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Afghanistan

On August 15, the Taliban took control of Kabul, declaring the establishment of an “Islamic Emirate” throughout the country.  On September 7, the Taliban announced an interim “caretaker government” made up exclusively of male Taliban members.  On September 22, the Taliban expanded its interim “caretaker government,” adding some representatives of religious and ethnic minority groups including Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Nuristani, and Khawaja, but no women.  By year’s end, the U.S. government had not yet made a decision as to whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the Government of Afghanistan or as part of such a government.

Executive Summary

Following their takeover in August, the Taliban did not establish a clear and cohesive legal framework, judicial system, or enforcement mechanisms.  The Taliban conveyed that those laws enacted under the former government of Afghanistan that were in effect prior to their takeover remained in effect unless the laws violated sharia.  Taliban leaders issued decrees specifying acceptable behaviors under their interpretation of sharia, but variously described them as “guidelines” or “recommendations” and unevenly enforced them.  Press reports following the Taliban takeover raised fears the group would consider Christian converts as apostates.  These reports, combined with statements from some Taliban leaders starting in August reserving the right to enforce harsh punishments for violations of the group’s strict interpretation of sharia, drove some Christian converts into deeper hiding, according to International Christian Concern, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on persecution of Christian communities.  At year’s end, there were no reports of Taliban representatives having directed sharia-related punishments.  According to Amnesty International, Taliban fighters killed 13 Shia Hazaras in Daykundi Province on August 31; the Taliban denied the allegations.  In November and December, the Taliban detained 28 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kabul.  According to members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the Taliban falsely accused them of belonging to ISIS-Khorasan (an affiliate of ISIS and a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, also known as ISIS-K).  The Taliban held 18 of them through year’s end.  The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW)reported the Taliban expelled Shia Hazara members from their homes in several provinces in October, in part to redistribute land to Taliban supporters.  In August, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) that the group would respect the rights of members of religious minority groups, including Shia Hazaras.  On November 16, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the press, “We are providing a safe and secure environment for everyone, especially the Hazaras.”  Both prior to and immediately following the Taliban takeover, predominantly Shia Hazara communities expressed fear the Ashraf Ghani administration and the Taliban lacked the ability to protect them from violence and discrimination.  According to Hazara community and NGO representatives, Shia Hazaras continued to face longstanding and widespread discrimination by Ghani government officials in public service delivery, public sector hiring, and other areas before August 15.After the Taliban takeover, Taliban leaders publicly pledged to protect the rights of Sikhs and Hindus, although some Sikhs and Hindus reported they had ceased to congregate at their gurdwaras (places of worship), and others sought to resettle abroad due to fear of violent attacks by the Taliban and ISIS-K.  In November and December, high level Taliban representatives held meetings with leaders of Shia, Sikh, and Hindu communities, reportedly to offer protection and improve relations.  According to community representatives, in these meetings the Taliban laid out rules for the behavior of women, forbade the playing of music, and presented restrictions on businesses owned by minority religious group members.  Some Hazara political figures expressed continued concern over the Taliban’s commitment to support freedom of worship but commented that this engagement represented a shift from the Taliban’s approach between 1996 and 2001.  According to civil society groups, at year’s end, approximately 150 members of the Sikh and Hindu communities remained in the country, down from approximately 400 at the start of the year.  The Taliban closed the Ministry for Women’s Affairs in September, announcing the reconstituted Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, charged with enforcing the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia, would be housed in the same building.  While enforcement varied by province and district, local Taliban representatives enforced decrees on gender segregation, women’s dress and head covering, men’s facial hair, unaccompanied women, and music.  On December 3, Taliban “Supreme Leader” Hibatullah Akhunzada issued a decree stating that women should not be considered property and must consent to marriage.  Media reported the Taliban framed the decree as a call to adhere to broader Islamic law on women’s rights.  Some observers praised the decree; others said it did not go far enough because it did not mention a woman’s right to work or to access education and other public services.

the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (ISIS-K claimed responsibility.  ISIS-K also conducted such attacks against other groups.  In total, for the first six months of the year, 20 incidents targeted the Shia Hazara community resulting in 143 killed and 357 injured, compared with 19 attacks attributed to ISIS-K and other anti-government elements in 2020.  According to UNAMA, during the second half of the year, attacks claimed by or attributed to ISIS-K increased and expanded beyond the movement’s previous areas of focus in Kabul and the eastern part of the country.  Between August 19 and December 31, the United Nations recorded 152 attacks by the group in 16 provinces, compared with 20 attacks in five provinces during the same period in 2020.  In addition to targeting the Taliban, ISIS-K also targeted civilians, in particular Shia minorities, in urban areas.  ISIS-K claimed responsibility for suicide attacks on two Shia mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar cities on October 8 and 15.  On October 8, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 70 to 80 members of the Hazara community at a mosque in Kunduz.  On October 15, a suicide bomber attack targeting the largest Shia mosque in Kandahar, the Fatima Mosque (also known as the Imam Bargah Mosque), killed more than 50 worshippers and injured at least 100.  Two December 10 attacks in western Kabul targeting a predominantly Shia Hazara neighborhood remained unclaimed at year’s end.  Prior to the Taliban takeover, antigovernment forces carried out several attacks on religious leaders that resulted in fatalities.  According to the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA), over the last two decades, the Taliban and other extremist groups had killed 527 religious scholars, including approximately 50 Sunni and Shia religious leaders killed between February 2020 and July 2021.  Prior to their August takeover and as previous years, the Taliban killed and issued death threats against Sunni clerics for preaching messages contrary to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam.  Taliban fighters killed progovernment imams and other religious officials throughout the country, and the Taliban warned mullahs not to perform funeral prayers for Ghani administration security officials.  On May 8, unidentified individuals detonated a car bomb in front of the Sayed ul-Shuhada school in a predominantly Shia Hazara community, killing at least 85 civilians and injuring another 216.  No group claimed responsibility for the attack.  According to press interviews in October, Shia Hazaras struggled to take what some characterized as a “life or death” risk to go to mosque on Fridays.

Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Sunni Muslim minority groups continued to report that some Sunni Muslims verbally harassed them, although Hindus and Sikhs stated they still were able to practice their respective religions in public prior to August 15.  According to international sources, Baha’is and Christians continued to live in constant fear of exposure and were reluctant to reveal their religious identities to anyone.  Christian groups reported public sentiment, as expressed in social media and elsewhere, remained hostile towards converts and to Christian proselytization.  They said individuals who converted to or were studying Christianity reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members.  Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims reported they continued to worship only privately and in small groups, at home or in nondescript places of worship, to avoid discrimination and persecution.  Prior to the Taliban takeover in August, observers said local Muslim religious leaders continued their efforts to limit social activities, such as concerts, which they considered inconsistent with Islamic doctrine.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31.  In October and November, the U.S. government condemned ISIS-K attacks on Shia mosques and engaged Taliban leadership to press for the protection of religious minorities from repression and violence.  On November 29-30, a U.S. government delegation met with senior Taliban representatives in Qatar.  The U.S. delegation expressed “deep concern regarding allegations of human rights abuses and urged the Taliban to protect the rights of all Afghans, uphold and enforce its policy of general amnesty, and take additional steps to form an inclusive and representative government.”  After August 31, the U.S. government also conveyed this message consistently in meetings with the so-called Taliban Political Commission in Doha, Qatar, through the Afghanistan Affairs Unit.  efore the Taliban takeover in mid-August, U.S. embassy officials worked with the government to promote understanding of religious freedom and the need for the acceptance and protection of religious minorities.  To enhance the Ghani administration’s capacity to counter violent religious extremism and foster religious tolerance, embassy representatives met with the Office of the National Security Council (ONSC) and MOHRA, among other government agencies.  The embassy regularly raised concerns about public safety and freedom to worship with security ministers.  Until the Taliban takeover, embassy officials continued to meet regularly with leaders of major religious groups, as well as religious minorities, scholars, and NGOs, to discuss ways to enhance religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  While working with the Ghani administration, the embassy sponsored programs for religious leaders to increase interreligious dialogue, identify ways to counter violent religious extremism, empower female religious leaders, and promote tolerance for religious diversity.

Albania

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It stipulates there is no official religion and the state is neutral in matters of belief, recognizes the equality and independence of religious groups, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government has agreements with the Sunni Albanian Muslim Community (AMC), Bektashi Muslim community, Catholic Church, Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (AOC), and Evangelical Brotherhood of Albania (VUSH), an evangelical Protestant umbrella organization. These agreements recognize these groups as the country’s main faith communities and address property restitution and other arrangements. By law, the government gives financial support to four of these faith communities, but not to VUSH or other religious groups; VUSH continued to seek changes to the law that would allow it to receive financial support from the government. The government legalized 62 buildings owned by religious groups during the year that had been built without construction permits, compared with 92 in 2020; 25 additional properties remained under review. The five religious communities with agreements with the government continued to express concerns about restitution of property seized under the former communist regime, stating that corruption, government lack of knowledge of competencies and jurisdiction on property cases, and large caseloads in the court system hampered their claims. The State Agency of the Cadaster (SAC), the official register established in 2020 to show quantity, value, and ownership of real estate, reported challenges in returning property being used by other parties, providing physical compensation by means of other property, or paying cash compensation. VUSH leaders reported continued difficulties in acquiring permission to construct places of worship. The Bektashi community and the AMC again reported problems defending their titles to certain properties. The five main religious communities continued to ask the government to exempt them from paying certain state taxes, per the bilateral agreements between these communities and the government. Although they said they supported the government’s COVID-19 prevention measures, religious leaders complained the government had not responded to their requests for financial assistance to cope with the impact of the pandemic, and that restrictions on public gatherings, which also applied to secular venues, hindered their fundraising ability. In September, the government and the Albanian American Development Fund opened the bidding process for building a museum in Vlora dedicated to the country’s efforts to protect Jews during World War II.

In April, a man attacked worshippers at a mosque in Tirana, wounding five. Prosecutors asked that the attacker, a convert to Islam, be hospitalized due to a history of mental illness. According to an International Republican Institute (IRI) report, most media in the country referencing Jews focused on Holocaust remembrance and the country’s good relations with Israel, although there were some stories propagating conspiracy theories about Jews. The Interfaith Council, a forum for leaders from the five religious communities with agreements with the government to discuss shared concerns, held several online and in-person meetings domestically and internationally on faith-related and other issues.

The U.S. embassy urged government officials to accelerate its handling of property claims and to return religious groups’ buildings and other property confiscated during the communist era. Embassy officials met with representatives of religious communities to discuss interfaith and governmental relations, the challenges they faced regarding property legalization and restitution, and financial challenges caused by COVID-19 restrictions. Embassy-sponsored programs, including youth programs, focused on developing community inclusivity, promoting women’s empowerment in religious communities, and emphasizing the compatibility of religious faith and democracy.

Algeria

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and prohibits state institutions from behaving in a manner incompatible with Islam.  The law grants all individuals the right to practice their religion if they respect public order and regulations.  Offending or insulting any religion is a criminal offense.  Proselytizing to Muslims by non-Muslims is a crime.  Christian leaders expressed concern that the elimination of language providing for freedom of conscience in a new constitution that entered into force at the end of 2020 could lead to greater government persecution of religious minorities and reported changes in their interactions with governmental authorities they attributed to the new constitution.  In February, Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders said there were 50 Ahmadi Muslims who were defendants in the court system, a decline from their October 2020 estimate of 220.  In November, authorities charged the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), Pastor Salah Chalah, and three Christian members of his leadership team with proselytizing on social media, practicing non-Muslim religious rites without authorization, and inciting an unarmed gathering.  In August, according to press reports, government authorities abducted Christian convert Soulimane Bouhafs in Tunisia – where he had refugee status – and transferred him to Algeria, where he was detained on charges of being a member of the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie (MAK), an organization the government has designated as terrorist.  In April, a court sentenced Said Djabelkheir, a well-known Islamic Sufi scholar, to three years in prison for “offenses to Islam.”  Djabelkheir wrote that the sacrifice of sheep predated Islam and denounced child marriage.  Several religious groups, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the EPA, said the government again failed to act on their registration applications, pending since 2012.  In February, the government announced that mosques that had been closed due to COVID-19 mitigation measures could reopen, but Christian churches would remain closed.  According to media reports, authorities continue to arrest, jail, and fine members of the EPA on charges of proselytizing.  In April, the EPA reported that the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) routinely limited its import of Bibles.  Twenty EPA churches remained closed, 16 of them sealed off, under a government order from 2017.  In February and March, the MRA summoned EPA and Anglican Church officials for questioning.  Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist groups said the government did not respond to their requests for foreign religious workers’ visas, resulting in de facto visa refusals.

Some Christian leaders and congregants stated family members abused Muslims who converted to or expressed an interest in Christianity.  Individuals engaged in religious practice other than Sunni Islam reported they had experienced threats and intolerance.  Media sometimes criticized Ahmadi Islam and Shia Islam as “sects” or “deviations” from Islam or as “foreign.”  Ahmadi leaders said news outlets continued to amplify what they consider government misinformation portraying Ahmadis as violent.

The then Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officers frequently met with senior government officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Religious Affairs, Justice, and Interior to discuss religious tolerance and the difficulties Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minority groups faced in registering as associations, importing religious materials, and obtaining visas.  Embassy officers focused on pluralism and religious moderation in meetings and programs with religious leaders from both Sunni Muslim and minority religious groups, as well as with other members of the public.  The embassy used special events, social media, and speakers programs to emphasize a message of religious tolerance.

On November 15, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Algeria on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Andorra

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of individuals to manifest their religion or belief and prohibits religious discrimination.  It names two co-princes – the President of France and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Catalonia, Spain – as joint heads of state.  In accordance with the constitution, the government offers the Catholic Church privileges not available to other religious groups.  At year’s end, the government had not identified public land for use as a multiconfessional cemetery, despite announcing in 2020 that it had begun a search for a suitable property.  The government issued religious work permits only to Catholics, but it allowed non-Catholics to reside and perform religious work in the country under a different status.  In October, the government approved a ban on the use of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, including headscarves, kippahs, and large crosses, after a Muslim family accused the French school of discrimination because it required the family’s daughter to remove her headscarf in school.

In the absence of a mosque in the country, the Muslim community continued to rent two prayer rooms.  The Catholic Church of Santa Maria del Fener in Andorra la Vella continued to lend its sanctuary twice a month to the Anglican community.

The U.S. Ambassador, resident in Spain, and the Consul General and other officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona met and communicated regularly with senior officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Interior, and Social Affairs, Housing and Youth, as well as with officials in the Office of the Ombudsman.  During visits to the country and in periodic communications, consulate officials discussed with Jewish and Muslim leaders and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) issues such as the lack of official status for faiths other than Catholicism and the lack of cemeteries for the Jewish and Muslim communities.  The consulate general used social media to convey messages on the importance of religious freedom.

Angola

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship.  The law requires religious groups to seek government recognition by meeting legally established criteria and allows the government to close the premises of unregistered groups.  There are 81 recognized religious groups and more than 1,100 unrecognized religious groups in the country.  The government did not recognize any new religious groups during the year and has not done so since 2000.  Ninety-seven registration applications remained pending at year’s end, among them two from Muslim organizations.  In January, following a year-long dispute, the government recognized new local leadership of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), which led to the expulsion of 55 Church leaders connected to its Brazilian parent church.  In March, 11 IURD temples under the new leadership were permitted to open, but 340 temples remained closed pending the conclusion of investigations and court cases on charges of tax fraud and money laundering against IURD’s Brazilian leadership.  Some IURD Church members demonstrated against the government closure of their churches.  Also in March, the government relaxed its COVID-19 preventative measures, permitting religious services to be held on any day of the week, but with some occupancy restrictions.  Unlike in 2020, there were no arrests or major protests related to COVID-19 restrictions.

Throughout the year, interfaith religious organizations met to discuss religious freedom issues and to collaborate on social action projects.  In August, an NGO hosted a religious freedom forum attended by interfaith leaders.  The forum participants presented seven recommendations to the government, including recognition of Islam as an official religion.  The government did not respond to those recommendations by year’s end.

Throughout the year, officials from the U.S. embassy raised religious freedom issues with government officials at the national level, including the closure of places of worship, COVID-19 restrictions, long-pending registration applications, and implementation of religious freedom legislation.  Embassy officials spoke with representatives of religious groups and civil society organizations throughout the country to discuss the continuing issue of recognition of religious groups, the IURD intradenominational split, and the effect of continued COVID-19 restrictions on the ability to worship freely.  The embassy promoted religious freedom on its website and through social media platforms.

Antigua and Barbuda

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, as well as the right to practice and change one’s religion or belief.  The government established a vaccine mandate in October for all public sector and government workers.  Some religious leaders requested an exemption to the vaccine mandate, but Seventh-day Adventist leaders said they would not support exemption requests from their members.  While its restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic were in effect throughout the year, the government on occasion granted curfew exemptions to religious leaders to perform religious rites.  Some members of the Rastafarian community said they continued to object to the government’s requirement of vaccinations for all children attending public schools.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Embassy officials spoke with government officials, including from the Ministry of Social Transformation and Human Resource Development’s Office of Ecclesiastical Affairs, to highlight the value of religious diversity in contributing to society.  The embassy maintained social media engagement on religious freedom issues.  In January, a series of posts highlighted U.S. National Religious Freedom Day and International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

The government of the Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized government on the island, but since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots.  This area proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A “green line,” or buffer zone (which is over 110 miles long and several miles wide in places) patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  For areas in the north that have different Greek and Turkish names, both are listed (e.g., Kormakitis/Korucam).

Executive Summary

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” refers to the “state” as secular and provides for freedom of religious faith and worship consistent with public order and morals.  It prohibits forced participation in worship and religious services and stipulates religious education may be conducted only under “state” supervision.  Although the “constitution” grants the Vakf the right to regulate its internal affairs, it is subordinate to the “Prime Minister’s” office and not an independent organization.  Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to grant access to Greek Orthodox religious sites, although visits declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The “Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)” said during the year it approved 37 of 66 requests to hold religious services between July-October 2021, compared with 26 of 33 requests in 2020.  The “MFA” said, “18 could not be facilitated as they fell outside the pre-determined criteria.”  Turkish-Speaking Protestant Associations (TSPA) representatives continued to report police surveillance of their activities, although the surveillance was somewhat reduced, primarily due to a reduction in church activities as a result of the pandemic.  According to Greek Orthodox representatives, police monitored their church services.  They reported plainclothes police officers present during services checked priests’ identification and monitored the congregation.

The TSPA said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths often experienced abuse, insult, criticism in society, and workplace discrimination.  The TCCH reported completing conservation and structural support to five churches and the walls of Nicosia’s historic city center.  Mufti of Cyprus Talip Atalay and Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II and their representatives continued to meet throughout the year until Atalay was removed from his position in July.  During a July weekend days before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, then “TRNC Prime Minister” Ersan Saner named Ahmet Unsal to succeed Atalay as the Mufti of Cyprus.

The Ambassador and embassy officials continued engagement with the office of the Mufti of Cyprus, who was also head of the “Religious Affairs Department,” to discuss cooperation among religious leaders and access to religious sites.  Embassy officials met with representatives of the “MFA” and the Vakf to discuss unrestricted access to religious sites.  Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from the Sunni and Alevi Muslim, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss access to religious sites and instances of religious-based discrimination.

Argentina

Executive Summary

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion and the right to profess freely one’s faith.  The constitution grants the Roman Catholic Church preferential legal status, but there is no official state religion.  Several religious groups continued to express frustration that the government required them to register as both civil associations and religious groups to be eligible for benefits that the Catholic Church received without requiring registration.  They also continued to criticize a 2020 General Inspectorate of Justice (IGJ) resolution requiring all civil associations, including religious groups, to have gender parity on their administrative and oversight bodies.  Although many religious leaders supported continuing government COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, they criticized specific incidents and restrictions that prevented or broke up religious gatherings.  In May, provincial police halted and dispersed an open-air Mass in Androgue, Buenos Aires Province, attended by approximately 120 persons.  According to the president of the interfaith Argentine Council for Religious Freedom (CALIR), local and national authorities repeatedly violated the right to religious freedom throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  On July 16, the 27th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center, AMIA president Ariel Eichbaum urged the government to “intensify pressure on Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate on the investigation and extradite the accused that they are currently protecting.”  President Alberto Fernandez told Jewish community leaders he wanted to see progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the 1994 bombing, in which 86 persons died.  During the year, several religious groups and individuals protested the legalization of some abortions in January, including through statements, protests, and the refusal of some medical professional to perform abortions.  Numerous public and private entities adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism during the year, including the government of Santiago del Estero Province, according to a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

During the year, media reported the country experienced increases in overall antisemitic incidents in the forms of violence, hate speech, and misinformation.  According to media and the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), there were violent attacks targeting Jews during the year, including a beating in January of an Orthodox Jewish father and some of his children in Cordoba Province and an attack in March in Buenos Aires by a woman on two Jewish Orthodox women.  Interreligious groups such as the Interreligious Committee for Peace in Argentina, whose members include Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, as well as indigenous religious groups and CALIR, continued work to promote tolerance and increase opportunities for interreligious action on common societal challenges.

U.S. embassy officials met with senior government officials, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship’s (MFA) human rights office to discuss ways to promote respect for religious minorities and counteract religious discrimination.  The Charge d’Affaires spoke in September at AMIA’s in-person commemoration for the victims of 9/11 and said, “In our grief, the spirit of unity with like-minded partners like our friends at AMIA strengthens our resolve to continue to fight extremism and make the world a better, safer place for our children.”   Embassy officials supported interfaith cooperation and universal respect for freedom of religion through public statements and social media postings, as well as in meetings with religious groups.

Armenia

Executive Summary

The constitution states that everyone has freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  It recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) as the national church and preserver of national identity but also establishes separation of religious organizations and the state.  The law prohibits, but does not define, proselytism, which may be interpreted as forced conversion.  The trial continued of a prominent Baha’i lawyer, Edward Manasyan, charged in 2017 with organizing illegal immigration; Baha’i community members said they believed the charges were brought because of his religion.  The country’s highest court of appeal, the Court of Cassation, rejected a Baha’i appeal alleging the government had illegally wiretapped the group and used the information gathered to prosecute Manasyan.  Yezidi human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan was indicted on charges of “inciting hatred” based on off-the-record comments he made to a journalist criticizing the treatment of Yezidis in the country that were surreptitiously recorded and posted online by the journalist.  Sultanyan’s prosecution drew strong criticism from international human rights groups.  In February, the government announced it planned to remove a course on the history of the Armenian Church from the mandatory school curriculum as part of a broader educational reform, generating significant public debate.  A September Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cited the “catastrophic impact” of the long-running conflict “on the cultural heritage and property of the region, for which both Armenia and Azerbaijan have a responsibility.”

Representatives of some religious minorities, such as the Seventh-day Adventists and several evangelical groups, as well as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reported that public attitudes towards them had generally improved compared with the previous year and reported little or no negative content in the media during the year.  Anonymous social media users, however, continued to target the evangelical Word of Life Church with online hate speech and harassment.  Some members of the Jewish community and civil society members reported that antisemitism, including negative speech by members of the public and vandalism, increased after Azerbaijan used Israeli-supplied weapons during intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the fall of 2020.  During June parliamentary elections, an opposition figure who had never held elected office criticized the Word of Life Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses, referring to them as “sects,” a term these religious groups did not use to describe themselves and which was generally perceived as pejorative.  Human rights groups stated that verbal targeting of religious minorities, both on and offline, decreased during the year, as the individuals who had previously targeted religious groups largely pivoted to discussing the aftermath of fall 2020 fighting and COVID-19.  On February 12, the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial was vandalized for the third time since the 2020 fighting.  Representatives of minority religious groups stated that societal and family pressure remained a major deterrent for ethnic Armenians to practice a religion other than the Armenian Apostolic faith.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to promote religious tolerance, respect for religious minorities, and interfaith dialogue during meetings with government officials.  Embassy representatives raised with government officials and members of parliament the cases of criminal prosecution of Yezidi and Baha’i leaders and monitored their trials.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly consulted with religious groups, including the AAC, evangelical Christians and other Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Yezidis, the Jewish community, Apostolic Assyrians, Pentecostals, and Baha’is, and individual members of the Muslim community, to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country.  Embassy officials engaged government officials and civil society representatives to discuss the impact of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on religious groups and religious sites of significance to Armenian communities.

Australia

Executive Summary

The constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion, or establishes a religious test for a federal public office.  The federal government introduced a bill on November 25 designed to make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life.  Parliaments in the two most populous states – New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria – completed soliciting public comments on laws that would strengthen protections against religious discrimination and vilification.  In response, the NSW government announced its intention to add religion to the state’s existing antidiscrimination legislation, and the Victoria government announced it would make Nazi symbols illegal.  A Queensland tribunal ordered former senator Fraser Anning to remove pieces of online social media content that breached antidiscrimination laws by vilifying Muslims.  To control the spread of COVID-19, state and territory governments at times enforced restrictions on gatherings and movement, limiting some religious activities.  There were incidents of individuals being fined for defying these restrictions to hold religious gatherings.  As vaccination rates increased throughout the country and lockdown restrictions eased, some religious leaders expressed concern that unvaccinated individuals would be denied access to religious gatherings, while others voiced support for vaccine requirements as a necessary precaution.

Members of minority religious groups, including Jews and Muslims, experienced instances of religious discrimination, threats, attacks, and hate speech, some related to COVID-19.  The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Facebook for direct and indirect discrimination and liability for hate speech.  The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) reported 447 antisemitic incidents involving threats or abuse during the period October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, compared with 331 in the same previous period.  Antisemitic incidents included graffiti and use of Nazi symbols, verbal abuse, assault, harassment, and intimidation, including a white supremacy rally in Victoria in January, where demonstrators chanted “Heil Hitler,” and in Melbourne in August, where antisemitic stickers were placed on cars.

The U.S. embassy and consulates general engaged government officials and a wide range of religious leaders, faith communities, and groups on the importance of respect for religious freedom and tolerance, including the need to counter threats to religious freedom and to support individuals persecuted for their religion.

