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Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

Read a Section

Ukraine

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of religion. The Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA), part of the Ministry of Information and Social Development (MISD), is responsible for religious issues. According to local and international observers, authorities continued to impose restrictions and additional scrutiny on what the government considers “nontraditional” religious groups, including Muslims who practice a version of Islam other than the officially recognized Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and Protestant Christians. Authorities continued to arrest, detain, and imprison individuals on account of their religious beliefs or affiliation; restrict religious expression; prevent unregistered groups from practicing their faith; restrict assembly for peaceful religious activities; restrict public manifestation of religious belief; restrict religious expression and customs, including religious clothing; criminalize speech “inciting religious discord”; restrict proselytism; restrict the publication and distribution of religious literature; censor religious content; and restrict acquisition or use of buildings used for religious ceremonies and purposes. The government again raided religious services, prosecuted individuals for “illegal missionary activity,” and refused to register certain religious groups. In August an Almaty court sentenced eight Muslims to between five and one-half and eight years in prison for propaganda of terrorism and incitement of discord. Several followers of Hizb ut-Tahrir stood trial for participation in activities in the organization, which is banned in the country. Forum 18, an international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO), cited 159 administrative prosecutions for violations of the religion law during the year, compared with 165 in 2018. In January, in a decision praised by many religious communities, the government withdrew draft legislation that would place additional restrictions on religious practice.

Media outlets continued to release articles or broadcasts defaming minority religious groups they regarded as “nontraditional.” In June television news in Karaganda Region covered a government-sponsored law enforcement and expert working group meeting, during which participants referred to some minority Christian groups as “nontraditional” and “destructive” “pseudo-religions” and called for measures to protect young people from them. In an online newspaper, the head of expert analysis on religious groups within the CRA reportedly criticized smaller Christian organizations and other small religious groups, such as the Baha’is. The CRA official stated that the organizations were deliberately preaching in the Kazakh language to convert more persons and lamented that more and more ethnic Kazakhs were converting to these religions in recent years. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they counted more than 50 defamatory articles and broadcasts. NGOs and academics said members of certain religious groups, including Muslims who wear headscarves or other identifying attire, as well as certain Christian groups, including evangelicals, Baptists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to face greater societal scrutiny and discrimination.

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the Ambassador, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, and other U.S. officials engaged the government to urge respect for religious freedom, both in general and with regard to specific cases, including a regular and recurring dialogue with the MISD and CRA. This included raising concerns over the restrictive effects on religious freedom of the government’s implementation of both the religion law and the criminal and administrative codes, especially concerning criminal penalties for peaceful religious speech, praying without registration, and censorship of religious literature. As a result of these discussions, Kazakhstan and the United States formed a Religious Freedom Working Group, which held its first meeting in Nur-Sultan in May. U.S. officials visited various houses of worship and maintained contact with a wide range of religious communities and religious freedom advocates. The embassy also engaged in social media outreach to urge respect for religious freedom.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to Forum 18, at year’s end, 24 Sunni Muslims were serving sentences connected to their religious activities or beliefs, 10 of whom were convicted during the year. An additional six Muslims, all convicted in 2017 or 2018, were serving restricted freedom sentences; 15 individuals whose prison terms had ended remained under bans on religious activities; and 27 individuals with completed sentences still had their bank accounts blocked.

On August 5, an Almaty court sentenced eight Muslims from different regions to serve between five and one-half to eight years in prison for propaganda of terrorism and incitement of discord. According to the court, one of the defendants created a WhatsApp group “for propaganda of terrorism and Salafi ideas” and “to increase the followers of such ideas.” The messages shared in the WhatsApp group contained quotes of prominent Wahhabi or Salafi scholars. Media reported the defendants maintained their innocence and appealed. On November 20, the Almaty City Court rejected their appeal. Tirek, a domestic alliance of human rights organizations, included the eight men on its list of prisoners of conscience.

Media reported that on October 15, Karlygash Adasbekova and Daria Nyshanova stood trial in the Almalinski District Court in Almaty for involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned in the country as an extremist organization. The government charged the two women with inciting religious discord and disseminating Hizb ut-Tahrir ideas in a WhatsApp group. At year’s end, the trial was ongoing.

According to local media, on October 17, a trial began in the Alatau District Court in Almaty against Bekzhon Shalabayev, charged with propagandizing terrorism and participating in Hizb ut-Tahrir. The investigation concluded Shalabayev used Facebook and WhatsApp to spread terrorist propaganda. He denied the charges but admitted he was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The trial continued at year’s end. Shalabayev did not appear for hearings on December 19 or 29, and the court placed him on its list of wanted persons.

Forum 18 reported the court allowed Saken Tulbayev, released on November 29 after serving a four-year prison term for adherence to the banned Tabligh Jamaat movement, to go to mosque but banned him from conducting “missionary activity” and from membership in “extremist organizations.” Like other former prisoners, his bank accounts remained blocked. According to Forum 18, the government typically added those convicted under terrorism or extremism charges to the Ministry of Finance’s list of individuals “connected with the financing of terrorism or extremism,” freezing their bank accounts. Families often discovered accounts were blocked only after going to the bank. Forum 18 reported relatives were allowed to withdraw small amounts if they did not have other sources of income.

According to media and Forum 18, on January 9, the Balkhash City Court sentenced Abilai Bokbasarov to three years in prison for holding “secret meetings” and recruiting other Muslims to the banned Tabligh Jamaat movement. The court also banned him from engaging in religious activities for five years after completing his prison term. Media reported that Bokbasarov admitted his guilt during the investigation and agreed to a plea bargain. According to Forum 18, the court also ordered that Bokbasarov pay compensation to victims amounting to 48,100 tenge ($130) and a fee of 1,255 tenge ($3) for the government’s analysis.

On May 2, the Al-Farabi District Court of Shymkent convicted ethnic Uzbek Dilmurat Makhamatov of “inciting religious hatred” and “propaganda of terrorism” and sentenced him to eight years in prison. The court also banned Makhamatov from preaching for life. Makhamatov denied the charges and said he would appeal the court decision. Prosecutors stated he conducted “illegal preaching among Kazakhstanis via the internet” while in Saudi Arabia. According to media, Makhamatov lived in Saudi Arabia with his family for approximately 10 years until October 2018, when Saudi authorities arrested him and extradited him to Kazakhstan.

Forum 18 reported that on February 21, a German court rejected Kazakhstan’s request to extradite Sunni Muslim Murat Bakrayev. The court released him from detention the same day. Authorities accused Bakrayev, who left the country in 2005, of inciting religious hatred, expressing support for terrorism or extremism, and participating in a banned organization. Previously, in December 2018 the Atyrau City Court convicted two Muslim men, Erzhan Sharmukhambetov and Ermek Kuanshaliyev, and sentenced them to three and one-half years of restricted freedom, a form of probation, for incitement of discord and participating in the activities of a banned religious association. According to Forum 18, Bakrayev’s family and friends said police arrested Sharmukhambetov and Kuanshaliyev to pressure them to testify against Bakrayev.

Between September 2018 and August, 32 Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors initially encountered difficulties in obtaining exemption from military service, although all cases were eventually resolved through dialogue with the authorities, the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported. They said that at first, local enlistment officers considered the certificate issued by the recruits’ local religious communities to be insufficient evidence to exempt the young men. The local religious communities then provided clarification on their eligibility for exemption and letters from the conscientious objectors formally asking to be released from military service.

Religious freedom NGO Association of Religious Organizations of Kazakhstan (AROK) reported consistently that authorities continued to use the religion law to harass and restrict minority religious groups with fines and limitations on their activities. For example, according to Forum 18, during the year, of 159 administrative charges, 139 ended with convictions, with 135 individuals, two religious communities, and one company being fined. Muslims, members of minority Christian groups, and commercial and private sellers were the targets of most of these prosecutions, Forum 18 reported. Violations included attending worship meetings not approved by the state; offering, importing, or selling religious literature and pictures, including on the internet; sharing or teaching faith; and violating procedures for praying in mosques. In comparison, according to Forum 18, authorities carried out 171 administrative prosecutions in 2018 and 284 in 2017. AROK stated that authorities targeted minority religious groups for allowing children younger than 18 to attend religious and community events. Although the law requires religious leaders to “take measures” to confirm that all participants are older than 18 or have the permission of both parents, some leaders said this was difficult in practice.

In July the Mugalzhar District Court in Aktobe Region determined that Jehovah’s Witness Bolat Isabayev had violated procedures established in the law for conducting rites by holding an unapproved meeting for worship and fined him 88,375 tenge ($230), the Jehovah’s Witnesses reported. In May Isabayev invited 13 guests to his house, including children, to watch videos and conduct a religious rite. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that police, called to Isabayev’s house at the request of neighbors, arrived to interrupt the gathering. The court determined Isabayev violated the religion law by not obtaining permission from his neighbors and from local authorities. On July 2, the Aktobe Regional Court upheld the lower court’s decision.

On May 2, the Taranovsk District Court found Jehovah’s Witness Sergey Nurmanov guilty of “violations of requirements on holding religious rites, ceremonies, and/or assemblies.” Nurmanov had conducted religious meetings at the registered address of his religious organization. The court, however, penalized him for conducting these meetings without obtaining permission from his neighbors. The court fined him approximately 88,375 tenge ($230). On June 3, the Kostanay Regional Court upheld the decision.

On February 3, approximately a dozen law enforcement officials raided an apartment in Atyrau where the registered Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) had gathered for a religious meeting. Police said they were responding to an anonymous complaint about noise and suspicious persons and interrogated the worshippers. Authorities then initiated a case against the ISKCON members for conducting a religious event without prior permission from the local government. On February 25, some members of the organization received a summons to the regional Department for Religious Affairs, where officials asked them to write explanations and threatened them with administrative penalties. No further action was reported at year’s end.

According to Forum 18, police harassed founders of Oskemen’s New Life Church when it sought reregistration under a new name in May. The church last gained reregistration in October 2012. Officers visited several founders late at night and issued threats when one refused to open her door. Church members told Forum 18 that “the founders do not think their rights are being protected by the law or its representatives”; rather, they “are being subjected to pressure, which cannot help but arouse concern about the right to freedom of conscience.”

In December 2018 the ISKCON community in Aktau in Mangistau Region began facing “intrusive questioning,” according to Forum 18. On January 22, head of the regional Department for Religious Affairs Yerlan Esbergenov stated that unless all 62 founders completed questionnaires, officials would not register the community. The community had applied for registration in November 2018. Authorities required, among other information, “the reason for supporting the Krishna religion” and how long the founders had participated in the community’s activity, Forum 18 reported. In February members complained to then minister of information and social development Darkhan Kaletayev and asked him to check the legality of the department’s actions. According to Forum 18, the minister responded on March 6, stating that instances of religious communities providing inaccurate information in their registration applications were increasing and such inspections were “to avoid such occurrences.” At year’s end, officials were still processing ISKCON’s application.

On May 16, an appeals court reversed the decision of the Glubokovsk District Court in East Kazakhstan Region, which had found that Jehovah’s Witness Sergey Merkulov violated the religion law by conducting religious meetings in his home. The district court fined Merkulov 126,250 tenge ($330). Merkulov appealed to the East Kazakhstan Regional Court. The appeals court found no evidence that Merkulov had violated the law.

Courts continued to fine individuals for illegal missionary activity. Religious organizations said local law enforcement continued to interpret and label any religious discussions that took place outside of a registered religious building as “illegal missionary activity,” including invitations to religious services and discussions.

According to Forum 18, on April 10, Kyzylorda Specialized Administrative Court found two Muslims in Kyzylorda, Mukhtar Gadzhiyev and Darkhan Shilmanbetov, guilty of illegal missionary activity and teaching religion to children. The court imposed a fine of 176,750 tenge ($460).

On March 26, the Baizak District Court of Zhambyl Region convicted member of the Council of Baptist Churches Pavlo Omelich of illegal missionary activity and distributing religious literature and fined him 252,000 tenge ($660), Forum 18 reported. After Omelich appealed the court decision, authorities reclassified his case as violation of the regulation on importing and distributing religious literature and reduced the fine to 126,000 tenge ($330).

On January 4, police in Shymkent charged two female Jehovah’s Witnesses with public nuisance for sharing their faith with others. The court fined the women 12,625 tenge ($33). Later in January, however, the Shymkent City Specialized Administrative Court annulled the fines.

In May a court fined a woman in North Kazakhstan Region 88,375 tenge ($230) for an administrative violation of the law on dissemination of religious literature. According to the court, the woman attempted to sell electronic versions of the Quran on the internet.

Media reported in June that a resident of Petropavlovsk shared audio and video files with religious content over social media, a violation of the law on dissemination of religious literature. He received a fine of 126,250 tenge ($330). According to a police spokesman, “Supporters of destructive religious movements . . . use various methods and methods of recruitment,” such as illegal distribution of religious literature. The report added that there were 12 legal resellers of religious literature in North Kazakhstan.

On January 29, the government withdrew from consideration amendments to the religion law that would have placed additional restrictions on religious attire, symbols, education, and literature, as well as proselytizing and membership and participation in religious communities. Civil society representatives and religious experts stated they feared such amendments would have further infringed religious liberty, and they praised the decision to withdraw the amendments.

The Council of Baptist Churches stated it continued to refuse on principle to register under the law. Community representatives reported authorities continued to closely monitor their meetings and travels, and police followed and surveilled them as in prior years. Baptists reported several police raids on adherents’ residences and churches and 18 administrative court cases during the year. For example, media reported that police in Taraz raided Council of Baptist Churches’ Sunday worship services on February 10 and 17 and March 3. Police officers filmed the services and the worshippers and requested that they all provide written explanations for why they took part in the activities of an unregistered religious organization. Brothers Yakov and Viktor Fot subsequently received fines of 252,500 tenge ($660) and 126,250 tenge ($330) for leadership of and participating in an unregistered religious organization, respectively.

The government maintained its policy of banning religious clothing from schools. The Ministry of Education and Science continued to prohibit headscarves in schools throughout the country.

According to the Aktobe Department of Education, eight girls in Aktobe Region were not permitted to attend classes because they wore headscarves. Authorities fined Nuraly Shakkozov 50,000 tenge ($130) for violating the school uniform requirement in connection with his three daughters. Aktobe School No. 31 stated the three girls came to school every day during the fall, but the school could not allow them to enter because they violated the school uniform requirement. Mergali Tilepin, father of three girls attending Aktobe School No. 13, told media his daughters had to remove their headscarves before entering the school building and put them back on when leaving the school. He said many parents had to agree to these conditions.

Lawyer Agysbek Tolegenov, who represented parents filing headscarf cases against the government, stated to media that parents filed no cases challenging the ban on wearing headscarves in school during the year, compared with 18 unsuccessful court cases filed in 2018.

According to Forum 18, some Muslims faced repeated questioning from law enforcement about their faith. Yerlan (no last name provided), a Muslim from a village in North Kazakhstan Region’s Kyzylzhar District, told Forum 18 he was the subject of “intrusive” police questioning on July 20 because of his faith – the latest in six years of questioning, he said. According to Yerlan, the officer had a report indicating he was a Salafi Muslim. He said surveillance and questioning started after an anonymous complaint that he was a terrorist. “Officers keep coming and asking me what religion I follow, what movement within it, how long I have belonged to it,” Yerlan told Forum 18. He added, “I have the right to reveal or not to reveal my faith. They never say on what basis they are asking these questions.” The Interior Ministry told Yerlan, in a response to his complaint on a public inquiry section of the minister’s blog, that the July 20 questioning had been in accordance with police practices.

The Church of Scientology continued to function as a registered public association rather than as a religious organization. The government allowed the Church, as a public association, to maintain resource centers/libraries where members could read or borrow books and host discussions or meetings but did not allow the Church to engage in religious activity.

The MISD and the SAMK maintained an official agreement on cooperation, and NGOs continued to state this led to the government effectively exercising control over the nominally independent SAMK. The government did not approve the registration of Muslim groups apart from the Sunni Hanafi school, which the SAMK oversaw. All other schools of Islam remained unregistered and officially unable to practice in the country, although religious leaders reported some Muslim communities continued to worship informally without government interference. By joining the SAMK, Muslim communities relinquished the right to appoint their own imams, subjected themselves to SAMK approval over any property actions (such as sales, transfers, or improvements), and were required to pay 30 percent of the mosque’s income to the SAMK. The SAMK also set the curriculum for religious education across the country and provided directives for sermons during Friday prayers.

The SAMK continued to oversee the opening of new and restored mosques. According to the CRA, there are 2,638 mosques in the country. The government and news media offered varying statistics that were occasionally inconsistent. In March then president Nazarbayev launched the construction of a new mosque in Nur-Sultan, which when completed would be the largest mosque in Central Asia and among the 10 largest in the world.

According to CRA statistics for the first nine months of the year, there were 3,770 registered religious associations or branches thereof in the country, compared with 3,715 in 2018. The SAMK continued to control the activities of all 2,640 formally registered Muslim groups affiliated with the Sunni Hanafi school and had authority over construction of new mosques, appointment of imams, and administration of examinations and background checks for aspiring imams. The SAMK was responsible for authorizing travel agencies to provide Hajj travel services to citizens. Based on a slight increase in demand, Saudi Arabia increased its 2019 pilgrimage quota for Kazakhstani Muslims to 3,200, from 3,000 the previous year. The MISD continued to work closely with the SAMK on the training of imams, upgrading madrassahs to the status of degree-granting colleges, and controlling Hajj pilgrimages. The SAMK permitted imams to enroll in baccalaureate, masters, or PhD programs offered at Nur Mubarak University’s Islamic Studies and Religious Studies departments based on their prior education levels. There were 15 schools for religious training of Sunni Hanafi imams, an increase from 11 schools in 2018, one for Roman Catholic clergy, and one for Russian Orthodox clergy.

During the year, the MISD transferred authority for monitoring the internet and collecting information on internet sites with “destructive” content to a new commission within the ministry, the Center for Religious Expert Analysis. This work was previously undertaken by the Scientific-Analytical Center under the Ministry of Social Development, which did not operate during the year. The new center did not make public any information about the substance of its work or statistics on the number of websites it found containing what it considered to be harmful information.

