5,000 Tibetan households with family ties to exiles living in Nepal and India.

In December, TCHRD reported that on November 24, Chinese internet police in the TAR again announced criminal prosecutions against individuals who used online communication tools to “split the country” and “undermine national unity.” The notice listed a range of illegal online activities, such as using virtual private networks (VPNs) and joining discussion groups. The notice said authorities would “strike hard” against offenders “in accordance with law.” TCHRD stated that in February 2019, authorities had released a similar notice that criminalized online activities that purported to “collect, produce, download, store, publish, disseminate, and publicize malicious attacks against the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government, the socialist system, the regional ethnic autonomy system, and the party and the government’s policy of managing TAR.” The 2019 notice offered rewards of up to 300,000 renminbi (RMB) ($45,900) for information regarding violators of the policy.

According to HRW, in anticipation of National Uprising Month in March (which commemorates the 1959 Lhasa uprising and large riots in 2008 protesting Beijing’s rule over Tibet), the PRC increased its censorship and security posture in Lhasa to deter any public gatherings or displays of support for the Dalai Lama. HRW reported the PRC staged mass rallies in Lhasa and other provincial cities on March 7. In Lhasa, thousands of armed police and other security forces from across the region gathered to “pledge” loyalty to the party and its political objective of “comprehensive, long-term stability.” Ding Yexen, head of the TAR Stability Maintenance Command, addressed the police, calling on them to “intimidate and terrify hostile forces and splittist forces, giving them nowhere to hide.” This was followed by a parade of armored vehicles and military equipment through the city.

Multiple sources reported the government continued to interfere in the religious education of laypersons and children. According to Bitter Winter, during the Seventh Tibet Work Forum organized by the CCP Central Committee on August 28 and 29, President Xi said the CCP should build a “new modern socialist Tibet that is united” and that this would be achieved through school reforms that “plant the seeds of loving China deep in the heart of every youth.” Authorities in the TAR required monks to cancel all classes with children, warning that monks and parents could have their social security benefits restricted or be detained if classes continued. The ban on religious education was also implemented in some places outside of the TAR.

A source told Bitter Winter that one of the government’s strategies to Sinicize Tibet was to send high performing students from Tibetan areas to other parts of the country to expose them to Han culture and Mandarin so that these students could become “reliable successors who will build Tibet and guard borders, [and] shoulder the great mission of ethnic unity.” The students were required to live with Han families with “strong political views and [the] correct ethnic minority outlook.” Host families were instructed to “pay attention to students’ spiritual growth” and to educate them with “correct” views that conformed to CCP ideology. Discussing Tibetan Buddhism and other “sensitive topics” was strictly forbidden in Han homes and in schools. A Tibetan college student studying in Qinghai Province told Bitter Winter that students who were found to possess images of the Dalai Lama on their computers were subject to academic probation and other punishments for “being anti-Communist” or “having ideological problems.” The student said this might affect their studies, graduation, and future employment. The student said, “No one dares to touch the topics of religion.”

In September, RFA reported authorities closed primary schools in several towns in Rebkong County, Qinghai Province and forced the students to attend boarding schools in other regions of the country against the wishes of their parents. A source told RFA that police suppressed a protest by parents using police vehicles and blaring sirens and took one protester into custody. Authorities merged two middle schools in Themchen (Tianjun) County, Qinghai Province and changed the curriculum so that only the Tibetan-language class was taught in Tibetan, while all other subjects were taught in Mandarin.

Local sources reported that during the year, provincial officials in the TAR and other Tibetan areas again banned all underage students from participating in religious activities during school holidays. School officials again required students to sign an agreement stating they would not participate in any form of religious activity during the summer.

Local sources stated authorities in the TAR and some areas in Sichuan Province continued to prohibit Tibetan students from undertaking long-distance travel to other parts of the country during their two-month winter break. It was the fourth consecutive year authorities had implemented such restrictions. Tibetan rights advocates said the prohibition was an effort by authorities to stop parents from taking their children to visit temples outside the capital during the break.

During September testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, DC, Zeekgyab Rinpoche, Abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, which serves as the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, said, “The Chinese government interferes and intervenes in the functioning of the monastic education system by imposing restrictions on our monks and nuns. Even in schools, we see this malign design to wipe out our unique identity in the form of restructuring the curriculum and banning the learning of Tibetan language.”

The government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, whom it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s true reincarnation, and not Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom authorities had disappeared that same year. Norbu remained the vice president of and highest-ranking Tibetan in the government-affiliated BAC. According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, SARA and provincial religious affairs bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Norbu.

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, leadership of and membership in committees and working groups remained restricted to individuals the guidelines described as “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns, and party and government officials.” General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which monks traditionally managed, continued instead to be overseen by monastery management committees and monastic government working groups, both of which were composed primarily of government officials and CCP members, in addition to a few government-approved monks. Since 2011, the government has established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas.

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many senior Buddhist teachers remained in exile or died in India or elsewhere. The heads of most major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – including the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, and Khatok Getse Rinpoche, as well as Bon leader Kyabje Menr Trizin – all continued to reside in exile. The government also banned India-trained Tibetan monks, most of whom received their education from the Dalai Lama or those with ties to him, from teaching in Tibetan monasteries in China, although there were reportedly rare exceptions made for progovernment monks.

As in previous years, senior monks at some monasteries continued to report informal agreements with local officials whereby resident monks would not stage protests or commit self-immolations as long as the government adopted a hands-off approach to the management of their monasteries. Sources said authorities monitored all financial transactions involving monasteries inside Tibet and entities abroad.

According to media and NGO reports, the CCP maintained a list of state-approved “living buddhas.” Such individuals reportedly continued to undergo training on patriotism and the CCP’s socialist political system. In 2018, the BAC announced its database contained 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic.” The Dalai Lama was reportedly not on the list.

According to sources, “Every single individual now on the official reincarnation database has to go through an entire political procedure, entirely separate to religious training, in which they are advised about the need for their career and role in the religious community to motivate religious believers to love the party, love the country and social stability maintenance work, as well as fight against ‘separatism’ and the Dalai Lama…This means that now the Tibetan reincarnations are becoming Communist-trained talents rather than religious leaders.” Religious leaders continued to report that authorities were incentivizing lamas and monks to leave monastic life voluntarily by emphasizing the attributes of secular life, as compared to the more disciplined and austere religious life. Monastery leaders cited continued revisions to education policies, religion regulations, and government control of monastery management as reasons for the declining numbers of young monks. Religious leaders and scholars continued to say these and other means of interference continued to cause them concern about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations. In a June letter about the continued enforced disappearance of the Panchen Lama, three UN special rapporteurs, including the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and representatives of two UN working groups, wrote, “Many Tibetan Buddhists have expressed their concerns about the regulation of reincarnation as it undermines the Tibetan religious traditions and practices while such regulation allow the State to interfere in the choice of their religious leaders.”

The government continued to require Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology. Monks and nuns were required to demonstrate – in addition to competence in religious studies – “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.” Since the policy’s inception in 2018, many major monasteries and religious institutes have implemented political training programs.

According to media reports, authorities continued “patriotic reeducation” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau. All monks and nuns were required to participate in several sessions of “legal education” per year, during which they were required to denounce the Dalai Lama, express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, study President Xi’s speeches, learn Mandarin, and hear lectures praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system.

According to the government media outlet China Tibet Net, from November 6 to 14, 168 Tibetan Buddhists in Lhasa attended training sessions on the constitution, religious affairs regulations, cybersecurity laws, and other subjects. Sources stated that 26 Buddhist nuns in Lhatse County of Shigatse (Xigaze) City, TAR, completed a similar training session. One participant, Luosang Taba, Executive Deputy Director of the Kangma Temple Management Committee in Dangxiong County, said that after the training he had “the determination and confidence to take the lead in educating and guiding the monks and religious believers to firmly support the leadership of the party, adhere to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, take a clear-cut stand against division, safeguard the unity of the motherland, [and] strengthen national unity.”

According to Tibet Watch, on May 1, the Department of Justice and the TAR Religious Affairs Bureau conducted online training for more than 30,000 monks and nuns in “popularization activities” that included lessons on the constitution, national security law, antiterrorism law, and cyber security law.

Authorities continued to ban minors younger than age 18 from participating in any monastic training. Multiple sources reported authorities forced underage monks and nuns to leave their monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.” Journalists reported that some underage monks who refused to cooperate were arrested and, in some cases, were beaten by police, and that parents and other family members were also threatened with loss of social benefits if underage monks did not comply.

Government officials regularly denigrated the Dalai Lama publicly and accused the “Dalai clique” and other “outside forces” of instigating Tibetan protests, stating such acts were attempts to “split” China. In March, TAR Communist Party Secretary Wu Yingjie publicly criticized the Dalai Lama’s “reactionary” nature and called on all Tibetans to strictly adhere to the CCP’s “guiding principles.” In July, Wu publicly called on security officials to crack down on the “Dalai Lama clique’s infiltration and destructive activities” and to “educate the masses to draw a clear line between them and the Dalai Lama.”

Tibet Watch reported that from July 6 to 8, Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, toured monasteries, nomadic areas, and sites of relocated settlements in and around the cities of Lhasa and Shigatse. During the inspections, he reportedly said, “Tibetan religion is tied to the long term stability of Tibet, primary effort should be made on integrating Buddhism into China’s socialist society, and religious activities and monasteries should be strictly managed according to the law.” He also said laws of the state “are above religion. Tibetans should resolutely fight against the force of separatism… Training of model individuals and monks and promotion of patriotism should continue.”

In comments broadcast on CCTV on July 9, Wang said leaders needed to “thoroughly study and comprehend Xi Jinping’s ideas on Tibet and the CCP’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era.” Wang said it was necessary to focus on improving the level of Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.

The government outlet Chinese Communist Party News reported that at a province-level party meeting on September 2, TAR Party Secretary Wu vowed to “eliminate the negative religious influence of the 14th Dalai Lama” in order to implement the CCP Central Committee’s Tibet policy.

The Standing Committee of the Tibetan People’s Congress issued a statement in December that said, “Living Buddha reincarnation is a unique way of inheritance of Tibetan Buddhism, with fixed religious rituals and historical customization. The Chinese government has promulgated the ‘Regulations on Religious Affairs’ and the ‘Administrative Measures for the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism’ to respect and protect the inheritance method of Tibetan Buddhism.” The statement, which was published in response to passage of the U.S. Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2020, said the 14th Dalai Lama’s own selection had been reported to Chinese authorities for approval.

Authorities continued to justify in state media the interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

During the year, there were no reports that the Boundary Management System Agreement signed by the PRC and the government of Nepal in 2019 had been used to return long-staying Tibetan refugees to the PRC from Nepal. Tibetan advocacy groups had stated when the agreement was signed that the provision that would require both countries to hand over citizens who illegally crossed the Nepal-China border was potentially in conflict with Nepal’s international commitments under the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well the “gentlemen’s agreement” with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees which provides for Tibetan refugees in Nepal’s custody to transit to India.

Many Tibetans, including monks, nuns, and laypersons, reported continued difficulties traveling to India for religious training, meetings with religious leaders, or to visit family members living in monasteries. In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve their passport applications. In other cases, prospective travelers were able to obtain passports only after paying bribes to local officials. Some individuals seeking to travel said they could only obtain passports after promising not to travel to India or not to criticize government policies in Tibetan areas while overseas. In some cases, family members were required to sign a guarantee that passport applicants would return from their travel. According to local sources, numerous Tibetans in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces waited up to 10 years to receive a passport, often without any explanation for the delay. There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports, reportedly as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in religious events in India involving the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans who traveled to Nepal and planned to continue to India reported that PRC officials visited their families’ homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sichuan Province and TAR officials continued to require religious travelers returning from India to attend political training sessions. According to sources, these restrictions had prevented thousands of Tibetans from attending religious training in India.

Restrictions remained in place for monks and nuns living in exile, particularly those in India, which made it difficult or impossible for them to travel into Tibetan areas.

Tibetans who returned from India reported facing difficulties finding employment or receiving religious or secular education. Returning Tibetans were not allowed to study at Chinese monasteries, and most were denied admission to secular schools because they did not have education certificates recognized by the government. Local sources said they were subject to additional government scrutiny as a result of having relatives at religious institutions in India.

According to sources, authorities in some areas continued to enforce special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside the TAR. Police regulations forbade some hotels and guesthouses in the TAR from accepting Tibetan guests, particularly monks and nuns, and they required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in.

RFA reported that on June 11, a recruitment notice for government jobs restricted employment to those who “have a firm stand on the political principals of anti-secession, criticizing the Dalai [Lama], safeguarding the reunification of the motherland, and national unity.” According to RFA, applicants for low-wage positions such as drivers, office cleaners, and kitchen staff were required to support the CCP’s leadership and socialist system.

In June, RFA reported that according to Shide Dawa, a Tibetan living in exile in India, Tibetans wishing to join the PRC army were required to have no record of engaging in political activities. A former resident of Chamdo Prefecture living in exile in India told RFA, “My younger brother tried to enroll in the Chinese police force. But because I’m now in India, they have denied my brother the job.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because expressions of Tibetan identity and religion are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion. Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported being denied hotel rooms, refused service by taxi drivers, and discriminated against in employment and in business transactions.

Many Han Buddhists continued to demonstrate interest in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, according to local sources in such monasteries and nunneries. Tibetan Buddhist monks frequently visited Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists. In addition, a growing number of Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries, although officials sometimes imposed restrictions that made it difficult for Han Buddhists to conduct long-term study at many monasteries in Tibetan areas.

Media and NGOs reported that monasteries collected donations to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment to local residents and populations in other parts of China during the COVID-19 pandemic. The India-based Tibetan media outlet Phayul reported that in February, Kumbum Jampa Ling Monastery in Amdo Prefecture, Qinghai Province, donated RMB 1,000,000 ($153,000) to the city of Wuhan, then the epicenter of China’s COVID-19 outbreak, to purchase items such as masks and goggles for affected people. Sera Monastery in Lhasa conducted prayers and collected donations for COVID-19 patients. A monk from the Shedrup Tenphel Choeling Monastery in Tawu (Daofu) County, Kardze Province said, “This is the least we can do in service to the people living in Tawu. We can only hope that we can be of some help in preventing [the further spread of] this pandemic.” Monks of the Minyak Pel Lhagang Monastery in Dartsedo, Kardze contributed RMB 130,000 ($19,900). ICT reported that Tibetans posted images on social media of butter lamps they lit in memory of Dr. Li Wenliang, the Han physician whom authorities arrested for attempting to warn the public about the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels. U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Ambassador to China, and other Department and embassy officials continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government. U.S. embassy and consulate officials regularly expressed concerns to the Chinese government at senior levels, including central government and provincial leaders, regarding severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights. The Ambassador pressed senior PRC officials on the government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama. U.S. officials continued to underscore that only the Dalai Lama and other faith leaders could decide the succession of the Dalai Lama, and they also raised concerns about the disappearance of the Panchen Lama. In addition to raising systemic issues, such as impediments to passport issuance to Tibetans, U.S. officials expressed concern and sought further information about individual cases and incidents of religious persecution and discrimination, and they sought increased access to the TAR for U.S. officials, journalists, and tourists, including religious pilgrims and those traveling for religious purposes.

Due to COVID-19 and tight PRC restrictions on access to the TAR, U.S. officials were not allowed to visit the TAR during the year. Before the PRC ordered the closure of the consulate in Chengdu in retaliation for the closure of the PRC consulate general Houston, the Consul General’s request to visit the TAR was denied. In July, the PRC extended an invitation to the Charge d’Affaires to visit the TAR but rescinded it after the U.S. government announced that same month visa restrictions in accordance with the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.

On May 17, on the 25th anniversary of the disappearance of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Secretary of State said in a statement, “The United States remains deeply concerned about the PRC’s ongoing campaign to eliminate the religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of Tibetans, including through the ongoing destruction of communities of worship and learning, such as the Larung Gar and Yachen Gar Buddhist Institutes. Tibetan Buddhists, like members of all faith communities, must be able to select, educate, and venerate their religious leaders according to their traditions and without government interference. We call on the PRC government to immediately make public the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts and to uphold its own constitution and international commitments to promote religious freedom for all persons.”

On June 3, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom told participants at an online forum organized by the ICT, “They [Tibetans] need to be able to practice their faith freely. The Dalai Lama needs to be able to go and return to his homeland if he would so choose. And yet these are all denied.”

On July 7, the Secretary of State announced the United States was imposing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018. In making the announcement, the Secretary stated, “The United States will continue to work to advance the sustainable economic development, environmental conservation, and humanitarian conditions of Tibetan communities within the People’s Republic of China and abroad. We also remain committed to supporting meaningful autonomy for Tibetans, respect for their fundamental and unalienable human rights, and the preservation of their unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity.”

On September 2 remarks to the press, the Secretary of State said, “We’re also concerned about Chinese actions in Tibet, in light of the general secretary’s recent calls to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism and fight ‘splittism’ there. We continue to call upon Beijing to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions, to reach a settlement that resolves their differences.”

In November, at the virtual global Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom said, “Tibetan Buddhists have successfully picked their leader for hundreds of years…. [T]he United States supports that religious communities have the right to pick their own leadership.”

On October 14, the Secretary of State designated the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to serve concurrently as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. In his announcement, the Secretary said the Special Coordinator would “carry forward the Department’s engagement with and support for Tibet’s global diaspora and their many courageous advocates for the protection of human rights, including the freedom of religion or belief.” The Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues continued to coordinate U.S. government efforts to preserve Tibet’s distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity, as well as efforts to promote dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. In November, CTA President Lobsang Sangay met with the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in Washington, DC.

On December 4, the Special Coordinator for Tibet Issues spoke at a forum hosted by the US Mission to International Organizations in Geneva entitled, “Religious Freedom in Tibet: The Appointment of Buddhist Leaders and the Succession of the Dalai Lama.” The Special Coordinator said, “The United States is committed to helping Tibetans safeguard their way of life – not just in Tibet but also in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and everywhere that it flourishes.” The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva also pressed the PRC to respect the unique language, culture, and religion of Tibetans.

On December 27, the President signed into law the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020. The law states (in part): “(1) decisions regarding the selection, education, and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders are exclusively spiritual matters that should be made by the appropriate religious authorities within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and in the context of the will of practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism; (2) the wishes of the 14th Dalai Lama, including any written instructions, should play a determinative role in the selection, education, and veneration of a future 15th Dalai Lama; and (3) interference by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear violation of the fundamental religious freedoms of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.” The law further states the U.S. government may impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and visa restrictions under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act on Chinese officials “who are responsible for, complicit in, or have directly or indirectly engaged in the identification or installation of a candidate chosen by China as the future 15th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism[.]”

Although U.S. officials were denied access to the TAR during the year, they maintained contact with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners, as well as NGOs in other Tibetan areas, to monitor the status of religious freedom, although travel and other restrictions made it difficult to visit and communicate with these individuals.

The embassy and consulates delivered direct messaging to the public about religious freedom in Tibet through social media posts on Twitter and on the embassy’s official website, which is required to be hosted on a PRC server and registered in an official PRC domain. In addition to more than 100 general messages promoting religious freedom posted by the embassy and consulates on Twitter and the PRC-controlled Weibo and WeChat platforms over the course of the year, the embassy also published many social media messages on Twitter that directly and indirectly promoted the religious freedom of the Tibetan people. Over the course of the year, statements from the Secretary of State and others supporting religious freedom for Tibetans reached millions of Chinese social media users. The Secretary’s call on Beijing to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions, the appointment of a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, and statements of concern over continuing interference with the religious freedom of Tibetans drew particularly high attention on social media despite China’s online censorship.

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Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship and of religious instruction. There is no official state religion. Religious organizations may register with the government under the regulations provided for nonprofit corporate bodies. Religious minority groups continued to report instances in which civil servants rejected marriage and birth certificates issued by religious organizations other than the Roman Catholic Church. In November, the Minister of Justice presented options to the Council of Ministers to amend the civil code to register all forms of marriages recognized by the law, including those submitted by non-Catholics. Muslim religious leaders continued to express concerns about discriminatory practices in civil service hiring. As part of its annual budget, the government allocated five million dollars for distribution among the country’s three Catholic dioceses in line with the terms of its concordat with the Holy See. Non-Catholic groups reported tensions regarding unequal allocation of government funds, since non-Catholic religious groups needed to apply for funding from a separate source instead of receiving a dedicated budget allocation. Government leaders continued to meet with religious leaders as part of the government’s broader engagement with civil society. In July, the Dili Diocese and the Ministry of Tourism agreed to reopen the Mount Ramelau Sanctuary for visitors.

Minority religious groups generally reported religious tolerance in the country, but some minority groups said strong societal pressure to remain in the Catholic Church, particularly from family or community members, continued.

U.S. embassy officials engaged regularly with government officials, including in the Office of the Prime Minister, on religious freedom issues, including discrimination in civil service hiring, recognition of religious minority documentation, and budget allocations to minority religious groups. The embassy continued to fund programs to promote religious freedom and the preservation of religious sites.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2015 census, 97.6 percent of the population is Catholic, approximately 2 percent Protestant, and less than 1 percent Muslim. Protestant denominations include the Assemblies of God, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Christian Vision Church. There are also several small nondenominational Protestant congregations. Many citizens retain animistic beliefs and practices along with their monotheistic religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and specifies, “Religious denominations are separated from the State.” It also prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs and provides for both the right to conscientious objection and freedom to teach any religion. The constitution protects freedom of religion in the event of a declaration of a state of siege or state of emergency.

There is no official state religion; however, the constitution commends the Catholic Church for its participation in the country’s liberation efforts. A concordat between the government and the Holy See establishes a legal framework for cooperation, grants the Catholic Church autonomy in establishing and running schools, provides tax benefits, safeguards the Church’s historical and cultural heritage, and acknowledges the right of its foreign missionaries to serve in the country.

Religious organizations that conduct religious services but do not engage in other activities do not need to register with the government and may obtain tax-exempt status from the Ministry of Finance. Religious organizations seeking to open private schools or provide other community services must submit articles of association and other relevant documentation to register as nonprofit corporate bodies through the Ministry of Justice’s National Directorate for Registry and Notary Services (DNRN). The law requires a separate registration with the Ministry of Interior for associations with primarily foreign members, including religious organizations, which must submit their articles of incorporation, proof they have the means to carry out their activities, and the name of a designated representative. To receive a tax identification number, organizations must register first with the Ministry of Justice and then bring that registration to the Service for Registration and Verification of Businesses, the business registration agency. The DNRN then issues a certificate and legally charters the organization.

The Ministry of Education classifies religious study as an elective subject in public schools. Most schools in the country are public, although the Catholic Church also operates private schools. Non-Catholic students may attend Catholic schools. Religious classes are compulsory in private Catholic schools.

Timorese chaplains serve in the armed forces. The law states, “Foreigners cannot provide religious assistance to the defense and security forces, except in cases of absolute need and urgency.” Foreign citizen missionaries and other religious figures are exempt from paying normal residence and visa fees. Visa regulations are the same for all foreign religious workers, regardless of religious affiliation.

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

Government Practices

Muslim and Protestant religious minority leaders again reported that notaries public rejected marriage and birth certificates from religious organizations other than the Catholic Church as supporting documentation required for registering for schools and other official acts. The leaders stated this occurred on an ad hoc rather than systematic basis, and authorities resolved the incidents by addressing them with the notarial office director. The notary service issued birth certificates to minority religious community members, but not marriage certificates, according to the president of the National Islamic Council. Members of non-Catholic religious groups, however, had the option to marry in a civil ceremony witnessed by a notary public, according to a Ministry of Justice official. Registrations of births and marriages with the government continued to be available, but civil registration rates remained relatively low in comparison to registration for religious certificates. Protestant and Muslim leaders continued to engage the Offices of the President and Prime Minister as well as the National Parliament to recognize non-Catholic certificates. In November, Minister of Justice Manuel Carceres da Costa presented options to the Council of Ministers to amend the civil code to register all forms of marriages recognized by the law, including from non-Catholic religious groups.

Muslim religious leaders continued to express concerns about discriminatory practices in civil service hiring. They said some Muslim job candidates whose names might be identified with their religion were being discriminated against during the screening process.

As part of its annual budget, the Office of the Prime Minister provided a budget allocation of five million dollars to the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Timor-Leste for distribution among the country’s three Catholic dioceses. The terms of the concordat with the Holy See governed the allocations. The direct budget allocations to the Catholic Church again caused some tension with non-Catholic religious groups, according to minority religious leaders, who said the funding significantly favored the Catholic Church. Catholics and all other religious groups could apply, along with other organizations, for part of a separate $3.54 million government fund set aside for civil society organizations during the year. According to an official in the Office of the Prime Minister, the fund supported separate construction requests from a Hindu group for the rehabilitation of a Hindu temple and a Catholic group for the reconstruction of a Catholic church as well as projects from secular NGOs.

Several Catholic and Islamic holidays were also national holidays. Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak issued public statements offering compliments for Idul Fitri (Eid al-Fitr) and wishes for a marvelous Christmas.

The government continued to consult religious leaders as part of broader engagement with civil society.

In July, the Dili Diocese and the Ministry of Tourism agreed to reopen the Mount Ramelau Sanctuary, a religious tourism site that had been closed for visitors due to COVID-19.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Leaders of the Catholic Church and longstanding Protestant and Muslim communities reported continued positive cooperation and relationships among religious groups. An interfaith working group worked to identify some religious sites as religious tourism sites to raise awareness of these sites’ religious and historical significance.

Minority religious groups generally reported religious tolerance in the country, but some minority groups said strong societal pressure to remain in the Catholic Church persisted. Some minority religious leaders stated that their members had been assailed by family and community members because of their religious beliefs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged regularly with government officials, including from the Office of the Prime Minister, on religious issues, such as discrimination in civil service hiring, recognition of religious minority documentation, and budget allocations to different minority groups.

The embassy continued to fund programs to promote religious freedom and the preservation of religious sites. It supported a public-private partnership to attract investment to maintain Cristo Rei, a famous statue of Jesus located in Dili. It also supported a faith-based tourism working group that focused on promoting religious tourism in the country, preserving religious sites, and promoting religious tolerance.

For International Religious Freedom Day on January 16, the embassy posted a message on Facebook emphasizing the importance of promoting religious freedom that reached over 2,600 persons.

Togo

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies the state is secular and protects the rights of all citizens to exercise their religious beliefs, consistent with the nation’s laws. Religious groups other than Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims must register with the government. The government did not pass draft legislation pending since 2018 that detailed regulations regarding religious groups and did not authorize new religious groups; approximately 900 registration applications from religious groups remained pending at year’s end, the same as in previous years, and the government continued not to accept new applications. According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA) in the Ministry of Territorial Affairs (MTA), however, the government did not prevent these groups from opening new religious institutions and carrying out their activities informally.

Members of different religious groups attended each other’s ceremonies, and interfaith marriage remained common.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious tolerance with government officials in meetings conducted virtually and met with religious leaders throughout the year to discuss their efforts to reduce tensions in communities and support peace and social cohesion, specifically regarding countering violent extremism related to religion. The embassy continued to promote interreligious dialogue through grants. Additionally, the embassy supported a workshop for English teachers in Islamic schools on introducing religious tolerance into lesson plans.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to a 2009 estimate by the University of Lome, the most recent data available, the population is 43.7 percent Christian, 35.6 percent traditional animist, 14 percent Sunni Muslim, and 5 percent followers of other religious groups. Roman Catholics are the largest Christian group, at 28 percent of the total population, followed by Protestants at 10 percent, and other Christian denominations totaling 5.7 percent. Protestant groups include Methodists, Lutherans, Assemblies of God, and Seventh-day Adventists. Other Christians include members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other religious groups include Nichiren Buddhists, followers of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’is, and Hindus. There are also persons not affiliated with any religious group. Many Christians and Muslims also engage in indigenous religious and voodoo practices.

Christians live mainly in the south, while Muslims are predominately in the central and northern regions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is a secular state, provides for equality before the law for all citizens regardless of religion, protects all religious beliefs, and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution also provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship; free exercise of religious belief; and the right of religious groups to organize themselves and carry out their activities consistent with the law, the rights of others, and public order.

The law requires all religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations, except for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims. Some Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic holidays are observed as national holidays. Official recognition as a religious association provides other groups the same rights as those afforded to Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects. Registering is not obligatory, but registration entitles religious groups to receive government benefits such as government-provided teachers for private schools and special assistance in case of natural disasters.

Organizations apply for registration with the DRA, which is part of the MTA. A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names and addresses of executive board members, leaders’ religious credentials, a site-use agreement, map for religious facilities, and description of its finances. It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($280). Criteria for recognition include authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order. The DRA issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration. The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.

By law, religious groups must request permission to conduct large nighttime celebrations, particularly those likely to block city streets or involve loud ceremonies in residential areas.

The public school curriculum does not include religion classes. There are many Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools, to which the government assigns its own paid employees as additional teachers and staff. Other registered religious groups have the right to establish schools as long as they meet accreditation standards.

The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. The law forbids private religious radio stations from broadcasting political material.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to meet with religious leaders throughout the year. The MTA said it met with religious leaders prior to the February 22 presidential election to discuss their role in a peaceful election process. They also met to discuss the suspension and later partial resumption of religious services during the state of emergency imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to previous years, the government did not act on approximately 900 pending registration applications from religious groups or accept new applications. According to the DRA, however, the government did not prevent these groups from opening new religious institutions and carrying out their activities informally. The cabinet did not act on a bill submitted to it by the MTA in July 2019 and pending since 2018 detailing the process for opening places of worship and regulating hours of operation and levels of noise allowed during worship. According to the MTA, registrations and passage of the bill were delayed due to the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government said it received 10 noise complaints, all prior to the April state of emergency restricting large gatherings.

The government imposed city-wide curfews in a few Muslim-majority cities due to outbreaks of COVID-19 linked to Eid-al-Adha celebrations in late July.

In response to concerns expressed by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in 2019 regarding increased police presence in Muslim majority areas of Lome, the Vice President of the Muslim Union said Muslims were not unfairly targeted by increased police presence and that it prevented vandalism and crime.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to religious leaders, noise complaints remained a problem during religious practices.

Members of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious groups continued to invite one another to their respective ceremonies. Marriage between persons of different religious groups remained common.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed religious freedom and tolerance in meetings conducted virtually with government officials, in particular pending legislation and registration applications. Embassy officials also met with religious leaders and discussed their efforts to reduce tensions in communities and support peace and social cohesion, specifically regarding countering violent extremism related to religion. In September, the embassy issued a $250,000 grant to an NGO to strengthen resilience to violent extremism, with a strong focus on interreligious dialogue.

In January, the embassy supported a workshop that focused on introducing religious tolerance in lesson plans for 22 English teachers in Islamic schools in Kara, a city approximately 250 miles north of Lome.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The constitution grants freedom to practice, worship, and assemble for religious services. The constitution requires the Sabbath, which the government defines as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits most commercial transactions and many recreational activities on Sunday, except as permitted by law. The law does not require registration of religious groups. A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits, such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers and tax exemptions.

The Forum of Church Leaders, comprising only Christian leaders, met to discuss social issues and preventative measures for COVID-19 in the country. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

During regular engagements, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed the need to protect religious freedom and tolerance with representatives from the Tonga National Council of Churches as well as with other institutions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 106,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to 2016 local census data, membership in major religious groups includes the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, 35 percent of the population; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), 19 percent; the Roman Catholic Church, 14 percent; the Free Church of Tonga, 12 percent; and the Church of Tonga, 7 percent. (The latter two are local affiliates of the Methodist Church.) Other Christian groups account for approximately 9 percent of the population and include the Tokaikolo Church, Mo’ui Fo’ou ‘ia Kalaisi, the Constitutional Church of Tonga, Seventh-day Adventists, the Gospel Church, the Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, other Pentecostal denominations, Anglicans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the census, 60 individuals identified as Buddhist, while approximately 750 reported that they followed the Baha’i Faith. Approximately 600 individuals reported no religious affiliation or did not answer the census question. Approximately 900 individuals identified as belonging to other faiths, including 34 Muslims. According to the government-run secretariat for the Forum of Church Leaders in Tonga, the fastest-growing religious group is the Church of Jesus Christ.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution allows freedom of religious practice, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly for religious services, provided these freedoms are not used “to commit evil and licentious acts” or “do what is contrary to the law and peace of the land.” The constitution requires that the Sabbath, which the government recognizes as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits commercial transactions on the Sabbath, except essential services after approval by the Minister of Police, and certain restaurants and retail stores. The law also prohibits many recreational activities and sports on the Sabbath. The law applies to both Christians and non-Christians

The law does not require registration of religious groups. Any group may gather together, worship, and practice their faith without informing the government or seeking its permission. A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits, such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers; tax exemptions on nonbusiness income, importation of goods for religious purposes, and fundraising; protection of a denomination’s name; and access to broadcasting on public channels. Registration as a religious group requires an application to the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, accompanied by certified copies of the group’s rules and constitution, a declaration detailing any other trust in which the applicant holds assets, a witness’s signature, and a 115 pa’anga ($52) application fee. If a group elects to register with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, the law requires it also to register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as a nonprofit organization.

The law allows religious leaders to legalize marriages. According to the law, only marriages solemnized by clergy or religious officiants, who must be Christian, are legally recognized, and no other marriage is valid. Those non-Christians unwilling to be married by a Christian minister have no legal options to marry.

Religious groups may operate schools, and a number do so. There are no schools operated by non-Christian religious groups. In public schools, the government allows religious groups to offer an hour-long program of religious education to students once per week but does not require schools to do so. In public schools where religious education is provided, students are required to attend the program led by the representative of their respective denomination. Students whose faith does not send a representative are required to take a study period during the hour devoted to religious education.

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

Government Practices

On March 20, the government declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19 which included restrictions on religious gatherings. The restrictions were eased in May and individuals could attend religious services on Sundays only. The government did not limit the number of people who could attend these religious services. The one Islamic mosque was ordered closed by the government for three weeks.

The government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), a 24-hour service, maintained policy guidelines regarding the broadcast of religious programming on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga. The TBC guidelines stated that in view of “the character of the listening public,” those who preach on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga must confine their preaching “within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition.” There were no reports, however, of the TBC denying any group’s request to broadcast on public channels. The government permitted all Christian groups to participate in broadcasting one free hour of services on the radio each Sunday. All churches were able to broadcast notices of their activities on six FM radio stations and three television stations, namely Television Tonga, Digi TV, and the Christian station Doulos Television Radio.

The government continued to enforce a ban that prohibits retail establishments, bakeries, and most restaurants from operating on Sunday to comply with the constitution’s prohibition of commercial activity on the Sabbath. By special permit, the government continued to allow hotels and resorts to operate on Sunday for tourists. These special permits were granted by the Minister of Police.

The education ministry continued to allow the Scripture Union and Sisu koe Fetu’u Ngingila, two private Christian nongovernmental organizations, to provide Bible study and other activities for students of different faiths throughout the year for one hour per week. Students who did not wish to participate were allowed to study independently in school libraries.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Forum of Church Leaders, comprising only Christian leaders, under its secretariat at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, met to discuss social issues in the country, such as suicide, crime, drugs, healthy lifestyles, deportees, climate change issues, and teenage pregnancy. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. Representatives of the embassy discussed religious freedom with government officials, the National Council of Churches, and the Muslim League.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance.

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and practice, including worship. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. Laws prohibit actions that incite religious hatred and violence. Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for major religious holidays, underscoring religious freedom, diversity, and unity. According to the Inter-Religious Organization’s (IRO) public relations officer, the National Council of Orisha Elders of Trinidad and Tobago continued to await government recognition of the Orisha religion. According to the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), eight religious-based discrimination complaints, most involving public or private sector employment, were filed during the year, compared with nine in 2019.

The IRO, an interfaith coordinating committee representing approximately 25 religious groups and receiving both private and public funding, continued to advocate for the importance of religious tolerance. During the year, it received government funding to distribute food baskets and supplies to those in their communities affected by COVID-19, including noncitizens residing in the country. IRO members continued to ask religious communities to open their doors to support Venezuelans and all citizens affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. embassy officials engaged the government, including the EOC, on the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity. The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued virtual outreach with religious leaders. The embassy hosted virtual meetings throughout the year to discuss COVID-19’s impact on the religious community, religious pluralism, and interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO. The embassy also promoted religious freedom and tolerance through social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2011 local census, 26.5 percent of the population is Protestant, 21.6 percent Roman Catholic, 18.2 percent Hindu, 5 percent Muslim, and 1.5 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses. Traditional Caribbean religious groups with African roots include the Spiritual/Shouter Baptists, who represent 5.7 percent of the population, and the Orisha, who incorporate elements of West African Yoruba spiritualism and Christianity, at 0.9 percent. The census also reports 2.2 percent of the population has no religious affiliation, 11.1 percent do not state a religious affiliation, and 7.5 percent list their affiliation as “other,” which includes several small Christian groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as Baha’is, Rastafarians, Buddhists, and Jews.

The religious composition of the two-island country is distinct. On Trinidad, which contains 95 percent of the country’s population, those of African descent make up 32 percent of the population and are predominantly Christian. A small, primarily Sunni Muslim community is concentrated in and around Port of Spain, along the east-west corridor of northern Trinidad, and in certain areas of central and south Trinidad. Persons of East Indian descent constitute 37 percent of the population, approximately half of whom are Hindu, in addition to Muslims, Presbyterians, and Catholics. The population of Tobago is 85 percent of African descent and predominantly Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance, including worship. It recognizes the existence of fundamental human rights and freedoms and prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The law prohibits acts of sedition and seditious intent, which include engendering or promoting feelings of ill will towards, hostility to, or contempt for any class of inhabitants, including based on religion.

A fine of up to 1,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($150) may be levied for expressions of hatred directed specifically against a person’s religion, including any “riotous, violent, indecent, or disorderly behavior in any place of divine worship” or attacks, ridicule, or vilification of another person’s religion in a manner likely to provoke a breach of the peace. The law is rarely enforced.

The law also prescribes a fine and imprisonment of two years for “any person who is convicted of any act or an attempt to commit blasphemy, writing and publishing, or printing and publishing, any blasphemous libel,” but the government does not enforce the law.

Judicial review, with the power of the court to modify or enforce orders, is available to those who state they are victims of religious discrimination. Claimants may also appeal a court’s decision.

Possession and use of up to 30 grams of marijuana is legal, but the consumption of marijuana is illegal in public spaces. The law also provides a pathway for the expungement of prior marijuana convictions, including for those using marijuana for religious rituals, and it allows individuals to cultivate plants for personal use.

Religious groups must register with the government to receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, perform marriages, or receive visas for foreign missionaries. To register, groups must demonstrate they are nonprofit organizations, be in operation for at least one year, and submit a request for charitable status to the Ministry of Finance. The request must include a certificate or articles of incorporation, the constitution and bylaws of the organization, and the most recently audited financial statements. Religious groups have the same rights and obligations as most legal entities, regardless of their registration status. They may, for example, own land and hire employees, and they are liable for property taxes and government-mandated employee benefits.

Chaplains representing different faiths present in the country may visit prisons to perform religious acts and minister to prisoners.

The EOC is established by law as an independent body composed of five commissioners appointed by the President with advice from the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. The EOC is charged with eliminating discrimination through investigating and resolving complaints through conciliation as well as with developing education programs.

The government permits religious instruction in public schools, allocating time each week during which any religious group may provide an instructor at the parent’s request for an adherent in the school. Attendance at these classes is voluntary, and the religious groups represented are diverse. The law states public schools may not refuse admission to individuals based on religious beliefs, and no child is required to attend any religious observance or receive instruction in religious subjects as a condition of admission or continued attendance in a public school. Private schools, also called “assisted schools,” receive a combination of government and private funding.

The government subsidizes religiously affiliated public schools, including schools operated by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim groups. The government allots primary school funding on a per-pupil basis, with the amount varying each year. For secondary schools, the government allots funding based on budget requests submitted by each school.

No child over two months of age is permitted to enter a nursery, preschool, or primary school without first being immunized or having started the immunization process. The law does not make an exception for religious beliefs.

Parents may enroll their children in religiously affiliated or other private schools, or in some cases, homeschool them as an alternative to public education as long as a parent interested in homeschooling submits a letter of intent to the Ministry of Education, which determines if the parent is qualified.

Foreign missionaries must meet standard requirements for entry visas and must represent a registered religious group in the country. Permits are valid for a maximum period of three years at a cost of TTD 500 ($75) per year. Missionaries may not remain longer than three years per visit but may reenter after a year’s absence.

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

Government Practices

According to the IRO public relations officer, the National Council of Orisha Elders of Trinidad and Tobago continued to wait for the government to recognize the Orisha religious group. Its registration application was submitted to the government in 2018.

According to the EOC, a total of eight religious-based discrimination complaints were filed during the year, compared with nine in 2019. Most of the complaints were employment related, including in both the public and private sectors. According to the report, cases involved Christians, Hebrew Israelites, Hindus, Muslims, and Orishas.

The government continued to limit the number of long-term foreign missionaries to 35 per registered religious group. Missionaries in excess of the 35 individuals allowed could remain in the country for a maximum of 30 days. IRO members said the government equitably applied the law. Some international religious groups, however, said more than 35 missionaries could remain in the country if they affiliated with more than one registered group, including nonprofit groups and charities. According to the president of the IRO, religious institutions could apply to extend the stay of their missionaries, but there was no guarantee of approval.

Members of the government and political party officials continued to participate and mark ceremonies and holidays of the various religious groups and emphasized religious tolerance and harmony in their virtual remarks. Prime Minister Rowley issued public messages for Easter and Ramadan, underscoring religious freedom, diversity, and unity. In his Ramadan message, Rowley recognized the challenges faced because of COVID-19, especially during Ramadan, including the inability to congregate because of stay-at-home measures. He also thanked Muslims for their donations to those affected by COVID-19.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The IRO, which includes Christian denominations as well as Islamic, Hindu, Orisha, and Baha’i groups, continued to advocate for matters of religious and social concern. IRO members continued to ask their religious communities to open their doors to support Venezuelans and citizens affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, faith-based organizations, including those belonging to IRO, received 30 million TTD ($4.48 million) from the government to distribute humanitarian aid to their communities and other individuals affected by COVID-19. The grants could be used only to purchase food supplies to prepare food baskets and meals and to provide other food support for those adversely affected by the pandemic, including noncitizens.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged the government, including the EOC, regarding its support for religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued virtual outreach with religious leaders. In October, the embassy hosted a virtual meeting with IRO members to discuss interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO as well as COVID-19’s impact on the religious community.

Embassy staff met virtually with Muslim religious and civil society leaders, including imams, for discussions on topics that included religious tolerance.

The embassy shared content on its social media platforms promoting religious freedom and tolerance. It also hosted virtual events in May and October. In May, the virtual discussion centered on COVID-19’s impact on the religious community. In October, the embassy honored International Religious Freedom Day by hosting a virtual event on religious pluralism.

The embassy provided a grant to a nongovernmental organization to implement projects promoting trust and cooperation among religious and cultural groups in the country.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares the country’s religion to be Islam. The constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.” The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and obligates the state to disseminate the values of “moderation and tolerance.” It prohibits the use of mosques and other houses of worship to advance political agendas or objectives and guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practice. Media reported in June that Mounir Baatour, a lawyer and president of Shams, a group that advocates for sexual minorities, fled to France after the government accused him in late 2019 of “incitement to hatred and to animosity between races, doctrines, and religions.” Police arrested four foreign nationals in Sousse on February 18 for distributing flyers encouraging conversion to Christianity. On July 14, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced blogger Emna Chargui, who since fled the country, to six months in prison and a 2,000-dinar ($750) fine for a May 2 social media post, “Sura Corona,” that mimicked the format of a Quranic verse as a comment on the COVID-19 pandemic. The government may initiate administrative and legal procedures to remove imams whom authorities determine to be preaching “divisive” theology. In spite of continued appeals from the Baha’i community, the government did not recognize the Baha’i Faith or grant its association legal status. On February 21, an administrative court ruled in favor of allowing the Baha’i Faith to establish an association. The General Prosecutor appealed the ruling and the case remained ongoing at year’s end. While face coverings used to guard against COVID-19 were permitted and mandated by the government, wearing the niqab remained prohibited. Christian citizens stated the government did not fully recognize their rights, particularly as they pertain to the establishment of a legal entity or association that would grant them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery. On May 19, the Minister of Cultural Affairs announced the ministry would include the synagogue of Tataouine in its national heritage registry and would place it under protection to prevent further degradation of the building. The multicultural Attalaki Association for Freedom and Equality reported continued positive exchanges with members of parliament from the Nahda political party, Tahya Tounes political party, and the Reform bloc in parliament, and the Union for Religious Affairs regarding efforts to combat hate speech based on religion and license a Christian cemetery and church.

Christian converts from Islam said threats from members of their families and other persons reflected societal pressure against Muslims leaving the faith. On May 3, a neighbor called a woman an infidel and physically assaulted her for wearing a Christian cross. An article published by an international NGO stated that several historical factors “have contributed to a persistent societal perception of religious minorities in Tunisia as foreigners (Christians more than Jews due to the longer presence of the latter), or at least as not fully Tunisian.” Some atheists reported facing societal pressure to conceal their atheism, including by participating in Islamic religious traditions.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials continued to maintain regular contact with government officials, including in the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA), Office of the Presidency, and Ministry of Relations with Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society and Human Rights, to discuss issues concerning religious freedom and encourage tolerance of religious minorities. Conversations also focused on government efforts to control activities in mosques, difficulties facing Baha’i Faith and Christian citizens, reports of anti-Semitic acts, and threats to converts from Islam to other faiths. Throughout the year, embassy officers discussed religious diversity and dialogue with leaders of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Baha’i communities. Embassy officers continued to engage, virtually, on a regular basis with a range of religious leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.7 million (midyear 2020 estimate), of which approximately 99 percent is Sunni Muslim. Christians, Jews, Shia Muslims, Baha’is, and nonbelievers constitute less than 1 percent of the population. There are approximately 7,000 Christians who are citizens, according to the Christian community, most of whom are Anglicans or Protestants. The MRA estimates there are approximately 30,000 Christian residents, most of whom are foreigners, and of whom 80 percent are Roman Catholic. Catholic officials estimate their church membership at fewer than 5,000, widely dispersed throughout the country. The remaining Christian population is composed of Protestants, Russian Orthodox, French Reformists, Anglicans, Seventh-day Adventists, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Jewish community numbers approximately 1,400, according to the MRA. One-third of the Jewish population lives in and around the capital, and the remainder lives on the island of Djerba and in the neighboring town of Zarzis. There is a small Baha’i community, but reliable information on its numbers is not available.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam is the country’s religion, but the constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.” The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and requires the president to be Muslim. It guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practices. The constitution also states that mosques and houses of worship should be free from partisanship. It obligates the state to disseminate the values of moderation and tolerance, protect holy sites, and prevent takfir (Muslim accusations of apostasy against other Muslims). The law requires that all religious services be celebrated within houses of worship or other nonpublic settings. These restrictions extend to public advertisement of religious services. The constitution lists reasons for potential restrictions on the rights and freedoms it guarantees, including protecting the rights of others, requirements of national defense, and public order, morality, or health. The constitution guarantees the right to public education and says the state will “work to consolidate the Arab-Muslim identity in the young generations.”

The penal code criminalizes speech likely “to cause harm to the public order or morality,” as well as acts undermining public morals in a way that “intentionally violates modesty.”

There is no legal prohibition of proselytism, but the law criminalizes forced conversions.

Religious groups may form and register associations under the law to establish a bank account, conduct financial activities such as charity work, and receive favorable tax treatment, including tax-free donations from government-approved associations, provided the association does not purport to represent all believers of a religious group or use the name of a religious group. To establish an association, a religious group must submit a registered letter to the Prime Minister’s Office stating the purposes of the association; copies of the national identity cards of its founders, who must be citizens; and two copies of the articles of association signed by the association’s founders or their representatives. The articles of association must contain the official name of the association in Arabic and any foreign language, if appropriate; its address; a statement of its objectives; membership criteria; membership fees; and a statement of organizational structure, including identification of the decision-making body for the association. The law requires that associations and political parties respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles. The law prohibits associations from engaging in for-profit activities, providing material support to individual political candidates, or adopting bylaws or taking actions to incite violence or promote hatred, fanaticism, or discrimination on the basis of religion. Once established, an association may receive tax-exempt income from organizations, including foreign organizations that have a prior agreement with the government.