Austria

Executive Summary

Historical and modern constitutional documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination.  The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups and classifies registered religious groups into one of three categories:  religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations.  The 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits.  Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.”  The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam researched, disseminated information on, and organized workshops pertaining to what it described as Muslim extremism.  The Jewish Community (IKG) partnered with the government to hold workshops for teachers and personnel working with immigrant and refugee groups to combat antisemitism among the latter groups.  In July, parliament amended the law pertaining to Muslims as part of an antiterrorism package providing for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad.  The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGO) opposed the amendment, which it said applied only to the Muslim community, was discriminatory, and interfered with religious freedom.  In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website with an “Islam Map” listing Islamic institutions in the country.  Religious and civil society groups criticized the map – and the center for publicizing it – stating it violated data privacy rules and endangered the lives of Muslims in the country by giving right-wing extremist groups the ability to target them.  In January, the government presented its strategy to combat antisemitism, which called for enhancing education about Judaism, improving security of Jewish sites, and more-vigorous prosecution of antisemitic crimes, and launched an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate the strategy.  A survey commissioned by parliament found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and that more than a quarter of respondents agreed with statements that Jews dominated the business world and took advantage of having been victimized by the Nazis.  Citing the study, the parliamentary president said the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon.

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year.  For all of 2020, the ministry cited 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six crimes, respectively, in the previous year.  In 2020, the most recent year for which it had data, IGGO reported 1,402 anti-Muslim incidents, one-third more than in the previous year.  The IKG reported 562 antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year, more than double the number over the same period in the previous year; there were 585 such incidents in all of 2020.  Most incidents involved hate speech, especially on the internet, but there were also incidents of assault.  For example, in Vienna in May, a man threw rocks at a Jewish family wearing traditional religious clothing.  Government figures, unlike those from the IKG and IGGO, only included incidents in which authorities filed criminal charges.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy representatives met with officials from the Federal Chancellery and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to discuss religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with leaders from the IGGO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and various Orthodox churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination and interreligious dialogue, and the impact on their respective communities of the COVID-19 crisis.  In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the Muslim Youth Organization with an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements.  Embassy officials continued to serve on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, a governmental agency that promotes Holocaust remembrance.  In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video commemorating World War II.  In September, the embassy cohosted with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors.  In July, embassy staff hosted a lunch with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education.  Throughout the year, the embassy used social media platforms to deliver messages about religious freedom.

Azerbaijan

Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates the separation of religion and state and the equality of all religions before the law.  It also protects the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs and to practice religious rituals, provided these do not violate public order or public morality.  The law prohibits the government from interfering in religious activities; it also states the government and citizens have a responsibility to combat “religious extremism” and “radicalism.”  The law specifies the government may dissolve religious organizations if they cause racial, national, religious, or social animosity; proselytize in a way that “degrades human dignity”; or hinder secular education.  On June 16, President Ilham Aliyev signed into law 14 amendments to the religious freedom law.  Among other provisions, the new amendments forbid forcing children to practice religion, prohibit the promotion of religious extremism, disallow religious leaders from engaging in religious activities when employed by the state, provide government-approved religious centers the sole right to grant religious titles, and require religious communities to suspend their activities in the absence of a government-approved religious leader.  The government justified the amendments by the need for security.  Civil society organizations said the changes provided the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations (SCWRA), the government body that regulates religious affairs, with more control over religious groups.  In March, President Aliyev issued pardons for hundreds of prisoners and released many religious activists considered by human rights groups to be political prisoners.  The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued three judgments during the year related to violations of freedom of religion or belief in the country.  In two of the judgments, the ECHR found that the government had violated human rights, and it ordered compensation.  The first case involved a police raid on a meeting in which Muslims were studying the works of a Turkish theologian; the second involved the founders of a religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) that was denied registration by the government.  The court dismissed the third case related to freedom of religion or belief as inadmissible.  The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in a report issued April 26, stated that the government had violated the rights of six Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2013.  Throughout the year, courts continued reviewing appeals and, in many cases, shortened sentences and dropped charges against some of the individuals convicted after a July 2018 attack on the then head of the Ganja City Executive Committee and the subsequent killing of two police officers.  The government said the convicted individuals were part of a Shia “extremist conspiracy” to destabilize the country.  Authorities continued to initiate legal action against individuals associated with the unregistered Muslim Unity Movement (MUM), which the government characterized as an extremist group and accused of having received funding from Iran.  Civil society activists and human rights advocates said they considered the incarceration of MUM members to be politically motivated.  The government granted early release on September 13 to MUM activist Elvin Murvatoglu, arrested in 2020 on charges that were widely characterized as trumped up, prior to expiration of his 2.5-year prison sentence.  Some civil society organizations had identified Murvatoglu as a political prisoner.  The government exercised control over parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding territories, which Armenia-supported separatists had controlled until intensive fighting in 2020.  A September Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict noted the “catastrophic impact” of the long-running conflict “on the cultural heritage and property of the region, for which both Armenia and Azerbaijan have a responsibility.”  According to a bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church, since May, the government refused access of Armenian pilgrims to a monastery in the territory that returned to Azerbaijani control after the 2020 fighting.  Azerbaijanis continued to be unable to visit many mosques and religious sites due to mine contamination from the fighting.

The general public continued to show tolerance of, and in some cases financially supported, minority religious groups they viewed as “traditional” (i.e., those historically present in the country), including Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Catholics.  Some individuals viewed religious groups with less of a historical presence in the country with suspicion and mistrust.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged government officials to advocate for the release of individuals that civil society groups stated were imprisoned for their religious beliefs.  The Ambassador and embassy officers urged government officials to address longstanding problems involving the registration process for smaller religious communities and to implement a civilian alternative to military service for conscientious objectors, as stipulated in the constitution.  The Ambassador advocated at the highest levels of government for the protection of religious and cultural sites in the territories newly returned to Azerbaijani control after the 2020 fighting.  The embassy sent a diplomatic note protesting the expulsion of a U.S. citizen active in a religious community for an expired (nonrenewed) visa.  The Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with representatives of registered and unregistered religious groups and civil society to discuss religious freedom in the country.  Embassy officers also had consultations with religious leaders and scholars regarding the changes to the religious freedom law and discussed how these could affect free exercise of religion.

Bahamas

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religion is a fundamental right.  Individuals may practice freely the religion of their choice or practice no religion at all.  The law prohibits discrimination based on religion.  Some members of the Rastafarian community continued to state the government violated their constitutional right to religious freedom by prohibiting the legal use of marijuana in ceremonial rituals and detaining community members for using it.  The previous government had advanced, but not passed, legislation to permit limited use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.  The new administration of Prime Minister Philip Davis had not stated by year’s end whether it would reintroduce this or a similar bill.  In October the government began reviewing expungement applications from individuals convicted of possession.  The government engaged the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), comprised of religious leaders from Christian denominations, to discuss societal, political, and economic issues.

Some private entities required employees to either be vaccinated against COVID-19, which Rastafarians said they viewed as a violation of their religious beliefs, or pay for their own weekly tests.

U.S. embassy representatives met regularly with officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote tolerance and respect for religious diversity.  Embassy representatives also met with the BCC president and representatives of the Muslim, Rastafarian, and Jewish communities to promote societal tolerance for religious diversity and inquire about the effects of government policies, including COVID-19 restrictions, on religious freedom.

Bahrain

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam to be the official religion and sharia the principal source for legislation.  It provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of places of worship, and freedom to perform religious rites.  The constitution guarantees the right to express and publish opinions, provided these do not infringe on the “fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine.”  The law prohibits anti-Islamic publications and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.”  There is no legal prohibition against apostasy.  The penal code punishes any individual who mocks or disdains another religious group.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), media, and opposition outlets said the government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics.  NGOs stated prison authorities routinely denied Shia prisoners needed medical treatment more often than Sunni prisoners.  In August, family members and supporters posted on Twitter that inmates at Jaw Prison undertook a hunger strike, in part to protest religious discrimination and lack of access to medical facilities.  During the year, the government prosecuted a woman for blasphemy and defamation of Islam and other religions on social media platforms.  The government investigated 26 individuals for defamation of religions and convicted two of inciting religious hatred and sectarianism, and one of blasphemy.  Fifteen other cases were ongoing at year’s end.  In January, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa created two independent councils under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments (MOJIA) to oversee Sunni and Jaafari (Shia) endowments, with authority over endowment assets, including revenues and places of worship.  In February, exiled Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, residing in Iran, stated the move was “illegitimate” and “hostile” to Jaafari jurisprudence.  On February 24, a high criminal court sentenced two employees of the Jaafari Endowment to seven years imprisonment and a 68,000-dinar ($180,000) fine for embezzlement related to renovating Shia mosques.  The government continued to monitor, regulate, and provide general guidance for the content of religious sermons of both Sunni and Shia religious leaders.  While the government allowed large groups to gather in Manama and in Shia villages to observe Ashura – the most significant days of the Shia religious calendar – activists and opposition outlets, mostly based abroad, criticized the Ministry of Interior (MOI) for taking down Ashura banners in some places and summoning Shia leaders for questioning in connection with sermons they gave during the observance.  NGOs and some Shia clerics and opposition politicians stated that in August, authorities introduced several restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 that effectively repressed Ashura commemorations, including limiting attendance at houses of worship to 30 vaccinated adult individuals, and banning children from attending Ashura rituals.  Some Shia religious leaders and opposition politicians stated these restrictions were stricter than those applied to other public venues, and media commentators negatively compared the MOI’s response ahead of Ashura to more permissive government preparations for Hindu and Christian holidays.  According to Shia leaders and community activists, the government continued to discriminate against Shia citizens and to give Sunni citizens preferential treatment for scholarships and positions in the MOI and military.

Anti-Shia and anti-Sunni commentary appeared in social media.  NGOs reported on the adverse economic effect of Sunni-Shia tensions and local political divisions.  Shia human rights and political activists reported persistently higher unemployment rates, limited prospects for upward social mobility, and lower socioeconomic status for that community compared with the Sunni population.  Societal pressure against conversion from Islam continued, and non-Muslim religious community leaders again reported converts were unwilling to speak publicly or privately to family or associates about their conversions out of fear of harassment or discrimination.  Media reported that in August, Jews held services in the newly renovated synagogue in Manama for the first time since 1947, and in October, the community held the first Jewish wedding in the country in over 50 years.

U.S. government officials, the Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy representatives met with senior government officials, including the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments, and national human rights monitoring institutions to urge respect for freedom of religion and expression, including the right of religious leaders to speak and write freely, and to advocate for the full and equal participation of all citizens, irrespective of religious or political affiliation, in political and social activities and economic opportunities.  In both public and private settings, U.S. officials advocated for the government to pursue political reforms that would take into consideration the needs of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met regularly with religious leaders from a broad spectrum of faiths, representatives of NGOs, and political groups to discuss freedom of religion and freedom of expression as they related to religious practice.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

The constitution designates Islam as the state religion but upholds the principle of secularism.  It prohibits religious discrimination and provides for equality for all religions.  Family law, enforced in secular courts, contains separate provisions for different religious groups.  In response to widespread anti-Hindu communal violence from October 13-24 that left several persons dead, including Muslims and Hindus, the government condemned the attacks, provided aid and additional security to Hindu communities, and brought criminal charges against more than 20,000 individuals.  There were three high-profile convictions tied to religious issues during the year, with tribunals sentencing to death eight Islamic militants for killing a publisher in 2015, five men for the 2015 killing of an atheist blogger, and 14 members of a banned Islamist group for a conspiracy in 2000 to assassinate the Prime Minister.  In its stated effort to prevent militancy and to monitor mosques for “provocative” messaging, the government continued to provide guidance to imams throughout the country on the content of their sermons.  Members of religious minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians, who were sometimes also members of ethnic minorities, continued to say the government was ineffective in preventing forced evictions and land seizures stemming from land disputes.  The government continued to deploy law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considered possible targets for violence.

In response to a Facebook post on October 13 showing a copy of the Quran on the lap of a Hindu god inside a temple, crowds of Muslims attacked Hindu adherents, saying the Quran had been desecrated, and killed between four and 14 individuals, according to media, activists, and official estimates.  Crowds also attacked Hindu temples and property across the country, with violence continuing until October 24.  National Hindu leaders said Hindus, afraid of further violence, refrained from public celebrations of Diwali on November 4 in favor of private ceremonies in their temples and homes.  Worshipers covered their faces with black cloth to protest the lack of security for Hindus.  In June, according to Al-Jazeera, activists from an indigenous (non-Bengali ethnicity) minority group killed a member of their ethnic group for converting to Islam.  In May, media sources said Muslim students gravely injured four Christian students over an online video game dispute; one student later died from his injuries.  That same month, local news sources reported two Bengali men attacked and seriously injured a Buddhist indigenous monk in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).  In February, media sources reported a group of Muslims destroyed and stole property from a Christian church in Lalmonirhat District.  In March, local news outlets reported dozens of Muslims attacked Hindu residences in Sunamanj District regarding a Facebook post critical of an Islamic cleric.  In May, actor Chanchal Chowdhury received abusive comments online after his Mother’s Day Facebook post showing his mother with Hindu markings on her forehead.  In September, news sources said Rohingya Muslims denied the burial of a Rohingya Christian refugee inside the Kutapalong refugee camp.  Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report harassment, communal threats of physical violence, and the social isolation of Christian converts from Hinduism or Islam.  The Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) said communal violence against minorities continued throughout the year.

In meetings with government officials, civil society members, religious leaders, and in public statements, the U.S. Ambassador, other embassy representatives, and a senior Department of State official spoke out against acts of violence in the name of religion and urged the government to uphold the rights of minority religious groups and foster a climate of tolerance.  During the year, the Ambassador visited Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist places of worship to reinforce the U.S. commitment to religious diversity and interfaith tolerance.  In fiscal year 2021, the United States provided $302 million in humanitarian assistance funding for programs in the country to assist Rohingya refugees (who are overwhelmingly Muslim) from Burma and also to assist host communities.  Embassy public outreach programs encouraging interfaith tolerance among religious groups continued during the year.  Embassy social media messaging in support of religious tolerance reached more than 2.5 million persons.

Barbados

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion, and prohibit discrimination based on religious belief.  The government does not require religious groups to register and grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction.  No further legislative action occurred during the year on the government’s 2020 announcement to legalize same-sex civil unions or on holding a referendum on same-sex marriage, but some religious groups continued to oppose the legislation, stating they were committed to following their beliefs and were opposed to the idea of their churches sanctioning same-sex relationships.  Media reported sporadic small-scale protests, some organized by religious groups, opposing the legalization of same-sex unions.  Most religious leaders continued to say COVID-19 public health restrictions on gatherings, although applied equally in the country, adversely impacted their organizations.  Government officials engaged with religious leaders to support their public messaging to emphasize the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations.  In March, the government decriminalized the personal possession and use of up to 14 grams of marijuana, a change the Rastafarian community had previously sought.  Rastafarians continued to object to the government’s vaccination requirement for school enrollment and for home schooling.

Some church leaders said they had to defend their continued provision of limited in-person services following COVID-19 outbreaks among their members because social and media criticism advocated for the complete closure of all facilities involving public gatherings, including places of worship.  Following a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, religious leaders called for all to pray to help reduce the surge.

During the year, embassy officials engaged government officials, including from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on respect for religious diversity and tolerance and discussed opportunities to jointly promote these values.  On September 22, the Ambassador hosted an event with religious leaders to hear their perspectives on various social issues and to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities.  Representatives from the Anglican, Pentecostal, Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Church of the Nazarene, and Jewish communities participated.

Belarus

Executive Summary

The constitution grants the freedom to profess and practice any religious belief but prohibits religious activities directed against the sovereignty of the state, its constitutional system, and “civic harmony.”  A concordat grants the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) rights and privileges not granted to other religious groups, and the law recognizes the “determining role of the BOC” and historical importance of the “traditional faiths” of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism.  The law prohibits all religious activity by unregistered groups and requires all registered religious groups to obtain permits to proselytize or hold events outside of their premises, as well as prior approval from the authorities to import and distribute religious literature.  Some minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to report difficulty registering.  Authorities denied a Russian extradition request of a Jehovah’s Witness who had applied for political asylum.  BOC Archbishop Artsemi of Hrodna, who retired in June, said authorities successfully requested his removal for criticizing the authoritarian regime headed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka and its crackdown on protesters that ensued following the 2020 presidential election that local and international civil society groups and governments stated was fraudulent.  The authorities continued to repress peaceful protesters and supporters of the prodemocracy movement which emerged following the election, including clergy.  Human rights groups said authorities restricted clergy access to prisons, denied pastoral visits to some political prisoners, and confiscated necklaces with crosses from some prisoners.  According to observers, authorities continued surveillance of registered and unregistered religious groups.  In February, the authorities evicted the New Life Church from its church building as part of a longstanding dispute over the ownership of the property.

There were antisemitic comments on social media and in the comment sections of local online news articles, but the origin of the comments was undetermined.  Several religious groups reported instances of vandalism of their properties.  In March, the Homyel Jewish community reported its building was painted with Nazi symbols, and the Orthodox Saint Maria Magdalena Church in Navalukaml was vandalized.  In May, the Roman Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Minsk was vandalized.  Interdenominational Christian groups continued to work together on education and charitable projects.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials engaged with the Lukashenka regime on religious freedom issues, including registration of religious communities, state pressure on clergy, freedom to express and practice religious beliefs, freedom of expression for clergy who participated in activities that the state considered political, and antisemitism.  In December, the regime rejected a request by the Charge d’Affaires to further discuss these issues with its representative for religious affairs.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with Jewish groups to discuss antisemitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives also engaged with Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups, as well as with civil society activists to learn about their religious activities and discuss the regime’s actions affecting the exercise of religious freedom.  Embassy officials posted the Secretary of State’s speeches and other materials related to religious freedom on social media, affirming religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

Belgium

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation.  Federal law bans covering one’s face in public.  In June, the Flemish government resumed accepting applications for recognition from houses of worship after suspending them in 2017.  The Flemish government also moved to withdraw existing recognition from four mosques.  Numerous mosque recognition applications remained pending in the Brussels and Flanders regions.  A Ghent criminal court fined the Kraainem Jehovah’s Witness congregation 12,000 euros ($13,600) for inciting hatred or violence against former members.  The federal government expelled a Turkish imam from the country, stating he had posted homophobic comments online.  All regions except Brussels retained their ban on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, which Muslim and Jewish groups criticized for infringing on halal and kosher practices.  Despite an announcement by the coalition government elected in 2020 of its intention to recognize the Belgian Buddhist Union, which first applied for such status in 2008, at year’s end, the group remained unrecognized.

Unia, the Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities, an independent government agency that reviews discrimination complaints, reported that in 2020, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 115 antisemitic incidents (compared with 79 in 2019) and 261 incidents (336 in 2019) against other religious groups, 88 percent of which targeted Muslims.  Media reported increased hate speech against Jews during the year, and some Jews reported accusations blaming Jews for the spread of COVID-19.  On December 16, Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne stated that foreign influence and mismanagement within the Muslim Executive could justify a cutoff of government subsidies in 2022 if the executive did not carry out reforms.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 8 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Belgium said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister; at the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice; and with members of parliament to discuss anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and discrimination.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with civil society and religious leaders in Brussels and other communities to address anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and sentiment and to advocate religious tolerance.  The embassy continued to provide funding for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to implement a project to educate elementary aged students from varied backgrounds on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to break down stereotypes and combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Belize

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom to express one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.  The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.  In January and October, the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB) expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s proposal to legalize marijuana, noting it found “this shockingly offensive that in a national pandemic crisis” the new administration would put forward this issue in its first 100 days.  In a public statement in July, the Belize Council of Churches (BCC) raised concerns about the “integrity and strength” of the relationship between the churches and the government after Prime Minister John Briceno placed responsibility on the churches for reductions in teachers’ salaries, and for a perceived lack of proper consultation on the legalization of marijuana.  According to the BCC, the government did not fully consider its concerns regarding COVID-19 restrictions for the reopening of churches for in-person worship, and it felt it irrelevant the government had used the same policy approach for churches and businesses.  Methodist Bishop Alvin Moses Benguche served as the church senator representing all religious groups in the National Assembly.

Religious groups continued collaboration with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to support nationwide missionary work, curtailed due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.  The interfaith Belize Chaplain Service (BCS), under its stated objective to provide multifaith pastoral care to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the public, carried out outreach, especially to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, continued to reiterate the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with government officials, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and opposition representatives, and encouraged the government’s engagement with a wide spectrum of religious groups.  The Charge d’Affaires met with Senator Benguche, Anglican Bishop Philip Wright, and Catholic Bishop Lawrence Nicasio to discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on churches.  The embassy used social media to highlight the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.

Benin

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice.  The law bans forms of expression that incite discrimination, hatred, or violence against an individual or a group of people based on their religion.  The law also bans any expression – including religious sermons – that infringes on the values and symbols of the state.  All religious groups must register with the government.  Government officials at the department and municipal levels have the authority to issue orders suspending certain types of religious practice to maintain peace.  Police officials said they intervened in religious affairs primarily when there was a “disruption of public order.”  Religious leaders called for social peace ahead of the April 11 presidential election in which many political parties were deemed ineligible to participate and also engaged in mediation efforts to resolve the political crisis which resulted in the arrests of political opponents.

On September 6, a former priest of the Christian Church of Baname, Jean Claude Assogba, sent a letter to government authorities, diplomatic missions, and trade unions to denounce what he said were several abuses committed by the leadership of that church against followers, including fraud and physically harmful and occult practices.  As of year’s end, neither church leadership nor the government had responded to Assogba’s letter.

Embassy officials raised religious tolerance issues with government officials from the Ministries of Justice, Social Affairs, and Interior as well as mayors of several communes.  Embassy representatives regularly spoke with leaders of religious groups, including Muslim, Celestial Christian, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Voodoo, and other leaders in cities throughout the country to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  Throughout the year, the embassy also engaged with religious leaders in conducting its development activities and as part of its ongoing outreach to civil society organizations.  Embassy representatives also consulted regularly with practitioners and leaders from the Catholic, Celestial Christian, Muslim, Voodoo, and evangelical Christian communities on human rights issues.

Bhutan

Executive Summary

The constitution recognizes Buddhism as the state’s “spiritual heritage,” provides for freedom of religion, and bans discrimination based on religious belief.  The constitution states religious institutions and personalities shall remain “above politics.”  The law restricts religious speech and written communication promoting enmity among religious groups and requires religious groups to obtain licenses to hold public religious gatherings.  International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that the lack of clarity in the law addressing “inducements” to conversion placed the activities of minority religious groups at risk of legal sanction, although the country’s religious minority groups reported no such sanction or pressure during the year.  The government’s Commission for Religious Organizations (CRO) did not approve any new religious groups during the year.  Unregistered religious groups, including Christians, reported being able to worship in private, although unregistered groups were not permitted to organize publicly, own property, raise funds, conduct outreach activities, or import literature.  In its report for 2022 (which covered events in 2021) the international Christian NGO Open Doors alleged discrimination against Christians, stating that Christians often faced difficulty obtaining “nonobjection certificates” from local authorities; these were required for loan and employment applications, property registration and renewing identification cards.  One local organization said this was not the case, except when the applicant had a criminal record.  Members of the Hindu Dharmic Samudaya, one of eight religious organizations on the CRO’s board, continued to cite strong official support for Hindu religious practice.

Some converts reported continued societal pressure on individuals to participate in Buddhist traditions and practices.  Open Doors said converts to Christianity faced intense pressure to return to their former religion, especially from their relatives, who viewed their conversions as bringing shame to their entire family.

The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan; the U.S. embassy in New Delhi oversees unofficial bilateral relations.  During the year, the U.S. embassy engaged government officials on religious freedom issues and met virtually with community and religious leaders.

 

Bolivia

Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates the state is independent of religion and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion, and worship, expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private.”  The constitution and other laws accord educational institutions the right to teach religion, including indigenous spiritual belief classes.  COVID-19 restrictions led to administrative delays in implementing and enforcing a 2019 religious freedom law that created a clear distinction between nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious organizations, although government officials reported that the registration processing of religious groups had fully resumed by midyear.  In September, some evangelical Protestant leaders publicly opposed the government’s efforts to vaccinate the population against COVID-19.  Evangelical Protestant community representatives again reported several smaller religious communities with “house churches” preferred not to register their organizations because they did not want to provide the government access to private internal information.  On March 13, Roman Catholic bishops released a statement after authorities detained former interim president Jeanine Anez and accused her of promoting a coup against her predecessor, Evo Morales.  In their statement, the bishops said that “politics of revenge” and a justice system aligned with the ruling political power “do not create confidence in the people.”  In July, a Catholic Church official said the government’s public attacks against the Church created a hostile atmosphere that affected the perception many youths had of the Church.  The official said the government was delaying international clothing donations in customs and increasing the difficulty of obtaining documentation for missionaries.  On September 23, President Luis Arce delivered a speech at the UN General Assembly in which he accused the Catholic hierarchy of “participating in the breakdown of [Bolivia’s] constitutional order.”  On October 29, the government ombudsman reportedly led a march to the headquarters of the Episcopal Conference of Bolivia (BEC), representing Catholic bishops, where some protestors vandalized the premises with anti-Catholic slogans.

ccording to media, on October 31, groups supporting a right to abortion interrupted a Mass at the San Francisco Basilica and the San Miguel Church in La Paz and at the San Lorenzo the Martyr Cathedral in Santa Cruz, spray-painting the latter with red paint.  The activists criticized the Catholic Church in Santa Cruz for encouraging an 11-year-old pregnant girl, reportedly raped by a family member, to refuse to terminate the pregnancy.  In November, media reported a confrontation between a group of pro-abortion rights protesters and a group attempting to protect the Maria Auxiliadora Church in La Paz.