In a September 4 interview posted on the Kostanay News website and also on a government-affiliated research organization’s webpage, the head of expert analysis on religious groups within the CRA spoke critically of smaller Christian organizations and other small religious groups, such as the Baha’is. The expert said the organizations were deliberately preaching in the Kazakh language to convert more people and lamented that more and more ethnic Kazakhs were converting to these religions in recent years, sometimes now constituting 50-60 percent of the membership in such groups.

According to the Penitentiary Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, all prisons had a dedicated specialist to create programs to counter religious extremism, in accordance with a 2017 order issued by the Minister of Internal Affairs adding the position of “religious specialist” to prison staff as part of the State Program for Counteraction against Terrorism and Religious Extremism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

AROK and minority Christian religious communities again expressed concerns regarding negative articles and broadcasts about minority religious groups they regarded as “nontraditional.” In June a news broadcast on local channel Aqsham Telearnasy in Satpayev, Karaganda Region, reported on the meeting under the aegis of a police department program on preventing extremism and terrorism. Members of the government-supported group, including historians and religious experts, spoke of the need to protect youth from “nontraditional,” “destructive,” “pseudo” evangelical Christian and other minority Christian groups.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported they counted more than 50 defamatory articles in various media outlets during the year. For example, on April 30, zakon.kz online newspaper published an interview with Baizhol Karipbayev, a professor at Karagandy State University, that negatively portrayed the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the interview, the professor characterized the religion as not holding “the common values of traditional religions,” that is, “the universal humanitarian ideals and the values of our society.” He further stated that followers hold themselves in “mild” opposition to the government because the tenets of the faith “lead to the formation of indifferent young people who do not feel a sense of responsibility to society, to Kazakhstan.” He criticized the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ proselytization and emphasized that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned in neighboring Russia. Although registered in the country since 1992, he said, official registration does not mean the government fully accepts the ideological components of the religion.

NGOs continued to report individuals were wary of “nontraditional” religious groups, particularly those that proselytized or whose dress or grooming indicated “nontraditional” beliefs, including Islamic headscarves and beards. Media reported on a sociologist’s study that found citizens around the country were affected by discrimination based on their religion. The region where people are most affected was West Kazakhstan, sociologist Gulnara Ismukhanova said in an interview, and many of those affected were Muslims. Many of those who experienced discrimination said it was because of their appearance, i.e., wearing religious clothing. She said the violations of their rights, negative attitudes, and injustice against them were a “disappointing consequence of the securitization of Islam.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the Ambassador, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, other senior U.S. government officials, and embassy officers met with senior government officials in the MFA, MISD, and CRA and advocated for the importance of respecting religious freedom. These bilateral discussions took place both in the country as well as in Washington, D.C. during the U.S.-Kazakhstan annual dialogue and in New York during the UN General Assembly session. U.S. officials raised concerns over the restrictive effects of the government’s implementation of the religion law and criminal and administrative codes on religious freedom. They also raised concerns about the inconsistent application of the religion law and the criminal and administrative codes with regard to “nontraditional” versus “traditional” religious groups. As a result of these discussions, Kazakhstan and the United States formed a Religious Freedom Working Group, which held its first meeting in Nur-Sultan in May.

U.S. officials continued to encourage the government to respect individuals’ rights to peaceful expression of religious belief and practice. They expressed concern about vaguely written laws that were broad in scope and lacked specific definition of legal terms, enabling authorities, particularly at the local level, to apply them in an arbitrary manner. They encouraged the government to eliminate the burdensome registration requirements for religious communities and to take other steps to amend the religion law to increase the ability of believers to practice their faith. On social media, the embassy also engaged in outreach to urge respect for religious freedom.

U.S. diplomatic officials visited houses of worship in several regions of the country and maintained contact with a wide range of religious communities, their leaders, and religious freedom advocates. They underscored the importance freedom of religion played in countering violent extremism, expressed concern about further restrictions on religious freedom, and encouraged reform of relevant laws and guidelines so all citizens could conduct peaceful religious activities freely, whether or not they were part of registered religious groups.

Kyrgyzstan

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion and bans religious groups from undertaking actions inciting religious hatred. It establishes the separation of religion and state and prohibits pursuit of political goals by religious groups. The law requires all religious groups to register with the government and prohibits activity by unregistered religious groups. The law criminalizing “extremist material” was revised in January; the new law requires that law enforcement demonstrate an intent to distribute extremist materials in order to charge a suspect with a crime. Authorities maintained bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups they considered extremist. The State Commission on Religious Affairs (SCRA) proposed amendments to the religion law, and government agencies conducted a review of their constitutionality. The amendments include a ban on door-to-door proselytizing. After the review, the SCRA submitted the amendments to parliament for review and debate. In March the UN Human Rights Council issued a judgment finding that the law’s requirement that religious groups register with local councils in order to establish new places of worship was in violation of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the constitution. This judgment echoes an earlier Supreme Court decision finding the practice unconstitutional. The law, however, remained unchanged, since the parliament did not by year’s end pass amendments to the Law on Religion that would introduce new, constitutional guidelines for religious registration. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents of Tengrism, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community continued to face difficulties registering as official religious groups, and Forum 18, an international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported that even registered religious groups were prevented from meeting in public by police and other government actors. The government did not provide religious materials to prisoners convicted of affiliation with banned religious groups, according to NGOs.

According to Christian activists, non-Muslim religious minorities continued to face difficulties arranging for burial of their dead in public cemeteries. In March Eldos Sattar uuly, a Christian who was attacked for his religious beliefs by fellow villagers, fled the country after ongoing threats against him and his family. His lawyer was also threatened as a consequence of her work for Sattar uuly, and according to an NGO there were reprisals against other Christians from his village. In January unknown vandals desecrated a Russian Orthodox cemetery.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met with government officials to discuss restrictions on minority religious groups, proposed revisions to the religion law, and violence against religious minorities. Embassy officers regularly met with religious leaders, including representatives of the grand muftiate, and with representatives of NGOs to discuss tolerance and respect for religious groups. Issues discussed included the law on terrorism and extremism, the ability of independent religious groups to register, and the rights of religious minorities

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On June 19, officers of the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) and the Interior Ministry detained six members of the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in the At-Bashi District of Naryn Oblast (province).

The government maintained its bans on 21 “religiously oriented” groups it considered to be extremist, including: al-Qaida, the Taliban, Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan, Kurdish Peoples’ Congress, Organization for the Release of Eastern Turkistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), Union of Islamic Jihad, Islamic Party of Turkistan, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Takfir Jihadist, Jaysh al-Mahdi, Jund al-Khilafah, Ansarullah, At-Takfir Val Hidjra, Akromiya, ISIS, Djabhat An Nusra, Katibat al-Imam al-Buhari, Jannat Oshiqlari, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, and Yakyn Incar. Authorities also continued to ban all materials or activities connected to the Chechen Islamist militant leader A.A. Tihomirov (aka Said Buryatsky), whose activities and materials the Bishkek District Court deemed to be extremist in 2014.

According to open sources, extremism arrests dropped significantly after the change to extremism laws in January, with six arrests reported in the press during the year, compared with 213 the previous year. Official government statistics were not available. Extremist incidents included membership in a banned “religiously oriented” organization, distribution of literature associated with a banned organization, and proselytizing on behalf of or financing a banned organization. The GKNB reported that, during the first nine months of the year, 399 pieces of extremist materials were seized by the government, but that criminal cases were not initiated due to the changes to the extremism law. Ethnic Uzbeks said that the police targeted and harassed them, usually in connection with the possession of banned religious literature or support of banned organizations, which they said was based on false testimony or planted evidence. Leadership of two Christian denominations reported that both the SCRA and the GKNB made unannounced visits to their places of worship, under the guise of preventing extremism, in which they demanded that churches present their financial records and religious texts.

Parliament continued to consider 2018 draft amendments to the religion law submitted by the SCRA. The revised amendments include a ban on door-to-door proselytizing and a requirement to notify the government prior to undertaking religious education abroad. The SCRA eliminated a proposed change to increase the number of members required to register as a religious organization (from 200 to 500 members), allowing registered religious organizations to create filial branches across the country regardless of the number of adherents in a locality. Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to express concerns with the draft amendments. The SCRA submitted the amendments to parliament early in the year and at year’s end were being reviewed under a second reading before parliament. Generally, proposed laws undergo three readings in parliament before floor debate and a vote.

On March 29, the UN Human Rights Committee found that the provision of the law requiring that religious groups register with local councils to establish new places of worship was in violation of Article 18 of the ICCPR and the constitution. The Supreme Court had in 2014 found this provision to be unconstitutional. Jehovah’s Witnesses noted that the provision of the law remained in force, stating that parliament failed to amend the law to reflect the decision of the Supreme Court.

NGOs working in prison reform and countering violent extremism reported that the laws mandating separate facilities for prisoners convicted of terrorism and extremism were often poorly implemented. NGOs reported that violent extremists were not separated from inmates who were incarcerated for lesser crimes, including simple possession of extremist materials, which they said could lead to radicalization of other populations in the prisons. NGOs reported that prison authorities required religious literature other than the Quran or hadith (the record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed) to be approved by the muftiate.

Religious groups continued to report the SCRA registration process was cumbersome, taking anywhere from one month to several years to complete. One group reported that the SCRA had not registered it, after five years of attempts. Some unregistered groups continued to report they were able to hold regular religious services without government interference, especially foreign religious organizations that had been registered in the past and had an annual application for reregistration pending. The SCRA reported it registered one Protestant, eight Presbyterian, three Pentecostal, three Baptist, and four evangelical Protestant congregations during the year. The SCRA reported that 2,669 mosques were legally registered under the law, and approximately 300 mosques did not receive registration due to a lack of documentation.

According to Forum 18, the SCRA registered more than 60 Christian churches and organizations, most of them Protestant, between the end of 2018 and June. Authorities registered the Jehovah’s Witnesses Community in Osh early in the year after 10 years of seeking registration. Forum 18 reported that Jehovah’s Witness communities in Naryn, Jalal-Abad, and Batken Oblasts were still unable to register, however.

According to Forum 18 News, despite some religious organizations successfully registering, registration “does not remove many obstacles to exercising freedom of religion and belief.” Members of various religious communities stated they could still not hold public meetings outside their registered addresses without permission, and that authorities usually did not grant permission. They also stated that religious literature could not be imported without going through state censorship, and that members could not publicly share their beliefs.

Although the government continued not to list the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as a banned organization, a representative of the group confirmed it still had not obtained registration. The community initially registered in 2002, but the SCRA had declined to approve its reregistration every year since 2012, including again in 2019. The SCRA has also refused to register Tengrism as a religion since 2013, on the stated basis that government theologians said that Tengrism is a philosophical movement and not a religion.

The SCRA continued to state that, while the law did not mandate expert review of religious literature, its practice was to examine imported religious materials submitted for review by religious organizations. There continued to be no specific procedure for hiring or evaluating the experts performing the examination of religious literature that groups wished to distribute within their places of worship. According to religious studies academics, the SCRA continued to choose its own employees or religious scholars with whom the agency contracted to serve as the experts. Attorneys for religious groups continued to say the experts chosen by the SCRA were biased in favor of prosecutors and were not formal experts under the criminal procedure code. The State Forensic Service, with support from SCRA on religious matters, screened the content of websites, printed material, and other forms of media for extremist content.

Jehovah’s Witness representatives stated that the SCRA and other government organizations continued to use spurious applications of the law to prevent the establishment of new congregations. On August 28, the SCRA rejected an application by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for the registration of a religious organization in the city of Kadamjay, citing an article in the housing codex as the rationale for rejection, noting that industrial or commercial activities were prohibited in residential housing. According to a letter from the SCRA, since the Jehovah’s Witnesses were attempting to register their religious organization through a residential address, the SCRA could not approve their application. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported that the refurbishment of an established Kingdom Hall in Sovietskaya, Jalalabad Oblast, was halted after the city government formed a committee to investigate the construction. The committee stated that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were engaged in proselytism, and that their community had failed to register with the local council. In light of these findings, the committee, which included the SCRA representative in Jalalabad Oblast, demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses cease all religious activity that was not approved by local residents in order to prevent the threat of religious conflict. While the law does not require examination of all religious literature and materials, religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated that SCRA required they submit 100 percent of their religious material for review.

According to representatives of religious groups, refusal either to serve or to pay a fee to opt out of military service continued to subject a conscientious objector to hardship, because military service remained a prerequisite for employment in the government and with many private employers.

The SCRA again held interfaith dialogue forums in all seven oblasts of the country during the year. These forums included Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Baha’i participants, as well as civil society representatives, local authorities, and officials from the Ministry of Interior and the GKNB. The forums focused on religious tolerance, cooperation, and mutual understanding among representatives of religious communities, as well as between the state and religious organizations. Religious groups stated they were generally happy with the interfaith platforms, though there were few concrete results.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Christian activists, non-Muslim religious minorities continued to face difficulties arranging for burial of their dead in public cemeteries. Sources reported at least five separate cases in which members of minority religious groups were refused burial in public cemeteries. In 2017 the SCRA announced a policy to divide public cemeteries by religion, which it said would be introduced by government decree. The SCRA said it developed the policy in response to reports that religious minorities continued to face difficulties arranging for the burial of their dead in public cemeteries; however, the policy had not been implemented as of September.

According to civil society activists, incidents of harassment of minority religious groups typically occurred in small towns and villages with majority Kyrgyz populations. In 2018, according to Forum 18 News Service, Eldos Sattar uuly was attacked for his Protestant religious beliefs in the village of Tamchi. After ongoing threats against him, his lawyer, and his family, including threats during police questioning about the attack, Sattar uuly fled to Ukraine. In July police dropped the charges against his alleged attackers, citing the accuser’s departure from the country as the rationale. In the aftermath of Sattar uuly’s departure from the country, Forum 18 stated his lawyer was threatened with prosecution for the incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred, in reprisal for her legal representation of him. According to Forum 18, there were reprisals against other Christians from Sattar uuly’s village, including violence against other Christians.

On January 11, vandals desecrated a Russian Orthodox cemetery in Ananievo village, in Issyk Kul Oblast. According to local residents, 89 gravestones were damaged. Authorities were not able to identify suspects.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers met regularly with government officials, including the SCRA chief and deputy and high ranking officials in the grand muftiate, to discuss restrictions on minority religious groups, proposed revisions to the religion law, and violence against religious minorities.

In June the embassy hosted an iftar with the grand muftiate, which included local imams and religious representatives. A senior embassy official also hosted an iftar with religious experts and government officials. During both iftars, embassy officials discussed tolerance, religious freedom, and interreligious engagement.

Embassy officers also continued to engage with representatives of the muftiate, leaders of minority religions, NGOs, and civil society representatives to discuss the law on terrorism and extremism, the ability of independent religious groups to register, and the rights of religious minorities. The Ambassador had regular meetings with members of religious communities, including the grand mufti, representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Baptist and Evangelical Unions of Kyrgyzstan, and discussed religious registration, interreligious relations, and religious extremism.

Moldova

Executive Summary

The constitution protects the right of individuals to practice their religion and states religious groups are autonomous. The law cites the “exceptional importance” of Orthodox Christianity. According to minority religious groups and civil society leaders, authorities continued to provide preferential treatment to the Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC). On several occasions, President Igor Dodon expressed his support for Orthodox Christianity. Minority religious groups said MOC priests lobbied local officials, frequently successfully, to deny minority religious groups permission to carry out public activities or build houses of worship. Minority religious groups reported favorable resolution of some longstanding legal cases when authorities issued permits allowing these groups to build or register houses of worship. The government developed and introduced into the school curriculum an optional high school course on the Holocaust based on recommendations of the Elie Wiesel International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust report. Contrary to what it announced in 2018, the government did not establish a national Holocaust museum or Jewish historical or cultural center or complete renovations of the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau. It did, however, commence those renovations. In January the cabinet issued a proclamation on “Condemning Anti-Semitism and Promotion of Tolerance,” and approved for official use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.

In the separatist Transnistria Region, minority religious groups continued to report the de facto authorities discriminated against or restricted their activities. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the de facto authorities denied the group’s attempts to reregister as a religious organization, continued to conscript young male Jehovah’s Witnesses or force them to engage in defense related civilian service contrary to their beliefs, and restricted the distribution of their religious literature. The Salvation Army stated the authorities closely surveilled their members and denied them permission to register a corps in Tiraspol. In contrast with previous years, the Muslim community reported the de facto authorities granted permission for the construction of a mosque and a Muslim educational and cultural center. Tiraspol municipal authorities offered a plot of land for the mosque but later rescinded the lot provision and did not offer an alternative location. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses’ complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee of discriminatory acts in Tiraspol involving the de facto authorities and the Russian Federation remained pending at year’s end.

Several minority religious groups said some MOC priests harassed their leaders or members. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of verbal intimidation against their members, and the Islamic League stated Muslims, especially women, experienced harassment in schools, employment discrimination, and media and societal bias. The Jewish Community of Moldova (JCM) reported anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet, in reference to which one Jewish leader said he had not “seen such poisonous language in years.” On August 25, the Jewish community in Chisinau reopened the Wooden Synagogue after buying the property back from the state, bringing the number of synagogues in the country to six. The JCM also selected a contractor for the reconstruction of another synagogue and a yeshiva in Chisinau and received donations worth $500,000 to begin reconstruction work. The JCM reported several cases of vandalism against Jewish gravestones and monuments during the year.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials urged government and parliament to move forward with initiatives to establish a Jewish heritage museum and develop a national school curriculum on the study of the Holocaust. The Ambassador discussed progress on the government’s implementation of recommendations of the final report of the Elie Wiesel International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust at a roundtable organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with religious leaders during a visit in May. The Ambassador discussed religious freedom and treatment of the Muslim community in the country during a tour of the mosque in Chisinau. Embassy officials discussed respect for religious freedom and ways to enhance interfaith cooperation with representatives of various religious groups throughout the year.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The PSA registered 34 religious entities during the year, consisting of new religious subgroups that are part of existing religious denominations, including the Baptist Church, MOC, BOC, Evangelical Church, Union of Pentecostal Churches, Old Rite Russian Orthodox Church, and Rabbinate of the Jewish community in Moldova. The PSA did not reject any registration applications, and religious groups reported the process was simplified and efficient.