Once an association receives the return receipt from the Prime Minister’s Office, it has seven days to submit an announcement of the name, purpose, and objectives of the association to the government press. The government press has 15 days to publish the announcement in the government gazette, which marks the association’s official registration. In the event the government does not return a registered receipt within 30 days, an association may proceed to submit its documents for publication and obtain registration. A foreign association may establish a branch in the country, but the government may also reject its registration request if the government finds the principles or objectives of the foreign association contravene the law.

Violations of the provisions of the law related to associations are punishable, first by a warning of up to 30 days from the secretary general of the government, then by a court order suspending the association’s activities for up to 30 days if the violations persist. If the association is still in violation of the law, the secretary general may then appeal to the court for dissolution of the association. Under the law, associations have the right to appeal court decisions.

Registered associations have the right to organize meetings and demonstrations, to publish reports and leaflets, to own real estate, and to engage in “all types of civil activities.”

A 1964 modus vivendi with the Holy See grants official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church. The modus vivendi allows the Church to function in the country and provides state recognition of the Catholic Church, although it restricts religious activities and services to the physical confines of authorized churches and prohibits construction of new churches and the ringing of church bells. A limited number of Catholic schools and charities may operate under the modus vivendi, but their financial activities are conducted through registration as an association and their affiliation with the Church is not publicized.

The law states that the government oversees Islamic prayer services by subsidizing mosques, appointing imams, and paying their salaries. The Grand Mufti, appointed by the President, is charged with declaring religious holidays, issuing certificates of conversion to Islam, attending to citizens’ inquiries, representing the country at international religious conferences, providing opinions on school curricula, and studying and writing about Islam. The MRA suggests themes for Friday sermons but does not regulate their content. The government may initiate administrative and legal procedures to remove imams whom authorities determine to be preaching “divisive” theology.

By law, new mosques may be constructed, provided they are built in accordance with national urban planning regulations. The MRA pays for construction of mosques, although private and foreign donors also are able to contribute to construction costs. Mosques become government property upon completion, after which the government must maintain them.

It is mandatory for students in public schools to attend courses on the principles of Islam for approximately one hour per week. Non-Muslim students generally attend these courses but may seek an exemption. The curriculum for secondary school students also includes references to the history of Judaism and Christianity. Religious groups may operate private schools.

Provisions of law addressing marriage, divorce, and other personal status issues are largely based on principles of civil law, combined with elements of sharia. Laws of inheritance are principally based on requirements in sharia, but there are some provisions that allow for exceptions as outlined in the Code of Personal Status.

Newly married couples must state explicitly in the marriage contract whether they elect to combine their possessions or to keep them separate. Sharia inheritance law in some instances provides men with a larger share of an inheritance. Non-Muslim women and their Muslim husbands may not inherit from each other, unless they seek a legal judgment based on the rights enshrined in the constitution. The government considers all children of those marriages to be Muslim and forbids those children from inheriting from their mothers. Spouses may, however, freely give up to one-third of their estate to whomever they designate in their will.

The law does not list religion as a prohibited basis for political parties but prohibits political parties from using religion to call for violence or discrimination.

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

Government Practices

According to a June 9 Reuters report, Mounir Baatour, a lawyer and president of Shams, a group that advocates for sexual minorities, fled to France after the government accused him in late 2019 of “incitement to hatred and to animosity between races, doctrines, and religions,” under the country’s counterterrorism law. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the basis for the accusation was that he re-shared a post on his Facebook page that critics considered disparaging of the Prophet Mohammed.

Media reported that police arrested two Indians, an Australian, and a Filipino in Sousse on February 18 for distributing flyers encouraging conversion to Christianity. According to media reports, the individuals were released after interrogation and subsequently deported.

On July 14, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced blogger Emna Chargui to six months in prison and a 2,000 dinar ($750) fine for a May 2 social media post, “Sura Corona,” that mimicked the format of a Quranic verse as a comment on the COVID-19 pandemic. The prosecutor charged Chargui under the press code for “inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence” and “offending authorized religions.” Civil society organizations criticized the court’s decision and called on authorities to overturn Chargui’s conviction. Chargui, who told the New York Times she identified as an atheist, announced through a Facebook post on August 8 that she had departed the country to seek asylum elsewhere. Her appeal remained under court review at year’s end.

On November 3, following an October attack in Nice, France, in which three persons were stabbed to death at a church, reportedly by a Tunisian, the government’s regional director of local affairs in Bizerte announced the suspension of a local imam who had posted a video on his Facebook page that incited others to kill anyone who offends the Prophet Muhammad. Police arrested and interrogated the imam. He remained in detention pending trial at year’s end. According to HRW, on November 12, a Tunis court sentenced blogger Wajdi Mahouechi to two years in prison for posting a video to Facebook on November 1 criticizing the public prosecutor’s handling of the imam’s case. The police arrested Mahouechi on November 2.

The Attalaki Association reported on incidents of hate speech, including by Rached Khiari, a member of parliament and former al-Karama Coalition member, who wrote on his Facebook page following the October 16 beheading of a teacher in France, “Whoever attacks the prophet must bear the consequences.” The Ministry of Interior initiated an investigation into the statement. A Counterterrorism Department spokesperson told media that Khiari’s action could be classified as a terrorism crime under the antiterrorism law.

On February 20, a member of the political bureau of the People’s Movement political party, Moncef Bouazizi, said during a media interview that the People’s Movement had been responsible for the removal of then Minister of Tourism Rene Trabelsi from the government. According to Bouazizi, the People’s Movement expressed its disapproval of Trabelsi, a Jew, to then Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh and accused Trabelsi of “normalizing with the Zionist entity” when he stated that Israelis of Tunisian origin should be allowed to return to the country for the Djerba pilgrimage.

Throughout the year, the High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HAICA) closed several media outlets for not complying with HAICA licensing requirements. On December 7, demonstrators in Tunis protested the government’s closing of the privately owned Radio Quran al-Karim. The HAICA said it ordered the closure because the station lacked an operating license. According to press reports, protestors said the action was rooted in Islamophobia and called for the station to return to the air. On December 31, the HAICA imposed a 100,000 dinar ($37,300) fine because of the defamatory and insulting content of its programs, saying that the station’s programs contained “erroneous” information and broadcast live religious discussions inciting hatred and violence, threatening people’s safety, public security, and social peace.

Local Jewish sources reported that the Jewish community respected the government’s COVID-19 general lockdown measures from March to May and that in turn, the government provided the Jewish community with flexibility as needed. For example, after the community expressed concern that the prison authority’s COVID-19 measures prevented family members from delivering kosher meals to a Jewish pretrial detainee, the courts released the detainee on bail, enabling him to join his family for Passover.

As part of the Ministry of Justice’s rehabilitation program for countering violent extremism, the Committee General for Prisons and Rehabilitation maintained an agreement with the MRA to permit vetted and trained imams to lead religious sessions with prisoners identified as extremists. As part of the ministry’s measures to counter violent extremism, prisons prohibited organized communal prayers but permitted individual detainees to have religious materials and to pray in their cells.

In contrast with the previous year, Baha’i leaders reported harassment by security force personnel during the year, including while preparing administrative documents at police stations.

On February 21, an administrative court ruled in favor of allowing the Baha’i Faith to establish an association. Baha’i Faith members reported that the General Prosecutor then presented an appeal to the court referencing a nonpublic fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti in 2016, which stated that Baha’i Faith members were apostates and infidels and therefore should not be permitted to practice their faith. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.

According to the NGO Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), because the Baha’i community remained unregistered, it could not have a bank account, organize money collection, or establish religious schools. The community petitioned the Minister of Local Affairs to establish a Baha’i cemetery but did not receive a reply by year’s end.

The government continued to publicly urge imams to disseminate messages of moderation and tolerance to counter what it said were threats of violent extremism. Since 2015, the MRA has conducted regular training sessions for imams on how to disseminate these messages. According to several local mosque committees in charge of mosque operations that are chosen by congregation members, the government generally allowed the committees to manage the daily affairs of their mosques and choose their own imams, with the exception of imams for Friday prayers, who were selected exclusively by the MRA. Regional MRA representatives within each governorate had to vet, approve, and appoint both the local mosque committees and the imams. According to an official from the MRA, the government standardized and enforced mosque opening and closing times, except for certain mosques with cultural or historical significance and very small community mosques.

The government mandated the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, although the niqab remained officially prohibited. In 2019, in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks in downtown Tunis, the government prohibited the wearing of face coverings in administrative and public institutions, in order to “maintain public security and guarantee optimal implementation of safety requirements.” The media subsequently reported police and security forces harassed some women who wore the niqab. Government officials denied that the restriction limited religious freedom and stressed that its goal was to promote improved security. Sources reported that the circular remained valid during the year.

On March 5, President Kais Saied visited the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, accompanied by the then Ministers of Defense, Transport and Logistics, a former Minister of Tourism, and regional officials. In a speech, Saied said, “Tunisian Jews are equal with the rest of Tunisians in the eyes of the law, especially in terms of rights and duties.”

Christian citizens continued to state there was strong governmental and societal pressure not to discuss a church’s activities or theology publicly. Christian sources stated that security forces banned a religious conference scheduled for February in a hotel in the city of Hammamat for reasons unrelated to COVID-19 concerns.

Members of the Christian community reported the government allowed churches to operate within set guidelines and provided security for their services. The government generally restricted public religious services or processions outside churches. On August 15, however, the Santa Costa Church held a celebration in the streets of the city of La Goulette in honor of the Catholic Feast of the Assumption. A number of Muslim citizens, including the Mayor of La Goulette, Amal El Imam, and regional Ministry of Interior representative Fathi Hakami, attended the celebration.

Christian citizens reported the government continued to deny them the right to establish a legal entity or association that would give them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery. However, the Christian community again did not submit a formal request for an association or legal status during the year. Christian cemeteries existed for foreign members of the Christian community; Christian citizens, however, continued to need permission from the government to be buried in a Christian cemetery. Citizens reported they generally did not request such permission due to what they said was a pattern of governmental nonresponse. In August, the Attalaki Association reported that local officials refused to bury the body of a child of a Christian father in an Islamic cemetery because the cemetery was designated for use by Muslims only. After the family contacted the mayor of Tunis, the cemetery administration authorized the child’s burial. The Attalaki Association reported continued positive exchanges with members of parliament representing the Nahda political party, Tahya Tounes political party, the Reform bloc in Parliament, and the Union for Religious Affairs to discuss efforts to combat hate speech based on religion and to license a Christian cemetery and church.

On May 19, the mayor of al-Kram established the country’s first government-sponsored zakat fund (an Islamic religious duty to donate a portion of one’s income to the poor) since independence in 1956. Defenders of the country’s officially secular nature strongly criticized the creation of the fund, stating that religious initiatives should not replace the government’s civic duty and that it was contrary to the constitution. Civil society groups voiced concerns that the fund could benefit Islamist political groups at the expense of the state.

Jewish groups said they continued to worship freely, and the government continued to provide security for synagogues and partially subsidized restoration and maintenance costs. Government employees maintained the Jewish cemetery in Tunis but not those located in other cities, including Sousse and El-Kef.

In accordance with government permits, the Jewish community operated private religious schools, and Jewish children were allowed to split their academic day between public schools and private religious schools or attend either type of school full-time. The government-run Essouani School and the Houmt Souk Secondary School in Djerba remained the only public schools where Jewish and Muslim students studied together, primarily because of the small size and geographic concentration of the Jewish community. At these schools, Muslim students attended Islamic education lessons on Saturdays while their Jewish classmates could choose to attend classes on religion at a Jewish school in Djerba.

Representatives from the Jewish community reported that in early November, as a follow-up to applications first filed in 2019, they submitted legal documents related to establishing a Jewish community association to the MRA and to the Minister, who had vowed to support the request. The Jewish community initiated the applications to establish associations to better advocate with the government on behalf of Jewish community interests and serve as an organizing body for the Jewish communities in Gabes, Medenine, and Tunis.

On May 19, the Minister of Cultural Affairs announced the ministry would include the synagogue of Tataouine in its national heritage registry and would place it under protection to prevent further degradation of the building.

On November 15, during a visit to Doha, President Saied and the Qatari Emir proposed the holding of a “Western-Islamic conference…aimed at achieving greater understanding.” The President said that the conference would have the aim of avoiding confusion that Westerners might experience in distinguishing between “Muslims …[and] those extremists who claim to be Muslims,” and that there was a “need to differentiate between Islam and its true purposes and terrorism, which has absolutely nothing to do with Islam.”

In December, the government reported that 160 persons converted to Islam during the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some atheists reported receiving family and societal pressure to return to Islam or conceal their atheism, including, for instance, by fasting during Ramadan and abstaining from criticizing Islam. Some converts to Christianity reported strong family and societal rejection, and some of them were reportedly beaten and forced to leave their homes on account of their beliefs.

On May 3, a neighbor called a woman an infidel and physically assaulted her for wearing a Christian cross. The victim pressed charges against the attacker; the court case remained ongoing at year’s end.

According to the MRGI, some civil society organizations reported that there were a growing number of Muslim converts to Christianity, but that social taboos remained so strong and widespread that these individuals generally preferred to keep their conversions secret. Many faced ostracism and even violence from their own families due to the stigma surrounding conversion from Islam. Some members of the Christian community said that citizens who attended church services faced pressure from family members and others in their neighborhood not to attend. Christians reported that family members frequently accused converts of bringing “shame” to the family by their conversion. The Attalaki Association reported that security forces or family members harassed Christians.

Christian sources reported that local churches coordinated with government officials to help the churches’ sub-Saharan congregants pay for rent, food, and basic necessities after many had lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a July article on religion, identity, and ethnicity in the country, published in a journal of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Sylvia Quattrini, the MRGI’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, wrote that several historical factors “have contributed to a persistent societal perception of religious minorities as foreigners (Christians more than Jews due to the longer presence of the latter), or at least as not fully Tunisian.”

Baha’i leaders reported that the Baha’i Faith community held virtual religious gatherings, respecting COVID-19 lockdown and curfew orders. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baha’i community postponed an event initially scheduled for October 19 to discuss different religions’ views on equal inheritance between men and women.

In a poll conducted by the Arab Center of Washington, D.C., and released in November, 57 percent of respondents in the country either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that “No religious authority is entitled to declare followers of other religions infidels,” which compared with 65 percent region-wide.

In a poll conducted by a Dubai-based public relations firm in the first three months of the year and involving a team of international experts, 59 percent of the country’s citizens between the ages of 18 and 24 agreed that religion was “the most important” factor to their personal identity, compared to 41 percent overall for youth polled in the 17 Arab states included in the survey.

In a global poll by the Pew Research Center published in July, 91 percent of respondents in the country agreed that “religion is very important in their lives,” compared to 24 percent of those polled in all 34 countries included in the survey. On other questions, 99 percent said that “God plays an important role in their life” and 97 percent said that “prayer plays an important role in their life.” This compared to results from across 34 countries in the survey where 61 percent say that God plays an important role in their lives and 53 percent say that prayer is important in their daily life. Eighty-four percent of respondents in country agreed that belief in God is necessary to have good values, compared with 45 percent for all 34 countries included in the poll.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy officials continued to maintain regular contact with government officials, including in the MRA, the Office of the Presidency, and the Ministry of Relations with Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society, and Human Rights to discuss issues concerning religious freedom and encourage tolerance of religious minorities. Conversations also focused on government efforts to control activities in mosques, difficulties facing Baha’i and Christian citizens, reports of anti-Semitic acts, and threats to converts from Islam to other faiths.

Embassy officials maintained frequent contact with leaders of religious groups throughout the country to discuss the impact of the security situation on religious groups and the freedom of religious minorities to worship without restrictions by the government or threats from the community. The embassy supported programs designed to highlight religious tolerance and counter violent extremism related to religion, including informal youth-led conversation groups to discuss issues of religious tolerance and alternatives to violence; a program working with scout troops to learn how to recognize and combat signs of religious radicalization; and several research programs aimed at identifying and countering religious radicalization and violent extremism, especially in youth.

Turkey

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state. It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds. The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to enable the practice of Islam, provide religious education, and manage religious institutions. In January, media reported the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a 13.5-month sentence against an ethnic Armenian citizen for provoking hostility by criticizing the Prophet Mohammed. The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Media and nongovernmental organizations reported an accelerated pace of entry bans and deportations of non-Turkish citizen leaders of Protestant congregations. The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed. Religious minorities again reported difficulties opening or operating houses of worship; resolving land and property disputes and legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated; holding governing board elections for their religious foundations; and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools. Religious minorities, particularly members of the Alevi community, again raised challenges to religious content and practices in the public education system. In July, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reconverted Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum, originally an Orthodox church that was subsequently converted to a mosque and then a museum, into a mosque and declared it open to Islamic worship. In August, President Erdogan similarly ordered the reconversion of the Kariye (Chora) Museum to a mosque. Construction of the new Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul continued, according to the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Office.

According to a press report, on March 20, relatives found the body of Simoni Diril, the mother of a Catholic Chaldean priest, two months after unidentified persons abducted Diril and her husband. According to media reports, isolated acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued. In May, security cameras caught an individual attempting to vandalize an Armenian church in Istanbul. Police detained the suspect, and authorities charged him with vandalism. Other media outlets reported an increase of vandalism of Christian cemeteries, including the destruction in February of 20 gravestones in the Ortakoy Christian Cemetery in Ankara. According to a news report in June, unknown perpetrators vandalized a monument commemorating Alevis killed in 1938. Anti-Semitic discourse and hate speech continued in social media and print press; in March, there were media reports, including by the Jewish publication Avlaremoz, of anti-Semitic speech on various social media sites linking the COVID-19 outbreak to Jews.

The U.S. Ambassador, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to emphasize to government officials the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law. U.S. government officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and make progress on property restitution. Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call on the government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and to allow for the training of clergy members from all communities in the country. In June, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom called for the government to keep Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. In a tweet on June 25, he stated, “The Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual & cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world. We call on the Govt of #Turkey to maintain it as a @UNESCO World Heritage site & to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum.” In July, the Secretary of State urged the government “to maintain Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the country’s faith traditions.” In November, during a visit to Istanbul, to promote the United States’ “strong stance on religious freedom around the world,” the Secretary of State met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and with Archbishop Paul Russell, the Holy See’s representative to the country. The Secretary also visited St. George’s Cathedral and the Rustem Pasha Mosque. Embassy and consulate officials met with a wide range of religious minority community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, and Chaldean Catholic communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 82.0 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni. Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members are 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent public opinion surveys published in January 2019 by Turkish research firm KONDA suggest approximately 3 percent of the population self-identifies as atheist and 2 percent as nonbelievers.

Leaders of Alevi foundations estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population; Pew Research Center reporting indicates 5 percent of Muslims state they are Alevis. The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population.

Non-Muslim religious groups are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities, as well as in the southeast. Exact figures are not available; however, these groups self-report approximately 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (including migrants from Armenia), 25,000 Roman Catholics (including migrants from Africa and the Philippines), and 16,000 Jews. There are also approximately 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs), 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits), and 10,000 Baha’is.

Estimates of other groups include 7,000-10,000 members of Protestant denominations, 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians, up to 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians, and fewer than 1,000 Yezidis. There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Maronite Christians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) estimates its membership at 300 individuals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship. It stipulates individuals may not be compelled to participate in religious ceremonies or disclose their religion, and acts of worship may be conducted freely as long as they are not directed against the “integrity of the state.” The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion,” or “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates Islamic matters. According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable the belief, practices, and moral principles of Islam, with a primary focus on Sunni Islam; educate the public about religious issues; and administer mosques. The Diyanet operates under the Office of the President, with its head appointed by the President and administered by a 16-person council elected by clerics and university theology faculties. The Diyanet has five main departments, called high councils: Religious Services, Hajj and Umrah Services, Education, Publications, and Public Relations. While the law does not require that all members of the council be Sunni Muslim, in practice this has been the case.

There is no separate blasphemy law, but the penal code provides punishment for “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs. The law criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion.” Insulting a religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

The penal code prohibits religious clergy from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties. Violations are punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law.

Although registration with the government is not explicitly mandatory for religious groups to operate, registering a group is required to request legal recognition for places of worship. Gaining legal recognition of a place of worship requires permission from the municipalities for the construction or designation of a new place of worship. It is against the law to hold religious services at a location not recognized by the central government as a place of worship; the government may fine or close the venues of those violating the law.

Interfering with the service of a religious group is punishable by one to three years in prison; defacing religious property is punishable by three months to one year in prison; and destroying or demolishing religious property is punishable by one to four years in prison. Because it is illegal to hold religious services in places not registered as places of worship, in practice, these legal proscriptions apply only to recognized religious groups.

The law prohibits Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (cemaats), although the government generally does not enforce these restrictions.

Military service is obligatory for males; there is no provision for conscientious objection. A government policy allows individuals to pay a fee of 37,070 Turkish lira ($5,000) instead of performing full military service; however, they are required to complete a three-week basic training program. Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and, if convicted, could be subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

The leadership and administrative structures of religious communities do not have a legal personality, leaving them unable to directly buy or hold title to property or press claims in court. Communities rely on separate foundations or associations governed by individual boards to hold and administer assets and property.

A 1935 law prohibits the establishment of foundations based on the religion or ethnicity of members but grants exemptions to foundations existing before the enactment of the law. Non-Muslim citizens direct these longstanding foundations; 167 continue to exist, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities. In practice, a religious group formed after the 1935 law may successfully apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious. There are six Protestant foundations (four existing before the passage of the 1935 foundation law), 36 Protestant associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

The General Directorate of Foundations (GDF), under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, regulates the activities and affiliated properties of all foundations, and it assesses whether they are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational charter. There are several categories of foundations, including those religious community foundations existing prior to the 1935 law.

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to rule it is no longer operational and transfer its assets to the state. Only a court order may close a foundation of any category, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close foundations by decree.

A foundation may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties, as well as from donations. The process for establishing a foundation is lengthier and more expensive than that for establishing an association, but associations have fewer legal rights than foundations at the local level.

Several religious communities have formally registered corresponding associations. Associations must be nonprofit and receive financial support only in the form of donations. To register as an association, a group must submit an application to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members. A group must also obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is a founding member; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of its residence permits. If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change them to meet the legal requirements. Under the law, the governorate may fine or otherwise punish association officials for actions deemed to violate the organization’s bylaws. A court order may close an association, and the Ministry of Interior may temporarily close an association or foundation and apply to a court within 48 hours for a decision on closure. Otherwise, the government may close associations and foundations by decree under a state of emergency. The civil code requires associations not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.

By law prisoners have the right to practice their religion while incarcerated; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship. According to the law, prison authorities must allow visitation by clergy members and allow them to offer books and other materials that are part of the prisoner’s faith.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private schools at all levels starting with fourth grade, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which falls under the authority of the Office of the President. Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through 12. Only students who marked “Christian” or “Jewish” on their national identity cards may apply for an exemption from religion classes. Atheists, agnostics, Alevis or other non-Sunni Muslims, Baha’is, Yezidis, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Confucians, Taoists, and Buddhists, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are rarely granted exemptions from the classes. Middle and high school students may take additional Islamic religious courses as electives for two hours per week during regular school hours.

The government issues chip-enabled national identity cards that contain no visible section to identify religious affiliation. The information on religious affiliation is recorded in the chip and remains visible to authorized public officials as “qualified personal data” and protected as private information. Previously issued national identity cards, which continue in circulation, contain a space for religious identification with the option of leaving the space blank. These older cards included the following religious identities as options: Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, No Religion, or Other. Baha’i, Alevi, Yezidi, and other religious groups with known populations in the country were not options.

According to labor law, private- and public-sector employers may not discriminate against employees based on religion. Employees may seek legal action against an employer through the Labor Court. If an employee can prove a violation occurred, the employee may be entitled to compensation of up to four months of salary in addition to the reversal of the employment decision.

Government Practices

According to media, in January, the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a 13.5-month sentence against Sevan Nisanyan, a self-exiled ethnic Armenian citizen of Turkey, for publishing “offensive” words against the Prophet Muhammad that could provoke hostility. While referencing the country’s penal code, the court further justified its decision by citing a 2005 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling in the case of publishing company I.A. versus the Government of Turkey, stating that religious statements that could be viewed as a “cheap attack” should be avoided. One member of the court opposed the sentence, stating that while Nisanyan’s writing humiliated Muslims, there was no concrete evidence that breaches of public peace had occurred.

According to media reports, Cemil Kelik, a religious culture and ethics teacher at a high school in Istanbul, continued to teach after authorities reinstated him in a remote city in May. In 2019, Kelik was fired after comparing the morals of atheists and deists to those of “self-professed” Muslims and saying headscarves were not obligatory in Islam.

On May 20, police detained and arrested Banu Ozdemir, a former official from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, and charged her with “insult and inciting hatred among the people” after she retweeted a video of a mosque in Izmir that had been hacked to play the Italian leftist revolutionary song “Bella Ciao” from its speakers. The prosecutor requested three years’ imprisonment and released Ozdemir. The court acquitted her in December.

On July 16, the opposition daily newspaper Sozcu reported police arrested Muhammed Cevdet S. in Istanbul for insult and inciting hatred among the people by sharing social media posts that included caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. There were no further developments at the end of the year.

In January, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), police arrested and charged with membership in a terrorist organization a Syriac Orthodox priest, Father Sefer Bilecen (also known as Father Aho) and two other Syriacs, reportedly for offering bread and water in 2018 to members of the designated terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who visited the 1,500-year-old Mor Yakub Monastery in Mardin Province. The next hearing was scheduled for January 2021.

The government continued to interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which refers broadly to “non-Muslim minorities,” as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups: Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Chief Rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court. These three groups, along with other minority religious communities, had to rely on independent foundations they previously organized, overseen by separate governing boards, to hold and control individual religious properties.

In January 2019, the ECtHR ruled the government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of assembly and association, because it refused to allow Seventh-day Adventists to establish a foundation. The court ruling required the government to pay six members of the congregation in Istanbul a total compensation of 8,724 euros ($10,700). Compensation could include legal assistance and legal and court registration fees; by year’s end there was no information available nor indication on whether the government had compensated the six individuals, and no disclosure of any government payments.

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition, and their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations.

In June, the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation issued a press statement saying it was “increasingly difficult for foreign Protestant clergy serving in Turkey to be resident.” According to the Protestant Church Association headquartered in Ankara, it did not attempt to register any church during the year. Both groups reported no progress on registration requests made in previous years.

Multiple Protestant church representatives continued to report bureaucratic difficulties in registering places of worship. Church representatives said they were obliged to continue meeting in unregistered locations for worship services because local officials did not approve registration applications and continued to impose zoning standards on churches, including minimum space requirements not imposed on mosques. Officials did not apply this requirement to Sunni Muslim congregations, which they permitted to build worship facilities in malls, airports, and other smaller spaces. Additionally, some Protestant churches reported local authorities did not allow them to display crosses on the exterior of their buildings.

In June 2019, a local court in Bursa approved an application by the Protestant community in Bursa to start a foundation. At year’s end, the government still had not responded to a request by the Protestant foundation to allow long-term use of a church renovated in 2018 using government funding. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Turkish Protestant congregations continued to share the building, owned by the GDF for more than 10 years.

The government continued to provide incarcerated Sunni Muslims with mesjids (small mosques) and Sunni preachers in larger prisons. Alevis and non-Muslims did not have clerics from their own faiths serving in prisons; however, clergy of other religious groups were permitted to enter prisons with the permission of the public prosecutor to minister to their adherents as long as doing so was not considered a threat to a facility’s security.

The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and did not recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals that cemevis are places of worship. In March 2018, the head of the Diyanet had said mosques were the appropriate places of worship for both Alevis and Sunnis. On January 13, the municipal council of Izmir granted seven Alevi cemevis the status of house of worship. On January 16, an Istanbul municipal council assembly approved the provision of free services to cemevis in line with other municipality and government treatment of other places of worship.

In November, a parliamentarian from the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party addressed an inquiry to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, reporting that Alevi residents of Hardal village in Sivas Province opposed government plans to convert a historic mansion containing Alevi inscriptions and belonging to an Alevi association into a mosque. The ministry did not respond to the inquiry by year’s end.

The GDF continued its restoration of the Surp Giragos Armenian and Mar Petyun Chaldean Churches, both in Sur District, Diyarbakir. During the year, the government again did not pay restitution and compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation of property damaged in fighting with the PKK.

During the year, the government did not return properties seized in previous decades; it last returned 56 properties in 2018 to the Syriac community. Representatives from various communities said they continued to pursue property returns through the appropriate legal and government channels. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities, which had previously submitted applications for the return of properties, continued to report these unresolved claims were an issue for their communities. Due to their legal status, recognized religious foundations were eligible to receive compensation for their seized properties, but religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were not.

Religious communities, particularly Alevis, continued to raise concerns regarding several of the government’s education policies. At year’s end, the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ECtHR ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom. The ECtHR denied the government’s appeal of the ruling in 2015 and upheld the Alevi community’s legal claim that the government-mandated courses promoted Sunni Islam and were contrary to Alevi religious convictions. Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECtHR decision, but Alevi groups stated the material was inadequate, and in some cases, incorrect. They also continued to call on the government to implement the ECtHR decisions.

Non-Sunni Muslims and nonpracticing Muslims said they continued to face difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and often had to choose from electives dealing with different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as Muslim. The government said the compulsory instruction covered a range of world religions, but some religious groups, including Alevis and members of Christian denominations, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups, such as some educational texts referring to Alevi beliefs as mysticism. In February 2019, the Konya Regional Administrative Court ruled the changes made in the compulsory religion course curriculum did not eliminate violations to educational freedom, as ruled by the ECtHR in 2013. In June 2019, the Istanbul 12th Regional Administrative Court accepted an Alevi parent’s appeal for his son’s exclusion from the compulsory religious course. The case was still pending at year’s end.

According to the Diyanet, it had 128,534 employees at year’s end, with women constituting 18 percent of its workforce. The Diyanet expanded its program launched in 2016 to assign Diyanet employees, including imams, to university dormitories operated by the government in every province. On September 9, the Diyanet appointed 922 additional employees to public university dormitories. The Diyanet stated the officials would provide “moral guidance” to address the “moral values” problems in the dorms and provide the Diyanet’s provincial muftis with performance reviews every six months.

The government continued to provide funding for public, private, and religious schools teaching Islam. It did not do so for minority schools the government recognized under the Lausanne Treaty, except to pay the salaries for courses taught in Turkish, such as Turkish literature. The minority religious communities funded all their other expenses through donations, including from church foundations and alumni.

The government continued to permit Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations to operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education. Children of undocumented Armenian migrants and Armenian refugees from Syria could also attend. Because the government continued to classify legal migrant and refugee children as “visitors,” they were ineligible to receive diplomas from these schools. The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups and teachable in the minority groups’ languages. According to a representative of the Syriac Orthodox community, the community continued to operate a preschool, but there were not enough older students to warrant creating a kindergarten-through-grade 12 school.

In February, media reported parents petitioned to stop the conversion of Ismail Tarman Middle School into an imam hatip school, a vocational religious school intended in principle to train government employed imams. The parents successfully argued that five imam hatip schools were available in their district and won four court decisions in their favor to prevent the conversion. The Ministry of National Education, however, did not adhere to the court decisions of two local administrative and two regional administrative courts, and the school continued to operate as an imam hatip school through year’s end. According to media, some parents of students criticized the practice of converting some nonreligious public schools into imam hatip religious schools. The country’s 2020 investment program in the general budget included the government’s associated priorities, with 460 million lira ($61.96 million) allocated for new imam hatip schools, compared with 30 million lira ($4.04 million) for new science schools.

Many public buildings, including universities, continued to maintain small mosques. In 2017, the Ministry of National Education issued a regulation requiring every new school to have an Islamic prayer room. The government continued to deny Alevis the right to establish similar places of worship in government buildings that did not contain places of worship for non-Sunnis. Alevi leaders reported the approximately 2,500 to 3,000 cemevis in the country were insufficient to meet demand. The government continued to state that Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

Several Alevi foundations again requested the end of a continuing program that takes school children ages six to 13 to local mosques for religious instruction during their two-week winter break. The voluntary Ministry of National Education program begun in 2018 for 50,000 children drawn from each of the 81 provinces continued for a third year, with approximately 10,000 children participating during the year. Alevi representatives said they objected to the program because students not participating could be “singled out” for not participating and as being different from the other students.

On January 12, BirGun, a newspaper associated with the political opposition, reported the Ministry of Education started a pilot program introducing Islamic religious classes to preschool students in three provinces. According to media, these classes taught children to associate positive adjectives to images displaying adherence to Islamic tradition, such as women wearing the hijab, while negative adjectives were associated with uncovered women. The government responded that the examples cited were not comprehensive and not representative of the material.

According to media, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in July again called on the government to allow the Halki Seminary to reopen as an independent institution to enable training of Greek Orthodox clergy in the country, stating the continued closure interrupted a tradition of instruction dating back centuries to the historical roots of the school as a monastery. A 1971 Constitutional Court ruling prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education and led to the seminary’s closure. Amendments to the constitution in 1982 allowed for the establishment of private institutions of higher education but also placed significant restrictions on the institutions, and the seminary was not permitted to reopen and operate under its traditions and preferences.

In September, Sozcu reported that the Diyanet had acquired an historic tuberculosis hospital on the same island as the shuttered Halki Seminary with plans to open an Islamic educational center.

The government continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clergy inside the country. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates remained unable to train clergy within the country. Protestant churches reported the inability to train clergy in the country made their communities dependent on foreign clergy. Local Protestant church representatives raised concerns that the government’s reported deportation of or ban on entry for foreign clergy members hurt their community’s ability to instruct local clergy unable to travel abroad for training.

Multiple reports continued to state these Protestant communities could not train clergy in the country and therefore relied on foreign volunteers to serve them in leadership capacities. Local Protestant communities stated they aimed to develop indigenous Turkish leaders in their congregations because it was becoming increasingly difficult to rely on foreign volunteers; however, they faced difficulties because they could not operate training facilities in-country. Community sources also said some of the deportations and entry bans during the year targeted foreign-citizen members of the community who had lived legally as long-term residents in the country for decades and who previously had not experienced any immigration difficulties. On June 16, the Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation issued a press release stating, “It is with great sadness we must inform you that since 2019, it has been made increasingly difficult for foreign Protestant clergy serving in Turkey to be resident in our country.” According to community members, these immigration procedures also affected a local community’s ability to raise funds for local churches because foreign clergy members attracted individual donations and support from church communities in their countries of origin. Some individuals with entry bans or resident permit denials requested review of their immigration status through the country’s legal system. None of the cases reached conclusion by year’s end and could take several years to resolve due to the complexities of, and backlog in, the judicial system, according to media reports.

Monitoring organizations and media outlets, including Middle East Concern, International Christian Concern, World Watch Monitor, Mission Network News, and Voice of Martyrs, continued to report entry bans, denial of residency permit extensions, and deportations for long-time residents affiliated with Protestant churches in the country. In December 2019, the Ministry of Interior’s Directorate for Migration Management announced that as of January 1, the government would deny extension requests to long-term residents for tourist purposes in the absence of another reason to request a residency permit (i.e., marriage, work, study). Observers reported that through July, there were 54 pending immigration court cases, including residency permit denials and entry bans, of which 19 were new cases. Recipients of bans and denials most frequently cited security codes that denoted “activities against national security” and “work permit activities against national security.” Several religious minority ministers conducted religious services while resident in in the country on long-term tourist residence permits. While similar measures occurred in previous years, multiple groups said they perceived a significant increase in the number of removals and entry bans during the year.

Members of religious communities continued to report that the inability to hold elections for the governing boards of their foundations remained an impediment to managing their affairs. They said when board members died, retired, or left the country, foundation boards had a more difficult time fulfilling their duties and ran the risk of eventually not functioning without new members. If they reached the point of no longer functioning, the government could then declare the foundation defunct and transfer its properties and other assets to the state.

The government continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so. The government’s position remained that the Ecumenical Patriarch was only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population. The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch but continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 stopgap solution intended to widen the pool of candidates eligible to become the next patriarch. The Istanbul Governorate, which represents the central government in that city, continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens.

The decision by the Church of Jesus Christ to remove its volunteers and international staff from the country remained in effect throughout the year. In 2018, the Church cited safety concerns as the reason for the removal. According to local members, some followers stayed away from church because they feared retribution and discrimination. Some said they had lost their jobs, including in the public sector, because of their faith, and they experienced difficulties in finding new employment.

The government paid partial compensation to the Alevi Cem Foundation in Turkish lira, based on the 2017 euro exchange rate, amounting to 39,010 euros ($47,900) after the ECtHR rejected the country’s appeal to reduce the 54,400-euro ($66,700) compensation it was obligated to pay the Alevi Cem Foundation in February 2019. The Cem Foundation filed a court case to receive the remainder of compensation and interest. The case continued at year’s end. The Cem Foundation took the government to the ECtHR in 2010 for discrimination for not paying the electric bills of Alevi places of worship, a service provided for mosques. The government appealed for a fee reduction to 23,300 euros ($28,600). In November 2018, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled cemevis are places of worship and therefore should receive the same benefits as Sunni mosques, including being exempt from paying utility bills. Alevi organizations continued to call on the government to comply with the ruling.

The Diyanet regulated the operation of all registered mosques. It paid the salaries of 128,469 Sunni personnel at the end of the year, compared with 104,814 in 2019. The government did not pay the salaries of religious leaders, instructors, or other staff belonging to other religious groups.

On July 24, the government changed the status of Hagia Sophia, which had become a mosque in 1453 and then a museum in 1935, back again to a mosque, and the Ayasofya Mosque held its first Islamic prayer since 1935. In July, President Erdogan said, “Like all our mosques, its [Hagia Sophia’s] doors will be open to everyone – Muslim or non-Muslim. As the world’s common heritage, Hagia Sophia with its new status will keep on embracing everyone in a more sincere way.” Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesperson, said the country would preserve the Christian icons in the building. In a televised address to the nation in July, President Erdogan said, “I underline that we will open Hagia Sophia to worship as a mosque by preserving its character of humanity’s common cultural heritage,” and he added, “It is Turkey’s sovereign right to decide for which purpose Hagia Sofia will be used.”

Following the government’s announced plan to reconvert Hagia Sophia to serve as a mosque, on June 30, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I stated, “The conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will disappoint millions of Christians around the world,” and he called for Hagia Sophia to remain a museum. A June 25 Washington Post article cited the Ecumenical Patriarch as saying the intended reversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque left him “saddened and shaken.” On June 20, a group of Turkish Catholic bishops stated they “would like Hagia Sophia to remain a museum.” In a tweet on June 13, Armenian patriarch Sahak Masalyan endorsed the idea of restoring Hagia Sophia’s status as a place of worship, advocating that there also be a space for Christians to pray. After inaugural prayers on July 24, Hagia Sophia no longer required an entrance fee and remained accessible to all visitors.

On July 28, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed and UN Special Rapporteur for Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune wrote a joint letter to President Erdogan expressing concern that “the transformation of the Hagia Sofia may set a precedent for the future change in status of other sites, which will have an overall negative impact on cultural rights and religious harmony,” and that the transformation of the Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque “may violate the right of people of diverse religions and backgrounds, and nonreligious people, to benefit from access to, and use of, the sites.” The letter also requested the government explain any measures it would take “to preserve the historical and cultural traces of religious minorities, to promote tolerance and understanding of religious and cultural diversity, including in the past, and to promote the equality of all persons, including members of religious minorities.”

After a 2018 Council of State ruling deferred to the Cabinet the decision to reopen Chora Museum as a mosque, the Office of the President announced on August 21 the museum would be reopened as a mosque on October 30. The opening was deferred and did not occur by the end of the year because of continuing restoration. The museum, famed for its mosaics and frescos depicting Christian imagery, was originally constructed and repeatedly renovated as the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Savior in the fifth century and then converted into the Kariye Mosque in 1511 before becoming a museum in 1945. According to the progovernment Yeni Safak media outlet, the Council of State determined the 1945 decision to designate the structure as a museum was illegal because it violated the charter of the foundation that owned the then-mosque; the charter stated the building would serve indefinitely as a mosque. Many local Muslims stated they welcomed President Erdogan’s decision to reconvert the museum into a mosque.

The government continued to permit annual and other commemorative religious worship services at religiously significant Christian sites previously converted to state museums, such as St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, St. Paul Church near Isparta, Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, and the House of the Virgin Mary, near Selcuk. The government granted the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate permission to hold its annual August 15 service at the Sumela Monastery Museum near Trabzon for the first time since suspending services in 2015 for restoration.

The trial of 13 individuals charged with conspiracy to commit a large-scale assault on an Izmit Protestant church and kill its pastor in 2013 continued through year’s end.

The country continued to host a large diaspora community of ethnic Uyghur Chinese Muslims. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued to seek the forcible repatriation of some Uyghur Muslims from Turkey; however, local Uyghur community sources said they knew of no cases of deportations of Uyghurs to the PRC during the year. Government officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, reaffirmed their commitment not to return Uyghurs to China. On December 31, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu stated, “Until now, there have been requests for returns from China related to Uyghurs in Turkey. And you know Turkey hasn’t taken steps like this.”

Turkish human rights associations and multiple news sources reported on July 2 that Ankara police disbanded a demonstration organized by the Democratic Alevi Association in remembrance of the 1993 arson attack on Hotel Madimak in Sivas, which killed 33 Alevi intellectuals and two hotel staff. According to the Turkish Human Rights Association, police detained and later released seven demonstrators.

According to media reports, the governor’s office of Tunceli Province began to develop Munzur Springs, an Alevi place of worship in eastern Tunceli, as a recreational and commercial area. On September 22, excavation teams began construction on the site. “We consider this undertaking an attack on our places of worship and urge officials to revert this error,” said Dersim Research Center, an organization devoted to protecting the Munzur Springs, in an official statement. In July, authorities granted permission for hunting a limited number of mountain goats in eastern Tunceli despite public outcry against it. Endemic to the Munzur Valley National Park, mountain goats are considered sacred among local residents, according to representatives of the Dersim Center. According to media reports, in June 2019, the Ovacik District Governorate sent a letter to the muhtars (village leaders) of eight villages in the district ordering them to evacuate as soon as possible due to the villages “being in a natural disaster zone.” The district is home to many Alevis and their religious sites. According to media reports, the villages were scheduled for removal because the government had awarded a Canadian-Turkish mining consortium rights to conduct exploratory mining in Munzur National Park – a spiritual area for the Alevis containing many holy sites. The letter did not specify when the villages were to be evacuated; as of year’s end, there was no public update on the case.

The government continued to provide land for the construction of Sunni mosques and to fund their construction through municipalities. According to the Diyanet’s most recent published statistics, there were 89,259 mosques in the country in 2019, compared with 88,681 Diyanet-operated mosques in 2018. Although Alevi groups were able to build some new cemevis, the government continued to decline to provide financial support for their construction and maintenance, with some instances of municipalities providing this support.

Construction of the new Syriac Orthodox church, St. Efphrem (Mor Efrem), in Istanbul continued, with completion expected in 2021. Once completed, it will be the first newly constructed church since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. To date, the approximately 18,000-member Syriac Orthodox community in Istanbul has used churches of other communities, in addition to its one current church, to hold services.

According to news reports, for the third year in a row, the annual Mass took place at the historic Armenian Akdamar Church near Van, in the east of the country, this time officiated by the newly elected Armenian patriarch. Authorities canceled annual services between 2015 and 2017, citing security concerns arising from clashes between the military and the PKK.

Government funding for daily and weekly newspapers published by minority religious communities remained pending at year’s end. In 2019, the government allocated a total of 250,000 lira ($33,700) for minority publications.

Jewish citizens again expressed concern about anti-Semitism and security threats. According to members of the community, the government continued to coordinate with them on security issues. They said the government measures were helpful and the government was responsive to requests for security.

In December, President Erdogan issued a statement wishing a Happy Hanukkah to the country’s Jewish citizens and “the entire Jewish community around the world.” He emphasized that everyone should be able to “practice their beliefs and traditions freely without any discrimination, regardless of their religion, language, or ethnic origin.” Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu met with the Chief Rabbi and other Jewish community leaders via video conference to wish them Happy Hanukkah.

In April and September, President Erdogan again sent messages to the Jewish community celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah. The messages described cultural and social diversity and the symbol of “a culture of love and tolerance” as the country’s most important asset.

Renovations continued on the Etz Hayim Synagogue in Izmir, scheduled to reopen in early 2021 as both a synagogue and a museum. According to Izmir Jewish community leaders, the synagogue would form part of a “Jewish Museum” project to include several other Jewish sites nearby, some of which still required reconstruction. The project received funding from the municipal government and through international grants.

Ankara University and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs co-organized a Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the public university on January 31, with the participation of local Jewish community leaders, diplomats, government officials, academics, and students. Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Ersoy was the government’s keynote speaker. Joined by the university’s rector, government speakers highlighted the country’s history of helping Jews escape Nazi persecution and its status as a cosponsor of the 2005 UN resolution designating January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Chief Rabbi of Turkey Ishak Haleva, other leaders of the Jewish community, and high school students took part in the event. In February, the government for the fifth consecutive year commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942. The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to a press report, on March 20, the body of Simoni Diril, the mother of a Chaldean Catholic priest, was located two months after unidentified persons abducted Diril and her husband, Hurmuz Diril, who was still missing. Diril’s body was found near her village in southeastern Sirnak Province. According to CSW, the couple had received threats from Turkish and Kurdish residents. According to one witness, members of the PKK abducted the couple, while others said government-affiliated groups were responsible for the abduction. According to media reports, police continued to investigate the abductions, as well as the killing of Simoni Diril, through year’s end. In March, CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas urged authorities to expedite efforts to secure Humuz Diril’s release, as well as “take extra measures to protect the Christian minority, and tackle hate speech, anti-Christian sentiments, and all forms of religious discrimination in Turkey.”

Some converts to Christian Protestant groups from Islam or from Christian Orthodoxy continued to report social shunning within their family, among friends, and at their workplaces following their associates’ discovery of the conversion, according to local community members.

On August 15, progovernment news site A Haber released an editorial entitled, “Who is Joe Biden, is he a Jew?” The news site published the editorial in response to Biden’s December 2019 statements about the country in an interview published by The New York Times.

News outlet An Haber Ajansi reported that on June 18, an Istanbul prosecutor rejected a complaint of hate speech filed by the president of Arnavutkoy Alevi Cemevi, Yuksel Yildiz. Yildiz filed the complaint in 2018 after a middle school teacher from the public Arnavutkoy Cumhuriyet Middle School said food prepared by Alevis should not be eaten, and he continued to explain that if one has eaten from the hand of an Alevi, one should consult an imam. The accused religious studies teacher admitted making these statements, and the school dismissed him. The prosecutor, however, rejected the legal complaint because the teacher’s actions did not “present a clear and imminent threat to public safety.”

On September 28, independent news website Duvar reported that a car convoy staged a rally in support of Azerbaijan in front of the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate, in Istanbul’s Kumkapi District. The convoy occurred after the outbreak of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan around Nagorno-Karabakh in September.

In October, unidentified individuals wrote on the door of the home of the president of Bursa’s Pir Sultan Abdal Association, an Alevi organization, “It is your time for death.” Police launched a criminal investigation of the incident that was continuing at year’s end.

According to media reports, isolated acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued, including a growing number of instances of vandalism of Christian cemeteries, while no instances were reported in 2019. In February, media outlets reported 20 of 72 gravestones in the Ortakoy Christian Cemetery in Ankara were destroyed. Another incident occurred in Trabzon, where a grave was destroyed in the cemetery of the Santa Maria Church. In May, security cameras caught an individual attempting to vandalize an Armenian church in Istanbul. Police detained the suspect, and authorities charged him with vandalism. According to a news report in June, unknown perpetrators vandalized a monument commemorating Alevis killed in 1938. In May, according to media reports, an unidentified man tore the cross from the gate of the Armenian Surp Krikor Lusaravic Church in Kuzguncuk District, Istanbul. Police reportedly opened an investigation of the incident.

Some news outlets published conspiracy theories involving Jews and blamed Jews for the country’s economic difficulties and the genesis and spread of COVID-19. In an article appearing in the Jewish publication Avlaremoz (Judeo-Spanish for “Let’s talk”), members of the Jewish community expressed concern regarding the proliferation of pandemic conspiracies blaming Jews. In March, Nesi Altaras, an Avlaremoz editor, told the Jerusalem Post, “The pandemic has just fueled the fire of pre-existing Turkish antisemitism and conspiracy theories about Jews.”

Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year. According to a Hrant Dink Foundation project on hate speech released in December 2019, there were 430 published instances in 2019 of hate speech depicting Jews as violent, conspiratorial, and a threat to the country, compared with the 899 published instances in 2018. The foundation did not release a report for 2020. A reader’s letter published in the newspaper Yeni Akit stated Jewish residents in Istanbul trained street dogs to bite Muslims and repeated historic accusations of blood libel. Some commentators criticized the letter as ridiculous, and Mustafa Yeneroglu, a parliamentarian formerly with the ruling AKP party, denounced the content as “the language of the Nazis,” according to multiple media reports.

On March 18, Ahval reported that Fatih Erbakan, the head of the Renewed Prosperity Party, said on March 6, “While there is no hard proof, Zionism could very well be behind the coronavirus.” A video also circulated online showing bus passengers blaming the spread of COVID-19 on Jews and Israel.

On May 11, the self-described conservative magazine Gercek Hayat published an editorial showing a diagram that listed the Turkish Chief Rabbi, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch as “servants of the Fethullah Gulen organization,” considered a terrorist group by the government. The editors stated that key minority religious community leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Chief Rabbi Haleva, the former Armenian Patriarch, and Pope John Paul II, were “coconspirators” of the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.” Several religious leaders condemned these statements, warning the statements could incite violence and the desecration of religious sites.

In September, progovernment daily newspaper Sabah published an opinion piece criticizing the U.S.-led Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The article included several anti-Semitic characterizations, including stating the deal was “masterminded by those who have omnipotent control across the globe.”

In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 82 percent of Turkish respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the highest of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, other embassy and consulate general officials, and visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They underscored the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at any religious groups.

U.S. officials also reinforced religious freedom issues, including religious education, in private meetings with government officials. They sought government representatives’ responses to specific claims of religious freedom concerns raised by local religious communities and explored how best to collaborate between the governments of the two countries to protect and respect religious freedom.

On June 25, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom called on the government to maintain Hagia Sophia as a museum, stating on Twitter, “The Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual & cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world. We call on the Govt of #Turkey to maintain it as a @UNESCO World Heritage site & to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum.” On July 1, the Department of State issued a press release stating it was “disappointed by the decision to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” and looked forward “to hearing plans . . . it remains accessible without impediment for all.” On July 24, following a meeting of the President and Vice President with head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Archbishop Elpidophoros concerning the reconversion of Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque, the Vice President tweeted, “America will stand firm with the Greek Orthodox Church in the call for Hagia Sophia to remain accessible as a source of inspiration and reflection for every person of every faith.”

U.S. government officials urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups and raised the issue of property restitution and restoration. Embassy staff continued to press for the restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin.

The Secretary of State and other senior U.S. government officials continued to urge government officials to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki and allow all religious communities to train clergy in the country. On July 30, the Ambassador and Istanbul Consul General visited Halki to demonstrate continued interest in the reopening of the seminary. In January, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Halki.

On June 24, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom recognized Turkey for calling out the PRC for its repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Embassy officials at the highest level met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials during the year to discuss the country’s continued support for Uyghurs in the face of Chinese pressure.

During a November trip to Istanbul, the Secretary of State met with religious leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Archbishop Paul Russell, the Holy See’s envoy to Turkey. He also visited St. George’s Cathedral and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

On December 1 and 3, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom virtually convened international prominent faith leaders from Islam, Christianity, and Judaism for the second meeting of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative focused on countering hate speech, protecting holy sites, and engaging the public. Representatives from the country’s religious community attended.

In August, the Ambassador traveled to the city of Edirne to visit Muslim and Jewish historic sites and to demonstrate the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom.

On January 31, the Ambassador attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Ankara University with senior host government officials and the leadership of the country’s Jewish community.

Due to COVID-19 and subsequent country and mission restrictions, senior U.S. embassy and consulate general officials had limited physical engagement with religious community contacts and places of worship, but they regularly engaged virtually and to the extent possible in person with a wide range of religious community leaders to hear and address their concerns and promote interreligious dialogue. Officials from the embassy and consulates general engaged with members of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Armenian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Church of Jesus Christ religions, among others, throughout the country. The embassy and consulates general used Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to emphasize the importance of the inclusion of religious minorities, including messages under hashtags such as #DiniOzgurluk (religious freedom), on designated days that recognized and underscored the U.S. government commitment to religious freedom and human rights.

Turkmenistan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom of religion and for the right of individuals to choose their religion, express and disseminate their religious beliefs, and participate in religious observances and ceremonies. The constitution guarantees the separation of government and religion and stipulates that religious organizations are prohibited from “interference” in state affairs. The law on religion requires all religious organizations, including those previously registered under an earlier version of the law, to reregister regularly with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in order to operate legally. According to religious organizations, government security forces continued to severely restrict the importation of religious literature, and it remained difficult to obtain places of worship. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, as of the end of the year, 11 Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors were imprisoned for refusing military service; several were sentenced to prison terms of one year to two years. The government continued not to offer civilian service alternatives for conscientious objectors. The government registered one new religious organization, and six religious organizations amended their charter during the year. According to local religious communities and international advocacy groups, members of some registered and unregistered Christian organizations continued to face official and unofficial harassment, raids, and house searches, usually as a result of attempting to gather for purposes of communal worship. The government continued to appoint all senior Muslim clerics and scrutinize or obstruct religious groups attempting to purchase or lease buildings or land for religious purposes.

Religious leaders and others again stated they were reluctant to speak out publicly about religious freedom issues out of fear of harassment, ostracism, or public shaming by their family members, friends, and neighbors. Numerous citizens stated that the government’s suspicion of religion continued to be mirrored in the private sector, and that membership in a minority religious organization or even “excessive” expressions of religion could result in the loss of employment or employment opportunities. Some members of minority religious groups reported societal prejudices against religious groups that were not Sunni Muslim or Russian Orthodox.

In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the Ambassador, embassy representatives, and other U.S. government officials expressed concern about religious freedom issues, including the legal status of conscientious objectors, the factors that determined Turkmenistan’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern, the ability of religious groups to register or reregister, and restrictions on the import of religious literature. Multiple times during the year, the embassy requested that President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov pardon all Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors. In January, the Ambassador and other embassy officials, along with ambassadors and senior officials from European embassies, met with 10 minority religious groups to discuss their challenges in the face of a restrictive environment for religious freedom, including challenges of reregistration, the inability to import religious literature, and the lack of places of worship.

Since 2014, Turkmenistan has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 2, 2020, the Secretary of State redesignated Turkmenistan as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.5 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to U.S. government estimates, the country is 89 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 9 percent Eastern Orthodox, and 2 percent other. There are small communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shia Muslims, Baha’is, Roman Catholics, members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and evangelical Christians, including Baptists and Pentecostals.

Most ethnic Russians and Armenians identify as Orthodox Christian and generally are members of the Russian Orthodox Church or Armenian Apostolic Church. Some ethnic Russians and Armenians are also members of smaller Protestant groups.

There are small pockets of Shia Muslims, consisting largely of ethnic Iranians, Azeris, and Kurds, some located in Ashgabat, with others along the border with Iran, and in the western city of Turkmenbashi.

According to the Israeli embassy, approximately 200 Jews live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and for the right of individuals to choose their religion, express and disseminate their religious beliefs, and participate in religious observances and ceremonies. The constitution separates the roles of government and religion, stipulating religious organizations are prohibited from “interference” in state affairs or carrying out state functions. The constitution states public education shall be secular in nature. It provides for the equality of citizens before the law regardless of their religious preference.

The law requires all religious organizations, including those that had registered previously, to reregister with the MOJ in order to operate legally in the country whenever the organization changes its address or amends its legal charter. In practice, however, religious groups have a de facto requirement to reregister approximately every three years. The law permits only the registration of those religious organizations that have at least 50 resident members older than the age of 18. The law defines a religious organization as a voluntary association of citizens affiliated with a religion, organized to conduct religious services and other rites and ceremonies as well as to provide religious education and registered in accordance with the country’s legislation. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are 132 religious organizations in the country, drawn from Muslim, Christian, and other faith groups; most (109) are Muslim.

According to the law, the State Commission on Religious Organizations and Expert Evaluation of Religious Information Resources (SCROEERIR) is responsible for helping registered religious organizations work with government agencies, explaining the law to representatives of religious organizations, monitoring the activities of religious organizations to ensure they comply with the law, assisting with the translation and publication of religious literature, and promoting understanding and tolerance among different religious organizations. The law states SCROEERIR must approve all individuals appointed as leaders of religious organizations, although the law does not specify the procedures for obtaining the required approval. SCROERRIR operates under the leadership of the Grand Mufti, who is appointed by the government, as are all other senior Muslim clerics. The Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers for education, health, religion, sports, tourism, science, new technologies, and innovation oversees SCROEERIR’s work. The chairman of SCROEERIR is also the chairman of the Department for Work with Religious Organizations of the Cabinet of Ministers. One member of SCROEERIR is from the Russian Orthodox Church.

To register, organizations must submit to SCROEERIR their contact information; proof of address; a statement requesting registration signed by the founders and board members of the organization; two copies of the organization’s charter; the names, addresses, and dates of birth of the organization’s founders, and pay a registration fee of ranging from 100 to 800 manat ($29 to $230), based on location of registration and other factors. Once SCROEERIR endorses an application for registration, it is submitted to the MOJ, which coordinates an interministerial approval process involving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other government offices. According to government procedures, the MOJ may additionally request the biographic information of all members of an organization applying for registration. The law states that leaders of registered religious organizations must be citizens who have received an “appropriate religious education,” but it does not define that term. Each subsidiary congregation of a registered religious organization must also register, and the registration process is the same as that which applies to the parent organization.

The tax code stipulates registered religious organizations are exempt from taxes.

The law states the MOJ will not register a religious organization if its goals or activities contradict the constitution or if SCROEERIR does not endorse its application. The law does not specify the standards SCROEERIR uses to make that determination. The law assigns the Office of the Prosecutor General to monitor the compliance of a religious organization with the constitution. The law specifies a court may suspend the activities of a religious organization if it determines the organization to be in violation of the constitution; that suspension may only be overcome if the organization submits documentation satisfying the court that the activities that led to suspension have been stopped. The law also states that grounds for dissolution of a religious organization include activities “that violate the rights, freedoms, and lawful interests of citizens” or “harm their health and morale.”

The administrative code covering religious organizations delineates a schedule of fines for conducting activities not described in a religious organization’s charter.

Unregistered religious organizations and unregistered subsidiary congregations of registered religious organizations may not legally conduct religious activities; establish places of worship; gather for religious services, including in private residences; produce or disseminate religious materials; or proselytize. Any such activity is punishable as an administrative offense by fines ranging from 100 to 2,000 manat ($29 to $570), with higher fines for religious leaders and lower fines for lay members.

The law states MOJ officials have the right to attend any religious event held by a registered religious organization and to question religious leaders about any aspect of their activities.

The administrative code stipulates penalties of from 200 to 500 manat ($57 to $140) for officials who violate an individual’s right of freedom to worship or right to abstain from worship, but this has not been enforced in practice.

The criminal and administrative codes provide punishment for the harassment of members of registered religious organizations by private individuals. According to the administrative code, obstructing the exercise of religious freedom is punishable by a fine of from 1,000 to 8,700 manat ($290 to $2,500) or detention of from 15 days to one year of “corrective labor,” which involves serving in a government-assigned position in a prison near one’s home or at a location away from one’s home. If an obstruction involves a physical attack, the punishment may entail up to two years in prison. According to the criminal code, the fine is calculated as five to 10 times an individual’s average monthly wages (4,350 to 8,700 manat or $1,200 to $2,500).

The law allows registered religious organizations to create educational establishments to train clergy and other religious personnel after obtaining a license to do so. The Cabinet of Ministers establishes the procedures for obtaining a license. The law also states individuals teaching religious disciplines at religious educational establishments must have a theological education and must carry out their activities with the permission of the central governing body of the religious organization and the approval of SCROEERIR.

Local governments have the right to monitor and “analyze” the “religious situation” within their jurisdiction, send proposals to SCROEERIR to change or update legislation on religious freedom, and coordinate religious ceremonies conducted outside of religious buildings.

The law allows local governments, with the approval of SCROEERIR, to make decisions regarding the construction of religious buildings and structures within their jurisdiction.

Under the criminal code, polygamy carries penalties of up to two years of labor or fines of 17,400 to 26,100 manat ($5,000 to $7,500).

The law prohibits the publication of religious literature inciting “religious, national, ethnic, and/or racial hatred,” although it does not specify which agency makes this determination. SCROEERIR must approve imported religious literature, and only registered religious organizations may import literature. Registered religious organizations may be fined for publishing or disseminating religious material without government approval. The administrative code sets out a detailed schedule of fines, ranging from 200 to 2,000 manat ($57 to $570), for producing, importing, and disseminating unauthorized religious literature and other religious materials.

Religious instruction is not part of the public school curriculum. The law allows registered religious organizations to provide religious education after school to children for up to four hours per week with parental and SCROEERIR approval, although the law does not specify the requirements for obtaining SCROEERIR’s approval. Persons who graduate from institutions of higher religious education, and who obtain approval from SCROEERIR, may provide religious education. According to the law, citizens have a right to obtain religious education, although obtaining religious education in private settings such as residences is prohibited, and those offering religious education in private settings are subject to legal action. The law prohibits unregistered religious groups or unregistered subsidiary congregations of registered religious organizations from providing religious education. The administrative code sets out a detailed schedule of fines, ranging from 100 to 500 manat ($29 to $140), for providing unauthorized religious education to children.

The constitution states two years of military service are compulsory for men older than the age of 18. Although service in noncombat roles is allowed, the government does not offer civilian service alternatives for conscientious objectors. Refusal to perform the compulsory two-year service in the armed forces is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison or two years of “corrective labor.” In addition, the state withholds part of the salaries of prisoners sentenced to corrective labor in an amount designated by the court. Salary deductions range between 5 to 20 percent. The law states no one has the right for religious reasons to refuse duties established by the constitution and the law. Until the age of 27, individuals may be convicted each time they refuse compulsory military service, potentially resulting in multiple convictions in their lifetimes.

The constitution and law prohibit the establishment of political parties on the basis of religion, and the law prohibits the involvement of religious groups in politics.

The law does not address the activities of foreign missionaries and foreign religious organizations. The administrative code, however, bans registered religious organizations from receiving assistance from foreign entities for prohibited activities.

The law requires religious groups to register all foreign assistance with the MOJ and to provide interim and final reports on the use of funds. The administrative code provides a detailed schedule of fines of up to 10,000 manat ($2,900) on both unregistered and registered religious groups for accepting unapproved funds from foreign sources.

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

Government Practices

Military-age Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be arrested and imprisoned for refusing military service; five were arrested and imprisoned during the year. As of the end of the year, 11 Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientious objectors were imprisoned for refusing military service, compared with 10 at the end of 2019.

According to the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18, early in the year, the Dashoguz Provincial Court sentenced Jehovah’s Witnesses Kamiljan Ergashov and Vepa Matyakubov to two years in prison for refusing compulsory military service. This was reportedly the second conviction for Matyakubov, who was first convicted in 2017, placed under house arrest, and forced to forfeit 20 percent of his salary. His older brother, Dovran, was imprisoned twice for conscientious objection, first in December 2010 and again in December 2012. Matyakubov’s sentence included a statement from SCROEERIR that “the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not officially registered in Turkmenistan.”

According to Forum 18 and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official website, brothers Eldor and Sanjarbek Saburov were sentenced to two years and imprisoned in August for their conscientious objection to military service. Forum 18 reported that both lost their appeal to the Dashoguz Provincial Court on September 1 and faced a sentence of corrective labor because both had been charged with the same offense previously (Sanjarbek in 2016 and Eldor in 2017).

According to Forum 18, in September, Myrat Orazgeldiyev, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was sentenced to one year in prison for conscientious objection by a district court in Mary Province.

Forum 18 also reported that in May, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of 19 current or former imprisoned conscientious objectors.

According to Forum 18, in March, the Lebap Provincial Court fined a homeowner 200 manat ($57) and confiscated his computer for hosting a gathering to celebrate Christmas in 2019. In February, secret police from the Ministry of National Security reportedly raided a home in Dashoguz Province where local Christians were meeting. All the participants were taken to the police station and the home owner was later fined 200 manat ($57). That same month, local police reportedly raided another house in Dashoguz Province where a group of Protestants was attending a housewarming celebration. All those present were taken to the police station and forced to write statements indicating they had attended an illegal religious meeting. In January, police summoned a group of women to make statements and give fingerprints following a raid on their Christmas 2019 gathering in a village in Lebap Province. There were no further developments in this case by year’s end.

Forum 18 also reported that in Lebap Province in February, officials banned state employees – including those working in education, culture, health, the military, and the police – from attending Friday prayers in mosques. The employees were warned that if they were seen in mosques they would be fired from their jobs. Officials also banned them from praying at their place of work.

In its report covering 2020, NGO Open Doors ranked the country on its World Watch List of countries where Christians are persecuted. The NGO said the government imposed many restrictions on church life and Christians are highly susceptible to police raids, threats, arrests, and fines unless they are part of a registered church. According to local religious community members and international advocacy groups, members of some Christian organizations faced harassment, raids, and house searches, usually as a result of attempting to gather for purposes of communal worship. They reported that security services interviewed members of religious organizations and demanded they provide information on their communities’ activities. Some members also reported that security officials interrogated their friends and family members, asking about the members’ religious activities. Christian groups reported that Turkmen who converted from Islam experienced government scrutiny and were subject to discrimination. For example, the groups reported converts were denied government jobs or fired from jobs based on their religion.

Unregistered groups stated their members were subject to arrest for “unlawful assembly,” in addition to fines stipulated by law. Members of these groups said they continued to practice discreetly, mostly in private homes, and could do so as long as neighbors did not file complaints with local authorities.

Representatives of registered Christian groups said some government officials continued to require them to obtain approval to carry out routine religious activities, such as weekly services, as well as social and charitable activities, including summer camps for children. Some groups sought official approval of such activities, even if they did not believe that approval was required, in order to assure the events would not be disrupted.

Religious groups continued to report the government prevented or severely limited the importation of and access to religious literature; even the few groups who were successful in importing literature complained about the restrictive procedures. Although by law registered religious groups were allowed to import religious literature, they said the government’s opaque procedures made it extremely difficult. The Quran remained unavailable in state bookstores in Ashgabat, although many individuals kept a Soviet-era copy in Arabic or Russian in their homes. Few translations were available in the Turkmen language. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said SCROEERIR allowed the import of 240 religious books during the year.

Members of various religious groups reported that the government and state-affiliated enterprises continued to interfere in the purchase or long-term rental of land and buildings for worship or meeting purposes. Some of the groups reported that landlords feared government reprisal if they leased properties to be used as places of worship. Some groups reported that they had secured properties only to have the landlords renege on the contacts after being instructed by the government. Other groups stated that attempts to purchase land or property to use as places of worship were stymied by intentional government obfuscation or flat-out denial. Registered and unregistered religious groups reported continued difficulty in renting space for holiday celebrations from private landlords, which they attributed to landlords’ concerns about potential government disapproval.

The theology faculty in the Turkmen State University history department in Ashgabat continued to be the only university-level members allowed to provide Islamic higher education. The Ministry of National Security reportedly continued to vet student candidates for admission to this program. The state-approved Islamic theology program remained the only course of study available. Women remained banned from the program.

On February 21, President Berdimuhamedov attended the opening of a 3,000-person-capacity mosque in Turkmenabat, Lebap Province. After the tour, he hosted a communal meal with government officials, Muslim leaders, and local business leaders.

According to members of the Protestant community, clergy in Protestant organizations continued to receive their religious education abroad or via distance learning.

The government continued its practice of approving the appointment of all senior Muslim clerics. The Russian Orthodox Church and other religious groups continued to be financed independently; the government was not involved in appointing their leadership, but the senior Russian Orthodox priest was required to be a Turkmen citizen.

The government continued its practice of denying visas to foreigners suspected of conducting or intending to conduct missionary activity. Religious groups able to obtain religious visitor visas for foreign religious speakers said the government continued to grant such visas for very short durations and required the groups to complete burdensome paperwork. As in previous years, the government did not report the number of religious visitors it allowed into the country, nor did it report the number of visa applications of foreign religious visitors it had denied. Pro-government media reported positively on the visit of a Russian Orthodox Archbishop in February, before borders were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Minority religious groups said persons who were not Sunni Muslim or Russian Orthodox continued to report harassment, such as public shaming, by their family members, friends, and neighbors. Members of registered Christian groups continued to report hostility from acquaintances due to their religious affiliation. Religious leaders and others stated they continued to be reluctant to speak out publicly about religious freedom issues out of fear of harassment, ostracism, or public shaming by their family members, friends, and neighbors. Numerous citizens continued to state that the government’s suspicion of religion was often mirrored in the private sector, and that membership in a minority religious organization or even outward expressions of religion, such as how one wears a headscarf or religious symbol, could result in the loss of employment or employment opportunities. Some members of minority religious groups reported continued societal prejudices against religious groups that were not part of the Sunni Muslim majority.

Persons who joined non-Sunni Muslim or Russian Orthodox religious groups reported continuing societal criticism. Ethnic Turkmen who converted from Islam received more societal scrutiny than non-Turkmen converts and continued to be ostracized at community events, especially in rural areas, according to representatives of religious minority groups.

According to Christian community leaders, Muslims who converted to Christianity faced pressure from families, friends, and local communities to return to their former faith. In its report covering 2020, Open Doors said Christians who come from Muslim backgrounds experienced intense pressure to deny their faith.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the Ambassador, embassy representatives, and U.S. government officials continued to express concerns about issues of religious freedom in the country. These included the legal status of conscientious objectors, Turkmenistan’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern, the ability of religious groups to register or reregister, and easing restrictions on the importation of religious literature. The Ambassador, personally in meetings, and the embassy, via diplomatic notes, requested that President Berdimuhamedov pardon all Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors.

In January, the Ambassador and other embassy officials met with representatives of 10 minority religious groups to discuss their challenges in the face of a restrictive environment for religious freedom. Several other ambassadors and senior embassy officials from European countries also took part. Representatives from religious organizations spoke about challenges of reregistration, the inability to import religious literature, and the lack of places of worship.

Since 2014, Turkmenistan has been designated as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 2, 2020, the Secretary of State redesignated Turkmenistan as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice. The law designates the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, or EKT) as the state church and allows it to conduct “special services on major national events.” The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom, and labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Traditional island councils reportedly continued to discourage public meetings of several minority religious groups, and informal religious bans on such groups by traditional leaders remained in place.

On smaller islands, minority religious groups were reportedly perceived by residents as being outside of traditional norms. In some cases, local traditional leaders discouraged groups from proselytizing and withheld approval for meetings.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji promoted religious tolerance during meetings and met with leaders of the Baptist Church when visiting the country in January to discuss religious practices and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11,300 (midyear 2020 estimate). Approximately 86 percent of the population belongs to the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, or EKT), which has historical ties to the Congregational Christian Church and other churches in Samoa; 2.8 percent belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church; and 3.0 percent to the Brethren Church. There are small numbers of Catholics, Muslims, Baha’is, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Assemblies of God, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The nine island groups have traditional chiefs, all of whom are members of the EKT. Most members of other religious groups are found in Funafuti, the capital, and some Baha’is live on Nanumea Island.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The EKT is by law the state church, and the law affords its followers “the privilege of performing special services on major national events.” The constitution otherwise provides for separation of religion and state. The constitution provides for “freedom of thought, religion, and belief,” and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice. These freedoms may be limited by law for reasons such as avoiding divisiveness; protecting the rights of others; defense; and public order, safety, morality, and health. The preamble of the constitution states the country is “an independent State based on Christian principles, the Rule of Law, and Tuvaluan custom and tradition.”

By law, any new religious group with adult members representing not less than 2 percent of the country’s total population (at the most recent census) must register with the government; failure to register could result in prosecution. The Ministry of Local Government requires religious groups seeking registration to submit a request signed by the head and supported by five other members of the organization. Information on and proof of the number of adherents, the name of the religious organization, and approval from the traditional elder councils, known as falekaupule, are also required in the request. Under the law, all religious groups, regardless of size, must register with and obtain approval from the falekaupule of any island on which they conduct services. The law prohibits joint or public worship by religious groups not approved by these councils. The law also allows the falekaupule to withhold permission from certain religious groups to meet publicly, should they be judged locally to “directly threaten the values and culture of the island community.” The law provides for unapproved groups to be fined up to 500 Australian dollars ($390) if they engage in public meetings in violation of the law.

The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom. Labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.

The law guarantees the right of individuals to worship freely within their own residences.

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

Government Practices

Missionaries continued to practice without government restrictions on some islands, such as Funafuti. On other islands, such as Nanumanga, Niu, and Vaitupu, formal and informal bans issued by the falekaupule remained in effect on proselytizing and public worship by representatives of religious groups that were perceived to challenge traditional cultural norms. Members of dominant religious groups said that sometimes such groups did not particpate in “cultural obligations to the community,” such as church-led island cleanups. As a consequence, missionaries said they did not try to proselytize on those islands.

Government ceremonies at the national level, such as the opening of the parliamentary year, and at the island council level continued to include Christian prayers and clergy.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On smaller islands, including Niu, Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Niutao, and Vaitupu, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious groups were reportedly perceived by residents as being outside of traditional norms. In some cases, local traditional leaders discouraged groups from proselytizing and withheld approval for meetings, stating nontraditional and minority religious groups might disrupt traditional societal structures. Many religious groups continued to operate out of individual homes without formal approval, especially in the outer islands.

Local minority religious leaders said the EKT continued to exert considerable influence in the social, cultural, and political life of the country. For example, the church continued to limit activities on Sunday and encouraged a modest dress code in local villages.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. The ambassador and representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed the importance of religious tolerance and common practices and met with leaders of the Baptist Church when visiting the country in January.

The embassy and the ambassador utilized their social media platforms to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the U.S. President and posts during major Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim celebrations in support of religious tolerance and practices.

Uganda

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion. It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution. The government requires religious groups to register. Between May 18 and May 29, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) officers arrested six Muslim clerics in Masaka District and accused them of running a cell operated by the ISIS-linked armed group Allied Democratic Front. The security forces continued to hold the clerics without trial at year’s end. On July 5, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) evicted leaders of the Salafi-associated Tabliq Muslim group from a mosque in Kampala and arrested seven of its clerics before restoring management of the mosque to the largest Sunni umbrella organization, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC). Police released the clerics on July 12 after a court order. On March 28, police arrested evangelical Christian minister Augustine Yiga after he questioned government messaging on COVID-19. The court released him on bail on May 5 and restricted him from making any public statements regarding COVID-19. Some religious leaders said that the government discriminated against religious institutions when it relaxed restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, allowing businesses and public transport to operate but denying permission to religious institutions to reopen at the same time. The UMSC stated the government continued to discriminate against Muslims when distributing national resources and hiring for public positions.

In October, Born Again Faith Uganda (BAFU), an umbrella organization of evangelical churches, reported members of opposing faiths – who did not want to have evangelical churches in their communities – complained of noise pollution from the churches to local leaders, who then evicted churches from the communities.

U.S. embassy representatives regularly discussed religious freedom issues with government officials. On April 30, the Charge d’Affaires held discussions with Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and encouraged the government to enforce measures to combat COVID-19 without violating human rights. Embassy representatives engaged local government officials in the eastern part of the country to promote religious tolerance. Embassy representatives met with leaders of Sunni umbrella organizations, including UMSC and the Kibuli Order of the Supreme Mufti, Nadwa (a coalition of Muslim scholars), Scholars Forum, and Tabliq imams, to promote religious tolerance, education, and peacebuilding in the country. To mark the start of Ramadan in April, the Charge d’Affaires used the embassy’s social media platforms to promote religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 42.3 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the most recent census, conducted in 2014, 82 percent of the population is Christian. The largest Christian group is Roman Catholic with 39 percent; 32 percent of the population is Anglican, and 11 percent is Pentecostal Christian. According to official government estimates, Muslims constitute 14 percent of the population. The UMSC estimates Muslims (primarily Sunni) are closer to 35 percent of the population. There is also a small number of Shia Muslims, mostly in Kampala and the eastern part of the country, particularly in the Mayuge and Bugiri Districts. Other religious groups, which collectively constitute less than 5 percent of the population, include Seventh-day Adventists, adherents of indigenous beliefs, Baptists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Jews, Baha’is, and those with no religious affiliation.

According to the Indian Association in Uganda, the largest non-African ethnic population is of Indian origin or descent, most of whom are Hindu. The Jewish community of approximately 2,000 members is mainly concentrated in Mbale Town, in the eastern region of the country. Generally, religious groups are dispersed evenly across the country, although there are concentrations of Muslims in the eastern and northern parts of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and establishes there shall be no state religion. It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and the right to practice and promote any religion, as well as to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organization in a manner consistent with the constitution. The constitution also stipulates the government may limit these rights by measures that are “reasonably justifiable for dealing with a state of emergency.” The constitution prohibits the creation of political parties based on religion.

The penal code criminalizes “disturbance of religious gatherings” and “wounding religious feelings.”

The country’s coat of arms bears the motto “For God and My Country.” The law prohibits secular broadcasters from stating opinions on religious doctrine or faith. The law also prohibits radio and television stations from broadcasting advertisements that “promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult,” material that encourages persons to change their faith, and content that uses or contains blasphemy, which is not defined by law. The government, however, seldom enforces these provisions of the law.

The government requires religious groups to register to obtain legal entity status. The government requires religious groups to register as nonprofit organizations with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau and then secure a five-year operating license from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The bureau requires faith-based organizations to provide a copy of a land title or proof of ownership of premises, a copy of the board resolution to start a faith-based organization, a copy of the memorandum and articles of association spelling out what the organization intends to do, allotment of shareholding, and copies of the national identity cards of the directors. The government does not require the larger and more historically established religious groups – including the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches and the UMSC – to obtain an operating license.

The Income Tax Act exempts registered religious groups and their nonprofit activities from direct taxation.

Religious instruction in public schools is optional at the postprimary level. Primary schools must teach either Christianity, Islam, or both in their social studies classes. Many schools teach both and allow students to select which to attend. Secondary schools may choose which, if any, religious studies to incorporate into their curricula, and students who choose to attend that school must take the course offered. Primary school students may choose to answer questions about either Islam or Christianity during the religion portion of the national social studies exams. The state has separate curricula for a number of world religions, including Christianity and Islam, and all schools must adhere to the state-approved curriculum for each religion they choose to teach. The majority of students in the country attend schools run by religious organizations.

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

Government Practices

On June 1, local media reported that between May 18 and May 29, unidentified plainclothes security officers arrested six Muslim clerics in Masaka District. According to local media, the security officers carried out a search of the detainees’ houses and confiscated documents and a motorcycle. According to local media, the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces and the UPF denied knowledge of the arrest. On July 7, local media reported the CMI arrested the six on suspicion that they ran a cell on behalf of the Allied Democratic Front, an armed Islamist insurgent group originating in the country but operating primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the 1990s. The six remained in custody without trial at year’s end.

On July 5, UPF officers, assisted by Local Defence Unit members, surrounded the Masjid Noor mosque in Kampala, evicted its leadership, and arrested seven clerics. The UPF stated it had deployed its officers to “provide security for the smooth handover and takeover of the properties by the rightful owners.” The UPF said it arrested the seven on accusations of obstruction of justice and corruption. The UPF evicted the Salafi Tabliq leaders who had run the mosque since 2012 and returned it to the UMSC. On July 10, the UMSC said it repossessed the mosque after the Tabliq used the mosque to spread hate speech and defaulted on rent payments for the mosque. On July 12, local media reported the UPF released the seven clerics in compliance with a court order.

On March 28, the UPF arrested evangelical Christian minister Augustine Yiga for spreading “misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic.” On March 27, Yiga appeared on a program on his church’s television station, ABS TV, and said COVID-19 did not exist in the country, contrary to the government’s public health messaging. On March 30, the government charged Yiga with “an act likely to spread infection of disease,” and the court remanded him to Kitalya Prison. On May 5, the court granted Yiga bail and prohibited him from making any public comments about COVID-19. According to local media, Yiga died of natural causes before the case could proceed.

On March 18, the government announced restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, which included cancellation of all public meetings, including religious gatherings, and closure of all schools. Some evangelical Protestant ministers said the government’s suspension of all religious gatherings, as part of measures to combat COVID-19, infringed on their religious freedom. On September 20, the government lifted the suspension on religious gatherings but limited attendance to 70 persons. On June 19, lawyers associated with Zoe Ministries in Kampala said the government did not consult religious organizations regarding the suspension, which they said amounted to religious persecution. President Yoweri Museveni, however, said the government consulted with the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, a body representing the largest faiths in the country, before making the announcement. The Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (UMYDF) said the government’s actions to block Muslims from collecting and distributing food charity during Ramadan, as part of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, violated their religious freedom. The UMYDF said the government directed all donations be deposited with government’s National COVID-19 Relief Taskforce, which would then distribute the donations to Muslims in a manner that would not expose the public to COVID-19. According to UMYDF, the taskforce failed to deliver relief to Muslim communities, which it said was because it did not know the location of the communities in need.

In October, BAFU, an umbrella body of evangelical churches, and UMYDF said the government discriminated against religious institutions as it relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. The government gradually relaxed restrictions on businesses and public transport starting on May 4 through August but maintained the restrictions on religious gatherings, foreign travel, and schools until September 20. BAFU national coordinator Bishop Herbert Buyondo said the government decision to reopen markets, shops, and restaurants “without giving people an opportunity to worship, was a violation of their religious freedom.”

In October, UMSC representatives stated the government continued to use the census figures as justification for discrimination against Muslims in appointments to public positions and in the deployment of social programs. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report sections of the Muslim population believed the government singled out Muslims as potential perpetrators of high-profile crimes and often arrested them without evidence. The NGOs reported that prolonged detention without trial, torture, and inhuman treatment of Muslim suspects by government security agencies continued.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In October, BAFU reported members of other faiths – who did not want to have evangelical Christian churches in their communities – complained of noise pollution from the churches to local leaders, who then evicted churches from the communities. Local contacts noted that similar complaints occurred sporadically across the country, particularly with regard to evangelical churches with powerful sound systems.

Observers noted a large billboard placed off Entebbe Road, near Kampala, stating “Muslims are of Satan and the enemy of all Christians and Jews.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives regularly discussed religious freedom issues with government officials. On April 30, the Charge d’Affaires held discussions with Prime Minister Rugunda and encouraged the country to enforce COVID-19 countermeasures without violating human rights.

Embassy representatives also regularly engaged with religious leaders on social, development, and civic engagement issues. Embassy representatives met with leaders of Sunni umbrella organizations, including UMSC and the Kibuli Order of the Supreme Mufti, Nadwa (a coalition of Muslim scholars), Scholars Forum, and Tabliq imams, to promote religious tolerance, education, and peacebuilding in the country. Embassy representatives engaged in outreach routinely in Kampala, and in October in the eastern region with the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Muslim Clerics of Uganda Development Initiative, and the Islamic University of Uganda in Mbale.

On September 28, the embassy used social media to publicize continued U.S. engagement and cooperation with the Muslim community, which was generally positively received. To mark the start of Ramadan in April, the Charge d’Affaires used the embassy’s social media platforms to promote religious tolerance.

Ukraine

Read A Section: Ukraine

Crimea

In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014 and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders. The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers Crimea a part of Ukraine.

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for “the separation of church and religious organizations from the state.” By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship. In November and December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued judgments concerning the ineffective investigation of hate crimes committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine between 2009 and 2013. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report attacks on their followers that went unpunished and detentions of members reportedly for draft evasion. In April, the Ombudsperson’s Office reportedly informed oblast state administrations that the right to alternative service was “of absolute nature” and could not be rejected solely because a conscientious objector had missed the application deadline. According to the International Center for Law and Religious Studies, the government at times continued to try to balance tensions between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) – granted autocephaly by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019 – and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which competed for members and congregations. According to the Orthodox Times and other media, Russia continued to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. Whereas in the past the government of then-President Petro Poroshenko promoted the OCU by encouraging local governments to facilitate parish reregistration from the UOC-MP to the OCU, Serhiy Trofimov, first deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, reportedly discouraged local governments from such reregistration. According to the UOC-MP, on August 6, several dozen people damaged a fence surrounding the house of a local Zolochiv UOC-MP priest; many observers characterized them as representatives of National Corps, a far-right and sometimes violent political organization. The attackers sprayed the fence with graffiti criticizing the parish’s affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) that read, “ROC out!” and “Blood is on your hands.” In August, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy ordered a local developer to halt construction of a private clinic in a protected heritage area on the grounds of an historical Jewish cemetery in Lviv, but local authorities did not halt construction, stating it was not taking place on the Jewish cemetery. According to observers, government investigations and prosecution of vandalism against religious sites were generally inconclusive, although the government condemned attacks, including physical attacks, on Jewish pilgrims in Uman and arson and other attacks on synagogues, and police arrested perpetrators.

Media sources, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russia-backed authorities in the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups. In the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”), “authorities” continued their ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) upheld a similar ban. Russia-backed “authorities” in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to implement “laws” requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a majority of religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian law preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities. Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russia-installed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. All but one mosque remained closed in Russia-controlled Donetsk. Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups as military facilities. The situation in Russia-occupied Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.

The ROC and the UOC-MP continued to label the OCU a “schismatic” group and continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize the OCU. UOC-MP and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of their congregations. UOC-MP leaders accused the newly formed OCU of seizing churches belonging to the UOC-MP; the OCU responded that parishioners, rather than the OCU, had initiated the transfers of affiliation. The independent National Minorities Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported four documented violent acts of anti-Semitism during the year, compared with none since 2016. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls. The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and respect for religious diversity.

U.S. embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, engaged with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups following the establishment of the OCU, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism. Embassy officials continued to urge government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. Embassy officials also continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding ongoing construction of parts of the Krakivskyy Market on the site of the Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery. Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims and other religious minorities from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Russia-occupied Crimea. In August, embassy officials met with Metropolitan Klyment and discussed the pressures on his Church in Crimea.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the annual October national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank, 62.3 percent of respondents identify as Christian Orthodox, compared with 64.9 percent in 2019; 9.6 percent Greek Catholic (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, UGCC), compared with 9.5 percent in 2019; 1.5 percent Protestant, compared with 1.8 in 2019; 1.2 percent Roman Catholic, compared with 1.6 percent in 2019; 0.1 Jewish, compared with 0.1 percent in 2019; and 0.5 percent Muslim, compared with under 0.1 percent in 2019. The survey found another 8.9 percent identify as “simply a Christian,” while 15.2 percent state they do not belong to any religious group, compared with 8 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively, in 2019. Small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, followers of other religions, and individuals choosing not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents. According to the same survey, groups included in the 62.3 percent who identify as Christian Orthodox are as follows: 18.6 percent as members of the new OCU, compared with 13.2 percent in 2019; 13.6 percent the UOC-MP, compared with 10.6 percent in 2019; 2.3 percent Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), compared with 7.7 percent in 2019; 27 percent “just an Orthodox believer,” compared with 30.3 percent in 2019; and 0.7 percent undecided, compared with 3.1 percent in 2019. According to the same poll, most of the self-identified OCU followers are in the western, central, and southern parts of the country. Most UOC-MP followers are in the eastern, central, and western parts of the country. Followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts. Most Roman Catholic Church (RCC) followers are in the western and central oblasts.

According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk. Most RCC congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytskyy, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, and Zakarpattya Oblasts, in the western part of the country. According to the government’s estimate released in March 2019, most OCU congregations (formed by the merger of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and part of the UOC-MP) are in the central and western parts of the country, except for Zakarpattya Oblast. Most UOC-MP congregations are also in the central and western parts of the country, excluding Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Ternopil Oblasts.

The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community. Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000, while some Muslim leaders estimate two million. According to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country. According to VAAD, prior to the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts). Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s purported annexation. According to the London-based Institute for Jewish Studies, the country’s Jewish population declined by 94.6 percent from 1970 to 2020.

There are also small numbers of Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including worship. By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order, the health and morality of the population, or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.” The constitution provides for the “separation of church and religious organizations from the state” and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”

By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.” By law, the production and dissemination of Nazi symbols and propaganda of totalitarian regimes are banned and considered a crime.

Religious organizations include congregations, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and administrations of religious associations consisting of religious organizations. To register and obtain legal-entity status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, which replaced the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sport during the year, the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization. Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious schools register with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. Religious congregations register with the regional authorities where they are present. While these religious congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity; rather, the constituent units register individually and obtain legal-entity status. 2019 amendments to the laws on the freedom of conscience and religious organizations and on state registration of legal entities, natural persons, and civic organizations direct regional governments’ religious affairs departments to enter religious organizations into the State Register of Legal Entities database, in addition to registering their statutes. They require all religious organizations to update and reregister their statutes by January 31, 2020. The amendments also specify reregistration requirements for organizations that wish to change their affiliation, particularly UOC-MP parishes seeking to join the OCU. The amended law requires a quorum, as defined by each congregation and usually comprising two-thirds or three-fourths of a religious organization’s members, to decide on a change of affiliation. The law also requires a vote by two-thirds of those present to authorize such a decision. The law bans any transfer of an organization’s property until the affiliation change is finalized.

2019 amendments to the laws on the freedom of conscience and religious organizations and on state registration of legal entities, natural persons, and civic organizations direct regional governments’ religious affairs departments to enter religious organizations into the State Register of Legal Entities database, in addition to registering their statutes. They require all religious organizations to update and reregister their statutes by January 31, 2020. The amendments also specify reregistration requirements for organizations that wish to change their affiliation, particularly UOC-MP parishes seeking to join the OCU. The amended law requires a quorum, as defined by each congregation and usually comprising two-thirds or three-fourths of a religious organization’s members, to decide on a change of affiliation. The law also requires a vote by two-thirds of those present to authorize such a decision. The law bans any transfer of an organization’s property until the affiliation change is finalized.

To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must comprise at least 10 adult members and submit to the registration authorities its statute (charter), certified copies of the resolution that created it and was adopted by founding members, and a document confirming its right to own or use premises.

Registered religious groups wishing to acquire nonprofit status, which many do for banking purposes, must register with tax authorities.

Without legal-entity status, a religious group may not own property, conduct banking activities, be eligible for utility bill discounts, join civic or advisory boards of government agencies, or establish periodicals, nongovernmental pension funds, officially accredited schools, publishing, agricultural and other companies, or companies manufacturing religious items. Religious groups without legal-entity status may meet and worship and may also publish and distribute religious materials. In accordance with the stipulation against national registration, only a registered constituent unit of a nationwide religious organization may own property or conduct business activities, either for itself or on behalf of the nationwide organization. The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.

The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units. The Ministry of Defense defines selection criteria for clergy to become chaplains, the status of chaplains in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the armed forces, National Guard, and State Border Guard Service. By law, UOC-MP priests are prohibited from serving as chaplains on bases or in conflict zones, ostensibly due to concerns about their affiliation with Russia through the Moscow Patriarchate.

The law gives prison chaplains access to both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates. It also protects the confidentiality of confessions heard by prison chaplains, prohibits the use of information received during confession as evidence in legal proceedings, and does not allow the interrogation of clerics, interpreters, or other persons about matters associated with the confidentiality of confession.

According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event. According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.

Government regulations on identity documents allow religious head coverings in passport and other identification photographs.

The law allows religious groups to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers as well as to seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum. The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.

Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”

Only registered religious groups may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the former Communist regime. Religious groups must apply to regional authorities for property restitution. The law states authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.

The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.” Public schools include ethics of faith or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curricula. Christian, Islamic, and Jewish-focused curriculums are offered as part of the ethics of faith curriculum in public schools.

The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including for discrimination based on religion. The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying the draft legislation to conduct screening in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does. Religious groups may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.

The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors. The law also allows government officials to deny a conscript’s application for alternative service due to missing the application deadline. The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization.

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (“Ombudsperson”) is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament containing a section on religious freedom.

The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious organizations. By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization. Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR with regard to the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom.

Government Practices

On November 12 and December 17, the ECHR issued judgments concerning the ineffective investigation of hate crimes committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine between 2009-2013 in the cases Zagubnya and Tabachkova v. Ukraine, Migoryanu and Others v. Ukraine, Kornilova v. Ukraine, and Tretiak v. Ukraine. The court held that there were violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture), Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and it ordered the government to pay the victims 21,200 euros ($26,000) in total compensation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses called on the government to fully implement the four ECHR rulings to ensure effective investigation of the hate crimes committed against their group and their places of worship, and to prosecute the perpetrators of those religiously motivated attacks. They estimated that during 2016-19 there were 54 such attacks, but none of the attackers had been convicted of a religiously motivated offense. Jehovah’s Witnesses also urged the government to address the “endemic” problem of ECHR judgments “falling beyond the scope of the individual cases.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on August 2, Oleh Rybak repeatedly struck 71-year-old Witness Monica Shushko on the neck and back, calling her a derogatory term for Jehovah’ Witnesses, in Borodianka, Kyiv Oblast. Local police reportedly did not investigate the case, and Rybak remained unpunished.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 15, an individual in Kyiv threatened Nina Potapova with a gun, demanding that she stop her religious activity. Potapova filed a crime report but received no response from the police.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 7, Ruslan Panasenko pushed Olena Mazur and Danyila Ponomariova out of his house in Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, after learning they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. He also kicked each of the women in the thigh. Although Panasenko reportedly admitted in court that his actions were provoked by his lack of interest in the victims’ preaching and that he wanted to “shoot” all Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Kramatorsk City Court described his actions as motivated by “sudden personal hostility” to the victims. The court sentenced Panasenko to 200 hours of community service under charges of “minor bodily injury” and did not qualify the assault as a religiously motivated offense.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 26, a Poltava resident punched Olena and Valentyna Melandovych in the face when they tried to share their religious beliefs. The victims reportedly filed a crime report, but law-enforcement authorities did not detain or prosecute the attacker.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objection was not uniformly recognized. While courts and the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson protected the right of Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors to perform alternative civilian service, some military enlistment officials “arbitrarily” detained young Witnesses to call them up for military duty or denied them the right to alternative service. At times, district and oblast state administration officials denied Witnesses access to alternative civilian service. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses were reportedly detained for days facing criminal prosecution for “draft evasion,” in some cases because they had missed the application deadline to apply for alternative service as conscientious objectors. On April 23, the Ombudsperson’s Office reportedly informed the oblast state administrations that the right to alternative service was “of absolute nature,” and thus could not be limited by any deadlines. It criticized the practice of not providing alternative civilian service to a conscientious objector solely due to a missed application deadline.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, during the year some local state administrations rejected applications for alternative civilian service, stating the applicants had missed the deadline for submission of their applications. The following conscientious objectors reportedly received such refusals: Tymofii Zdorovenko (Oleksandria; March), Pavlo Kuts (Avdiivka; June), Nazar Duda (Lviv; October), Ihor Romanov (Bratske; October), Oleksii Haran (Cherkasy; October), Mykyta Kamin (Kyiv; November), Dmytro Tyshkovets (Volodymyrets; November) and Davyd Terendii (Lviv; November).

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on December 10, the Ternopil District Administrative Court ruled that Jehovah’s Witness Ihor Zherebetskyi’s conscription into military service was unjustified because he had applied for alternative service.

On November 17, military enlistment officers reportedly detained Jehovah’s Witness Oles Tytokhod at his home, threatened him with prosecution for draft evasion, and escorted him to two local military registration enlistment offices. He was released after a 10-day detention.

On October 28, military enlistment officers reportedly escorted Jehovah’s Witness Matvii Pikalov to the Lviv Regional Military Registration and Enlistment Office and detained him for three days without cause.

On October 21, military enlistment officers reportedly escorted Jehovah’s Witness Ivan Nikitin to the Khmelnytsky Regional Military Registration and Enlistment Office, although he had been granted permission for alternative service. He was released after a nine-hour detention following his lawyer’s intervention.

On October 6, military enlistment officers reportedly escorted Jehovah’s Witness Nazar Duda to the Lviv Regional Military Registration and Enlistment Office, forging a statement on his behalf that he agreed to serve in the military. Duda was detained for three days, despite his statement that he was a conscientious objector. Duda was released after his relatives reported his detention to a prosecutor and his lawyer filed a complaint.