In November, embassy representatives met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) officials to discuss the challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on religious freedom and the status of implementation of the religious freedom law.  Embassy staff regularly engaged religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom.  The Charge d’Affaires met with religious leaders in October, including representatives from Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish groups, to encourage religious leaders to engage in interfaith dialogue, discuss the impact of COVID-19 in their communities, and hear their views on the current state of religious freedom.  Embassy officials met on other occasions with representatives from Muslim, evangelical Protestant, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Mennonite, and Catholic groups to discuss the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their congregations and their relationships with the government.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

The constitutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and each of the country’s two entities – the Federation of BiH (the Federation) and Republika Srpska (RS) – provide for freedom of religious thought and practice, prohibit religious discrimination, and allow registered religious organizations to operate freely.  The self-governing Brcko District follows national law on religious freedom.  The Federation constitution declares religion to be “a vital national interest” of the constituent peoples.  The RS constitution establishes the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.”  The BiH constitution reserves all positions in the Presidency and one house of parliament and certain other government offices to members of the three major ethnic groups, known as “constituent peoples” – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – who are predominantly SOC, Roman Catholic, and Muslim, respectively.  The government again failed to comply with a 2009 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision calling on it to open these positions to other minorities, although BiH political leaders were engaged in negotiations on an electoral and limited constitutional reform package that according to international experts would have included implementation of the court’s decision.  At year’s end, political leaders had not reached an agreement.  By law, no Muslim group may register or open a mosque without the approval of the government-recognized Islamic Community.  The government did not approve the reestablishment of two joint commissions required to implement agreements between the state and the Catholic Church and the SOC.  Religious groups reported no progress in efforts to obtain restitution for property confiscated during the communist period.  According to government officials, the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (MHRR) made only partial progress in implementing provisions of the national religious freedom law, including proposals to resolve the issues of rights to pension, disability allowance, and health insurance for religious officials, despite pledging to do so in 2019.  The BiH Presidency again failed to consider and approve a previously negotiated agreement that would provide religious accommodations to Muslim workers.  The Serb member of the Presidency stated the agreement would provide more rights to Muslims than to other communities, which the Islamic Community denied.  Religious groups, in communities where they are a minority, again reported authorities discriminated against them in providing services and protection.  Two courts dismissed a suit filed by a soldier in 2020 alleging religious discrimination because the Ministry of Defense prohibited her from wearing a headscarf at work.  Advocates for the soldier appealed to the Constitutional Court, where the case was pending at year’s end.  The 2021 European Commission Report on BiH reported continued ethnic segregation and discrimination in the education system.  Religious groups again reported inadequate investigation and prosecution of religiously motivated crimes.  According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Mission to the country, in 2020 (the most recent year for which data were available), courts adjudicated five cases involving religiously motivated incidents from 2020 and earlier.

The Interreligious Council of BiH (IRC) registered 23 reported acts of vandalism of religious buildings and three incidents against religious officials but said the number of actual incidents was likely much higher.  In February, an unknown perpetrator fired gunshots at the Aladza Mosque in Foca, a national monument.  In Livno Canton, several imams were verbally insulted.  In May, an unknown individual sprayed graffiti insulting Jesus on the walls of the Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Bihac.  In August, vandals broke the windows of an Orthodox church near Kupres and overturned the headstone of its founder.  The Jewish Community reported increased online antisemitic speech.  The OSCE reported 16 incidents targeting Muslims and 27 targeting Christians (Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Orthodox) in 2020 (the most recent data).  The incidents, all of which were reported to police, included threats against religious believers and officials, including Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic, disturbances of religious ceremonies, and vandalism.

With MHRR officials, U.S. embassy representatives emphasized the need to promote respect for religious diversity and enforce equal treatment for religious minorities and the importance of concluding the agreement with the Islamic Community and implementing agreements with the SOC and Catholic Church.  Embassy officials also urged government representatives to make greater efforts on implementation of the law on religious freedom.  In February, the Ambassador met with the BiH Presidency members, urging them to assist with the adoption of a framework law governing restitution of religious property confiscated under communism.  In June, the Ambassador met jointly in Mostar with Bishop of Mostar Duvno Diocese Petar Palic, Mostar Mufti Salem Effendi Dedovic, and Orthodox Bishop Dimitrije, the first time in decades that these officials met together.  They discussed interreligious dialogue, postwar recovery, and reconciliation.  In November, the Counselor of the Department of State met with the BiH religious leaders from the Islamic Community, the Catholic Church, and the Jewish Community to discuss their perspectives on the political crisis in BiH and encourage them to take a more active role on reconciliation and peacebuilding.  In regular meetings with religious groups, embassy officials continued to urge the groups to improve interreligious dialogue to help develop a peaceful and stable society.  The embassy continued to maintain regular contact with the IRC and fund some of its interfaith and reconciliation-themed activities.

Botswana

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, with certain exceptions, and protection against governmental discrimination based on creed.  An 18-month state of emergency that set strict caps on religious services and other group gatherings as a COVID-19 prevention measure ended September 30.  Police arrested a pastor as he tried to deliver a petition to the government outlining concerns that the COVID-19 restrictions prevented church members from seeking counseling and religious support during the pandemic.  Media reported that several of his supporters were beaten by police when they gathered outside the station demanding his release.

Representatives of religious organizations said the country continued to have a high degree of religious tolerance and robust interfaith relations.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives of different faith groups to discuss religious freedom, interreligious relations, community engagement, and the role of the interfaith community in social change, including attitudes on HIV/AIDS and other public health issues.  Specific topics included government tolerance of minority religious groups, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on religious expression, and the importance of interfaith cooperation to address community challenges.

Brazil

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs, and prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion.  In April, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) found unconstitutional a 2015 Amazonas State law requiring schools and libraries to keep at least one copy of the Bible in their collections on the grounds it violated the principle of state secularism.  In February, the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly established a commission of inquiry to investigate increasing religious intolerance and to discuss strategies to promote religious freedom.  In April, the STF upheld as constitutional COVID-19-related government decrees to close religious institutions; some religious groups protested government COVID-19 restrictions on the numbers of worshippers allowed to attend events.  In June, the state of Rio de Janeiro enabled individuals to use the military police’s 190 hotline to report acts of religious intolerance.  In March, the state of Sao Paulo approved a religious freedom law that regulated the constitutional principle of free exercise of faith and established fines of up to 87,000 reais ($15,300) for disturbances of religious ceremonies and cults, vandalism of sacred symbols, and discrimination based on religion in schools.  In July, a Sao Paulo judge acquitted a mother on charges of domestic violence filed after her daughter participated in a Candomble ritual.  The judge stated religious freedom was a constitutional right and there was no justification to restrict a Candomble ritual.  In July, in the state of Maranhao, Afro-Brazilian religious institutions, activists combating religious intolerance, and state government representatives discussed strategies to end attacks on terreiros (temples used in Afro-Brazilian religions).  In August, the federal police launched Operation White Rose to investigate crimes of discrimination or prejudice based on intolerance and the spread of Nazi symbols.  Civil police and the Public Ministry investigated the spread of hatred and threats of violence on social media, including against Jews; in December, civil police and prosecutors launched a series of actions, serving arrest and search and seizure warrants across seven states.  In May, the Sao Paulo Secretary of Justice, through the Inter-Religious Forum for a Culture of Peace and Freedom of Faith, conducted a webinar with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to discuss freedom of religion to promote peace and tolerance in the country and worldwide.  On January 21, municipalities throughout the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.

According to press reporting, anecdotal evidence, and other sources, societal respect for practitioners of minority religions – especially Afro-Brazilian religions – continued to be weak, and attacks on terreiros continued.  According to the National Secretariat of Human Rights of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, during the year, the National Human Rights Hotline received 581 calls reporting religious intolerance, compared with 566 reports in 2020.  Media reported individuals set fire to and destroyed Afro-Brazilian places of worship and sacred objects, sometimes injuring or threatening worshippers.  In July, a supermarket employee said his employer verbally harassed and ultimately dismissed him for wearing a protective facemask bearing an Afro-Brazilian deity.  An August report published by the press outlet Globo showed that in the first five months of the year, federal police investigated 36 cases of violations of the country’s laws against the use of symbols to publicize Nazism, a rate on track to be somewhat fewer than the 110 cases opened in calendar year 2020.  A journalist working for one of the country’s largest broadcasters stated that Brazil could attain the economic development enjoyed by Germany “only by attacking Jews.  If we kill a gazillion Jews and appropriate their economic power, then Brazil will get rich.  That’s what happened with Germany after the war.”  In the Israelite Federation of Sao Paulo State’s (FISESP) annual Antisemitism Report, it recorded 57 incidents and allegations of antisemitism in the country from January to July, compared with 149 incidents and allegations during the same period in 2020.  FISESP also reported a total of 92 incidents at year’s end.  FISESP attributed the drop in recorded cases to difficulties in collecting data during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, when local branch offices were closed.  Media and religious organizations reported an increased number of accounts of hate speech directed at religious minorities on social media and the internet, in particular against practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and Jews.  In June, the Federal Public Ministry indicted a man for incitement of Nazism in 2015 on a Russian social network internet site.

During the year, embassy officials assisted the government’s efforts to address the spread of hatred and threats of violence against religious groups.  In January, the embassy organized a virtual roundtable with representatives from religious groups, academia, and the government, including a federal prosecutor, a professor from the University of Chicago, and representatives of both the Interfaith Forum in Sao Paulo and the Muslim Federation of Associations in Brazil, to discuss the legal instruments available in the country to promote tolerance and inclusion.  In August, the Consul General in Sao Paulo met with representatives from Jewish organizations including the Jewish Confederation of Brazil (CONIB), CONIB-Sao Paulo, the Albert Einstein Hospital, and the Harmony Club, a social and cultural club maintained by the Jewish community in Sao Paulo, to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  In October, the Consul General in Rio de Janeiro met Afro-Brazilian religious leaders, community activists, and lawmakers during a meeting at Rio’s Museum of the Republic to discuss religious intolerance against Afro-Brazilian religious communities.  On December 22, the Consul General in Sao Paulo met with the Archbishop of Sao Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer, to discuss interfaith dialogue, the impact of COVID-19 on religious groups, and human rights in the country.

Brunei

Executive Summary

The constitution states that while the official religion is the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam, all other religions may be practiced “in peace and harmony.”  The government enforces the Sharia Penal Code (SPC), which states offenses such as apostasy and blasphemy are punishable by corporal and capital punishment, including stoning to death, amputation of hands or feet, or caning.  Apart from caning, however, no capital or corporal punishments have been handed down or enforced since 1957.  A 2019 de facto moratorium on the death penalty remained in place.  The SPC, in force in parallel with the common law-based secular penal code, applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, including foreigners, with non-Muslims exempted from certain sections.  Under the SPC, the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) and Religious Enforcement Division officers under the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) cooperate on investigations of crimes covered by both secular law and sharia.  The government permitted members of non-Muslim religious minorities to practice their faiths but continued its official ban of religious groups it considers “deviant,” including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Baha’i Faith, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  All places of worship were closed in August due to a COVID-19 outbreak, but MORA and Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) did not officially inform non-Islamic places of worship of the closure.  The government did not ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), but the Foreign Minister reported the ratification process was ongoing.  Non-Muslims and members of Muslim minorities again reported no significant changes with respect to the practice of minority religions since the full implementation of the SPC in 2019 but noted that the law continued to impose restrictions on the ability of non-Muslims to proselytize.  Custom and Excise officers confiscated a Bible mailed to a foreign worker by his wife for personal use in October.  Custom officials reported the worker could reclaim the Bible because it was for personal use, but the process required a claimant to seek written approval from RBPF, the Internal Security Department, and MORA’s Islamic Learning Center before it could be returned.

Non-Muslims and Muslims continued to face social pressure to conform to Islamic guidelines regarding behavior.  Following the death in May of Cardinal Cornelius Sim, the country’s first Roman Catholic cardinal, many individuals from various faith backgrounds used online forums to praise the Cardinal’s work.   Legislative council member Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash-ari faced social media criticism after she reintroduced a 2012 proposal for MOHA to open village head positions to women in the March annual parliamentary sessions.  Many social media users stated women should be ineligible for these positions due to Islamic responsibilities mixed in with the village head’s otherwise administrative role.  Social media users expressed anger concerning the acquittal of a religion teacher on sexual abuse charges, saying the government gave him preferential treatment due to his association with MORA.  Reports indicated that some individuals who wished to convert to another religion feared ostracism by friends, family, and their community.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officers engaged throughout the year with senior government officials regarding the effects of the SPC on religious freedom, the ratification of UNCAT, and the protection of minority religious rights.  The Charge d’Affaires also encouraged MORA to support religious freedom by resuming interfaith dialogues with religious minorities.  U.S. officials continued to coordinate with other governments, including Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, regarding shared concerns about the SPC.  Embassy officials visited places of worship and spoke with leaders of various religious groups to discuss the concerns of religious minorities regarding the implications of the SPC for non-Muslims and the limitations placed on the open practice of religions other than Islam.  Embassy officials emphasized U.S. support for religious freedom and encouraged religious minority groups to maintain communication with the embassy.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience.  Religious groups may worship without registering, but registered groups receive financial and other benefits and legal protections.  The constitution recognizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion, and the law exempts the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) from registration.  In February, the Plovdiv Appellate Court confirmed the sentences of 12 Romani Muslims convicted in 2019 of supporting ISIS and spreading Salafi Islam, among other charges.  The 12 individuals appealed the ruling.  Muslim leaders again said several municipalities denied permission to build new or rehabilitate existing religious facilities.  In May, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled Shumen Municipality’s ordinance restricting proselytizing did not violate the constitution.  In March, the Sofia Appellate Court rejected a restitution claim by the International Missionary Society Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference on land in Sofia.  In February, Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova canceled an annual march (after it had begun) honoring 1940s pro-Nazi leader Hristo Lukov on procedural grounds after the city was unable to legally ban the event.  In February, Jewish groups strongly protested remarks by a television quiz show host on Bulgarian National Television denying there were gas chambers in Nazi extermination camps and stating that Jews disliked working, especially in the camps, preferring others “to do all the work so that they can collect the profit.”  The director general of the station and the show’s host apologized for the remarks.  According to NGOs, souvenirs exhibiting Nazi insignias and imagery continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country and few local governments responded to complaints about them.

Antisemitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly in online comments and on social networking sites, for example, calling Jews “lampshades,” and in online media articles and in the mainstream press.  Antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas and offensive slurs appeared in public places.  The Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO) Shalom reported increased incidents of antisemitic hate speech online in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing election campaigns, and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported no instances of harassment or threats from the public, which they attributed to moving most of their activity online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with relevant government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Directorate for Human Rights, the Council of Ministers’ Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, and local governments regularly to discuss cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue among the community.  The Ambassador and embassy officials also met with the National Council of Religious Communities (NCRC) and discussed how to involve the BOC more in interreligious activities.  Embassy officials regularly met with religious groups and supported civil society efforts to encourage tolerance and stimulate interfaith dialogue, although the frequency of such engagements decreased.

Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice.  The government and religious authorities frequently stressed the importance of tolerance and social cohesion and warned against the messages conveyed by terrorist groups, who the government said were trying to divide the country.  In August, the country’s first terrrorism-related criminal proceedings began in the capital.  One of the five convicted defendants confessed to membership in Ansaroul Islam, a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization, and said he joined the group to “defend the Muslim religion.”  In October, senior government officials indicated the government was monitoring preaching that could promote violence or intolerance on social media using the National Observatory for Religious Information (ONAFAR).  On August 8, President Roch Kabore attended the second annual congress of the Islamic Federation of Burkina Faso (FAIB), during which FAIB’s president condemned terrorist acts, stating that, “Islam is a religion of peace and of respect for human life.”

International media reported that terrorist groups, armed insurgents, and jihadists continued their campaign of violence and sometimes targeted places of worship or religious leaders.  Domestic and transnational terrorist groups conducted more attacks and inflicted more violence against civilians than in the previous year, including numerous targeted killings based on religious identity, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Attackers killed or kidnapped imams, other clergy, and worshippers, while attacking and destroying mosques and churches.  Although responsibility for many attacks in the country went unclaimed, observers attributed most to known terrorist groups Ansaroul Islam, Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), all three designated by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations.  Media reported numerous specific incidents of violence.  An ambush on a group of villagers gathered for a Muslim naming ceremony on May 18 killed 15 Muslims in the Adjarara area of Oudalan Province.  On April 11, violent extremists killed two persons in front of the mosque of Babonga, Yagha Province.  On May 30, militants killed the imam of Bouli, in the Centre-Nord Region, along with his son, the village chief, and a member of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland, an armed group established by the government during the year as additional support for government security forces.  On July 21, violent extremists killed a man in front of the mosque of Boudieri.  In all these attacks the victims were believed to be Muslim.  Media and international NGOs reported on violent enforcement by organizations characterized as extremist of the insurgents’ interpretation of Islamic law in the region, with the threat of violence for noncompliance.  For example, attackers forced members of communities in the northern part of the country to dress in specific “Islamic” garb, but observers noted this was also occurring across other areas of the country.  Terrorists attacked and destroyed schools and killed teachers for teaching a secular curriculum and for teaching in French rather than Arabic, according to media reports.  As of November 30, approximately 3,000 schools had been closed, depriving nearly 500,000 students of the ability to attend school.

Human rights organizations and religious groups continued to express concern that religiously targeted violence had harmed what they termed the traditional peaceful coexistence of religious groups in the country.  Academic and other observers stated that there exists stigmatization of the mostly Muslim ethnic-Fulani community because of the community’s perceived sympathy for those Islamists who are seen as militant, violent, and who recruited ethnic-Fulani to join related armed groups.  This perception and activity aggravated existing societal tensions and posed a threat to stability.  Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches continued to state that despite an increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread as a common value, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations.  Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions such as FAIB, which conducted awareness campaigns throughout the country.

U.S. embassy officials discussed with a wide range of government agencies and officials, including the Office of the President, the continued increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and Est Regions.  In addition, embassy staff met with religious leaders to encourage and promote values of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and active civil dialogue on these subjects.  Throughout the year, the Ambassador met with imams and other Muslim leaders, and Catholic and Protestant leaders to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance, and to hear their concerns.  During the year, the embassy also conducted regular outreach with religious figures and religiously oriented civil society organization leaders to understand current threats to religious freedom and tolerance in the country as a result of the unprecedented level of violence against both Christians and Muslims.

Burma

On February 1, the military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government, declaring a state of emergency and creating a State Administration Council (SAC), a military-run administrative organization led by armed forces Commander-in-Chief (CINC) Min Aung Hlaing that assumed executive, legislative, and judicial functions.  On February 5, democratically elected parliamentarians from the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other prodemocracy political parties formed the Committee Representing the Union Parliament (CRPH) before announcing the self-proclaimed “National Unity Government” (NUG) on April 16.  Governance in the country remained contested through the end of year.

Executive Summary

The 2008 constitution, drafted by the military, guarantees every citizen “the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality, or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.”  The law prohibits speech or acts insulting or defaming any religion or religious beliefs.  In December, the OHCHR stated that, since the coup, regime security forces had committed “an alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses.”  As was the case in previous years and following the military coup in February, it was sometimes difficult to categorize incidents based solely on religious identity due to the close linkage between religion and ethnicity.  During the year, there were reports of threats, detentions, and violence targeting minority religious and ethnoreligious groups.  On May 24, media reported military forces bombed the Sacred Heart Church in Kayan Tharyar, Kayah State, killing four persons who had taken refuge there.  According to media, on May 28, military forces fired upon the church of Saint Joseph in Demoso, Kayah State, and killed two men who were collecting food for internally displaced persons (IDPs).  In April, local media reported that residents found the body of a Muslim muezzin, who was wearing a dress and lipstick, hanging in a mosque in Yangon Region.  Residents said regime security forces likely had killed him.  In September, regime soldiers shot and killed a Christian pastor in Chin State while he attempted to extinguish a fire started by artillery fire.  In June, the prodemocracy NUG issued a statement promising to “seek justice and accountability” for crimes committed by military forces against more than 740,000 Rohingya and said if it returned to government, it would repeal a 1982 law denying citizenship to most Rohingya.  In August, the NUG issued a statement in which it held the military regime responsible for having “perpetuated crimes against humanity,” including war crimes committed on the basis of religion.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that regime authorities had confined 144,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya in camps within Rakhine State at year’s end.  The government enforced extensive restrictions on in-country movement of Rohingya.  According to humanitarian aid organizations, regime authorities made no genuine efforts to initiate the return of Rohingya refugees.  In September, regime security forces arrested 30 Rohingya traveling without documentation and sentenced them to two years in prison.  According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a nonprofit human rights organization, as of December 6, the regime had detained 35 Buddhist monks and nine Christian leaders since the military coup.  The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), established by the UN Human Rights Council to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011 and to prepare files to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, continued to engage with local actors, including the NUG, to collect evidence of potential crimes but was not able to travel inside the country during the year.  According to leaders of minority religious communities and human rights activists, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the inconsistent enforcement and interpretation of government regulations, in place before the coup and continuing afterward, exacerbated communal disparities during the year, with harsher outcomes reported for minority religious communities.  Religious leaders also expressed concern that the regime might misconstrue religious assembly as part of prodemocracy activities.

According to local media, some armed ethnic organizations operating in the country continued to pose a threat to ethnic and religious minority groups, including the Arakan Army (AA), which continued to force local villagers, including Christian religious leaders, to work without pay and recruited villagers to attend military training camp.  In September, gunmen shot and killed Rohingya Muslim activist and community leader Mohib Ullah in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.  According to press reports, Ullah’s killers were likely associated with the insurgent group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).  Ullah had spoken out against ARSA militancy and abuses in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

In July, the NUG announced its appointment of a Rohingya activist as an advisor to its “Ministry of Human Rights.”  Members of ethnic minorities said they continued to face discrimination based on their ethnicity and religion.  Rohingya continued to be perceived as foreigners, irrespective of their citizenship status, and as members of a religion commonly viewed with fear and disdain.  There were continued reports of social stigma surrounding any assistance to or sympathy for Rohingya.  Some civil society leaders said that even among otherwise tolerant individuals, anti-Rohingya sentiment remained prevalent.  Some local media reports, however, said the Bamar ethnic majority’s empathy for the decades of persecution suffered by Rohingya and other minorities had grown due to their own post-coup experiences.  A June public opinion poll found that when asked about relations among persons of different faiths in the country, 47 percent of respondents said that strict protection of one’s own religion would provide a stronger foundation for democracy in the future, while 48 percent said that granting more rights to religious minorities would provide a stronger foundation for democracy in the future.

Senior U.S. government officials – including the Secretary of State, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ambassador, and senior Department of State officials for East Asia and for human rights – consistently raised ongoing U.S. government concerns about religious freedom with the regime and other internal political actors, as well as with international organizations and also engaged in advocacy on social media calling for an inclusive democracy that respects all ethnicities and religions.  Concerns raised included the plight of Rohingya in Rakhine State, hardships facing minority religious communities in Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Shan, and Chin States amid escalating post-coup violence.  The U.S. government pressed for full accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations, including those concerning religious freedom.  The embassy amplified the Department of State spokesperson’s message on the fourth anniversary of the military’s August 25, 2017, ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State.[1]  U.S. government officials continued to call for sustainable solutions to address the root causes of discrimination and religiously motivated violence.  While embassy facilities in Yangon and Mandalay suspended most of their public programs following the coup, the embassy continued to prioritize ethnic and religious diversity in its exchange programs, selecting participants from Shan, Wa, Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Rakhine, and Mon ethnic groups, many of whom belong to religious minority groups.  Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, continued to engage with Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu leaders, including ethnic minority religious leaders, members of faculties of theology, and other religiously affiliated organizations and NGOs, to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance.

Since 1999, Burma has been designated 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 November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Burma as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c) (5) of the Act.

Burundi

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of conscience and religion.  It prohibits political parties from preaching religious violence or hate.  Laws regulating religious groups require them to register with the Ministry of Interior, and religious groups must meet certain standards, including a minimum number of adherents, in order to seek registration.  Authorities released former Seventh-day Adventist Church president Lameck Barishinga from prison in February without charges; he had been imprisoned since October 2019.  In October, police arrested and imprisoned approximately 40 followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana, considered a Catholic prophet by her followers, after they attempted to visit a shrine in Kayanza Province.  The Islamic Community of Burundi failed to elect a new mufti after the apparent forced withdrawal of a leading candidate in January and the Minister of Interior, Public Security, and Community Development refused to accept the outcome of February elections.  In October, the Minister of Interior called for near-term elections for a new mufti amid media reports suggesting the ministry was orchestrating vote rigging.  In June, Imam Rashid Ndikumana of Bujumbura was arrested after he accused the Minister of Interior, Public Security, and Community Development of attacking Islam and demanding the minister’s resignation and apology for remarks requesting that mosques lower the volume of early-morning calls to prayer so as not to disturb the public.  President Evariste Ndayishimiye met with the Catholic Bishops Conference of Burundi in August to review the Catholic Church’s role as a major collaborator with state institutions in education, national reconciliation, and community development, and the bishops committed to encouraging congregants to support development projects.

The Independent National Human Rights Commission organized a workshop and training session for religious leaders to promote and protect human rights, including the rights of prisoners.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with key religious leaders, including from the Anglican and Catholic Churches and Muslim communities, to discuss ways to improve religious freedom in the country and confront other challenges, as well as ways to promote peace and reconciliation.  In September, the embassy extended for two more years its support of the Inter-Religious Council of Burundi.

Cabo Verde

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws protect the right of individuals to choose, practice, profess, and change their religion.  The law provides for freedom of religion and worship and provides for equal rights in accordance with the constitution and international law.  The law requires religious groups to prove they have 500 members before they may register formally as such and accords registered groups certain rights and privileges.  Under a concordat with the Holy See, the government recognizes the legal status of the Catholic Church and Catholic marriages under civil law.  All of the country’s prisons suspended activities, including religious assistance such as visits from clergy, during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although they gradually resumed some assistance at the end of the year.  In October, the Ministry of Justice held a four-day National Meeting on Social Reintegration (of former inmates) with representatives of major religious groups.  In November, President Jose Maria Neves met with Church of the Nazarene General Superintendent Eugenio Duarte, originally from Cabo Verde, to discuss the role of the Church in Cabo Verdean society.  In July and August, the responsible government minister met with representatives of multiple Christian denominations to underscore the government’s stated interest in contributing to the development of the social projects of those institutions.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

In meetings with government officials, the Ambassador stressed the importance of religious tolerance.  In December, the Ambassador underscored the significance of religious freedom during a gathering of senior officials and Cabo Verdeans of Jewish descent to commemorate the Cabo Verde Jewish Heritage Project.  The embassy partnered with civil society groups, including those with close ties to religious organizations, to support programs of mutual interest, such as strengthening laws that prohibit discrimination on a number of bases, including religion.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

The constitution states Buddhism is the state religion, which is promoted by the government through holiday observances, religious training, Buddhist instruction in public schools, and financial support to Buddhist institutions.  The law provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, provided such freedom neither interferes with others’ beliefs and religions nor violates public order and security.  The law does not allow non-Buddhist denominations to proselytize publicly.  In December, the government issued a directive restricting monks from participating in political protests and requiring they be politically neutral.  The Ministry of Cults and Religions (MCR), in consultation with religious leaders of several faiths, prepared a draft law criminalizing “religious people” who participate in political acts, including “organized activity against any political party.”  Shortly after a March government order that all COVID-19 victims’ remains should be cremated, Prime Minister Hun Sen met with Muslim groups to discuss their concerns about the requirement.  Responding to public appeals to allow for religious burial rites, in early April, the Prime Minister dedicated land in Kampong Speu Province for the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims.  Land issues affected some indigenous communities’ spiritual practices.  The government continued to deny an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) request to accept permanently a group of Christian Montagnards from Vietnam who came to the country to claim refugee status.