An appeal against the government’s decision to liquidate the Falun Gong Association remained pending at the Supreme Court of Justice at year’s end. The order to liquidate the association derived from a 2013 court decision that the group violated the law on extremist activity by using swastikas as symbols, which Falun Gong use based on Buddhist and Chinese tradition. Following previous court rulings against the Falun Gong Association by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Justice, the association appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2015. During the year the ECHR asked the government to come to an amicable resolution with the Falun Gong. In July the government agent at the ECHR requested a review of the case by the Supreme Court of Justice of Moldova. The court ruled in October that previous rulings had violated the Falun Gong Association’s rights and ordered the case be retried. The ECHR appeal also remained pending at year’s end.

The second case before the ECHR involved the authorities’ 2010 cancelation of a performance by Shen Yun Performing Arts, a Falun Gong affiliated performance group from New York, reportedly because of pressure from the Chinese government. This case also remained pending at year’s end.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Research developed an optional high school curriculum on the Holocaust, which it introduced during the academic year. Contrary to what it announced in 2018, the government failed to establish a Jewish museum in Chisinau and a Yad Vashem-style Jewish historical and cultural center. The two initiatives were part of a government action plan to implement recommendations of the report of the Elie Wiesel International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust. According to the Jewish community, authorities failed to reach an agreement with it on the site for the new museum.

The government began work on another part of the action plan, the renovation of the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau, one of the largest in Europe, with more than 40,000 graves. The near-total removal of trees and other vegetation in the first stage of the state-sponsored restoration revealed the extent of damage to the site. According to Jewish Heritage Europe, the state damaged 80 to 100 grave markers during this initial process. These included “several of the graves of the Kishinev Pogrom 1903 victims – the oldest on the extant part and, probably, historically the most valuable ones,” Irina Sikhova, a researcher with the Cultural Heritage Institute of the Moldovan Academy of Science, told Jewish Heritage Europe.

Responding to media criticism, the JCM stated on March 21 that clearing the vegetation was only the first stage of the rehabilitation and “the restoration phase and necessary repairs have not yet begun.” It said the “long-awaited decision of the authorities [to restore the cemetery] was perceived positively by the Jewish community, which expressed willingness to provide methodological support and expertise for the restoration and conservation of monuments.” The government approved a new contract for the maintenance of the cemetery in June, but it did not initiate any further renovation work. The JCM said the government did not properly maintain most Jewish cemeteries across the country or protect them from acts of vandalism. In January Irina Sikhova told Balkan Insight that “Jewish cemeteries continued to be vandalized. Swastikas appear on graves, tombstones are destroyed or simply ruined over time.” Sikhova added that “the cemetery in Chisinau is in a terrible state.”

Minority religious groups, including Baptists, Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, said they faced a burdensome process of obtaining construction permits for houses of worship from local authorities. According to representatives from Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Baptist Church, Orthodox priests, mostly from the MOC, continued to successfully pressure local mayors or councilors to refuse the permit applications and to impede the religious groups’ public activities.

Under previous agreement between the Ministry of Culture and the MOC, the government transferred control of most churches and monasteries confiscated during the Soviet era to the MOC. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research remained responsible for the remaining churches and monasteries not under the control of the MOC. Local authorities working through the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research could arrange with local parishes to return or lease those churches or monasteries to religious groups. Other religious groups, including the Lutheran and Jewish communities, reported they had not benefitted from a similar agreement with the government to reclaim religious property confiscated during the Soviet era. The government rejected the Jewish and Lutheran communities’ renewed attempts to regain title to previously confiscated property and their requests to the government and parliament to adopt a law enabling restitution of historically owned properties and sites remained unheeded.

Jehovah’s Witness leaders reported that several cases related to obtaining zoning permits for Kingdom Halls, including in Olanesti, Mereni, and Ceadir-Lunga, were resolved, while others remained ongoing. In Olanesti and Mereni, the community was able to commission and use the Kingdom Halls following favorable court decisions. The Ceadir-Lunga case was partially resolved after the Supreme Court of Justice upheld a decision in July recognizing the validity of a building permit for a Kingdom Hall in that city. After more than two years of opposition from local authorities, Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to finalize the building’s construction. Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, were still contesting a fine for unauthorized construction (building without a permit) issued in 2018 by the chief architect of Ceadir-Lunga, responsible for urban planning and issuing building permits. The chief architect failed to attend scheduled hearings several times during the year. In December, following the recusal of a Ceadir-Lunga judge, the case was transferred to the Vulcanesti city court in the absence of qualified judges. The case remained pending at year’s end. The next hearing was scheduled for April 2020.

Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders said police failed to investigate individuals who threatened or verbally abused members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in rural localities. They also reported an increase in opposition to their activity in Firladeni Village, Hincesti Raion (Region), where the local Orthodox priest was reported to have expressed hostility towards the community on numerous occasions. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders, each time the group arrived in the village to preach, a group of local residents led by the priest gathered with the purpose of intimidating them. During one of those confrontations, a Jehovah’s Witness member was physically assaulted by a local villager. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint against the priest, but the police reportedly refused to take any action. In July following several complaints, the Hincesti police department fined the priest on a charge of obstructing religious freedom. In August, however, the Jehovah’s Witness member who was assaulted received a citation under the Administrative Code (insulting the religious feelings of individuals, abuse of venerated objects, premises, monuments, conceptual symbols) and was fined $40. According to the citation, the victim in this case was the local priest. In September the Jehovah’s Witness member submitted a complaint against the police in the Hincesti City Court. The case remained pending at year’s end.

The Union of Pentecostal Churches stated that representatives of the Calarasi branch office of the PSA unjustifiably refused to rezone a house in Sipoteni Village, Calarasi for use as a prayer house. The rezoning was approved only after the lawyer representing the Union of Pentecostal Churches sent a request to the PSA headquarters in Chisinau, which ordered resolution of the case and issued the necessary documentation. The Union reported that it remained unable to obtain a zoning permit for a building in Copceac Village it bought in 2006 and used for religious services. In 2018 the Union challenged the local authorities’ refusal to issue the zoning permit in the Ceadir-Lunga court, but the case remained pending after it was transferred to the Comrat court. The Comrat court scheduled a new court hearing on the case for April 2020.

Through an earlier agreement with the Ministry of Labor, Social Protection, and Family, the MOC maintained a network of social assistance sites, including daycare centers and temporary shelters within churches and monasteries. The MOC also maintained agreements with other state institutions such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and National Penitentiary Administration to provide spiritual guidance and services to police officers, state workers, and prison inmates. Other registered religious groups, including the BOC, Baptists, Pentecostals and others had access to state facilities upon request.

According to minority religious groups, including the JCM, the Islamic League, the Baptist and Pentecostal Churches, and civil society leaders, authorities continued to exhibit preferential treatment toward the MOC compared with other religious groups. The government invited MOC priests to officiate at state-sponsored events, national holidays, and blessing ceremonies at schools. On several occasions, the government also invited leaders of the BOC and the Roman Catholic Church to official events.

In January the cabinet issued a proclamation on “Condemning Anti-Semitism and Promotion of Tolerance,” and officially adopted the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism for all government purposes.

The government strictly enforced requirements that children receive certain mandatory immunizations prior to enrolling in school, and could not attend classes until the school received certification that they received the required vaccines. There remained no religious exemption to this requirement.

The Islamic League said there were instances in which authorities denied or delayed, without explanation, the naturalization applications of Muslim residents, even though the applications met all the necessary criteria. The Attorneys’ Legal Center, an NGO working with immigrants and refugees, stated the Security and Intelligence Service was holding up many naturalization applications on what the service said was security-related grounds.

On multiple occasions during the year, President Dodon voiced support for the Orthodox faith and the MOC. For example, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Russian Patriarch Kirill’s enthronement in Moscow, President Dodon said, “Moldovan people would always keep unity with the Russian Orthodox Church….” In most of his trips outside of Chisinau, Dodon visited MOC churches, provided contributions for the churches’ construction, and reiterated the need to preserve Orthodox traditional values. In his address in July during a ceremonial service at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Chisinau, President Dodon stated “Over 90 percent of Moldova’s citizens are Christian Orthodox and the country has a future only by keeping and promoting the Orthodox faith – a pillar of statehood.” During his meeting with Patriarch Kirill in Moscow in April President Dodon said, “Orthodoxy was and will always be one of Moldovan statehood’s pillars and keeping and strengthening traditional values is our primary task.”

During the year, 97 religious groups (versus 83 in 2018), received funds from income tax payments voluntarily directed toward religious groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Minority religious groups, including the Muslim community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Baptist and Pentecostal Churches, reported fewer cases of verbal aggression than in previous years and no cases of physical aggression during the year, but said cases of verbal abuse persisted, mostly in rural areas. The Islamic Community noted that negative portrayals of Muslims by the media remained common. Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the Baptist and Pentecostal Churches also said there were instances in which priests and other MOC members directly harassed their communities’ religious leaders or members. For example, the Baptist Church reported conflicts between community members and local Orthodox priests in Drasliceni, Hruseva, Dimitrovca, and Chiriet-Lunga Villages. Orthodox priests, often regarded as authority figures in rural areas, reportedly instigated residents against minority religious groups and led residents in physically impeding these groups’ religious activities.

Property disputes between the MOC and BOC continued; however, there were no new cases initiated during the year. Legal proceedings continued between the BOC and the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research and the MOC over lease contracts signed by the MOC with the then Ministry of Culture (in 2003 and 2008) under which the MOC obtained the exclusive, indefinite right to use all historic religious properties (more than 800 churches and monasteries). According to the BOC lawyer, those agreements led to numerous property disputes between the BOC and the MOC, including the most recent in Ursoaia Village, Cahul, Olanesti, Dereneu, Gavanoasa, and others. Several cases submitted by the BOC in previous years were still pending before the ECHR.

Jehovah’s Witnesses stated there were incidents of societal abuse against their members, consisting mainly of verbal intimidation, cases of property destruction, and obstruction by local residents of Jehovah’s Witnesses activities. They did not cite the number of incidents or specific examples but said there were fewer such instances than in 2018.

Leaders of the Pentecostal Church reported several cases of harassment by Orthodox priests of community members in rural areas. For example, in Petresti Village, Ungheni Raion, community members were reported to have faced harassment by the local MOC priest. In September, with an authorization from the mayor’s office, local Pentecostal Church leaders organized religious activities involving adult residents and social activities for children at the village stadium. A total of 600 people attended the events. The local priest reportedly used all means to prevent people from taking part in the event, threatening those attending with retaliation and the denial of Orthodox funeral services. The harassment continued in December, when the Pentecostal Church finalized the construction of a prayer house and began using it for religious services and educational activities. The priest, supported by several local councilors, requested that the mayor’s office “remove the Pentecostal church” from the village, a request the local mayor rejected.

According to the Islamic League, societal attitudes toward Muslims (which they characterized as cautious and at times unwelcoming) remained unchanged, and local media continued to exhibit a critical attitude and bias against Islam. The league reported Muslims, particularly women, faced discrimination when seeking employment. Employers, they said, were often reluctant to employ Muslim women wearing a hijab. They said in one case, after repeated attempts to get a job, a Muslim woman had to give up wearing a hijab in order to get employed. No one went to court, even though discrimination in employment based on religious affiliation is banned by law. Muslim women, particularly in rural areas, were subject to societal prejudice and verbal harassment, according to the league. Negative attitudes and bias against women wearing a hijab continued in public places, including passers-by shouting insults or mockingly yelling “Allahu Akbar.” League officials said the women reporting these instances of discrimination and harassment did not want their names or details of the incidents disclosed. The league also reported incidents and verbal harassment of Muslim students by schoolmates but again declined to provide details to protect the students from further harassment.

The JCM reported in July that three tombstones at the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau were vandalized and damaged. The perpetrators were not found by year’s end. In December unknown vandals destroyed the historical information board about the Chisinau Pogrom of 1903 near the monument to the pogrom victims in Chisinau.

The Jewish community reported instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media and in certain online publications, particularly in the form of comments on news related to Israel or the case of politician of Jewish descent Ilan Shor, charged with involvement in a major bank fraud case who fled the country in June. The JCM released a statement in August 2018 condemning “hate speech’s use as an instrument of political struggle” following the controversial Facebook post made by former sports minister Octavian Ticu, reported The Times of Israel. The post called Shor a “thief” who “drinks wine and eats the bread of a country that has received him and many others generously, yet he curses us in Russian and considers us a herd of sheep.” He also wrote that Shor “didn’t bother to learn” the local language, Romanian. According to The Times of Israel, “the reference to Russian provoked outrage in Moldova, where nearly all of the country’s some 2,000 Jews and about 20 percent of the general population speak Russian as a mother tongue.” In August Evgheni Bric, director of the country’s Judaica Institute, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that Shor’s behavior “fit into anti-Semitic stereotypes of hate, about Jews being thieves,” and that articles about him online “invariably come with a cascade of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the comment section.” He added that he had not “seen such poisonous language in years.” According to the JCM, no one took responsibility to remove anti-Semitic content online and there were no avenues or legal provisions to address the issue.

On August 25, The Times of Israel reported the local Jewish community in Chisinau reopened the Wooden Synagogue. Also known as the Lemnaria Synagogue, and located in the cellar of the Kedem Jewish Community Center, Soviet authorities seized the building nearly 80 years ago. This brought the number of synagogues in the country to six, including two in the Transnistria region, compared with more than 80 before the Holocaust, according to Rabbi Shimshon Daniel Izakson of the JCM and the Wooden Synagogue. The Times of Israel stated that approximately 300 people attended the reopening ceremony. The government did not restitute the synagogue property; rather, the Jewish community in Chisinau purchased it from the state.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officials raised religious freedom issues, including the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage sites, in meetings with the president, prime minister, and members of parliament.

In January the chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and the Ambassador participated in Holocaust remembrance events hosted by parliament, including a ceremony to commemorate Holocaust victims at the Monument to Victims of Fascism in Chisinau. Both also delivered remarks at a roundtable to discuss the implementation of the Action Plan on commemorating the Holocaust in Moldova, attended a photo and book exhibit on the Holocaust in Moldova, and underscored U.S. support for the authorities’ plans to set up a Jewish heritage museum in Chisinau and develop a school curriculum on the study of the Holocaust.

In March the Ambassador discussed religious freedom and treatment of the Muslim community in the country with leaders of the Islamic League and toured the mosque in Chisinau.

In May at a roundtable organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, the Ambassador discussed progress on the government’s 2017-2019 Action Plan on the implementation of parliament’s declaration regarding the acceptance of the final report of the Elie Wiesel International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust. The Ambassador highlighted the importance of preserving Jewish historic and cultural heritage and the need to strengthen the legislative framework to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

During a visit to the country May 11-12, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with leaders of the MOC and BOC and discussed prospects for a more active involvement of the Orthodox Church in promoting religious freedom and in protecting the rights of citizens, including of religious minorities. Both ambassadors visited the Chisinau Jewish cemetery, attended ceremonies at Baptist and Catholic churches, and spoke with the media about the importance of religious freedom.

Embassy officials met with leaders and representatives of the MOC, BOC, JCM, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Islamic League, Baptist Church, Lutheran Church, Pentecostal Church, and Salvation Army to discuss the state of religious freedom and ways to enhance interfaith cooperation.

In October the Ambassador announced an embassy grant of $379,600 to continue preservation work at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Causeni, a cultural site and the oldest church in the country.

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 under 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. On September 10, a Khujand City court convicted Jehovah’s Witness Shamil Khakimov of “inciting religious hatred,” sentencing him to seven-and-a-half years in a high security prison. On October 9, an appeals court upheld his conviction. Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at Hanafi Sunni mosques. There were reports that officials prevented Jehovah’s Witnesses from registering their organization. Registered and unregistered religious organizations continued to be subject to police raids, surveillance, and forced closures. On February 22, international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18 reported 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained for holding a joint service. Forum 18 reported police raids on Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the northern cities of Khujand and Konibodom, and that police officers confiscated laptops, mobile phones, and passports. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported authorities detained and questioned adults regarding possessing religious material and participating in religious activities. The government continued to imprison approximately 20 imams in Sughd Region for membership in banned extremist organizations. Government officials continued to take measures they stated would prevent individuals from joining or participating in what they considered extremist organizations and continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or supporting such banned opposition groups. Authorities continued a pattern of harassing women wearing hijabs and men with beards, and government officials again issued statements discouraging women from wearing “nontraditional or alien” clothing, including hijabs.

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 to adhere to its commitments to respect religious freedom. Embassy officers raised concerns regarding government restrictions on religious practices, including the participation of women and minors in religious services; rejection of attempts of minority religious organizations to register; restrictions on the religious education of youth; harassment of those wearing religious attire; and limitations on the publication or importation of religious literature. Throughout May the Ambassador and other embassy officers met with religious leaders and civil society groups to address these issues and to discuss concerns about government restrictions on the ability of minority religious groups to practice their religion freely.

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 26, 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 II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

On February 1, according to Forum 18, authorities interrogated Shamil Khakimov, a 68-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, for eight hours regarding his membership in the community. After releasing him, security officials confiscated Khakimov’s computer, tablet computer, religious literature, and passport. They arrested him on February 26 and held him in pretrial custody in Khujand Investigation Prison. Forum 18 reported that during Khakimov’s detention, officials did not allow him access to a Bible. During his trial, which began on September 5, authorities said three local imams had analyzed Khakimov’s Bible at the government’s request and concluded that the Bible “causes confrontation and schism, leading to misunderstandings” within the country. On September 10, a Khujand City court convicted Khakimov of “inciting religious hatred” and sentenced him to seven-and-a-half years in a high-security prison. Khakimov also received a three-year ban on engaging in religious activity following his release from prison. On October 9, an appeals court upheld his conviction.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on February 5, police searched the apartment of a female adherent in her absence, confiscated her passports, and interrogated her for eight hours about Khakimov. On February 6, police interrogated her again for five hours while hitting and threatening her. On the same day, police took the woman’s 14-year-old son from school and interrogated him for five hours. On February 27, police questioned the woman again for three hours. She subsequently filed complaints with the office of the president, the regional prosecutor’s office, and the government’s ombudsman; the government provided no response.