On October 16, military enlistment officers reportedly tried to deliver a conscription notice to Jehovah’s Witness Dmytro Tyshkovets, who had previously applied for alternative service. When Tyshkovets refused to receive the notice, stating that he was a conscientious objector, the officers accused him of draft evasion and referred the case to the police. Police opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on September 10, the Brody District State Administration rejected Vladyslav Prystupa’s application for alternative civilian service, saying he was not baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness. On February 13, the Yuzhnoukrainsk City Council refused Bohdan Boyko’s application for alternative civilian service, stating he was not a baptized Jehovah’s Witness. Authorities reportedly charged him with draft evasion and, on August 25, rejected Boyko’s second application.

Following the election of President Zelenskyy in 2019, the government restructured the bodies governing religious affairs. On February 26, the administration appointed Olena Bogdan, a sociology professor, as head of the newly formed State Service for Ethnopolicy and Freedom of Conscience, an entity subordinate to the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. Then-Culture Minister Volodymyr Borodyansky selected Bogdan, stating he “was looking for the most independent person,” adding, “I was looking for an agnostic because the person must implement a well-balanced policy of the government in that area.” Observers characterized this nomination as the administration’s signaling it would adopt a more neutral stance on religious issues than had former President Poroshenko, who promoted the OCU. Bogdan’s predecessor, Andriy Yurash, had led the Department for Nationalities and Religions. The Ministry of Culture and Information Policy said the State Service would pursue the implementation of policy developed by the ministry. In a February 19 interview with the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, Bogdan said the Service for Ethnopolicy and Freedom of Conscience would focus on the following priorities: monitoring, raising public awareness, promoting unity in diversity through dialogue, and streamlining and increasing transparency of registration of religious organizations.

In September, the Cabinet of Ministers created a new Department for Religions and Ethnic Minorities in its Secretariat, led by Yurash. This department served as a liaison between the Cabinet of Ministers and religious groups.

According to the International Center for Law and Religious Studies, the government at times continued to struggle to manage tensions between the OCU and the UOC-MP, which competed for members and parishes. The Orthodox Times, self-characterized as an independent news and information portal, stated that Russia continued to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. According to sources, the UOC-MP continued to question the legitimacy of the OCU and said the OCU was “stealing” its property. The OCU said the UOC-MP was legally challenging the reregistration of parishes from the UOC-MP to the OCU. The Moscow Patriarchate also created its own webpage, In Defense of the Unity of the Russian Church, dedicated to amplifying ROC criticism of the OCU and to favoring the UOC-MP. OCU officials criticized first deputy head of the Office of the President Serhiy Trofimov, who oversaw regional policy, as favoring the UOC-MP by “hampering” the reregistration of former UOC-MP parishes seeking to join the OCU. On November 4, President Zelenskyy reassigned Trofimov to the role of presidential advisor. In an April 10 interview with the online news site Glavcom, Trofimov stated the government had not ordered and would never seek to halt the reregistration of UOC-MP congregations joining the OCU. He said that in response to “many” UOC-MP-reported instances of “unlawful” reregistration and “pressure,” the Office of the President directed the oblast state administrations to ensure compliance with the law. Trofimov also condemned attempts by UOC-MP opponents to label the UOC-MP as the “Moscow Church.”

On April 19, the Constitutional Court began to review a petition by a group of members of parliament questioning the constitutionality of the 2018 amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations. The amendments required the UOC-MP, formally registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), to rename itself to reflect its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church). The lawsuit and a 2019 Supreme Court ruling in a separate suit by the UOC-MP Metropolitan Administration against the amendments that suspended the government’s implementation of the amendments prevented the government from enforcing the name change requirement for 267 UOC-MP religious organizations. The organizations were a third party in the lawsuit filed by the UOC-MP Metropolitan Administration.

In an April 10 interview with Glavcom, Serhiy Trofimov described the renaming requirement as “pressure” on the UOC-MP. On November 24, head of the State Service for Ethnopolicy and Freedom of Conscience Bogdan told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency the State Service would comply with any Constitutional Court ruling on the renaming requirement.

Some Jewish community representatives and the Israeli Ambassador criticized decisions by some parliamentarians and government authorities to commemorate and honor 20th century Ukrainian figures and organizations who were also associated with anti-Semitism and the killing of thousands of Jews and Poles during World War II.

On September 4, the Lviv City Council transferred for permanent use by the UGCC a plot of land that included the St. George’s Cathedral and the cathedral gardens. The UGCC thanked the Lviv authorities for their “courageous restoration of historical justice” in returning the main shrine of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics. On April 29, the Odesa City Council transferred to the RCC ownership of a plot of land in the city surrounding the Church’s Assumption Cathedral.

On January 31, media reported the State Migration Service (SMS) and armed police officers profiled individuals in the vicinity of the mosque of the Islamic Cultural Center, one of Kyiv’s largest mosques, during Friday prayers and checked the registration documents of those they identified as worshippers. The mosque belongs to the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (Umma). According to Said Ismagilov, Mufti of Umma, authorities detained 25 persons who did not have their passports with them. The SMS stated that during its inspection, it identified 15 foreigners who were violating the immigration law. It also said it “treats religious and ethnic minorities with respect.” According to SMS officials, the identification inspection was part of its efforts to detect illegal migrants, and police were involved to protect SMS officers. Umma reported the SMS inspected documents of individuals arriving and departing the mosque courtyard. The SMS and police officers did not enter the mosque to conduct their inspection. On February 1, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport posted a statement saying the timing and venue of the inspection raised both ethical and legal questions. The ministry assured the Muslim community of the government’s support. It also called on the SMS to cooperate and said it was willing to facilitate SMS dialogue with religious organizations. On February 7, Muslim community representatives held a protest near the SMS offices. They said the “shameful” and “humiliating” inspection in front of a mosque on a Friday, a sacred day of worship, was an expression of a “biased and xenophobic attitude” toward Muslims.

According to the Kolomyya Jewish community, on February 11, Mykhailo Bank, chief of the Strategic Investigations Department of the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast police, requested that the Orthodox Jewish community provide police with its members’ names, addresses, and phone numbers, citing a need to counter “ethnic” and “transnational crime groups.” The head of the city’s Jewish community declined the request. According to United Jewish Community of Ukraine (UJCU), German and Azerbaijani ethnic groups received the same registration requests. The National Police chief launched an investigation and apologized to the Jewish community. Forty members of parliament sent a letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior demanding Bank’s resignation. On May 15, following an investigation of the matter, the Ministry of Internal Affairs dismissed Bank.

According to media, on July 10, the Zolochiv Municipal Council, Lviv Oblast, announced local UOC-MP supporters would not be allowed to build a church in the town because “many” UOC-MP representatives had supported Russia’s war against Ukraine. The council requested that parliament ban the UOC-MP nationwide and asked law enforcement agencies to halt what it described as “illegal” construction. On July 14, a gathering of local residents initiated by the municipal government adopted a resolution supporting the council’s decision. In a Facebook post on July 13, Lviv Oblast State Administration chairman Maksym Kozytsky admitted that while the UOC-MP congregation had the right to unregistered worship in the home of a local UOC-MP priest, it was “immoral” to build a Moscow-affiliated church in Lviv Oblast. Members of this congregation reportedly had held religious services on private property because, they said, local government was hostile towards the UOC-MP congregation in Zolochiv. On July 13, Radio Svoboda quoted the chief of the Religions and Nationalities Department of the Oblast State Administration as saying that the owner of the property had the right to build a church on her land.

According to the UOC-MP, tensions in Zolochiv escalated on August 6 when several dozen representatives of the group National Corps damaged a fence surrounding the house of the local UOC-MP priest. The attackers sprayed the fence with graffiti criticizing the parish’s affiliation with the ROC that read, “ROC out!” and “Blood is on your hands.” On September 28, two unidentified persons threw paint on the walls of a trailer installed at the site and reportedly threatened the priest, stating he would “burn” if he did not leave the town. The Lviv branch of the National Corps posted video footage of the August 6 vandalism on its website, blaming the “church of occupiers” (UOC-MP) for conducting “unlawful and undeclared” religious services. The statement described the UOC-MP as a “hostile entity” that “has no place on Ukrainian soil.” On August 15 and September 28, unidentified individuals spray-painted a store rented by a local UOC-MP member with the words, “Sponsor of the ROC.” According to the media, in September, police opened a criminal investigation of a UOC-MP complaint that the Zolochiv mayor and several other local officials were inciting religious hatred.

In Zhydychyn village, Volyn Oblast, UOC-MP members built a makeshift church after part of the congregation voted to transfer the affiliation of a permanent parish church from UOC-MP to OCU. In 2019, UOC-MP parish priest Volodymyr Geleta reportedly fired shots during a dispute over the affiliation of the permanent building.

Law enforcement authorities again reported no progress in the investigation of allegations that the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center of the Umma possessed materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic, or religious hatred.” The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Kyiv City procuracy searched the center in May 2018. A lawyer for Umma described the search as an attempt to undermine Umma’s reputation and called the charges baseless.

On January 22, the Kyiv Sixth Appellate Court upheld a request by UOC-MP Bishop Gedeon (given name, Yuriy Kharon) to renew his Ukrainian citizenship. In March, the bishop returned to Ukraine. In 2019, the government barred the dual Ukraine-U.S. citizen’s return to Ukraine from the United States by stripping him of Ukrainian citizenship. The SMS said the decision was based on the SBU recommendations and the fact that Gedeon had falsified information on his citizenship application, stating Gedeon said he had lost his passport when he had it in his possession. Gedeon described the ban as retaliation for criticizing the government’s “pressure” on the UOC-MP during his meetings with members of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, pursuant to a 2019 judgment by the ECHR, on July 29, the Kryvyi Rih City Council granted Jehovah’s Witnesses a plot of land for construction of a Kingdom Hall. On November 11, the city council refused to allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to design the Kingdom Hall, stating that such permission would violate a zoning plan. Jehovah’s Witnesses requested that the council adjust the plan. The request was under consideration at year’s end.

During the year, the Church of Jesus Christ worked on plans to construct a temple in Kyiv. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by representatives of the Church filed against the Kyiv City Council for the council’s refusal to reinstate a lease on land to build a house of worship. The city government subsequently respected the Supreme Court’s decision, reinstating full rights to the land.

Small religious groups stated local authorities continued to discriminate with regard to allocating land for religious buildings in Sumy, Mykolayiv, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv. Roman Catholics, OCU members, UGCC members, Jews, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination. UGCC representatives said local authorities in Bila Tserkva were still unwilling to allocate land for a UGCC church at year’s end.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), on August 28, in a move to contain the spread of COVID-19, the government closed the country’s borders for the month of September and extended domestic quarantine regulations by two months. Some observers noted the border closure prevented thousands of Hasidic Jews from traveling to Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah on September 18-20 at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Uman mayor Oleksander Tsebriy made several disparaging remarks about the annual Hasidic pilgrimage. Observers said the escalation of negative rhetoric was likely a strategic decision of his reelection campaign, which he subsequently lost. In addition to his social media activities encouraging the cancellation of the pilgrimage because, he said, of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tsebriy camped outside President Zelenskyy’s Kyiv office in August to demand he cancel the event. Tsebriy stated his own polling found that “94 percent of Uman’s residents were against the traditional pilgrimage of Rosh Hashanah, although they have nothing against the pilgrims themselves.” Some members of the Jewish community suggested that the mayor opposed the annual Hasidic pilgrimage in general and that his efforts to restrict the pilgrimage were not based on concerns of COVID-19 but rather hostility towards Jewish pilgrims.

Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which allocates land for cemeteries, had still not acted on the community’s request in 2017 for additional free land in Kyiv for Islamic burials, which was their legal right. Muslim community leaders said they were running out of land for burials. Consequently, some Muslim families living in Kyiv reportedly had to bury their relatives in other cities.

All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. According to observers, the government made little progress on unresolved restitution issues during the year. Representatives of some organizations said they experienced continued problems and delays reclaiming property seized by the former Communist regime. They said a review of claims often took far longer than the month prescribed by law. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated a number of factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership. Religious groups continued to report local officials taking sides in property restitution disputes, such as the case of the Lviv City government’s continued denial of RCC requests for restitution of several properties turned over to the UGCC.

Muslim community leaders again expressed concern over the continued lack of resolution of restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolaiv, in the southern part of the country. The Soviet-era government had seized the property and it remained publicly owned at year’s end.

The government continued to take no action in response to previous requests from religious communities to impose a moratorium on the privatization of religious buildings confiscated by the then-Soviet government, according to civil society activists and religious organizations.

Jewish community leaders continued to report illegal construction on the site of the old Jewish cemetery in Uman, where businesspersons had purchased old houses bordering the cemetery to demolish them and build hotels for Jewish pilgrims. According to news reports, developers had reportedly made deals with local government officials to obtain building permits. Local officials stated it was impossible to ban digging on privately-owned land and that Uman had been a densely populated residential area since Soviet times.

The Jewish community continued to express concern about the ongoing operation of the Krakivskyy Market on the grounds of an historical Jewish cemetery in Lviv. On August 26, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy ordered a local developer to halt construction of a private clinic at the protected site. Despite the ministry’s order, Lviv authorities did not halt the construction. According to some Lviv authorities, the construction was not on the Jewish cemetery part of the land. According to Jewish community representatives, they feared the Lviv government would sell more of the public land to private groups, which could lead to further concerns about protecting the cemetery. The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) urged the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory commercial building on the cemetery grounds, separate from the clinic, that had been ordered suspended in 2017.

The UCSJ and civic activists continued to express concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Lviv. In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the site. In the past, the UCSJ had requested the remains be reburied on the site, but as of year’s end, the remains had not been returned to the site. Lviv authorities denied the construction had unearthed any remains.

On November 16, the Lviv Appellate Court revoked the Lviv City Council’s decision to provide land to a developer for the construction of an office building at the site of a synagogue destroyed at Syanska Street in Lviv during the Nazi occupation. In 2019, the developer had halted construction at the Lviv city government’s order, following protests by heritage-protection activists. Jewish community representatives said they were cautiously optimistic the construction over the destroyed synagogue would not occur.

Jewish community leaders said they continued to experience difficulties with the Ternopil Municipal and District governments with regard to property restitution. The Ternopil District Council continued to reject requests from the local Jewish community to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet era.

Some Jewish leaders and human rights activists continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for hate crimes, including acts of anti-Semitism, and about the government’s long delays in completing investigations of these crimes. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the lack of proper punishment for hate crimes “has long been a major problem, exacerbated by Article 161 of the Criminal Code (on incitement to enmity, religious, racial and other discrimination, etc.), which is notoriously difficult to prove and therefore most often avoided by the police and prosecutors.” Some Jewish leaders said law enforcement authorities often charged anti-Semitic actors, if apprehended, with hooliganism or vandalism instead of a hate crime in what they assessed as the country’s attempt to downplay the level of anti-Semitism.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on August 30, September 12, 21, and 27, October 17, and December 12 and 27, unidentified individuals wrote the word “sect” on the fence surrounding a Kingdom Hall in Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Volyn Oblast. Police instituted criminal proceedings regarding only one of the seven incidents. The case remained pending at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on November 16, unidentified individuals set fire to a sign saying “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses” on the wall of the house of worship on Romen Rollan Street, in Kyiv. Police initially refused to open an investigation, but the investigative judge ordered them to do so. The case remained pending at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on March 20 and 25, unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi symbols and the word “sect” on the walls of a Kingdom Hall in Skadovsk, Zaporizhya Oblast. Police refused to institute criminal proceedings, but the investigative judge ordered them to start an investigation. The case remained pending at year’s end.

On July 29, President Zelenskyy met via video conference with the privately funded Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC) Supervisory Board to discuss the construction of the future museum and memorial honoring Holocaust victims. During the meeting, Zelenskyy stressed the importance of commemorating the country’s Holocaust victims and supported the BYHMC, stating, “It would be very good if this project were brought to life and we built history together with you.” President Zelenskyy appointed Presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak to lead a planning committee to implement the project, which called for a smaller government museum to open by the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust in 2021; the larger BYHMC memorial and museum were slated to open in 2025 or 2026. On September 29, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy and the BYHMC signed a memorandum of cooperation. According to media, the BYHMC project drew controversy, including reports that BYHMC artistic director Ilya Khrzhanovsky may have been involved in child abuse in filming his multidisciplinary project, DAU. There were also media reports that the BYHMC’s planned construction could disturb historical Jewish and Orthodox burial grounds at the site of the massacre.

On December 13-20, the Lviv Sholom Aleichem Jewish Culture Society, supported by the government’s Ukrainian Cultural Foundation and the Lviv City Council, hosted the “Yiddish and Intercultural Dialogue Days” festival. A conference on historical heritage preservation was one of its main events.

In his address to the nation on January 22, the Day of Unity, President Zelenskyy called on all Ukrainians to respect persons of all ethnic minorities and religions, saying as a Ukrainian, he respected “the rights of representatives of all national minorities and all religions.”

In a September 9 Jerusalem Post interview, President Zelenskyy said, “We strongly condemn anti-Semitic attacks of any kind. Anti-Semitism is a poison that has no place in Ukraine.”

On October 22, the Lviv District Administrative Court overturned an SMS decision to deny refugee status to Elena Polushkina, who had sought refuge from religious persecution in Russia. The court ordered the SMS to grant Polushkina refugee status. The SMS appealed the ruling. On July 20, the Eighth Appellate Administrative Court in Lviv ordered the SMS to grant refugee status to Sevara Makhambayeva, who had sought refuge because of religious persecution in Uzbekistan.

Actions of Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

During the year, the conflict in eastern Ukraine continued, with parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-installed authorities in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”). According to press reports, religious groups not approved by Russia continued to face restrictions, especially religious groups that were legal in Ukraine but illegal in Russia, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the independent Muslim congregation Hizb ut-Tahir, whose members continued to face arrest, detention, and harassment. Similarly, the OCU, which competed for worshippers with the UOC-MP, continued to cite unfair treatment and persecution.

Sources reported that Russia-supported authorities in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to detain and imprison Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as leaders of other religious groups. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the “LPR” continued to ban the group as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the “DPR” upheld a similar ban. According to Protestant and Jehovah’s Witnesses groups, many of their members fled these areas to escape oppressive conditions and to seek greater religious freedom in government-controlled territory.

According to the OHCHR, a majority of religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration. Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russia-installed authorities in the “DPR” and “LPR.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the group had limited access to information on the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the “DPR” and “LPR” during the year. They said that since 2014, “LPR” and “DPR” proxy authorities had seized 14 Kingdom Halls in Russia-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. Jehovah’s Witnesses did not know if any of these 14 Kingdom Halls or any additional halls were confiscated during the year.

“LPR”

“LPR” authorities continued to deny the reregistration applications of Baptist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists groups, in accordance with a 2018 law by “LPR” authorities that required religious communities, with the exception of the UOC-MP, who were recognized “within the framework of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” to reregister with the “authorities,” and citing a 2015 decree that banned mass events while the area was under martial law. According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, in December 2019, “LPR Minister” Dmitry Sidorov said there were195 religious organizations registered by “LPR” authorities. Of these 195 organizations, 188 belonged to the UOC-MP, four were Muslim, and there was one each of Old Believers, Jews, and Roman Catholics. According to Forum 18, Inna Sheryayeva, the head of the Religious Organizations and Spirituality Department of the Culture, Sport and Youth “Ministry” in Luhansk, declined to disclose whether more religious communities had their registration approved since December 2019. Similarly, officials of the registration department of the Justice “Ministry,” the entity tasked with registering religious communities, declined to disclose which communities had been allowed to register and which had been refused.

“LPR” authorities continued to deny the reregistration applications of Baptist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists groups, in accordance with a 2018 law by “LPR” authorities that required religious communities, with the exception of the UOC-MP, who were recognized “within the framework of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” to reregister with the “authorities,” and citing a 2015 decree that banned mass events while the area was under martial law. According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, in December 2019, “LPR Minister” Dmitry Sidorov said there were195 religious organizations registered by “LPR” authorities. Of these 195 organizations, 188 belonged to the UOC-MP, four were Muslim, and there was one each of Old Believers, Jews, and Roman Catholics. According to Forum 18, Inna Sheryayeva, the head of the Religious Organizations and Spirituality Department of the Culture, Sport and Youth “Ministry” in Luhansk, declined to disclose whether more religious communities had their registration approved since December 2019. Similarly, officials of the registration department of the Justice “Ministry,” the entity tasked with registering religious communities, declined to disclose which communities had been allowed to register and which had been refused.

Religious leaders continued to say their registration denials represented a complete ban on their religious activities, since without reregistration, religious groups were not able to hold services, even in believers’ homes. According to “LPR” authorities, to be eligible for registration, a “local religious organization” must have at least 30 adult members, while a “centralized religious organization” must be composed of at least five such local organizations. These requirements effectively disqualified some smaller religious associations. The law also required Christian Orthodox congregations to register as part of a “diocese recognized by the Orthodox Churches around the world within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” thereby forcing several remaining OCU parishes to conduct any activities underground.

According to Forum 18, at the end of 2019 and continuing during the year, local “LPR” authorities cut off water, electricity, and gas supplies to unregistered places of worship, citing their inability as unofficial organizations to have utility contracts.

According to Forum 18, “LPR” authorities continued to threaten Baptist Union pastors to stop meeting for worship or risk punishment. “State Security” officers of the “LPR” continued to threaten Baptist pastor Volodymyr Rytikov with charges of extremism for continuing to lead worship services without “official” permission. On January 28, Forum 18 reported that “LPR” State Security Ministry representatives took Rytikov from his home and instructed his wife “not to tell anyone.” They brought him to the ministry branch office and questioned him about his intention to continue conducting unregistered services and distribute “extremist” literature, including the Gospel of John. “Prosecutors” also continued their investigation of OCU priest Anatoliy Nazarenko on similar extremism charges through year’s end. “LPR” authorities continued to ban many religious leaders from outside their territory from reaching their congregations, according to Forum 18.

“LPR” authorities continued to ban many religious leaders from outside their territory from reaching their congregations, according to Forum 18.

“DPR”

The “DPR’s” worship and religious associations’ law continued to ban all religious organizations that did not meet a March 1, 2019 registration deadline and to require previously registered religious groups to reregister. The law gives the “Ministry of Culture” powers to monitor the registration of religious associations in the region and to abolish such groups on various grounds. Any newly created religious association not seeking legal entity status must submit written notification to “DPR” authorities detailing its function, location, administration, and the names and home addresses of its members. The “authorities” have 10 days either to put the group on the register of religious groups or to cancel its legal status. The “authorities” have a month to examine the application documents of a religious association seeking legal status. In either case, they may conduct a “state religious expert evaluation” of the documents, which could take up to six months, or deny a registration request on several grounds, including that application materials lack required information or that the group was previously banned. All religious organizations and religious groups must notify “authorities” annually of their continued viability. The “law” allows the UOC-MP to undergo a simplified “legalization” procedure without reregistration and “state religious expert evaluation.”

According to Forum 18, “DPR” authorities denied registration to almost all religious communities, apart from the UOC-MP.

According to religious organizations and civil society activists, “DPR” authorities continued to harass Protestant congregations attempting to host public religious events, even if such groups possessed a “DPR” registration. “DPR” authorities charged that the United States might be funding such events, and they publicly labeled congregations “American agents.” Protestant leaders and religious experts attributed such activities by the Russia-led “DPR” (and “LPR” ) to attempts to undermine a strong prewar presence of Protestants in the region.

According to Forum 18, on January 19, “security forces” raided an unidentified Protestant community during worship, took church leaders to the police station for interrogation, and released them after two hours. “DPR” “Human Rights Ombudsperson” Darya Morozova told Forum 18 on February 10 that she was unaware of any raids on religious organizations and that there had been no written appeals to her office.

“DPR” “Human Rights Ombudsperson” Darya Morozova told Forum 18 on February 10 that she was unaware of any raids on religious organizations and that there had been no written appeals to her office. “DPR” authorities continued to use seized places of worship for their own purposes. According to Forum 18, the “authorities” used a former Donetsk Church of Jesus Christ building as a registry office and the former Makeyevka New Life Baptist Church as a Red Guard district registry office.

“DPR” authorities continued to use seized places of worship for their own purposes. According to Forum 18, the “authorities” used a former Donetsk Church of Jesus Christ building as a registry office and the former Makeyevka New Life Baptist Church as a Red Guard district registry office.

According to media reports, all but one mosque remained closed in the “DPR.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NMRMG reported an increase in anti-Semitic violence, with four such suspected cases reported during the year. Prior to these incidents, the last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurred in 2016. During the year, the NMRMG recorded eight cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, including the attempted arson of a synagogue in Kherson and the toppling of a menorah in Kyiv, compared with 14 incidents in 2019. According to the NMRMG, COVID-19 related measures encouraging citizens to stay home likely contributed to both the decrease in anti-Semitic vandalism and the increase in violent attacks. Two of the four violent attacks occurred in Uman, where tensions erupted between Uman residents and Hasidic Jews who were making a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

The UJCU reported 49 cases of anti-Semitism during the year, compared with 56 cases in 2019. The difference in the count of anti-Semitic acts between the NMRMG and the UJCU was due to variations in methodologies: NMRMG said it counted vandalism only on Jewish property, such as synagogues, cemeteries, or memorials, while the UJCU included a wider range of incidents, such as a Jewish student’s dormitory being vandalized with swastikas as well as verbal disputes involving anti-Jewish epithets.

According to media reports, on February 25, an inebriated individual broke into a synagogue in Vinnytsia and assaulted a congregant after shouting about “beating up the [epithet].” According to a Facebook post by Eduard Dolinsky, the director of Ukraine’s Jewish Committee, police said the man, a resident of the nearby town of Yampil, “attacked Igor Braverman, a well-known journalist and a member of the community, tried to strangle him, twisting his hands. . .spat upon the portrait of the Hafetz Haim, and crushed it.” (The Hafetz Haim was an influential rabbi who died in 1933.) According to Dolinsky, police detained the alleged attacker but did not take him into custody. An ambulance took Braverman to a hospital; he did not suffer serious injuries, according to Dolinsky. The watchdog group Monitoring Antisemitism Worldwide said the Ministry of Internal Affairs was handling the case as a hate crime. According to the local rabbi, upon his release, the man apologized to Jewish community leaders.

In January, media reported conflicting accounts of a physical altercation between Hasidic Jews and residents of Uman, in Cherkasy Oblast. According to some media reports, four Hasidim were hospitalized after a mob beat them in a “pogrom-style attack.” However, the Rabbi Nachman International Charitable Foundation, which owns the Tomb of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, stated that the conflict was exclusively domestic in nature and did not relate to interethnic hatred issues, anti-Semitism, or biased attitudes of Uman residents towards Hasidic pilgrims. According to the national police, no one sought medical help or submitted official statements to them. On January 11, city officials hosted a meeting between “local activists” and representatives of Hasidic pilgrims. On January 12, the mayor of Uman, police, and SBU officials also had a meeting with Jewish representatives and agreed that police guards would help protect the pilgrimage site, that the local government and Jewish community would work together to install more security cameras around the entire pilgrimage area, and that all sides would maintain regular contact to prevent future such incidents. The city government said that the incident had “no ethnic or religious basis whatsoever.” Then-Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Dmytro Kuleba instructed his social media followers to “always treat the ‘shocking’ emotional headlines with triple caution.”

There were two violent anti-Semitic attacks in Uman, in Cherkasy Oblast, during the Hasidic pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman. The annual pilgrimage to Uman attracted approximately 3,000 Hasidic Jews, compared with more than 30,000 in 2019. According to Michael Tkatch, the head of the UJCU, on August 31, an individual approached an Orthodox Jewish man in a supermarket in Uman, hit him in the face and caused him to bleed, and then fled the scene with a friend. Police identified the offenders and opened a criminal case. According to media, on October 18, two teenage Hasidic Israeli citizens were attacked behind the grave of Rabbi Nachman. One, a 15-year-old, was stabbed, and the other victim managed to run away. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the attack on the teenagers. The attacker, a man in his early twenties, was identified and charged with hooliganism, punishable by three to seven years’ imprisonment. On November 12, the Cherkasy Oblast Prosecutor’s Office announced that the Uman City and District Court had convicted the attacker of hooliganism and ordered him to pay a fine of 17,000 hryvnas ($600), but he was not sentenced to prison

According to media, on July 28, a man armed with an axe tried to enter a synagogue in Mariupol. A security guard sustained a broken arm while successfully fending off the attacker. Law enforcement authorities identified the attacker and a Mariupol court sanctioned his arrest, but he fled to Russia. In August, Russian authorities detained him and put him in a pretrial detention center in Rostov-on-Don. On the Mariupol Jewish Community Facebook page, Mariupol Chief Rabbi Menachem Mendel Cohen expressed his gratitude to law enforcement agencies for their “hard work” in apprehending the perpetrator.

On May 10, the SBU and police reported the detention of two suspects who, on April 20, threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Kherson, causing minor damage to the building. According to the SBU, the perpetrators, who supported Nazi ideology, carried out the attack to mark Hitler’s birthday. During a visit to the synagogue on June 27, President Zelenskyy and the Chief Rabbi of Kherson, Yossef Itshak Wolff, personally thanked chiefs of regional police and SBU departments for detaining the two suspects. The President said the government would protect all citizens regardless of their nationality or religion. Police took the suspects into custody and charged them with arson. Their expected court date was February 2021.

According to the UJCU, on October 14, two unidentified individuals raised a large banner in front of President Zelenskyy’s office reading “Jewish President Zelenskyy” and condemning the country’s “occupation and robbery” by “the Dnipro Jewish clan of Vova Zelenskyy.” Michael Tkach, UJCU executive director, said the banner was an act of incitement and called on authorities to punish those responsible for it. Police opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.

According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, on December 10, a man filmed himself toppling a Hanukkah menorah in Kyiv while shouting “To Ukrainians the power, Jews to the graves.” Local media identified him as Andrey Rachkov, who posted a video of his actions on Facebook with the caption, “How to treat foreigners who are engaged in usurpation of power, occupation of territories, genocide.” A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

According to media, in January, a monument to the victims of the Holocaust was found defaced in Kryvyi Rih, located in the central part of the country. The suspect pled guilty to dishonoring the memorial and was sentenced to three years in prison and one year of probation.

Media reported in January the posting by a department head and economics professor at Lviv Polytechnic University of photographs of President Zelenskyy and former Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, who are both Jewish, in Israel. The professor stated they were serving Israel rather than Ukraine, saying, “Their dominance in Ukraine is a problem created mainly by Ukrainians themselves.” Dolinsky, of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, posted on Facebook that the text was “like a page out of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’” referencing an anti-Semitic diatribe purportedly produced by the Russian secret police in the early 20th century.

In March, law enforcement agencies brought a case to court alleging an individual had painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on a Holocaust memorial in Holovanivsk, Kirovohrad Oblast, in September 2019. The suspect was charged with incitement of ethnic and religious hatred and desecration of a burial site.

In February, the Pew Research Center published findings on attitudes towards democratic principles, such as regular elections, free speech, and free civil society, as well as religious freedom, in 34 countries, based on interviews it conducted in its Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey. According to the findings, 59 percent of Ukrainian respondents considered religious freedom to be “very important,” ranking it among the highest of their priorities for democratic principles among the nine tested.

The ROC, including the UOC-MP, continued to describe the OCU as a “schismatic” group, despite its recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Church of Greece, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, and the Church of Cyprus. The ROC continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize the OCU. UOC-MP and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of its congregation.

On September 4, OCU Primate Metropolitan Epiphaniy stated that after the change of government, the UOC-MP, “often with support of certain officials,” began to actively oppose the process of congregations transitioning from the UOC-MP to the OCU. He stated that the UOC-MP had filed lawsuits to challenge “almost every” such transition. He said in most cases courts “acted fairly,” but former members of UOC-MP congregations seeking to join the OCU had “fears,” which some observers believed referred to the expected lawsuits. The Metropolitan called on the government to help protect congregations wishing to join the OCU. The UOC-MP rejected the charge of government support.

On December 15, the website Suspilne.media quoted OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy as saying five UOC-MP congregations joined the OCU during the year. The Religious Information Service of Ukraine estimated that as of February, 541 (4.5 percent) of 12,122 UOC-MP congregations had joined the OCU‎ since its creation in 2018. Most of those parishes were in the western and central oblasts. UOC-MP representatives, however, often contested parish reregistrations, stating some local government officials allowed individuals unaffiliated with the UOC-MP to vote in meetings to change the affiliation of local parishes to the OCU. UOC-MP representatives again said such officials also helped OCU supporters take possession of disputed UOC-MP church buildings before the change of affiliation was officially registered. OCU representatives accused the UOC-MP of contesting legitimate changes of parish affiliation, including through numerous lawsuits. They said these suits were part of the UOC-MP’s strategy to discourage OCU followers from joining the new Church. According to the government and the OCU, the UOC-MP often falsely described eligible voters at such congregation meetings as “unaffiliated” with the parish, saying they rarely or never participated in religious services. These lawsuits remained unresolved through year’s end.

According to the UOC-MP, some local authorities continued to transfer parish affiliations from the UOC-MP to the OCU against the will of parishioners. Media reports indicated that some UOC-MP priests refused to follow the will of parishioners to change affiliation. Social media posts by Right Sector, commonly characterized as a violent radical group, stated that at the request of the OCU, it continued to visit Orthodox churches disputed between the UOC-MP and OCU to “facilitate” changes in affiliation. In an interview on church reregistration, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy stated, “We want them to continue to be peaceful, calm, and voluntary. . .We do not need confrontation.”

According to the Chernivtsi regional police, on May 4, officers intervened to stop a violent church-ownership dispute between UOC-MP and OCU members in Zadubrivka Village. On the day the priest leading a local UOC-MP congregation died of COVID-19, OCU supporters armed with sticks and pepper spray tried to break the door lock and seize the church guarded by several UOC-MP parishioners, according to UOC-MP sources. The sources also stated that attackers beat several UOC-MP members and sprayed noxious gas at them. Two UOC-MP parishioners sustained injuries and received medical assistance at a local hospital. Before approaching the church, the OCU supporters, led by an OCU priest, cut off electricity to the neighborhood and felled a tree across a village street to hamper the arrival of police vehicles and UOC-MP supporters at the scene. Police opened an investigation but made no arrests or charges by year’s end. OCU parishioners stated that UOC-MP members had been using force to prevent them from entering the church, despite a 2019 local government decision to transfer ownership of the church to a local OCU parish. The majority of village residents had voted for the transfer, according to the OCU. On May 5, chairman of the Chernivtsi Oblast State Administration Serhiy Osachuk issued a statement calling on the two sides to resolve their differences peacefully and to comply with a future court verdict on their dispute. There was no verdict by year’s end.

The All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), as well as the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA), continued to meet regularly to discuss issues affecting the country, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the religious situation in the temporarily occupied territories, and peacemaking. AUCCRO is an interfaith organization representing more than 90 percent of all religious groups in Ukraine, including the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, All-Ukraine Baptist Union, Ukrainian Church of Evangelical Pentecostal Christians, Ukrainian Union Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church, Ukrainian Lutheran Church, Ukrainian Evangelical Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Ukrainian Diocese, Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, Ukrainian Bible Society, and Trans-Carpathian Reformed Church. The council rotates its chairmanship.

On September 8-9, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine sponsored the second annual Kyiv Jewish Forum to highlight the global fight against anti-Semitism. The conference featured speeches from prominent Jewish leaders from around the world, including President Zelenskyy; Benny Gantz, Alternate Prime Minister of Israel; the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom; and Natan Sharansky, human rights activist. Panel discussions included the state of anti-Semitism in Ukraine, the legacy of Babyn Yar, and Jewish leadership in the fight against COVID-19.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. government officials continued to meet with officials of the Office of the President, Ministries of Culture, Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, political parties, and local officials to engage on issues of religious freedom. They continued to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups following the establishment of the OCU, the preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism. In meetings with government officials at both the national and local levels, the Charge d’Affaires called for unequivocal condemnation and swift prosecution of anti-Semitic acts. The Charge d’Affaires also urged government officials to increase their efforts to ensure the preservation of historic religious sites and called for the government to protect the right of all religious groups to freely practice their religions according to their beliefs.

In January, the Secretary of State visited Kyiv and met with OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy. After the meeting, the Secretary tweeted that he was “impressed by [Metropolitan Epiphaniy’s] efforts to ensure the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine is open to all believers. The U.S. will always champion the right of all people to worship freely.”

The embassy continued to engage with leaders of the AUCCRO, which represents most religious groups in the country, to discuss the status of religious freedom in the country and religious persecution in the Russia-occupied territories. The meetings were an occasion for Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders to express their concerns about the state of religious freedom in the country and the status of religion in the temporarily occupied territories of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and to hear views on how the United States could further help to promote religious freedom.

The embassy continued to engage with Jewish religious leaders and organizations to discuss issues of anti-Semitism and to promote Holocaust memorial efforts. In January, the Charge d’Affaires spoke to an audience of Holocaust survivors, family members, and other members of the diplomatic community at the official Ukrainian Holocaust memorial event “Six Million Hearts.” In her speech, she reiterated U.S. government support for Jewish Ukrainians in their fight for equality, tolerance, and acceptance within society, and she committed to always protect the most vulnerable members of religious communities from violence and hatred. Embassy officials also participated in the annual commemorations of the 1941 Babyn Yar massacre to honor the victims and to emphasize the importance of preserving the memory of that tragedy.

The embassy continued to meet with representatives from the Jewish community and assist in its efforts to preserve the country’s Jewish heritage. One of the most prominent cases was the continued construction of a private clinic on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv. The Charge d’Affaires wrote letters to both the Lviv mayor and the Ministry of Culture expressing her concern about the construction.

Although embassy officials had no access to Russia-controlled or occupied territories in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the embassy continued its outreach to religious representatives from these areas and on several occasions publicly condemned Russia’s continued measures to impede the exercise of religious freedom there. Embassy officials met with Crimean Tatars, both internally displaced persons and those who had come to mainland Ukraine, including lawyers, family members of political prisoners, and representatives of the Crimean Tatar community residing in Kherson and Kyiv Oblasts. Embassy officials continued to denounce the persecution of Crimean Tatars and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as the continued harassment of officials of the OCU seeking to operate in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials participated in Hanukkah and other Jewish holiday events and Holocaust commemorations, during which they emphasized the importance of religious dialogue and equality and encouraged efforts to combat anti-Semitism and preserve cultural heritage.

The embassy continued to use social media to reiterate U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities. The embassy regularly supported religious freedom through social media responses to anti-Semitic incidents across the country and to the systematic mistreatment of religious minorities in Crimea and the Russia-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine with a regular reminder of “#CrimeaisUkraine.”

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Crimea

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The constitution states that Islam is the country’s official religion. It guarantees freedom of worship as long as it does not conflict with public policy or morals. It states all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief. The law prohibits blasphemy and proselytizing by non-Muslims. An antidiscrimination law includes prohibitions on religious discrimination and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religions. According to media reports in January, Dubai courts fined three Sri Lankan men 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) each and ordered them deported for insulting Islam in social media posts. In September, the Dubai Public Prosecution filed blasphemy charges against an Arab man after an altercation with police in which he reportedly insulted Islam. In January, local media reported Dubai courts sentenced a Jordanian man in absentia to three months in prison, fined him 500,000 dirhams ($136,000), and ordered him deported after the courts determined that he insulted Islam in WhatsApp messages. The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) continued to provide weekly guidance for the content of sermons in Sunni mosques with the stated purpose of limited the spread of what the authorities characterize as extremist ideology. Some Shia imams chose to follow Awqaf-approved guidance, while the Dubai-based Jaafari Affairs Council, charged with management of Shia affairs, issued additional instructions to Shia mosques. Christian churches and Hindu and Sikh temples serving the noncitizen population operated on land donated by the ruling families. The Abu Dhabi Emirate implemented a three-tier authorization system for regulating non-Islamic houses of worship by issuing licenses to houses of worship, permits to denominations seeking authorization to operate under the licensed house of worship, and visas to the religious leaders of these denominations. Under the system, licensed Abu Dhabi-based houses of worship independently vet these denominations and their religious leaders, and formally recommend to the Abu Dhabi Department of Community Development (DCD) whether it should issue a permit to the denomination. A new Abu Dhabi guideline requiring religious leaders to work in the ministry full-time and be sufficiently credentialed in order to obtain a clergy visa posed a challenge for the numerous religious leaders who serve their congregations on a volunteer or part-time basis or who do not have a theology degree, and led to the denial of permits to leaders of some groups. Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths otherwise reported they could worship in private without government interference but faced some restrictions on practicing their religion in public. Government-controlled internet service providers blocked access to websites critical of Islam or supportive of views the government considered religiously extremist. The government prohibited the dissemination of literature it perceived as supporting religious extremism. Regulatory requirements sometimes limited the ability of religious organizations to rent space for worship and limited certain charitable activities. In April, Dubai’s government granted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) a land concession at the Expo 2020 site, which Dubai will hand over after the event’s conclusion in 2022. COVID-19 related restrictions disproportionately impacted unlicensed religious organizations that normally congregated in cinemas and hotels but could no longer do so as a result of social distancing regulations and closures. A phased reopening of all houses of worship began with mosques.

The press reported that a man identified as a citizen of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country tried to burn his grandmother alive because he believed she was using black magic to turn him into a woman. A court sentenced him to three years in prison and ordered him to pay 50,000 dirhams ($13,600) to the victim. In April, the press reported an Indian manager at an Abu Dhabi firm posted graphic anti-Islamic images on Facebook showing how the “jihadi” coronavirus could cause exponentially more deaths than explosives. His employer told the press that he would investigate the incident. An employer fired an Indian worker in Dubai and referred the case to police after the individual ridiculed Muslim worshippers in a Facebook posting about COVID-19. The press reported that three other Indians, in separate incidents, had been disciplined by their employers in Dubai and Sharjah for social media posts deemed offensive to Islam. In one case, the employer referred the matter to police. According to non-Muslim religious community representatives, there was a high degree of societal tolerance for minority religious beliefs and traditions, particularly for those associated with the houses of worship officially recognized by the Abu Dhabi government in 2019, although conversion from Islam was strongly discouraged. Conversion to Islam was encouraged, however. In some cases, organizations reported that hotels, citing government regulatory barriers, were unwilling to rent space for non-Islamic religious purposes, such as weekly church services. Local media reported on difficulties in obtaining bank loans to cover construction costs for new religious spaces, including for registered religious organizations. On September 17, Dubai’s first kosher restaurant opened in the Burj Khalifa, a local landmark and the world’s tallest building, and the country’s first Jewish wedding was held in Dubai on December 1.

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, visiting U.S. government officials, and embassy and consulate general officers met with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the DCD, and the Department of Culture and Tourism during the year. In meetings with government authorities, U.S. officials discussed issues related to the promotion of religious tolerance and emphasized the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom. In addition to discussing the implementation of licensing procedures, regulatory practices, and interfaith education and training, officers discussed international, bilateral, and governmental efforts to support religious diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance as well as host government initiatives to promote what it believed were moderate interpretations of Islam. Embassy and consulate general officials also engaged with a broad range of minority religious groups as part of continuing efforts to monitor their abilities to associate and worship. Remarks by both U.S. and local officials throughout the year praised efforts to build mutual understanding among different religions and cultures.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10 million (midyear 2020 estimate). Approximately 11 percent are citizens, of whom more than 85 percent are Sunni Muslims, according to media reports. The vast majority of the remainder are Shia Muslims, who are concentrated in the Emirates of Dubai and Sharjah.

Of the estimated 89 percent of noncitizen residents, the majority comes from South and Southeast Asia. Although no official statistics are available on the percentage of the noncitizen population who are Muslim or the breakdown between Sunni and Shia Muslims, media estimates suggest less than 20 percent of the noncitizen Muslim population is Shia.

Of the total population (both citizen and noncitizen), the 2005 census, the most recent, found 76 percent of the population to be Muslim, 9 percent Christian, and 15 percent from other noncitizen religious groups comprising mainly Hindus and Buddhists, and also including Parsis, Baha’is, Druze, Sikhs, and Jews. Ahmadi Muslims, Ismaili Muslims, and Dawoodi Bohra Muslims together constitute less than 5 percent of the total population and are almost entirely noncitizens. The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010, 76.9 percent of the total population was Muslim, 12.6 percent Christian, 6.6 percent Hindu, 2 percent Buddhist, with the remainder belonging to other faith traditions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution designates Islam as the official religion. It guarantees freedom of religious worship “in accordance with established customs,” provided this “does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals.” The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief. The constitution states that the country is an independent, sovereign, and federal state comprised of seven emirates.

The law prohibits black magic, sorcery, and incantations, which are punishable by a prison term ranging from six months to three years and deportation for noncitizens.

The law does not directly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions; but the penal code’s blasphemy provisions punish behavior viewed as contemptuous of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad or offensive to Islamic teachings.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to five years for preaching against Islam or proselytizing to Muslims. The law also prohibits “abusing” a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insulting any religion, inciting someone to commit sin or contravene national values, labeling someone an infidel or unbeliever, and forming groups or holding meetings with the purpose of provoking religious hatred. Offenders are subject to fines up to two million dirhams ($545,000) and imprisonment that generally ranges from five to 10 years or more.

The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as any act insulting God, religions, prophets, messengers, holy books, or houses of worship. Offenders are subject to imprisonment for five or more years and fines from 250,000 dirhams ($68,100) to two million dirhams ($545,000); noncitizens may be deported. The law prohibits any form of expression, including through broadcasting, printed media, or the internet, that the government determines is contradictory to Islam as well as literature it deems blasphemous or offensive toward religions.

Federal law does not require religious organizations to register or obtain a license to practice, although the formation of a legal entity, which requires some form of registration, is necessary for operational functions, such as opening a bank account or renting space. Each emirate oversees registration and licensing of non-Muslim religious organizations and the process differs by emirate, organization, and circumstance; these procedures are not published by the emirate governments. The federal government has also granted some religious organizations land in free-trade zones, where they legally registered by applying for a trade license that allows them some operational functions. In Dubai, religious organizations are required to obtain a license from the Community Development Authority (CDA). The governments of the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai also require religious communities to obtain permits for certain activities, including holding public events and worshipping in temporarily rented spaces, such as hotels.

The federal law requires Muslims and non-Muslims to refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking in public during fasting hours during the month of Ramadan. Violations of the law are punishable by one month’s imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 2,000 dirhams ($540). The law prohibits Muslims from drinking alcohol or knowingly eating pork throughout the year. The government announced a series of legal reforms in November decriminalizing the consumption of alcohol but had not published the text of the reforms by year’s end. Despite legal prohibitions on eating during daylight hours during Ramadan, most local authorities across the country grant exemptions allowing non-Muslims to eat during the day in malls, hotels, and some stand-alone restaurants.

The federal law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses or other religious symbols on the outside of their premises, although they may place signs on their properties indicating they are churches.

Islamic studies are mandatory for all students in public schools and for Muslim students in private schools. The government does not provide instruction in any religion other than Islam in public schools. In private schools, non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic study classes. All students, however, are required to take national social studies classes, which include teaching on Islam. The government permits Christian-affiliated schools to provide instruction tailored to the religious background of the student; for example, Islamic studies for Muslim students, Christian instruction for Christian students, and ethics or comparative religions for others.

Private schools deemed to be teaching material offensive to Islam, defaming any religion, or contravening the country’s ethics and beliefs face potential penalties, including closure. All private schools, regardless of religious affiliation, must register with the government. Private schools are required to have a license from the federal Ministry of Education, and their curriculum must be consistent with a plan of operation submitted to and approved by the ministry. Administrative oversight of the schools is a responsibility of each emirate’s government.

Land ownership by noncitizens is restricted to designated freehold areas. Outside of special economic zones and designated freehold areas, the law restricts majority company ownership to citizens except in certain exempted sectors. This restriction is an impediment to most minority religious communities, which consist of noncitizens, that wish to purchase property to build houses of worship.

The law prohibits multiple forms of discrimination, including religious, and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion through any form of expression. It also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audio/visual or print media or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred. Violations of the law carry penalties of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to one million dirhams ($272,000).

According to the constitution, sharia is the principal source of legislation, although the judicial system applies both sharia and civil law, depending on the case. Sharia forms the basis for judicial decisions in most family law matters for Muslims, such as marriage and divorce, and inheritance for both Muslims and non-Muslims; however, in the case of noncitizens, the parties may petition the court to have the laws of their home country apply, rather than sharia. Sharia also applies in some criminal matters. Civil law provides the basis for decisions on all other matters. Shia Muslims in Dubai may pursue Shia family law cases through a special Shia council rather than through the regular judicial system. When sharia courts try non-Muslims for criminal offenses, judges have the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties. In these cases, judges generally impose civil penalties. Higher courts may overturn or modify sharia penalties.