Indigenous rights groups accused individuals they characterized as “wealthy and powerful” of illegally clearing forests that were religious sites for some indigenous peoples in order to profit from logging or to convert the land to commercial purposes.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials met with government officials to promote religious freedom and to discourage the use of the COVID-19 pandemic as a basis for discrimination against certain religious groups.  The Ambassador also used his social media platforms to promote tolerance for different religious practices in the country.  During the year, the Ambassador met with Muslim leaders and members of the ethnic Cham minority on several provincial outreach trips.  The embassy conducted outreach to minority religious groups – including Muslims, indigenous peoples practicing animist religions, and the country’s Christian community – to obtain first-hand views on the government’s and society’s tolerance of and support for these groups’ religious practices.  Some embassy programs focused on the preservation of religious cultural sites.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship.  According to media reports and religious leaders, most abuses involving religious freedom occurred in the predominantly English-speaking Northwest and Southwest Regions, where violence associated with the separatist crisis continued.  Because religion, ethnicity, and political ideology are closely linked, it was often difficult to determine whether incidents were predominantly motivated by religion.  In August, gunmen killed a woman and wounded a pastor at a Protestant church in Bali, Northwest Region.  The pastor said the gunmen were government soldiers, while the Ministry of Defense said separatists attacking a government patrol caused the casualties.  In October, government forces accompanied by Muslim Mbororo herders killed at least seven residents and burned homes in the mostly Christian town of Wum, Northwest Region, according to multiple sources.  The incident exacerbated preexisting tensions between the two religious communities, according to local residents.  In June, security forces arrested a Catholic priest in Vekovi, Northwest Region, who had previously been captured and maintained in separatist custody more than once; security forces accused the priest of collaborating with separatists and detained him for four days before releasing him on bail.  In multiple instances, government forces in search of separatists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions destroyed church buildings and clerical residences.  On at least two occasions, security forces looking for separatists interrupted church services in Bui, Northwest Region and compelled the worshippers to leave.  Multiple religious leaders said that their churches were targets in the fighting between security forces and separatists and underscored that the constant fighting discouraged parishioners from attending worship services.  In April, the governor of Adamawa Region suspended night prayers at mosques during Ramadan to prevent the spread of COVID-19; some residents said this restricted their freedom of worship.  Religious leaders expressed frustration with the government’s continued failure to register new religious groups and said many requests were pending.

The U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) launched violent attacks against local communities, disrupted church activities, and abducted civilians, including Christian women and girls, whom they often sexually abused and forced into marriage with Muslim men.  The media reported that ISIS-WA was strictly applying sharia in the areas of the country around Lake Chad under its control.  Suspected Boko Haram terrorists damaged at least one church building in Krawa-Mafa, Far North Region.  In February, Muslim Mbororo herders in Nwa, Northwest Region killed 13 members of the mostly Christian settled population and burned three churches and the home of a local pastor reportedly in response to Christian attacks in the area against members of the Mbororo community.  According to a pastor in the area, the separatist crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions had exacerbated tensions, especially as Mbororos regularly allied with the military against separatists.  In June, media reported that separatists attacked priests at a Catholic pastoral center in Mamfe, Southwest Region, killing two individuals and wounding at least 11 others.  Also, in Mamfe, separatists on two occasions abducted Catholic priests and released them after negotiations.  A priest in Mamfe said a perception that the Catholic Church was wealthy made it a major target of some groups who regularly threatened and abducted priests for ransom.  In one instance in Mamfe, the abductors said they had taken a priest as a warning to the Catholic Church, which they considered allied with the government and opposed to the independence of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  In October, gunmen abducted the congregational chairperson of a Protestant church in Bamenda; the national Protestant church organization said separatists carried out the abduction.  In May, separatists in Kumbo, Northwest Region fired gunshots during a commemorative Catholic worship service.  Pro-separatist media later reported that the separatists opposed the presence at the event of the Northwest Region governor and viewed his presence as evidence the Church was collaborating with the government.

In September, tensions escalated between Muslims and Christians in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region when the leading imam in the area accused authorities at a Catholic high school of attempting to convert Muslim students by compelling them to wear badges bearing a cross on their school uniforms.  After government-led mediation, both sides agreed that Muslim students at the school would be exempt from the requirement, but many Muslim parents withdrew their children from the school after the incident.  The Catholic Archdiocese of Bamenda reported that unidentified individuals removed sacred items from two churches in Njinikom, Northwest Region during the year.  Throughout the year, Muslim and Christian leaders initiated interfaith activities aimed at facilitating interreligious dialogue, promoting peaceful coexistence of different faiths, and seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions where separatists were seeking secession.  Muslim and Christian leaders also collaborated with the government and international organizations to encourage their faith communities to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

In March and in October, embassy officials discussed interreligious tensions and terrorist attacks with government officials, including three mayors in the East and Adamawa Regions.  In May, the embassy hosted a religious freedom roundtable with a diverse group of prominent religious leaders.  In other engagements with Muslim and Christian leaders and civil society groups, embassy officials also discussed interreligious dialogue, communal tensions, and the views of Muslim leaders regarding Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks in the Far North Region.  In discussions with leading figures from the main religious groups, embassy officers stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue and the role of religious leaders in the search for a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  In March, the embassy issued a press release condemning communal violence between Muslim Mbororos and the Christian community in Nwa and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

Canada

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register, but some registered groups may receive tax-exempt status.  Provincial governments continued to impose societal-wide restrictions on assembly, including for all faith groups, to limit the transmission of COVID-19.  Some religious communities said provincial orders and additional measures were discriminatory against religious groups because mass gatherings for sports events and other functions were permitted.  There were multiple reports across the country of clergy opposing or refusing to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions on the grounds that the restrictions infringed on religious freedom.  In October, a Manitoba judge ruled provincial restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 were reasonable and did not violate constitutional rights to worship and to assemble for religious practice and dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by seven churches in Manitoba in June, according to press reports.  In the suit, the plaintiffs stated that public health orders that restricted in-person church services to 10 persons or 25 percent of capacity infringed on their religious freedom and caused a “crisis of conscience.”  The Quebec government filed an appeal in June of an April legal ruling that allowed limited exemptions to a 2019 provincial law prohibiting certain provincial government employees from wearing religious symbols while exercising their official functions.  The ruling exempted English-language schools in the majority French-speaking province and elected members of the provincial legislature but upheld the law for other categories of provincial employees.  In April, an Alberta school requested a judge overturn a decision by the Alberta Human Rights Commission ordering the school to allow two Muslim students to pray on school property and to pay compensation of 18,000 Canadian dollars ($14,100) to each of them, plus interest.  In July, a federal judge ruled that the federal government had denied Redeemer University in Ontario procedural fairness in its application for funding under the federal Canada Summer Jobs Program because it was a faith-based institution.  The judge ordered the government of Canada to pay the university’s legal fees.

Reports continued of anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents, including cases of violence, hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and vandalism.  In July, Statistics Canada reported 515 incidents of police-reported, religiously motivated hate crimes in 2020, 16 percent fewer than in 2019.  According to B’nai B’rith Canada, more antisemitic incidents were reported to the organization in May than in all of 2020, 2019, and 2018 combined.  The increase occurred at the same time protests were taking place across the country in response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  The group also stated that incidents of antisemitism tended to increase during federal or provincial election campaigns.  The B’nai B’rith Canada League for Human Rights recorded 2,610 reports of antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 2,207 in 2019.  According to press reports, in June, a man driving a truck in London, Ontario struck five members of a Muslim family, killing four of them.  Police said the driver targeted the family because they were Muslim and charged the driver with four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of terrorism.  The trial remained pending at year’s end.   In June, an unidentified man attacked two Muslim women in Alberta, grabbing one of the women by her hijab, pushing her to the ground, and knocking her unconscious, according to media reports.  In January, police charged a man with threatening to set fire to a place of worship and possession of incendiary materials after he painted swastikas on Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, one of Montreal’s largest synagogues, and brought a canister of gasoline to the site.  In July, unidentified individuals vandalized 11 churches, some Catholic and some Protestant, in Calgary, Alberta with red and orange paint.  In June and July, unidentified individuals set fire to several Roman Catholic churches in indigenous communities across the country after the discovery of unmarked graves believed to be of indigenous children on or near sites of former Indian residential schools.  Catholic and Protestant religious groups operated most of the schools and, according to media, the government funded them to force the assimilation of indigenous children into the dominant Canadian culture and strip them of their native culture, language, and religion.

Embassy, consulate, and other U.S. government officials emphasized the need for respect for religious freedom and diversity with national and provincial governments.  They likewise reaffirmed U.S. government commitment to addressing discrimination and exclusion through the U.S.-Canada Roadmap for Renewed Partnership.  The roadmap is a strategic document of shared policy priorities.  Embassy and other U.S. government officials met with representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss issues of religious freedom in the country, including religious expression, inclusion, and tolerance.  Throughout the year, the embassy and consulates used social media to amplify religious freedom messaging from senior Department of State officials.  In August, the consulate general in Calgary hosted a virtual panel on the intersection of identity and religion.  The event featured spokespersons from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths.  In July, a senior embassy official and in October, the Charge d’Affaires held roundtables with religious and secular leaders in Quebec City to discuss the relationship between religious freedom and secularism in Quebec.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the country as a secular state.  It also provides for freedom of religion and equal protection under the law regardless of religion and prohibits religious intolerance and “fundamentalism,” which is not defined in law.  Religious groups are required to register officially, and registration may be denied to groups deemed morally offensive or subversive.  The head of state must take an oath to fulfill duties of the office without consideration of religion.  During the year, the government increased its control over territory with assistance from UN forces, bilaterally deployed forces from neighboring countries, and forces from the Russia-backed Wagner Group.  However, challenges in consolidating military gains led to continued instability.  International and local observers stated that Muslim civilians were disproportionately targeted, and in some instances were killed indiscriminately, by government security forces and Wagner Group forces during operations against rebel groups in the central and northwestern areas of the country.  According to the UN, government forces and their allies were responsible for 46 percent of the incidents of abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law across the country between June 2020 and June 2021, with attacks by the government’s armed forces and their allies against Muslim communities increasing between February and June.  Observers stated that because the electoral code did not permit refugees living outside the country to vote, Muslims were underrepresented in the electorate, and they warned that Muslims – who comprised the majority of the country’s refugees sheltering in neighboring countries – could be disenfranchised in elections scheduled for 2022, just as they had been in December 2020 elections.  President Faustin-Archange Touadera, a Christian, attended Islamic prayer services during Eid celebrations in May and July.  The government also supported transitional justice and reconciliation efforts to address human rights abuses, including against the Muslim community, and engaged with Muslim civil society organizations.

Some Muslims remained displaced in the western part of the country.  Muslim community members and leaders reported continued social discrimination, marginalization, difficulty obtaining identification documents, underrepresentation in official and public spheres, security concerns, and what they described as inequality and injustice at all levels of society.  Traditional and social media outlets at times carried content that negatively portrayed Muslims.  International and local observers described the violence in the country as continuing along overlapping ethnic and religious lines, with political and economic power struggles as important root causes.  Senior Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Muslim leaders continued to promote interfaith dialogue throughout the country.  A survey of young persons in the capital, Bangui, carried out by an international nongovernmental organization (NGO), indicated that respondents rejected sectarian and ethnic division and blamed bad governance and political manipulation – not each other – for social ills.

U.S. embassy officials called on the government to provide security for all citizens, regardless of faith, following allegations of a September massacre of Fulani Muslims in the northwestern part of the country.  Embassy representatives also continued to raise concerns about religious freedom and the safe, voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home communities with the Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Humanitarian Affairs, and Public Security, encouraging government representatives to implement outreach activities directed at religious communities.  Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, advocated for the government to allow refugees living outside the country, who are mostly Muslim, to vote in legislative elections in September 2022.  Embassy representatives engaged religious leaders on religious freedom and reconciliation and publicly condemned hate speech and attacks against religious groups and on religious structures.  The embassy commemorated all the country’s principal religious holidays on social media.

Chad

Executive Summary

The Transitional Military Council (CMT) suspended the constitution upon taking power in April after President Idriss Deby died of battle wounds shortly after being declared the winner of the presidential election for what would have been his sixth term.  The CMT put in place a Transitional Charter and announced plans to hold a national dialogue followed by the adoption of a new constitution by the end of 2022.  The Transitional Charter establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state.  It provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion.  It prohibits “any act undermining the republican form and secularism of the state.”  The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahhabi association, but media said enforcement of the ban remained difficult and that Wahhabis continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.  Local media said one reason Wahhabi groups continued their activities was that a number of government and security officials came from the same region or tribe as the Wahhabi leaders.  According to local observers, the government continued to deploy security forces around both Islamic and Christian places of worship, in particular on Fridays around mosques and on Sundays around churches.  Media reported that on November 3, security forces entered the courtyard of the Blessed Isidore Bakanja Parish in N’Djamena, defacing the premises and threatening to arrest a priest who tried to film the scene.  On October 22, following criticism from the legal community, the central government annulled an agreement establishing the Islamic practice of diya (financial compensation paid to victims of violence) in the Christian majority southern province of Mandoul.

Analysts said the country remained relatively free from significant conflict between religious groups and violence from extremist movements, but analysts and human rights groups said poverty and a lack of government services and economic opportunity raised the risks that violent extremism, including violent extremism related to religion, would spread to the country.  Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa were reportedly responsible for attacks in the Lake Chad region.  Religious leaders continued to raise awareness of the risks of terrorist attacks, which continued throughout the year, particularly in Lac Province, and to advocate for continued additional security in places of worship.

In May, the Charge d’Affaires met with the President of the High Council for Islamic Affairs and the Archbishop of N’Djamena to discuss how the United States could best assist the country in maintaining peaceful coexistence and promoting dialogue immediately following the death of President Deby.  On trips to the northern and southern parts of the country, the Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss peaceful coexistence and the upcoming national dialogue.

Chile

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship.  The law prohibits religious discrimination and provides civil remedies to victims of discrimination.  Religion and state are officially separate.  The National Office of Religious Affairs (ONAR) is charged with facilitating communication between faith communities and the government and ensuring the protection of the rights of religious minorities.  In response to feedback from the Catholic Bishop’s Conference, the government modified March COVID-19 weekend lockdowns and daily restrictions on the size of public gatherings to allow for holding Mass and other religious gatherings, with the maximum numbers of attendees varying by a region’s level of COVID-19 infection rates.  On June 2, the Chile-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Group in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of congress) drafted a bill to boycott goods, services, and products (BDS) from Israeli settlements, which remained under consideration in committee at year’s end.  The Jewish Community of Chile (CJCH) stated that the draft bill created a hostile environment against members of its community.  On June 29, legislators in the Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution rejecting discrimination and “acts of intolerance from authorities and candidates to public office” and calling on then presidential candidate Daniel Jadue to repudiate the antisemitic statements made in the biographical sketch of his school yearbook.  President Sebastian Pinera and First Lady Cecilia Morel, several cabinet members, the director of ONAR, and members of the Jewish community celebrated a prayer service (Tefilah) on September 23, in observance of the country’s national independence month.  In his remarks during the service, CJCH President Gerardo Gorodischer requested the government consider adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  ONAR continued to engage with local authorities in the communities affected by yearly attacks on churches, including in the Araucania and Santiago Regions, to rebuild churches damaged in the attacks.  In October, ONAR, in conjunction with Brigham Young University and the Pontifical University of Chile Center for Law and Religion, hosted the First Forum on Human Dignity and Religious Freedom in the Southern Cone.

Churches in Araucania were increasingly targets of arson attacks for the sixth year in a row.  Several priests and churches in the region reported receiving arson threats during the year.  On October 12, regional media reported that unknown individuals burned a Catholic church and the Nuevo Pacto Pentecostal Church in Araucania, causing President Pinera to declare a state of emergency for the region.  These attacks followed other incidents reported earlier in the year.  ONAR helped the affected churches report the threats to police and pressed for increased police monitoring and patrols of religious buildings in the region.  Jewish community leaders continued to express concern about a rise in antisemitism in the country, which they partly attributed to an escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in May.  During the same month, the Jewish community reported a series of antisemitic comments, threats, and harassment on social media targeting community members.  In September, individuals reported graffiti featuring swastikas and SS symbols in the Las Condes Municipality of Santiago Metropolitan Region and near the Hebrew Institute in the city of Santiago.  On September 16, a truck driver passed outside the Aish Hatorah Synagogue in the capital city, shouting “Heil Hitler.”

The Charge d’Affaires and U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to discuss reports of antisemitism, religious minorities’ security concerns, and institutional cooperation between religious organizations and the Chilean government.  The embassy engaged members of congress and government officials to underscore U.S. opposition to the draft BDS bill.  They also met with civil society and religious leaders to discuss religious diversity and tolerance and to raise incidents of concern, including perceived threats to the Jewish community.  On October 29, the Charge d’Affaires attended a forum on religious freedom and discussed the importance of religious freedom with event speakers.  On September 23, a senior embassy official attended a Tefilah prayer event with the CJCH where he discussed religious freedom issues with forum speakers.  The embassy continued to use social media to underscore the importance of interfaith understanding and tolerance.

China (Includes Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Read A Section: China

Tibet | Xinjiang | Hong Kong | Macau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  The government recognizes five official religions:  Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism.  Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” representing these religions are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services, although other groups reported meeting unofficially.  CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices.  National law prohibits organizations or individuals from interfering with the state educational system for minors younger than the age of 18, effectively barring them from participating in most religious activities or receiving religious education.  Some provinces have additional laws precluding minors’ participation in religious activities.  The government continued to assert control over religion and to restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents that it perceived as threatening state or CCP interests, according to religious groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international media reports.  NGOs and media continued to report deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, disappeared, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced labor and forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, and harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.  The NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers estimated the government imprisoned 2,987 individuals for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief as of December 7.  According to Minghui, a Falun Gong-affiliated publication, 101 Falun Gong practitioners died during the year as a result of persecution of their faith, compared with 107 in 2020, and both Minghui and the Falun Dafa Infocenter reported police arrested more than 5,000 practitioners and harassed more than 9,000 others.  According to the annual report of The Church of Almighty God (CAG), authorities arrested more than 11,156 of its members and subjected them to physical abuse, including beatings, sleep deprivation, and being forced into stress positions, resulting in the death of at least nine individuals.  There were reports the government pressured individuals to renounce their religious beliefs.  The government continued its multiyear campaign of “Sinicization” to bring all religious doctrine and practice in line with CCP doctrine, which included requiring clergy of all faiths to attend political indoctrination sessions and suggesting content for sermons that emphasized loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued regulations, effective May 1, entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” requires all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  Authorities did not issue a “clergy card” to individuals not belonging to one of the five officially recognized patriotic religious associations, including pastors of Protestant house churches, Catholic clergy who rejected the government’s 2018 provisional agreement with the Holy See and refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), teachers and clergy at independent mosques and Buddhist and Taoist temples, rabbis, and religious personnel of new religious movements.  The SARA issued new regulations on September 1 that require all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization of religion.”  The government prohibited private tutors, including those based abroad, from using textbooks “propagating religious teachings” and closed several informal, religiously affiliated schools.

During the year, officials across the country shut down religious venues, including some that were affiliated with the authorized patriotic religious associations, in some but not all cases citing COVID-19 restrictions.  The government intensified its campaign against religious groups it characterized as “cults,” including the CAG, maintained a ban on other groups, such as Falun Gong, and conducted propaganda campaigns against xie jiao (literally “heterodox teachings”) aimed at school-age children.  Authorities limited online worship.  Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious literature, and penalized businesses that copied and published religious materials.  The government removed religious apps from app stores and censored religious content from the popular messaging service WeChat.  Authorities censored online posts referencing Jesus or the Bible and there were continued reports that authorities destroyed public displays of religious symbols throughout the country.  The government continued to remove architectural features that identified some churches and mosques as religious sites and removed crosses from private property.  The SARA’s “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy” made no provision for the Holy See to have a role in the selection of Catholic bishops, despite the 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the government concerning the appointment of bishops.  At a national conference on religious affairs in December, President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping called on religious personnel and government officials to “uphold and develop a religious theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities.  International media reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with a range of government officials to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance, and for the release of individuals imprisoned for religious reasons.  The Charge and other embassy and consulate general officials met with members of registered and unregistered religious groups, family members of religious prisoners, NGOs, and others to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom.  The embassy continued to amplify Department of State religious freedom initiatives and advocacy directly to Chinese citizens through outreach programs and social media.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Charge, and other State Department and embassy officials issued public statements, including via social media, supporting religious freedom and condemning the PRC’s violations of the rights of religious minorities.  The U.S. Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Charge d’Affaires, and other senior State Department officials and embassy and consulate general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom in China, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.  On January 19, the then Secretary of State determined that since at least March 2017, the PRC has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.  On January 13, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order that prohibited the import of all cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang.  On March 22, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned two officials under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.  On May 12, the Secretary of State announced visa restrictions against a PRC government official for his involvement in gross violations of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners.  On June 24, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Department of Labor took action against companies in the polysilicon industry using forced labor of religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 9, the U.S. Commerce Department added to the Entities List 14 Chinese electronics and technology firms and other businesses for helping enable “Beijing’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high-technology surveillance” against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.  On July 13, the U.S. Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Labor, and the U.S. Trade Representative issued an updated Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory that highlighted for businesses with potential supply chain and investment links to Xinjiang the risk of complicity with forced labor and human rights abuses.  On December 6, the Presidential press secretary announced the United States would not send diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic or Paralympic Games because of human rights abuses in China.  On December 10, the U.S. Department of State imposed visa restrictions on four current and former PRC officials for complicity with human rights violations in Xinjiang, and the U.S. Department of Treasury also sanctioned two officials and one company.  On December 23, the President signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Since 1999, China 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 November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Colombia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs.  It prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers.  On April 7, the Constitutional Court determined that an adolescent member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had the right to refuse a blood transfusion for medical purposes due to her religious beliefs and instead receive alternate methods of treatment.  In July, the Constitutional Court ruled that the right to euthanasia – recognized in 1997 – applies not only to terminal patients, but also to those with “intense physical and mental suffering from bodily injury or serious and incurable disease.”  Roman Catholic Church leaders opposed the decision, describing euthanasia as a “serious offense to the dignity of life.”  The Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA) of the MOI completed several initiatives to foster better coordination between the central and local governments to promote religious freedom.  The DRA promoted the implementation of 90 religious freedom measures throughout the country and provided technical assistance to officials by creating a Manual for Territorial Religious Liaisons.  It also created religious freedom liaison positions in which government representatives serve as intermediaries between religious organizations and local and regional governments.  The DRA began implementation of an agreement it signed in 2020 with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to gather information on the characteristics, needs, challenges, and contributions of religious organizations.  Religious leaders expressed continued concern regarding a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status.  During a meeting with President Ivan Duque Marquez on July 7, youth representatives of the country’s main religious communities and organizations signed a pact to advocate religious freedom and respect for all religions and beliefs.  During the same meeting, the MOI launched an initiative to support the social, cultural, and educational work of religious groups and their organizations.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) reported that there were no killings of religious figures.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and church representatives, however, reported that illegal armed groups continued to kill, threaten, or displace human rights defenders, including some religious leaders, for promoting human rights, supporting internally displaced persons, assisting with land restitution claims, and discouraging coca cultivation.  Leaders of many religious groups continued to report that illegal armed groups, in particular the National Liberation Army, hindered peace and reconciliation programs.

The AGO investigated two cases involving alleged abuses of religious freedom and four cases involving vandalism of places of worship.  The MOI also stated that several acts of vandalism against churches occurred during the year.  The Confederation of Jewish Communities of Colombia (CJCC) expressed concern about antisemitic rhetoric and actions on social media after the CJCC met with a presidential candidate as part of a series of meetings with all presidential candidates.  For example, social media included comments stating the Jewish community was “conspiring with communism.”  According to media, on October 10, Martha Sepulveda, a self-described devout Catholic, was scheduled to become the first person in the country without a terminal prognosis to die by legally authorized euthanasia.  On October 8, a private medical facility, which was scheduled to perform the procedure, determined that she was no longer eligible, as her condition had improved.  A member of the national bishops’ conference urged Sepulveda to “calmly reflect” on her decision.  On October 27, a court in Medellín ruled that Sepulveda was entitled to die by euthanasia, with the procedure scheduled for early 2022.  The Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation.  Faith-based and interfaith NGOs, including DiPaz and the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission on Justice and Peace, continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance through their programs and community engagement.  The Catholic Church and other religious organizations continued to distribute food packages to vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the International Affairs Directorate of the AGO, and the DRA.  Embassy officials discussed with the DRA public policies on religious freedom, including support for victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations.  Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Baha’is, Greek Orthodox, and members of indigenous communities.  In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to the government’s policies on religious freedom, conscientious objection, and antisemitism.

Comoros

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies Islam is the state religion and defines the national identity as being based on a single religion – Sunni Islam – but proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all, regardless of religious belief.  The constitution also specifies that the principles and rules that regulate worship and social life be based on Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i doctrine.  Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for deportation of foreigners who do so.  The law prohibits the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places on the basis of “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.”  There were no reports of arrests for Comorians engaging in other religious practices, but members of non-Sunni groups reported broad self-censorship and stated they practiced or spoke about their beliefs only in private.  Shia Muslims continued to report government surveillance during religious observances important to their community.  For the second consecutive year, there were no reports of national leaders making public statements against religious minorities.  One religious minority group leader said that 2021 had been “generally quiet and peaceful” and attributed the government’s relative restraint to international engagement related to this issue.  Shia commemorations of all Eids, Ramadan, and Ashura proceeded peacefully on all three islands.  Shia Muslims on Anjouan said that local authorities prevented them from practicing in the Shia mosque that had existed on the island for more than a year; they were forced to worship in a Shia community center instead.