On January 29, according to Forum 18, police reportedly took a female member of Jehovah’s Witness to the police station and questioned her for six and a half hours, threatening to beat and imprison her, while leaving her unattended minor children at home. On January 30, police took a family of three Jehovah’s Witnesses into custody. Authorities interrogated the parents for nine hours and their adult daughter for 20 hours. The daughter suffered a concussion after police pushed her against a wall. Police questioned the family repeatedly during February, with interrogations lasting between five and ten hours each time.

On February 22, Forum 18 reported police detained 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses for holding a joint service. Forum 18 said police raids against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the northern cities of Khujand and Konibodom, and that police officers confiscated laptops, mobile phones, and passports. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported authorities detained and questioned adults regarding possessing religious material and participating in religious activities.

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. Local and international human rights organizations said the government “intimidates and arrests” opposition figures on the pretext of combating terrorism and extremism.

On March 23, Radio Ozodi, an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), reported an Ismoili Somoni District court sentenced Mukhtadi Abdulkodyrov to probation. In December 2018, police arrested Abdulkodyrov shortly after he returned to the country after working for four years in Saudi Arabia. Sources stated police arrested him for his ties to Salafi Islam, which the Supreme Court banned in 2009. Radio Ozodi reported that prior to Abdulkodyrov’s return from Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) had contacted him through social media promising to drop all charges against him if he agreed to abandon Salafism. Abdulkodyrov agreed and wrote a “repentance letter” to the ministry.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on August 13, authorities summoned a 19-year old adherent, Jovidon Bobojonov, to the armed forces’ enlistment office. On August 22, Bobojonov formally applied for alternative civilian service in lieu of military duty. On October 6, enlistment officers forcibly put him on a train to an assigned military unit. In response to a complaint by Bobojonov’s parents, government and military authorities denied that Bobojonov had the right to claim conscientious objection, stating that although the law refers to the possibility of alternative service, no separate law establishing alternative service is in force. They said Bobojonov’s refusal to serve was a crime and that the actions of enlistment officers were lawful. At year end, authorities confined Bobojonov to his military unit while he awaited trial.

The government adopted an antiterrorism law in 1999 that prohibits individuals from joining or participating in what it considers to be extremist organizations; authorities continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or supporting such banned opposition groups. International NGOs said that a number of these organizations were considered to be potential political opponents of the government and in fact had never advocated or participated in acts of violence. The government’s list of extremist organizations included the National Alliance of Tajikistan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafi groups, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). The NGO Freedom Now in July stated, “Individuals accused of being threats to national security, including members of religious movements and Islamist groups or parties, are at particular risk of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment.” The NGO Norwegian Helsinki Committee, in a June briefing to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated: “The IRPT represents a moderate political Islam….” Throughout the year, the government continued to assert that the IRPT had planned and/or executed multiple acts of terrorism starting in 2014. Press reported a May 20 prison riot resulted in the death of 32 persons, including 29 inmates and three guards. In the riot, MIA said, 17 members of ISIS, whose organization claimed credit for starting the riot, and three members of IRPT were killed. In a statement, the IRPT said it held the government “fully responsible” for the violence. RFE/RL said the dead IRPT inmates included two prominent members of the party who were serving lengthy sentences that international NGOs and opposition figures described as politically motivated.

In October, RFE/RL reported the Supreme Court had sentenced the two sons of the founder of Jamaat Ansarullah, Amriddin Taborov, who had been extradited from Afghanistan, to 23 years and 16 years’ imprisonment on August 29. Authorities convicted the two men of organizing a criminal group, calling publicly for the overthrow of the state’s constitutional order, and possession of illegal weapons.

On September 21, authorities arrested Sadriddin Hauruddinovich Mulloyev, a member of Tabligh Jamaat, a Salafist movement banned by the government. Forum 18 reported that Mulloyev had returned to the country in February after several years abroad in response to a government amnesty program. In a video released by the government, Mulloyev renounced his membership in the group. After his arrest, prosecutors charged Mulloyev with calling for the overthrow of the government, membership in a criminal group, and “mercenary activity.” In October prosecutors asked Dushanbe’s Sino District Court to sentence Mulloyev to 18 years’ imprisonment. At year end, he remained in custody while awaiting trial.

In March Human Rights Watch (HRW) and eight other NGOs called for the immediate release of Muhammadali Hayit, formerly deputy head of the IRPT, whom the groups described as “seriously ill.” The Supreme Court found Hayit guilty of terrorism and extremism in 2016 and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Hayit told his wife in a March 9 visit that prison officials had beaten him for refusing to record a video denouncing Muhiddin Kabiri, IRPT’s leader living in exile. Hayit’s wife said he also suffered from kidney and liver problems and lived in a “tiny, dirty cell” with other prisoners. In September an NGO reported Hayit’s imprisonment continued.

In an RFE/RL blog interview with Qishloq Ovozi published on January 27, Kabiri denied the party was involved in the July 2018 killing of foreign tourists cycling in the country and said ISIS was responsible for the attack. In the interview, Kabiri said, “Under the guise of battling terrorism, [the government is]…carry[ing] out a genuine war on the opposition, and on those who think differently and those who do not agree with their policies.” He later stated, “ISIS and other extremist groups consider us [the IRPT] to be their ideological opponents, and we consider them as such.” In a July submission to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), Freedom Now stated the government has used “laws such as the Law on Combatting Terrorism (1999)…to ban peaceful political opposition groups, such as the Islamic Renaissance Political Party of Tajikistan”. The government, however, continued to assert that the IRPT was a terrorist organization and that it received support from Iran.

On January 28, police searched the apartment of a Jehovah’s Witnesses family of four in Khujand, confiscating their cell phones and passports and interrogating them. The interrogations continued into the following day, with some sessions lasting up to 14 hours, while police threatened family members with imprisonment. One family member required hospitalization as a result of the detention. On April 2, MIA stated religious publications confiscated during a search of the family’s apartment contained were illegal. On June 18, police initiated a criminal investigation of two family members. The case remained unresolved at the end of the year.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on January 19, police detained two female adherents for proselytizing. On April 4, authorities interrogated another member after some of his coworkers alleged that he had offended their religious feelings by talking to them about his faith.

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 Badakhshon and Dushanbe. In its third Universal Periodic Review of the government’s adherence to its commitments under the ICCPR, the UNHRC stated on August 22 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.” 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 under 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.

During the year, the government invited the UN Special Rapporteur for religious freedom or belief to assess the government’s actions as they pertain to religious practice. At the end of the year, the UN Office of Special Rapporteur had not yet confirmed a date for the visit.

Officials continued to prevent members of minority religious groups from registering their groups as associations with the government, pursuant to the government’s 2007 ban on their activities. In January the CRA reported 68 non-Islamic religious organizations had been permitted to register, but it provided no details on when those organizations were permitted to register.

According to Forum 18, a registered religious group member said CRA officials renewed demands to religious communities in January to provide the CRA with “information on the number of their members, finances, and activities.” Officials also demonstrated particular interest in community finances, and whether children under the age of 10 attended meetings. Forum 18 stated officials acted as if there were no legal controls on their actions; accordingly, a religious community asked Mukhiddin Tukhtakhojayev, responsible within the CRA for non-Muslim communities, for a formal written request for the information he sought. Tukhtakhojayev stated he would not put anything in writing; “You must obey my verbal commands… [They] are the law, since I represent the law. If you don’t obey my verbal commands you will be in trouble. We [the CRA] will come and seize any documents we want.”

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.

According to the Akhbor news agency, government officials in Nurobod District banned Friday prayers at a local mosque. They declared prayer would be allowed only after the district reached its military conscription target. On April 26, as district residents were preparing to pray, authorities ordered the worshippers to leave the mosque.

In a June submission to the UNHRC, 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 is no legal prohibition against wearing a hijab or a beard, NGOs reported authorities continued to enforce the ban on “nontraditional or alien” clothing. In a June 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. According to an Akhbor news agency report, a government protocol prohibits the import and sale of clothing “alien to national culture.”

Local women were permitted to cover their hair in a traditional Tajik-style head scarf known as a Ruymol, in which the scarf covers a woman’s hair and is tied in the back.

In May a local news website showed security officials stopping and questioning women wearing the hijab on a street in Dushanbe. In December the press reported that Nilufar Rajabova accused Dushanbe police of insulting and threatening her after she was detained with some two dozen others in a raid targeting women wearing hijabs. On October 22, police in Dushanbe arrested a young woman and ultimately fined her 175 somoni ($18) for refusing to remove a black-colored hijab. In January RFE/RL reported passport officials demanded young men return to their office without beards if they wanted a passport. RFE/RL stated many officials regarded beards as a foreign intrusion on local culture and a telltale sign of religious or other extremism.

In August Payom news portal reported the MIA instructed public transportation drivers to pick up women wearing hijabs along their routes around Dushanbe and take them to the MIA. Once the women were registered by the MIA, they were released.

Multiple sources continued to report on the conversion of mosques into other facilities. During a press conference on January 29, Chairman of Isfara City Sijouddin Salomzoda said that in 2018 the government closed 56 mosques in Isfara due to poor sanitation and lack of registration. According to Salomzoda, the government converted these mosques into social facilities, kindergartens, and medical clinics. He said there were 112 mosques, including one central Friday mosque, 11 Friday mosques, and 100 five-time prayer mosques functioning in Isfara.

In February Akhbor news agency reported 67 mosques were closed in Bobojon Ghafurov District due to poor sanitation and lack of registration. The mosques were also converted to social and cultural facilities. According to Akhbor news agency, there are 116 mosques, including one central Friday mosque, 16 Friday mosques, 98 five-time prayer mosques, and one Christian church in the district. Akhbor also reported Chairman of Istaravshan City Bahrom Inoyatzoda said 12 mosques were closed in 2018.

On August 16, Akhbor reported authorities had converted the former Khoja Ansori madrassah in Khovaling District into a music school.

According to press, the government established a commission in February to assess whether the country needed new mosques or should reopen some of the mosques it had closed in recent years. On February 6, CRA Chairman Sulaymon Davlatzolda said the commission would submit its findings to the government, which would decide where mosques should be built or reopened. As of the end of the year, the commission had not submitted its findings. The press report also stated authorities had reopened dozens of mosques in recent months, including 100 in the southern district of Bokhtar.

The government continued to state it controlled the religious education of its citizens both domestically and abroad to prevent “illegal education, propaganda, and dissemination of extremist ideas, religious hatred, and enmity.” The government mandated that anyone wishing to study religion aboard should receive government approval and should study at a government-approved religious institution.

At a February 6 press conference, CRA Chairman Davlatzoda said 3,758 citizens had been illegally studying abroad at religious educational institutes. According to the CRA, 3,571 individuals returned from studies abroad over the past 10 years; 113 of them returned to their former places of education in the country and 54 persons returned to their studies abroad. Davlatzoda stated 241 citizens were studying illegally at religious institutions in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. According to a December 14 report by RFE/RL, an estimated 3,400 students have returned from studying in foreign madrasahs since 2010, when the president demanded that parents bring their minor children home to prevent them from “becoming terrorists.” The report stated children who returned were required to undergo “readjustment” in local boarding schools and that authorities continued to monitor them long after returning to the country.

Rahmonali Rahimzoda, head of the enforcement branch of the Customs Service, stated to RFE/RL on February 14 that authorities had confiscated and burned 5,000 evangelical Christian calendars ordered by a state-registered Baptist church. Rahimzoda stated it was “illegal to bring religious literature” into the country without the permission from the Ministry of Culture. The calendars included Bible verses. Authorities fined the church 400 somoni ($41).

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.

On September 30, three women reportedly approached girls wearing hijabs in Dushanbe’s Sino District, telling them that wearing a hijab is “alien to Tajik culture.”

Leaders of minority religious groups stated 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. Baha’i faith members said they continued to face discrimination from the general public.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers met with government and CRA officials several times throughout the year. On May 16, the Ambassador met with CRA officials to discuss policy restrictions and initiatives aimed at achieving greater religious freedom in the country. In meetings with government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to raise concerns regarding restrictions on minors and women participating in religious services, rejection of attempts by minority religious groups to register, restrictions on the religious education of youth, and limitations on the publication or import of religious literature, as well as lack of due process in court cases involving religious belief. Embassy officers also raised the issue of harassment of women and men for religious dress and grooming.

On May 17, the Ambassador hosted an iftar attended by religious community leaders, civil society representatives, and government officials responsible for policy on religious issues, including representatives from the CRA, Center for Islamic Studies, and the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights. Topics of discussion included the state of religious freedom in the country, local religious traditions, and the impact of government policies.

On May 30, embassy officers hosted an iftar attended by civil society representatives, government officials, international community representatives, and former participants in U.S. government exchange programs. Participants discussed religious freedom issues such as government restrictions on registration and religious attire. The group also discussed ways to raise these issues with the CRA and Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights.

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 26, 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.

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 maintains the separation of government and religion, stipulating 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 with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) every three years in order to operate legally. According to religious organizations, government security forces continued to surveil religious organizations and ban 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, 10 Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors were imprisoned for refusing military service, including several new cases of Witnesses sentenced during the year, to terms from one year to four years. The government continued not to offer civilian service alternatives for conscientious objectors. The international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18 reported that police in Ashgabat and Lebap Province forced men under 40 to shave their beards and mustaches. The government did not register any previously unregistered religious groups during the year. Two previously registered groups successfully reregistered during the year although they stated that registration requirements were onerous. 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. In September and November, the Ministry of Justice hosted roundtable meetings for all registered and unregistered religious groups in which members could advocate for their organizations, ask questions, and refer problems to a panel of government ministry representatives. The government promised to identify a point of contact for groups to contact to ask questions and resolve issues, and to create a website that would have information and a portal for posing questions. Many religious groups stated this was a productive meeting and a small sign of progress, but continued to experience an either poor or complete lack of response to inquiries. Outside of the roundtable meeting and direct communication with the ministries, religious groups have no official methods of advocacy.

Religious leaders and others 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. Between September 2018 and May 2019, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that unknown individuals distributed leaflets in Russian and Turkmen containing defamatory statements about the Witnesses. Numerous citizens stated that the government’s suspicion of religion was often 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 are not Sunni Muslim or Russian Orthodox.

In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the Ambassador, embassy officials, and other U.S. government representatives, including the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, continued to express concerns about issues of religious freedom in the country. U.S. officials raised issues, including the legal status of conscientious objectors, the country’s listing as a “Country of Particular Concern,” the ability of religious groups to register and reregister, and easing restrictions on the importation of religious literature. The Ambassador personally requested that the president pardon all Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors. Embassy officers met on a regular basis with 11 minority religious groups to discuss their challenges in the face of a restrictive environment for religious freedom. Topics discussed with these groups included: the status and challenges of the groups’ registration and reregistration, the groups’ ability to secure a permanent place of worship, the requirement to keep a legal address in a location physically separate from the place of worship, the challenges of importing religious literature, harassment of members by both government and nongovernment entities, restrictions on proselytizing, the religious groups’ relations with the government, interfaith cooperation, the ability of clerics to access prisoners and military personnel, and the organizations’ ability to carry out educational and charity activities.

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 18, 2019, 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 II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Military-age Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be arrested and imprisoned for refusing military service. As of the end of the year, 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientious objectors were imprisoned for refusing military service. According to Forum 18, on January 7, a court in the eastern Lebap Province sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Azamatjan Narkulyev to one year in prison for refusing compulsory military service, and in March, a court in the southeastern town of Bayramaly handed down a one-year sentence to Jehovah’s Witness Muhammetali Saparmyradov for the same offense. Forum 18 also reported that Jehovah’s Witness Bahtiyar Atahanov from Turkmenabat was jailed in July by a court in Tejen for four years, which it said was the longest jail term known to have been handed to a conscientious objector; the authorities deemed him a soldier committing medical fraud to avoid military service after forcibly conscripting him.

On March 29, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) adopted a decision finding that the government had violated the rights of two Jehovah’s Witnesses former prisoners of conscience, Vladimir Nuryllayev and Aibek Salayev in a 2014 case. Nuryllayev and Salayev were wrongly imprisoned on pornography charges, according to UNHRC. Salayev said he was subjected to numerous beatings and threats while in pretrial detention. Also, on March 29, the UNHRC adopted a decision finding that the government had violated the rights of Jehovah’s Witness Arslan Dawletow (Dovletov), a conscientious objector in a 2013 incident. These were the eleventh and twelfth UNHRC decisions finding that the country had violated the rights to religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses annual report published in December stated there were numerous incidents of police brutality, intimidation, and house searches of Witnesses. Police reportedly harassed, interrogated, and pressured the Witnesses, even threatening to “arrange an accident” if they did not renounce their faith. The report said that officials charged members of the Witnesses under the administrative code with the “production, import, export, distribution of religious literature.” On February 8, a village official in Lebap Province stated that a complaint had been received and police escorted a male Witness to the police station, where several law enforcement officers were waiting, including a district inspector and a criminal investigation officer. The officers interrogated him, searched his house, and seized personal belongings. The report said they took him back to the police station and threatened to push a pole with the national flag attached down his throat in an attempt to force him to kiss the flag. On March 15, he was summoned to the Carjew District Court and fined $55.

On February 5, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Witness was called to her daughter’s principal’s office in the Balkan Region. In the office, a law enforcement officer criticized her religious beliefs and threatened to fine her $832. The officer ordered the mother to stop teaching her child her religious beliefs and photographed the mother and daughter.

Forum 18 reported on its website that in Lebap Province on December 26, police raided a private home where a group of Protestant women had gathered for a Christmas celebration. Officers reportedly searched the home, seized telephones, and questioned the women at a police station. Forum 18 reported the women had not been fined. The status of more than 100 Muslims from in and around Turkmenabat who had previously been reported incarcerated in Ovadan Depe Prison was unclear at year’s end.