In November, the country’s President announced decrees amending the federal laws on personal status, civil transactions, the penal code, and criminal procedures. Amendments to the penal code and criminal procedure law repealed “the article giving [a] reduced (lenient) sentence in what are called honor crimes.” “Honor” killings will henceforth be treated as normal murder cases. In other amendments, noncitizens may choose not to apply sharia in cases involving divorce and inheritance, and other acts “that do not harm others,” leaving to prosecutors and judges to define those specific acts.

The Fatwa Council, headed by the president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, is tasked with presenting a clear image of Islam, including issuing general fatwas and licensing individuals to issue fatwas, train muftis, and conduct research, in coordination with the Awqaf.

Under the law, citizen and noncitizen Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women who are “people of the book” (Christian or Jewish). Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men. Marriages between non-Muslim men and Muslim women are not recognized under the law; non-Muslim men and Muslim women who marry are subject to arrest, trial, and imprisonment on grounds of engaging in extramarital sex, which carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison; any extramarital sex between persons of any religion is subject to the same penalties.

Strict interpretation of sharia – which often favors the father – does not apply to child custody cases, and courts have applied the “the best interests of the child” standard since 2010. According to sharia, a divorced woman may lose custody of her children to their father once daughters reach 13 years of age and sons 11 years of age. Women may file for continued custody until a daughter marries or a son finishes his education. The father, deemed the guardian, provides for the child financially, while the mother, the custodian, provides day-to-day care of the child.

The country’s citizenship law does not include religion as a prerequisite for naturalization. Non-Muslim wives of citizens are eligible for naturalization after seven years of marriage, if the couple has a child, or 10 years of marriage if the couple has no children. There is no automatic spousal inheritance provision for wives under the law if the husband is Muslim and the wife is non-Muslim. Such wives may not inherit their husband’s property unless named as a beneficiary in their husband’s will. In the event of a divorce between a Muslim father and non-Muslim mother, sharia usually applies.

Abu Dhabi’s Judicial Department permits Christian leaders to legally mediate divorces for Christians and agnostics if the bride and groom are both residents of the emirate. The government permits church officials to officiate at weddings for non-Muslims, but the couple must also obtain the marriage certificate from the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. In both cases of marriage and divorce, the church official must be registered with the Abu Dhabi Department of Community Development as officially recognized to perform these acts.

Noncitizens may register wills in the emirate in which they live. In November, the government announced changes to the personal status laws allowing the general terms of a will to be dealt with according to the law of the country specified in the will or, in cases where a country is not specified in the will, the law of the deceased person’s country of nationality. This is not applicable to property purchased in the UAE, however, which remains subject to UAE law. The government had not published the text of these reforms by year’s end. Non-Muslims are able to register their wills with the Abu Dhabi judicial system as a way to safeguard their assets and preserve their children’s inheritance rights. In Dubai, foreigners may file wills at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Court Wills and Probate Registry, which may cover assets held in the UAE as well as abroad. The DIFC Wills Service Center allows non-Muslim business owners and shareholders to designate an heir. Dubai wills not filed in the DIFC Court are subject to sharia. There are courts for personal status and for inheritance for non-Muslims in the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance.

The law prohibits activities the government deems supportive of political or extremist interpretations of Islam. These include the use of the internet or any other electronic means to promote views the government believes insult religions, promote sectarianism, damage national unity or the reputation of the state, or harm public order and public morals. Punishment may include imprisonment and fines from 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) to one million dirhams ($272,000). Electronic violations of the law are subject to a maximum fine of four million dirhams ($1.09 million). The law prohibits membership in groups the government designates as terrorist organizations, with penalties up to life imprisonment and capital punishment.

Under the law, local authorities concerned with mosque affairs are responsible for naming mosques, providing and supervising the needs of mosques and prayer spaces, determining the timing of the second call to prayer, organizing religious lectures, and preparing sermons. The law also defines acts prohibited in mosques, prayer spaces, and Eid Musallas (open prayer spaces outside of mosques or prayer halls smaller than mosques) without a license, such as giving lectures or sermons, holding Quran memorization circles, fundraising, and distributing written and visual material. The law further stipulates citizen applicants must be given first consideration for vacant positions at mosques. The law prohibits those working in mosques from belonging to any illegal group or from participating in any political or organizational activities.

The law restricts charitable fundraising activities, including by religious organizations, by prohibiting the collection of donations or advertising fundraising campaigns without prior approval from authorities. Violations of the law are subject to a fine of no less than 50,000 dirhams ($13,600). Under the cybercrimes law, the use of any information technology to promote the collection of any type of donation without a license is subject to a fine between 200,000 dirhams ($54,500) and 500,000 dirhams ($136,000).

Individuals who donate to unregistered charities and fundraising groups may be punished with a three-year prison term or a fine between 250,000 dirhams ($68,100) and 500,000 dirhams ($136,000).

In Abu Dhabi, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments is entrusted with overseeing Muslim religious affairs across mosques, sermons, imam tutelage, and publications. Non-Muslim religious affairs fall under the mandate of the DCD, which regulates, licenses, and oversees non-Islamic houses of worship, religious leaders, religious events organized outside houses of worship, and fundraising activities across the emirate.

The Dubai CDA is the official body mandated to oversee all civil institutions and nonprofits in the emirate, including non-Muslim religious groups. The CDA issues operating licenses and permits for events and monitors fundraising activities. The law states that civil institutions may only collect donations or launch fundraising campaigns after obtaining the CDA’s written approval. Fines for noncompliance range from 500 dirhams ($140) to 100,000 dirhams ($27,200).

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

Government Practices

According to media reports in January, Dubai courts fined three Sri Lankan men 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) each and ordered their deportation for insulting Islam in social media posts. In September, Dubai Public Prosecution filed blasphemy charges against an Arab man after an altercation with police in which he reportedly insulted Islam. In January, local media reported Dubai courts sentenced a Jordanian man in absentia to three months in prison, fined him 500,000 dirhams ($136,000), and ordered him deported for insulting Islam in WhatsApp messages.

Police and courts continued to enforce laws prohibiting sorcery. Customs authorities in Dubai and the northern emirates reported seizing shipments containing materials they said were intended for use in magic and sorcery. According to media reports, in late 2019, Abu Dhabi police arrested a European national for charges of witchcraft and fraud; the subsequent status of his case remained unknown. In February, local press reported Dubai Customs prevented 22 attempts in 2019 to smuggle material local authorities believed were related to witchcraft and sorcery.

Following a 2018 court ruling upholding his earlier conviction, the government continued to imprison Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist arrested in 2017. Although specifics of the charges against Mansoor remained unknown, authorities stated that, among other violations of the law, Mansoor promoted “a sectarian- and hate-filled agenda.”

There were reports of government actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, designated by the government as a terrorist organization, and individuals associated with the group. Since 2011, the government also has restricted the activities of organizations and individuals allegedly associated with al-Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate.

Within prisons, authorities continued to require Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services. In Abu Dhabi, some Christian clergy again raised concerns about lack of worship space for incarcerated Christians. They said that when they were granted prison access, they were permitted to take Bibles to the prisoners.

The country’s two primary internet service providers, both majority-owned by the government, continued to block certain websites critical of Islam or supportive of religious views the government considered extremist, including Islamic sites. The service providers continued to block other sites on religion-related topics, including ones with information on Christianity, atheism, and testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity. Following the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, the government unblocked some websites containing information on Judaism.

The Awqaf continued to vet and appoint Sunni imams, except in Dubai, based on their gender, educational background, and knowledge of Islam along with security checks. According to the Awqaf, the government continued to fund Sunni mosques, with the exception of those considered private, and retained all Sunni imams as government employees.

The Awqaf continued to oversee the administration of Sunni mosques, except in Dubai, where they were administered by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD). On its website, the Awqaf stated its goals included offering “religious guidance in the UAE to instill the principle of moderation in Islam.” It continued to distribute weekly guidance to Sunni imams regarding subject matter, themes, and content of Friday sermons; published a Friday sermon script every week; and posted the guidance on its website. Leading up to Ramadan, the Awqaf launched training workshops to instruct imams on sermon delivery and how to communicate values of moderation and tolerance.

In January, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi announced on Instagram that well-known preacher and television personality Waseem Youssef was no longer an imam and preacher at the mosque. Although the reason for Youssef’s removal was not provided, according to the press it was tied to lawsuits that Youssef pursued against 19 individuals for “defamation” on social media, following his comments questioning the validity of one of the canonical sources of the hadith. The lawsuits culminated in the court finding four defendants guilty of defaming Youssef while dismissing the remaining cases.

Following these civil trials, in February, private citizens filed a civil law suit against Youssef in the Abu Dhabi criminal court, charging him under the cybercrime law with promoting ideas and programs that spread hatred and racism and harm national unity and social peace. Youssef maintained his innocence. In March, the court decreed in March that the case was outside its jurisdiction and referred it to federal prosecutors for further review. The government took no action in this regard.

The Awqaf applied a three-tier system in which junior imams followed the Awqaf script for Friday sermons closely; midlevel imams prepared sermons according to the topic or subject matter selected by Awqaf authorities; and senior imams had the flexibility to choose their own subject and content for their Friday sermons. Some Shia sheikhs (religious leaders) chose to use Awqaf-approved weekly addresses, while others wrote their own sermons. Friday sermons were translated into English and Urdu on the Awqaf’s website and mobile application.

Dubai’s IACAD controlled the appointment of Sunni clergy and their conduct during worship in Dubai mosques. All of the imams in Dubai’s more than 2,000 Sunni mosques were government employees and included both citizens and noncitizens. Qualification requirements were more stringent for expatriate imams than for local imams and starting salaries much lower.

The Jaafari Affairs Council, located in Dubai and appointed by the Dubai ruler, managed Shia affairs for the entire country, including overseeing mosques and community activities, managing financial affairs, and hiring imams. The council complied with the weekly guidance from IACAD and issued additional instructions on sermons to Shia mosques.

The government did not appoint imams for Shia mosques. Shia adherents worshiped in and maintained their own mosques. The government considered all Shia mosques to be private; however, they were eligible to receive some funds from the government upon request.

The Awqaf operated official toll-free call centers and a text messaging service for fatwas in Arabic, English, and Urdu. Fatwa categories included belief and worship, business transactions, family issues, women’s issues, and other Islamic legal issues. Callers explained their question directly to an official mufti, who then issued a fatwa. Both female (muftiya) and male (mufti) religious scholars worked the telephones at the fatwa hotline.

The government permitted Shia Muslims to observe Ashura in private but not in public. There were no public processions in Dubai or the northern emirates, where the majority of the country’s Shia population resides.

Representatives of non-Islamic faiths said registration and licensing procedures and requirements for minority religious groups remained unclear in all emirates. The federal government did not require non-Muslim religious groups to register, but according to some observers, the lack of a clear legal designation continued to result in an ambiguous legal status for many groups and created difficulties in carrying out certain administrative functions, including banking and signing leases. The governments of individual emirates continued to require religious groups to register as a precondition for establishing formal places of worship, such as temples, mosques, or churches, or for holding religious services in rented spaces such as hotels or convention centers.

The Abu Dhabi Department of Community Development (DCD) implemented a new three-tier system of authorization for regulating non-Islamic houses of worship. Under the system, the DCD issues licenses to houses of worship, permits to denominations seeking authorization to operate under the licensed house of worship, and visas to the religious leaders of these denominations. Licensed Abu Dhabi-based houses of worship independently vet these denominations and their religious leaders and formally recommend to the DCD whether it should issue a permit to the denomination. The establishment of this system followed a 2019 DCD decision to grant licenses, and thereby formal legal status, to 18 Abu Dhabi-based houses of worship, including Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches and the emirate’s first traditional Hindu temple. These changes did not apply to religious groups in the other emirates.

In August, Dubai’s Jewish community publicly announced that it was negotiating with the Dubai government for an official license.

The new Abu Dhabi guideline instituted in late 2019 and early 2020 requiring religious leaders to work in the ministry full time and be sufficiently credentialed in order to obtain a clergy visa posed a challenge for religious leaders who serve their congregations on a volunteer or part-time basis or who do not have a theology degree. Under the system, licensed Abu Dhabi-based houses of worship independently vet these denominations and their religious leaders, and formally recommend to the DCD whether it should issue a permit to the denomination. Some religious community members expressed concern that the new system discriminated against smaller and less-recognized denominations.

Since the September 2019 licensing of 18 houses of worship by the DCD, community sources reported that unregistered religious organizations faced challenges in renting spaces at hotels in some circumstances. The government permitted groups that chose not to register to carry out religious functions in private homes as long as this activity did not disturb neighbors through excessive noise or vehicle congestion. COVID-19 related restrictions, however, disproportionately impacted unlicensed religious organizations that normally congregated in cinemas and hotels but could no longer do so as a result of social distancing regulations and closures.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in early March, the government instituted a nationwide mandatory suspension of group prayers at all mosques, churches, and temples, followed by the ordered closure of all houses of worship in the UAE. From July through September, the Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments began the phased reopening of houses of worship, beginning with mosques and then non-Islamic houses of worship. Houses of worship located in labor camps and industrial zones, which included more than half of all churches located in Abu Dhabi and Al-Ain, were the last to receive permission to open.

The government required all conference organizers, including religious groups, to register conferences and events, including disclosing speaker topics.

In Dubai, there were continued reports of delays in obtaining permits from the CDA to worship in spaces outside of government-designated religious compounds. The CDA oversees civil institutions, nonprofits, and non-Muslim faith communities in the emirate. There were continued reports of restrictions as well as confusion and uncertainty regarding CDA policies for obtaining licenses and event permits, which were not published by the CDA. There were also reports of last-minute event cancellations affecting religious groups.

In May, the CDA ordered St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai to cease online live-streamed masses until it obtained a permit, following the government-ordered closure of religious facilities across the UAE due to the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Mary’s subsequently obtained a permit, and the CDA allowed live-streamed masses to resume. COVID-19 restrictions continue to restrict the activities of some churches in Dubai, including the Catholic and Anglican communities. While these churches were allowed to reopen at the same time as other religious facilities, local regulations prohibited practices such as receiving communion due to concerns these practices would contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Despite the closure of houses of worship as a result of COVID-19, the Abu Dhabi government encouraged non-Islamic houses of worship to live-stream services for major holidays, such as Easter.

Immigration authorities continued to ask foreigners applying for residence permits to declare their religious affiliation on applications. School applications also continued to ask for family religious affiliation. Applicants were required to list a religious affiliation, creating potential legal issues for atheists and agnostics. According to Ministry of Interior officials, the government collected this information for demographic statistical analysis only.

Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths, including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Judaism, said they generally could worship and practice without government interference within designated compounds or buildings or in private facilities or homes. While the government did not generally allow non-Muslims to worship, preach, or conduct prayers in public, there were reports of government-sanctioned exceptions. In February, worshippers attended a prayer ceremony marking the start of the construction of Abu Dhabi’s Hindu temple.

News reports during the year quoted religious leaders, including from the Catholic, Anglican, and Hindu communities, expressing appreciation for government support for their communities and the relative freedom in which their communities could worship. Following a meeting in Abu Dhabi between UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and members of the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushotta Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Hindu community, the BAPS said the meeting “spoke volumes” about the UAE leadership’s “vision and commitment for a more inclusive, more peaceful, and harmonious future.”

The government continued to provide land for non-Islamic cemeteries. Cremation facilities and associated cemeteries were available for the large Hindu community. Non-Muslim groups said the capacity of crematoriums and cemeteries was sufficient to meet demand. The government required residents and nonresidents to obtain a permit to use cremation facilities, and authorities routinely granted such permits. The government allowed individuals from all religious groups except Islam to use the crematoriums.

Some religious groups, particularly Christians and Hindus, advertised religious functions in the press or online, including holiday celebrations, memorial services, religious conventions, and choral concerts, without government objection. The government also allowed businesses to advertise, sell merchandise, and host events for non-Islamic religious holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali. The government allowed local media to report on non-Islamic religious holiday celebrations, including service times and related community safety reminders.

The government did not always enforce the prohibition against bell towers and crosses on churches, and some churches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai displayed crosses on their buildings or had ornamental bell towers; none of them used the towers to ring or chime bells.

Customs authorities continued to review the content of imported religious materials and occasionally confiscated some of them, such as books. In addition, customs authorities occasionally denied or delayed entry to passengers carrying items deemed intended for sorcery, black magic, or witchcraft. Specific items airport inspectors reportedly confiscated included amulets, animal bones, knives, and containers of blood.

Officials from the Awqaf’s Department of Research and Censorship reviewed religious materials, such as books and DVDs published at home and abroad. The department’s Religious Publications Monitoring Section continued to limit the publication and distribution of religious literature to texts it considered consistent with moderate interpretations of Islam and placed restrictions on non-Islamic religious publications, such as material that could be considered proselytizing or promoting a religion other than Islam. The section issued permits to print the Quran and reviewed literature on Quranic interpretation. The government continued to prohibit the publication and distribution of literature it believed promoted extremist Islam and overtly political Islam. The Religious Publications Monitoring Section inspected mosques to ensure prohibited publications were not present.

Except in the judiciary and military, religious minorities (including Shia Muslims) did not serve in senior federal positions.

In October, the Federal Supreme Court upheld a sentence of 100 lashes in an adultery case involving an unmarried Muslim man and woman who confessed to having illicit sex in one of the northern emirates. The court stated, “Article 1 of the Penal Code under the provisions of Islamic Sharia law stipulates giving 100 lashes and expatriation or distancing for a period of one year to an unmarried person.” Although the pair challenged the ruling, both the court of appeal and the Federal Supreme Court based in Abu Dhabi upheld the flogging sentence.

In October, the press reported that the government was considering a proposal to provide additional housing grants and loans to men who take second and third wives.

In November, the Simon Wiesenthal Center sent a letter to the Emir of Sharjah reporting that the Sharjah International Book Fair, held November 4-14, included displays of anti-Semitic books, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Mein Kampf, and other titles. The Wiesenthal Center sent similar letters to the country’s UNESCO representative and to the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested a list of the anti-Semitic titles and vowed to work with the book fair authorities and other relevant ministries to address and prevent the presence of such books in the future.

Abu Dhabi police directed private security personnel at several camps for laborers to surveil gatherings of laborers and report if they discussed security, social, or religious issues.

The government continued to grant permission to build houses of worship on a case-by-case basis. Minority religious groups said, however, the construction of new houses of worship did not keep up with demand from the country’s large noncitizen population. Many existing churches continued to face overcrowding and many congregations lacked their own space. Because of the limited capacity of official houses of worship, dozens of religious organizations and different groups shared worship space, sometimes in private homes. In Dubai, overcrowding of the emirate’s two church compounds was especially pronounced, and routinely led to congestion and traffic. Some smaller congregations met in private locations or shared space with other churches to which rulers had given land. Noncitizen groups with land grants did not pay rent on the property. Several emirates also continued to provide free utilities for religious buildings.

Noncitizens, who generally made up the entire membership of minority religious groups, relied on grants and permission from local rulers to build houses of worship. For these groups, land titles remained in the respective ruler’s name. The country’s Christian churches were all built on land donated by the ruling families of the emirates in which they were located, including houses of worship for Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglicans, and other denominations. Ajman and Umm Al Quwain remained the only emirates without dedicated land for Christian churches, although congregations gathered in other spaces, such as hotels. In April, Dubai’s government granted the Church of Jesus Christ a land concession at the Expo 2020 site, which Dubai will hand over after the event’s conclusion in 2022 for construction of the Church’s first temple in the Middle East region.

There are two Hindu temples and one Sikh temple in Dubai. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed allocated land in Al-Wathba, Abu Dhabi, for the construction of a privately funded Hindu temple, scheduled to be completed by 2022. There are no Buddhist temples; some Buddhist groups met in private facilities.

There are no synagogues for the expatriate resident Jewish population, but regular communal worship took place on the Sabbath and holidays in private Dubai villas and hotels. Construction in Abu Dhabi of the first official synagogue in the country is scheduled to begin in 2021 as part of the larger government-funded Abrahamic Family House – a project slated to bring together a mosque, church, and synagogue to represent the three Abrahamic faiths. In October, international press reported members of Dubai’s Jewish community built a sukkah (a small shelter used during celebration of Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival) outside a hotel at Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa skyscraper. In December, Dubai’s Jewish community held several public Hanukkah celebrations, which included one congregation lighting a large Menorah in front of the Burj Khalifa.

Construction of a new Anglican church in Abu Dhabi remained stalled at 50 percent completion due financial issues; the projected completion date was not clear at year’s end.

Although the government permitted non-Muslim groups to raise money from their congregations and from abroad, some unlicensed noncitizen religious groups were unable to open bank accounts because of the lack of a clear legal category to assign the organization. Several religious minority leaders reported this ambiguity created practical barriers to renting space, paying salaries, collecting funds, and purchasing insurance, and made it difficult to maintain financial controls and accountability.

In January and February, the government hosted members of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, a nine-member multifaith committee that included representatives from the UAE, Egypt, Italy, the United States, Bulgaria, and Spain and was tasked with implementing the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together a declaration of reconciliation, cooperation, tolerance, and fraternity among believers and nonbelievers that was announced during the Pope’s 2019 visit to Abu Dhabi. During the meetings, the participants discussed their commitment to the goal of fostering coexistence, peace, and social fraternity.

In February, the government hosted the Voices of Human Fraternity Forum, which brought together 150 students, youth leaders, advocates, and educational representatives from around the world to promote the values reflected in the Document on Human Fraternity.

Following the announcement of normalization of relations with Israel, the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism sent a letter to all hotels advising them to add kosher menus to their food services. The letter said that kitchens must be prepared for the requirements of Jewish dietary laws and that there would be ongoing kashrut supervision, similar to that of hotels in Israel. According to the letter, “All hotel establishments are advised to include kosher food options on room service menus and at all food and beverage outlets in their establishments.”

During a joint World Muslim Communities Council and Supreme Council of Imams and Islamic Affairs virtual seminar in August, entitled “The Role of Imams in Reinforcing Community Peace,” the chairman of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, Dr. Mohammed al Kaabi, said, “The right path to confronting extremism is to develop moderate religious awareness and support influential religious leaders.”

In September, the Minister of Culture and Youth said the government wanted to send “a message of hope to the community in Mosul, which has always been an incubator for religious and intellectual discourse.”

In November, the Education Affairs Office of the Crown Prince in Abu Dhabi announced that at least 1,500 teachers would receive moral education training to instill tolerance, community spirit, and compassion in students.

Some Muslim and non-Muslim groups reported their ability to engage in nonreligious charitable activities, such as providing meals or social services, was limited because of government restrictions. For example, the government required groups to obtain permission prior to any fundraising activities. Religious groups reported official permission was required for any activities held outside their place of worship, including charitable activities, and this permission was sometimes difficult to obtain.

Prominent government figures routinely acknowledged minority religious holidays and promoted messages of tolerance through various print and media platforms. In September, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan extended New Year’s greetings to the country’s Jewish community on social media on Rosh Hashanah. In October, he visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, where he stated that the visit to the memorial “underscored the importance of human values such as coexistence, tolerance and accepting the other…as well as respect for all creeds and faiths.”

In November, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi opened a multifaith prayer room for use by hospital visitors.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January, local press reported that a man identified as a GCC national tried to burn his grandmother alive because he believed she was using black magic to turn him into a woman. The grandmother suffered second and third-degree burns over 25 percent of her body. The Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance sentenced the man to five years in prison and ordered him to pay 50,000 dirhams ($13,600) to the victim. The man challenged the ruling in the appellate court, which reduced the prison sentence to three years but maintained the compensation amount. The defendant then appealed to Abu Dhabi’s Court of Cassation, the emirate’s highest court, where the prosecution argued that the appeal be rejected and that the court order the defendant to pay the court costs. At year’s end, the status of the appeal remained unknown.

In April, the press reported an Indian manager at an Abu Dhabi firm posted graphic anti-Islamic images on Facebook showing how “jihadi” coronavirus could cause exponentially more deaths than explosives. His employer told the press it would investigate the incident. Later that month, an employer fired an Indian worker in Dubai and referred the case to police after the individual ridiculed Muslim worshippers in a Facebook posting about COVID-19. In May, the press reported that three other Indians, in separate incidents, had been disciplined by their employers in Dubai and Sharjah for social media posts deemed offensive to Islam. In one case, the employer referred the matter to police.

According to non-Muslim groups, there continued to be societal pressure discouraging conversion from Islam and encouraging conversion to Islam. Local newspapers published stories portraying conversions to Islam positively. By contrast, observers reported conversion from Islam was highly discouraged through strong cultural and social pressure, particularly from family members. In October, Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Islamic Culture reported 2,570 Dubai residents converted to Islam in the first three quarters of 2020.

Holiday foods, decorations, posters, and books continued to be widely available during major Christian and Hindu holidays, and Christmas trees and elaborate decorations remained prominent features at malls, hotels, and major shopping centers. The news media continued to print reports of religious holiday celebrations, including Christmas festivities and Hindu festivals such as Diwali.

Religious literature, primarily related to Islam, was available in stores, although bookstores generally did not carry the core religious works of other faiths, such as the Bible or Hindu sacred texts.

Radio and television stations frequently broadcast Islamic programming, including sermons and lectures; they did not feature similar content for other religious groups.

In some cases, organizations reported that hotels, citing government regulatory barriers, were unwilling to rent space for non-Islamic religious purposes, such as weekly church services. Local media reported difficulties in obtaining bank loans to cover construction costs for new religious spaces, including for registered religious organizations.

According to press reports, Dubai’s first kosher restaurant, Kaf, opened in the Burj Khalifa, a local landmark and the world’s tallest building, on September 17. On September 18, the Dubai newspaper Khaleej Times published a Rosh Hashanah supplement. On December 1, Dubai hosted the country’s first Jewish wedding.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, visiting U.S. government officials, and embassy and consulate general officers met with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Abu Dhabi’s DCD and the Department of Culture and Tourism during the year. U.S. representatives discussed efforts to support religious diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance; licensing procedures and regulatory practices involving religious groups; and government initiatives to promote moderate interpretations of Islam. Embassy representatives also engaged with government entities on the importance of prohibiting anti-Semitic materials from government-sponsored book fairs.

The U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom spoke with the chairman of the UAE Fatwa Council and president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, on the subject of furthering religious freedom, protecting religious minorities, and the role of scholars in promoting peace. He also spoke with the head of the Fatwa Council about organizing joint events under the New Alliance of Virtue, an initiative launched by the government in 2019 aimed at fostering religious freedom, cooperation, and tolerance.

The U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Dr. Ali al-Nuaimi of the government-affiliated Hedayah, a center focusing on countering violent extremism, to discuss combatting anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Embassy and consulate general officers regularly met with representatives of minority religious groups to learn more about issues affecting their communities as part of continuing efforts to monitor their abilities to associate and worship. As part of its Ramadan outreach activities, in May the embassy hosted a virtual iftar for the healthcare workers of Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. Remarks by U.S. and local officials throughout the year praised mutual efforts to understand different religions and cultures.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The Emergency Coronavirus Bill was amended in March in response to concerns from Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups that the bill would permit cremation of COVID-19 victims “against the wishes of the deceased.” In January, the Welsh government announced plans to make relationships, sexuality, and religion a mandatory part of the curriculum for all students over the age of five by 2022. In September, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Rehman Chishti resigned from his position as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Religious Freedom. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce was appointed his successor in December. In July, Imam Qari Asim, the Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to propose a working definition of Islamophobia. On the one-year anniversary of the March mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, the government announced that funding for the Places of Worship Scheme, which provides physical security measures to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Hindu places of worship, would double from the previous year to 3.2 million pounds ($4.37 million) in 2020-2021. In April, the government provided 14 million pounds ($19.13 million) via a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to provide security at Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues. In January, the Scottish government announced 500,000 pounds ($683,000) to fund security at places of worship. In January, the government renewed its commitment to the founding principles of the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm Declaration). To mark International Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the UK government announced a one-million pound ($1.37 million) grant to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to help preserve the site of the former concentration camp. The main political parties and party members continued to face numerous accusations of religious bias. The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim incidents, with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitting a dossier of 150 cases of alleged anti-Muslim incidents by party members to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The party announced it would conduct a review into how complaints were handled and the EHRC accepted the party’s terms of reference for the investigation, but the MCB criticized the scope of the inquiry. In October, the EHRC released a report calling on the Labour Party to reform its handling of allegations of anti-Semitism within the party. In light of his negative reaction to the report, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from both the wider Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party and was forced to sit as an independent MP, a first for a former leader. While his wider-party membership was later reinstated in November, he continued to serve as an independent MP. In December, the Labour Party published a plan to implement the EHRC’s recommended reforms.

The government reported a 5 percent decline (from 8,566 to 7,203 offenses) in religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales in the 2019-2020 period compared to the same period one year prior. This was the first period of decline in religiously motivated hate crimes since 2012-2013. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded (in 91 percent of cases), 50 percent (3,089 offenses) of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims, and 19 percent (1,205 offenses) targeted Jews. The annual report of the NGO Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 1,668 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, an 8 percent decline from 2019, yet still the second-highest ever annual figure recorded by the organization. Among the incidents were 97 assaults and three incidents classified as “extreme violence.” (Due to privacy laws, CST did not provide details on cases of extreme violence.) There were a further 1,399 incidents of nonviolent abusive behavior. CST recorded 634 anti-Semitic online incidents, a 9 percent decline from the previous year. In September, the NGO Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which monitors anti-Muslim activity, released its annual report for 2018. The report disclosed 3,173 reports of anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2018, including 1,891 recorded by police. This was the highest number since the NGO’s founding in 2011. Several religiously motivated conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic circulated online. According to a report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories included claims that Jews used global lockdowns to “steal everything.” Both Jewish and Muslim communities were vilified by media commentators such as Katie Hopkins, who alleged that Muslims were flouting lockdown restrictions and spreading COVID-19 by continuing Friday prayers at mosques.

U.S. embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials, political parties, and religious groups to advance religious freedom issues, with a strong emphasis on digital engagement and use of social media in response to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. In May, the Ambassador, along with the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, gave remarks at virtual iftars, which were part of the largest such series in the UK, entitled #RamadanatHome. In June, the Ambassador hosted a virtual meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, and separately, with Labour Leader MP Sir Keir Starmer, to discuss the Labour Party’s plan to confront the issue of anti-Semitism within the party. In April, the Ambassador spoke to the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues to extend his best wishes for Passover and to show support for the British Jewish communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, in May, the Ambassador called Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan of the Central London Mosque to commemorate Ramadan and discuss how the Muslim community was faring, given COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on gatherings. In December, a senior embassy official delivered remarks and conducted a virtual candle lighting in honor of Diwali, in partnership with the Hindu Forum of Europe. In January, a senior embassy official represented the United States at the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and met with Trustees of the Holocaust Day Memorial Trust. To mark National Religious Freedom Day in January, the consulate general in Belfast hosted an interfaith dialogue. Throughout the year, the embassy’s social media messaging on international religious freedom reached approximately 400,000 persons.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 65.8 million (midyear 2020 estimate). Census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian. Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identified as Muslim; 1.5 percent Hindu; 0.8 percent Sikh; 0.5 percent Jewish; and 0.4 Buddhist. Approximately 25 percent of the population reported no religious affiliation in the 2011 census, and 7 percent chose not to answer. Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate there are 137,000 members in the country, and the Baha’i community estimates it has more than 7,000 members.

According to the 2019 British Social Attitudes survey, an annual survey conducted by the independent National Center for Social Research, 52 percent of those surveyed UK-wide described themselves as having no religion, 12 percent as Anglican, 7 percent as Catholic, and 9 percent as belonging to non-Christian religious groups. The survey showed 6 percent of individuals identified as Muslim, less than 0.5 percent as Jewish, and 3 percent as “other non-Christian.”

The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but it also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of British and other European descent. Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.

Census figures for Scotland in 2011 indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and other Christian groups (6 percent). The Muslim community constitutes 1.4 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which together make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists. Persons not belonging to any religious group make up 36.7 percent of the population, and the remainder did not provide information on religious affiliation.

A 2017 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found 58 percent of those surveyed did not identify with any religion, 18 percent identified as part of the Church of Scotland, 10 percent as Roman Catholic, 11 percent as other Christian, and 2 percent as non-Christian.

Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicate 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant – consisting of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (19 percent), Church of Ireland (14 percent), Methodist Church in Ireland (3 percent), and other Protestant groups (6 percent) – and 41 percent Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent of the population belongs to non-Christian religious groups, and approximately 10 percent professes no religion; 7 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation.

In his 2019 ‘Sectarianism in Northern Ireland’ report, Ulster University Professor Duncan Morrow found there is a “clear statistical trend towards a change in the religious minority-majority structure of Northern Ireland.” His research illustrates a consistent decline of Protestants in all 26 district council areas of Northern Ireland since 2001, contrasted with an increased Catholic population in 19 of 26 council areas in the same time period. Morrow’s analysis of 2011 census figures also illustrates this trend is likely to continue. Census figures show a Protestant majority in the over-60 age bracket and a Catholic majority in the under-20 age bracket. Professor Paul Nolan of Queen’s University Belfast stated based on current statistical trends, there will be a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland by 2021, when the next census will be conducted.

Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cite 22 religious groups in the population of 71,000; 78 percent identifies as Christian, including 16 percent Anglican, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent African Methodist Episcopal, and 7 percent Seventh-day Adventist. Approximately 2 percent identifies with other religious groups, including approximately 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians, and 120 Jews. Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the Queen for spiritual matters or leadership.

The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”

As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.

Blasphemy and blasphemous libel remain criminal offenses in Northern Ireland under common law. To date, however, there have been no convictions for blasphemy or blasphemous libel there. Northern Ireland Humanists continues to run a campaign to repeal blasphemy laws originating from the 1888 Law of Libel Amendment Act and the 1819 Criminal Libel Act, which remain in force in the region. These laws prohibit “composing, printing or publishing any blasphemous libel or any seditious libel tending to bring into hatred…any matter in Church or State.”

In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate speech and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. Police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than does the underlying crime alone.

Blasphemy is an offense under common law in Scotland. It is a crime against public order and decency and has two aspects: whether an individual’s spoken or written words against God or religion occurred, and the words are spoken or written with intent to cause disorder. The law relates only to Christianity and is punishable by fines or imprisonment or both. The law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.

Northern Ireland does not have specific hate crime laws, but current legislation allows for increased sentencing if offenses are judged to be motivated by hostility based on religion, among other aggravating factors.

By law, the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. A representative of the congregation, for example, a proprietor, trustee, or religious head, must complete and submit an application form and pay a fee of 29 pounds ($40) to a local registrar. The General Registrar Office typically provides registration certificates to the local superintendent registrar within 20 working days. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter. The law only applies in England and Wales and does not cover the Church of England or in Wales.

The law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 18 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE, and in England and Wales, students may opt out themselves at age 14, although religious worship continues until students leave school at either age 16 or 18. State schools that are not legally designated as religious require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and teachers, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice. All schools not designated as religious, whether private or state-run, must maintain neutrality in their interpretation of the RE syllabus and must avoid presenting one faith or belief as greater than another.

State schools in England and Wales that are not legally designated as religious are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. State schools not designated as religious are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.

The government requires schools to consider the practices of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This includes wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education requires schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it acknowledges schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.

In Scotland, only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance at least six times per year is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas and Easter. Parents may make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.

In Bermuda, the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but it prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.

There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.

The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.

Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant or Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and, “The school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.

An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.

The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief” and requires “reasonable” religious accommodation in the workplace for employees. The EHRC – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The Minister for Women and Equalities appoints the members. If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.

In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief in employment; however, schools may be selective on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.

Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.

Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the work of the upper house.

The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.

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

Government Practices

On March 23, Muslim and Jewish advocacy groups issued statements in response to proposed burial measures in the Emergency Coronavirus Bill ahead of its debate in the House of Commons. The draft bill allowed designated local authorities to disregard the section of public health legislation designed to “prevent a local authority from being able to cremate a body against the wishes of the deceased.” Religious groups, including the Muslim Engagement and Development advocacy group and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, strongly criticized the bill, which they said would give medical professionals the ability to override the religious beliefs of the deceased and their families in regard to the treatment of their body after death. Labour MP Naz Shah proposed an amendment to the bill intended “to ensure if local authorities reach their capacity, they do not proceed to cremate the deceased from faith backgrounds automatically” without appropriate consultation. In response, the government agreed to amend the bill to reflect Shah’s concerns, negating the need for a vote.

On January 21, the Welsh government announced that relationships, sexuality, and religion will be compulsory for all children over the age of five as part of the new “Curriculum for Wales Framework,” being developed and refined before use in schools in 2022. On March 12, Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced the establishment of a Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) working group to agree on topics to be covered by schools and to prepare detailed guidance on the proposed changes. The working group includes key stakeholders, teachers, teachers unions, and faith organizations, and is cochaired by the government and regional consortia. Religious objections include concerns that children will be taught values that contradict their parents’ beliefs or religion, such as LGBTQI+ relationships, constituting an erosion of parental rights. Expressing concerns surrounding the lack of detail on what will be in the RSE curriculum and at what age children will learn various aspects, religious groups stated that young children should be allowed a childhood free of “sexualization.” Humanists UK and the National Secular Society supported ending of the right to withdraw children from classes, in principle. They argued that religious worldviews must be taught impartially before the right to withdraw is removed.

In September, MP Rehman Chishti resigned from his position as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, which he had held for one year. Chishti said his resignation was not related to differing views on religious freedom, but instead on his opposition to economic legislation dealing with internal markets. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce was appointed to the role in December. Bruce is also vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Groups including Humanists UK and the Council of Christians and Jews expressed concerns over Bruce’s previous support of mandatory prayer in schools and hope that the government would not pursue a Christians-only agenda.

In July, Imam Qari Asim, Deputy Chair of the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, was appointed independent advisor to propose a working definition of Islamophobia after an existing definition came under question for potentially undermining freedom of speech. The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group was established in 2012 to develop and implement proposals to address anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The group is made up of representatives from Muslim communities, independent experts, academics, and a range of government departments, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), and the Home Office. The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group did not agree on a working definition by year’s end. Separately, the London Metropolitan University became the first UK university to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims’ working definition of Islamophobia in November. The APPG’s definition states, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expression of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

On February 25, the All-Party Parliamentary Humanists Group (APPHG) published a report entitled “Time for Reflection: A report of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group on religion or belief in the UK Parliament.” The report called for parliamentary prayers to be replaced with a “time for reflection”; for the House of Commons Speaker to consider introducing additional forms of religious and pastoral support alongside that already provided by the Anglican chaplain; and for an end to automatic seats in the House of Lords for Anglican bishops. The report highlighted the exclusive nature of “Prayers,” a parliamentary tradition to open the day’s proceedings, which also serves as a way to obtain a seat for the day, since these are not formally reserved. The report argued that MPs who chose not to participate in the religious prayers could miss out on seats in the parliamentary chambers for key debates including during the Prime Ministers Questions and the Budget sessions. The report also revealed details of nine cases in which bishops in the House of Lords changed the outcomes of votes, including two votes that directly benefited the Church of England.

Timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attacks, on March 15, the government’s Home Office announced that during 2019-2020, the Places of Worship Scheme provided 1.6 million pounds ($2.19 million) to fund physical security measures at 27 mosques, 13 churches, five Sikh gurdwaras, and four Hindu temples. This was the highest level of funding for the scheme since it was established in 2016. The government announced that funding for the period covering March 2020-2021 would be doubled to 3.2 million pounds ($4.37 million).

The government simultaneously launched an eight-week public consultation period, from March 15 to June 28, to improve the government’s response to religiously motivated hate crimes at places of worship. Consultation results were not published at year’s end.

On April 1, the Home Office granted the CST 14 million pounds ($19.13 million) for the Jewish Community Protective Security Grant to cover protective security at Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues.

In 2019, the government simplified the application system for the Places of Worship security funding scheme by commissioning a central contractor to install physical security measures. Applicants were no longer required to show they had already experienced a hate crime, and became eligible to apply if they showed they were vulnerable to hate crime. Associated faith community centers were also eligible to apply. The Chair of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group welcomed the developments and said, “The simplified process will hopefully make it even easier for mosques to improve their security and will go some way in building community confidence.”

In January, the Scottish government announced 500,000 pounds ($683,000) of funding for security at places of worship. Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell announced the new scheme on Holocaust Memorial Day during a visit to a synagogue in Glasgow. Yousaf said the government was committed to ensuring “safety and security for our faith communities” and he hoped the “scheme will provide reassurance to all faith communities and their places of worship that hate crime and prejudice will not be tolerated.”

On January 19, the government renewed its commitment to the founding principles of the 2000 Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (Stockholm Declaration). As part of the commemorations to mark the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Declaration, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, represented the country at an International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) meeting held to adopt a renewed commitment. Lord Ahmad said, “It is important that we reaffirm our collective commitment to combatting prejudice and intolerance, and pledge to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust that they will never be forgotten.”

On January 27, to coincide with International Holocaust Memorial Day, the government announced a one-million pound ($1.37 million) grant to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation endowment fund to help preserve the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In a statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “The government is supporting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation because we must never forget history’s darkest moment, and we must educate future generations so it can never be repeated.” Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said, “The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish countrymen and women.” Separately, the City of London committed 300,000 pounds ($410,000) to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to support the preservation of the gas chambers, crematoria, barracks, and other exhibits.

In January, the royal family and members of the cabinet marked Holocaust Remembrance Day via social media. Additionally, Prince Charles delivered a speech at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, on January 23. At the event to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, Prince Charles warned, “Hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart” and, with lessons of the Holocaust still “searingly relevant,” he called on the 40 world leaders in attendance to be “fearless in confronting falsehoods” and violence.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust hosted a remembrance service at which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William spoke. The Prime Minister said, “I feel a deep sense of shame that here in Britain – in 2020 – we seem to be dealing with a resurgence of the virus of anti-Semitism – and I know that I carry responsibility as Prime Minister to do everything possible to stamp it out.” He also committed to constructing the National Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre, which was announced in 2015 but remains in planning stages. The Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, and cities and towns across the United Kingdom also hosted Holocaust Memorial Day events, with many focusing on this year’s theme, “Stand Together,” to promote interfaith engagement.

The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than by religious groups. All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population. Prison service regulations stated that “…chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”

The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. There were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian. The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits. During the year, the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board reviewed how chaplain services were provided to minority religious groups and was considering the use of suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.

In January 2019 (the latest data available), there were 6,802 state-funded faith-based schools in England, representing 34 percent of all state-funded mainstream schools and serving approximately 1.9 million students. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at the secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 72 “other Christian,” 36 Jewish, 25 Methodist, 14 Islamic, six Sikh, five Hindu, and two multifaith state-funded faith-based schools. There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish. The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.

The Conservative Party faced allegations of anti-Muslim sentiment. In March, the MCB submitted a dossier of 150 cases to the EHRC that catalogued alleged anti-Muslim incidents attributed to members of the Conservative Party, increasing pressure on the EHRC to launch a formal investigation. The dossier was in addition to 150 cases submitted in 2019, making a total of 300 cases. The submission catalogued evidence of what the MCB stated were anti-Muslim comments and actions by hundreds of party activists, local councillors, MPs, and advisors to the Prime Minister. Examples include MP Sally Ann Hart, who in 2017 posted on Facebook a claim by an anti-Islamist activist that a women’s march had been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood to promote the “Muslim agenda.” Hart publicly apologized for her comments.

In May, the EHRC dropped plans for an inquiry into “Islamophobia” in the Conservative Party after the party announced it would conduct its own review of how complaints were handled. On May 12, the party established the terms of reference for the investigation, which were formally supported by the EHRC. The party confirmed that the review would examine the “nature and extent” of complaints of anti-Muslim statements by party members since 2015 and would also consider what sanctions could be taken against members who quit the party before being investigated. Furthermore, the investigation would consider allegations of discrimination relating to all “protected characteristics” in the 2010 Equalities Act, including not only religion, but also age, race, sexual orientation, and disability.

The MCB criticized the scope of the inquiry. On May 12, MCB Secretary General Harun Khan said, “By restricting the terms to an inquiry merely into the complaints received, the party is choosing to summarily dismiss all the issues of the toxic culture of racism that have been raised by the Muslim Council of Britain.” MP Amanda Milling, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, said that having the terms of reference agreed upon was a positive step forward. She said the party is “committed to this investigation, to ensure that any abuse that is not fit for public life is stamped out.”

In September, a YouGov poll commissioned by the Hope Not Hate political action group found that 47 percent of Conservative Party members surveyed in July believed Islam is “a threat to the British way of life.” The poll of 1,213 Conservative Party members found that more than 33 percent believed that Islamist terror attacks reflected a widespread hostility towards Britain among the Muslim community, and that 58 percent thought “there are no-go areas in Britain where Sharia Law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.” However, 53 percent of those asked thought it was wrong to blame all Muslims for the actions of a violent minority. Former Conservative Party Chair Baroness Warsi said, “This latest poll is further evidence that the party has a real and serious issue with racism directed at Muslims.”

Media reported in October that Rakhia Ismail, the former ceremonial mayor of the London district of Islington, resigned from the Labour Party and joined the Conservative Party, citing the anti-Muslim sentiment she experienced within Labour as her reason for leaving.

In January, all five Labour Party leadership candidates signed the “Ten Pledges to End the Anti-Semitism Crisis,” a document prepared by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The 10 pledges included an agreement to resolve outstanding cases, to reform the party disciplinary process to ensure complaints were properly handled, and to engage the British Jewish community on a way forward. The move was criticized by the left-wing paper Morning Star and far-left Labour members, who said it was wrong for an outside body to interfere in the party’s leadership election. In a parallel deputy leadership contest, two candidates – Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgnon and Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler – refused to sign the declaration.

After winning the Labour Party leadership election on April 4, Sir Keir Starmer used his victory speech and his first op-ed as leader in The Sunday Times to apologize publicly to the British Jewish community concerning previous allegations of anti-Semitism on the part of Labour Party leaders and members. On April 7, both Starmer and newly elected deputy leader Angela Rayner held a virtual meeting with representatives of Jewish community organizations to discuss ways to repair the party’s relationship with the British Jewish community. In a joint statement, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the NGO CST, and Jewish Labour welcomed Starmer’s commitment, describing it as a “good start,” and praising him for achieving “in four days more than his predecessor did in four years.” Starmer also outlined a plan to rid the party of anti-Semitism and rebuild trust between Labour and the Jewish community.

In July, newly appointed Labour Party General Secretary David Evans formally apologized and settled a defamation case brought by seven whistle-blowers who appeared in a 2019 BBC Panorama documentary accusing the party of mishandling cases of anti-Semitism. The whistleblowers had previously sued the Labour Party for attempting to undermine their reputations after it released a statement referring to them as “disaffected former staff” with “personal and political axes to grind.”

In October, the EHRC completed an 18-month investigation and published its final report into complaints of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The report found the party had allowed “unlawful harassment,” political interference in the party’s complaints process, and a lack of education and training for staff handling the complaints process. Targeted recommendations included commissioning an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints; implementing clear rules and guidance to prohibit and sanction political interference in the complaints process; publishing a comprehensive policy and procedure setting out how anti-Semitism complaints will be handled; commissioning and providing education and training for all individuals involved in the anti-Semitism complaints process; and monitoring and evaluating improvements to ensure lasting change. In addition to the targeted recommendations that the EHRC has a legal mandate to enforce, the commission urged changes to both the party culture and its processes.

The EHRC report heavily criticized the former party leadership under Jeremy Corbyn and found that the party breached the Equality Act by committing “unlawful harassment” in several cases in which Labour MPs were found to have used “anti-Semitic tropes and suggesting that the complaints of anti-Semitism were fakes or smears.” A case cited in the report involved former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who said “the Israel Lobby,” which aimed “to undermine Corbyn’s leadership,” was responsible for allegations of anti-Semitism against fellow Labour MP Naz Shah. Livingstone later resigned from the party. The EHRC found a further 18 “borderline cases” involving local councillors, election candidates, and branch officials. It also noted several incidents of political interference by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office in addressing complaints of anti-Semitism. The EHRC’s report provided recommendations, and the watchdog requested that the Labour Party submit an implementation plan.

During a press briefing following the release of EHRC’s report, Labour Party leader Starmer said an action plan would be submitted to the EHRC before year’s end, apologized formally to the Jewish community and Jewish Labour party members, and provided assurances that Labour accepted the report without qualification. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released his own statement decrying anti-Semitism, but he suggested the findings of the report were “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and media. Party leaders subsequently suspended Corbyn from the Labour Party and removed him from the Parliamentary Labour Party, forcing him to sit as an independent MP – a first for a former leader. Corbyn contested the suspension and his wider-party membership was subsequently reinstated, but he continued to sit as an independent MP at year’s end.