There continued to be reports that local communities unofficially shunned individuals who were suspected of converting from Islam to Christianity or from Sunni to Shia Islam.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar engaged on issues of religious freedom with government officials, including President Azali Assoumani and officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Justice, focusing on the importance of individuals having the ability to practice their religion freely and of government officials refraining from statements criticizing religious minorities.  Embassy representatives also discussed religious freedom with religious and civil society leaders and others, including members of minority religious groups.

On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Comoros on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the state religion; the law requires the state to contribute to the Catholic Church’s maintenance.  The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of religions that does not impugn “universal morality or proper behavior,” and it provides for redress in cases of alleged violations of religious freedom.  The time limit to enact a draft 2009 bill that would reform the constitution to make the country a secular state expired in September 2020, and the Legislative Assembly did not advance a new bill on this issue during the year.  In June, the Legislative Assembly passed its first vote on a public employment bill that included an article on conscientious objection.  Some legislators, including those belonging to the government-affiliated Citizen Action Party and the National Liberation Party, objected to the inclusion of the article on conscientious objection and appealed before the Constitutional Court.  In August, the Constitutional Court upheld as constitutional the article on conscientious objection, an article several religious groups had requested.  Another first vote, required to pass the bill, was pending at year’s end.  Some non-Catholic religious leaders continued to state the constitution does not sufficiently address the specific concerns of their religious groups, particularly regarding registration processes.

Instances of anti-Catholic language on social media continued, reportedly spurred by high-level investigations of priests charged with sexual abuse.  Negative comments against Catholic priest Mauricio Viquez, as well as the Catholic Church for reportedly attempting to prevent Viquez’s case from going to trial, appeared on social media following his May extradition from Mexico on four charges of sexually abusing minors.  Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Israeli comments, some of which they considered antisemitic, although not directed at Jews living in the country.  Interludio, an interreligious forum created in 2017 with participants from Catholic, evangelical Christian, Lutheran, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Muslim, and indigenous communities, continued to promote dialogue among the country’s faith communities.  The group met periodically in person and virtually throughout the year and hosted a variety of events, including virtual talks.  In September, it began hosting some in-person meetings.

On May 26, embassy officials hosted a virtual roundtable with representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education and with leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities and other religious groups to discuss how to address the challenges of holding religious gatherings and celebrations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Embassy representatives also met with religious leaders throughout the year, including those representing religious minorities, to discuss the situation of religious congregations during the pandemic, and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the free exercise of religious beliefs.  The embassy used social media to send congratulatory messages highlighting tolerance and respect for religious diversity to religious groups on special religious occasions.

Cote d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and worship, consistent with law and order, and prohibits religious discrimination.  It emphasizes that religious tolerance is fundamental to the nation’s unity, peace, reconciliation, and social cohesion and forbids speech that encourages religious hatred.  Religious leaders partnered with local law enforcement and subnational government leadership on security matters to prevent violent extremism and protect their communities from the growing terrorist threat emanating from the Sahel.  Minister of the Interior and Security General Vagondo Diomande said the June 12 investiture ceremony for the new president of the Supreme Council of Imams of Cote d’Ivoire (COSIM, the country’s main Sunni Muslim association) was an opportunity for the promotion of “an Islam of love and tolerance.”  Diomande also said there was no Quranic basis for ideologies of hatred or death and that President Alassane Ouattara was counting on imams and preachers throughout the country to advocate for the practice of a peaceful form of Islam to help prevent violent extremism.  In his investiture speech, new COSIM president Imam Ousmane Diakite also denounced violent extremism and stated Islam was a religion of tolerance, balance, and moderation.  On July 27, returned former president Laurent Gbagbo, a Christian, met with President Ouattara, who is Muslim.  During a Mass on August 1, Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa, Archbishop of Abidjan, said the Ouattara-Gbagbo meeting was a significant development for peace and reconciliation between the rival party leaders following the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis, which resulted in approximately 3,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced persons, and the contentious, and sometimes violent, period surrounding the 2020 presidential election.  According to Kutwa, although religion was not a driver of these disputes, many citizens looked to religious leaders to help reduce politically motivated conflict and guard against political manipulation of national identity, ethnicity, and religious differences to foment division in the country. Leaders from across the religious spectrum generally supported Gbagbo’s return following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court of charges of crimes against humanity and the government’s release of persons arrested for crimes allegedly committed around the 2020 presidential election, saying the releases were also necessary for peace and reconciliation.  Government officials reported meeting with religious leaders to encourage them to raise awareness about COVID-19 mitigation measures with their followers.  Religious leaders reported collaborating with the government to have mobile units administer COVID-19 vaccinations and offer national identity card registration at some places of worship.  As in past years, the government funded pilgrimages to Christian holy sites; it did not fund pilgrimages for Muslims to Saudi Arabia, however, because of Saudi COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Muslim and Christian leaders, including representatives of COSIM and the evangelical Christian, Methodist, and Catholic churches, reported generally good relations with each other and between their communities, although there were two reported instances of local Christian and Muslim groups disagreeing over the use of land for a mosque or a church.  These religious leaders and civil society representatives stated that given the importance of religion in Ivoirian society, such leaders were seen as influential figures in maintaining peace, reconciling the country, and guarding against political manipulation of national identity, ethnicity, and religious differences to foment division in the country.  Additionally, they noted leaders across the religious spectrum were broadly united in their desire to work together to accomplish these objectives.  Some Muslim leaders stated their community took steps to prevent the influence of what they called intolerant forms of Islam in the country, including providing imams with suggested themes for sermons, advising imams to closely vet guest preachers before allowing them to give sermons in their mosques, and requiring traveling Muslim preachers to have their sermons approved in advance by local Muslim authorities.

U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to discuss the state of religious freedom and tolerance in the country, including asking whether the government had recorded any interreligious conflicts or threats to, violence against, or harassment of any specific religious groups; whether the government had penalized or denied benefits to any religious groups; and asking for the government’s assessment of the threat of religiously motivated violent extremism in the country.  The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with religious leaders in the capital and around the country throughout the year.  Embassy representatives hosted religious community leaders for roundtable discussions on issues that included religious tolerance and the status of relations between Christian and Muslim groups.  Embassy representatives also met with the director of the nationwide Islamic radio network and television station, Al-Bayane, several times.  Some discussions with the Al-Bayane director focused on the role of religious media outlets in promoting peace, social cohesion, and religious freedom.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

Executive Summary

In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea.  In March 2014, Russia claimed that Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation.  The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” and Resolution 75/192 of December 28, 2020, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine),” declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine.  The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea.  Russian occupation “authorities” continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

On September 10, the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, stating that the “Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, many religious communities were essentially driven out of the peninsula through registration requirements under newly imposed Russian laws.  Only the UOC-MP continued to be exempt from these registration requirements.  According to the Religion Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), the number of denominations decreased from 43 in 2014 to 20 in 2021.  Various sources reported that Russian “authorities” in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, including Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and OCU members and clergy.  At year’s end, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for their faith.  According to the NGO Crimea SOS, as of July, 74 (compared with 69 through October 2020) Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with the Muslim religious political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine.  Russian occupation “authorities” continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation by prosecuting them for purported involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, Russia continued to prosecute individuals for some types of worship, including imams leading prayers in their own mosques, as “illegal missionary activity.”  UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities “and that they must register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name.  Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.  The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches.  According to the OCU, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to pressure the OCU Crimean diocese to force it to leave Crimea.  On August 23, a judge fined Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted “unlawful missionary activities.”  Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”  In January, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  The court accepted Ukraine’s allegation of the harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids on places of worship, and confiscation of religious property.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses said that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses who observed Jehovah’s Witnesses being treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith had increased sympathy for the organization.

The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea and called international attention to religious rights abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials.  In a September 5 press statement, the State Department spokesperson stated, “The United States strongly condemns the September 4 detention of the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal and at least 45 other Crimean Tatars by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea.  We call on the Russian occupation “authorities” to release them immediately.  This is the latest in a long line of politically-motivated raids, detentions, and punitive measures against the Mejlis and its leadership, which has been targeted for repression for its opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.”  U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation.  Embassy officials, however, as well as other State Department officials and the Secretary of Energy, participated in the August 23 Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials to discuss the annexing of Crimea, in which human rights was one of five key topics.  The Secretary of Energy, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor gave remarks at the summit, whose joint declaration condemned the “continued violations and abuses and systematic undue restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms that residents of Crimea face,” including the right to religion or belief.  Embassy officials continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns about actions taken against their congregations by the occupation “authorities” and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.

Croatia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law.  The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and specific tax and other benefits; 19 other registered religious communities have agreements with the state offering benefits not available to registered religious communities without such agreements or to unregistered religious groups.  Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) representatives again said that although some property had been returned, the restitution of property seized by the Yugoslavia government remained an outstanding issue.  This was echoed by representatives of the Catholic Church.  In April, media reported that an Afghan woman stated a border police officer forced her to strip naked while using religiously charged language during a search of a group of migrants on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in mid-February.  The European Commission urged the government to thoroughly investigate the alleged incident and the Ministry of Interior said it would do so.  In February, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman attended a ceremony to reinstall a damaged Stolperstein (stumbling block) memorial for Holocaust victim Chief Rabbi Miroslav Salom Freiberger.  According to the 2020 annual report released in March by the Office of Ombudsperson for Children, the largest number of complaints of discrimination with regard to education were related to religion and/or belief.  On April 22, senior government officials, a representative from the Alliance of Anti-Fascists, and leaders of the Serbian, Roma, and Jewish communities commemorated victims of the World War II concentration camp at Jasenovac.

SOC representatives said that following the enthronement of the new head of the Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Joanikije II, at the historic monastery in Cetinje, Montenegro on September 5, several media outlets published negative news articles against the SOC.  One article appeared under the headline, “Zagreb Likes [head of the SOC] Metropolitan Porfirije; however, this does not mean that the SOC is not evil.”  Members of Jewish groups reported hate speech, especially on the internet, and graffiti and other vandalism with offensive slogans.  Representatives of the Jewish community expressed concerns regarding the use of Ustasha (pro-Nazi World War II-era government) symbols in society.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the status and treatment of religious minorities, antisemitism, and Holocaust revisionism with cabinet ministers and other senior government officials.  During the year, embassy officials attended major events that emphasized the importance of Holocaust remembrance and interreligious dialogue.  Embassy officials continued to encourage the government to amend legislation covering Holocaust and post Holocaust-era property restitution to allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups.  The embassy continued a speaker series under a diversity and inclusion initiative in which embassy staff engaged representatives from different religious and secular groups to promote tolerance and discuss challenges and cooperation among religious communities.  In September, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff visited the memorial at the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp to pay respects and learn about its history.  Also in September, the embassy and several partner organizations promoted Holocaust remembrance through a youth performance of the opera Brundibar for hundreds of Croatian students at the Jasenovac site.

Cuba

Executive Summary

The country’s constitution contains written provisions for religious freedom and prohibitions against discrimination based on religious grounds.  According to the religious freedom advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life.  In its annual Watch List, Open Doors reported a continued rise in persecution of Christians in the country.  According to media, on July 11, security forces (a general term covering military, police, and vigilante forces) committed acts of violence against, detained, and harassed religious leaders from multiple faith communities who were participating in peaceful demonstrations across the country.  According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces beat Roman Catholic priest Jose Castor Alvarez Devesa when he offered aid to an injured person at a protest in Camaguey on July 11.  CSW reported Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo faced up to a 10-year sentence for participating in a march the same day.  Rosales Fajardo was found guilty of charges in December and awaited sentencing at year’s end.  Sissi Abascal Zamora, a member of the Ladies in White opposition group, received a six-year sentence for participating in the July protests.  Authorities continued to subject members of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba (Free Yorubas) to arbitrary detentions, threats, physical violence, and verbal harassment.  The U.S.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Global Liberty Alliance reported four members of Free Yorubas faced extended pretrial detention after their arrests following the July protests and prison sentences of up to 10 years.  The Spanish NGO Cuban Observatory of Human Rights registered at least 30 acts against leaders and laypersons from multiple faith communities as the government attempted to suppress public support for peaceful protests called for November 15.  According to NGO and media reports, those actions included the orchestration of demonstrations (acts of repudiation) in front of the homes of Catholic priests, police surveillance, internet cuts, and the harassment of a nun as she left her residence in Havana to meet a friend.  In August, security service officials arrested Apostolic Church pastor Alain Toledano Valiente for “propagating the COVID pandemic” when he held what he said was a socially distanced service.  Religious groups reported the ORA and MOJ continued to deny official registration to certain groups, including to several Apostolic churches, or did not respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

Some religious groups and organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to individuals regardless of religious belief.  The Catholic-affiliated Community of Sant’Egidio continued to hold prayer and small group meetings in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.

Due to a lack of government responsiveness, U.S. embassy officials did not meet with or otherwise engage the ORA during the year.  In public statements and on social media, U.S. government officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.  Embassy officials met regularly with a range of religious groups concerning the state of religious freedom and political activities related to religious groups’ beliefs.

On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Cuba on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Cyprus

Read A Section: Republic Of Cyprus

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

The government of the Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized government on the island, but since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots.  This area proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A “green line,” or buffer zone (which is over 110 miles long and several miles wide in places) patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  For areas in the north that have different Greek and Turkish names, both are listed (e.g., Kormakitis/Korucam).

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom to worship, teach, and practice one’s religion.  It grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and recognizes the Vakf, an Islamic institution that manages sites of worship and property Muslims have donated, as a charitable endowment.  Reuters and other press outlets reported that on September 15, the government dropped a disciplinary investigation launched in 2020 against art teacher and headmaster Yiorgos Gavriel after complaints about his work from the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and other figures.  In a written complaint to the Ministry of Education, the Archbishop said that Gavriel’s depictions of Jesus were “obscene.”  Gavriel painted Jesus as a soccer fan; on a motorcycle; naked; and interned in a refugee camp.  Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to allow the community access for religious services at only six of the 19 mosques designated as cultural heritage sites, as well as to two other mosques not located on such sites.  Of the eight functioning mosques, seven were available for all five daily prayers and six had the necessary bathroom and ablution facilities. Representatives of the Jewish community continued to report authorities performed autopsies on deceased members of the community for deaths that were not suspicious, a practice they said violated Jewish religious beliefs and practice.  They stated that despite their continuing efforts to raise the issue with government authorities during the year, it remained unresolved.  Two of the functioning mosques under the guardianship of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to lack bathroom and ablution facilities.  The Department of Antiquities continued to limit regular access to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque to only two of the five daily prayers, although it routinely granted expanded access during Ramadan and at the request of the imam.  The imam said the Department of Antiquities replaced the security guards after his complaint in 2020 that they allowed some non-Muslim tourists to enter the mosque without observing the dress code.  Authorities continued to deny permission to perform animal slaughter for food production according to Jewish law.  Authorities did not respond to a request pending since 2017 from the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus to have the right to officiate marriage, death, and divorce certificates.

In March, unknown persons sprayed anti-Turkish graffiti, Greek flags, and crosses on the exterior wall of the Episkopi Mosque in Limassol District.  The Orthodox Church of Cyprus called for the withdrawal of the country’s entry into the annual Eurovision contest, a song entitled “El Diablo,” charging the song made an international mockery of the country’s moral foundations by advocating “our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship.”  Some religious minority groups continued to report societal pressure to engage in public Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies, such as weddings and christenings.  Greek Orthodox Christians reported they sometimes faced ostracism from their community if they converted to another religion.  Leaders of the main religious groups continued to meet under the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) and advocated for greater religious freedom for faith communities across the island. The RTCYPP, organized under the auspices of the Swedish embassy, is a peacebuilding initiative to encourage and facilitate religious leaders’ dialogue and efforts for religious freedom, human rights, and bicommunal reconciliation.

U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with government officials to discuss various issues, including access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” dividing the country.  The Ambassador met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom restrictions, access to religious sites, and interfaith cooperation.  Embassy staff met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to discuss topics including access to religious sites island-wide and discrimination against minority religious groups.  Embassy officials also visited places of religious significance on both sides of the “green line” and encouraged continued dialogue and cooperation among religious leaders.  Embassy staff interacted on several occasions with religious leaders in the country, focusing on religious freedom and encouraging interfaith dialogue.

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplement to the constitution, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and states everyone has the right to change, abstain from, and freely practice religion.  The Ministry of Culture (MOC) registered one religious group; a second registration application submitted in January remained pending with the MOC at year’s end.  The Prague Municipal Court rejected a religious group’s appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application, and another religious group’s appeal remained pending with the same court.  An appellate court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s conviction of Jaroslav Dobes, the leader of the Path of Guru Jara (PGJ), and another PGJ member on six charges of rape and also upheld their acquittal on a seventh charge.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) granted subsidiary protection, which prevents the forced return of persons found ineligible for refugee status, to some of the Chinese Christians whose applications for asylum it rejected in 2018.  The government continued to compensate religious groups for communal property confiscated by the communist regime.  The opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Party and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to publicly criticize Islam and Muslim migrants and initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan following the departure of allied forces in order to restrict the immigration of Muslims to the country.

A local nongovernmental organization (NGO), In IUSTITIA, said it received reports of one religiously motivated incident in the first half of the year – an antisemitic hate crime – compared with seven (four against Muslims, two against Jews and one against Christians) in the first half of 2020.  The government reported 27 antisemitic and nine anti-Muslim incidents in 2020, compared with 15 and eight incidents, respectively, in the previous year.  The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, almost all of which were internet hate speech, but which also included one case of assault, six of harassment, and one of vandalism, as well as antisemitic graffiti.  The number of incidents in 2020 was 26 percent higher than in the previous year and 252 percent higher than in 2018.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  The MOI reported two “white power” concerts in which participants expressed antisemitic views in the first half of the year.

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

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.  Relations between the government and religious organizations continued to improve, according to religious leaders and media reports, although some tensions emerged regarding the role of religious groups in naming an electoral commission president, including a high-profile incident of vandalism.  Muslim community leaders again said the government did not afford them some of the same privileges as larger religious groups, such as having Muslim chaplains in the military, police, and hospitals.

The Islamic Sate of Iraq and Syria-Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC), an armed group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in March, continued to operate in the country.  ISIS-DRC usually attacked civilians, hospitals and schools indiscriminately in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, but on occasion targeted churches and Muslim leaders.  While the violence targeted and affected all communities, most victims were Christian, reflecting their status as the religious majority.  In May, unknown assailants killed two Muslim clerics in North Kivu who had frequently criticized ISIS-DRC.  Both army and civil society observers blamed ISIS-DRC for a church bombing in June.  Both Muslims and Christians spoke out against attacks by ISIS-DRC.

Local media on September 21 reported that armed men wearing police uniforms robbed a parish church in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, despite its proximity to a police sub-station, and assaulted the priests inside.  In August, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported multiple instances of vandalism targeting Catholic churches in southwestern Kasai Province and southeastern Haut-Katanga Province.  A representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said there have been several attacks on members of the religious group in the interior provinces, which he described as less tolerant of Jehovah’s Witnesses than Kinshasa.

U.S. embassy officers met with Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Defense, and Interior officials and discussed religious freedom issues, including government relations with religious organizations.  Embassy officials also regularly urged the government, security forces leaders, and community and political leaders to refrain from violence and to respect the rights of civil society, including of religious groups, to assemble and express themselves freely.  Throughout the year, embassy and Washington-based officials engaged with religious groups.  The Ambassador met with religious leaders frequently during visits to cities in the eastern provinces.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs.  The constitution establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, granting it privileges not available to other religious groups.  The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups other than the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration.  Congregations are not required to register by law, though registration is required to receive tax benefits.  Religious communities must comply with annual reporting requirements to maintain their government recognition.  In January, prior to parliamentary debate on 2020 draft legislation to mandate the translation of sermons into Danish, the Danish Council of Churches sent an open letter to Prime Minister Frederiksen opposing the legislation.  The letter noted, “We welcome the broader political intention of integrating ethnic minorities in an open and pluralistic Danish society – but we see dangers in a law leading to religious harassment.”  The letter stated that the draft legislation was “discriminatory and ill-considered” and would impose “significant burdens” on economically weak minority religious groups.  In March, parliament approved a new law that bans foreign countries from funding and financing mosques in the country.  The new law garnered support from all major political parties.  Social Democrat Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye labeled the law as an important step to curb what he termed “Islamist extremism.”  In a report released in September and drawn from data collected in 2019, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate government restrictions on religion,” the second level in the report’s four-tiered system (low, moderate, high, and very high government restrictions).  In November, the Immigration Service updated its national sanctions list of religious preachers barred from entering the country to include 21 individuals; five were U.S. citizens.  The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated the individuals were barred from entering the country for the “sake of the nation’s public order,” but provided no additional details.

In January, witnesses discovered the words “[expletive] the Quran,” accompanied by a drawing of a hand with the middle finger up, painted on the side of the mosque belonging to the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation in Aabenraa, in the southern part of the country.  This was the third time vandals damaged the mosque since 2019.  By year’s end, authorities had not arrested anyone for the incident.  In April, vandals placed two dolls in nooses near a grave in the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg and poured red paint over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery.  The vandals also left antisemitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical organization Nordic Resistance Movement near the dolls.  Police charged a man with vandalism and racism for the crime, and in June, a court sentenced him to one year in prison.  He appealed the verdict and authorities released him in November, with the court expected to rule on his appeal in January 2022.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to encourage the country to include the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s examples in applying the alliance’s definition.  Embassy officials met with parliamentarians and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office of the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to emphasize the importance the United States places on religious freedom, and to discuss ways to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and antisemitism.  Embassy officials expressed concerns about legislation proposing to ban circumcision and requiring translation of sermons into Danish, and urged support for the protection of religious expression.  Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year to discuss issues including the debate on the proposed circumcision ban, the ban on ritual slaughter, the proposed bill requiring the translation of sermons into Danish, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their faith practices.  Embassy officials met with representatives from the Danish Islamic Center, Muslim World League, and Danish Muslim Aid to discuss interfaith engagement opportunities and challenges for Muslims in the country, including anti-Muslim sentiment.

Djibouti

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but mandates equality for persons of all faiths.  Religious groups must register with the government, which conducts lengthy background checks as part of the registration process.  Foreign religious workers must obtain a work permit and purchase annual residency cards.  The government maintained its authority over all Islamic matters and institutions, including assets and personnel of all mosques.  The government continued to closely regulate all mosques and provide imams with the scripts for their Friday sermons.  The government continued to mandate a civic and moral education course based on Islam for all students in public schools as well as in private schools run by non-Muslim religious organizations.

Norms and customs discouraged conversion from Islam.  Muslim and Christian religious leaders noted traditional social networks often ostracized converts from Islam.

U.S. embassy officials met with government officials to discuss continued equitable treatment of religious groups, especially in refugee camps.  Embassy officials also met with religious leaders to discuss their perception of government attitudes towards religious practice.

Dominica

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of thought, freedom to practice one’s religion, and freedom from oaths contrary to one’s beliefs.  Religious leaders continued to support government COVID-19 vaccination efforts.  Rastafarians continued to press the government to legalize marijuana use.  The Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) reported it continued to stand firmly against homosexuality and continued to support the government’s ban on same-sex marriages.  The Dominican Christian Council, with the participation of the Anglican, Catholic and Methodist Churches, continued its opposition to a constitutional challenge seeking to overturn the country’s anti-sodomy law.

Interdenominational organizations continued their efforts to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity.  Televised, electronic, and drive-in religious services were available throughout a government-mandated COVID-19 shutdown in August.  Interdenominational dialogue between Catholic and Protestant communities continued on a regular basis.

The U.S. embassy continued its engagement on religious freedom issues.  Embassy officials met twice during the year with the Ministry of Governance, Public Service Reform, Citizen Empowerment, and Social Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs, and they discussed the role of religious groups in encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations and in promoting education and health care.  Embassy officials also conducted outreach both with evangelical Protestant and Catholic leaders on the state of religious freedom in the country and their views on same-sex unions.

Dominican Republic

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief.  A concordat with the Holy See designates Roman Catholicism as the official state religion and extends special privileges to the Catholic Church not granted to other religious groups.  These include funding for church expenses, including administration and construction, visa exceptions, and exemptions for customs duties for Church officials.  On April 23, the government started implementing a law on the regulation of penitentiary and correctional systems that included provisions allowing prisoners of all faiths, not just Catholics, the right to practice their religion and seek counseling from officiants of their faith.  Some members of non-Catholic groups continued to say they disapproved of the government’s preference for the Catholic Church, the lack of explicit legal protection for non-Catholic churches beyond what the constitution provides, and the treatment of non-Catholic churches as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Non-Catholic organizations frequently stated their belief that the government should improve its relationship with other religious entities.  During the year, the Chamber of Deputies’ (lower chamber) ermanent Commission on Culture debated a draft law that would no longer require non-Catholic religious entities to register as NGOs, provide tax exempt status, and allow for increased government funding for these groups.  According to Protestant leaders, passing the law would be a step in the right direction, but it would still be difficult to change the “hearts and minds” of both the government and the average citizen because Catholicism was deeply rooted in the country’s culture.

According to evangelical leaders, Catholicism, Catholic practices, and Catholic holidays formed a big part of the country’s culture, and Catholic traditions were deeply intertwined with many aspects of life, including government and politics, marriage, family gatherings, and education, among others.  Some non-Catholic religious leaders said non-Catholic religious groups should focus more on seeking cultural change through helping the population understand and value religious freedom and the right to freely practice one’s religious beliefs.  The Interfaith Dialogue Table, comprising members of all major Protestant church councils, continued to work together and with other religious groups to provide assistance to poor communities regardless of the religious affiliations of members of those communities.