The status of more than 100 Muslims from in and around Turkmenabat who had previously been reported incarcerated in Ovadan Depe Prison was unclear at year’s end.

Unlike previous years, local human rights groups did not report surveillance of Muslim groups and religious minorities. 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. In one case, local security forces continuously harassed the pastor of a Christian group in the city of Turkmenabat and interrogated his friends and business associates. Eventually, the security forces threatened to arrest his friends unless the pastor ceased his religious activities. The pastor fled the country.

A member of a Christian group reported that on August 29 a Turkmenabat resident was interrogated by local security forces regarding the religious activities of the resident’s Christian relative. The resident was allegedly threatened in order to make the relative stop holding services and preaching. The member said that this situation was common among members of her group.

Christian groups reported that the Turkmen who converted from Islam experienced government scrutiny and were discriminated against. For example, 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. According to Open Doors USA, in areas where churches have not been registered, police repeatedly raided, threatened, arrested, and fined Christians.

Some registered and unregistered Christian groups reported that their venue rentals would be canceled at the last minute or that plainclothes “officials” would appear at the venues and prevent the groups from gathering. Other registered and unregistered Christian groups reported no problems with the rental of venues. Religious groups reported the fewest issues with obtaining venues in Ashgabat. Finding venues in the regional capitals was sometimes more difficult and attempts to meet outside the major cities met with the most official resistance.

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.

The government provided funding for 160 citizens to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage. The government reported that 2,133 persons self-funded their Hajj travel while a local media source reported that 2,242 pilgrims self-funded.

Two religious groups reported that, after attempting to do so for one to three years, they were finally successful in reregistering their organizations as required by law. Other groups reported their attempts to register or reregister had stalled due to onerous requirements such as the need to include petitions with personal information, an ambiguous approval process, overlapping bureaucratic responsibilities, general unresponsiveness from the government, and intentional obfuscation on the part of the government . One common complaint was the requirement for an organization’s legal address to be separate from the place of worship. This requirement, which was not official but nonetheless widely imposed, posed a burden of renting an offsite office location as a legal address, a burden some of the smaller and less financially endowed organizations were unable to meet.

Religious groups reported the government continued to prevent or severely limit the importation of and access to religious literature although some groups were successful in importing literature. Although by law registered religious groups were allowed to import religious literature, they said the government’s opaque procedures for seeking the approval of religious literature 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.

One Christian church reported that it successfully imported 50 copies of the Bible, 25 in Russian and 25 in Turkmen. While multiple churches reported success in importing Bibles, they were only able to import a small number of books and the imports could not exceed the number of registered members of the church.

Forum 18 reported that in January, security officials at Ashgabat Airport prevented a citizen from boarding an airplane to return to her job in Turkey, stating she had been banned from leaving the country. In December 2018, Forum 18 said that security personnel at the airport detained her because she was bringing back copies of the Quran. Officers seized the copies of the Quran and held her at the airport for 24 hours. “The police officer asked no questions, but the men in civilian clothes asked questions one after the other,” the woman told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), according to Forum 18. She said the two men shouted at her: “Aren’t you ashamed bringing such books with you, you’re a woman! So you’re trying to bring in religious/political propaganda!” Once she was released, local security officers also questioned her in Lebap Region. According to Forum 18, the Migration Service in Ashgabat refused to explain why she was prevented from leaving the country.

During the year, the Muftiate of Turkmenistan published two religious books: “Prayer book (teaches you how to pray, 2017)” and “Fasting Book (teaches you how to fast, 2019).” They were available in local bookstores, making it the first time religious books were made available in a government bookstore in at least six years, according to local observers.

Members of various religious groups reported 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 or rented 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 a place of worship were stymied by intentional government obfuscation or flat 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.

On January 8, RFE/RL reported that persons who practiced Islam in Lebap and Dashoguz Provinces during working hours were prevented from doing so by local security forces. The report said that government employees were threatened with termination if they practiced Islam at work and were questioned by authorities over their religion.

RFE/RL reported on January 30 that security services did not allow high school students to attend Friday prayer at local mosques in Ashgabat. The parents of these students reported that local security services dressed in civilian clothing prevented high school students from entering mosques.

On February 5, Forum 18 reported that police in Ashgabat and Lebap Provinces forced men under 40 to shave their beards and mustaches as they were allegedly viewed as extremist Wahhabis. Reports stated that police conducted a similar campaign in September.

According to a May 10 report on RFE’s Turkmen Service, the muftiate and state-controlled media did not announce the beginning of Ramadan, and few people in the country observed the fast during Ramadan. Forum 18 reported that some Muslims said they feared the police or security services would brand them as “extremists” if they were widely known to be observing the Ramadan fast.

According to a report in May on RFE/RL, religious sermons in the country’s state-controlled mosques often contained language praising the president and wishing him health and success. An RFE/RL correspondent who attended prayers in several mosques in Ashgabat said that one imam called on his congregation to love the president and to pray for the downfall of his foes. “May Allah save [the president] from all misfortunes and may his enemies fall at his feet,” the correspondent recalled the imam saying on May 17.

Mosques were under construction in Tejen and in Turkmenabat at year’s end. The theology faculty in the Turkmen State University history department in Ashgabat continued to be the only university-level faculty members allowed to provide Islamic higher education. The MNB reportedly continued to vet student candidates for admission to this program. It was not possible to study theological subjects other than state-approved Islamic theology. Women remained banned from the program.

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.

Unlike previous years, leaders of religious groups stated they could travel abroad during the year.

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 to visit the country, nor did it report the number of visa applications of foreign religious visitors it had denied.

According to the official government newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan, on September 14, during an extended Cabinet of Ministers meeting, Prosecutor General Batyr Atdayev reported on corruption and bribery at the muftiate. Reportedly, the chief specialist of the mufti’s administration, Rovshen Allaberdiyev, chief specialist of the human resources department at the Muftiate Muhametmyrat Gurbangeldiyev, and chief specialist of the department conducting liaison with religious organizations at the Cabinet of Ministers Gurbanberdi Nursahedov took bribes from September 2018 to July 2019 from individuals who wanted to participate in the Hajj. All three were arrested and their property confiscated, including money and four apartments.

Opposition media continued to report that, despite the quota of approximately 5,000 pilgrims authorized by the Saudi government, the government restricted the number of Hajj pilgrims to the number that could be carried onboard a Turkmenistan Airlines Boeing 777. A government media website, however, reported that 2,242 citizens self-funded their travel.

In September and November the MOJ conducted roundtable meetings with leaders of registered and unregistered religious organizations. Many religious groups stated this was a productive meeting and a small sign of progress, but continued to experience an either poor or complete lack of response to inquiries. Outside of the roundtable meetings and direct communication with the ministries, religious groups have no official methods of advocacy.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Minority religious groups said persons who are 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 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 was often mirrored in the private sector, and that membership in a minority religious organization or even outward expressions of religion 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 ethnic non-Turkmen converts and continued to be ostracized at community events, especially in rural areas, according to representatives of religious minority groups.

Between September 2018 and May 2019, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that unknown individuals distributed leaflets in Russian and Turkmen containing defamatory statements about the Witnesses. The Witnesses stated that the “leaflets included slanderous material designed to incite hatred, but they also targeted individual Witnesses and included personal data, photographs, names, birth dates and addresses.” Officials took no action to stop these distributions.

According to Christian community leaders, Muslims who converted to Christianity faced pressure from families, friends, and local communities to return to their former faith.

Forum 18 reported the level of societal harassment again increased for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who stated they continued to be treated with suspicion and scrutiny by fellow citizens.

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 listing as a “Country of Particular Concern,” the ability of religious groups to register or reregister, and easing restrictions on the importation of religious literature. U.S. officials engaged counterparts both in Turkmenistan and the U.S.-Turkmenistan Annual Bilateral Conference in Washington, D.C. 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 October the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom sent a letter to President Berdimuhamedov urging him to “take the concrete steps necessary to bring Turkmenistan’s laws and practices on religion into line with international standards…” and “…allow us to remove Turkmenistan from the CPC list.”

Embassy officers met on a regular basis with eleven minority religious groups to discuss their challenges in the face of a restrictive environment for religious freedoms. Topics discussed with these groups included: the status and challenges of the groups’ registration and reregistration, the groups’ ability to secure a permanent place of worship, the requirement to keep a legal address in a location physically separate from the place of worship, the challenges of importing religious literature, harassment of members by both government and nongovernment entities, restrictions on proselytizing, the religious groups’ relations with the government, interreligious cooperation, the ability of clerics to access prisoners and military personnel, and the organizations’ ability to carry out educational and charity activities. Outreach to majority Muslim communities remained difficult due to government restrictions, government control of Islamic clergy and institutions, and fear of government reprisal for speaking with foreign officials.

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 18, 2019, 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.”

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 that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for the separation of church and 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. On January 6, the Ecumenical Patriarch granted autocephaly to the newly created Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), thereby formally recognizing a canonical Ukrainian Orthodox institution independent of the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time since 1686. On January 30, the government officially registered the OCU under the titles Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), stating that the names could be used synonymously. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) continued to be also officially registered as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church even though it remained a constituent part of the Moscow Patriarchate, also known as the Russian Orthodox Church, following the creation of the OCU. The government at times struggled to manage tensions between the newly created OCU and UOC-MP, which competed for members and congregations. According to observers, Russia attempted to use its disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. According to human rights groups, the number of documented acts of anti-Semitism was lower when compared with previous years, but investigations and prosecution of anti-Semitic vandalism were generally inconclusive. Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for acts of anti-Semitism and the government’s long delays in completing investigations. Religious leaders also continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. Minority religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in land allocation for religious buildings. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) said the local government in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, was unwilling to finalize the allocation of a plot of land for building a church.

Media sources, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russian proxy authorities in the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups. In the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (“LPR”), proxy authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (“DPR”) upheld a similar ban. Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk 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 legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities. Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russian-installed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. All but one mosque remained closed in Donetsk. Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups as military facilities. The situation in Russian-occupied Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.

After the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the newly created OCU in January, thereby recognizing a Ukrainian Orthodox institution independent of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Kremlin, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the UOC-MP labelled the OCU a “schismatic” group. UOC-MP representatives stated but did not provide evidence that the OCU had carried out “raider attacks” by deceiving and stealing parishioners by using a similar name. There were continued reports of what some media and political observers characterized as radical groups physically assaulting and pressuring UOC-MP supporters and vandalizing UOC-MP property as well as UOC-MP priests locking out parishioners who wished to change to the OCU. In March representatives of the group Right Sector, commonly characterized as a violent radical group, reportedly pushed and possibly hit UOC-MP parishioners during a scuffle between OCU and UOC-MP members near a UOC-MP church in Hnizdychne, Ternopil Oblast. 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. Members of the Jewish community reiterated concern about new construction on a site at Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery. There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported five violent incidents against members and five cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Kingdom Halls. The All-Ukraine 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.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials met frequently with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the protection of religious heritage sites, manifestations of anti-Semitism, and issues within the Orthodox churches. In light of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s granting the OCU autocephaly the Ambassador urged government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences. The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding the location of parts of the Krakivskyy Market on the site of the Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery. Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Crimea. In May the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism met with government, religious, and community leaders to discuss the need for a strong government response to combating anti-Semitism, promote religious freedom, encourage interfaith dialogue, and assure leaders of U.S. support for all individuals to practice freely their faiths.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

After Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granted autocephaly to the OCU on January 6, thereby recognizing a canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from the Russian Orthodox Church, then president Petro Poroshenko repeated his pledge that the government would guarantee religious freedom for all citizens.

On December 11, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Kyiv District Administrative Court to suspend the government’s implementation of December 2018 amendments to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations requiring 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 ruling prevented the government from enforcing the name-change requirement for 267 UOC-MP religious organizations because of the UOC-MP’s ongoing lawsuit against the bill. The organizations were a third party in the lawsuit filed by the UOC-MP Metropolitan Administration. The government stated that the rest of the UOC-MP had to comply with the renaming requirement.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, throughout the year administrative courts defended the right of conscientious objectors to alternative service, revoking decisions by the respective district state administrations. From May through August, district courts in Odesa, Luhansk, Sumy, Kherson, and Kirovohrad Oblasts, restored five Jehovah’s Witness members’ right to alternative service.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on September 3, the Donetsk District Administrative Court revoked the April 22 decision by the Donetsk Oblast State Administration to refuse Lazar Yasynskyy’s application for alternative civilian service on procedural grounds. On April 22, the Donetsk Oblast State Administration refused Vladyslav Udovik’s application for alternative civilian service on procedural grounds. At the end of the year, both cases were under consideration by the Donetsk Appellate Administrative Court.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 4, the Kirovohrad District Administrative Court upheld a refusal by the Kropyvnytskyy City Call-Up Commission to defer Minister Yaroslav Nohin’s alternative civilian service. The court did not find the refusal discriminatory, saying that Nohin’s ministry in a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation was not his professional activity, and unlike Orthodox or Catholic priests, he was not eligible for the deferment. On August 5, Nohin filed a cassation appeal with the Supreme Court of Ukraine.

On November 15, the Kalush City and District Court found Ruslan Hrechynskyy guilty of a hate crime for attacking Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Shavranskyyy when he was peacefully offering religious literature in a public area, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court approved an amicable agreement between the assailant and the victim, sentencing Hrechynskyy to 100 hours of community service.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on June 30, a man assaulted Ruslan and Kateryna Suprunov near a mobile display of their missionary materials in Vinnytsya. He punched Ruslan Suprunov in the face, causing his lip to bleed, and damaged the display. Police opened an investigation. On June 26, an unidentified attacker hit Jehovah’s Witness Valeriy Derkach with a stick near a mobile display of missionary materials in central Kyiv. The man then broke the display. The victim filed a complaint, but police did not open an investigation.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, representatives of military registration enlistment offices in some regions did not respect the right to conscientious objection. At times, regional authorities denied alternative civilian service to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some were detained for days. On June12, representatives of the military registration and enlistment office in Ternopil detained Yaroslav Bodnarchuk for 31 hours. Despite his written and oral statements requesting alternative civilian service, the officers handcuffed the detainee and beat him. On May 15, representatives of a military registration enlistment office in Kharkiv detained Oleksiy Murzin at a railway station and held him at their regional office for a day and a half. On April 24, representatives of military registration and enlistment office in Ternopil escorted Petro Myshchyshyn to their regional office and detained him for three days. The Military Prosecutors’ Office instituted six criminal cases, but no suspects were held accountable by year’s end.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ annual report, a court postponed judicial examination of a criminal case against a man who had allegedly violently assaulted two elderly female Jehovah’s Witnesses, Vira Gul and Tamara Barsuk, in March 2016. The prosecutor reportedly refused to include in his indictment evidence that the assault was religiously motivated, which would have allowed the attack to be classified as a hate crime. According to the report, the limitation period expired for Tamara Barsuk, and therefore, the assailant could not be held criminally liable. Gul’s case remained pending at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on February 21, an appellate court in Odesa overturned another refusal by the State Migration Service (SMS) to grant refugee status to Asadzade Totonchi, who had sought refuge because of religious persecution in Iran.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 31, the SMS rejected a refugee status application by a Jehovah’s Witness who along with his family had fled religious persecution in Russia. Both a court of the first instance and an appellate court in Odesa overturned the refusal. The case was pending SMS review at the end of the year.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on January 29, the investigator closed criminal proceedings against a woman who in July 2016 had attacked two Jehovah’s Witnesses, fracturing the jaw of one and bruising the face of the other. The investigator concluded that the four eyewitness statements by Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be trusted because they were also Jehovah’s Witnesses. On October 2, the investigative judge reversed the investigator’s decision and obliged police to renew the investigation. The investigation continued through the end of the year.

On July 3, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Supreme Court reached a final decision in the case against a man who in June 2017 had beaten Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Vorobey, reportedly because he was a member of that group, inflicting multiple injuries to his head and body. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower courts, which had sentenced the attacker to 160 hours of community service under charges of “minor bodily injury.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on March 7, one of the individuals who beat Jehovah’s Witness Oleksandr Tretyak with a wooden bat in Vinnytsya in 2013 was found guilty of hooliganism and subsequently released, likely because of time served. Jehovah’s Witnesses said the individual should have been prosecuted for a violent hate crime rather than hooliganism. Another assailant, a police officer who reportedly instigated and participated in the violent assault, faced no charges. The victim received one fourth of the compensation he had requested. Due to the lack of an effective investigation, in 2015 Tretyak filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In 2017 the ECHR communicated the application to Ukrainian authorities. The investigation reportedly intensified but produced few concrete results by year’s end, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The government at times struggled with managing tensions between the newly created OCU and UOC-MP, which competed for members and congregations. According to observers, Russia attempted to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further conflict between the two churches. The OHCHR assessed the process of congregations transitioning from the UOC-MP to the OCU as occasionally leading to violence, but indicated an “overall trend of declining tensions between religious communities.” The OHCHR, however, expressed concern about the involvement of “nonreligious actors” in the transition process, including local authorities and what the OHCHR characterized as right-wing groups, as well as police inaction during certain incidents. The UOC-MP said the Poroshenko government gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure UOC-MP parishioners to leave the UOC-MP and join the OCU, although media reports assessed such claims were overblown because the Moscow Patriarchate and Russian government sought to spread false charges alleging “persecution” of the UOC-MP.

On January 28, then president Poroshenko signed amendments to the laws on the freedom of conscience and religious organizations and on state registration of legal entities, natural persons, and civic organizations to streamline the registration of religious organizations. The newly amended registration law directed regional governments’ religious affairs departments to enter religious organizations into the State Register of Legal Entities database in addition to registering their statutes. It required all religious organizations to update and reregister their statutes under the new regulations within a year. The amendments also specified reregistration requirements for organizations that wished to change their affiliation, particularly UOC-MP parishes seeking to join the OCU. The amended law required a quorum, as defined by each congregation and usually comprising two-thirds or three-fourths of a religious organization’s members, to decide on its future affiliation. The bill also required a vote by two-thirds of those present to authorize such a decision. The law banned any transfer of an organization’s property until the affiliation change was finalized. On March 19, the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by 47 parliament members challenging the law as unconstitutional.