British Jewish organizations and some Labour figures welcomed the EHRC report, while expressing concern about existing conditions within the Labour Party. The Campaign Against Antisemitism said, “The EHRC’s report utterly vindicated Britain’s Jews, who were accused of lying and exaggerating, acting as agents of another country, and using their religion to ‘smear’ the Labour Party.” In December, Labour published the anticipated action plan for tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks. The plan was developed within six weeks of the EHRC report’s publication and sent to Parliament on December 10, after the National Executive Committee, Labour’s ruling body, unanimously agreed. The plan commits the party to establish an independent complaints process by December 10, 2021 and to deal with the backlog of existing anti-Semitism complaints. Labour also committed to establish an advisory board of Jewish members and develop educational material on anti-Semitism. The EHRC approved the plan before publication.

In January, Conservative Party Councillor in Dudley, Colin Elcock, was suspended indefinitely from the party and was removed from the Conservative Group of councillors after tweeting that Islam was “domination not integration,” and asking if people in Iran were “all on the dole.” Council leader Patrick Harley described the comments as “inappropriate” but did not rule out a return for Elcock.

Also in January, media criticized Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, for approving the publication of a cartoon in 2006 that depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb under his turban on The Spectator website at a time when he had “overall responsibility” for the website. In February, Andrew Sabisky, an advisor to the Prime Minister, resigned after media uncovered a 2014 book review of Tatu Vanhanen’s Ethnic Conflicts, in which Sabisky questioned whether the growing Muslim population in the UK should be met with violent resistance.

On February 3, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a Labour member was expelled from the party for accusing television presenter Rachel Riley of “prostituting” her Jewish heritage. Bob James, from North Wales, was suspended from the party in March 2019 over a series of tweets aimed at Riley that included the claim that her campaign against anti-Semitism under Corbyn was “poisoning the memory of your ancestors.” He also tweeted, “Judaism is a religion but what Israel does in the name of God is pure Satanic.” The Jewish Chronicle commended Steve Cooke, a member of the Stockton North Labour Party and a party political education officer, for being “instrumental in demanding the party launch an investigation into Mr. James’s conduct.” According to the article, during the disciplinary process, it emerged that James had been subject to an earlier complaint over social media posts in which he said, “Israel is using the Holocaust as an excuse for murder.” A party source confirmed that James had been expelled and commented, “Under the previous administration, some complaints weren’t dealt with adequately,” and “Since Jennie Formby became General Secretary [in 2018], we’ve used a comprehensive, central complaints system.”

In late June, the Labour Party removed MP Rebecca Long-Bailey from her position as Shadow Education Secretary for tweeting her support for an interview that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric. Individuals described as party moderates praised Long-Bailey’s dismissal, but those characterized as more leftist within the party criticized the move.

In August, Care NI, a Christian charitable organization, stated that since 2015, 601 cases of criminal damage to religious buildings had occurred in Northern Ireland, one every three days. Care NI called for the Places of Worship security scheme to be introduced in Northern Ireland, the only region of the UK where it did not apply.

The Northern Ireland Humanists group continued to publicly call for the repeal of the region’s blasphemy laws, passed in 1891 and 1888. All major political parties supported repeal except for the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which stated, “Anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation did not provide adequate protection for Christians.”

During the year, the Scottish Parliament agreed to support the principles of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, and the legislature’s Justice Committee was scrutinizing and amending the legislation at year’s end. The bill would repeal Scotland’s blasphemy laws. However, the National Secular Society warned that the replacement legislation risked creating a more wide-ranging definition of blasphemy, describing the bill as a “de facto clampdown on freedom of expression.”

In June, Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long announced that new hate crime legislation, including measures covering hate crimes based on religion, would not be brought forward for at least two years. An independent review into hate crime legislation, including religious hate crime, concluded in November, with 34 recommendations made to improve support for victims, widen the range of protections, as well as opportunities for restorative justice. Northern Ireland Justice Minister Long welcomed the review report, stating the recommendations will help to strengthen and update Northern Ireland’s hate crime legislation.

In July, the Christian Institute, a nondenominational Christian charity dedicated to the “furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom,” criticized the hate crime legislation review and said the report would propose extending the definition of hate crime to apply to religious practitioners opposed to same-sex marriage ceremonies. In September, the Northern Ireland Office confirmed that legislation passed in July providing for religious same-sex marriages also included equality law protections, which shield religious bodies and officiants from charges of discrimination against same-sex couples should they refuse to officiate.

In July, the legal regulations required to hold the next census in England and Wales on March 21, 2021 were passed into law. Humanists UK raised concerns, arguing that “What is your religion?” is a leading question, as it presumes respondents have, or should have, a religion. Humanist UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Public Policy Richy Thompson said, “We are hugely disappointed that the ONS [Office for National Statistics], despite its own admission that the Census religion question is leading, has chosen to continue with it for the 2021 Census.” He said “Census data is used across the country to determine religion or belief provision in public services; from school places, to hospital services, to the provision of public services.” Humanists UK conducted a public outreach campaign to ensure that individuals identifying as nonreligious understood they should mark the “no religion” box when responding.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 6,822 recorded offenses of religiously motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, a 5 percent decrease from the previous year (7,203 in 2018/19). This marked the first decrease in religious hate crimes since the year ending March 2013, when there was a 1 percent drop. There was no breakdown by type of crime. Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded (in 91 percent of cases), 50 percent (3,089 offenses) of religious hate crime offenses targeted Muslims, and 19 percent (1,205 offenses) targeted Jews. Of the other offenses where perceived religion was recorded, 9 percent (531 offenses) targeted Christians, 3 percent (202 offenses) Sikhs, and 2 percent (114) Hindus. According to Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, figures rose sharply in March 2019 immediately following the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tell MAMA recorded 95 incidents in the week following the attack; in a typical week the total was 30-35.

In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) reported 660 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 24 percent increase from the 529 crimes recorded in the same period in 2018-19. The COPFS cautioned against making direct comparisons with previous data sets due to a change in methodology.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 15 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 41 incidents during 2019-20, a decrease from 22 crimes reported in the previous period. The PSNI additionally reported 622 sectarian crimes, described as religion being among the motivating factors, in 640 incidents during 2019-20.

The CST recorded 97 violent anti-Semitic assaults during the year, a 39 percent decrease from the 158 reported in 2019. The report noted that this was unsurprising, given that COVID-19 pandemic restrictions greatly reduced social interactions. An additional three incidents were classified by CST as “extreme violence,” meaning the incident involved potential grievous bodily harm or a threat to life, compared to one such recorded incident in 2019. There were 72 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 1,399 incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, graffiti, social media, and hate mail; 85 direct anti-Semitic threats; and, 12 cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails. Of the 72 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property, 45 (63 percent) involved damage to the homes and vehicles of Jewish people, compared to 53 percent in 2019. All of the listed totals were lower than those recorded over the same period in 2019. Approximately two-thirds of the 1,668 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the Greater London and Greater Manchester administrative regions – which are home to the two largest Jewish communities in the UK. The CST recorded 941 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London, a decrease of 1 percent compared with 2019. The CST recorded a decrease of 31 percent in anti-Semitic incidents in Greater Manchester. The CST reported that the decrease in reported incidents was likely correlated with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, but might also be due to lapses in information sharing between CST and the Greater Manchester Police. CST observed a broader geographical spread of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 than in 2019. Elsewhere in the UK, CST recorded at least one anti-Semitic incident in 42 of the 43 national police regions. Several of the incidents were reported to CST by police via a national data-sharing agreement.

In July, Heshmat Khalifa, a trustee of the country’s largest Muslim charity, Islamic Relief Worldwide, stepped down after media reported his Facebook postings from 2014 and 2015 described the President of Egypt as a “pimp son of the Jews,” and Israeli authorities as “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs.” The entire board of the organization resigned in August when media reported that Khalifa’s successor, Almoutaz Tayara, and senior director Tayeb Abdoun had also posted anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas content online. Following the revelations, the Charity Commission initiated a compliance review that was ongoing at year’s end.

An attacker stabbed the muezzin of the London Central Mosque during prayers at the mosque premises on February 20. The victim survived the attack and was treated for non-life threatening wounds. London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed the attack would not be treated as a terror-related incident. The assailant, Daniel Horton, was apprehended by worshippers until police arrived. Witnesses to the attack said the assailant had been praying behind the muezzin before the attack and that he had attended the mosque previously. In response to the attack, the Muslim Council of Britain stated, “It is deeply concerning that this has happened. Given other recent attacks elsewhere, many Muslims are on edge.” Prime Minister Johnson tweeted that he was “deeply saddened,” and that his “thoughts are with the victim and all those affected.” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that the Metropolitan Police would be “providing extra resources in the area,” adding, “Every Londoner is entitled to feel safe in their place of worship.” On October 12, Horton, who had converted to Islam and had been attending the mosque in recent years, pleaded guilty to charges of wounding with intent and possession of an offensive weapon. No motive has been established for the stabbing; however, when arrested, Horton told police officers, “This is not a religious attack and is not a racist attack.”

In January, a 17-year-old from northeast England was sentenced to six years and eight months for planning terrorist acts between October 2017 and March 2019, becoming the youngest person in the UK to be convicted for this crime. In November 2019, following a six-week trial, he was found guilty of planning terrorist acts, disseminating a terrorist publication, possessing an article for a purpose connected to terrorism, and three counts of possessing documents useful to someone preparing acts of terrorism. During his sentencing, the court heard of his “admiration” for Adolf Hitler and fixation on the Columbine high school massacre. His attorneys argued that the defendant was autistic, citing a psychiatric assessment in which a doctor stated that the defendant’s “cognitive age was significantly affected by his disability.” At sentencing, the judge described the defendant as a “highly intelligent” boy who had “contempt for Jewish people, black people, gay people, and disabled people.” The teenager was also sentenced to five years’ parole after his release.

On October 2, the Birmingham Crown Court convicted a 17-year-old of plotting neo-Nazi terrorist acts between April and September 2019. The individual, who was a member of the neo-Nazi group Feuerkrieg Division, was found guilty for researching how to create a firearm capable of “smashing heads.”

On January 13, a Muslim woman was assaulted outside a youth center in East London. The assailants physically assaulted the victim and pulled her hijab while shouting anti-Muslim slurs. The assault was reported to Tell MAMA and the Metropolitan Police.

On January 16, a teenager who was found guilty of committing an anti-Semitic attack on a bus in March 2018 was sentenced to a four-month youth rehabilitation program, ordered to write a letter of apology to the victim, and fined 100 pounds ($140) in compensation to the victim. The incident took place on a bus in Muswell Hill, North London, when the adolescent was 14 years old. The youth lit the victim’s hair on fire, and when confronted by the victim, asked, “Are you Jewish? You can’t be Jewish because you don’t have horns. Do Jews keep money under their caps?” The teenager also threatened to beat up the victim and destroy his laptop. The teenager pled guilty to racially and religiously aggravated common assault at Highbury Corner Youth Court. He expressed remorse and was required to complete eight hours of “activities” and one-to-one behavioral sessions with educational staff.

In August, a man in a pub in Leeds was recorded making anti-Semitic comments to a Jewish student. The victim, Danielle Greyman, said the altercation began over COVID-19 pandemic regulations on social distancing when the man questioned, “Are you Jewish?” Greyman then began recording on her cell phone. The man, Stephen Smith, appeared on video saying the victim “looks like a Jew,” that he is “German,” and then said, “We should have gassed the lot of you.” A spokesman for West Yorkshire police told press police were summoned to the pub following “a report of a hate crime.” In September, the UK Lawyers for Israel reported Smith received a criminal caution and was required to “attend offence related sessions” to address his behavior.

On January 23, several Jewish pedestrians were verbally abused in Stamford Hill, North London. The incident, in which a man screamed “Hitler did a great job in Auschwitz by killing all the Jews,” was reported by Stamford Hill Shomrim, the Jewish volunteer neighbourhood patrol.

Throughout the year, several “sticker” campaigns targeted Armagh in Northern Ireland and Liverpool in the northwest of England. On January 30, the PSNI responded to calls complaining of anti-Islam stickers in Armagh. The stickers depicted a skull and crossbones that included the phrase “No Islamic Takeover,” followed by an email address and website for the Neo-Nazi group “Combat 18.” In February, stickers allegedly from the “Hundred-Handers” white supremacist group were placed around St. Helens, near Liverpool. The stickers, found in public spaces including a bus station, featured captions such as “This is our land,” “No to Halal,” other anti-Muslim messages and anti-Semitic messages. Local police stated that the incident was being investigated as a racially aggravated hate crime. In August, Hope Not Hate stated that Sam Melia, a former member of a number of far-right organizations who had become a supporter of the government-proscribed organization National Action, was behind “Hundred Handers,” which it said “was an anonymous network seeking to provide a faceless avenue for far-right activism.” In October, similar stickers were found on street furniture across Liverpool. The stickers included anti-Semitic messaging such as “Britain is under occupation,” written across a Star of David and, “They are sexualising your CHILDREN.”

Several religiously motivated conspiracy theories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic circulated online. According to a report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories included claims that Jews used global lockdowns to “steal everything,” that Jewish public leaders used the crisis “to test the population’s willingness to comply,” and that Israel had developed a vaccine but was withholding it from other nations. Both Jewish and Muslim communities were vilified by media commentators such as Katie Hopkins, who alleged that Muslims were flouting lockdown restrictions and spreading COVID-19 by continuing Friday prayers at mosques. In July, the independent government advisory Commission for Countering Violent Extremism published a report in the wake of increased accounts of extremists exploiting the crisis to sow division among religious groups in the UK. The commission found that British far right activists and neo-Nazi groups were promoting antiminority narratives by encouraging users to deliberately infect minority groups, including Jewish and Muslim communities.

In late January, venues in Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, Newport, Milton Keynes, and London cancelled events associated with U.S. evangelical Christian preacher Franklin Graham’s tour. The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow cancelled his appearance following pressure from its primary shareholder, Glasgow City Council. Referencing what they said was Graham’s preaching against Islam and LGBTQI+ people, Green Party Member of the Scottish Parliament Patrick Harvie commented that for “Glasgow’s biggest publicly owned venue” to provide a “platform of hatred” would be “an offence against the values that make this city so great.” An online petition started by a Church of Scotland minister stated that hosting the preacher would “have the real potential of alienating a large number of the population that they serve.” The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) then began legal proceedings against the venue, stating that the decision discriminated against the preacher’s Christian following. The BGEA asked the Glasgow Sheriff Court to grant an interim order requiring the venue to hold the event; however, the venue refused to respond and the court case did not proceed.

In January, Port Vale Football Club (FC) soccer player Tom Pope was widely criticized on social media for posting an anti-Semitic tweet predicting the course of a hypothetical Third World War: “We invade Iran then Cuba then North Korea then the Rothchilds [sic] are crowned champions of every bank on the planet – the end.” Port Vale FC published the following statement from Pope: “Following the reaction to my response on Twitter about the Rothschilds, I was unaware of any link between the Rothchild [sic] family and the Jewish community. If I have caused offence to anyone, I’d like to apologise enormously as this was never my intention.” The UK Footballing Association (FA) found Pope guilty of an aggravated breach of its regulation on abusive speech and sentenced him to a six-game ban and a 3,500-pound ($4,800) fine.

In July, music artist Wiley made a series of anti-Semitic comments on Twitter, including: “Listen to me Jewish community Israel is not your country I’m sorry….The Star of David that’s our thing.… Some people have gotten too comfortable on lands that don’t belong to them”; “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK;” and “Jewish people are the law….Work that out.” His tweets were widely criticized, and Twitter’s initial lack of action was followed by a 48-hour boycott of the platform by many leading journalists and politicians. Wiley’s tweets were reported to the Metropolitan Police as potential hate speech, and both Twitter and Facebook banned him for violating policies on hateful content. The rapper’s Jewish then-manager, John Woolf, later “cut ties” and said he no longer represented the artist. Wiley later rejected the claims of anti-Semitism, saying, “My comments should not have been directed to all Jews or Jewish people.” He went on to apologize for “generalizing” and said he wished to “apologise for comments that were looked at as anti-Semitic.”

In October, women’s lifestyle magazine Grazia fired its “Diversity Champion,” author and blogger Stephanie Yeboah, for posting anti-Semitic comments. Yeboah tweeted on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau: “There have been bigger and more horrific genocides. They happened to brown people, though, so I guess it doesn’t matter, huh?” Other tweets included, “Every Jew has an attic but not every attic has Jews,” and “AUSCHWITZ Gas Chamber Music LMAO SMH.” Yeboah issued an apology that suggested her intention was to “highlight the lack of visibility surrounding many genocides,” but she acknowledged she “ended up diminishing the seriousness of the tragedies that the Jewish community have faced.”

In late August, sectarian rioting between Catholic and Protestant groups took place in Glasgow. A police officer was left with hearing loss and burns after being struck by a firework thrown during the rioting. On October 13, a Protestant man was sentenced to 16 months in prison for throwing the projectile, which was intended to disrupt an Irish Republican march.

In July, the Sikh Federation withdrew a threat of legal action against the Scottish government after receiving assurances that Sikhs would be listed as a distinct ethnic group on Scotland’s 2022 census. According to the Sikh Federation, the push for designation of Sikhs as an ethnic group was motivated by the fact that “ethnic group categories defined in the census” are used by public bodies in different sectors in Scotland to meet their legal duties under “equalities legislation,” whereas religious group categories are not.

On January 26, a swastika and a Celtic cross were painted on a Caribbean food shop in Greenwich, in southeast London, while another Celtic cross, the Star of David, and the word “Jews” were written across the facade of a Barclay’s bank half a mile away. The leader of Greenwich Council, Danny Thorpe, condemned the “totally appalling and horrific” messages, adding that local residents were “worried and upset” but that the community would come together. The Greenwich council quickly removed the graffiti, and the Metropolitan Police opened an investigation. On February 4, more than 150 members of the local community staged a rally against anti-Semitism and racism. One of the organizers told the local newspaper that the incident was not “just an attack on the Jewish and West Indian communities, it is an attack on all of us.”

COVID-19 pandemic regulations greatly limited opportunities for interfaith collaboration from March through the end of the year. In January, faith and belief communities came together to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The Chelsea FC hosted a Holocaust Remembrance reception on January 15 to unveil a commemorative mural painted on the Chelsea stadium by British-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza commemorating soccer players imprisoned in Auschwitz. The event brought together prominent members of the Jewish community, parliamentarians, and players and leading figures from the Chelsea organization. In January, Chelsea became the first sports team in the world to formally adopt the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. Five other Premier League clubs subsequently adopted the IHRA definition: West Ham United, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Burnley, and Brighton.

Throughout the year, a number of universities adopted the IHRA definition; however, several from the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, fell short of adopting the working definition in its entirety, despite pressure from the government to do so before the year’s end. In September, freedom of information requests submitted by the Union of Jewish Students found that only 29 of 133 higher education institutions had done so. In October, Secretary for Education Gavin Williamson wrote to vice chancellors stating it was “frankly disturbing” that not all had adopted the IHRA definition and accused them of “dragging their feet.” Williamson warned that the Office for Students could take regulatory action against the noncompliant, which could include suspending funding streams. Speaking to the House of Commons Education Select Committee in October, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said she wanted “every university to adopt this definition.” An end-of-year tally by the Union of Jewish Students found that 48 of the 133 higher education institutions had adopted the IHRA definition.

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust ran a school project entitled “75 Memorial Flames.” The trust encouraged schools, organizations, and community groups to submit designs featuring a flame. More than 300 groups from across the country registered for the project, which aimed to bring persons from all backgrounds together to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Seventy-five memorial flames were chosen by an expert panel of artists, Holocaust survivors, and the CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Olivia Marks-Woldman. Of the final 75 designs, only one was from a Jewish school.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews hosted a roundtable discussion in January, bringing together representatives from across the Jewish community to meet Dolkun Isa, the President of the World Uyghur Congress. The Board of Deputies Vice-President Amanda Brown said, “In the week that we are marking International Holocaust Memorial Day,” it is “intolerable that the Uyghur Muslims are being persecuted on this scale.” She added, “It is the responsibility of all of us in the Jewish community to stand up and make our voices heard in their support.”

On March 3-5, the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, an interfaith organization, hosted a two-day interreligious conference entitled “Towards a Christian Theological Understanding of Inter-religious Participation: Challenges, Risks, and Opportunities.” The conference focused on situations in which members of faith communities cross the boundaries between their traditions to engage in the practices of other traditions, or to share in ritual activity with members of other faiths. In September, representatives from the Catholics Bishops Conference said that a number of interfaith initiatives occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. These consisted mainly of information sharing, in addition to working together to ensure that charitable efforts continued throughout the pandemic.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy and consulate staff engaged with government officials, political parties, and religious groups to advance religious freedom issues, with a strong emphasis on digital engagement and use of social media, in response to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. In June, the Ambassador spoke with Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer to discuss the party’s plan to confront anti-Semitism. Throughout the year, embassy officials met counterparts from the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office; the Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Lord Sir Eric Pickles; the government’s Independent Special Advisor on Anti-Semitism, Lord Mann; and the Honorary President of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Lord Polak, in addition to Members of Parliament and advisors.

Embassy officials regularly met with representatives from a wide variety of religious groups and initiated engagement with organizations such as Humanists UK in an effort to broaden understanding of and messaging on freedom of religion and belief.

Staff from the consulate general in Belfast maintained regular contact with a wide range of religious leaders in Northern Ireland, conducting regular visits to diverse places of worship, as well as convening formal and informal gatherings to discuss religious freedom, tolerance, and the shared societal challenges faced by their communities.

On January 27, a senior embassy official represented the United States at the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony, held to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The official met with current and past Trustees of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. The Ambassador also used social media to mark the date.

In April, the Ambassador had a telephone conversation with Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, to pass on his best wishes for Passover and to show support for local Jewish communities during the difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the Ambassador called Ahmad al-Dubayan, Director General of the London Central Mosque, to commemorate Ramadan, discuss how the local Muslim community was coping with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and to underline the U.S. commitment to promoting religious freedom.

In June, the Ambassador hosted a virtual meeting with representatives of Jewish community organizations to discuss the Labour Party’s plan to confront the issue of anti-Semitism within the party.

In May, the Ambassador and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom gave remarks during a virtual iftar co-hosted by the Naz Legacy Foundation as part of its #RamadanAtHome series, the largest virtual iftar series in the UK. Other speakers included prominent faith leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic communities, as well as the Church of England. Approximately 19,000 viewers viewed the Ambassador’s remarks on the importance of promoting international religious freedom on platforms including Zoom, Facebook, and British Muslim TV. Aggregate audience figures for #RamadanAtHome totaled 76,700 livestream viewers, and globally more than 300,000 watched highlight videos on social media.

In December, a senior embassy official delivered remarks at a virtual Diwali celebration convened by the Hindu Forum of Europe. He said that despite “being faced with the difficulties of COVID-19, we saw people across our communities roll up their sleeves and get to work…to find new ways to celebrate.” The senior embassy official said that the continuation of celebrations this year was a powerful reflection of the real spirit of Diwali, the spirit that light triumphs over darkness, and that such celebrations are “a reminder for all faiths – and none – that even during the darkest times, we will continue to find light and hope and joy in each other.” The senior official also conducted a virtual candle lighting. The event included remarks from interfaith and secular leaders from across Europe. To mark National Religious Freedom Day, the Ambassador tweeted a quote from the President. The consulate general in Belfast hosted an interfaith dialogue on January 16. The event convened a diverse group of Northern Ireland’s religious leadership representing the region’s Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic communities to discuss shared concerns. Participants welcomed the U.S. initiative fostering interfaith dialogue.

To mark International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, the embassy created and tweeted a video highlighting the U.S. commitment to the promotion of religious freedom. The video included remarks made by the President and the Secretary of State. The video was viewed 3,285 times and was displayed on social media feeds more than 20,493 times.

Uruguay

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and affirms the state does not support any particular religion. Legal statutes prohibit discrimination based on religion. The government’s official commitment to secularism continued to generate controversy between religious groups and political leaders. At year’s end, the Prosecutor’s Office continued investigating the case of a public high school teacher who published several social media posts denying the existence of the Holocaust. In March, the government suspended all public gatherings, including religious ones, in compliance with strict health protocols to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Some religious leaders questioned the government’s authority to restrict their right to practice religion through decrees or protocols. According to some religious groups, the government did not consult with them on the drafting of COVID-19 measures, while it did consult with other religious groups, and that the protocols favored some religious groups over others. Religious organizations continued to underline the need for more channels of communication and opportunities for dialogue with the government to discuss issues related to religious freedom. In January, the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

Jewish community representatives continued to report press and social media commentary disparaging their religious beliefs and practices. A Jewish couple received anti-Semitic and threatening comments from a man who sold them a book by a Jewish author through an online platform. The couple reported the incidents to legal authorities, who charged the man with hate crimes. At year’s end, he was awaiting trial while under house arrest and with a restraining order from the couple. Members of the Muslim community continued to state it was occasionally difficult to convince private sector employers to respect prayer times during work hours and to obtain permission to leave work early to attend Friday prayers. Religious groups continued to promote interfaith dialogue, understanding, and coexistence in the country.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the government’s interpretation of secularism, the lack of a government counterpart responsible for religious issues, and the importance of tolerance towards religious minorities and interfaith collaboration with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Honorary Commission against Racism and Xenophobia (CHRXD), and the National Human Rights Institution (INDDHH). Embassy officials met with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, other minority religious group representatives, and the Board for Interfaith Dialogue to discuss their views on government attitudes towards religion and religious groups and the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to practice religion. The embassy continued to use social media to highlight the importance of respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population at 3.4 million 2020 midyear estimate. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 57 percent of the population self-identifies as Christian (42 percent Catholic and 15 percent Protestant), 37 percent as religious but unaffiliated, and 6 percent as other. Minority religious groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Valdense Church, Afro-Umbandists (who blend elements of Catholicism with animism and African and indigenous beliefs), Buddhists, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Brahma Kumaris, and others. According to the survey, 0.3 percent of the population is Jewish, 0.1 percent Hindu, and 0.1 percent Muslim. Other estimates of the country’s Jewish population range from 12,000 to 30,000, according to the Jewish Studies department of ORT University and the National Israel Council, respectively. Civil society experts estimate there are between 700 and 1,500 Muslims, mostly living near the border with Brazil.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states, “The state does not support any particular religion.” The penal code prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The law calls for an annual commemoration of secularism, held on March 19.

The constitution accords the Catholic Church the right to ownership of all its churches built wholly or partly with previous state funding, with the exception of chapels dedicated for use as asylums, hospitals, prisons, or other public establishments.

Religious groups are entitled to property tax exemptions only for their houses of worship. To receive exemptions, a religious group must apply to, and be approved by, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) as a registered nonprofit organization. The ministry routinely approves these registrations, after which the group may request a property tax exemption from the taxing authority, usually the local government.

Each local government regulates the use of its public land for burials. Many departments (equivalent to states) allow burials, services, and rites of all religions in their public cemeteries. Public health regulations, however, require burial in a coffin.

The INDDHH, an autonomous branch of parliament, and the MEC’s CHRXD enforce government compliance with antidiscrimination laws. Both organizations receive complaints of discrimination, conduct investigations, and issue separate rulings on whether discrimination occurred. These rulings include a recommendation on whether cases should receive a judicial or administrative hearing. Only the courts or the Ministry of Labor may sanction or fine for discrimination. The INDDHH and the CHRXD provide free legal services to complainants.

A correctional authority protocol regulates religious issues in prisons, including standardizing access for religious officials and religious meeting spaces. Several prisons in the country have a dedicated space for religious practice.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in public schools. Public schools close on some Christian holidays. In deference to its secular nature, the government does not refer to holidays by their Christian names. For example, Christmas is formally referred to as “Family Day” and Holy Week is widely referred to as “Tourism Week.” Students belonging to non-Christian or minority religious groups may be absent from school on their religious holidays without penalty. Private schools run by religious organizations may decide which religious holidays to observe.

By registering for official recognition and certification with the Ministry of Education and Culture, religious groups are able to receive benefits, services, recognition, and tax reductions from the government. Religious workers must provide proof of certification from their affiliated religious institution to confirm the applicant’s identity and to guarantee financial support of the sponsoring religious group. According to regulations, the state must enforce these standards equitably across all religious groups.

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

Government Practices

At year’s end, the Prosecutor’s Office continued to investigate the case of a public high school teacher who published several social media posts denying the existence of the Holocaust. The Central Israelite Committee filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Institution denouncing the teacher and other persons who posted statements on Facebook and Twitter that denied the Holocaust and expressed other anti-Semitic sentiments. The Prosecutor’s Office, with support from the Information and Intelligence Office of the Ministry of Interior, conducted two separate investigations following the complaint – one on the teacher and the other on individuals posting other anti-Semitic messages on social media.

The government’s official commitment to secularism and how it impacted religious groups continued to generate controversy between religious groups and political leaders. Differing interpretations of the term “secularism” continued to lead to disagreements on the state’s role in enforcing the country’s secularism laws. Several representatives of religious groups said government authorities often interpreted secularism as the absence of religion, rather than as the coexistence of multiple religions or beliefs and the independence of religion from the state.

With the stated goal of increasing understanding of the country’s religious diversity, representatives of several religious communities, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Muslims, Brahma Kumaris, the Unification Church, Methodists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to request the government include in the public school curriculum comprehensive information about different religions with a presence in the country.

Some non-Christian minority religious groups said they believed the government favored Christians, as evidenced by the government’s renaming Christian holidays as official secular holidays, thereby automatically granting Christians time off from work to observe their holidays. For example, Easter Week was officially called “Tourism Week,” while Christians continued to refer to their holidays by their religious names. The government, however, did not designate religious holidays of other religious groups as official holidays, making it necessary for followers of other religions to request a day off to observe their holidays.

On March 1, during presidential inauguration ceremonies, President Lacalle Pou participated in an interreligious prayer service at the Catholic Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral, where leaders of Catholic, Anglican, Armenian, and evangelical Protestant Churches, and of the Jewish community, dedicated prayers to the new President. The Presidency’s social media accounts posted news of the event. Members of several political parties, including Frente Amplio and Partido Colorado, criticized the President’s presence, and in particular the promotion of the event on the Presidency’s social media platform as a violation of the principle of secularism, as established by the constitution.

On March 13, within a week of the country’s first reported COVID-19 case, religious groups suspended all in-person services and events, in accordance with a government decree. On March 25, the Chief of Staff for the Presidency met with leaders of the main religious communities to discuss the suspension of religious services and ceremonies and limitations or modifications of other activities, such as volunteering and engaging in charity work. Participants included representatives of the Central Israelite Committee of Uruguay, the Uruguayan Israelite Community, the New Israelite Congregation, the Catholic Church, the Armenian Evangelical Church, and the Anglican Church.

Many religious groups held virtual services and celebrations while the government decree was in effect. Some religious leaders privately questioned the government’s authority to restrict their right to conduct public religious activities through decrees and protocols. On June 19, the government authorized religious groups to conduct services and celebrations in-person if they followed specific health protocols, including limits on the frequency, duration, and size of gatherings. Although the government worked with religious leaders to draft the protocols, representatives of some religious groups expressed concern that certain protocols were not compatible with their religious observances, which required more than the permitted duration of 45-60 minutes. Some representatives of minority religious groups said they had not been included in the drafting of the protocols and that the protocols favored some religious groups over others. One group said it had requested authorities develop a tailored protocol to meet its needs, but that despite the government’s initial positive response, its request remained pending at year’s end.

In the state of Rivera, where press reported there was more than one COVID-19 outbreak resulting from gatherings of Afro-Umbandist and evangelical Protestant groups, authorities asked religious leaders to urge their followers to respect health protocols, stating that was preferable to fining congregants or closing down places of worship.

A spike in COVID-19 cases in late December led to a virtual meeting among the Chief of Staff for the Presidency, the Minister of Health, and representatives of some religious groups. Following the meeting, the chief of staff announced they had reached an agreement to reinstate the suspension of religious gatherings until January 10, 2021. The Catholic Archbishop of Montevideo said the Church would comply with the government’s decision, although it did not fully agree with the suspension, especially so close to Christmas. The Archbishop said the Catholic Church had been in strict compliance with pandemic health protocols during religious services, without any reported outbreaks. Representatives of some minority groups expressed discontent at not having been invited to participate in the virtual meeting.

A representative of Afro-Umbandists reported most leaders of their religious group had encouraged followers to refrain from in-person ceremonies since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, given the special characteristics of their ceremonies, which involved holding hands, singing and dancing in close proximity, and sharing drinks. Afro-Umbandist leaders discussed a possible protocol with the Ministry of Health to resume their rituals, but they had produced only a draft proposal by year’s end. In view of the upcoming Iemanja celebration in February 2021, bringing thousands of persons to the coasts with offerings to the Sea Goddess, a leader of the group met with the Minister of Defense in December to discuss ways to lower the risk of contagion on public beaches during these rites.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued its review of a petition several evangelical Christian organizations filed in 2019. According to the petitioners, which included Mision Vida para Las Naciones, the government had made negative statements that had incited hatred against evangelical churches and had discriminated against them based on religious grounds.

According to Egyptian Center of Islamic Culture representatives, during the year there was no progress in developing land granted to the center in 2019 to build the country’s first Islamic cemetery, located in Canelones Department. The delay was reportedly due to lack of funds. According to media, the Canelones Department government also needed to revise public health regulations to allow Islamic burials without a coffin.

Representatives of the Muslim community continued to report authorities rarely made appropriate meals available in public primary schools for Muslim children who observed halal restrictions.

Members of the Jewish community continued to say the government should issue regulations to allow alternate university-level exam dates for students observing religious holidays, instead of leaving that decision to individual professors.

The total number of cases of discrimination based on religion, released by the CHRXD, was not available at the year’s end. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to manage the System for the Monitoring of Recommendations, an interagency, computer-based tool used to monitor and report on human rights issues, including discrimination based on religion.

Some members of Catholic and evangelical Protestant groups continued to say government approaches to sex education, gender, and abortion, as taught in public schools, threatened their freedom of speech and the right to practice their religion. According to some religious groups, government agencies, including the CHRXD and the INDDHH, did not prioritize the monitoring of discrimination based on religion, focusing instead on what the government considered other more “pressing” human rights concerns, such as the rights of persons with disabilities, Afro-descendants, the LGBTI community, women, incarcerated persons, and human rights violations committed by the state during the military dictatorship.

Religious organizations said they continued to welcome opportunities for direct dialogue with the government on religious freedom but said there were few or no formal channels of communication through which to raise general concerns or discuss initiatives regarding religious freedom. They said, however, a government official in the Office of the Presidency was available to discuss COVID-19 related issues as they pertained to religious groups. They suggested creating a government institution to address religious issues and to act as a link between religious groups and the state.

In January, the government adopted the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism. Members of the Jewish community expressed their support for the government’s adoption, including through press releases. As in previous years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported activities to commemorate the Holocaust, including high-level representation at events organized by the Jewish community. The government publicized Holocaust-related statements and events of religious organizations on its official website. Parliament organized a special session in January to honor Holocaust victims. Also in January, the government broadcast a national message commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day in which Enrique Iglesias, renowned economist and Chair of the Holocaust Memorial Commission created by former President Tabare Vazquez in 2019, referred to the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust. Iglesias said, “The memory of the Holocaust is to be shared, condemned, and transmitted as a monument of ‘never again.’” Closing his speech, he stated, “Never Again will only be a reality when we are all able to recognize the universality of human beings in the specificity of each race, belief, or opinion; this should be the legacy left by the Holocaust for us to remember today.”

In July, the Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed concern regarding a judge’s 2019 ruling in favor of private parties who found and wished to auction an 800-pound bronze Nazi eagle bearing a swastika, stating the decision did not ensure the piece would be sold to institutions and individual bidders who wanted to raise awareness about the Holocaust and other instances of genocide, and that it did not ensure that a buyer would not use the item to glorify Nazism. The center urged authorities to ensure that the display of these symbols serve as a warning to future generations of what should never be repeated, stating that in light of the country’s commitment to the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, the government was obligated to prevent “the public use of symbols that recall ethnic cleansing.” By year’s end, the piece had not been auctioned.

On November 11, government officials, including President Lacalle Pou, politicians, and human rights activists, attended the Central Israelite Committee’s commemoration of the 1938 Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht). Several government officials and politicians posted online their participation in the commemoration and emphasized the need to remember and reflect, and to foster tolerance and coexistence.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jewish representatives continued to report the occurrence of comments and activities in media and on social media sites disparaging their religious beliefs and practices, including anti-Semitic remarks and Holocaust denial. In November, a woman bought a book written by a Jewish author through an online platform. The seller requested the woman’s cell phone number to complete the transaction, but instead of delivering the purchase, she said he sent “hateful” messages, mentioning Zyklon B, the lethal gas used by Nazis in concentration camps. When the woman’s husband called the seller, the seller threatened him, making statements such as “Hitler ran short,” and, “I will go to your home and kill you all.” The couple, fearful because the man had their address, reported the threats to authorities. The prosecutor handling the case charged the man with “acts of moral or physical violence, hate or contempt toward one or more persons as a result of their skin color, race, religion, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, or identity.” At year’s end, the man was under 60 days’ house arrest and a restraining order while the investigation continued.

Members of the Muslim community continued to state it was occasionally difficult to convince private sector employers to respect prayer times during work hours and to obtain permission to leave work early to attend Friday prayers.

The Zionist Organization of Uruguay presented the 2020 Jerusalem Prize to Pedro Bordaberry, former Senator, Minister of Tourism, and presidential candidate for the Colorado political party. The annual prize recognizes a prominent national figure, typically a representative from government or academia, for promoting and defending the human rights of Jews and encouraging peaceful coexistence among persons of different beliefs.

The Board for Interfaith Dialogue, a group of representatives from different religious groups and spiritual expressions, including Brahma Kumaris, the Church of Jesus Christ, Catholics, Jews, evangelical Protestants, Afro-Umbandists, and Baha’is, continued to promote interfaith understanding and foster respect for religious diversity through expanding opportunities for dialogue and meetings, both virtually and in-person.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resulting suspension of all in-person religious services, Jewish and Christian religious leaders joined together to produce an online video calling on their communities to maintain hope, stay home, and take care of themselves and others.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed the government’s interpretation of secularism, lack of a government counterpart responsible for religious issues, and the importance of tolerance towards religious minorities and interfaith engagement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the CHRXD, and the INDDHH. Embassy officials encouraged government representatives to engage in dialogue with all religious groups.

Embassy officials met during the year with religious leaders, including Catholics, Jews, evangelical Protestants, members of other minority religious groups, as well as with subject-matter experts, including academics, lawyers, and human rights experts, to discuss interfaith collaboration and to hear concerns about faith-related issues. These individuals expressed their views on the government’s attitude toward religion and religious groups and the impact of COVID-19 on their followers’ ability to practice their religion.

The embassy used social media to highlight respect for religious diversity and tolerance and to commemorate International Religious Freedom Day on October 27.

Uzbekistan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion or belief and separation of government and religion. Throughout the year, the government consulted with international legal scholars regarding draft updates to the law on religion, and on August 6, it officially requested a joint opinion from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. On October 12, the OSCE end Venice Commission issued their joint opinion, stating that while the draft provided some improved protections, it also allowed the government to maintain strict and excessive control over religion and religious freedom. It also stated, “The Draft Law should be substantially revised in order to ensure its full compliance with international human rights standards and OSCE human dimension commitments.” At year’s end, the draft remained under discussion in parliament. The government announced that during the year, it released or reduced the sentences of 243 prisoners detained on religious charges. Some activists and nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives said the government continued ill treatment of prisoners, including physical abuse, and in some cases sought to extend the prison terms of persons arrested and jailed on suspicion of religious extremism or participating in Islamic activity not sanctioned by the government. The government did not provide the number of individuals in custody at year’s end, but it reported that criminal cases were filed against 38 persons for membership in groups or participation in “banned religious extremist activities.” It also reported it initiated 22 criminal cases regarding the “smuggling of banned religious material.” Of the two bloggers detained by police in 2019, one was given a three-year prison sentence. The other received five years’ probation, but in his work as a religious activist broke the terms of his probation and in late November, received a five-year prison sentence. Media reported the government continued to block access to some websites containing religious content, including a Jehovah’s Witnesses site and the site of the international religious freedom organization Forum 18. The government maintained a list of illegal websites it stated were linked to Islamic extremist activity. In August, the government further streamlined procedures for registering religious organizations, but religious groups said the current law on religion continued to make it difficult for groups to register. The government registered eight churches; according to religious groups, there were 17 known churches that still wished to register. Several religious freedom advocates said the majority of the Christian churches registered during the year had predominantly ethnic Russian or Korean membership rather than ethnic Uzbek membership. Members of religious groups whose registration applications the government denied remained unable to practice their religious beliefs without risking criminal prosecution. According to religious freedom advocates and media, controversy over government policies on beards and the wearing of hijabs continued. In August, a court sentenced five men to up to 11.5 years in prison and three men to restricted movement after the group discussed their religious beliefs. The Ministry of Interior released a public statement saying minors could freely pray at mosques when accompanied by their parents, siblings, and other close relatives

Activists and private individuals continued to report social pressure on individuals, particularly those from a Muslim background, against religious conversion. Some members of non-Islamic religious minorities said social stigma against conversion from Islam resulted in difficulties in carrying out burials, forcing relatives to bury individuals in distant cemeteries or to conduct funerals with Islamic religious rites. Members of religious groups perceived as proselytizing, including evangelical Christians, Pentecostals, Baptists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, said they continued to face greater societal scrutiny and discrimination.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials met with senior government officials to raise concerns about imprisonment and mistreatment of individuals for their religious beliefs, bureaucratic impediments to the registration of religious minority groups, and allowing children to participate in religious activities. Embassy officials urged the government to ensure that changes to the draft law on religion follow the recommendations of international experts as well as take into account public views. In February, the Secretary of State visited the country and met with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious leaders to solicit their views on the state of religious freedom. The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom held a series of virtual engagements with senior government officials throughout the year during which he raised the status of the country’s draft religion law and the registration of religious organizations and places of worship as well as the need for the government to allow children to participate in religious activities and to release individuals charged and detained for exercising their faith peacefully. Throughout the year, embassy officials maintained contact with religious groups, human rights activists, and other civil society representatives to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Topics included the registration of minority religious groups, religious education for children, and concerns about the wearing of hijabs and beards for Muslims.

On December 2, 2020, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State removed Uzbekistan from the Special Watch List, determining that it no longer engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” Uzbekistan had previously been designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 2006 to 2017 and was moved to a Special Watch List in 2018 and 2019.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 30.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According the Uzbekistan government, the population as of October 2020 was close to 34 million. According to U.S. government estimates, 88 percent of the population is Muslim, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 96 percent of the population is Muslim. Most Muslims are Sunni of the Hanafi school. The government states that approximately 1 percent of the population is Shia of the Jaafari school, concentrated in the provinces of Bukhara and Samarkand. Approximately 2.2 percent of the population is Russian Orthodox, compared with 3.5 percent in 2019; according to reports and statistics; this number continues to decline with the emigration of ethnic Russian and other Orthodox persons. The government states that the remaining 1.8 percent of the population includes small communities of Catholics, ethnic Korean Christians, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, evangelical Christians, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and atheists. According to members of the Jewish community, the Jewish population – a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic (Bukharian) – Jews, numbers fewer than 10,000. Of those, approximately 6,000 Ashkenazi and fewer than 2,000 Bukharian Jews live in Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Fergana Valley. The Jewish population continues to decline because of emigration.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that everyone shall have the right to profess or not to profess any religion. According to the constitution, these rights may not encroach on lawful interests, rights, and freedoms of other citizens, the state, or society. The law allows for restricting religious activities when necessary to maintain national security, the social order, or morality. The constitution establishes a secular framework providing for noninterference by the state in the affairs of religious communities, separates the state and religion from each other, and prohibits political parties based on religious principles.

The law on religion details the scope of and limitations on the exercise of the freedom of religion or belief. The law criminalizes unregistered religious activity; requires official approval of the content, production, and distribution and storage of religious publications; and prohibits proselytism and other missionary activities.

Various provisions of the law on countering violent extremism deal with individuals’ security, protection of society and the state, preservation of constitutional order and the territorial integrity of the country, keeping the peace, and multiethnic and multireligious harmony. The law provides a framework of basic concepts, principles, and directions for countering extremism and extremist activities. By law, extremism is defined as the “expression of extreme forms of actions, focused on destabilizing social and political situations, a violent change in the constitutional order in Uzbekistan, a violent seizure of power and usurping its authority, [and] inciting national, ethnic or religious hatred.”

According to regulations, a website or blog may be blocked for calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the country; spreading ideas of war, violence, and terrorism, as well as religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism; disclosing information that is a state secret or protected by law; or disseminating information that could lead to national, ethnic, or religious enmity or involves pornography or promoting narcotic usage. According to the Ministry of Justice, the government may block websites or blogs without a court order.

Any religious service conducted by an unregistered religious organization is illegal. The criminal code distinguishes between “illegal” groups, which are unregistered groups, and “prohibited” groups viewed as “extremist.” It criminalizes membership in organizations banned as terrorist groups. It is a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of four to eight million som ($380-$760) to organize or participate in an illegal religious group. The law also specifically prohibits persuading others to join illegal religious groups, with penalties of up to three years in prison. The criminal code provides penalties of up to 20 years in prison for organizing or participating in the activities of religious extremist, fundamentalist, separatist, or other prohibited groups. Charges against alleged members of religious extremist groups may include the stated offenses of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and terrorism.

By law, all religious groups must register with the Ministry of Justice. The law states a religious group may carry out its activities only after the ministry registers it. The law lists a series of requirements, including having a permanent presence in eight of the country’s 14 administrative units for central registration; presenting a membership list of at least 100 citizens who are 18 or older; and providing a charter with a legal, physical address to the local Ministry of Justice branch.

Religious groups applying to register in a specific locality require the concurrence of the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), the local government (khokimiyat), and the neighborhood (mahalla) committee. Groups must submit “letters of guarantee” from the regional branches of the Ministry of Construction, the State Sanitary and Epidemiological Service, and the Department of the State Fire Safety Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The law requires notarized documents stating the leading founding members have the religious education necessary to preach their faith, the group’s sources of income, and CRA concurrence to register. The law also requires that khokimiyats concur with the registration of groups in their areas and that the group present notification from khokimiyat authorities stating the legal and postal addresses of the organization conform to all legal requirements, including obtaining authorization certificates from the main architectural division, sanitary-epidemiological services, fire services, and the local mahalla committee. After checking the submitted certificates, khokimiyats grant registration permission and send the documents to the CRA for review. By law, the Ministry of Justice may take one to three months to review a registration application and may approve or deny the registration or cease review without issuing a decision.

The law states registered religious groups may expand throughout the country by registering new locations, maintaining buildings compliant with fire and health codes, organizing religious teaching, and possessing religious literature.

The law limits the operations of a registered group to those areas where it is registered. The law grants only registered religious groups the right to establish schools and train clergy. Individual Muslim clergy members receive accreditation from the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan.

The CRA oversees registered religious activity. The Council for Confessions under the CRA includes ex officio representatives from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish groups. It discusses ways of ensuring compliance with the law, the rights and responsibilities of religious organizations and believers, and other issues related to religion.

The government must approve religious activities outside of formal worship as well as religious activities intended for children younger than 16 without parental permission.

The law requires registered religious organizations to inform authorities 30 days in advance of holding religious meetings and other religious ceremonies at the group’s registered address(es). The administrative code requires all registered religious organizations to seek permission from local authorities and then inform the CRA and Ministry of Justice representative 30 days before holding religious meetings, street processions, or other religious ceremonies occurring outside of a group’s registered building(s), including activities involving foreign individuals or worshippers from another region. Unregistered groups are prohibited from organizing any religious activity.

The law punishes private entities for leasing premises or other property to, or facilitating gatherings, meetings, and street demonstrations of, religious groups without state permission. The law also criminalizes the unauthorized facilitation of children’s and youth meetings as well as literary and other study groups related to worship. The administrative penalty for violating these provisions ranges from fines of 9,215,000 to 18,430,000 som ($880 to $1,800) or up to 15 days’ imprisonment.

Under the law, state bodies, including mahalla committees, as well as nonstate and noncommercial public organizations have wide-ranging powers to combat suspected “antisocial activity” in cooperation with police. These powers include preventing the activity of unregistered religious organizations, ensuring compliance of rights of citizens with religious freedom, prohibiting propagation of religious views, and considering other questions related to observance of the law.