Embassy officials engaged the administration of President Luis Abinader and other government leaders on issues of religious freedom, including equal treatment of Catholic and non-Catholic religious groups under the law and the ability of parents to decide for their children whether they partake or not in religious activities in school.  The Charge d’Affaires engaged officials from the Catholic Church, the Dominican Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Church, and the Sosua Jewish Museum and Sosua Synagogue.  These interactions provided the opportunity to discuss religious freedom issues, especially the groups’ relationship with the new administration and any perceived societal or governmental challenges to their constituencies’ free exercise of religion.  Embassy officials also engaged religious organizations on pending legislation that would remove the requirement that non-Catholic religious entities register as NGOs and would provide greater funding for these groups.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

The constitution grants individuals the right to choose, practice, and change religions; it prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the legal system.  The law requires all religious groups to register with the government; failure to do so can result in the group’s dissolution and liquidation of its physical property.  Religious leaders said the registration processing time remained at an average of 30 days.  Religious leaders said the National Assembly made no progress on a proposal to reform the 1937 religion law that the interfaith National Council on Religious Freedom and Equality (CONALIR) proposed in 2018 to create greater equality among religious groups.  Jewish and Muslim leaders said general customs regulations continued to hinder the ability to import products for use in religious festivals.  Roman Catholic leaders expressed opposition to the April Constitutional Court ruling that decriminalized abortion in cases of rape, but President Guillermo Lasso stated his government would respect the court’s decision.  On August 11, the Constitutional Court issued a landmark ruling involving religious discrimination, concluding that the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been violated and that local courts had violated their right to due process.  In December, the Constitutional Court upheld a provincial court decision requiring a university to accommodate a student’s request to reschedule an exam so the student could observe the Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath.

In May, Jewish leaders said that during the military escalation between Gaza Palestinians and Israel, two local newspapers with national circulation ran opinion articles that included comments they considered antisemitic.

U.S. embassy and consulate officials met with officials in the Human Rights Secretariat to discuss the registration process for religious groups and other government actions related to religious freedom.

Egypt

Executive Summary

The constitution states, “Freedom of belief is absolute” and “The freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine religions [i.e., the three Abrahamic faiths:  Islam, Christianity, and Judaism] is a right regulated by law.”  The constitution states citizens “are equal before the law” and criminalizes discrimination and “incitement to hatred” based upon “religion, belief, sex, origin, race…or any other reason.”  The constitution also states, “Islam is the religion of the state…and the principles of Islamic sharia are the main sources of legislation.”  The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and allows only their adherents to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship.  The constitution stipulates the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders.  Authorities executed Ahmad Saeed Ibrahim al-Sonbati on June 21 for the 2017 premeditated killing of Coptic priest Father Samaan Shehata of the church of Yulius al-Aqfahsi in the village of Ezbet Girgis, Beni Suef Governorate.  In October, Alexandria’s criminal court sentenced brothers Nasser and Ali al-Sambo to life in prison for the December 2020 killing of Coptic Christian Ramsis Boulos Hermina.  On February 10, the Court of Cassation upheld 15-year prison sentences for 10 defendants who participated in a 2013 church burning in Kafr Hakim, Giza Governorate.  Minya’s Criminal Court on June 15 sentenced 10 defendants to five-year prison terms on charges of “vandalism, violence, and burning the homes of Coptic citizens” during a 2016 sectarian riot in the village of Karm in Minya.  A court on November 17 sentenced lawyer Ahmed Abdou Maher to five years in prison with hard labor for defaming Islam in his book, How the Imams’ Jurisprudence Is Leading the Nation Astray, and for comments he made to BBC TV and al-Mayadeen TV.  In June, the Economic Misdemeanor Appeals Court in Alexandria rejected an appeal submitted on behalf of atheist activist and blogger Anas Hassan contesting a February 27 verdict sentencing him to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 pounds ($19,100) for managing “The Egyptian Atheists” Facebook page.  Authorities twice renewed Quranist Reda Abdel Rahman’s detention.  Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb and Coptic Pope Tawadros II hosted a celebration marking the 10th anniversary of Family House, a foundation established after the 2011 suicide bombing at Alexandria’s All Saints Church and dedicated to communal reconciliation.  In December, authorities banned Shia activist Haidar Kandil, a reporter for al-Dustour newspaper, from travelling to Moscow where he planned to seek employment.  On September 25, the Supreme Administrative Court issued a final verdict that banned the use of mosques for political purposes and upheld the state’s right to supervise them.  According to analysis by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, the government continued to ban the importation and sale of Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witnesses literature, and authorized customs officials to confiscate religious materials from the groups’ adherents.  The Mansoura Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court on December 7 ordered the release of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) researcher Patrick George Zaki after 22 months of pretrial detention pending an investigation on charges related to his 2019 article on anti-Copt discrimination.  The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities opened the first stop on the 2,100-mile Holy Family Trail, the biblical route believed to have been taken by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  In September, the government launched its National Strategy for Human Rights, which contained a section dedicated to “Freedom of Religion and Belief” prescribing steps to reform religious discourse and promote religious tolerance.  In December, press reported the Ministry of Justice sent the draft Personal Status Law for Christians to the cabinet for approval.  The cabinet had not sent the draft legislation to the House of Representatives at year’s end.  Coptic human rights attorneys filed a lawsuit on August 25 demanding the Minister of Interior’s Civil Status Department remove the “religion” field from the national ID card.

In April, ISIS-Sinai Peninsula (ISIS-SP) released a video that documented the killing of Nabil Habashi, a local Coptic Christian and cofounder of the only church in the district of Bir al-Abd, one of the focal points of ISIS-SP operations.  On July 27, Copt Shenouda Salah Asaad was stabbed to death, allegedly by a Salafist neighbor, in Assiut Governorate.  In April, sectarian clashes in al-Mudmar village in Sohag Governorate resulted in at least one death and six injuries that required hospitalization.  A July report by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Coptic Solidarity stated that out of 141 athletes on the national Olympic team that competed in the 2020 Tokyo games (held in 2021), only one was a Copt.  Reuters reported that the country’s first all-female Muslim recitation choir, al-Hour, is challenging “deep-rooted taboos about women singing in public or reciting from the Quran.”

The Ambassador, other embassy representatives, and senior U.S. government officials met with government officials and religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom and equal protection of all citizens before the law.  Throughout the year, embassy representatives met with the Grand Mufti, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, bishops, and senior pastors of the Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches, and the Jewish community.  In these meetings, embassy officers emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised concerns, including reports of harassment of religious converts, prospective changes to the country’s personal status law, lack of recognition for Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the continued use of religious designations on national identity cards.

El Salvador

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states all persons are equal before the law.  It prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The constitution grants automatic official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church and states other religious groups may also apply for official recognition through registration.  According to the Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDDH), during the year, the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted one case under the penal code for publicly offending or insulting the religious beliefs of others.  The Ministry of Governance reported that COVID-19 safety protocol restrictions continued to cause delays in registration of religious organizations and to limit access of the organizations to prisoners in national penitentiaries.  The ministry stated that during the year, there were 169 requests for registration of religious groups, compared with 122 in 2020.  Of these, the ministry approved 28 and denied 24; 117 were pending review at year’s end.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, gangs continued to control access to many neighborhoods, limiting movement of residents and engaging in violent acts and crimes against everyone, including members of religious groups.  In April, gang members attacked and beat an elderly priest in Santa Tecla, La Libertad Municipality, when he unknowingly drove into a gang-controlled neighborhood.  According to the Pew Research Center’s 12th annual study of restrictions on religion, issued in September but covering 2019, the country showed a moderate decrease in its social hostilities index, compared with a high level of social hostilities in its 2020 report covering 2018.  The social hostilities index measured acts of religious hostility by private individuals and societal organizations or groups.

In a meeting with the PDDH on September 14, U.S. embassy officials highlighted the importance of government officials carrying out their official duties regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation.  An embassy official attended an iftar in May and engaged with the minority Muslim community regarding the challenges of being a minority religion in a predominately Christian country and the importance of religious tolerance and diversity.  During the year, embassy officials met with religious leaders from the evangelical Protestant, Anglican, and Catholic Churches, as well as the Baha’i Faith, to discuss religious freedom issues and the difficulties religious groups experienced in attempting to reach followers in gang-controlled territories.  Embassy officials stressed the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the PDDH.

Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation.  The law states there is no national religion, but by decree and practice, the government gives preference to the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea, which are the largest religious groups and the only ones not required to register their organization or activities with the Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs, and Penitentiary Institutions (MJRAPI).  In February, the MJRAPI applied a new regulation on faith-based institutions that requires all evangelical Christian missionaries and leaders to submit a theological certificate (educational credentials or proof of their religious qualifications) in order for their religious groups to continue operating in the country.  According to an evangelical leader, the new regulation was intended to restrict unregistered evangelical institutions.  Evangelical Christians continued to report that residency permits were prohibitively expensive, leading some missionaries to risk the consequences of not obtaining or renewing their permits.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom during the year.

The Ambassador met with government officials, including the MJRAPI minister, to discuss the importance of religious freedom and respect for human rights.  Embassy staff members met with the Catholic Archbishop of Malabo, the presidents of the evangelical Christian and Pentecostal communities, and members of the Muslim and Baha’i communities to discuss their experiences as minority religious groups and religious tolerance in the country.  With the Christian leaders, embassy officials also discussed the new certificate requirement.

Eritrea

Executive Summary

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religiously motivated discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, as well as the freedom to practice any religion.  The government recognizes four officially registered religious groups:  the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Sunni Islam, the Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea.  Unregistered groups lack the privileges of registered groups; their members have been arrested and mistreated and their eventual release from detention has sometimes been conditioned on a formal renunciation of their faith.  Some unregistered groups are allowed to operate, and the government tolerates their worship activities.  International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international media continued to report that members of all religious groups were, to varying degrees, subjected to government abuses and restrictions.  During the year, the government both arrested and released individuals imprisoned on the basis of religion.  According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), officials released 70 individuals imprisoned on the basis of religion in the first two months of the year:  six on January 27, and 64 on February 1.  On April 5, the Christian NGO Release International reported two new sets of arrests, one set of 23 persons in Asmara and the other of 12 persons in Assab.  On April 12, the BBC reported that 36 Christians were released on bail, including 22 from the previous group in Asmara reported by Release International and 14 who had been in prison on the Dahlak Islands for four years.  According to Christian Today’s September reporting, authorities arrested 15 Christians, all of whom had previously been imprisoned for their religion.  NGOs estimated authorities continued to detain from 130 to more than 1,000 people due to their faith.  Authorities reportedly continued to detain 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to participate in military service or renounce their faith.  At least 20 Muslim protesters reportedly remained in detention following protests in Asmara in October 2017 and March 2018.  Authorities continued to confine former Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios to house arrest, where he has remained since 2006.  The government continued to deny citizenship to Jehovah’s Witnesses after stripping them of citizenship in 1994 for refusing to participate in the referendum that created the independent state of Eritrea.

While the government’s lack of transparency and intimidation of civil society and religious communities created difficulties for individuals who wanted to obtain information on the status of societal respect for religious freedom, religious tolerance appeared to international observers to be widespread within society.  Churches and mosques are located in close proximity to each other, and most citizens congratulated members of other religious groups on the occasions of religious holidays and other events.  There were no reports of sectarian violence, and most towns and ethnic groups included members from all the major religious groups.

U.S. officials in Asmara and Washington raised religious freedom concerns with government officials throughout the year, including the imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, lack of alternative service for conscientious objectors, and the continued detention of Patriarch Antonios.  Embassy officials further discussed religious freedom on a regular basis with a wide range of individuals, including members of the diplomatic corps based in Asmara, in other countries in the region, and UN officials.  Embassy officials used social media and outreach programs to engage the public and highlight the commitment of the United States to religious freedom and rebut the government’s argument that it does not persecute people based on their religious beliefs.

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated 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 November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the ongoing denial of licenses or other approvals for exports or imports of defense articles and services as referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(n) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Estonia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares there is no state church and protects the freedom of individuals to practice their religion.  It prohibits the incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  The law establishes registration of religious associations and religious societies and regulates their activities.  Unregistered religious associations are free to conduct religious activities but are not eligible for tax benefits.  The government continued to provide funds to the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities.  On January 27, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn.  In April, the government approved a plan to combat antisemitism designed by representatives of the Ministries of the Interior, Culture, Foreign Affairs, Education and Research, and Justice, the Police and Border Guard Board, the Estonian Jewish Community, and the Estonian Jewish Congregation.  Authorities arrested Kristo Kivisto for threats and defamation of a foreign symbol after Kivisto had advocated for the formation of a new cell of the violent far-right Nordic Resistance Movement.  Kivisto also made antisemitic comments online.  In February, the Parnu County Court sentenced him to six months’ probation.  On April 2, individuals desecrated the site of the Holocaust Memorial in Rahumae Jewish Cemetery.  Police identified the individuals involved and filed charges.

According to 2020 government statistics, the most recent data available, police registered three cases of physical abuse, breach of public order, or threats (as defined by law) that included hatred against persons belonging to religious or other minorities, compared with eight cases in 2019.  According to government sources, most of the cases were tied to the victim’s race or national origin.

Embassy officials raised the importance of combating antisemitism, promoting religious tolerance, and promoting Holocaust education in meetings with government officials from the Ministries of Interior, Culture, Education and Research, and Foreign Affairs.  The Charge d’Affaires regularly met with the leader of the Jewish community and participated in its Yahad Conference, a forum on Estonian Jewry held in the city of Parnu.  Embassy officials met with members of the Jewish community, leaders of religious associations, including members of the Muslim community, representatives of the Council of Churches, civil society groups, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss religious tolerance and the state of religious freedom in the country.  The embassy used social media to promote religious freedom, including a Facebook post celebrating International Religious Freedom Day.

Eswatini

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief.  Although the law requires new religious groups to register, members of unregistered groups said they were generally able to operate freely, although one group complained of having a disadvantaged taxation status.  The policy of excluding the teaching of other religions other than Christianity in public schools remained in effect.  The Muslim community said this requirement increased misperceptions of their faith.  Widespread civil unrest broke out in June after the government limited some political freedoms, resulting in protests throughout the country.  Observers stated the civil unrest, along with COVID-19 restrictions, preoccupied the government and pre-empted reconsideration of the Christian education requirement.  Non-Christian groups said the government continued to provide favorable treatment to Christian beliefs and organizations, such as free access to radio and television time.  In September, the King said he had received a message from God and ordered the public to display signs proclaiming “Hallelujah” throughout the country for a period of one month.

Muslim leaders continued to report negative and/or suspicious views of Islam in society.  Muslim leaders and business owners stated they believed their businesses were targeted unfairly during the civil unrest in June and July, but sources stated it was unclear if this is due to religious or racial/ethnic bias.  Religious leaders said that due to the travel and public gathering restrictions from COVID-19 and ongoing civil unrest, formal interfaith dialogues did not take place during the year, but religious communities held informal discussions and sometimes collaborated on community service or development initiatives.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials engaged with government officials on religious freedom and tolerance issues.  The Ambassador and embassy officials also engaged with civil society, the academic community, and religious leaders of different faiths on religious issues, including the importance of developing and maintaining interfaith dialogue in the country.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

The constitution requires the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state.  The conflict that erupted in northern Ethiopia in November 2020 spread to other regions during the year and victims of violence included religious figures.  According to media, at least 78 priests were killed in Tigray during the first five months of the year by soldiers from the national army and Eritrean troops.  The Telegraph reported the killings based on a church letter to the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) that said “priests, deacons, choristers and monks” had been “massacred” over a period of five months.  In April, according to media, EOTC Co-Patriarch Abune Mathias accused the government of genocide in Tigray.  On February 25, the Belgium-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Europe External Programme with Africa reported that one monk was killed during the bombing and looting of Debre Damo Monastery in January in Tigray.  Reportedly, Eritrean troops aligned with the Ethiopian National Defense Forces committed the attack.  According to media, on May 9, security forces violently shut down iftar celebrations at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa during Ramadan and turned away thousands of attendees.  Numerous individuals stated the shutdown was religiously motivated, as some members of the EOTC said Meskel Square was EOTC’s traditional property.  City officials, however, stated the shutdown was due to safety concerns.  According to media, in July, police officers raided a cathedral in Addis Ababa, interrupting prayers and forcing a dozen ethnic Tigrayan priests and monks into a pickup truck; they were released several weeks later.  On January 5, the BBC reported the government agreed to repair the al-Nejashi Mosque that was damaged in 2020 during the conflict in Tigray.  The government said a nearby church would also be repaired.

In October, the Amhara Region Islamic Affairs Supreme Council said the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had demolished a historic mosque in Zarema town, North Gondar, Amhara Region.  Some human rights groups stated that societal violence was on the rise, especially in the context of the ongoing conflict in the northern part of the country.  Because ethnicity and religion are often closely linked, and because criminality also played a role, according to knowledgeable observers, it was difficult to characterize many incidents of societal violence as solely based on religious identity.  On March 5, according to the Addis Standard, members of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) killed 29 individuals in Abo Church in Debos Kebele, East Wollega, Oromia Region.  Witnesses said victims were marking the beginning of the EOTC’s two-month period of fasting.  Reports stated members of the OLA stormed into the church, immediately killed the church administrator, took the rest of the victims to a nearby forest and killed them.

U.S embassy officials met with senior religious leaders to advocate peaceful resolution to the conflict in Tigray.  The Ambassador met with the Co-Patriarch of the EOTC following a viral video in which the Co-Patriarch warned of genocide against the Tigrayan people.  The embassy provided funding to faith-based organizations, including the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE), to implement community projects aimed at long-term peacebuilding and religious tolerance, among other goals.

Fiji

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief.  It also mandates the separation of religion and state.  The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against any religious group a criminal offense.  Religious groups must register with the government.  In July, the government introduced a range of broad regulations that, among other things, permitted only fully vaccinated individuals to enter certain public spaces, including houses of worship; consequently, many religious bodies cancelled in-person meetings and, instead, conducted religious services on social media platforms.  As a result of the regulations, approximately 10 unvaccinated ministers from the Christian Mission Fellowship Church (CMF Church) resigned to prevent the Church from paying fines.  Other religious bodies, such as the Methodist Church, confirmed it advised its unvaccinated pastors and church workers to refrain from participating in any church services, but instead to “stay in their own homes as they were still being paid.”  The government eased some restrictions in October, although regulations stipulated that churches and religious groups could allow only fully vaccinated members onto their premises for religious services and required that churches verify the vaccination status of their attendees using the government’s online tool.  The government also capped attendance at services at 70 percent of maximum capacity.

In September, police investigated an incident involving a pastor who was recorded on video demolishing a statue of a Hindu god at a house in Wairabetia, Lautoka.  Hindus in the country, including politicians and religious organizations such as the Sanatam Dharam Pratinibhi Saba, condemned the incident as an “act of sacrilege.”  The Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission received at least three complaints regarding the incident.  The commission said it would investigate the issue and called for religious leaders in the country to promote religious tolerance and respect.

On November 4, the Charge d’Affaires spoke about the importance of faith and protecting religious freedom at a Diwali commemoration and on social media.  The embassy used social media posts and videos to highlight U.S. support of religious diversity in the country.

Finland

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community.  The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies.  According to representatives of their respective groups, immigration authorities continued to deny most asylum applications from Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan.  While a United Nations Human Rights Committee ruling granted two families that are members of Jehovah’s Witnesses positive interim decisions halting deportation proceedings, 15 other cases of Jehovah’s Witness asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court at year’s end.  At least 47 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses previously denied asylum renewed their applications.  In July and September, the Helsinki Police Department fired two officers and were investigating at least five others for engaging in communications that included antisemitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.  A Finnish People First Party chairman and a Finns Party Member of Parliament (MP) were convicted of aggravated defamation and ethnic agitation respectively for comments against Muslims and asylum seekers.  In September, authorities charged a former city councilor with ethnic agitation for making threatening comments about Muslim immigrants and refugees.  The attorney general declined to prosecute a Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP regarding antisemitic comments made in 2011 because the attorney general declared that the MP had actively and independently sought to minimize the harm from his previous actions.  Prosecutors charged Christian Democrat MP Paivi Rasanen, a former Minister of the Interior, with ethnic agitation and incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality in connection with a booklet she published in 2004 and a 2019 tweet.  Rasanen said her statements were an expression of her freedom of speech and religion.

Police reported 108 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2020, the most recent statistics available, compared with 133 such incidents in 2019, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion.  Police stated the largest drop in hate crimes were crimes reported at bars and restaurants and were driven by COVID-19 protocols.  The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 34 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020, compared with 37 in 2019.  The Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) continued to post anti-Muslim and antisemitic statements online and acted to circumvent the ban of the organization by continuing activities as part of Towards Freedom and far-right websites such as Partisaani.  There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups.  The Jewish community reported continued incidents of antisemitic vandalism in Helsinki throughout the year.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the inability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center.  Some Muslim groups reported that currently available places of worship did not suit the full needs of their communities, but there was disagreement across communities as to the need for additional places of worship or the need for a grand mosque and disagreement as to how these places of worship could best serve the diverse Muslim population.

U.S. embassy staff engaged with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, government and police responses to antisemitic incidents, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ahmadi Muslims seeking asylum.  Embassy staff met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their shared concerns about the impact of government guidelines discouraging male circumcision and addressed religiously motivated crimes and continuing problems involved in establishing or maintaining mosques sufficient for the diverse Muslim population.  Embassy staff also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minority groups, and interfaith networks.

France

Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On August 24, President Emmanuel Macron signed a law providing authorities broader powers to monitor and close down religious organizations and groups they determined to be promoting ideas contrary to French values.  Religious groups, including Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Christian Orthodox leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) publicly condemned the law before it was enacted, saying that it “risks undermining fundamental freedoms” such as freedom of worship and of association.  Although the law did not specifically mention Islam, critics said it targeted and stigmatized Muslims and that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  In January, the government praised Muslim leaders who reached an agreement on a “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” affirming the signatories’ adherence to national law and values.  Critics of the charter said it was crafted by the government and represented an unconstitutional intervention into religious affairs.  The government dissolved by decree several Muslim organizations it accused of “inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and said that it had closed 672 Muslim establishments from February 2018 through October 2021, including 21 mosques since November 2020.  On April 14, the Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court of criminal and civil appeal – upheld lower court rulings that cannabis use by the killer of a 65-year-old Jewish woman in 2017 rendered him criminally irresponsible for her death, leading to protests and creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair.  After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 “health pass” would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.  President Macron and other government officials continued to condemn antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites.  In October, the Senate adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism; in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.

There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, including physical assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism and the killing in August of a priest in the Loire Region that generated a public outcry.  In the latter case, authorities judged the killer mentally unfit and placed him in a psychiatric hospital.  Authorities reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, a 12 percent drop compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported.  (According to the Ministry of the Interior, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.)  While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020).  Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that was collected in France between February and June 2020.  According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Officials from the U.S. embassy, consulates, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH).  The Charge d’Affaires and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance, including engaging Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Strasbourg, discussions of interfaith dialogue in Rennes, exchanges on antisemitism in Lyon, and raising Holocaust awareness in Marseille.  The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes, such as projects bringing together youth of different faiths and a roundtable with religious leaders, and regularly used social media to convey messages highlighting issues pertaining to religious freedom.

Gabon

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief.  It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to provide religious instruction.  The government continued to report local actors attempting to use religious cover to defraud individuals.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) rejected some applications to register religious groups for lack of documentation and “authenticity.”  Because of the continued COVID-19 pandemic, government health safety protocols remained in place, requiring churches to obtain government permission to reopen and limiting the number and size of services.  Religious leaders said they were concerned that the size limitations (no more than 30 worshippers per service) continued to be excessive, as some churches and mosques were built for congregations of 1,000 or more.  Although the restrictions were not widely observed, religious leaders said they wanted the government to lift them officially.

Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim leaders met in February to discuss the government’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

U.S. embassy staff met with senior ministry officials, nongovernmental organizations, and local religious leaders to encourage continued respect for religious freedom and to discuss the government’s response to the pandemic as it related to religious freedom.

Gambia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom of religious choice, as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others or the national interest.  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, establishment of a state religion, and formation of political parties based on religious affiliation.  The debate over whether the word “secular” should be included in the proposed new constitution had not been resolved at year’s end.  The National Assembly did not debate the draft constitution’s provisions in its legislative session during the year.  Prior to Ramadan, the government passed a bill that cut the daytime working hours of female civil servants, stating the decision was made in order to allow women to return home and prepare meals for their families to break the fast.  According to media reporting, some Christians stated the action was discriminatory and questioned why they were not afforded a similar accommodation during Lent.  According to media reports, political opponents used inaccurate rumors that one presidential candidate was an Ahmadiyya Muslim to disparage him during the campaign.  In televised statements during religious holidays, President Adama Barrow stressed the need for continued religious freedom and tolerance.

The Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), a religious body tasked with providing Islamic religious guidance, continued to state that the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community does not belong to Islam.  The council did not include members of the community in its events and activities.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly met with government officials as well as religious leaders of different faith groups to discuss religious freedom and tolerance.  The Ambassador also hosted events to promote tolerance and bring together different faith communities.  The embassy posted messages on social media to celebrate religious holidays and highlight the importance of religious freedom.

Georgia

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious persecution and recognizes equality for all regardless of religion, subject to considerations of public safety or health or the rights of others.  It stipulates the independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) and recognizes the GOC’s “outstanding role” in the country’s history.  Laws and policies grant the GOC unique privileges.  In September, documents published on the internet and widely covered in the media appeared to show widespread surveillance by the State Security Service of religious leaders and others and their conversations with political officials, journalists, foreign diplomats, and others.  The government denied the legitimacy of the documents, while some religious leaders, journalists, and others affirmed them and said the surveillance had a chilling effect on religious freedom, as it confirmed their suspicion that the State Security Service was monitoring the activity of religious groups.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government’s policy of granting blanket COVID-19 curfew exceptions for GOC holidays during the national lockdown from November 2020 to June 30, 2021, while requiring specific applications from all other groups seeking to celebrate religious holidays.  The government approved the registration of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian Organization in Georgia as a legal entity under public law during the year; it previously was registered as a noncommercial entity.  The government rejected the applications of six other Christian groups to be registered as legal entities under public law.  The NGO Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) again stated that prosecutors continued to fail to indict individuals for religiously motivated crimes.  Parliament again failed to comply with a court order to end exclusive tax and property privileges granted to the GOC, or to extend those benefits to other religious groups.  Some Muslim community leaders and NGOs said the government continued to influence and favor the state-funded religious group All Muslims of All Georgia (AMAG).  The Armenian Apostolic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Churches and some Muslim groups again reported difficulties in obtaining government recognition of their ownership of religious properties.  Muslims again cited a lack of government transparency in decisions on mosque construction.  On December 28, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear a case brought by TDI challenging the constitutionality of the law prohibiting religious organizations, other than the GOC, which has this right under its concordat with the state, from regaining legal ownership of religious buildings and other property confiscated during the Soviet regime and currently under state ownership.