In an October 21 media interview, a Ministry of Culture senior official said that regional religious affairs departments would not be able to meet the nine-month registration deadline for congregations under the amended registration law. She added that the parliament should have given the ministry a transitional period in which to train staff to implement the new procedure. The Ukraine-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute of Religious Freedom (IRF) said parliament adopted the amendments to the registration law without having properly consulted with the religious communities involved. The IRF said the requirement for an organization changing affiliation to certify a quorum by submitting a list of participants in the organization’s meeting violated its believers’ right to keep their religious views confidential. The IRF also said religious organizations without fixed membership rosters would be unable to verify the religious affiliation of all individuals attending such gatherings.

UOC-MP representatives said some local government officials had organized village meetings in which participants unaffiliated with the UOC-MP were allowed to vote, with the goal of making local parishes part of the OCU. UOC-MP representatives said such officials also helped OCU supporters take possession of disputed UOC-MP church buildings before the change of affiliation was officially finalized. OCU representatives said the UOC-MP often described legitimate changes of parish affiliation as unlawful and had filed lawsuits challenging most such reregistrations as 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, alleging that they rarely or never participated in religious services. The government estimated that 500-600 of more than 12,000 registered UOC-MP congregations switched their affiliation to the OCU during the year.

According to the UOC-MP, some local authorities transferred 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. Posts on the website of the 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.

UOC-MP sources said that during a June 2 dispute over church ownership in Hrabove Village, Volyn Oblast, OCU supporter Zynoviy Koval beat UOC-MP archpriest Dmytro Kovalchuk, broke his finger, and tore off his pectoral cross. According to the UOC-MP, police charged Koval with having caused minor injuries, while the UOC-MP accused authorities of downplaying the incident. UOC-MP representatives said Chairman of the Shatsk District State Administration Vasyl Holyadynets had tried to convince the priest to help transfer his congregation to the OCU, but he refused. According to the UOC-MP, 125 parishioners of 200 Hrabove residents had initially signed a statement reaffirming their UOC-MP membership. In response, the local government had reportedly forced a majority of the residents to support the transfer of the village parish to the OCU. The OCU rejected the accusation of forced transfer, stating that most parish members had sought voluntarily to join the OCU. Its representatives described Koval’s aggressive behavior as an emotional reaction to the priest’s “sneering” at a remark about Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Media reported shots were fired in a village in Volyn Oblast, reportedly by a UOC-MP priest, Volodymyr Geleta, in a conflict over a local church changing its affiliation to the OCU. The local parish had previously voted to transfer the local church to the OCU, but the priest and his followers refused to hand over the church. In response, a group of OCU supporters blocked access to the church and a scuffle ensued that police attempted to break up. Priest Volodymyr Geleta’s wife stated on a UOC-MP website that she sustained a concussion during the altercation. The priest subsequently fired shots from his house at the church. Police confiscated the rifle from the priest and opened an investigation, which continued at year’s end.

According to March 10 UOC-MP video footage, at a gathering in the town of Baranivka, Zhytomyr Oblast, Radical Party activist Oleh Kovalskyy called on his supporters to rid a local UOC-MP church of “Moscow’s stooges” and to avoid “talks with the enemy.” The Baranivka mayor and district administration head attended the gathering. The video showed Kovalskyy and several dozen followers attacking UOC-MP members who stood at the entrance to the UOC-MP Church of Nativity of the Mother of God, reportedly punching and kicking a UOC-MP nun as she tried to protect an elderly monk. UOC-MP priest Orest Semotyuk was also punched and hospitalized. Head of the Baranivka District State Administration Mykola Velchunsky stated that UOC-MP priest Roman Klym had provoked the clash by trying to prevent OCU supporters from entering the church. The latter denied using force against the UOC-MP congregation. Prior to the incident, most members of the congregation had voted to join the OCU, said representatives of the newly established OCU congregation.

According to the UOC-MP, on January 13, the mayor of the village of Hnizdychne, Ternopil Oblast, convened a meeting of residents, most of whom voted to bring a local UOC-MP parish under OCU jurisdiction. Despite a prior agreement on the shared rotational use of the church building, OCU followers assembled on February 3 for a UOC-MP liturgy. According to UOC-MP video footage, police scuffled with UOC-MP members as they tried to approach the church entrance. Several unidentified OCU supporters wearing military fatigues assaulted UOC-MP parish priest Stefan Balan and some parishioners. Balan was hospitalized with acute chest pain and a broken finger. No group admitted responsibility for the incident; however, media and civil society representatives reported violent radical group involvement in similar attacks in the past. According to the OCU diocesan administration of Ternopil, OCU members and police sought to prevent UOC-MP parishioners from seizing the church; the administration said that UOC-MP followers might have provoked the conflict to produce the video, which portrayed them as victims of violence. Local police said its personnel had sought to prevent further escalation of the incident.

According to separate UOC-MP video footage, on March 3, OCU priest Ivan Lesyk and Right Sector supporters used force against UOC-MP parishioners during another scuffle at the Hnizdychne church; the UOC-MP reported that police did not intervene. In a Facebook post, a local Right Sector branch claimed credit for “assisting” with the transfer of the building to the OCU. Local media reported that two women and several OCU and UOC-MP supporters sustained minor injuries during the scuffle.

On January 28, the Vinnytsya Oblast National Police Department issued a statement citing “dozens of complaints” that residents unaffiliated with local parishes had participated in a vote on changing the jurisdiction of the parish affiliation.

According to UOC-MP video footage, on January 28, Petro Brovko, the mayor of Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Vinnytsya Oblast, led a gathering of residents of Sonyachne, a neighboring village, where he called on them to prevent the local UOC-MP congregation from remaining part of the church of katsapy (derogatory reference to Russians). Before the event, its organizers had posted an announcement inviting all village residents to participate in determining the parish’s affiliation. Most attendees voted in favor of Brovko’s proposal to bring the congregation into the OCU. Local UOC-MP members said that many voters were not in fact affiliated with their parish, whose “real members” had decided to remain part of the UOC-MP at a previous meeting.

Following UOC-MP complaints, in October the Vinnytsya Oblast police department opened a criminal case against Viktor Saletskyy, Chief of the Nationalities and Religious Department of the Vinnytsya Oblast State Administration. Police stated that Saletskyy’s “arbitrary” decisions led to an unlawful change of affiliation from the UOC-MP to the OCU by congregations in Luka Meleshkivska and Velyka Kisnytsya Villages. Saletskyy denied the charges and said the registration had been conducted according to the law because he was required by law to register any duly documented change of affiliation requested. On October 18, the Vinnytsya Appellate Court overturned the October 10 ruling by the Vinnytsya City Court to suspend Saletskyy from duty. The city court issued the original ruling in response to a police request, citing the need to prevent him from obstructing the investigation. The OCU accused the oblast police leadership of siding with the OUC-MP. Local police representatives rejected the charge.

In his Independence Day speech on August 24, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s first president of Jewish origin, appealed to all citizens to stay united regardless of their religion. On July 28, the Day of the Baptism of Kyivan Rus-Ukraine, the president called on religious leaders to promote dialogue.

On September 17, during a meeting with the All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov reiterated what he stated was the ministry’s commitment to protect the rights of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation. He promised to do everything possible to prevent religious conflicts and called on religious organizations not to involve outside groups in resolving their disputes. Avakov welcomed the AUCCRO initiative to expand chaplaincies among the ministry’s units, including the National Police. During the year, the UOC-MP objected to the legislation prohibiting UOC-MP priests from serving as chaplains on bases or conflict zones, stating that UOC-MP priests should be able to serve as chaplains like priests from any other denomination and adding that the law violated religious rights of UOC-MP-affiliated military personnel.

On September 19, the Kyiv District Administrative Court revoked a June 2018 resolution by the SMS stripping UOC-MP Bishop Gedeon of citizenship on a charge of violating the law by not renouncing his Russian and U.S. citizenship when he applied for a passport. On February 13, law enforcement authorities barred Gedeon from returning to Ukraine, citing national security reasons and the SMS decision. The bishop said he had relinquished his Russian citizenship. He described the ban as politically and religiously motivated retaliation for his allegation during meetings with the U.S. Congress on February 5 of government pressure placed on the UOC-MP. The ban was in place through year’s end.

On July 17, in response to a request from members of the Muslim community, the Cabinet of Ministers amended regulations on identity documents, thereby allowing religious head coverings in passport and other ID photographs.

On September 3 the ECHR ruled against Ukraine in a case in which deputies of the Kryvyi Rih City Council refused to lease to Jehovah’s Witness a plot of land for construction of a Kingdom Hall. The ECHR found, “The municipal authorities’ conduct was arbitrary and not ‘in accordance with the law.’” It ordered the government to pay 7,000 euros ($7,900) in damages and legal costs to the Witnesses.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on April 22, the Odesa District Administrative Court ordered the local government to issue an occupancy permit for a Kingdom Hall in Oleksandrivka.

On January 19, the Lviv District Administrative Court upheld a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal against the inaction by the Myropil Town Council, Zhytomyr Oblast, in designating a Jehovah’s Witnesses-owned plot of land for building a Kingdom Hall. The Court ordered the council to approve the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ plan for the construction project.

On December 24, the Ministry of Justice and the Pastoral Council for Religious Support of the Penitentiary System, the latter a nongovernmental interfaith advisory board including representatives from the UGCC, UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims, and open to other religious groups, discussed draft regulations on prison chaplaincy and ways to develop pastoral support for personnel of penitentiary institutions. On March 12, the ministry and council’s representatives held a conference on reintegration of former prisoners.

On August 5, the Rivne Oblast prosecutor’s office charged a local UOC-MP priest, Viktor Zemlyanyy, concerning his alleged role in “inciting religious hatred.” The charge, based on a Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) investigation, reportedly stemmed from media accounts of Zemlyanyy’s commentaries on parish affiliation disputes between the UOC-MP and the “schismatic” OCU. The priest denied the charges, describing them as evidence of the previous government’s pressure on the UOC-MP. On March 28, the Rivne City Court had turned down prosecutor’s and SBU’s requests to detain Zemlyanyy to prevent supposed potential obstruction of the investigation.

On February 18, police briefly detained Metropolitan Mytrofan, head of the UOC-MP Horlivka and Slovyansk Diocese in Donetsk Oblast, and questioned him about his possible links to the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”). Police released him after questioning. The metropolitan described the incident as a government attempt to put pressure on him.

Law enforcement authorities reported no progress in the investigation of allegations that the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center of the Umma Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine possessed materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic, or religious hatred.” The SBU and the Kyiv City procuracy searched the center in May 2018. During a press conference on May 31, an Umma lawyer described the search as an attempt to undermine Umma’s reputation and called the charges baseless.

On July 25, the Supreme Court upheld an appeal by representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ 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. According to Church representatives, the Church planned to build a church on the land.

Small religious groups stated local governments continued to discriminate with regard to allocating land for religious buildings in Chernivtsi, Mykolayiv, Odesa, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv. Roman Catholics, UGCC members, Jews, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination. UGCC representatives said local authorities in Bila Tserkva, Sumy, and Odesa were still unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches. UOC-MP representatives said local authorities in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblasts continued to refuse to allocate land for UOC-MP churches.

Roman Catholic Church leaders stated they continued to ask authorities to return former Church properties in the western part of the country and elsewhere. Roman Catholics stated the government continued to refuse to support the restitution of Odesa’s Roman Catholic seminary building, which the Soviet regime had confiscated.

The independent National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported no cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence from January through December, with the last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurring in 2016. During the year, the NMRMG recorded 14 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism, compared with 12 incidents during the same period in 2018. NMRMG said the decline in violence and anti-Semitic vandalism was due to improved police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts.

Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, and other cities. According to press reports, on September 15, individuals vandalized a memorial to more than 55,000 Jews murdered in Bohdanivka in Mykolaiv Oblast. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued presence of Krakivskyy Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial reported during the year.

Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for acts of anti-Semitism and the government’s long delays in completing investigations of these crimes.

On September 25, the Supreme Court revoked a 2018 ruling by the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court against a petition by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) to remove a private industrial facility from the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut Village, Volyn Oblast. The Supreme Court ordered the Kovel City and District Court in Volyn Oblast to reexamine the case.

According to the UCSJ, on August 7, the Lviv Appellate Administrative Court rejected an appeal by the Chortkiv City Council against the court’s decision requiring the council to approve the location and boundaries of the city’s ancient Jewish cemetery. The Soviet government had previously paved a backyard of a local residential building with tombstones from the cemetery. The Chortkiv City news website reported residents continued to urge the municipal government to facilitate the return of the tombstones to the cemetery.

In November a court called for the reinstatement of Vasyl Marushchynets, who had been the country’s consul in Hamburg, Germany. He had posted comments on social media blaming Jews for World War II and posted photographs with a cake baked to resemble Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf. Then foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin and other senior government officials condemned the comments; however, the Kyiv court ruled the firing was illegal and ordered Maruschchynets reinstated, along with back pay. On December 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs filed a cassation appeal against the ruling. The ministry also published a statement describing Marushchynets’ actions and public statements “incompatible with the high rank of a civil servant and Ukrainian diplomat.”

Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which allocates land for cemeteries, had still not acted on the community’s request 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 of their members.

All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims. Most organizations said they experienced continued problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime. They said the consideration of claims often took 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 continuing to deny Roman Catholic Church requests for restitution of several properties turned over to the UGCC, as well as the Odesa local government’s inaction in response to RCC requests for property restitution of church buildings held by the Odesa City Council.

Muslim community leaders expressed concern over the continued lack of resolution of restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolayiv.

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 Soviet government, according to civil society activists and religious organizations.

The Jewish community expressed concern over the continued failure of national and local government authorities to protect historic religious properties, particularly historic synagogues in Lviv, Brody, Sokal, Stryy, Zhokva, Berezhany, Husyatyn, Pidhaytsi, and Dubno. Jewish heritage activists and local residents protested the construction of an office building at the site of a synagogue destroyed at Syanska Street in Lviv during the Nazi occupation. In November, the Lviv city government told the developer to halt construction and announced its intention to purchase the plot of land.

Jewish community leaders also reported illegal construction over the old Jewish cemetery in Uman, where businessmen purchased old houses bordering the cemetery to demolish them and build hotels for Jewish pilgrims. Developers 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 has been a densely populated residential area since Soviet times.

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 regime.

Some Jewish community representatives continued to criticize decisions by some parliamentarians and government authorities to commemorate and honor 20th century Ukrainian figures and organizations who are also associated with anti-Semitism and the killings of thousands of Jews during World War ll.

On December 9, the Kyiv Sixth Appellate Court upheld an appeal by the Kyiv City Council, Svoboda Party, and the state-run Institute of National Memory of a June order of the Kyiv District Administrative Court to reverse the renaming of two city streets in honor of Stefan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, a commander of the Nazi-controlled Nachtigall Battalion.

On September 2, Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka dismissed Deputy Prosecutor General Anatoliy Matios, who in 2018 suggested, “Jews seek to drown Ukraine in blood.” It was unclear whether Matios’ anti-Semitic statements were reason for his dismissal; the new government did not state why he was dismissed.

On May 14, Ukrainian Jewish Committee Director Eduard Dolinskyy filed a formal complaint to authorities regarding anti-Semitic remarks Skole mayor and Right Sector member Volodymyr Moskal reportedly made in 2017 that “the government of Moskovites and Yids” is running Ukraine and Jews seek to dominate the world, treat all other nations as “subhumans” and destroy them. The local procuracy and police opened an investigation. There was no progress reported in the investigation by year’s end.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A Pew Research Center Global Attitudes and Trends Survey on minority groups in Europe, released in October, found 83 percent of Ukrainians held favorable views of Jews and 11 percent unfavorable, with favorability increasing by 15 percent from the previous survey conducted in 2009. According to an October Razumkov Center poll, 17.4 percent of respondents expressed their positive attitude toward Judaism, compared with 13 percent in 2018 and 14.8 percent in 2016. In the poll, 47.6 percent said they were indifferent toward Judaism, 22.3 percent undecided, and 2 percent said they had never heard of that religion. Almost 11 percent voiced negative attitudes, compared with 13.5 percent in 2018 and 12.6 percent in 2016.

In November the Anti-Defamation League released the results of a survey on anti-Semitic views of the country’s residents. The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents whether they believed such statements were “probably true” or “probably false.” The proportion agreeing that various statements were “probably true” was: 47 percent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Ukraine; 72 percent that Jews have too much power in the business world; and 44 percent that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.

On August 25, the Kyiv Pechersk District Court extended the detention of two suspects who police said had injured a Jewish boy in Uman in 2017 in a “terrorist act orchestrated by Russia’s intelligence service” to incite interethnic and religious confrontation. Police stated that in previous years the same individuals had painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of synagogues in Lviv and Odesa and had desecrated a synagogue in Uman near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

In October a graffiti image of Hitler was found near the grave of Rabbi Nachman. On October 11, local police reported the detention of a suspect in the crime.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported there were five violent incidents against their members during the year, compared with three in 2018 and 18 in 2017. Examples included an assault on a Jehovah’s Witness in July, who was struck twice in the face and stabbed while offering religious literature in a public area; an assault in June in which the male of a Jehovah’s Witness couple distributing religious literature was struck in the face; and four attacks on eight Jehovah’s Witnesses preaching publicly. Investigations were opened, but the assailants were not been prosecuted by year’s end.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported three cases of physical assaults during the year, compared with 18 in 2017. They said one individual had physically and verbally assaulted them on at least 15 previous occasions. On May 27, the same individual beat and threw stones at Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korchivtsi Village, Chernivtsi Oblast, injuring one of them and damaging the victims’ car. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police ignored their complaints and “mildly reprimanded” the attacker. On June 13, police began to investigate the May 27 assault as a hate crime after the Jehovah’s Witnesses took the case to court. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on June 7, an individual attacked several Jehovah’s Witnesses with a wooden stick in Zhytomyr. He reportedly threw their missionary materials to the ground and punched one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses several times. During the 20-minute assault, the attacker demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the sign of the cross. Police categorized the assault as personal animosity between the attacker and his victims and forwarded the case to court.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 14, an unidentified man in Mykolayiv demanded that a Jehovah’s Witness stop his public ministry and broke a beer bottle on the victim’s head. The attacker fled before police arrived at the scene.