The law prohibits all individuals, except clergy and individuals serving in leadership positions of officially recognized religious organizations, from wearing religious attire in public places. The government does not generally enforce this section of law; individuals may appear in public places in religious attire, with the exception of schools at all levels, both public and private.

The law prohibits proselytizing and other missionary activities. The criminal code punishes proselytizing with up to three years in prison and proscribes efforts to draw minors into religious organizations without parental permission.

The law requires religious groups to obtain a license to publish or distribute religious materials. The law requires official approval of the content, production, and distribution and storage of religious publications. Such materials include books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, leaflets, audiovisual items including CDs and DVDs, and materials posted to the internet describing the origins, history, ideology, teachings, commentaries, and rituals of various religions of the world.

The administrative code punishes the “illegal production, storage, import, or distribution of materials of religious content” with a fine of 20 to 100 times the minimum monthly wage (4,460,000 to 22,300,000 som, $430 to $2,100) for individuals. The fine for government officials committing the same offense is 50 to 150 times the minimum monthly wage (11,150,000 to 33,450,000 som, $1,100 to $3,200). The administrative code permits the confiscation of the materials and the “corresponding means of producing and distributing them.” Courts issue fines under the administrative code. In instances where an individual is unable to pay the fine, courts will issue an order garnishing wages. The criminal code imposes a fine of 100 to 200 times the minimum monthly wage (22,300,000 to 44,600,000 som, $2,100 to $4,300) or “corrective labor” of up to three years for individuals who commit these acts subsequent to a judgment rendered under the administrative code. In practice, punishments under the criminal code for violations involving religious literature are rarely applied.

The state forbids banned “extremist religious groups” from distributing any type of publication. Individuals who distribute leaflets or literature deemed extremist via social networks are subject to criminal prosecution and face prison terms ranging from five to 20 years. According to the law, individuals in possession of literature by authors the government deems to be extremist or of any literature illegally imported or produced, are subject to arrest and prosecution.

The law provides for a commission, entitled The Special Commission for Preparation of Materials on Clemency, to review the prison profiles of convicts sentenced on charges of religious extremism. Another commission, The Commission on Clemency, reviews the petitions of persons who “mistakenly became members of banned organizations.” This commission may exonerate citizens from all criminal liability. Citizens are exempted from criminal liability if they have not undergone military training, participated in terrorism financing, or distributed information promoting terrorism.

The law prohibits private teaching of religion. It limits religious instruction to officially sanctioned religious schools and state-approved instructors. Children may not receive religious education in public schools except for some classes providing basic information on world religions or “lessons of enlightenment” (the study of national culture) in the curriculum.

Religious education establishments acquire the right to operate after registering with the Ministry of Justice and receiving the appropriate license. Individuals teaching religious subjects at religious educational establishments must have a religious education recognized by the state and authorization to teach. These provisions make it illegal for laypersons to teach others any form of religion or for government-approved religious instructors to teach others outside the confines of an approved educational institution.

The law permits only religious groups with a registered central administrative body to train religious personnel and conduct religious instruction. Ten madrassahs, including one for women, and a Russian Orthodox and a Protestant seminary have official approval to train religious personnel and provide secondary education. The Cabinet of Ministers considers madrassah-granted diplomas equivalent to other diplomas, enabling madrassah graduates to continue to university-level education.

The law requires imams to have graduated from a recognized religious education facility and registered for a license with the government. The Muslim Board of Uzbekistan assigns a graduate to a particular mosque as a deputy imam before he may subsequently become an imam. According to government officials, clerics from various religious groups who obtained their qualifications abroad may officiate within licensed premises.

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

Government Practices

Throughout the year, the government consulted with international legal scholars regarding draft updates to the law on religion, and on August 6, it officially requested a joint opinion from the OSCE and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. On October 12, the OSCE and the Venice Commission issued their opinion, stating that while the draft provided some improved protections, it also allowed the government to maintain strict and excessive control over religion and religious freedom. It also stated, “The Draft Law should be substantially revised in order to ensure its full compliance with international human rights standards and OSCE human dimension commitments.” In particular, it cited the mandatory registration of religious activity and religious organizations; unnecessary requirements for registration; the continuation of censorship on religious materials and bans on religious expression; excessive discretion by government officials that would allow for discrimination; and interference with a religious organization’s right to autonomy. At year’s end, the draft remained under discussion in parliament.

According to a prominent human rights defender, the draft law was not much different from the previous law because it “continues to ban all exercise of freedom of religion without state permission, bans teaching about religion without state permission, continues censorship by the government of all materials about religion, and bans the sharing of religion.”

NGO representatives said the government continued the severe physical abuse of persons arrested and jailed on suspicion of religious extremism or of participating in Islamic activity that was not sanctioned by the government. In February, media reported that NGO workers had submitted a complaint to the human rights ombudsman – who may investigate complaints from detainees and the public – regarding the abuse of religious prisoner Amirbek Khodzhaev, imprisoned in a penal colony in Navoi Region. According to Khodzhaev’s mother, authorities stripped him naked, placed him in a “butterfly” position with his hands behind his head at the neck and shoulder blades, then handcuffed and beat him. The NGO also reported officials abused prisoners during Ramadan, preventing them from fasting by forcibly pushing food in their mouths. According to the media report, the ombudsman’s office did not take the complaints seriously.

On January 8, Ibrokhim Kholmatov, who served a prison term from 2000 to 2002 for “association with Hizb ut-Tahrir,” was arrested at his home and later charged with aiding and abetting extremism. According to religious freedom activists, Kholmatov was subjected to “strong psychological pressure” by authorities and was not permitted to see his family. The family told activists that authorities provided little information about the charges against him and said they were not permitted to see him.

Civil society groups continued to express concern that the law’s definition of extremism remained too broad and failed to distinguish between nonviolent religious beliefs and ideologies supporting violence.

On May 28, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced it had arrested several members of the banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir in the cities of Andijon and Namangan as well as in the Tashkent and Surkhandarya Regions. The ministry did not say how many persons were arrested but stated the individuals had previously served prison sentences for participating in the group’s activities and were continuing to spread extremist ideas after being released. The ministry said it seized literature containing extremist language and initiated a criminal investigation. The government did not provide information regarding the total number of persons convicted of engaging in terrorist and extremist activities or on persons belonging to what the government called religious fundamentalist organizations who were serving prison sentences. In 2018, the most recent year for which the government provided information, 1,503 prisoners remained in detention for these crimes. NGO representatives said they could not independently verify these numbers.

The government reported it did not arrest any citizens on religious grounds during the year. It said, however, that 18 criminal cases were filed against 38 persons on the basis of membership or participation in banned religious extremist activities. It also reported it had initiated 22 criminal cases regarding “smuggling of banned religious material.” Some religious freedom activists said that security services had fabricated the charges against the detainees to make a “show” of being tough on religious extremism. One prominent human rights lawyer stated that authorities based the charges on incoming messages to the detainees’ phones that were related to the banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir even though authorities knew the detainees themselves did not write or respond to the messages.

Religious activists reported many religious prisoners continued to face “extensions” of their sentences when prison officials brought new charges, accusing inmates of involvement in extremist groups or other crimes. The new charges resulted in new sentences, and many individuals whose original sentences had ended years before were consequently still imprisoned.

In five separate instances during the year, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev released or reduced the sentences of a total of 616 prisoners, 243 of whom had been detained on violations of the law on religion. In an August 1 government video announcing one of the planned releases, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that 4,500 prisoners had been released or pardoned since the death of former President Islam Karimov in 2016, including 1,584 religious prisoners; of these, 1,215 were released and 369 received reduced sentences. Since the August 1 announcement, new releases on August 27 and December 7 brought the total number of religious prisoners released or receiving reduced sentences since 2016 to 1,710.

On November 27, blogger Tulkin Astanov, who in 2019 was sentenced to five years’ probation after posting online discussions about a wide range of religious themes, including calls to allow women to wear hijabs, men to grow beards, and children to pray in mosques, was rearrested, tried, and sentenced on the same day for breaking parole terms that restricted him from leaving Tashkent. His lawyer stated that an inspector with the Uchtepa police probation group summoned Astanov the morning of November 27, and his three-hour trial took place that evening. He was immediately sentenced to five years in prison by the Uchtepa District Criminal Court and transferred to a penal colony in Bukhara on December 1 or 2. His lawyer said Astanov had traveled to the Buvayda district of Fergana and Chinaz City (Sirdarya Region) during his probation period, breaking the terms of his previous parole, but Astanov’s family told the BBC Uzbek service they believed he was sentenced again for his activity promoting religious freedom. Following the sentencing, the Tashkent Department of Internal Affairs issued a statement saying, “He introduced himself as an advocate for victims of government agencies, persuaded them to provide defamatory and biased information about law enforcement, and posted the material on the internet.” The Tashkent City Criminal Court heard his appeal on December 22 but upheld the verdict.

According to a religious freedom activist, Rustambek Karimov, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2019 alongside Astanov for posting religious-themed content online, continued to serve his sentence in a penal colony.

Local authorities closed popular blogger Adham Atajanov’s restaurant following his February meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State. Atajanov, whose pen name is “Abu Muslim,” reportedly used the earnings from his restaurant to produce online religious freedom content on his website Islamonline.uz and his Facebook page, which had almost 264,000 followers. Atajanov said that in the past, he had frequently criticized government policies on religious issues and had faced no repercussions or backlash. He said that immediately following his meeting with the Secretary, however, authorities shut off the gas to his restaurant, resulting in its closure. Authorities cited unpaid bills and other violations, despite evidence his bills were paid and he was in compliance with regulations. Gas service was eventually restored and the restaurant reopened, but Atajanov suffered significant financial loss as a result of the shutdown.

Other Islamic media platforms very similar to Atajanov’s remained active without government interference, including a private, well-known Muslim channel on YouTube (Azon.tv) with 268,000 subscribers, a private Facebook page with almost 110,000 followers (Azon), and the privately owned radio station, Azon.fm.

Media reported that on March 31, Alimardon Sultonov, a trauma surgeon at Ellikkala Central State Hospital in the northwestern Republic of Karakalpakstan, called the local medical emergency service to ask whether there were any COVID-19 cases in Karakalpakstan. Five local government officials then appeared at the hospital to question Sultonov, who was known for posting his views on Muslims’ freedom of religion and belief on social media. The officials asked Sultonov if he was in possession of religious texts, and he confirmed he had Islamic texts on his computer. Officials confiscated the computer and opened a criminal case against him, placing him under house arrest and charging him with spreading false information on COVID-19 lockdown measures. He was also charged with the “illegal production, storage, import, or distribution of religious literature.” On November 23, the Ellikalansky District Court in the Karakalpakstan Republic sentenced him to 14 months of house arrest, including time served. Sultanov filed an appeal, and a hearing was scheduled for January 7, 2021.

On August 14, media reported that the Tashkent City Criminal Court sentenced five Muslim men to up to 11.5 years in prison and restricted the movement (including limits on driving and participating in public gatherings as well as placing them under house arrest and requiring them to comply with curfews) of three other Muslim men who discussed their faith on social media. Prosecutors accused the eight men of downloading extremist sermons and other terrorism-related offenses.

On March 12 and April 29, the Supreme Court ruled in two instances that two websites (najot.info and hizb-uzbekiston.info) as well as 43 online profiles, channels, and pages on Facebook, YouTube, and the messaging app Telegram were promoting extremism. The court ruled that the materials and content of these sources were prohibited from entering or being manufactured, distributed, or possessed in the country.

The government continued to ban Islamic groups it defined as “extremist” and criminalized membership in such groups, which included 22 religious organizations. The government reported that at year’s end, the following organizations were defined as banned: Akramites, Islamic Movement of Turkestan, Islamic Jihad Group, Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, al-Jihad, al-Qa’ida, World Jihad Foundation, Muslim Brothers, Zamiyati Islomi Tablig, Jamaat-e-Islami-i-Pakistan, Eastern Turkestan Liberation Organization, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, Boz Kurd, Abu Saif Group, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, Islamic State, Tavhid va Jihad, Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhariy, Jamoat-e-Ansarulloh, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jihadists, and Nurchists. The government stated its actions against persons or groups suspected of religious extremism were not an infringement on religious freedom, but rather were a matter of preventing the overthrow of secular authorities and the incitement of interreligious instability and hatred.

According to media and the government, the ban on private religious instruction continued to result in the government’s detaining and fining members of religious communities. The ban included meetings of persons gathered to discuss their faith or to exchange religious ideas. Some Muslims said religious discussions continued to be considered taboo because no one wanted to risk punishment for “proselytism” or for teaching religious principles in private. The government reported that as of October 1, it had shut down 20 hujras (illegal private schools that provide Islamic education) and had found more than 50 persons “administratively liable” (fined them) for illegal religious education.

In July, the Samarkand Regional Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a press release reporting on the raid of an illegal hujra. According to the report, a man was illegally teaching recitations from the Quran to a group of seven students, ranging in age from nine to 17. Officers confiscated seven religious books and seven notebooks, all written in Arabic. The government did not report if any charges were filed.

Media reported that on March 4, police in Margilan, Fergana Region, raided the home of a retired public school teacher. Police confiscated from her and her female students Arabic-language Qurans and Islamic textbooks published in the country. Media did not report whether authorities filed any charges against them.

The government sometimes restricted access to websites, including those of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Forum 18. The government maintained a list of illegal websites it said were linked to Islamic extremist activity.

While the draft law on religion remained under parliamentary consideration, the government reported it had attempted to streamline the registration process for religious groups pending approval of the new law. Activists said, however, the government did not evenly apply the streamlined registration guidelines throughout the country, and that the CRA helped some religious groups obtain mahalla approval, but not others. The draft law on religion contained language removing the requirement for mahalla approval in the registration process, but the current law continued to require it.

According to the CRA, at year’s end, the country had 2,293 registered religious organizations representing 16 different faiths, compared with 2,280 registered religious organizations and 16 faiths in 2019. Muslim religious groups operated 2,071 Sunni mosques (compared with 2,065 in 2019), four Shia mosques, 15 Muftiates, and 13 education institutes. The 190 registered non-Muslim groups included 38 Orthodox churches (the same as in 2019), five Catholic churches, 60 Pentecostal churches (up from 56 in 2019), 24 Baptist churches, 10 Seventh-day Adventist churches (one more than in 2019), four New Apostol churches (one more than in 2019), two Lutheran churches, one Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, one Voice of God church, 27 Korean Protestant churches, two Armenian Apostolic churches, eight Jewish communities, six Baha’i centers, one Hari Krishna temple, and one Buddhist temple. The Bible Society of Uzbekistan was also registered.

During the year, the government registered eight churches, the same number as in 2019: the “Agape” Full Gospel Church in Tashkent on July 6; the New Apostolic Church in Fergana region on July 20; a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Samarkand on August 7; the “Hope” Full Gospel Church in Nukus on August 12; the “Salt of the Earth” Full Gospel Church in Almalyk on August 12; the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church in Sirdarya on August 13; the “Light of Truth” Full Gospel Church in Gulistan on August 29; and Farovon Hayot (formerly Ahli Kitob) in Tashkent on November 16. In October, Shia Muslims in Bukhara submitted paperwork to register a Shia mosque in the city. According to religious groups, there were 17 known churches that still wished to register.

Many religious group representatives continued to report they were unable to meet the government’s registration requirements, especially the requirement for a permanent presence in eight of the country’s 14 administrative units to acquire central registration and the requirement that 100 members must apply for registration in a specific locality. They said their inability to register made them subject to harassment by local authorities and criminal sanction for engaging in “illegal” religious activities.

As in previous years, the Ministry of Justice explained denials of registration by citing failures of religious groups to report a valid legal address or to obtain guarantee letters and necessary permits from all local authorities (including the mahalla). Some groups stated they did not have addresses because they continued to be reluctant to purchase property without assurances the government would approve their registration application. Other groups stated local officials arbitrarily withheld approval of the addresses because they opposed the existence of Christian churches with ethnic Uzbek members. In response, some groups reported providing congregation membership lists with only Russian-sounding surnames.

According to some Christian groups, many churches again attempted to register but remained unregistered at year’s end. In Tashkent, these included Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostal Life Water Church, Pentecostal Source of Life Church, and Pentecostal New Wave Church. Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls also remained unregistered in Urgench, Fergana, Bukhara, Samarkand, Nukus, and Karshi. The Pentecostal Full Gospel churches in the cities of Khanabad, Kungrad, Chimbay, Gulistan, and Jizzakh remained unregistered, along with two in the city of Nukus. Several religious freedom advocates said the majority of the Christian churches registered in the year were not ethnic Uzbek, but ones whose members were mostly of Russian or Korean ethnicity.

Jehovah’s Witnesses again stated that, because the government considered illegal any religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses outside of the one registered religious building in Chirchik, the group remained a potential target for harassment and mistreatment, although they stated no raids occurred during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said the group’s one registered site in Chirchik did not adequately meet their needs because their numbers were growing. They also said the group had repeatedly attempted to register in seven districts of the country, but the government had rejected their application at the mahalla level, the first step in the registration process. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a cessation appeal with the Supreme Court in 2019, which was denied on February 20 but not transmitted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses until October 5. On January 27, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed an appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee regarding six of the seven cases of unsuccessful registrations. At year’s end, the UN Human Rights Committee had not responded.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the Ministry of Justice, together with the State Tax Committee and the Ministry of Finance, conducted a special audit of the only registered Kingdom Hall, located in the city of Chirchik, from November 23 until December 11. Church representatives said one possible reason for the audit could have been the group’s charitable activities. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chirchik said they had received $24,000 from Jehovah’s Witnesses offices in New Zealand to help church members and their families with food and protective supplies. The church reported that it successfully helped approximately 600 persons in seven regions with the funds. Church representatives said the government audit concerned them and they believed officials were seeking a way to require reregistration of the church’s charter, which they said could lead to registration problems for their only legally registered location.

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code regulating the length of hair and dress, the color of uniforms, and the type of shoes for all pupils in both public and private schools. The government continued to forbid any religious symbols, including skullcaps, crosses, and hijabs. Reportedly, however, one private school for girls allowed students to wear hijabs.

Religious freedom advocates stated that in the beginning of the year, there were reports that some schools and universities prevented the attendance of females wearing hijabs. In August, lawyer Abduvhid Yakubov filed a case with the Constitutional Court to annul a 2018 Cabinet of Ministers resolution that stated students should wear “modern uniforms,” stating the ruling was unconstitutional. School and university administrations used the 2018 resolution as the basis for banning hijabs. On September 16, the Constitutional Court dismissed Yakubov’s complaint, stating it was unfounded. Yakubov did not appeal the court’s decision.

Religious activist Fayzullaev Isakhon reported authorities arrested and charged him with the illegal distribution of religious information and held him for 10 days following a May 19 Facebook post critical of the local government in Fergana. The Regional Administrative Court of Fergana District stated the writings were those of Shuhrat Kayumov, a well-known, recently deceased journalist and “Honored Artist of Uzbekistan.” The writings were composed of religious material about the Prophet Mohammad that Kayumov had sent to his friend Isakhon via Telegram on March 29. During his detention, authorities forcibly shaved Isakhon, removing a beard he had worn for 20 years.

On September 24, media outlet Podrobno.uz reported a case in which a passerby filmed police harassing women wearing hijabs on Ghuncha Street in the Shaykhantakhur district of Tashkent. Police were recorded pushing women into a police bus. According to authorities, they were attempting to reduce the number of pedestrians who were not wearing masks. Observers told media, however, that police often monitored this neighborhood and frequently targeted men with long beards and women wearing hijabs.

According to the CRA and Muslim religious leaders, the government continued to review the content of imams’ sermons as well as the volume and substance of Islamic materials published by the Muftiate. Religious leaders said the government ensured its control over the Muftiate through the CRA by selecting the Muftiate’s staff and circulating approved sermons for prayer services. The government did not legally limit the volume of public calls to prayer, although many mosques voluntarily did so, according to media sources.

In February, President Mirziyoyev issued a decree establishing the Ministry for the Support of the Mahalla and the Family. The new ministry was tasked with ensuring close cooperation between state-level governments and local mahallas on issues of women, family, and social structures, thereby more formally linking the government and mahalla actions, including those involving religious matters.

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports from minority religious groups that children were prevented from attending community-sponsored activities, including Sunday school, and services with the permission of their parents. On August 2, the Ministry of Interior publicly clarified that minors could attend mosque to pray when accompanied by their parents, siblings, and other close relatives after restrictions on general worship imposed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak were lifted. Previously, there had been a de facto ban, first enforced under the country’s late first President, Islam Karimov, according to al-Jazeera Television.

According to anecdotal reports, a small number of unregistered “neighborhood mosques” continued to function for use primarily by elderly or disabled persons who did not live close to larger, registered mosques. The neighborhood mosques remained limited in their functions and were not assigned registered imams.

Non-Muslim and non-Orthodox religious groups said they continued to experience particular difficulties conducting religious activities in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan because most non-Muslim and non-Orthodox religious communities continued to lack legal status in the region. With the addition of a newly registered Pentecostal church, there were two Christian churches in a region of two million persons, the other belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church.

In August, media reported the historic Ashkenazi Jewish Synagogue Beth Menachem in Tashkent was in danger of being demolished. A real estate developer had sued the synagogue, wanting to build a multistory building on its site. After the Jewish community publicized the case, the government stepped in to assist; on August 5, the Tashkent Interdistrict Economic Court ruled in favor of the synagogue, and the developer dropped its suit during the hearing. The CRA published a statement from Jewish community leader in Tashkent Arkadiy Isakharov in which he thanked the Tashkent khokimiyat and the CRA for their assistance in resolving the matter.

According to Christian religious leaders, many Christians, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, remained separated from an authorized gathering place by more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and gathered in private “house churches,” leaving them potentially vulnerable to police harassment and abuse because such gatherings remained illegal.

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports from religious leaders or activists of authorities filming participants of religious services.

Unlike in previous years, Catholic Church leaders did not report surveillance of Catholic masses.

The government stated that prisoners had the right to practice any religion or no religion. According to human rights activists, including a prominent former religious prisoner and current human rights defender, some prisoners continued to tell family members they were not able to observe religious rituals conflicting with the prison’s schedule of activities. Such observances included traditional Islamic morning prayers. While some activists reported this situation had improved, others said it had not. According to human rights activists, authorities forbade all prisoners from observing religious holidays, such as Ramadan, including by fasting. Although some prison libraries provided copies of the Quran and the Bible, family members continued to state that authorities did not allow some religiously observant prisoners access to religious materials.

The government continued to limit access to Islamic publications deemed extremist and arrested individuals attempting to import or publish religious literature without official permission. There were no reports the government entered the homes of members of any religious group in search of illegal religious material.

The government continued to control access to Islamic publications and to require a statement in every domestic publication indicating the source of its publication authority. According to marketplace shoppers, it remained possible, although uncommon, to obtain a few imported works in Arabic from book dealers in secondhand stores or flea markets, but any literature not specifically approved by the CRA was rare.

According to the CRA, it continued to block the importation of some Christian and Islamic literature.

Throughout the year, religious activist Adham Atajanov (pen name Abu Muslim) reported the CRA had not responded to his repeated requests for official review and permission to publish his interpretations of five books on Islam. In October, Atajanov said he had received permission to publish two of the books, with three remaining under consideration.

The government continued to allow only the following groups to publish, import, and distribute religious literature upon review and approval by the CRA: the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, the Muftiate, the Tashkent Islamic Institute, and the offices of the Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Catholic Churches.

The Bible Society of Uzbekistan reported that during the year, Christians could easily request a Bible from them in three languages, English, Russian, and Uzbek, and that Christians were no longer required to fill out paperwork to obtain a Bible.

During the year, the government-controlled Muftiate continued to operate a call center created in 2019 and staffed by religious experts, which allowed citizens to call in and ask general questions pertaining to Islam.

The government continued to fund an Islamic university and the preservation of Islamic historic sites. The government prohibited Islamic religious institutions from receiving private funding other than for construction and repairs. While the government allowed some private funding, it did not permit funding from foreign governments. The International Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan, established in 2018, continued to provide the country’s religious education institutions (universities and madrassahs) with academic experts, teachers, and mentors. It also worked to improve the research and professional skills of scholars; educate graduate students in the fields of Quranic studies, Islamic law, the science of hadith, and kalam (Islamic doctrine); and engage in research, teaching, and public outreach. The government reported that 1,692 persons were studying at the International Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan. Of these, 1,462 students were pursuing a bachelor’s degree, 187 a master’s degree, and 43 a doctoral degree.

The government continued to prohibit separate training of Shia imams inside the country and did not recognize training received outside the country.

At year’s end, there were three public Islamic training academies to prepare clerics in the country: the Tashkent Islamic Institute, Samarkand Higher School of Hadith Studies, and Mir-i-Arab Madrassah in Bukhara. The number of madrassahs for secondary education increased from nine to 10 after a new one opened in the Surkhandarya Region. Additionally, two Christian seminaries continued to function. According to official figures, 2,299 persons were studying at the Islamic universities and madrassahs (compared with 1,984 in 2019), 50 at the Orthodox seminary (compared with 41 in 2019), and 12 at the Protestant seminary (compared with 20 in 2019). Sources reported that COVID-19 restrictions reduced enrollment, particularly of international students from the region.

Umrah regulations also required pilgrims to apply to local mahalla committees, which submit a list to the khokimiyats. The CRA used the khokimiyats’ lists to coordinate national air carrier flights to Jeddah. Between January and February, before COVID lockdowns went into effect, 28,000 pilgrims traveled for the Umrah, compared with 21,419 in 2019.

Large, government-operated hotels continued to furnish a limited number of rooms with Qurans and Bibles. The government did not report how many Qurans were made available for hotels. Upon advance request, hotels also provided other holy books, prayer mats, and qiblas, used by Muslims to indicate the direction of Mecca. Many airports and train stations maintained small prayer rooms on their premises.

Civil society observers and religious freedom activists continued to report that authorities allowed Muslims to celebrate Ramadan openly, but they said COVID-19 restrictions affected the number of public iftars, and authorities urged citizens to celebrate the holiday at home.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Activists and human rights groups continued to report social pressure among the majority Muslim population against conversion from Islam. Religious community members said ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity risked harassment and discrimination. Some said social stigma for conversion from Islam resulted in difficulties in carrying out burials and that Muslims in the community forced them to bury individuals in distant cemeteries or allowed burials only with Islamic religious rites.

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of individuals being attacked or harassed for their conversion to a minority faith.

Members of religious groups perceived as proselytizing, including evangelical Christians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to state they faced societal scrutiny and discrimination.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On February 2, the Secretary of State met with religious leaders representing Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities to solicit their views on the state of religious freedom in the country. In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy officials and senior officials from the Department of State, including the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, raised religious freedom concerns with the country’s leadership. The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials met with multiple senior government officials, including the President, Foreign Minister, and officials from the National Human Rights Center and the CRA, and raised concerns about the ability of children to attend mosques with their parents, imprisonment and mistreatment of individuals for their religious beliefs, the draft law on religion, and bureaucratic impediments to the registration of religious minority groups. The embassy used social media to raise issues of concern but also to highlight achievements, such as the country’s removal from the Special Watch List and the government’s public clarification that minors could attend mosque if accompanied by their parents.

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom held a series of engagements with the Foreign Minister and the Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States, raising the status of the country’s draft religion law and of the registration of religious organizations and places of worship, as well as the need for the government to allow children to participate in religious activities and to release individuals charged and detained for exercising their faith peacefully. Religious freedom issues were also on the agenda for the annual bilateral consultations, held on November 20, with the main topics being the draft law on religion, continuing the registration of religious organizations (including Jehovah’s Witnesses), and the number of religious prisoners still imprisoned by the government. Several Department of State senior officials, including the Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, also raised religious freedom points in their meetings.

At various levels of government and in different forums, U.S. officials continued to urge the government to amend the religion law to allow members of religious groups to practice their faiths freely outside registered houses of worship and to relax requirements for registering faith-based organizations. They continued to press the government to provide protection for public discourse on religion and remove restrictions on the importation and use of religious literature, in both hardcopy and electronic versions. They also raised the difficulties religious groups and faith-based foreign aid organizations faced with registration and with authorities’ limiting their access to religious literature. The U.S. government supported the implementation of the country’s religious freedom roadmap and the drafting of legislation overhauling the law on religion as concrete steps to enhance religious freedom. The U.S. government urged the government of Uzbekistan to seek a joint opinion on the draft law on religion from the OSCE and Venice Commission.

Embassy representatives frequently discussed individual religious freedom cases with foreign diplomatic colleagues to coordinate efforts on monitoring court cases.

Throughout the year, and despite COVID-19 restrictions, embassy officials maintained contact with religious groups, human rights activists, and other civil society representatives to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Topics included the registration of minority religious groups, religious education for children, and concerns about the wearing of hijabs and beards for Muslims.

In its public outreach and private meetings, the embassy again drew attention to the continuing inability of certain Christian groups to register houses of worship, of evangelical Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss their beliefs openly in public, and of Muslim parents to take their children to mosque or educate them in their faith. Embassy officials and visiting U.S. government officials continued to meet with representatives of religious groups and civil society and with relatives of prisoners to discuss freedom of conscience and belief. Embassy engagement included meetings with virtually all major religious denominations in the country, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptist groups, Jewish leaders, Muslim scholars, and religious freedom activists.

On December 2, 2020, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State removed Uzbekistan from the Special Watch List, determining that it no longer engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” Uzbekistan had previously been designated as a Country of Particular Concern from 2006 to 2017 and was moved to a Special Watch List in 2018 and 2019.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion or traditional belief. The preamble to the constitution refers to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles,” but there is no state religion. On penalty of a fine, the law requires religious groups to register; however, the government did not enforce this requirement. In July, the Minister of Finance and Economic Management recommended that the interdenominational Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) organize prayer sessions for all government ministries. Prime Minister Bob Loughman told the VVC chairman the government would appoint a chaplain to work with the VCC to facilitate the prayer sessions, but as of year’s end, the government had not implemented this. According to sources, the government planned to give new Bibles to all members of parliament but did not do so by year’s end. Churches were eligible to apply for a one-time stimulus package that was part of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the VCC, religious minorities were respected, and any tension between groups was mostly due to tribal and ethnic issues. Members of minority faith groups, however, stated members of dominant religious denominations ridiculed their beliefs. In most rural areas, traditional Melanesian communal decision making predominated on significant social changes, such as the establishment of a new religious group. Throughout the year, the VCC continued dialogue with the West Papua Council of Churches to establish a region-wide Melanesian council of churches.

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea discussed with government officials the importance of interfaith dialogue and of including religious minorities in national events and programs. Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of the VCC and religious minority groups, and with civil society organizations.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 298,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2009 census, the most recent, approximately 82 percent of the population is Christian. An estimated 28 percent of the population is Presbyterian; 15 percent, Anglican; 12 percent, Roman Catholic; and 12 percent, Seventh-day Adventist. Other Christian groups, cumulatively comprising 15 percent of the population, include the Church of Christ, Neil Thomas Ministries, the Apostolic Church, and the Assemblies of God. Smaller Christian groups include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), which estimates its membership at nearly 9,000, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which estimates its membership at 750. According to the census, approximately 13 percent of the population belongs to an estimated 88 other religious groups, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Muslims, and several newly formed groups. The John Frum Movement, an indigenous religious group centered on the island of Tanna, constitutes approximately 3 percent of the population, according to census data.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for individual freedom of “religious or traditional beliefs,” including the freedoms of conscience and worship, subject “to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defense, safety, public order, welfare, and health.” Any individual who believes these rights have been violated may apply “independently of any other possible legal remedy… to the Supreme Court to enforce that right.” The Supreme Court may issue orders it considers appropriate to enforce these rights if it finds they have been violated and to pay compensation. The preamble of the constitution refers to a commitment to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles,” but there is no state religion.

The law requires every religious body to apply to the government for a certificate of registration, pay 1,000 vatu ($9), and obtain final approval of the Minister for Internal Affairs to operate. Registration allows the religious group to maintain a bank account. The penalty for not registering is a fine not exceeding 50,000 vatu ($470); however, the law is not enforced.

According to law, children may not be refused admission to government and nongovernment schools or be treated unfavorably because of their religion.

The Department of Education prohibits religious discrimination. Government schools schedule time each week for religious education conducted by VCC representatives using their own materials. The government provides grants to church-operated schools and pays the salaries of teachers at church-operated schools in existence since independence in 1980. There is no uniform standard amount of time dedicated to religious instruction across all schools; however, the standard curriculum requires that students in grades seven through 12 receive one hour of religious instruction per week. Parents may request that students be excused from religious education classes in both private and public schools.

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

Government Practices

In July, the Daily Post reported that Minister of Finance and Economic Management Johnny Koanapo requested the VCC organize prayer sessions for all government ministries. Prime Minister Loughman told VVC Chairman Pastor Allan Nafuki the government would appoint a chaplain to work with the VCC to facilitate the prayer sessions. Sources said the government planned to give new Bibles to all members of parliament. As of year’s end, however, neither action had been taken.

The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the VCC, the latter composed of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Christ, and the Apostolic Church, with Seventh-day Adventists and the Assemblies of God having observer status. Government officials said they respected religious minorities but that these groups each had different expectations and protocols. The officials said the government preferred to work with a coordinated body like the VCC, which represented the majority of churches.

The Ministry of Health continued to cooperate with six churches, including Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, the Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ, to provide health, educational, economic, and disaster response assistance to needy local communities. In October, the government, community organizations, and partner churches provided free training on basic health awareness to combat noncommunicable diseases such as tuberculosis in their communities.

The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($94,100) annual grant from the government. The VCC said that as in years past it would use the funds for the administration of the VCC and to support the intertwined social, political awareness, and religious activities of the churches in the country, including evangelism and public outreach activities of member churches.

Churches were eligible to apply for a one-time stimulus package that was part of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At year’s end, the funds had not been disbursed.

Government oaths of office customarily were taken on the Bible.

Ceremonial prayers at national events were organized through the VCC. Religious minorities criticized the government for not including non-Christian faith groups in celebrations of national events.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the main leader of the VCC, religious minorities were respected, and if there was tension between groups, it was mostly due to tribal and ethnic issues. Members of minority faith groups, however, stated members of dominant religious denominations ridiculed their beliefs.

In most rural areas, traditional Melanesian communal decision making predominated. In general, if a community member proposed a significant change within the community, such as the establishment of a new religious group, the action required agreement by the chief and the rest of the community.

In April, the VCC called for all churches to stand together in prayer when the islands were impacted by Cyclone Harold. The Santo Bush Mission and Talua Theological Training Institute in Santo suffered significant damage.

Throughout the year, the VCC continued dialogue with the West Papua Council of Churches regarding establishment of a Melanesian council of churches, which would include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. According to VCC representatives, however, there were no in-person meetings due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea is accredited to the government. Representatives from the Embassy in Papua New Guinea discussed religious tolerance and the importance of interfaith dialogue with senior government officials, as well as the role of faith-based organizations in disaster response operations, such as during a pandemic, and the inclusion of minority faiths in national events and programs.

Embassy representatives discussed with religious minorities, including Catholics, Baha’is, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, their perceptions of religious freedom and tolerance in the country. Embassy representatives exchanged ideas with Christian leaders of various denominations, civil society organizations, and government agencies on the importance of interfaith dialogue regardless of religious affiliation. In October, embassy officials discussed with the VCC the central role played by church groups in response to social challenges, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and public health emergencies.

Venezuela

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition its practice does not violate public morality, decency, or public order. Representatives of the conference of Catholic bishops, officially known as the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV), and the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (ECV) said clergy and other members of their religious communities were harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against for continuing to call attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis. In April, officers of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) detained Father Geronimo Sifontes, coordinator of the Catholic NGO Caritas, in Monagas State. Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders stated the Maduro regime and its aligned groups disrupted church services, attacked churchgoers, and destroyed church property. Media reported nonstate armed groups (NSAGs), called colectivos, aligned with Nicolas Maduro continued to attack churches and their congregants during the year. On January 15, a group of Maduro-aligned colectivos led by regime-controlled security forces assaulted teachers attending Mass prior to a planned protest in Caracas, launching bottles, urine, and feces at them. Church leaders reported Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) officials continued to intimidate priests who criticized Maduro in their sermons. There were reports that regime officials continued to prevent clergy opposing Maduro from holding religious services. According to media reports and other sources, throughout the year, members of the Maduro regime attempted to discredit religious organizations for criticizing the regime. Editorials in pro-Maduro media outlets continued to accuse interim President Juan Guaido and other interim government officials as agents or lobbyists of Zionism. Representatives of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela (CAIV) said criticism of Israel in Maduro-controlled or -affiliated media continued to carry anti-Semitic overtones, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionist messages. They said Maduro-controlled or -associated media and supporters again denied or trivialized the Holocaust and promoted conspiracy theories linking Israel and Jews to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 22, representatives of the CEV, ECV, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Anglican Church, Jewish community, and other religious groups and other social organizations announced the creation of the Venezuelan Interreligious Social Council. Representatives said the purpose of the council was to build consensus and dialogue based on respect for human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.

During the year, the VAU continued to engage with the Guaido-led interim government. The VAU also continued to maintain close contact with a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic communities. VAU representatives and members of these groups discussed repression and attacks on religious communities committed by the Maduro regime; harassment by the regime’s aligned and armed civilian gangs; and anti-Semitic posts in social media and in regime-controlled media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 28.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate), compared with 32.1 million in the 2019 midyear estimate – a decrease attributable to the outmigration of millions of Venezuelans. The U.S. government estimates 96 percent of the population is Catholic. The remaining population includes evangelical Protestants, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Baha’is, and Jews. Observers estimate as much as 30 percent of the population follows practices of Afro-descendant religions Santeria and Espiritismo, some of which also influence Catholic practices in the country, including in Catholic Church music and festivals.

The ECV estimates 18 percent of the population is Protestant, the majority of whom are members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Church of Jesus Christ estimates its numbers at 168,500. The Muslim community numbers more than 100,000 and consists primarily of persons of Lebanese and Syrian descent living in Nueva Esparta State and the Caracas metropolitan area. Sunnis are the majority, with a minority Shia community primarily in Margarita Island in Nueva Esparta State. According to the Baha’i community, its membership is approximately 5,000. According to CAIV, the Jewish community numbers approximately 6,000, with most members living in Caracas. Media estimate there are 5,000 Jews, compared with 30,000 in 1999.

Section II. Status of “Government” Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or public order. A 1964 concordat governs relations between the government and the Holy See and provides for government funding for Catholic Church-run schools. In 2017, the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which the National Assembly, democratically elected in 2015, and the Guaido-led interim government and much of the international community consider illegitimate, passed an anti-hate law criminalizing acts of incitement to hatred or violence. Individuals who violate the law face 10 to 20 years in prison. The law includes 25 articles stipulating a wide array of directives, restrictions, and penalties. The law criminalizes political party activities promoting “fascism, intolerance, or hatred,” which comprise numerous factors, including religion. It also criminalizes individual acts promoting violence or hatred, the publication or transmission of any messages promoting violence or hatred by any media outlet, and the publication of messages promoting violence or hatred on social media. Among the violations are those committed by individuals or media outlets, including by members of religious groups or media associated with a religious group.

The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Maduro-controlled Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace (MOI) maintains a registry of religious groups, disburses funds to religious organizations, and promotes awareness and understanding among religious communities. Each religious group must register with the DJR to acquire legal status as a religious organization. Registration requires declaration of property belonging to the religious group, identification of any religious authorities working directly for it, and articles of incorporation. Religious groups are required to demonstrate how they will provide social services to their communities and to receive a letter of acceptance from the regime-controlled community council in the neighborhood(s) where the group will work. The MOI reviews applications and may delay approval indefinitely. Religious groups must register any new statutes with the DJR.

The law neither prohibits nor promotes religious education in public schools. An 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allows catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values in public schools in preparation for First Communion; this agreement, however, is not enforced.

The law provides for Catholic chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of Catholics serving in the military. There are no similar provisions for other religious groups.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “Government” Practices

“Government” Practices

CEV and ECV representatives said the Maduro regime harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against their clergy and other members of their religious communities for continuing to call attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis. On April 8, GNB officers detained Father Geronimo Sifontes, coordinator of the Catholic NGO Caritas, in Monagas State on the grounds that he lacked permission to hold a public gathering under COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. Sifontes installed an improvised altar in front of the Santo Domingo de Guzman Church, which included a cross and a tattered Venezuelan flag. Sifontes then led a procession, remaining in his vehicle the entire time, with a statue of Jesus bearing the cross atop his car through the streets of Las Cocuizas, Monagas State. Parishioners denounced Sifontes’ detention as illegal and arbitrary. Sifontes was released later the same day.

Media reported that NSAGs aligned with the Maduro regime continued to attack churches and their congregants during the year. On January 15, members of the teachers union gathered at the Cathedral of Caracas for Mass prior to a protest against Maduro. Colectivos attacked the teachers in the church, launching bottles, urine, and feces at them. Teachers and journalists covering the protest reported the colectivos involved in the attack were led by members of the GNB. According to sources, on February 11, members of a colectivo linked to the regime attacked a Catholic soup kitchen and health services clinic in Los Teques, Miranda State. The armed and masked colectivos threatened the occupants, robbed them of their valuables, and beat the soup kitchen’s coordinator so severely she was hospitalized.

There were reports that Maduro representatives continued to prevent clergy opposing the regime from holding religious services. On October 5, the mayor of Barbacoas, in Aragua State, closed down and fired the staff of Catholic radio station The Singing Revolutionary. The station director’s son, Anthony Gonzalez, previously a seminarian at a local seminary, led a religious service on October 4, during which he criticized Maduro for the lack of ambulances, biosafety equipment, and supplies at medical centers needed to transport and treat COVID-19 patients as well as combat the disease.

Church leaders reported SEBIN officials continued to intimidate priests who criticized Maduro in their sermons. The leaders said SEBIN officers followed and harassed Catholic laity involved in delivering humanitarian aid or participating in public demonstrations and photographed their homes.

According to media reports and other sources, throughout the year, members of the Maduro regime attempted to discredit religious organizations for criticizing the regime. In a January 14 homily, Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe – Bishop of the Diocese of San Felipe and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Barquisimeto – denounced what he called the abuse of power and use of force against the population. Later the same day, Maduro responded to Basabe’s remarks in his annual address to the ANC, in which he accused Basabe of using the homily to manipulate faith for “retrograde, reactionary, and right-wing politics,” and he demanded bishops not conduct politics from the pulpit.

During a July 27 television broadcast, Maduro called on the Catholic Church to use its churches and other places of worship, closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, to house Venezuelans returning from abroad who had contracted COVID. The CEV responded that church facilities, while engaged in the distribution of medicine and humanitarian aid, lacked the necessary equipment and medical infrastructure to provide lifesaving care to COVID patients. CEV representatives stated that Maduro’s demand was an attempt to deflect criticism from his mistreatment of Venezuelans afflicted by the virus. Mariano Parra Sandoval, Archbishop of Coro, Falcon State, suggested Maduro use military installations instead of churches because the former were better equipped to care for COVID-19 patients. According to humanitarian aid organizations, the Maduro regime instead forcibly detained returning COVID-positive Venezuelans in makeshift camps under terrible conditions.

Media reported the Maduro regime regularly accused Catholic laity of being “perverts” and perpetrators of pedophilia who acted with the complicity of Church leadership. On January 22, then-Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, an active-duty National Guard general who later became Minister of Electrical Energy, stated, “Instead of devoting themselves to politics, Catholic authorities should focus on removing priests who engage in these aberrant activities.” He cited the case of Father Jesus Manuel Rondon Molina, of Rubio, Tachira State, killed on January 16 by an individual who said the priest had sexually abused him. On January 20, the CEV issued a statement denying the Church had attempted to cover up abuse allegations and stating the Church had initiated an investigation of Rondon Molina and prohibited him from meeting with minors.

According to media, on March 29, colectivos spray-painted words threatening to attack “the damned opposition” on the walls of the Saint Catalina Church in Carupano, Sucre State, signing the messages with “Bolivarian Fury.” Colectivos adopted the phrase from a March 26 speech by Maduro to launch an intimidation campaign against perceived opponents.

CAIV representatives said Maduro regime representatives continued to believe members of the Jewish community maintained direct lines of communication with the White House and that the community placed U.S. interests above those of the country. According to the Anti-defamation League (ADL), most anti-Semitic messaging on social media and other media continued to originate from Maduro and his supporters. Some members of the Jewish community stated the regime and those sympathetic to it, including some media outlets, used anti-Zionism to mask anti-Semitism, saying they avoided accusations of anti-Semitism by replacing the word “Jewish” with “Zionist.” During the year, editorials in state-owned and pro-Maduro media outlets accused Guaido and Guaido-nominated representatives of being agents or lobbyists for Zionism. During a September 2 television broadcast, ANC president Diosdado Cabello called opposition politician David Smolansky “an agent of Zionism, the most murderous of Zionist assassins.”

Regime-controlled news media and regime-friendly social media posts circulated theories that linked the COVID-19 pandemic to Israel and Jews. In a May 15 social media post, Basem Tajeldine, an analyst for state-owned media outlet TeleSur, characterized Israel as a virus, calling the “IsraHell virus as much of a killer as COVID-19, eating the lungs of the Palestinian people from the 1947 Nakba to today.”

Members of the Maduro regime continued to trivialize or deny the Holocaust. On June 12, the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court appointed Luis Fuenmayor Toro, known for his statements questioning the existence of the Holocaust, to the National Electoral Council.

On October 19, the CEV released a pastoral letter, “On the social, economic, moral and political situation of the country,” that stated “both the ruling party and the opposition do not present a project for the country that is able to bring together and convince the majority of the Venezuelan people to live in justice, freedom and peace” and that called for “a change of attitude in all the political leaders.” According to the CEV letter, and in reference to what it termed the fraudulent December 6 legislative elections, “The electoral event scheduled for next December 6, far from contributing to the democratic solution of the political situation we are experiencing today, tends to worsen it,” and, “It is immoral to hold elections when people suffer the consequences of the pandemic, lack the minimum conditions necessary for their survival, and there are no transparent rules and verification mechanisms that should characterize an electoral process.”

In response to the creation in April of the Venezuelan Interreligious Social Council by religious groups not associated with Maduro, the regime created its own National Religious Council that included representatives of the Muslim, Jewish, evangelical Protestant, and Afro-descendant communities, as well as the Anglican and Russian Orthodox Churches. Observers criticized the move as an attempt to politicize religious communities and create the appearance of support for the Maduro regime.

Throughout the year, members of the Maduro regime met with the Evangelical Christian Movement for Venezuela (MOCEV), a pro-Maduro organization. Leaders of the Evangelical and Baptist Churches said members of MOCEV were unknown to them and did not speak for their religious communities. ECV Vice President Jose Pinero said he believed MOCEV may have received benefits from the regime in exchange for its political support.

The Evangelical Theological University of Venezuela, whose foundation Maduro announced in December 2019, had not opened by year’s end. Members of the Catholic and Evangelical communities rejected the initiative, stating it was an attempt to “buy their conscience,” and they voiced concern that any such institution would demonstrate an ideological bent in favor of the Maduro. On February 13, Jose Vielma Mora, Maduro’s Vice President for Religious Affairs, called for the creation of religious workshops and educational programs at universities to build religious tolerance. Observers criticized the announcement as “political interference” and an attack on the independence of the religious and university sectors. Student leaders pointed out the impracticality of such programs, given the regime’s refusal to fund university budgets, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which, they said, limited the ability of universities to hold classes of any type.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Articles published on the online newspaper Aporrea stated COVID-19 was a biological weapon developed by Israel, and that Zionists used the pandemic to destabilize the country and foment a coup against Maduro.

On April 22, representatives of the CEV, ECV, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Anglican Church, Jewish community, and other religious groups and social organizations announced the creation of the Venezuelan Interreligious Social Council. According to its founding members, the purpose of the council was to build consensus and dialogue based on respect for human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law. Auxiliary Bishop of Caracas and CEV Secretary General Jose Trinidad Fernandez said the council was “a structure of reflection and action based on plurality, whose contribution will generate consensus to mitigate the serious problems that our society is experiencing.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The United States continues to recognize the authority of the democratically elected 2015 National Assembly and of Juan Guaido as the interim President of Venezuela and does not recognize the Maduro regime as a government. In 2019, the Department of State announced the temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and the withdrawal of diplomatic personnel and announced the opening of the VAU, located at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. The VAU is the U.S. mission to Venezuela, which continues engagement with the Government of Venezuela and outreach to the Venezuelan people. During the year, the VAU maintained close contact with the Guaido-led interim government to discuss actions by the Maduro regime that infringe upon religious freedom and other human rights.