Religious leaders again stated de facto authorities in the Russia-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which remained outside the administrative control of the central government, restricted some religious groups.  Both regions continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses, although the think tank Democracy Research Institute (DRI) reported Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals could assemble freely in Akhalgori, South Ossetia.  The GOC and Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) recognized Orthodox churches in both regions as belonging to the GOC, but GOC officials said de facto authorities in South Ossetia pressured Orthodox churches to merge with the ROC, while some religious figures in Abkhazia continued to support turning the region’s Orthodox churches into an autocephalous Abkhaz Orthodox Church.  Sources stated the ROC tacitly supported the autocephalic ambitions of breakaway churches without seeking formal recognition of their autocephaly from the GOC.  De facto authorities in South Ossetia declared GOC religious services illegal but permitted them in practice; in Abkhazia, de facto authorities prohibited GOC clergy from entering the region.  A report by DRI stated ethnically Georgian worshipers in Abkhazia who identified with the GOC experienced discrimination, while ethnic Abkhaz Muslims did not.  GOC worshipers in Abkhazia were unable to travel to Tbilisi-administered territory to celebrate Orthodox Christmas or Orthodox Easter due to the closure of the Enguri crossing point from February 2020 to July 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia continued to restrict movement across the division line with the rest of Georgia.  Georgia’s State Agency for Religious Affairs (SARI) reported only five GOC clergy and one church remained operational in South Ossetia.

During the year, the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MOIA) investigated 13 cases involving crimes reported as religiously motivated, compared with 22 cases in 2020.  The cases involved violence, including domestic violence, persecution, threats, and damage or destruction of property.  The Public Defender’s Office received six complaints of religiously based crimes or discrimination, compared with seven complaints in 2020.  The Prosecutor General’s Office prosecuted five individuals for crimes motivated by religious intolerance, including one involving rape, and all cases were pending at year’s end.  In September, the Tbilisi City Court convicted a man of raping a woman because she was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported six incidents against the group during the year, including one involving violence and three involving discrimination, compared with eight in 2020.  In January, in Buknari Village, a group of Christians assaulted two Muslim teens, following which there were clashes between Muslim demonstrators and Christians in the village.  In May, in Dmanisi City, ethnic Georgian Christians clashed with ethnic Azeri Muslims when a private dispute escalated to community violence.  Participants spoke of the violence, which had both ethnic and religious dimensions, in terms of “Muslims versus Christians.”  Some religious leaders stated SARI pressured AMAG as well as the Tbilisi Synagogue to publish statements against the LBGTQI+ advocacy organization Tbilisi Pride’s planned July 5 Tbilisi “March for Dignity”, which was cancelled when violent far-right actors, including some GOC priests, attacked group members and offices.  The NGO Media Development Foundation documented 117 instances of religiously intolerant remarks in national media during the year, including by politicians, clergy, and media figures, compared with 30 in 2020.  The NGO attributed the increase in incidents in part to intolerant statements by television station Alt-Info, which began broadcasting during the year, and to reporting on the violence in Buknari.  Some clergy propagated antisemitic conspiracy theories about COVID-19.  There were instances of sermons by senior GOC clergy that various groups described as antisemitic.  In a January 4 sermon, for example, GOC Archpriest Ilia Karkadze repeated antisemitic tropes about Jewish control of banks and media; according to TDI, the GOC subsequently condemned antisemitism and the archpriest’s comments.

U.S. embassy officials met regularly with senior government officials, including the Prime Minister’s adviser on human rights, members of parliament, and the Public Defender’s Office, to encourage dialogue and tolerance between the government and minority religious groups.  The Ambassador met with GOC Patriarch Ilia II and other senior Church leaders to stress the importance of religious diversity and tolerance.  Embassy officials met with senior GOC and MFA officials concerning their responses to the reports of antisemitic sermons by GOC clergy.  The embassy continued to meet with NGOs to discuss interfaith relations and the integration of religious minorities into society, and to support NGO programs encouraging interfaith tolerance and dialogue and respect for minority religious rights.

Germany

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion.  The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters.  Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits.  The federal government banned the Muslim association Ansaar International, stating it financed terrorism, and Hamburg’s intelligence service said it would classify the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) as an organization receiving “direct orders from Tehran.”  Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of numerous Muslim groups and mosques, as well as the Church of Scientology (COS).  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees.  A ruling on two German cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the needs of employers could outweigh an employee’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols.  Senior government leaders continued to condemn antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts.  In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that public antisemitism had increased in the country and said Germany would expend great strength to resist it.  The first antisemitism commissioner for the state of Hamburg assumed office in July; Bremen remained the only state without such a position.

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, vandalism, and demonstrations.  In separate incidents, two Jewish men were hospitalized after being severely beaten and suffering broken bones in the face.  In May, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations and attacks, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country, during violence in the Middle East.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported during the year, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.  Ministry of Interior crime statistics for 2020, the most recent year for which complete data were available, cited 2,351 antisemitic crimes, an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019, attributing 2,224 (94.6 percent) of them to the far right.  Fifty-seven of the antisemitic crimes involved violence.  The ministry registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions – including 79 against places of worship and 51 involving battery – and 141 anti-Christian crimes, including seven involving violence.  The ministry classified most of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim crimes as right-wing extremists; the composition of those acting against Christians was mixed.  The partially government-funded Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, classifying 489 antisemitic incidents as connected to the pandemic.  Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

In June, then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the U.S. Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism.  The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and met with a wide range of officials at all levels and with federal and state legislators.  They expressed concerns regarding antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities.  Consuls General met with state-level government representatives, including antisemitism commissioners.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns regarding religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.  The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities to support programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding, while countering antisemitism and extremism targeting religion.  The embassy utilized virtual and in-person speaker programs and workshops to help preserve accurate Holocaust narratives and expand discussion of religious freedom issues.  The Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community in June following an attack on a synagogue there.  The Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General visited Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, where they met with members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in the east of the country.  The embassy made extensive use of social media to amplify U.S. government messaging and disseminate its own original content advocating religious freedom.

Ghana

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, stipulates individuals are free to profess and practice their religion, and does not designate a state religion.  Registration is required for religious groups to have legal status.  Debate among religious groups and lawmakers about how best to regulate religious practices continued during the year; the government and interfaith leaders continued work on a proposed regulatory framework that would ensure religious rights and deconflict policies, particularly those regarding elementary and secondary education.  There were reports of uneven enforcement and implementation in schools across the country of a government directive requiring schools to respect students’ religious practices.  This was illustrated by the widely publicized case of Wesley Girls’ School, which was ordered by the government to permit Muslim students to fast during Ramadan.  President Nana Akufo-Addo moved forward with plans for an interdenominational national Christian cathedral, and government officials solicited public support for the project, while opposition to the proposal continued.  The government continued to issue and revise directives for COVID-19 protocols for public events, including religious gatherings, which could not exceed two hours and had to be held in open spaces.  Religious leaders generally expressed appreciation that the government consulted with religious institutions on those measures, and most Christian and Muslim leaders advised their communities to follow the directives.  Some small, independent churches, however, continued to complain that the ban on large gatherings and the time limits on church and mosque religious activities infringed upon religious liberties.

According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) International Christian Concern, three members of a prayer ministry in Kumasi were wounded when armed assailants attacked their all-night prayer service on February 6.  Muslim and Christian leaders continued to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and reported communication and coordination among themselves on a wide array of matters.  Religious institutions played a key role in providing vulnerable citizens a social safety net, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed with government officials the importance of mutual understanding, religious tolerance, and respect for all religious groups.  Embassy officers discussed religious freedom and tolerance with religious leaders, including engagement with the National Peace Council and Regional Peace Councils, whose governing councils included prominent religious leaders.  In May, the Ambassador encouraged religious freedom and interfaith harmony in a social media post marking Eid al-Fitr.  In July, the Ambassador made Eid al-Adha donations to the National Chief Imam.

Greece

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship, with some restrictions.  It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  On July 1, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of Golden Dawn, commonly characterized as a neo-Nazi political party, who had been a fugitive since he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October 2020.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of “known religions” (religious groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship) from running for mayor or city councilor and candidates from using religious symbols as campaign emblems.  On February 17, parliament approved legislation increasing from seven to nine the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee, adding two additional representatives from Muslim communities in Athens.  During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity.  The government issued seven permits for houses of prayer, four of which Muslim groups submitted, including a group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians, a group of Pentecostal Christians, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens.  The government also approved the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in in the northern town of Porotsani.  During the year, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected at least three applications by Muslim groups to establish houses of prayer, including one each in Thessaloniki, Imathia (Central Macedonia Region), and Athens, on various administrative grounds.  Government authorities also revoked seven house of prayer permits – two at the request of the specific religious groups that held the permits.  In the other cases, the permits were revoked due to a lack of responsiveness, of space for worship, or of a religious leader.  On October 26, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, annulled a 2017 ministerial decree allowing the ritual killing of animals during Islamic and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia, stating the decree contradicted the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  On May 13 in Athens, the government opened the first government-funded mosque in Europe.  In September, the government announced it would distribute 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to religious groups to counter the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact.  Throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis publicly advocated for the return of the Thessaloniki Jewish community’s archives seized by Germany in World War II and subsequently transferred to Moscow.  In a December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would return these archives to the Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS).  On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for a land exchange between the Railway Organization and the municipality of Thessaloniki for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum, an exchange the city of Thessaloniki approved on June 4.  On June 23, by a joint initiative of the KIS Central Board and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, among others, were imprisoned and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  On April 1, the country assumed chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were portrayed with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and Holocaust comparisons.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon arguing against an education bill regarding universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in a widely circulated newspaper on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”  At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage in March to a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims carried out a few days after the creation of the mural, on August 5, vandals opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in the western region of Epirus.  On September 10, unidentified individuals vandalized a different grave at the same cemetery.  On January 10, vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the cathedral in Heraklion, Crete.  In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general representatives met with Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos as well as with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Minister and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general for religious affairs and governors to discuss Greece’s chairmanship of the IHRA and other religious freedom issues.  These included the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and the operation of the first public mosque in Athens, government action regarding the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights in Thessaloniki, and initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue, including the country’s IHRA chairmanship.  In outreach to contacts and meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches.  On February 3, the Ambassador discussed the planned Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki with the Deputy Prime Minister.  Three individuals working on religious issues in the country took part in digital leadership programs on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom and on countering Holocaust distortion and denial.

Grenada

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion.  The criminal code prohibits the publication and sale of blasphemous language; however, the code is not enforced.  In September, government officials met with members of the religious community, including the Islamic Foundation, to discuss the burial of individuals who died of COVID-19-related causes in accordance with religious rites.  The government continued to review its religious affairs program to determine appropriate resource allocation, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The government inaugurated a faith-based and community-based skills training program in September, which will continue through 2022.  Denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services and prayer continued to form part of official festivities on national holidays, religious holidays, and in other public functions.  Government officials consulted and collaborated with religious groups during the COVID-19 pandemic regarding emergency protocols, and religious leaders agreed to hold virtual services during the height of a COVID-19 outbreak from mid-August through October.  The government held two national days of spiritual reflection and prayer on September 25 and 26 under the theme, “A Call to Return to God.”

The Conference of Churches Grenada (CCG), an ecumenical Christian body, continued to promote unity and mutual understanding among members of the Christian community despite restrictions on all gatherings, including religious services, during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The CCG held in-person and virtual meetings and continued to encourage discussions with other faith-based groups, including evangelical Protestant groups, as well as non-Christian religious groups, including the Muslim community.  On September 12, the Alliance of Evangelical Churches held a virtual National Day of Prayer.

U.S. embassy officials engaged the Minister of Education, Human Resources Development, Religious Affairs, and Information and religious leaders, both in person and virtually.  In September, the Principal Officer held virtual meetings with representatives from the CCG, the Alliance of Evangelical Churches, the Muslim, Jewish, Rastafarian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Baha’i Faith communities to discuss religious freedom in the country and the challenges the organizations faced with restrictions on large gatherings and in-person services during September and October as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Embassy representatives also used social media to promote religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, belief, and thought.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship and the free expression of all beliefs.  The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Roman Catholic Church.  Non-Catholic religious groups must register with the Ministry of Interior to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status, after following a process involving several steps that could take up to two years and cost approximately 10,000 quetzals ($1,300).  On June 24, the San Benito, Peten Sentencing Court sentenced indigenous spiritual leader Domingo Choc’s three attackers, Edin Arnoldo Pop Caal, Romelia Caal Chub, and Candelaria Magaly Pop Caal to 20 years in prison for killing Choc in 2020, but his family members said they were disappointed by the court’s decision not to recognize the killing as motivated by anti-Mayan spiritual hate.  According to sources close to the family, the family continued to fear for its safety and remained in exile in the neighboring town of Poptun.  On June 9, National Civil Police arrested 21 Chicoyoguito community members who were peacefully protesting on land in Alta Verapaz that includes its sacred ceremonial center and a spiritual site.  On June 18, the First Court of Coban, Alta Verapaz, ordered the Public Ministry to investigate 18 protesters for aggravated criminal trespassing, with the remaining three investigated for attempted trespassing.  According to multiple sources within religious groups, during the year, the government applied more restrictive measures on churches and temples than on other public venues, including restaurants and bars.  Representatives of Protestant and Catholic groups said the government’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions limited the free exercise of religion, even if that had not been the government’s intent.  In May, three of the four Mayan spiritual associations aligned with the Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites (COLUSAG) withdrew from the organization.  According to the Ombudsman for human rights, Congress did not release full funding for the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), which is charged with protecting religious freedom, until November 24, limiting the PDH’s ability to fulfill its mandate.  Non-Catholic groups stated some municipal authorities in rural areas continued to discriminate against them in processing building permit approvals and in local tax collection.

According to press reports, on January 4, unknown assailants physically abused and killed Mayan spiritual guide Jesus Choc Yat in Quiche; at year’s end, police had not arrested anyone for his killing.  According to an anthropologist, evangelical Protestant missionaries in Chichicastenango distributed fliers asking for donations to build new churches to fight against “satanic” practices, referring to Mayan spiritual practices.  A Catholic parish priest in Izabal reported that this practice was widespread; he mentioned similar efforts by small unorganized evangelical Protestant churches denouncing Mayan spiritual practices in their local publications and announcements online.  Some Catholic clergy reported they continued to receive anonymous threats, mostly on social media, because of their association with environmental protection and human rights work.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly engaged with government officials, civil society organizations, and religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom, including threats against Catholic clergy and the reported lack of access to Mayan spiritual sites.  During the year, the Ambassador met multiple times with religious leaders, including Catholic Archbishop Gonzalo de Villa and Cardinal Alvaro Ramazzini, to reiterate the U.S. government’s dedication to freedom of religion and discuss cooperation in supporting broader human rights in the country.  Embassy officials emphasized the value of tolerance and respect for religious diversity, including for religious minorities, in meetings with various civil society and religious groups.  Embassy officials also emphasized the need to denounce and prevent violence against Mayan spiritual practitioners.

Guinea

Executive Summary

The country’s constitutional, elected government was overthrown in a military coup d’etat on September 5.  The self-proclaimed National Committee for Reconciliation and Development (CNRD) suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly.  The CNRD published a Transition Charter on September 27 that states Guinea is a secular state and any act undermining the secular nature of the state or one’s religious freedom is to be considered punishable by fines and imprisonment.  The Transition Charter also guarantees freedom of worship within limits defined by the law.  In addition, the charter stipulates that two members of the 81-member National Transition Council (CNT) are to be religious community members.  As of year’s end, the CNT had not yet been formed.  Prior to September 5, the constitution stated that the country was a secular state, prohibited religious discrimination, and provided individuals the right to choose and profess their religion.  Before and after September 5, the Secretariat General of Religious Affairs (SRA) continued to issue weekly themes for inclusion in Friday sermons at mosques and Sunday church sermons.  Although the SRA did not control sermons at every mosque and church, its inspectors were present in every region and were responsible for ensuring that mosque and church sermons were consistent with SRA directives.  In May, Imam Nanfo Diaby was arrested while leading Eid al-Fitr prayer in the Malinke language rather than in Arabic, as required by SRA guidelines.  He served five months in prison and was fined 500,000 Guinean francs ($54).  The government banned evening prayers in mosques for the last 10 days of Ramadan due to rising COVID-19 cases.  This was followed by numerous protests, with multiple arrests and one person killed by security forces in Kerouane, Upper Guinea.  Additionally, religious authorities suspended eight imams, with one being arrested and later released, for inciting violence, leading protests, and violating the ban on night prayers.  By August, seven imams were reinstated, while one was barred from preaching.  In September, media reported that security forces prevented local Wahhabi Islam followers from attending Friday prayers at a mosque in Misside Hinde near Labe, Middle Guinea Region.  Local authorities closed the mosque after the prefecture’s Islamic League, a civil society organization that closely follows SRA guidance, filed a complaint that the mosque lacked the necessary permits to operate.

In September, as part of a long-running dispute between the Catholic Church and Muslim Susu villagers, residents attacked the Catholic Saint-Jean Monastery in Kendoumaya with the intent of reoccupying the land.  After a monk used a shotgun to fire warning shots to disperse the crowd, villagers assaulted him.  Police later dispersed the crowd without charges or arrests.  The incident followed year-long efforts by villagers to claim the land surrounding the monastery and subdivide it among themselves, despite efforts by the Catholic Church, local authorities, and the Ministry of Justice to resolve the dispute.  At year’s end, several court cases regarding the dispute between the villagers and the Church remained pending.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met on multiple occasions with the Secretary General of Religious Affairs to discuss religious tolerance, reconciliation, and social cohesion among religious groups.  Embassy officials also met with religious leaders to discuss the same issues and the historic role religious leaders have played in mediating local conflicts.  The Charge d’Affaires and previous participants from a U.S. government-funded exchange program took part in a service project during Ramadan to help clean the Fadiga Mosque in the Nongo neighborhood of Conakry.  The Charge d’Affaires used these opportunities to speak about the importance of religious tolerance and building links between various faith communities.  In February, as part of the response to an Ebola outbreak, an embassy-funded communication and engagement program brought together more than 120 Muslim and Christian leaders to encourage dialogue between local government authorities, public health officials, and religious leaders to accommodate religiously appropriate burials for victims.  The program encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, countering Ebola disinformation, and community acceptance of survivors.  The embassy also promoted tolerance, including religious tolerance, indirectly through its democracy and governance activities.

Guinea-Bissau

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the separation of religion and state and the responsibility of the state to respect and protect legally recognized religious groups.  It states that all citizens are equal under the law, with the same rights and obligations irrespective of their religion, and it recognizes the freedom of religious groups to teach their faith.  In April, President Umaro Sissoco Embalo discontinued the government’s prior practice of providing financial support for food following Ramadan.  In May, local police injured village protesters in the Bafata region while attempting to enforce a day of prayer established by a regional government authority.  In July, the Ministry of Public Administration set a prayer date for Eid al-Adha and declared the date to be a national holiday.  Some religious leaders said they regarded this action as government interference in Islamic affairs.  Some Islamic and Christian religious leaders commented on a Pentecostal church they believed to be promoting division, intolerance, and disrespect toward other religions.  The government took no action against the church, although a Muslim leader said he reported his concerns about it to the Prime Minister and Interior Minister.

Religious leaders consistently stated that different ethnic and religious groups were still mostly respectful and tolerant of one another throughout the country.  Some religious leaders, however, expressed concern regarding the spread of what they deemed religious extremism.  A nongovernmental organization (NGO) highlighted the growth in the number of cases involving persons accused of witchcraft.  It cited 50 known cases since 2019, including six in 2021 in which the accused person was killed.  Religious leaders consistently identified better education as the most important factor in limiting the spread of religious extremism.

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.  The United States directs its engagement in the country from the U.S. embassy in Dakar, Senegal.  In October, a visiting official from the Guinea-Bissau Liaison Office at the U.S. embassy in Dakar met separately with Muslim and Christian religious leaders in Bissau to discuss issues of tolerance and coexistence and their concern regarding the spread of religious extremism.

Guyana

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion.  Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to state a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices.  In January, the government introduced a bill before the National Assembly to remove custodial sentences for the possession of fewer than 30 grams of cannabis and remove fines for using cannabis.  The draft bill was sent to a parliamentary select committee on January 28, where it remained pending at year’s end.  In October, a Hindu citizen in an editorial criticized the Ministry of Education for allowing a prayer that he characterized as Christian to be recited at a government-sponsored ceremony, citing it as discriminatory.  The ministry replied that the prayer was universal and commonly used in parliamentary sessions.  The constitution mandates an Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) to promote ethnic and religious harmony and it includes representatives of the country’s main religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.  During the year, the government did not select new members to replace the ERC commissioners, whose terms expired in April.  The government continued to promote religious tolerance and diversity, including through public messaging on religious holidays.  In January, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Services formalized its Support and Heal Network (SAHN) initiative, a partnership between the ministry and nearly 30 leaders of the country’s religious communities with the stated goal to strengthen interfaith cooperation, increase tolerance, and address social inequities and marginalization of communities.

The Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana (IROG), whose members include representatives of the Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Rastafarian, and Baha’i faiths, continued to conduct interfaith efforts, including by publishing messages in support of religious tolerance, and its constituent religious groups continued to lead and participate in programs promoting interfaith tolerance and religious freedom.  Their programs included the establishment of a Women of Faith Network and hosting a series of discussions during UN World Interfaith Harmony Week in February.  Religious leaders said there was a high degree of religious tolerance in the country, but politics inflamed ethnic tensions, especially around national elections.  Religious leaders said faith could be a vehicle for healing ethnic tensions, but they were wary of proceeding too deeply into the political sphere, explaining that doing so could lead to claims of bias and therefore diminish their stature and ability to impartially carry out their work.

In November, the Ambassador met with the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance to discuss protection of religious freedom and support for interfaith harmony.  In March, the Ambassador met with the ERC to discuss cooperation in promoting religious harmony in the country.  In April, the Ambassador hosted an iftar for leaders of the Muslim, Christian, Rastafarian, and Baha’i communities.  The religious leaders discussed how promoting religious tolerance could heal ethnic divisions.  U.S. embassy officials met with representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups throughout the year and discussed issues related to religious tolerance.  Embassy officials amplified messages of religious tolerance on social media with greetings posted on Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish holidays.

Haiti

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions.  Any religious group seeking official recognition must obtain it through a multistep registration process with the Bureau of Worship (BOW), a unit within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).  The government has a special relationship with the Roman Catholic Church originating from an 1860 concordat between the government and the Holy See that affords the Catholic Church certain privileges but also subjects it to greater governmental regulation.  According to media, on April 15, police fired tear gas at dozens of individuals at Port-au-Prince’s Church of St. Peter, the focal point of a nationwide event called “Mass for the Freedom of Haiti.”  On this date, the Church held hundreds of masses simultaneously across the country to protest the political crisis and kidnappings of priests during the government of then President Jovenel Moise.  In May, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community completed registration with the BOW and later successfully registered its schools with the Ministry of Education (MOE), which allowed its students to take national exams.  The larger Sunni and Shia Muslim communities remained unregistered with the BOW at year’s end.

Media reported throughout the year that armed gangs increasingly targeted religious leaders and communities, including the killing or kidnapping of clergy and lay persons for ransom.  According to leaders from all major religious communities, these cases were part of a wider trend of rising gang violence.  Religious leaders said the issue was not discrimination against any particular religious group, but rather the belief among gangs that religious leaders held a prominent position in society and had access to personal funds or to money from wealthy foreign donors.  Media reported that on October 16, 400 Mawozo gang members kidnapped 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian (including five children) from the Amish Mennonite missionary group Christian Aid Ministries.  Observers described the gang as “notoriously violent” as it took control of roads and communities in and around Port-au-Prince.  By December 16, all 17 hostages had either been released or had escaped.  Vodou leaders reported that Vodou practitioners were often forced to hide their identity due to fear of stigmatization, but they also expressed some optimism about greater tolerance and acceptance of Vodou, which is a government-recognized religion.

U.S. embassy officials held regular conversations with government officials and religious leaders to discuss the state of religious freedom and challenges faced by religious groups.  Embassy officials engaged BOW Director General Evens Souffrant on issues of religious freedom, including respect for religious diversity.  Senior U. S. government officials visited Port-au-Prince in August, September, and October and met with leaders from a wide variety of religious communities to hear their perspectives on the impact of the political and security crises on religious freedom in the country.  The embassy hosted a roundtable on May 7 with Islamic leaders to discuss their experiences as a new religious minority in the country.  In October, embassy representatives met with leaders of the Vodou community to discuss their status in society and incidents of stigmatization.  The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs visited the country on September 30 and participated in an embassy-hosted roundtable with major leaders from the Catholic, Episcopalian, Mainstream Protestant (a technical term used in the country that refers to denominations belonging to the Protestant Federation), Evangelical Protestant, and Vodou communities.

Honduras

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions.  Religious organizations may register as legal entities classified as religious associations and thereby acquire tax-exempt status and other government benefits.  On September 30, the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum (FIH) – an evangelical Protestant umbrella organization – reported government discrimination in the application of tax exoneration policies and residency applications for foreign missionaries.  It stated the government did not approve or respond to an application for a tax exemption or for residency permits from certain religious groups associated with the FIH, which does not have a formalized agreement with the government, while approving applications from other religious groups belonging to the Evangelical Fellowship of Honduras (CEH), which has a formalized agreement.  Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church continued to express concerns that some public universities did not grant them leave to observe their Sabbath on Saturday because Saturdays were part of the official work week.  They cited specifically the Francisco Morazan National Pedagogical University.

