The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, but stipulates followers of religions other than Islam are free to exercise their faith within the limits of the law. Conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy, which is punishable by death, imprisonment, or confiscation of property according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which the constitution states shall apply “if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case.” According to the Supreme Court, the Bahai Faith is distinct from Islam and is a form of blasphemy, which is also a capital offense under Hanafi jurisprudence. The law prohibits the production and publishing of works contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions. The criminal code punishes verbal and physical assaults on a follower of any religion with a prison sentence of not less than three months. As in the past two years, there were no reported prosecutions for apostasy or blasphemy, but individuals who converted from Islam to other religions stated they continued to fear punishment from the government and reprisals from family and society. Members of the Hindu and Sikh communities reported they continued to avoid settling disputes in the courts for fear of retaliation and preferred to settle disputes through community councils. Representatives of minority religions continued to report the courts denied non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions. Shia Muslims, although holding some major government positions, said the number of positions did not reflect their demographics and complained the government neglected security in majority-Shia areas.
The Taliban and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of ISIS and a U.S. designated terrorist organization, continued to attack and kill members of minority religious communities because of their beliefs or their links to the government. The ISKP publicly claimed responsibility for attacks killing over 100 members of the Shia community. In July a suicide bombing targeted a protest attended primarily by members of the Shia-majority Hazara community, killing at least 97 and injuring more than 260. In October gunmen entered the Karte-Sakhi mosque and opened fire on worshippers gathering to mark the Shia holiday of Ashura, killing 17 worshippers and wounding 58, including women and children. The ISKP claimed responsibility for both attacks. The Taliban were responsible for a number of kidnappings of Shia Hazaras and continued to threaten clerics with death for preaching messages contrary to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam. They warned mullahs not to perform funeral prayers for government security officials. The Taliban also continued to impose punishments on residents in areas under Taliban control according to their interpretation of Islamic law.
Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minorities stated they continued to face harassment and occasional violence. Hindus and Sikhs said they were still able to practice their religions publicly, although Sikhs reported instances in which they were told they did not belong in the country. Christians continued to report hostile public opinion towards Christian proselytizing and said they continued to worship privately to avoid societal discrimination and persecution. Women of several different religions reported local Muslim religious leaders initiated confrontations with them over their attire. As a result, they said, almost all women wore some form of head covering. Minority religious leaders stated only a few places of worship remained available for the decreasing numbers of Sikhs and Hindus, who were emigrating because of discrimination and the lack of employment opportunities. Hindus and Sikhs reported continued interference in their efforts to cremate the remains of their dead from individuals who lived near cremation sites, including an incident in which unknown individuals threw stones at a cremation site following a Sikh’s cremation. Observers stated discrimination against the Shia minority by the Sunni majority continued to decline, although there continued to be reports of discrimination in some localities.
U.S. embassy officers met with senior government officials to promote religious tolerance, to discuss the protection of religious minorities, and to enhance the government’s capacity to counter violent extremism. In particular, the embassy met with the Office of the National Security Advisor (ONSC) to assist in the creation of a national strategy to combat violent extremism. The embassy continued to meet with leaders of major religious groups, scholars, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss ways to introduce the public to a broader range of religious perspectives and enhance religious tolerance. Embassy outreach programs facilitated religious dialogue and the government’s effort to identify and counter the sources of violent extremism.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 33.3 million (July 2016 estimate). There are no reliable statistics available concerning the percentages of Shia and Sunni Muslims in the country; the government’s Central Statistics Office does not collect data disaggregated in this way. Shia leaders claim Shia make up approximately 20-25 percent of the population, while Sunni leaders claim the Shia comprise only 10 percent.
The Shia population includes Ismailis and a majority of ethnic Hazaras. Other religious groups, mainly Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais, and Christians, comprise less than 0.3 percent of the population. The number of Sikhs and Hindus is declining due to emigration. Sikh and Hindu leaders estimate there are 180 Sikh and Hindu families totaling 900 individuals, which is a decline from 343 families totaling 2,000 individuals in 2015. Reliable estimates of the Bahai and Christian communities are not available. There are small numbers of practitioners of other religions, including one Jew.
The Hazaras live predominantly in the central and western provinces, while the Ismailis live mainly in Kabul and in the central and northern provinces. Followers of the Bahai Faith are based predominantly in Kabul, with a small community in Kandahar.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy officers continued to meet with government officials to promote religious tolerance and enhance the government’s capacity to counter violent extremism. Senior embassy officers and other embassy staff continued to discuss the protection of religious minorities with government officials.
Embassy representatives met with high-level government and religious officials to discuss ways to better ensure the curriculum offered by madrassas did not encourage religiously-motivated violent extremism. The embassy coordinated with the ONSC as well as other governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to assist the ONSC in creating a national strategy to combat violent extremism.
Embassy officials met with leaders of major religious groups, scholars, and NGOs to discuss ways to enhance religious tolerance and introduce the public to a broader range of religious perspectives.
During Ramadan, embassy staff hosted iftars with government, civil society, and religious leaders to promote religious dialogue and tolerance.
The embassy sponsored visits by several prominent religious leaders to the United States and third countries to broaden religious dialogue. Embassy officials facilitated several meetings of different research bodies to coordinate research efforts on violent extremism. The embassy also hosted roundtables with leading researchers and religious scholars from organizations such as the Moderation Center and MOHRA to discuss the primary sources of violent extremism and the mechanisms to counter it.