VAU officials communicated regularly with a wide range of religious communities and leaders in the country to discuss the treatment of religious groups, anti-Semitic rhetoric by the Maduro regime and its supporters, and reprisals on some faith groups that disagree with Maduro’s political agenda. In conversations with embassy officials, religious leaders expressed their concern that the continued presence of the Maduro regime would only further the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the country, and that criticism of Maduro would increase hostility towards faith communities. VAU officials held meetings with representatives from the CEV, ECV, CAIV, and the Muslim community. Each community expressed interest in maintaining communications and exploring possible outreach programs in the future. The VAU also communicated the value of religious freedom in interviews with media outlets and on digital media.

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion. The law provides for significant government control over religious practices and includes vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the stated interest of national security and social unity. The Law on Belief and Religion (LBR) maintains a multistage registration and recognition process for religious groups, without which groups’ activities are strictly limited. Some religious leaders, particularly those representing groups that either did not request or receive official recognition or certificates of registration reported various forms of government harassment – including physical assaults, arrests, prosecutions, monitoring, travel restrictions, and property seizure – and denials or no response to requests for registration and other permissions. Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year. Religious leaders across the country reported some improving conditions compared with prior years, such as better relations between unregistered religious groups and local authorities, while also reporting incidents of harassment, including police questioning and brief periods of detention. Members of recognized groups or those with certificates of registration said they were generally more able to practice their beliefs with less government interference, although some recognized groups, including the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) (ECVN), reported harassment in gathering in certain provinces, including Quang Binh, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, and Ha Giang. While the United Presbyterian Church reported harassment in some provinces, the Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC) stated it worked with the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) to register more than 20 local congregations and places of worship (known locally as “meeting points”) in a number of northern provinces. Members of some religious groups continued to report that some local and provincial authorities used noncompliance with the required registration procedures to slow, delegitimize, and suppress religious activities of groups that resisted close government management of their leadership, training programs, assemblies, and other activities.

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between believers and nonbelievers. Religious activists blamed authorities for manipulating recognized religious groups and accused their agents or proxies of causing conflicts to suppress the activities of unregistered groups. On September 11 and 13, for example, members of the recognized Cao Dai Sect (Cao Dai 1997) disrupted the rite of unregistered Cao Dai members (Cao Dai 1926) at a private residence in Ben Cau District, Tay Ninh Province.

The U.S. Ambassador and other senior embassy and consulate general officials regularly urged authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely. They sought reduced levels of government intervention in the affairs of the recognized and registered religious groups and urged an end to restrictions on and harassment of groups without recognition or registration. The Ambassador, Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, and other senior U.S. government and embassy officers advocated religious freedom in visits across the country, including to the Northern and Northwest Highlands, the Central Highlands, the North Central region, and Central Coast. Embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses as well as government harassment against Catholics, Protestant groups, the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), independent Hoa Hao groups, and ethnic minority house churches with the GCRA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities. U.S. government officials called for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies by making them more uniform and transparent. U.S. government officials urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 98.7 million (midyear 2020 estimate). The government’s 2019 National Population and Housing Census reported approximately 13 million religious adherents, accounting for 14 percent of the total population. The census noted Catholics represented the largest number of adherents, with six million followers, accounting for 45 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and six percent of the overall population. The census recorded Buddhists as the second largest religious group, accounting for five million followers or 35 percent of the total number of religious adherents nationwide and five percent of the overall population. Protestants were the third largest group with nearly one million followers, accounting for seven percent of the total number of believers nationwide and one percent of the overall population. The census results contrast with January 2018 statistics released by the GCRA in which 26 percent of the population is categorized as religious believers participating in registered activities, with 15 percent of the population Buddhist, seven percent Roman Catholic, two percent Hoa Hao Buddhist, one percent Cao Dai, and one percent Protestant. GCRA officials, however, also estimate 90 percent of the population follows some sort of faith tradition, registered or otherwise. According to observers, many religious adherents choose not to make their religious affiliation public for fear of adverse consequences, resulting in substantial discrepancies among various estimates.

According to government statistics, the total number of religious adherents reportedly decreased by roughly 2.5 million and the ratio of religious adherents dropped from more than 18 percent to 14 percent of the total population between the 2009 and 2019 censuses. Catholics and Protestants saw increases in membership, while Buddhists and religious groups based on local traditions saw a declining number of adherents, according to census data. Anecdotal reporting from provincial Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), Catholic, and Protestant leaders, however, indicates membership in all religious traditions continues to grow.

According to census data, VBS membership decreased from more than nearly seven million in 2009 to approximately five million in 2019. The GCRA estimates that the number of Buddhist followers is more than 10 million. The VBS notes that this number only counts those officially registered to sanghas (community of monks and nuns) and does not account for potentially tens of millions of others who believe in and observe Buddhist practices to various degrees without formal participation in a registered Buddhist religious group.

Within the Buddhist community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic majority, while approximately 1 percent of the total population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.

Smaller religious groups combined constitute less than 0.16 percent of the population and include Hindus (mostly an estimated 70,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area); approximately 80,000 Muslims scattered throughout the country (approximately 40 percent are Sunnis; the remaining 60 percent practice Bani Islam); an estimated 3,000 members of the Baha’i Faith; and approximately 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ). Religious groups originating in the country (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, and Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon) comprise a total of 0.34 percent of the population. A small, mostly foreign, Jewish population resides in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. National statistics on religious adherents from the GCRA and the Vietnam Fatherland Front are considered less comprehensive, as they do not account for members of unregistered religious groups.

Other individuals have no religious affiliation or practice animism or the veneration of ancestors, tutelary and protective saints, national heroes, or local, respected persons. Many individuals blend traditional practices with religious teachings, particularly Buddhism and Christianity. Research institutions, including the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, estimate there are approximately 100 “new religions,” mostly in the North and Central Highlands.

Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14 percent of the population. Based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including groups in the Northwest Highlands (H’mong, Dzao, Thai, and others) and in the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Sedang, and M’nong, among others). The Khmer Krom ethnic group overwhelmingly practices Theravada Buddhism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the freedom to follow no religion. The constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of religion or belief of those whose rights are limited, including inmates or any foreigners and stateless persons. It states all religions are equal before the law, and the state must respect and protect freedom of belief and religion. The constitution prohibits citizens from violating the freedom of belief and religion or taking advantage of a belief or religion to violate the law.

The LBR and implementing Decree 162 serve as the primary documents governing religious groups and their activities. At year’s end, the government did not promulgate a decree prescribing penalties for noncompliance with the 2018 law. The GCRA has stated, however, that the decree prescribing penalties is not vital, as at least 11 other laws and decrees mandate civil compliance with national law. The LBR reiterates citizens’ rights to freedom of belief and religion and states that individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder; infringe upon the life, health, dignity, honor or property of others; impede the exercise of civic rights and performance of civic obligations; or conduct “superstitious activities” or otherwise violate the law.

The government recognizes 38 religious organizations that affiliate with 16 distinct religious “traditions,” as defined by the government: Buddhism, Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Catholicism, Protestantism, Church of Jesus Christ, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Phat Duong Nam Tong Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao Tam Tong Mieu, Cham Brahmanism, Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Distinct denominations within these religious traditions must seek their own registration and/or recognition. Four additional groups – the Assemblies of God, Ta Lon Dutiful and Loyal Buddhism, Vietnam Full Gospel Church, and Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church – have “registrations for religious operation” but are not recognized as official organizations.

The law specifies that recognized religious organizations and their affiliates are noncommercial legal entities. The law also stipulates that religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, social protection, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with relevant laws. The government does not allow unauthorized organizations to raise funds or distribute aid without seeking approval and registration from authorities.

The GCRA, one of 18 “ministerial units” under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is responsible for implementing religious laws and decrees; it maintains offices at the central, provincial, and, in some areas, district levels. The law lays out specific responsibilities for central-, provincial-, and local-level GCRA offices and delegates certain religion-related management tasks to provincial- and local-level people’s committees (i.e., local leaders). The central-level GCRA is charged with disseminating information to authorities and assuring uniform compliance with the legal framework on religion at the provincial, district, commune, and village levels.

By law, forcing others to follow or renounce a religion or belief is prohibited.

Military conscription is universal and mandatory for males between 18 and 25 years of age, although there are exceptions. None of the exceptions is related to religious belief.

The law requires believers to register religious activities with communal authorities where the “lawful premises for the religious practice is based” and prescribes two stages of institutionalization for religious organizations seeking to gather at a specified location to “practice worship rituals, pray, or express their religious faith.” The first stage is “registration for religious operation” with the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the group’s activities. Registration for religious operation allows a group to organize religious ceremonies and religious practice; preach and conduct religious classes at approved locations; elect, appoint, or designate officials; repair or renovate the headquarters; engage in charitable or humanitarian activities; and organize congresses to approve its charter. To obtain registration, the group must submit a detailed application with information about its doctrine, history, bylaws, leaders, and members as well as proof it has a legal meeting location. The relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA – depending on whether the group in question is operating in one or more provinces – is responsible for approving a valid application for registration within 60 days of receipt. The relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA is required to provide any rejection in writing.

The second stage of institutionalization is recognition. A religious group may apply for recognition after it has operated continuously for at least five years following the date it received approval of its “registration for religious operation.” A religious group is required to have a legal charter and bylaws, leaders in good standing without criminal records, and to have managed assets and conducted transactions autonomously. To obtain recognition, a group must submit a detailed application to the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the organization. The application must include a written request specifying the group’s structure, membership, geographical scope of operation and headquarters location; a summary of its history, dogmas, canon laws, and rites; a list and the resumes, judicial records, and summaries of the religious activities of the organization’s representative and tentative leaders; the group’s charter; a declaration of the organization’s lawful assets; and proof of lawful premises to serve as a headquarters. The relevant provincial people’s committee or the MHA is responsible for approving a valid application for recognition within 60 days of receipt. The relevant provincial people’s committee or MHA is required to provide any rejection in writing. Recognition allows the religious group to conduct religious activities in accordance with the organization’s charter; organize religious practice; publish religious texts, books, and other publications; produce, export, and import religious cultural products and religious articles; renovate, upgrade, or construct new religious establishments; and receive lawful donations from domestic and foreign sources, among other rights.

The law states religious organizations and their affiliates, clergy, and believers may file complaints or civil and administrative lawsuits against government officials or agencies under the relevant laws and decrees. The law also states organizations and individuals have the right to bring civil lawsuits in court regarding the actions of religious groups or believers. There were no analogous provisions in previous laws.

Under the law, a religious organization is defined as “a religious group that has received legal recognition” by authorities. The law provides a separate process for unregistered, unrecognized religious groups to receive permission for specific religious activities by applying to the commune-level people’s committee. Regulations require the people’s committee to respond in writing to an application within 20 working days of receipt. The law specifies that a wide variety of religious activities require advance approval or registration from authorities at the central and/or local levels. These activities include “belief activities” (defined as traditional communal practices of ancestor, hero, or folk worship); “belief festivals” held for the first time; the establishment, division, or merger of religious affiliates; the ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); establishment of a religious training facility; conducting religious training classes; holding major religious congresses; organizing religious events, preaching or evangelizing outside of approved locations; traveling abroad to conduct religious activities or training; and joining a foreign religious organization.

Certain religious activities do not need advance approval but instead require notification to the appropriate authorities. Activities requiring notification include recurring or periodic “belief festivals;” dismissal of clergy; conducting fundraising activities; reporting enrollment figures at a seminary or religious school; the repair or renovation of religious facilities not considered cultural-historical relics; ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious clergy (such as monks); transfers or dismissals of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); conducting operations at an approved religious training facility; routine religious activities (defined as “religious preaching, practicing religious tenets and rites, and management of a religious organization”); and internal conferences of a religious organization.

The law provides prisoners access to religious counsel as well as religious materials, with conditions, while in detention. It reserves authority for the government to restrict the “assurance” of that right. Decree 162 states detainees may use religious documents that are legally published and circulated, in line with legal provisions on custody, detention, prison, and other types of confinement. Prisoner access to religious counsel and materials must not, however, affect the rights of others to freedom of religion and belief or nonbelief or contravene other relevant laws. The decree states the Ministries of Public Security, Defense, and Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs shall be responsible for providing guidelines on the management of religious documents and the time and venue for the use of these documents.

The law specifies that religious organizations must follow numerous other laws for certain activities. Religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the law, but the law does not provide clarification as to which activities are permitted. In addition, construction or renovation of religious facilities must occur in accordance with laws and regulations on construction, and foreigners participating in religious activities must abide by immigration laws.

Publishing, producing, exporting, or importing religious texts must occur in accordance with laws and regulations related to publishing. Legislation requires all publishers be licensed public entities or state-owned enterprises. Publishers must receive prior government approval to publish all documents, including religious texts. By decree, only the Religious Publishing House may publish religious books. Any bookstore may sell legally published religious texts and other religious materials.

The constitution states the government owns and manages all land on behalf of the people. According to the law, land use by religious organizations must conform to the land law and its related decrees. The land law recognizes that licensed religious institutions and schools may acquire land-use rights and be allocated or leased land. The law specifies religious institutions are eligible for state compensation if their land is seized under eminent domain. The law allows provincial-level people’s committees to seize land via eminent domain to facilitate the construction of religious facilities.

Under the law, provincial-level people’s committees may grant land use certificates for a “long and stable term” to religious institutions if they have permission to operate, the land is dispute-free, and the land was not acquired via transfer or donation after July 1, 2004. Religious institutions are not permitted to exchange, transfer, lease, donate, or mortgage their land-use rights. In land disputes involving a religious institution, the chairperson of the provincial-level people’s committee has authority to settle disputes. Parties may dispute the chairperson’s decision by appealing to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment or filing a lawsuit in court.

In practice, if a religious organization has not obtained recognition, members of the congregation may acquire a land-use title individually.

The renovation or upgrade of facilities owned by religious groups requires notification to authorities, although it does not necessarily require a permit, depending on the extent of the renovation.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public and private schools. This prohibition extends to private schools run by religious organizations.

There are separate provisions of the law that permit foreigners legally residing in the country to request permission to conduct religious activities, teach, attend local religious training, or preach in local religious institutions. The law requires religious organizations or citizens to receive government permission in advance of hosting or conducting any religious activities involving foreign organizations, foreign individuals, or travel abroad. Regulations also contain requirements for foreigners conducting religious activities within the country, including those involved in religious training, ordination, and leadership, to seek permission for their activities.

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

Government Practices

During the year, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported cases of government officials physically abusing individuals from religious minority groups, particularly ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, although it was not clear the reported cases were related to religious affiliation. Government officials in different parts of the country reportedly continued to monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily detain, and discriminate against some individuals, at least in part, because of their religious beliefs or affiliation. The majority of the victims of the reported incidents were members of unregistered groups engaged in political or human rights advocacy activities or with ties to overseas individuals and organizations that were outspoken and critical of authorities. Because religion, ethnicity, and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of harassment as being solely based on religious identity.

Local authorities in some parts of the Central Highlands reportedly intimidated and threatened violence against members of certain unregistered Protestant groups that had reported human rights violations to international bodies or attempted to force these groups’ members to recant their faith or join a registered religious organization. According to Boat People SOS (BPSOS), a U.S.-based NGO, authorities in the Central Highlands threatened to kill church leaders and members for reporting incidents of abuse to foreign diplomatic missions and accused them of belonging to separatist groups. In July, BPSOS reported authorities in Dak Lak Province threatened to kill church elders from the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ in Buon Ma Thuot City and Good News Mission Church in Cu Kuin District during interrogations conducted following meetings between the elders and diplomats in June. Authorities reportedly pressured the church elders to recant their faith, stop their activities, and join the registered Evangelical Church of Vietnam. Dak Lak Province police reportedly threatened to kill a member of the Good News Mission Church unless he revealed what he reported to U.S. diplomats. In August, Krong Ana District police, Dak Lak Province, interrogated a Good News Mission Church pastor and threatened him for suspicion of association with the long-defunct separatist organization United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races, known by its French acronym FULRO. The government considered the group an insurgent militia. According to Degar Christian groups, authorities repeatedly accused them of belonging to FULRO, which they denied.

According to BPSOS reports, during the year local police in Dak Lak and Phu Yen Provinces questioned at least 30 members of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ, Good News Mission Church, and International Degar Church at local police stations or their residences. In some cases, local police coerced individuals to report to local police stations and then interrogated them for hours before releasing them without charges. Authorities reportedly demanded they cease affiliation with unregistered religious groups and refrain from providing “negative” reports to international organizations. Local police in some cases demanded some religious adherents request permission from authorities prior to traveling outside of their communes. According to members of a house church in Chu Se District, Gia Lai Province, Bo Ngoong Commune police in December confiscated from the church 300 million dong ($13,000) in Christmas funds, Bibles, and other property, and said if the villagers carried on with Christmas celebrations they would be fined or arrested.

In May, according to observers, local police of Quynh Luu District, Nghe An Province, “invited” a number of Catholic converts who were baptized by Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc to local police stations, threatening to withhold their social benefits and preventing them from attending Easter masses. Religious activists stated, however, authorities did not carry out these threats. The converts were harassed reportedly because of their connection to Thuc, who, according to human rights organizations, had been harassed for many years due to his human rights advocacy efforts, particularly for helping victims of Formosa toxic spills and supporting human rights activists.

On March 19, state media reported that Gia Lai police, in association with the Ministry of Public Security, detained Kunh, Lup, and Jur who were ethnic minorities belonging to the Catholic “Ha Mon” group founded in Kon Tum in 1999. Authorities had labeled the Ha Mon group an “evil-way religion” due to its alleged association with FULRO. All three were released in June.

According to reports from BPSOS, on August 27, local authorities of Hoa Thang Commune, Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province, questioned church member Y Nguyet Bkrong about pictures on his Facebook page showing local police officers at his residence during religious services of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ. The local officials threatened to punish him if he did not remove the pictures and ordered him to stop hosting gatherings of unregistered religious groups. On January 14, according to BPSOS, local authorities of Krong Buk District, Dak Lak Province questioned Y Khiu Nie and Y Blon Nie, members of the unregistered Good News Mission Church, about their sharing reports critical of the government internationally and pressured them to stop accessing and posting negative reports on human rights websites and Facebook pages. BPSOS reported other similar incidents in Dak Lak Province during the year.

On September 18, authorities released Pastor A Dao of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ from prison 11 months earlier than his expected release date of August 18, 2021. He was arrested in 2016 and charged with “organizing for individuals to flee abroad” under Article 275 of the 1999 penal code.

Nineteen members of the An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist group remained in prison on sentences ranging from 10 years to life on 2013 convictions of “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.” On October 8 and November 13, respectively, authorities released An Dan Dai Dao Buddhists Phan Thanh Tuong 16 months earlier than his expected release date and Do Thi Hong four years earlier than her expected release date.

There were multiple reports of government discrimination against individual religious believers and religious groups across the country. Members of some religious groups whose members were poor or ethnic minorities said authorities denied some of the legal benefits to which the members were entitled.

The VBC, an unregistered group, reported that authorities stopped disrupting its gatherings but harassed its congregants in different ways. For example, according to BPSOS, local authorities of Thach Loi Commune, Thach Thanh District, Thanh Hoa Province, denied state financial assistance for COVID-19 to Church members.

In June, a crowd of approximately 60 members of the government-organized Cao Dai 1997, supported by Phu Yen provincial authorities, confronted members of the unregistered Hieu Xuong Cao Dai (1926) Temple and attempted to breach the building to force the congregants out of the temple and take control of the property. Hieu Xuong Cao Dai members reported they were able to prevent the mob from occupying the temple but that the crowd threatened to return and try again.

BPSOS reported authorities continued to harass UBCV communities in an effort to seize their temples and facilities and force the UBCV to join the government-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church.

There were no clear regulations for religious expression in the military, leaving individual unit commanders to exercise significant discretion. According to religious leaders of multiple faiths, the government did not permit members of the military to practice religious rites at any time while on active duty; military members were required to take personal leave to do so. State-run media, however, reported military officials praying for peace and happiness while visiting pagodas.

Khmer Krom Buddhists, whose males traditionally enter the monastery for a period of training lasting at least one month before the age of 20, reported that mandatory conscription into the military with no possibility of alternative service hampered their traditional religious rite of passage.

According to family members of some imprisoned individuals, authorities continued to deny some prisoners and detainees the right to religious practice. Detention officers continued to deny visits by priests to Catholic prisoners, including Ho Duc Hoa, Le Dinh Luong, and Nguyen Nang Tinh, who were detained in Nam Ha, Ba Sao, and Nghi Kim Prisons, respectively. Prison authorities stated this was due to the lack of appropriate facilities inside the prisons for Catholic services. In a number of cases, prison authorities restricted or hindered religious prisoners’ access to religious texts, despite provisions in the law for providing such access. According to BPSOS, independent Hoa Hao adherent Bui Van Trung was able to have a censored version of the Hoa Hao scripture in prison.

Protestant and Catholic groups continued to say that legal restrictions and lack of legal clarity on operating faith-based medical and educational facilities made them wary of attempting to open hospitals or parochial schools, despite government statements welcoming religious groups expanding their participation in health, education, and charitable activities. Catholic representatives said the government refused to return hospitals, clinics, and schools it seized in 1954 and 1975.

According to the GCRA, in northern mountainous provinces, local authorities granted registration for nearly 800 local congregations known as “meeting-points,” and recognized 14 local congregations, out of more than 1,600 Protestant local congregations. The registrations and recognitions impacted approximately 250,000 members in total (of which 95 percent were ethnic minorities, mostly H’Mong). In the Central Highlands, local authorities granted registration to more than 1,400 local congregations and recognized 311 local congregations, together impacting nearly 584,000 members.

The Ministry of Public Security estimated there were approximately 70 Protestant groups with nearly 200,000 members operating outside of the legal framework mandated by the LBR. These groups neither sought nor received registration certificates or recognition.

Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year. The GCRA registered approximately 70 local congregations during the year to include four Protestant local congregations, approximately 50 Catholic parishes, and 12 Cao Dai local congregations. The VBC stated it worked with the GCRA to register more than 20 local congregations and “meeting points” in a number of northern provinces. Registered and unregistered religious groups continued to state that government agencies sometimes did not respond to registration applications or approval requests for religious activities within the stipulated time period, if at all, and often did not specify reasons for refusals as required by law. In other cases, religious groups were unaware they had been granted local registration of religious activities. Some local authorities reportedly requested documents or information beyond what was stipulated by law. Several religious leaders said authorities sometimes solicited bribes to facilitate approvals. Authorities attributed the delays and denials to the applicants’ failure to complete forms correctly or provide complete information. Religious groups said the process of registering groups or notifying authorities of activities in new or remote locations was particularly difficult. Some religious groups reported that authorities urged them to register as affiliates of recognized religious groups.

Although the GCRA recognized Chieu Minh Tam Thanh Vo Vi Cao Dai Dharma Practice in 2009, during the year, the GCRA downgraded its status from recognized to registered. In 2019, the GCRA upgraded the registration status of the Church of Jesus Christ from registration of the church’s representative committee to the more formal “registration of religious operation.”

GCRA officials stated that government officials assisted unregistered religious groups with navigating the bureaucratic procedures required for registration. In 2019, the GCRA created a website with an interactive portal to provide access to forms required for registration of religious activities. By the end of the year, 62 religious organizations had established accounts on the website. The portal also allowed religious organizations to track the status of their document submissions. The GCRA, however, acknowledged the web portal designed to expedite this process did not prove useful for remote religious groups that often lacked the technical skills to utilize the digital forms provided by the government. The GCRA continued to provide provincial-level training to facilitate local registration.

Local authorities continued obstructing the assignment and transfer of religious leaders to unregistered local congregations, particularly those who were from other localities. In several cases, local authorities harassed members of these unregistered local congregations. The ECVN also reported the recognition of its local congregations was still time consuming, although many of them had been operating stably for many years and, from their perspective, fully met the registration requirements. According to the ECVN, authorities recognized 23 local congregations and granted registration to approximately 500 out of 1,200 local congregations and houses of worship (meeting points). The ECVN reported that it continued to experience difficulties obtaining registration of its meeting points with local authorities in Quang Binh and Nghe An Provinces.

The VBC said it tested a new approach to achieve local registrations of congregations, in coordination with the GCRA. Unlike earlier applications, in which representatives of local congregations completed the relevant paperwork for local authorities in relative isolation, the VBC chief pastor completed multiple registration packages under his name for submission to the GCRA. By year’s end, the VBC registered meeting points in Phu Yen District, Son La Province, and Nam Po District, Dien Bien Province. Local authorities previously denied registration packages for these local congregations. According to the VBC, the GCRA worked with local authorities to advance these registrations.

Authorities required most, if not all, applicants for registration of religious operation or recognition to include in their applications language stating the religious organization would be in harmony with the nation and serve the Vietnamese people. For example, the Catholic Church used the slogan “live the gospel amidst the nation” while the VBC used “dharma, nation, and socialism.”

According to local religious leaders, authorities continued to impose a rigid upper management structure on religious organizations. According to religious community representatives, authorities preferred a two-level, top-down hierarchy to better control the religious organization and its affiliates through the religious group’s internal administrative structure.

According to several Catholic bishops, parishes in remote areas or with majority ethnic minority populations continued to face difficulty registering with provincial authorities due to their inconsistent application of national laws. Catholic leaders reported that the most problematic regions were in the Central Highlands (Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong Provinces), and the Northwest Highlands, including Son La Lao Cai and Yen Bai Provinces. In August, Lai Chau authorities approved the establishment of Lai Chau Parish. The recognition reportedly came after more than 13 years of paperwork and discussions between the authorities and church leaders.

According to local religious leaders, Protestant groups also experienced authorities’ inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the law when attempting to register their local congregations. Local authorities in Dien Bien Province, for example, continued to deny the registration applications of an independent Pentecostal congregation at Noong Luong Commune, Dien Bien District, Dien Bien Province, stating that the congregation was affiliated with an unrecognized religious group. The Pentecostal group’s religious leader, however, said the law did not require a local congregation to be affiliated with a recognized organization to receive registration. The leader also noted that members had practiced their faith at the local congregation for nearly 30 years and had begun filing registration applications in April 2017. Dien Bien authorities also denied registration of a group called Assembly of God of Vietnamese People (Hoi Thanh Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Nguoi Viet), reasoning that the applicant’s dogma was indistinguishable from that of the recognized Assembly of God of Vietnam (Giao hoi Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Viet Nam).

During the year, authorities continued monitoring, preventing, or disrupting the gatherings of some unregistered groups and harassed their members in different ways. In most cases, members of these religious groups were also involved in human rights advocacy activities or had links to individuals and organizations that were critical of the government. Religious leaders in urban areas and among ethnic-majority Kinh adherents largely reported the ability to practice without significant restrictions, so long as they acted transparently to official oversight. This remained true for both officially registered and unregistered religious groups. Unrecognized religious denominations operating in the Central and Northwest Highlands and in certain parts of the Mekong Delta – especially those that had a predominantly ethnic minority following – were more likely to report harassment from government officials. Recognized religious denominations in these areas reported rapid growth and generally fewer problems with officials.

On March 15 and 29, BPSOS reported that local police in Hoa Thang Commune, Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province disrupted the gathering of dozens of adherents at a house church of the Evangelical Church of Christ due to Church members’ political activities. According to BPSOS, many members of the Church attended a civil society training session in Thailand and met with representatives of UN agencies and foreign diplomats, to whom they expressed concern about the human rights situation in Vietnam. Police also accused them of having links to human rights activists in exile.

According to local religious leaders, authorities harassed members of recognized and well-established religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, the ECVN, and the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV), for their engagement in human rights advocacy activities or land disputes. On January 7, Ho Chi Minh City police threatened to disrupt a Catholic Mass if Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc led the service. In June, the Vinh Diocese suspended Father Dang Huu Nam from doing pastoral work. Both Thuc and Nam have faced persistent harassment for many years for their roles in supporting victims of the 2016 Formosa toxic spill and their advocacy on human rights conditions across the country.

On June 17, public security officials of Dak Lak Province prevented Pastor Yjol Bkrong of the Evangelical Church of Christ of Vietnam from meeting with diplomatic officials, forcibly turning him away when he approached the meeting point.

Some religious leaders faced external travel restrictions, and leaders and followers of certain religious groups faced other restrictions on their movements by government authorities. The Catholic Redemptorist Order stated authorities still held passports confiscated in 2018 of at least two priests of the order. Some pastors who were outspoken and critical of authorities expressed concerns about traveling abroad for fear of being stopped at the border or being detained upon return to the country. In May, authorities denied the passport renewal request of Redemptorist Father Nguyen Van Toan, citing his conduct of “activities against the state.”

According to various reports, the government allowed Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s potential successors from Thailand and some European countries to enter the country and gather with the Zen master on his Continuation Day at Tu Hieu pagoda in Thua Thien in Hue Province.

Multiple civil society organizations expressed concern about possible government interference in the Catholic Church’s decisions regarding the assignment or reassignment of priests who had been particularly outspoken on a variety of human rights issues. Among controversial cases during the year were the transfers of Father Nguyen Dinh Thuc and Father Dang Huu Nam, both from the Vinh Diocese, following a June announcement that Father Dang would be restricted from pastoral work in the diocese. Both priests were well known for their support of victims of the 2016 Formosa toxic waste spill as well as a variety of human rights advocacy activities. In October, the Xuan Loc Diocese in Dong Nai Province reassigned outspoken priest Nguyen Duy Tan, suspending him from pastoral work. Tan began criticizing human rights conditions in Vietnam following the 2016 Formosa toxic waste spill. According to the monks of Thien An Monastery in Thua Thien in Hue Province, authorities continue to prevent Father Nguyen Van Duc, the monastery’s head abbot-elect, from returning to assume his role after seeking medical treatment abroad.

Many ordained pastors conducted pastoral work, despite not having completed the paperwork mandated by law to be recognized as clergy by the government. For example, the ECVN reported only approximately one-fifth of its pastors had applied to be officially recognized by the government.

Some pastors of unregistered groups stated that authorities did not interfere with their clerical training, despite their lack of legal authorization.

Leaders of some unregistered groups reported that government officials urged unregistered groups to affiliate with registered or recognized organizations. Some stated authorities did so, knowing that unregistered groups would never accept affiliation, while others said authorities sought increased control over the groups through affiliation with other organizations.

Media sources continued to report tension and disputes between Catholics and authorities in the Vinh and Ha Tinh Dioceses in the central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, mostly over land disputes or relating to human and environmental rights advocacy activities. BPSOS reported that on March 22, local authorities of Binh Loc Commune, Loc Ha District, Ha Tinh Province prevented My Loc parishioners from building a fence separating a statue of Jesus from a communal compound and public space. According to nongovernmental sources, the construction was on parish-owned land. Understanding that local authorities were planning a “new rural area,” the parishioners reportedly sought an explanation for the authorities’ refusal to permit fence construction but failed to get a clear response in writing. Progovernment websites blamed parishioners for obstructing local authorities from building public works, including a community center and a sports field, and for occupying public land for use by the parish

According to a local NGO, Phu Yen authorities requested the executive board of the SECV reassign Pastor Luong Manh Ha from Phu Yen Province, given his outspokenness against the government during a land dispute between Tuy Hoa Evangelical Church and authorities. The GCRA reported that on September 10, the Tuy Hoa City People’s Committee, Phu Yen Province and the SECV resolved the property dispute.

Leaders of the unregistered Protestant Duong Van Minh group reported local authorities allowed the construction of a small number of Nha Don structures for storing funeral-related items. Authorities had demolished 13 of the structures in 2019. The group, which the government considers an “evil-way” religion, reported local authorities monitored key members, stating that local police officials “visited” their residences from time to time or “invited” them to local authorities’ headquarters. Those who refused such “invitations,” however, said they were not subjected to reprisals. An NGO reported Tuyen Quang authorities destroyed as many as 30 Nha Don structures during the year, accounting for all but one example of structure destruction for the year.

Provincial and local authorities continued to exercise eminent domain over land belonging to individuals and religious organizations in the name of social and economic development projects. Authorities continued many such projects that required the revocation of land rights and demolition of properties of religious organizations or individuals across the country. Authorities also reportedly did not intervene effectively in many land disputes that involved religious organizations or believers, and in most of these cases, the religious organizations or believers were unsuccessful in retaining land use rights. Such actions resulted in land disputes involving both recognized, registered, and unregistered religious organizations.

State media and progovernment websites alleged that Catholic priests in many parishes occupied – or urged their parishioners to use or illegally occupy – land legally used by nonbelievers or authorities. There were also cases in which Catholics were alleged to have “misused” their land, for example, by turning an agricultural plot into a soccer field without the approval of the proper authorities. In June, local authorities of Son Tien Commune, Huong District, Ha Tinh Province, accused Ke Dong parishioners of the Ha Tinh Diocese of illegal construction on agricultural land. Catholic priests in turn pointed to examples of land confiscated from the Catholic Church by the government in 1954 or 1975 being subdivided and sold for commercial purposes.

From June to October, independent Hoa Hao followers in An Giang reported that local authorities and state-recognized Hoa Hao Buddhist groups in Phu Tan District, An Giang Province advocated tearing down the 100-year-old An Hoa Tu Pagoda, one of the first independent Hoa Hao pagodas built by Prophet Huynh Phu So, founder of the Hoa Hao religious tradition, citing a need to build a new pagoda. Independent Hoa Hao followers opposed the pagoda’s demolition due to its religious importance and proposed it be renovated instead. Plainclothes police reportedly assaulted independent Hoa Hao Buddhists who tried to prevent the pagoda’s demolition. The government temporarily halted demolition of the pagoda, and it remained intact at year’s end.

State-run media and progovernment blogs continued to accuse religious leaders and members who were vocal in their opposition to the government of exploiting religion for personal gain or “colluding with hostile forces with the purpose of inciting public disorder and acting against the Communist Party and State.” Progovernment blogs and at times state-run media continued publishing stories stating that some in the ranks of the Catholic clergy led a depraved life and misappropriated donations for personal use. On April 6, the People’s Police Newspaper, a publication of the Ministry of Public Security, published an article criticizing members of the Vietnam Interfaith Council, whose members included leaders of five unregistered religious denominations, specifically unregistered Protestant and Catholic churches, the UBCV, Cao Dai 1926, and independent Hoa Hao Buddhists. In June, the progovernment website Dau Truong Dan Chu (Democracy Battlefield) accused outspoken priest Father Dang Huu Nam of having a child and accused Fathers Nguyen Dinh Thuc and Nguyen Duy Tan of “living a luxurious life” with “fancy” villas, vehicles, and parties.

State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups, often ones associated with ethnic groups such as the Vang Chu H’Mong in the Northwest Highlands, Ha Mon Catholics and Degar Montagnard Protestants in the Central Highlands, and Khmers Krom in the southwestern region, with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems.

State media reported local and provincial authorities in the northern mountainous provinces, including Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen, continued to call the Duong Van Minh religious group a threat to national security, political stability, and social order. State media and progovernment websites continued referring to the group as “an evil-way religion” or “an illegal religious group.”

The GCRA website and several provincial government websites, including those of Hung Yen, Dak Lak, and Binh Thuan Provinces, referred to Falun Gong as an “evil-way religion” or an “extremist religious group.” Many progovernment websites associated Falun Gong with acts against the Communist Party and the state and other hostile political agendas. Some accused Falun Gong of doing harm to traditional culture and disrupting the social order and public safety. According to state-run media, in July, a court in Binh Duong stated there were links to Falun Gong when it sentenced Pham Thi Thien Ha to death and sentenced three others to prison sentences of between 13 and 22 years for murder. State-run media and progovernment websites portrayed the defendants as fanatic Falun Gong practitioners who killed other practitioners over disputes relating to practicing their beliefs.

In April, Ha Tinh authorities imposed a fine of 42 million dong ($1,880) on Pham Hung Cuong for possessing approximately 600 Falun Gong-related masks and nearly 600 publications. He was charged with “storing publications without evidence for their legal origin.” In a number of cases, state officials received punishment for practicing or supporting Falun Gong. In June, the People’s Committee of Vinh Linh District, Quang Tri Province, dismissed Tran Huu Duc, rector of Cua Tung High School, from all his Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) positions for distributing Falun Gong texts and hosting Falun Gong gatherings at his residence.

From August 10 to August 12, approximately 40 protesters demonstrated at the Catholic Thien An Monastery in Thua Thien in Hue Province, requesting the monastery to “give back their land,” according to various sources and social media. The dispute over Thien An’s land extended back more than 20 years. The group, described in Catholic media as “land grabbers” sponsored by the provincial government, reportedly fenced the claimed area with wire on August 13. Some of the online videos showed the protesters wearing masks and shouting at the Benedictine monks, who were praying in front of the remains of a cross they said was torn down by individuals affiliated with the local government. The monastery had set up a stone slab that depicted the history of the cross, including when it was removed by the government in 2017.

On August 17, a Thua Thien television station in Hue reportedly broadcast a video in which it accused priests from the Thien An Monastery of illegally occupying 265 acres of land and reporting “distorted truths” on social media regarding the land dispute. The Thien An Monastery protested the video, stating the television station had defamed and insulted priests of the monastery.

The government continued efforts to deepen knowledge about the 2018 LBR among government officials and religious adherents. Some religious groups also reported that they could engage in charitable activities, particularly in response to severe flooding during the year in Central Vietnam. According to the UBCV and some Catholic and VBS groups, however, authorities prevented religious organizations from distributing humanitarian aid to those affected by flooding in Central Vietnam in October and November.

According to the UBCV, authorities in Thua Thien in Hue Province reportedly confiscated relief vouchers and prevented flood victims from coming to UBCV temples to receive aid. According to other UBCV temples, humanitarian missions to deliver flood relief were conducted successfully with minimal interference from authorities.

In several other cases in a growing trend, local authorities permitted religious organizations to operate social services and to gather for training. For example, in Hanoi and surrounding areas, city officials continued to allow Protestant house churches to operate drug rehabilitation centers.

Most representatives of religious groups continued to report anecdotally that adherence to a registered religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernmental, civil, economic, and secular life, but that adherence to an unregistered group was more disadvantageous. Religious leaders said that actual religious belief was not a cause of official discrimination, but rather it was the implication of being affiliated with any type of extralegal group that could attract additional scrutiny from authorities. Practitioners of various registered religious groups served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly. Many nationally recognized religious organizations, such as the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha as well as other clergy and religious followers, were members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group for government-affiliated organizations under the guidance of the CPV. High-ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter and attended Vesak activities commemorating the birth of the Buddha. The official resumes of the top three CPV leaders stated they followed no religion; however, while many senior CPV leaders were reported to hold strong religious beliefs, particularly Buddhist, they generally did not publicly discuss their religious affiliation.

During calendar year 2019 and the first nine months of 2020, the GCRA conducted 46 training sessions nationwide, in which more than 8,800 state officials and religious leaders participated, to assist with the continued implementation of the LBR. Local GCRAs, in association with local authorities, also conducted hundreds of similar training sessions for local officials, religious leaders, and believers. During the year, the GCRA conducted inspections in Ho Chi Minh City, Nghe An, Quang Ninh, and Thanh Hoa Provinces to monitor implementation of the law and trained provincial government officials to conduct their own local inspections. The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children and the Vietnam Fatherland Front also met with local authorities and leaders of religious organizations to oversee implementation of the law.

Although the law prohibits publishing all materials, including religious materials, without government approval, some private, unlicensed publishing houses continued to unofficially print and distribute religious texts without active government interference. Other licensed publishers printed books on religion. Publishers had permission to print the Bible in Vietnamese and other languages, including Chinese, Ede, Jarai, Banar, M’nong, H’mong, C’ho, and English. Other published texts included works pertaining to ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Cao Dai.

The Church of Jesus Christ continued to report authorities permitted it to import sufficient copies of the Book of Mormon, although the church was still working with the GCRA to import additional faith-based periodicals.

Authorities permitted Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, and Buddhist groups to provide religious education to adherents in their own facilities, and religious leaders noted increased enrollment in these education programs in recent years. Students continued to participate in training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy organized at pagodas nationwide during summer holidays.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between religious adherents and nonbelievers. Religious activists blamed the authorities for manipulating members of recognized religious groups and accused their agents in disguise and proxies of causing these conflicts to intimidate or suppress the activities of unregistered groups. On September 11 and 13, for example, members of the recognized Cao Dai Sect (Cao Dai 1997) disrupted a gathering of unregistered Cao Dai members (Cao Dai 1926) at a private residence in Ben Cau District, Tay Ninh Province.

Individuals who converted to another faith outside of their family faced ostracism and societal stigma for their conversions.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives of the embassy and the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City regularly raised concerns about religious freedom with a wide range of government officials and CPV leaders, including the President, Prime Minister, and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the GCRA, and other offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and various provinces and cities. They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.

The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials urged authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely, including the UBCV, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and independent Cao Dai and Hoa Hao groups; sought greater freedom for recognized and registered religious groups; advocated for access to religious materials and clergy for persons who were incarcerated; and urged an end to restrictions on unregistered groups. Embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses as well as government harassment against Catholics, Protestant groups, the UBCV, independent Hoa Hao groups, independent Cao Dai, and ethnic minority house churches with the GCRA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities. U.S. government officials called for increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies to make them more uniform and transparent. In addition, U.S. officials urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom raised these issues during the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in October, held virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, and raised specific concerns about implementation of the LBR, the status of religious believers detained or imprisoned, property issues involving religious groups, and the situation of ethnic religious minority groups.

In September, embassy officials met with government officials of the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the GCRA as well as with registered and unregistered religious groups to discuss implementation of the LBR and advocate for increased religious freedom, including allowing both registered and unregistered groups to exercise their rights freely, seeking accountability for reports of government harassment, and resolving lands rights issues.

The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders of both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom. On February 24, the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City paid respects at the funeral of the late Patriarch of UBCV Thich Quang Do and on June 1, offered incense on the 100th day of the Passing of the Patriarch at Tu Hieu UBCV Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. On June 11, the Consul General hosted an event with leaders of registered and unregistered Protestant and Baptist groups to learn about the impact of COVID-19 on these religious groups and how they responded to the government’s policies combating theCOVID-19 pandemic. On October 27, the Consul General hosted an event with Muslim leaders from southern Vietnam that aimed to advance religious freedom goals among this important minority religious group. In September, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom had telephone discussions with registered and unregistered religious organizations about religious freedom in the country.

On October 9, the Ambassador sent a congratulatory letter to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh on his 94th Continuation Day.

Embassy and consulate general officials at every level traveled throughout the country, including to the Northwest and Central Highlands, to monitor religious liberty and meet with religious leaders. Representatives of the embassy and consulate general maintained frequent contact with leaders of numerous religious communities, including recognized, registered, and unregistered organizations. In June, embassy officials met with more than 150 individuals on a visit to Gia Lai and Dak Lak Provinces and with 100 individuals on a subsequent visit to Dien Bien Province to examine issues of religious freedom and ethnic minorities in remote areas.

West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: West Bank And Gaza

Israel

Executive Summary

West Bank and Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of separate authorities, with different implications on the fabric of life. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, Palestinian Authority (PA) law. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordinances enacted by the military commander and Israeli law and Israeli legislation. The PA exercises varying degrees of authority in the small portions of the West Bank where it has some measure of control. Although PA laws theoretically apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA does not have authority there, and Hamas continues to exercise de facto control over security and other matters. The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation, but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality. It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law. On December 4, Israeli security forces arrested Muayad al-Alfi in Nablus in suspicion of aiding in the 2009 killing of Rabbi Meir Chai near the settlement of Shavei Shomron. On May 18, an Israeli court found Israeli Jewish settler Amiram Ben Uliel guilty of murder, attempted murder, arson, and “conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism” in the 2015 deaths of three members of the Dawabsheh family. On February 17, Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man who attempted to stab a Border Police officer at a security checkpoint for the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The Israeli government continued to allow controlled access to religious sites in Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount (the site containing the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque). Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. In January, worshippers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and mosques in Gaza and the occupied West Bank engaged in a protest campaign called “The Great Fajr [Dawn] Campaign,” after the dawn prayers. Islamic organizations, including Hamas, called on worshippers to gather for Friday fajr prayers starting in January at the site and the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the West Bank to defend them against Israeli “violations.” On July 2, the Jerusalem Police informed the Waqf that they had petitioned the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court requesting the closure of the Gate of Mercy, a building within the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, explaining that the move was necessary because of evidence that the building had been used in 2003 by an organization affiliated with Hamas. According to press reports, the Samaria Regional Council (which provides municipal services for Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank), in coordination with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), including the Ministry of Defense’s coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), organized monthly visits to the site of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited, throwing rocks and bottles at IDF personnel providing security, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. On November 20, Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian resident of the occupied West Bank suspected of planting an explosive device at Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. In April, the Israeli government approved a 2019 decision by former Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett to bypass the Hebron Municipality and expropriate land at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of Patriarchs. Press reports stated that the land expropriated for the project was owned by the PA’s Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments) and Religious Affairs. In May, Hifthi Abu Sneineh, the mosque’s imam, condemned the decision and said it was a “blatant and serious” violation of the Hebron protocol of the Oslo Accords. Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling Fatah political movement, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence, at times referring to assailants as “martyrs.” Senior Fatah and PA official Jibril Rajoub made several public remarks during the year extolling martyrs and prisoners in Israeli prisons convicted of terrorism. Anti-Semitic content also appeared in Fatah and PA-controlled media. In an August 15 interview on Palestine TV, Mahmoud al-Habash, religious advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, when asked about some Arab governments’ recognition of Israel, said, “It is normalizing relations with those who murdered your father and brothers. It is normalizing relations with the enemies of the Prophet Mohammed, who want to [build] a temple at the destination of Mohammed’s Night Journey [referring to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount].” The PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinians killed while engaged in violence, including killings of Israeli Jews, and also continued to provide separate stipends to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism involving Jewish targets. In September, the Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) IMPACT-se said that its annual review of Palestinian education found that extreme nationalism and Islamist ideologies remained widespread throughout the curriculum, including science and mathematics textbooks. Norway reduced funding to the Palestinian Ministry of Education due to incitement to violence and anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks. Following the announcement of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab countries, Muslims and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes harassed Muslim visitors from the Gulf who visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in coordination with the Israeli government or vilified the visitors on social media. The PA-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (who has no authority over the site) issued a fatwa denying access to the site to Muslims from countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Jordanian government Islamic Religious Endowment (Waqf), which administers the site, rejected it, stating that Muslim visitors from those countries were brought by Israeli officials without coordination with the Waqf.

Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with de facto control of Gaza, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other extremist groups disseminated anti-Semitic materials and advocated violence through traditional and social media channels as well as during rallies and other events. Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia.

According to local press and social media, some settlers in the West Bank continued to justify “price tag” attacks on Palestinian property, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, vandalism of cars and buildings, arson, and slashing of tires as necessary for the defense of Judaism. (“Price tag” attacks refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against individuals, particularly Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government contrary to the attackers’ interests.) According to media reports, on July 27, arsonists set fire to the Bir wal-Ihsan Mosque in al-Bireh City in a suspected price tag attack. The arsonists spray-painted graffiti on the walls of the mosque; Reuters said that the graffiti was a reference to “a biblical, historical, and political claim that includes the West Bank.” On February 22, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem issued a statement that, according to press reports, “condemned” the February 21 gathering of thousands of Israeli settlers on land owned by the Patriarchate in Tayasir in the northern Jordan River Valley. Various Israeli and Palestinian groups continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation.

Senior U.S. officials worked for increased normalization between Israel and predominantly Muslim countries, which would improve access for Muslim worshippers to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Senior U.S. officials publicly raised concerns about anti-Semitism by PA officials and more broadly in Palestinian society throughout the year. Senior White House officials and other U.S. officials repeatedly pointed out that Palestinian leaders did not consistently condemn individual terrorist attacks nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions, including Fatah, who advocated violence. U.S. embassy officials met with Palestinian religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities. They met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation. U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship and also met with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

This section of the report covers the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war. In 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 2.9 million in the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip (midyear 2020 estimates). According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims, with small Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports an estimated 441,600 Jewish Israelis reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. According to various estimates, 50,000 Christian Palestinians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and according to media reports and religious communities, there are at most 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza. According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has continued at rapid rates. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere. Approximately 360 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) reside in the West Bank, primarily in the Nablus area.

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics estimates 563,200 Jews, 345,800 Muslims, and 12,850 Christians live in Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 936,400, as of 2019.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

West Bank and Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities. Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, PA law. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander and Israeli law and legislation. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. The PA has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces frequently conduct security operations there. The PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C (which constitutes approximately 60 percent of the West Bank) and has designated most Area C land as either