On October 28, the Korolyov District Court in Zhytomyr handed down prison sentences ranging from seven to 11 years to four individuals who attacked Chabad Rabbi Mendel Deitsch at the city’s train station in 2016. Deitsch subsequently died from his injuries.

On September 16, the private Israeli media outlet Mako posted a video appearing to show an allegedly Jewish man setting fire to a large outdoor crucifix located in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, as Hasidic pilgrims came to a local river to perform a religious ritual. Media reported that the alleged arson provoked a subsequent altercation between some local residents and pilgrims; there we no reports of injuries. Uman Jewish community leaders condemned the attack. Law enforcement authorities opened an investigation that continued through year’s end.

According to the news website 18000, in March the Uman City and District Court handed down a two-year suspended sentence, with no prison time served, to two Jewish pilgrims who on January 19 damaged a crucifix in the city. According to the NMRMG, on January 20 approximately two dozen individuals participated in an anti-Semitic gathering organized by the National Corps party and self-identified right-wing organization, National Militia. Local National Militia leader Yevhen Ustynovych described the January 19 vandalism as evidence the city was facing a “very difficult situation with Yids,” adding that their presence in Uman was like a “gangrene” in need of amputation. Later that night a group of six persons threw a Molotov cocktail into a street in the vicinity of Rabbi Nachman’s burial site, a pilgrimage center, reportedly causing no damage.

OCU Honorary Patriarch Filaret, asked the head of the UGCC, Major Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, to cancel his plan for a national pilgrimage to an April 7 liturgy at St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv. Filaret stated it would cause “opposition from Orthodox Ukrainians” and he wanted to avoid “tension” in the relationship with the UGCC. On March 7, following a meeting with OCU Primate, Metropolitan Epiphaniy, the UGCC leader, said that the UGCC was canceling the April 7 liturgy at the cathedral because it had to undergo restoration. According to the UGCC, the two leaders reaffirmed their Churches’ “firm desire to promote mutual understanding and cooperation.”

According to Right Sector, it and the National Militia “maintained law and order” at a gathering in the village of Guli, in Vinnytsy Oblast, purportedly at the request of local residents, at which local residents voted to transfer their UOC-MP parish to the OCU. The Right Sector and National Militia insisted that no UOC-MP-affiliated “outsiders” participated in the voting. In a January 6 interview with Channel Five, a private television station affiliated with former President Poroshenko, OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy called on OCU members to refrain from violence and to treat UOC-MP believers with “love and respect.” He said the OCU would accept into its jurisdiction only UOC-MP congregations that changed affiliation voluntarily.

The Jewish community continued to express concern about the continuing operation of the Krakivskyiy Market on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv. The UCSJ urged the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory building on the cemetery grounds that was initially 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 in Lviv. In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the soil at the construction site. As of year’s end, the remains had not been returned to the site.

On November 25 unidentified individuals painted swastikas on a monument to Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem in central Kyiv. Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko published a tweet condemning the vandalism and calling for a prompt investigation. The AUCCRO issued a statement describing the incident as an “attempt to undermine interethnic and interreligious peace.”

According to the NMRMG, on May 21, unidentified individuals painted anti-Semitic graffiti on a Holocaust memorial in Poltava, in the central part of the country. Members of the Jewish community condemned the actions and called for the government to find and hold the perpetrators accountable for defacing the memorial.

On July 21, police detained a person suspected of smashing a synagogue door pane in Kryvi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Police reported that the attacker was mentally ill and subsequently released.

On October 4, the National Police and SBU reported the detention of a suspect accused of painting swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on a Holocaust memorial in Holovanivsk, Kirovohrad Oblast, on September 15. The suspect was charged with incitement of ethnic and religious hatred and desecration of a burial site. The legal proceedings continued through year’s end.

In February the UOC-MP reported vandals cut the electricity, disabling an alarm and security camera, and threw a bottle bomb into St. Elijah the Martyr Church in the village of Zelenyi Yar, Mykolayiv Oblast, smashing its windows in the process. The church sustained damage, but no one was injured.

According to the UOC-MP, on October 30, unidentified persons vandalized the sanctuary of the St. Alexander Nevsky Church in Nevske Village, Luhansk Oblast. Law enforcement agencies opened an investigation, which continued through year’s end.

UOC-MP sources said that on September 16, the two individuals who in 2018 attempted to set fire to the UOC-MP Saints Volodymyr and Olga Church in Kyiv sent a letter of apology to its congregation. The congregation accepted the apology, reported UOC-MP members.

According to the Pershyj.com news website, in February unidentified vandals destroyed a cross at a cemetery of an OCU monastery in Zhydychyn, in Volyn Oblast. It was the third such incident at the site, starting in 2018.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported five cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 25 cases in 2018 and 30 in 2017. The incidents included unidentified assailants’ breaking a window in a Kingdom Hall in February in Zaporizhya, painting graffiti in June on a Kingdom Hall in Kyiv, and painting obscene words and images in October on a Hall in Lozova. In four of the cases, police did not initiate criminal proceedings. In the Lozova incident, the investigative judge obliged police to begin an investigation.

The NMRMG reported 14 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, compared with 12 in 2018 and 24 in 2017. On November 28, Josef Zissels, a Jewish community leader and co-president of VAAD, indicated in a press conference the need to properly investigate and punish xenophobic crimes and open cases under hate crime laws.

On July 1, the Lviv Appellate Administrative Court upheld an appeal by the local Jewish community against a 2018 city council decision declaring the old Jewish cemetery in Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast, a memorial park. In 2017, self-described nationalist activists placed a cross on top of an alleged unmarked grave of Ukrainians killed by Stalin’s regime in the Jewish cemetery. According to the representatives of the Jewish community, the new legal status of the area would make it impossible to seek relocation of the cross. According to video footage of the hearing, when the presiding judge read the ruling, nationalist activists in the courtroom shouted that he was siding with “Yids.”

According to the Jewish community and police reports, unidentified individuals vandalized Holocaust memorials and Jewish religious monuments in various locations, including in the Kyiv, Lviv, and Mykolayiv Oblasts. Police investigations of these acts continued at year’s end. According to police, there was no progress on some of these or similar cases from 2018.

On February 19, the SBU announced the detention of Yevhen Morenets, known as “White Balaclava,” an organizer of a November 2018 anti-Semitic gathering in Kyiv. He was reportedly linked to Mykola Dulsky, leader of the radical pro-Russian group Nazhdak. According to the SBU, Dulsky remained in hiding in Russia.

AUCRA, comprising a number of mainly smaller religious groups and churches, met on April 11 to initiate a national celebration of the Day of the Freedom of Conscience and Worship to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and honor those who suffered for their religious beliefs at the hands of the Soviet regime.

The SBU reported that several individuals accused of painting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish community center in Sumy in December 2017 remained under investigation. Russian intelligence agencies reportedly ordered the group to commit anti-Semitic vandalism.

In March the ECHR opened legal proceedings in response to a complaint filed by the UOC-MP in Ptycha, Rivne Oblast, regarding the community’s inability to use its church, which, according to the UOC-MP, was “seized” by OCU followers supported by local authorities. The OCU denied the claim and said that most congregation members supported the change of affiliation.

On May 5-7, the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine sponsored the first-ever Kyiv Jewish Forum to highlight the global fight against anti-Semitism on the 20th anniversary of the organization.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy officials, 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 during the establishment of the new OCU, 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 Ambassador called for unequivocal condemnation and swift prosecution of anti-Semitic acts. The Ambassador also urged government officials to increase their efforts to ensure the preservation of historic religious sites.

The Ambassador called for the government to protect the right of all religious groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely. The Ambassador met with religious activists and former prisoners of war to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR,” “LPR,” and occupied Crimea.

In May the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism participated in the Kyiv Jewish Forum and met with government leaders, including then foreign minister Klimkin, his Special Advisor for Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism Anna Vyshniakova, and Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov, to discuss the importance of a strong government response to combat anti-Semitism, including improving monitoring and law enforcement efforts as well as the importance of joining the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism also met with religious and Jewish community leaders to discuss and encourage efforts to combat anti-Semitism and promote religious freedom. He visited Babyn Yar and learned about Holocaust memorial and community efforts to build a Holocaust memorial and improve Holocaust education.

Embassy officials continued their meetings with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their abuse by occupation authorities, including regular searches and detentions, a continuing inability to practice their religion freely or express dissent, a lack of restitution of their religious properties, and other continuing problems they faced with the Crimean occupation authorities.

Embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR” and “LPR,” including banning of certain religious groups, registration requirements, and a lack of restitution of their religious properties.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in Hanukkah, Christmas, other religious 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 Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge the peaceful resolution of property and jurisdiction disputes in meetings with leaders of prominent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups in Kyiv and Lviv. In particular, the embassy continued to encourage religious groups involved in the dispute related to the location of parts of Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market on the former site of the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery to resolve the dispute through constructive dialogue. Embassy officials also discussed other issues affecting religious communities, such as registration procedures for religious groups, desecration of monuments, and the government’s procedures for religious property restitution.

The embassy issued public statements condemning religiously motivated acts of violence and calling for tolerance and restraint to ensure a peaceful transition period around autocephaly. On January 10, the Secretary of State issued a statement welcoming the announcement of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and underscoring U.S. support for religious freedom. On March 4, amplifying a statement by the Secretary of State, the embassy tweeted, “We remain deeply concerned about Archbishop Klyment’s detention in Crimea yesterday. Despite his subsequent release, this kind of harassment is unacceptable. We expect Russia to respect freedom of religion and stop detaining innocent Ukrainians in Crimea.” On March 6, the embassy announced on social media “Under Secretary Hale also visited St. Sophia Cathedral. The U.S. government supports all Ukrainians’ ability to worship as they choose. Tolerance and restraint are key principles for people with different religious affiliations to be able to live together and prosper.” The embassy also used social media to reiterate U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities. During a March 14 meeting with Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Bald, the Ambassador reiterated U.S. strong support for religious freedom, tolerance, and respect. On October 23, the Secretary of State met with OCU Metropolitan Epiphaniy and affirmed U.S. support for Ukrainians’ right to worship in accordance with their faith, free from external interference.

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Crimea

Uzbekistan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion or belief and separation of government and religion. A religious freedom “roadmap” approved by parliament in 2018 to implement all 12 of the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed simplified rules for registering religious organizations and their reporting requirements, but the underlying law on religion continued to make it difficult for groups to register, according to religious groups. The government announced it released or reduced the sentences of 575 prisoners charged with religious extremism or related crimes during the year; however, some nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives said the government continued torture of persons arrested and jailed on suspicion of religious extremism or of participating in underground Islamic activity. The government did not provide the number of individuals arrested during the year and how many were in custody at year’s end. The government registered eight churches; according to religious groups, there were 20 known churches that still wished to register. According to religious groups, there were no police raids of unregistered religious group meetings during the year, compared with 114 in 2018 and 240 in 2017. Members of religious groups whose registration applications the government denied remained unable to practice their religious beliefs without risking criminal prosecution. According to media reports, public controversy over government policies on beards and the wearing of hijabs continued, including reports of police forcibly shaving the beards of men in Tashkent. The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code prohibiting the wearing of religious garments and symbols, such as skullcaps, crosses, and hijabs in schools. In reaction to social media outcry following the expulsion of two female university students wearing hijabs, in April the government agreed to allow female students to wear headscarves in the traditional Uzbek ikat style with a knot tied behind their heads. Police detained two bloggers who called for the government to allow girls to wear hijabs, men to grow beards, and children to attend mosques, although reportedly other bloggers who criticized the government faced no backlash. According to press reports, the Tashkent District Department of Public Education continued to instruct educators to schedule school activities on Fridays to prevent the release of pupils for prayers. According to Roman Catholic leaders, the government allowed the Church to hold a summer camp for Catholic youth in the Fergana Valley, and Church leaders noted that surveillance of Catholic masses had stopped. Media reported the government continued to block access to some websites containing religious content, including Christian and Islamic-related news. The government published a list of illegal websites it stated were linked to Islamic extremist activity. According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, it remained difficult for some individuals to participate in the Hajj without resorting to inside contacts or bribery, and religious authorities continued generally to limit access to the Hajj to persons older than age 45. Other sources, including religious activists, reported no difficulties in going on the Hajj and said there were no age limits. The government maintained a consultative body – the Council of Faiths – as a platform for discussing issues with 16 recognized religious groups. In an October report for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated, “After many years of religious freedom violations and outright persecution, the Government of Uzbekistan has recently made significant progress in improving its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The report cited the cessation of police raids, permission granted to a Jehovah’s Witnesses delegation to travel from the United States to Uzbekistan, and permission to conduct a “memorial service of the death of Jesus Christ” in rented premises in Fergana, Karshi, and Urgench.

NGOs and private persons continued to report social pressure – but not government harassment – on individuals, particularly among the members of the majority Muslim population, against religious conversion. Ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity reportedly suffered continued harassment and discrimination, including family pressure to repudiate their new faith. 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. Some religious minorities said social stigma for conversion from Islam resulted in difficulties in carrying out burials, forcing them to bury individuals in distant cemeteries or to conduct funerals with Islamic religious rites.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials continued to meet 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 continued to urge the government to ensure that changes to the draft law on religion should follow the recommendations of international experts as well as take into account public views. The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom held a series of engagements with senior government officials, raising 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 release individuals charged and detained for exercising their faith peacefully. In July he met with Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and again on the margins of the UN General Assembly High-Levels Week in September. Embassy officials and visiting U.S. government officials met frequently with representatives of both registered and unregistered religious groups, including with religious minorities. Embassy officials also routinely met with religious groups, human rights activists, and other civil society representatives to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Topics included problems associated with the registration of minority religious groups, the issue of religious education for children, and concerns about the wearing of hijabs and beards for Muslims.

On December 18, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State renewed Uzbekistan’s place on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Some NGO representatives said the government continued torture of persons arrested and jailed on suspicion of “religious extremism” or of participating in underground Islamic activity. According to Forum 18, on April 17, authorities tortured Khayrullo Tursunov, a Muslim prisoner at a labor camp in Bukhara Region. The government extradited Tursunov from Kazakhstan in 2013 and sentenced him to 16 years for meeting with other Muslims and engaging in religious activities without state permission. A relative told Forum 18 that authorities beat Tursunov and pressured him to sign statements against his distant relative, Kadyr Yusupov, in exile since 2006 after the government charged him with attending a Turkish-run school and being active in mosques. A relative also told Forum 18 that officials threatened to extend Tursunov’s sentence unless he signed the prepared statements, but Tursunov did not sign. According to Forum 18, authorities refused to grant Tursunov’s relatives’ permission to visit during the year.

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.

The government did not provide information regarding the number of persons convicted of engaging in terrorist and extremist activities, or those belonging to what the government called religious fundamentalist organizations, who were serving sentences in the country’s detention facilities. 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.

In June President Shavkat Mirziyoyev announced he had granted amnesty or reduced the sentences of 575 prisoners charged with religious extremism or related crimes. The release was timed to coincide with the end of Ramadan. Of the 575 prisoners, 361 were released outright and 214 had their sentences shortened. Government representatives said those released had signed a document admitting they had been “misled” by false teachings of Islam. A presidential directive instructed local administrations to refurbish the housing of released prisoners and assist with other material needs in order to begin their reintegration into society.

On October 24, the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced it had arrested several members of the banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Andijon, Namangan, and Fergana Regions. The ministry did not say how many persons were arrested but stated many of them had been previously convicted of participating in the group’s activities and were continuing to spread “extremist” ideas. The ministry said it seized literature containing extremist language and initiated a criminal investigation. In its statement, the ministry urged citizens, especially young persons, “to avoid breaking the law, not to be exposed to destructive ideas, and not to store or distribute materials that pose a threat to public order.”

Early in the year, police detained two bloggers who had discussed a range of religious and other themes, including calls to allow women to wear hijabs, men to grow beards, and children to pray in mosques. According to Forum 18, on April 8, a Tashkent court sentenced one of them, Muslim activist Tulkun Astanov, to 15 days in prison for criticizing the country’s lack of religious freedom at a meeting with the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan. Human rights defender Rukhiddin Komilov told Forum 18 that this was “usual procedure – the state puts defendants in custody to keep them under pressure to cooperate and it is easier to fabricate criminal cases this way.” The July 25 indictment stated, “Extremist materials belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organization were found on the mobile phone seized from Astanov during questioning.” Astanov told Forum 18 on October 4 that “the only allegedly extremist thing the investigators could find” in his materials was the “miniscule flag of Hizb ut-Tahrir” in a Facebook video he shared. On October 9, according to Forum 18, the state prosecutor requested that Astanov receive a five-year suspended sentence. The case continued at year’s end.

Other Islamic bloggers operated websites and social media platforms without hindrance. Popular blogger Adham Atajanov (who goes by the pen name “Abu Muslim”) operates the website “Islamonline.uz” and has a Facebook page with almost 24,000 followers. Atajanov said he frequently criticized government policies on religious issues and faced no repercussions or backlash. Other Islamic media platforms that remained active without government interference included a private, well-known Muslim streaming channel on YouTube called “Azon.tv.” which has 162,000 subscribers, the private Azon Facebook page (with almost 54,000 followers), and the privately owned radio channel “Azon.fm.”

In March the MOJ published a list for the first time of prohibited organizations and online resources judged by the country’s Supreme Court as promoting “religious extremism.” The MOJ stated it found dozens of internet sites, online information profiles, channels, and pages on social networks, including Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram, to include extremist or terrorist materials. The list contained 40 names of internet sources and social network sites, such as “Lovers of Paradise,” “Information of Freedom,” “Excerpts from the Lesson,” and “Turkiston.”