The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of religion. The law requires religious groups to seek government recognition by meeting rigorous criteria. In April the Huambo provincial court convicted Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World Church, and nine of his followers for killing nine police officers in a clash between police and members of the religious group in April 2015. The government stated publicly it was concerned about the proliferation of religious “sects,” some of which the government said exploited vulnerable populations and threatened domestic stability. The government has not recognized any new religious groups since passage of a law on religion in 2004. While many unregistered religious groups continued to operate with tacit acceptance, the government continued not to take formal action to recognize many of these religious groups, including Muslim groups. During the year, the government attempted to bring unrecognized Christian groups together in associations that could receive government recognition en masse, requesting those groups actively support government requests and not engage in illegal practices. Some religious leaders, civil society members, and media outlets accused the government of trying to coerce religious groups to align themselves with the ruling party in exchange for authorization to operate freely. The government was also accused of destroying some places of worship in locations where it exercised eminent domain authorities to accommodate private development.
Some leaders of legally recognized religious organizations continued to criticize publicly the proliferation of smaller, unrecognized religious groups. Newer and more established religious groups traded accusations of corruption and profiting from their members’ personal assets. Governmental organizations as well as some religious associations called for all new religious groups to rejoin their “mother churches” or cease operations.
U.S. embassy representatives promoted religious freedom and tolerance with the government, encouraging government officials to allow all people to worship freely and to ease restrictions on the registration of new religious groups. The embassy also continued to monitor cases involving government tensions with religious groups.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 25.7 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the 2014 national census, approximately 41 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 38 percent Protestant. Individuals not associated with any religion constitute 12 percent of the population. The remaining 10 percent is composed of animists, Muslims, Jews, and other religious groups. According to the government, most Muslims are immigrants from North, West, and East Africa. There are approximately 350 Jews, primarily foreign residents.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy representatives engaged with government officials on religious freedom issues and encouraged them to develop regulations to expand the rights of citizens to exercise their religion freely. The embassy maintained regular contact with many religious groups, including some not legally recognized by the government, as well as faith-based NGOs.
The constitution grants everyone the rights of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. In establishing freedom of worship, the constitution stipulates the separation of religious organizations and the state. It recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) as the national church and preserver of national identity. Christian minority religious groups had the freedom to worship, but some Christians said they needed to practice their religion discreetly. A Vanadzor city council member from the Renaissance Party and a group of his supporters physically attacked the pastor of an evangelical church, reportedly for refusing to promote their political party. Evangelical Christian groups reported they had given up requesting permission for their pastors to visit prisoners due to repeated denials by the authorities. According to a number of religious groups, representatives from local governments continued to obstruct their attempts to construct new houses of worship. Human rights activists continued to express concern over the government’s concurrence with the AAC’s dissemination in schools of its doctrine equating AAC affiliation with the national identity. According to minority religious groups and NGOs, government rhetoric equating national identity to affiliation with the AAC continued to fuel discrimination against religious organizations other than the AAC.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they registered 17 cases of physical/verbal harassment during the year, compared with 33 such cases in 2015; they attributed the decrease to prompt police action to stop such incidents. According to Christian minority religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the media in general were less critical of minority religious groups than in previous years, although some media outlets continued to broadcast what the groups said was unverified and biased information about religious minorities. In September a private television channel broadcast a story linking The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) to the alleged sexual assault of a minor.
The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers continued to promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue during meetings with government officials. Embassy officers met with AAC leaders to engage the AAC in supporting the rights of religious minorities to practice their faiths without restrictions. Embassy officers met with minority religious groups to discuss the problems they continued to face in obtaining permits to construct houses of worship, as well as their continuing concerns about discrimination in public sector employment, about the religion courses taught in the country’s schools, and about unequal treatment and discrimination in society.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3.1 million (July 2016 estimate). According to the 2011 census, approximately 92 percent of the population identifies with the AAC. Other religious groups, none supported by more than 1 percent of the population, include Roman Catholics, Armenian Uniate (Mekhitarist) Catholics, Orthodox Christians, evangelical Christians, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, charismatic Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, pagans, Molokan Christians, Yezidis, Jews, Shia Muslims, and Sunni Muslims.
Yezidis are concentrated primarily in agricultural areas northwest of Yerevan around Mount Aragats, and Armenian Uniate Catholics live primarily in the north. Most Jews, Mormons, and Orthodox Christians reside in Yerevan, along with a small community of Muslims, most of whom are Shia, including Iranians and temporary residents from the Middle East.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and embassy officers continued to promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue during meetings with government officials. Embassy officers met with a representative of the Ministry of Defense to discuss religious tolerance in the army and the legal restrictions against members of religious groups joining the military. The Ambassador regularly brought together representatives of the government, the office of the Human Rights Defender, and religious minorities to discuss problems of discrimination faced by religious minorities, to foster a dialogue between the government and the religious groups, and to explore cooperative solutions to those problems.
The Ambassador met with leaders of the AAC to engage them in supporting the rights of religious minorities to practice their faiths without restrictions. On April 1, the Ambassador and embassy officers attended the New Year’s celebrations of Apostolic Assyrians in the village of Verin Dvin in the Ararat region to promote religious diversity and tolerance.
Embassy officers continued to meet with representatives of religious and ethnic/religious minorities, including Catholics, evangelicals and other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Yezidis, Apostolic Assyrians, and Jews, to discuss restrictions on their ability to practice their respective faiths and difficulties they faced obtaining permits to construct houses of worship. On October 20, embassy officers met with pastor Grigoryan and issued a statement condemning the violence against him. Embassy officers also continued to meet with civil society groups to discuss their concerns over the AAC history courses taught in the country’s schools and discrimination against religious minorities in society. Embassy officers participated in the EPF Annual Media Award jury and the ceremony to support religious tolerance in the media.