The government continued to ban Islamic groups it defined as “extremist” and criminalized membership in such groups, which include 22 religious organizations. The government did not provide a list of the religious organizations it deemed extremist. The government stated its actions against persons or groups suspected of religious extremism were not a matter of religious freedom, but rather a matter of preventing the overthrow of secular authorities and the incitement of interreligious instability and hatred.

According to some Muslims, the ban on private religious instruction continued to result in the government detaining and fining members of religious communities for “illegally teaching one’s religion to another.” They said 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 teaching religious principles in private.

The government continued to restrict access to some websites. In September the Jehovah’s Witnesses said their website was blocked from time to time.

According to local media, on August 23, police detained more than 100 men near one of the biggest mosques in Tashkent and transported them to a local police station, where they forced them to shave their beards. Following criticism on social media, the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that beard shaving took place but denied it was forced. According to media accounts, the authorities stated it was “clearly a security issue, not a religious one. Some men were just asked to ensure that they look like the photograph page of their passports, as the passport pictures are included into the databases of smart surveillance city cameras.”

In September residents of Urgench reported worship services of an unregistered Baptist church to local police. According to the pastor, a police officer arrived, apologized for the intrusion, and told the pastor that he was required to investigate all complaints. After five minutes speaking with the pastor, the officer left. The pastor said he was later required to go to the police station to fill out paperwork closing the case. He also spoke with the local mahalla committee about his church but noted that the mahalla officials were polite and the interaction was nonconfrontational. According to the pastor, and contrary to a report by a religious freedom group stating raids occurred on the church in question, there were no raids and no other visits by police to his church through the rest of the year.

Many religious group representatives continued to report they were unable to meet the government’s registration requirements, especially the need for a permanent presence in eight of the country’s 14 administrative units to acquire central registration and the need for application by 100 members 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 MOJ continued to explain 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. Some groups stated they did not have addresses because they continued to be reluctant to purchase property without assurance 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 religious groups, many churches again attempted to register but remained unregistered at year’s end. In Tashkent, these included the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall, Ahli Kitob Church (formerly known as Uyushma), “Agape” Church, Pentecostal Salt of the Earth Church, Pentecostal Life Water Church, and Pentecostal Source of Life Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Halls in Urgench, Fergana, Bukhara, Samarkand, Kungrad, Nukus, and Karshi. The Pentecostal Full Gospel churches in the cities of Kungrad and Chimbay remained unregistered. In the Sirdarya Region, the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church remained unregistered.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses also stated that because the government considered illegal any religious activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses outside of the one registered religious building in Chirchiq, the group remained potential targets for harassment and mistreatment, although they stated no raids occurred during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives 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. In addition to attempting registration in the seven regions, Jehovah’s Witnesses members filed an application to register a branch of the U.S.-based Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses yearly report, however, the MOJ denied the application for registration on March 4 and again on March 18, after the Jehovah’s Witnesses resubmitted their application. Subsequently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint before the Administrative Court of Tashkent, and on July 4, the court dismissed the complaint, stating the case was out of its jurisdiction. The Jehovah’s Witnesses subsequently filed a cessation appeal, which was pending consideration at year’s end. On March 11, the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed an appeal regarding the same case before the National Human Rights Center. On July 22, the center responded, stating the issue was not within its purview and recommending the Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to the Constitutional Court.

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, one private school for girls, however, allowed students to wear hijabs.

In September news media released an audio recording of a Tashkent district education department meeting in which officials ordered school administrators to stop female students from wearing hijabs on school premises. An official also demanded photographic evidence of the teachers standing on duty every morning, ready to remove hijabs, and the department urged school directors to assign female teachers to this task. These practices angered some parents and family members and led to at least one case of violence. Media reported the husband of a teacher in Andijon physically assaulted an acting school director and a staff member with a baseball bat after they advised his wife not to wear a headscarf at work.

In March a Tashkent appeals court upheld a lower court decision allowing the Tashkent-based and government-funded International Islamic Academy to maintain a ban on religious attire in its dress code. Former student Nazimakhon Abdukakharova had filed a lawsuit in February against the school, stating her rights were violated after she was dismissed for wearing a hijab to class. After the court ruled against Abdukakharova in the first instance, the appeals court said the academy was within its constitutional rights to bar religious clothing in secular public institutions. In May the Supreme Court heard the case but in June dismissed Abdukakharova’s claims, stating that the school had the right to choose a policy regarding school uniforms. Activists said that while many local Muslims expected this court decision, they considered it further proof that state policy continued to restrict the rights of Muslims. Other Muslims, however, supported the policies, especially the ban on wearing hijabs in schools and universities. According to one media report, a student of Tashkent State University stated she “cannot understand why people need to show external signs of their faith,” adding “we must remember that we live in a secular state with its rules and regulations.”

In April the Supreme Court heard the appeal of Luiza Muminjanova regarding her expulsion from the International Islamic Academy for wearing a hijab to classes. On May 22, the Supreme Court dismissed Muminjanova’s claims. Human rights activists said the intense public outcry surrounding the court cases – in the form of social media debate – likely prompted the state advisor to the president to issue oral guidance to the International Islamic Academy in April, in which he instructed that female students were permitted to wear headscarves in the traditional Uzbek ikat style with a knot tied behind their heads. He stated that the ikat style headscarf was more representative of national traditions than denoting religious observance. The instruction followed a meeting between President Mirziyoyev and religious leaders and clergy in Bukhara, focusing on the need to resolve disputes between practicing and nonpracticing Muslims and to reach consensus on the issue of Islamic female dress in educational institutions. The ban on hijabs remained in effect through year’s end.

According to media, women and girls in hijabs were subject to strict checks at airports. On October 24, a source told media that “passport control officers photographed only women and girls in a Muslim shawl, the remaining passengers passed without problems.” Employees of the Tashkent International Airport and Bukhara International Airport confirmed these checks occurred. An employee of the Bukhara International Airport stated the officers “check not only arriving, but also departing passengers in a scarf.” According to media, the father of a young woman who had undergone a thorough check and was forced to take a picture without a headscarf called this process “baseless paranoia.” The father said his daughter had a biometric passport containing all data “necessary for these examiners.” An airport official told media that only local citizens were subjected to these checks, stating, “No one says anything to Turkish women or Arab women in a Muslim shawl.”

Media reported that in September Shukhrat Ganiev, the governor of Fergana Region, was recorded while giving a speech to colleagues about the wearing of hijabs and growing long beards. Media obtained the recording and quoted the governor stating, “Remember this, dear governors: if I see a woman in such clothing in your official meetings – I don’t care if she’s a neighborhood chief, a teacher, a businesswoman, an activist, a lawmaker – I’ll remove her headscarf and shove it in your mouth!” Ganiev was also heard on the recording speaking about men with “ugly beards” in public places, repeatedly raising his voice, and cursing. During its September 30 session, the national senate issued a letter of reprimand to the governor, who is also a member of the senate, for these remarks.

Muslim activists reported that the Muftiat dismissed Imam Murod Kabirov of the Minor Mosque in Tashkent (also known as the White Mosque) for teaching the Quran in an “underground madrassah” in Tashkent. They said that as part of a sting operation to shut down illegal private religious schools (popularly known as hujras), police discovered Kabirov teaching recitations from the Quran to 10 students. Subsequently, the Tashkent Islamic Institute, where Kabirov had worked for two years, did not renew his teaching contract for the 2019-20 academic year. According to human rights activists, during the summer months, Muslim parents tried to immerse their children in Islamic study, sending them to mosques and/or private religious schools. They said the country, however, had only 12 accredited Islamic learning institutions in which to legally study Islam; these schools typically received 20-30 applications for every available seat. Activists believed parents sought out Kabirov to teach the Quran to their children because of his role as an official cleric and religious educator.

At the end of the school year in May, media reported the administrative offices of some schools required parents to sign a letter stating their children would not go to mosques during summer vacation – such a letter was a common practice during the time of former president Karimov. On May 22, the Ministry of Public Education released an official statement that it did not require any such letters to be signed by parents, but rather, this was an initiative of the administrations of some schools. The ministry asked the public to report such cases via the ministry’s helpline.

A religious freedom “roadmap” approved by parliament in 2018 to implement all 12 of the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Shaheed simplified rules for registering religious organizations and their reporting requirements, but the underlying law on religion continued to make it difficult for groups to register, according to religious freedom activists. The government began drafting an update to the law on religion and allowed for comment by international experts and organizations. In June the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University released an analysis of the draft law, stating that while the draft provided some protections, it also allowed the government to maintain strict and excessive control over religion and religious freedom. The analysis highlighted areas of concern including the mandatory registration of religious activity and religious organizations; unnecessary requirements for registration; establishment of forms 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.

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 July Foreign Minister Kamilov announced that since 2016, more than 20,000 prisoners convicted on religious grounds were removed from a watch list containing the names of those convicted for religious crimes or crimes against the government. Previously, authorities compelled individuals on the watch list to submit to police for regular interrogation, denied issuance of passports and travel visas, and, in some cases, prohibited the purchase and use of smartphones. Religious freedom activists confirmed the government was no longer using the watch list.

The national government stated it did not review mahalla committee decisions and activities related to regulation or status of religion, including local registration decisions.

According to the CRA, by year’s end the country had 2,280 registered religious organizations representing 16 different faiths compared with 2,260 registered religious organizations and 16 faiths in 2018. Muslim religious groups operated 2,065 Sunni mosques, compared with 2,052 in 2018; four Shia mosques, 15 muftiates, and 12 educational institutes. The 184 non-Muslim groups registered included 38 Orthodox churches (up from 36 in 2018), five Catholic churches, 56 Pentecostal churches (50 in 2018), 24 Baptist churches (22 in 2018), nine Seventh-day Adventist churches, three New Apostol churches, two Lutheran churches, one Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, one Voice of God church, 27 Korean Protestant churches, two Armenian churches, eight Jewish communities, six Baha’i centers, one Hari Krishna temple, and one Buddhist temple. There was also a registered Bible Society of Uzbekistan.

During the year, the government registered eight churches: the Sun Bogim Pentecostal Church in Bekabad, Tashkent Region, on January 9; a Baptist church in Khorezm Region, on January 9; Vozrojdenie Pentecostal Church in Kokand on July 12; Logos Pentecostal Church in Tashkent on August 20; Vozrojdenie Pentecostal Church in Navoi on September 27; a Baptist church in Gulistan, Sirdarya Region, on September 27; the Vera Pentecostal Church in Samarkand on September 30; and the Pentecostal “House of Bread” Church in Jizzakh Region, on December 30.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, despite continued efforts to engage with the government, they had no success in registering new congregations, even though their numbers were growing. At year’s end, they had only one registered site in Chirchik, which they stated did not adequately meet their needs.

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 reported they continued to experience particular difficulties conducting religious activities in the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan because all non-Muslim and non-Orthodox religious communities continued to lack legal status in the region. There was only one registered church, a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church, in the entire region, which has a population of approximately two million.

Representatives of both the Bukharian and the Ashkenazi Jewish communities said they had not requested accreditation of additional rabbis since 2014, when the last rabbi was accredited. Jewish leaders from both groups cited the community’s small size and limited resources as the reason for not seeking additional rabbis.

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 since such gatherings remained illegal.

During the year, according to numerous religious leader and activists, both Christian and Muslim, authorities stopped filming participants of religious services.

According to Catholic Church leaders, the government allowed the Church to hold a summer camp for Catholic youth in the Fergana Valley. Catholic Church leaders noted that surveillance on Catholic masses had stopped during the year.

The government stated that prisoners had the right to practice any religion or no religion; however, according to former religious prisoner and current human rights defender Akhmadjon Madmarov, some prisoners told 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 to observe religious holidays, such as Ramadan, including 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. Unlike in previous years, 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.

The CRA continued to block the importation of some Christian and Islamic literature.

According to Forum 18, in January a court fined Shukhrat Safarov for giving a woman a copy of the New Testament in Uzbek. The court ordered the destruction of the book. In December 2018 police had searched the woman’s apartment and seized the book in question.

The government continued to allow the following groups to publish, import, and distribute religious literature upon review and approval by the CRA: the Bible Society of Uzbekistan, the Muftiate, Tashkent Islamic Institute, and the offices of the Russian Orthodox, Full Gospel, Baptist, and Catholic Churches.

The Bible Society 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.

The government continued to fund an Islamic university and the preservation of Islamic historic sites. The government prohibited Islamic religious institutions in the country from receiving private funding. A 2018 presidential decree established the International Islamic Academy of Uzbekistan. The academy’s stated goals were to provide the country’s religious educational institutions (universities and madrassahs) with highly trained teachers and mentors; 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 continued to prohibit separate training of Shia imams inside the country and did not recognize training received outside the country.

In an October report prepared for the OSCE, the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated, “After many years of religious freedom violations and outright persecution, the Government of Uzbekistan has recently made significant progress in improving its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The report cited examples to include the cessation of police raids, permission that was granted to a Jehovah’s Witnesses delegation to travel from the United States to Uzbekistan, and permission granted to Jehovah’s Witnesses to conduct a “memorial service of the death of Jesus Christ” in rented premises in Fergana, Karshi, and Urgench.

At year’s end, there were three public Islamic universities in the country: the Tashkent Islamic Institute, Samarkand Higher School of Hadith Studies, and Mir-i-Arab Madrassah in Bukhara. There were nine madrassahs for secondary education. Additionally, there were two Christian seminaries. According to official figures, 1,984 persons were studying at the Islamic universities and madrassahs, 41 at the Orthodox seminary, and 20 at the Protestant seminary.

The government required individuals wishing to participate in the Hajj to apply to local mahalla committees, which submit a list to the khokimiyats, using the lists to coordinate national air carrier flights to Jeddah. The government continued to provide logistical support, including charter flights, for Muslims to participate in the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, although pilgrims paid their own expenses. As in previous years, the government allowed 7,200 Hajj pilgrims, approximately a third of the country’s allotment allowed by Saudi Arabia. Local mahalla committees, district administrations, the State Security Services (SSS), and the state-run Hajj Commission, controlled by the CRA and the Muftiate, reportedly participated in vetting potential pilgrims. According to some sources, religious authorities continued generally to limit access to the Hajj to persons older than age 45. Several other Muslim sources, including activist and blogger Abu Muslim, said the government no longer placed age restrictions on Hajj participants. According to Forum 18, the Hajj Committee removed from the list young women from Fergana Region scheduled to participate in the 2019 Hajj because they were below the state’s “unwritten age limit.” According to other activists, however, no such age limit existed (unwritten or otherwise), but rather, local authorities would sometimes prefer to choose older pilgrims who may not get the chance again to make the journey.

Some media reported it remained difficult to participate in the Hajj without resorting to inside contacts and bribery. One individual told Forum 18 that due to the “obstacles at so many levels,” individuals feared not being placed on the waiting lists or being “removed from the lists arbitrarily.” They added that many “are willing to pay up to the officials.” Some examples of what they characterized as local corruption included a requirement to perform charitable works at both the district authority and local mahalla committee level where officials asked pilgrims to make donations for the repair or upgrading of roads, to lay electricity lines, to help poor families, or for the unspecified welfare of the mahalla.”

Forum 18 stated, “Even successful completion of the hajj application process does not guarantee a hajj pilgrimage, as the SSS maintains an exit blacklist of people – for example human rights defenders – who are not allowed to travel abroad.” One Muslim told Forum 18 on November he was blacklisted for being “devout.”

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. During the year, the government allowed 21,419 pilgrims to travel for the Umrah, compared with 18,000 in 2018. There were restrictions on the number of Muslim pilgrims who wished to travel for Umrah. During Umrah high season, there were daily direct flights to Jeddah on Uzbekistan Airways.

Representatives of a registered Christian group and of the Baha’i community stated children were able to attend community-sponsored activities, including Sunday school, and services with the permission of their parents.

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, which indicate the direction of Mecca. Many airports and train stations had small prayer rooms on their premises.

Civil society observers and religious freedom activists reported that authorities continued to allow Muslims to celebrate Ramadan openly and that the number of public iftars was greater than in 2018.

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 faced 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.

According to Open Doors USA, a Christian nonprofit that supports persecuted believers, individuals experienced “pressure and occasionally physical violence to renounce their faith and return to Islam.” According to the organization, on February 9, a man killed his wife because she had recently become a Christian. She was attempting to flee the country to seek refuge in Istanbul with Christian friends when her husband confronted her at Tashkent Airport and slit her throat.

Members of religious groups perceived as proselytizing, including evangelical Christian, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christian Churches, stated they continued to face societal scrutiny and discrimination. They said their neighbors sometimes called police to report their activities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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 CRA, and raised concerns about imprisonment and mistreatment of individuals for their religious beliefs and bureaucratic impediments to the registration of religious minority groups.

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom held a series of engagements with senior government officials when they visited 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 release individuals charged and detained for exercising their faith peacefully. In May the Ambassador at Large met with Senator Alisher Kurmanov and with Akmal Saidov, the director of the National Human Rights Center. In July he met with Foreign Minister Kamilov at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington and again in September during the UN General Assembly High-Levels Week in New York. Religious freedom issues were also on the agenda for the annual bilateral consultation, held in February. Several Department of State principal officials also raised religious freedom points in their high level meetings, including the Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia.

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 pressed 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 discussed the difficulties religious groups and faith-based foreign aid organizations faced with regard to registration, and with authorities limiting their access to religious literature. The U.S. government supported the adoption of a religious freedom roadmap and the drafting of legislation overhauling the law on religion as concrete steps to enhance religious freedom.

Embassy representatives frequently discussed individual religious freedom cases with foreign diplomatic colleagues to coordinate efforts on monitoring court cases and contacting government officials for updates on police cases.

In its public outreach and private meetings, the embassy 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 met 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 religious denominations in the country.

On December 18, 2019, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State renewed Uzbekistan’s place on a Special Watch List for having 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 moved to a Special Watch List in 2018 after the Secretary determined the government had made substantial progress in improving respect for religious freedom.

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