According to Seventh-day Adventists, some private universities and companies did not grant them leave to observe their Sabbath.  Muslim leaders reported incidents where individuals who self-identified as evangelical Protestants made offensive remarks regarding their community on social media, such as “stop infesting our country with false doctrines.”

The Charge d’Affaires raised with the Minister of Human Rights the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental right.  U.S. embassy officials met with officials of the Ministry of Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and the autonomous National Commission of Human Rights (CONADEH) to discuss issues of religious freedom, including the importance of respect for minority religious groups and for equal treatment under the law for all religious groups.  On May 18 and October 15, the Charge d’Affaires met with Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who described social challenges, including poverty and migration, and the role of the Catholic Church in helping the population address these challenges.  On September 17, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith roundtable to discuss religious freedom and tolerance.  Topics included religious freedom in schools, societal inequality, corruption, the role of religious groups in the November presidential and legislative elections, and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Embassy officials continued to engage with religious leaders and other members of a wide range of religious communities regarding their involvement in addressing societal violence, corruption, inequality, and migration, and their concerns regarding what they viewed as the government’s preferential treatment of some religious groups over others in the country.

Hong Kong

Read A Section: Hong Kong

CHINA | Tibet | XinjiangMacau

Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, state that residents have freedom of conscience, freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.  The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  In 2020, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) imposed a broad National Security Law (NSL) for the SAR with the stated aim of combating secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers.  The Falun Dafa Association and some churches active in the prodemocracy movement said the government had grown less tolerant since passage of the NSL.  Other religious leaders and advocates stated the NSL did not impair their ability to conduct or attend worship services in conformity with their religious norms; however, they continued to express concern regarding self-censorship and potential PRC targeting of civil society organizations affiliated with religious groups active in the 2019 prodemocracy movement.  An unknown assailant physically attacked the head of the Hong Kong Falun Dafa Association, and unknown assailants vandalized and destroyed printing presses at the contracted printer’s facility of the Falun Gong-affiliated publication Epoch Times.  On April 2 and April 3, masked individuals wielding knives and spray paint destroyed eight Falun Gong public information displays in what the group said appeared to be coordinated attacks across several locations.  In April, Lo Hing-choi, president of the Baptist Convention and a critic of the NSL, resigned and moved abroad, saying he feared government retaliation if he remained in Hong Kong.  In May, the Good Neighbor North District Church, which had supported the prodemocracy movement, ceased operations.  There were reports of emigration of other religious leaders.  Media reported that on October 31, bishops and religious leaders from mainland China briefed Hong Kong Catholic clergymen on the PRC central government’s policy of “Sinicizing” Christianity.  Authorities curtailed activities of Falun Gong practitioners during the year, banning their street kiosks under what practitioners said was a pretext of violating COVID-19 protocols.  In July, several members of the SAR Legislative Council urged the SAR government to outlaw the Falun Dafa Association under the NSL.  In September, an editorial in the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po called on SAR authorities to ban “cult organizations,” a term the PRC government has historically used to refer to Falun Gong, among other groups.  In April, Wen Wei Po reported that national security police blocked access to the website of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church for internet users in Hong Kong due to “national security” concerns.

In June, an unknown group hung banners defaming Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Catholic Church policy on China, around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  On May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan Bishop of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide spiritual and monetary support to underground churches in mainland China.

The U.S. Consul General and staff repeatedly raised concerns regarding the shrinking space for civil society, including religious groups, during meetings with a range of official counterparts in which they also affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief.  U.S. officials delivered similar messages to religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community representatives, as well as in public messages.

Hungary

Executive Summary

The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.”  The Law prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities.  There are four tiers of religious groups, all of which may receive state funding and income tax allocations from taxpayers, provided they have concluded cooperation agreements with the state.  In January, the government informed the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) that it was “no longer possible” to pay restitution for heirless Jewish property.  The WJRO and the government resumed discussions on the issue in October.  The Church of Scientology (COS) said the Data Protection Authority (DPA) raided its office in Budapest and confiscated its files, and the National Tax Authority (NAV) raided the homes of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud.  The Constitutional Court rejected a COS appeal related to the seizure of documents from the COS office in 2017.  In June, a court ordered a newspaper to pay a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Christian Democratic People’s Party compensation and issue an apology for publishing a satirical cartoon of the government’s chief medical officer and the crucified Jesus.  The newspaper published the apology but said it had asked the Supreme Court to review the decision.  Senior government officials, including Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban, continued to make statements in defense of what they called a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration.  In September, Orban said present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe.  Other politicians made antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements.

The Action and Protection Foundation, which monitors antisemitism, reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 35 incidents in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 13 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Hungary said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Muslim leaders said that physical assaults against Muslims were rare, but verbal insults were frequent, and there were cases of anti-Muslim discrimination.  In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.”  In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.

In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated for restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups.  In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of over 62,000 Hungarian Jews.  The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns.  During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Iceland

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and practice, as long as it is not prejudicial to good morals or public order.  The constitution also protects the right to form religious associations.  It names the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the state church, to which the government provided financial support and benefits not available to other religious groups.  An agreement between church and state removed ELC clergy and staff from civil service status in 2020, and in June the government passed a comprehensive law designating the ELC as the chief authority on the allocation of its finances and internal structure and designating the ELC Assembly as its governing body.  The government allows other spiritual and humanist groups (“life-stance groups” under the law) to register to receive state subsidies.  The government registered two new religious groups – the Chabad Jewish Community and Wat Phra Buddhism – during the year, bringing the number of registered groups to 54.  The Atheist organization Sidmennt criticized the government for insufficient consultations in developing government policy on religious matters.  The government church tax payment to registered religious and life-stance groups was 11,820 kronur ($91) for each member aged 16 or older, compared with 11,700 kronur ($90) in 2020.

Religious groups reported generally good relations with the government and society at large.  Jewish community leaders noted a slight uptick in antisemitic rhetoric on social media, and one incident involving a verbal confrontation at the time of violence between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas in May.  According to a February Gallup poll, 32 percent of the public expressed trust in the ELC, compared with 31 percent in 2020, but down from 41 percent in 2009 and 61 percent in 1999.  One Muslim community leader stated he had received reports of doctors being reluctant to perform circumcisions except for medical reasons.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Registers Iceland, and the district commissioner office (the local authority responsible for registering religious groups) to discuss the status and rights of religious groups.  Embassy officials also maintained contact with representatives of religious groups and life-stance organizations to discuss their perspectives on religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and the role of religious groups in education and refugee integration.  In January, the Ambassador hosted religious leaders from the ELC, Catholic Church, Islamic Foundation of Iceland, and Chabad Jewish Community for a roundtable discussion on religious freedom.  The Charge d’Affaires delivered remarks at an April event marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The embassy used social media throughout the year to highlight the importance of religious freedom.

India

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It also states that citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health.  Ten of 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against so-called forced religious conversions for the purpose of marriage although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  In August, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand State filed a complaint against local police alleging that seven police officers sexually abused them during interrogation and used anti-Islamic slurs.  According to media, police took no action on the complaint by year’s end.  Police made several arrests during the year under laws that restrict religious conversion, and several state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation restricting religious conversion.  According to the United Christian Forum (UCF), a Christian rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), in the period between January and June, 29 Christians were arrested in three states on suspicion of forceful or fraudulent religious conversions under the laws restricting religious conversions in those states.  Some NGOs reported that the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities.  A faith-based NGO stated in its annual report that out of 112 complaints of violence filed by Christian victims from January to August, police filed official reports (First Information Report or FIR) in 25 cases.  There were no updates on these cases by the end of the year.  Police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism.  NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize 2020 amendments passed to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organizations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements.  The government continued to say the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.  According to media reports, FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs, including hundreds of faith-based organizations, lapsed after the government said the organizations did not apply for renewal in time.  In addition, during the year the government suspended FCRA licenses of 179 NGOs, including some that were faith-based.  The states of Assam and Karnataka enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle; 25 of 28 states now have similar restrictions.  The most recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, Crime in India for 2020, released in September, said that the violence in New Delhi in February 2020 following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) resulted from a “feeling of discrimination” among the Muslim community.  During the year, Delhi courts acquitted some of those arrested on charges related to the protests and convicted one Hindu participant.  Various courts criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the protests.  Politicians made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities.  For example, Madan Kaushik, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand State, told the media in October that “Our party line is clear that no [religious] conversion [from Hinduism] will be tolerated.”  In May, the Assam government removed theological content from the curriculum of more than 700 state-run madrassahs and state-run Sanskrit schools, which converted them into regular public schools.  Analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.

Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year.  These included incidents of “cow vigilantism” against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef.  According to the UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year from 279 in 2020.  According to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, Hindus committed 13 instances of violence and threats against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruption of worship services, and vandalism.  The NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and UCF released a joint report that noted more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians reported to UCF’s hotline during the year.  Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant laborers from Bihar, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.  As of December, alleged terrorists had killed 39 civilians including two schoolteachers from the Hindu and Sikh communities.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds of migrants to depart Jammu and Kashmir.  There were reports of vandalism against Muslim facilities during the year, including by Hindu nationalist groups damaging mosques, shops, and houses belonging to the Muslim community across Tripura State in October.  Media reports said these attacks occurred in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival in that country.  A mob killed four Muslim men on June 20 in Tripura on suspicion of cattle smuggling.  On June 21, suspected cow vigilantes killed Muslim Aijaz Dar in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Cow vigilantes allegedly killed Babu Bheel, a member of a Rajasthan tribal community, on June 14.  Religious leaders, academics, and activists made inflammatory remarks about religious minorities.  During a Hindu religious gathering in Hardiwar, Uttarakhand State, December 17-19, Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, described as a Hindu religious extremist, called upon Hindus to “take up weapons against Muslims” and “wage a war against Muslims.”  On December 21, police named Narasinghanand and seven others for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” in multiple FIRs; police arrested Narasinghanand a few weeks later, although he was subsequently released on bail.  The others had not been arrested by year’s end.  The Pew Research study on “Religion in India” released in July noted that most Indians valued religious tolerance but preferred living religiously segregated lives.  Eighty-nine percent of Muslims and Christians surveyed said they were “very free to practice their own religion” but 65 percent of Hindus and Muslims said they believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  Freedom House downgraded the country’s ranking from “free” to “partly free” during the year in part due to policies described as advancing Hindu nationalist objectives.

During the year, U.S. embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, engaged with members of parliament, politicians from multiple political parties, religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations, and civil society members to discuss the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.  During engagements with political parties, civil society representatives, religious freedom activists, and leaders of various faith communities, U.S. government officials discussed the importance of religious freedom and pluralism; the value of interfaith dialogue, and the operating environment for faith-based NGOs.  Throughout the year, the Chargés d’Affaires met with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths to discuss their perspectives and views on religious freedom issues.  In May, the embassy organized a virtual interfaith dialogue during Ramadan to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and interfaith harmony.  In July, the Secretary of State, during his visit to the country, addressed the importance of freedom of religion and belief in his opening remarks and held a roundtable with diverse faith leaders to discuss inclusive development.

Indonesia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides a guarantee of freedom of religion and the right to worship according to one’s own beliefs but states citizens must accept restrictions established by law to protect the rights of others and, as noted in the constitution, to satisfy “just demands based upon considerations of morality, religious values, security, and public order in a democratic society.”  Some local governments imposed local laws and regulations restricting religious observance, such as regulations banning Shia or Ahmadi Islamic practice.  In Aceh Province, authorities continued to carry out public canings for sharia violations, such as selling alcohol, gambling, and extramarital affairs.  Individuals continued to be detained and received prison sentences for violations of blasphemy laws.  The Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation reported 67 blasphemy cases in 2020, the most recent year available, with 43 cases related to statements made on social media.  On April 20, police named Joseph Paul Zhang as a blasphemy suspect for statements on his YouTube channel that he was the 26th prophet of Islam.  On the same day, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies removed 20 videos uploaded by Zhang deemed to be potential blasphemy.  On May 31, police summoned Desak Made Darmawati, a professor at a Jakarta college, for questioning as a blasphemy suspect after a coalition of Hindu organizations reported Darmawati for statements in a widely shared online video that were regarded as anti-Hindu.  On August 25, police arrested Muhammad Kace in Bali for blasphemy related to statements made in a YouTube video critical of the Islamic religious curriculum used in the country and of the Prophet Muhammad.  On August 22, Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas released a statement emphasizing that blasphemy remained a crime and that religious speech should focus on being educational and building national unity and religious tolerance.  Local religious majorities continued to delay or deny the construction and renovation of houses of worship for local religious minorities.  In June, the Bogor city government granted land to relocate the GKI Yasmin Church, which had its construction halted in 2007 because of vocal opposition from some local Muslim leaders.  City and national government officials said the action had resolved the long-standing dispute, but members of the GKI Yasmin congregation publicly stated they had not been involved in the decision and they still sought construction of their church at its original location, as directed by a 2020 Supreme Court ruling.  At the national level, government and religious leaders cooperated closely in developing restrictions to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.  In June, the leader of the banned Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a group known for violence and religious intolerance, was sentenced to four years in prison for spreading false information related to COVID-19.  In January, two non-Muslim students refused to wear hijabs, which were mandated by the school.  As a result of the controversy that followed, the government issued a joint ministerial decree in February to prevent schools from compelling female students to wear hijabs, a decision welcomed by religious freedom activists.  The Supreme Court, however, annulled the decree in May saying it contravened four pre-existing laws.  In January, President Joko Widodo nominated and the lower house of parliament unanimously approved General Listyo Sigit Prabowo, a Protestant, as the head of the Indonesian National Police.  Prabowo became the first Christian to hold the position since the 1970s.

On May 11, four Christian farmers in Poso Regency, Central Sulawesi, were killed by the East Indonesia Mujahedeen terrorist group.  On March 28, two suicide bombers, later identified as a married couple, attacked the Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, South Sulawesi Province, killing both assailants and injuring 20 bystanders.  On May 28, police arrested 11 suspected members of the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah terrorist organization in Merauke, Papua, for an alleged plot to kill Catholic Archbishop of Merauke Petrus Canisius Mandagi and for planning attacks at several Christian churches in easternmost Papua Province.  Shia and Ahmadi Muslims reported feeling under constant threat from “intolerant groups.”  Anti-Shia rhetoric was common in some online media outlets and on social media.  Individuals affiliated at the local level with the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), a national, quasi-governmental Muslim clerical body, used rhetoric considered intolerant by religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported there were multiple reports of assaults on Shia Muslims at Shia events.  In September, a mob of more than a hundred persons attacked an Ahmadi mosque in Sintang Regency (an administrative subdivision of a province), West Kalimantan, resulting in substantial damage to the mosque – local police present at the mosque did not stop the destruction.  On September 27, religious leaders from different faiths attended the Dialogue of Religious Council Leaders in Jakarta, issuing the “Declaration of Religions for a Just and Peaceful Indonesia.”

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy and consulate officials advocated for religious freedom with the government, including at the highest levels.  Issues raised included actions against religious minorities, closures of places of worship, access for foreign religious organizations, convictions for blasphemy and defamation of religion, the importance of tolerance and rule of law, and the application of sharia to non-Muslims.  In December, the Ambassador delivered remarks on religious freedom and tolerance at an event hosted by MUI to launch a human rights school for Muslim clerics.  In February, the Charge d’Affaires delivered remarks highlighting religious freedom and tolerance at the 43rd anniversary of the National Istiqlal Mosque, an event that included participation from the Vice President, ministers, and other senior government officials.  In February, the embassy began working with the National Istiqlal Mosque’s Voice of Istiqlal initiative, which seeks to encourage tolerance and diversity, interfaith dialogue, and gender equality in the country and internationally.  During the month of Ramadan, the embassy launched an extensive outreach campaign highlighting values of religious tolerance and freedom, estimated to have reached 100 million persons.  The embassy and consulates conducted extensive outreach to promote respect for diversity and religious tolerance through events, media interviews, social media initiatives, digital and public speaking engagements, youth exchanges, and educational programs.

Iran

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and specifies Twelver Ja’afari Shia Islam as the official state religion.  It states all laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and an official interpretation of sharia.  The constitution states citizens shall enjoy human, political, economic, and other rights, “in conformity with Islamic criteria.”  The penal code provides for hudud punishments (those mandated by sharia), including amputation, flogging, and stoning, and specifies the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as for moharebeh (“enmity against God”) and sabb al-nabi (“insulting the Prophet or Islam”).  According to the penal code, the application of the death penalty varies depending on the religion of both the perpetrator and the victim.  In January, parliament amended the penal code to criminalize insulting “divine religions or Islamic schools of thought” and committing “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said these new provisions put religious minorities at a higher risk of persecution.  The law prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs.  The constitution also stipulates that five non-Ja’afari Islamic schools shall be “accorded full respect” and official status in matters of religious education and certain personal affairs.  The constitution states Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, excluding converts from Islam, are the only recognized religious minorities permitted to worship and form religious societies “within the limits of the law.”  According to numerous international human rights NGOs and media reporting, the government convicted and executed dissidents, political reformers, and peaceful protesters on charges of “enmity against God” and anti-Islamic propaganda and, in the case of members of some religious minorities, detained them and held them incommunicado.  Amnesty International reported an “alarming rise” in the execution of ethnic minority prisoners since mid-December 2020.  Authorities denied prisoners access to attorneys and convicted them based on “confessions” extracted under torture.  In January, authorities executed Baluchi Javid Dehghan (also known as Dehghan-Khold) in Zahedan Central Prison on charges of “enmity against God,” “armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic,” and alleged membership in banned Sunni separatist groups.  The NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported that as of October, government executions continued at an “alarmingly high” rate, with at least 226 people put to death, 125 of them under “retributive” (eye-for-an-eye) justice.  According to the database of the NGO United for Iran, Iran Prison Atlas, least 67 members of minority religious groups remained imprisoned at year’s end for being “religious minority practitioners.”  Of the prisoners listed in the database, the government sentenced at least 62 to long-term imprisonment or executed them on charges of “enmity against God” or “armed rebellion against Islamic rule” (baghi), which officials sometimes used in recent years instead of “enmity against God.”  Human rights NGOs reported poor prison conditions and mistreatment of religious minority prisoners, including beatings, sexual abuse, degradation specifically targeting their religious beliefs, and denial of medical treatment.  The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, a U.S.-based human rights NGO, said that from January 1 to September 24, the government sentenced at least 77 individuals to flogging, based on its interpretation of sharia, and carried out these sentences in at least eight cases.  NGOs reported that in January, authorities transferred women’s rights activist Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, originally charged in 2014 with “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda” for criticizing the government’s policy of stoning women to death for adultery, to Amol Prison in Mazandara Province, far away from her family.  According to IranWire and the London-based NGO Article 18, which focuses on religious freedom in Iran, in September, security forces in Shiraz and Mazandaran Province conducted multiple arrests of Baha’is in their homes or workplaces in the last week of September without providing reasons or charges.  In a July report, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran (UNSR) Javaid Rehman stated there continued to be reports of forced evictions of members of the Sunni Baluch minority in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  An August report by the UN Secretary General highlighted that the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences for 10 Kurdish political prisoners on charges involving “acting against national security,” “spreading corruption on earth,” and “membership in Salafi groups.”  According to an October report by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), at least 10 Baluchi individuals were summoned to court following a rally in the village of Ramin to prevent the destruction of the Eidgah (land reserved for Eid prayers for Sunni followers).  Officials continued to disproportionately arrest, detain, harass, and surveil non-Armenian Christians, particularly evangelicals and other converts from Islam, according to Christian NGOs.  On March 9, the Tehran Appeals Court reduced Saba Kord-Afshari’s prison sentence, which she received in 2019 on a set of charges relating to protesting the compulsory hijab, from 24 years to seven years and six months in prison.  UNSR Rehman’s July report and NGOs said authorities continued to confiscate Baha’i properties as part of an ongoing state-led campaign of economic persecution against Baha’is.  Authorities issued an order in April denying Baha’is permission to bury their dead in empty plots at the Tehran-area cemetery designated for Baha’is, forcing them to bury them at a mass grave site.  Sunni Muslims stated the government did not permit them to build prayer facilities sufficient to accommodate their numbers, and government restrictions forced many Christian converts and members of unrecognized religious minority groups, such as Baha’is and Yarsanis, to assemble in private homes to practice their faith in secret.  Authorities reportedly continued to deny the Baha’i, Sabean-Mandaean, and Yarsani religious communities, as well as members of other unrecognized religious minority groups, access to education and government employment unless they declared themselves as belonging to one of the country’s recognized religions on their application forms.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported textbooks at all grade levels and across many subjects contained antisemitic material.  Government officials continued to disseminate anti-Baha’i and antisemitic messages using traditional and social media.  On December 16, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution expressing concern about “ongoing severe limitations and increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” and “harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention, and incitement to hatred” against recognized and unrecognized religious minorities.

According to multiple sources, non-Shia Muslims and those affiliated with a religion other than Islam, especially members of the Baha’i community, continued to face societal discrimination and harassment, while employers experienced social pressures not to hire Baha’is or to dismiss them from their private-sector jobs.  Yarsanis reported experiencing widespread discrimination.  They stated Yarsani children were socially ostracized in school and in shared community facilities.  Yarsani men, recognizable by their distinct mustaches, continued to face employment discrimination.  According to reports, Shia preachers continued to encourage social discrimination against Yarsanis.  According to human rights NGOs, converts from Islam to Christianity faced ongoing societal pressure and rejection by family or community members.  Shia clerics and prayer leaders reportedly continued to denounce Sufism and the activities of Sufis in both sermons and public statements.  Sunni students reported professors continued to routinely insult Sunni religious figures in class.  Baha’is reported continued destruction and vandalism of their cemeteries.  According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), on September 8, a Baha’i cemetery in Dena County, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province was partly destroyed by unknown individuals using heavy machinery.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.  During the year, the U.S. government used public statements, sanctions, and diplomatic initiatives in international forums to condemn and promote accountability for the government’s abuses against and restrictions on worship by members of religious minorities.  Senior U.S. government officials publicly reiterated calls for the release of prisoners held on religious grounds.  On March 9, the United States sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) interrogators Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safdari for their involvement in gross violations of human rights in Evin Prison, including torturing activists advocating for religious freedom.  On December 7, the United States sanctioned the Special Units of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and Iran’s Counter-Terror Special Forces (NOPO) for violently suppressing protests in November 2019.  It sanctioned two LEF commanders, Hassan Karami and Seyed Mousavi Azami, as well a Basij commander, Gholamreza Soleimani, and the Governor of Qods City, Leila Vaseghi, for their roles in carrying out crackdowns against peaceful protesters.  Two prisons, Zahedan Central Prison and Isfahan Central Prison, as well as the warden of Qarchak Women’s Prison, Soghra Khodadadi, and IRGC commander and brigadier general Mohammad Karami were also sanctioned for their roles in the “flagrant denial” of the rights of prisoners and other citizens, including religious minorities.  The Treasury Department statement announcing the sanctions said, “Zahedan Prison holds several political prisoners who belong to the Baluch ethnic minority group.  According to public reports, on January 3, 2021, Baluch prisoner Hassan Dehvari was executed in Zahedan Prison.  Dehvari was sentenced to death for ‘armed rebellion against the Islamic Rule.’  His prison sentence was escalated to execution after he engaged in several acts of peaceful protests, such as signing statements condemning executions of Sunni prisoners and condemning the mistreatment of fellow prisoners.”

Since 1999, Iran 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 November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Iran as a CPC.  The following sanction accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing travel restrictions based on in section 221(c) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (TRA) for individuals identified under Section 221(a)(1)(C) of the TRA in connection with the commission of serious human rights abuses, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Iraq

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the official religion and states that no law may be enacted contradicting the “established provisions of Islam.”  It provides for freedom of religious belief and practice for all individuals, including Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, and Sabean-Mandeans, but it does not explicitly mention followers of other religions or atheists.  Restrictions on freedom of religion remained widespread outside the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), and Iraqi security forces (ISF) committed violence against and harassed members of minority groups, according to religious leaders and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  On March 3, parliament passed a law granting special rights, including restitution for damages, to Yezidis and other religious minority survivors of ISIS abuses, and providing for their rehabilitation and integration into society.  Predominantly Sunni provinces, such as Anbar, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, and Ninewa, reported fewer security incidents compared with 2019 and 2020.  Yezidis, Christians, and local and international NGOs reported continued verbal harassment and physical abuse from members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored organization composed of more than 50 mostly Shia militias originally formed to combat ISIS.  In May, parliamentarians publicly warned that pro-Iran PMF forces continued to carry out the forced displacement of Sunnis and Christians with the intent to effect demographic changes in Salah al-Din, Ninewa, and Diyala Provinces.  According to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Yezidi Rescue Coordinating Office, 2,763 Yezidis remained missing following ISIS’s assault on the north of the country in 2014, compared with 2,874 reported as missing in 2020.  Some religious and ethnic minority leaders, mostly Christians and to a lesser degree, Sabean-Mandeans, Shabak, and Faili Kurds, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcomes of the October 10 parliamentary election, saying powerful political parties encouraged nonminority voters to back candidates for the minority-quota seats, thereby outvoting “legitimate” candidates.  Representatives of minority religious communities, including Christians and Yezidis, said that despite local authorities occasionally verbally harassing them, the central government generally did not interfere with religious observances by members of minority groups.  On March 5-8, national and KRG leaders hosted the first papal visit to the country, during which Pope Francis met with Shia Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali al-Sistani and conducted Christian and interfaith ceremonies in Baghdad, Mosul, and in the IKR.  Government officials and Christian and other minority religious leaders stated the visit helped raise the profile of Christian issues in the country and the importance of its religious diversity.

Minority religious groups, including Christians and Yezidis, said the presence of armed affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, and PMF militias in Sinjar and the Ninewa Plain, as well as continued Turkish airstrikes targeting alleged PKK positions, continued to endanger residents and hinder the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs).  The Yezidi community in Sinjar reported in January and May that the PKK had kidnapped hundreds of Yezidi children to recruit and subject to ideological “brainwashing” in the years since ISIS was defeated in Sinjar in 2015.  It was unclear how many of the kidnappings occurred during the year.  During the year, authorities found three additional mass graves in Diyala, Salah al-Din, and Anbar Provinces containing victims of al-Qa’ida and ISIS, as well as one from the time of the Baathist regime, with more than 210 graves discovered since 2003; according to the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (known as UNITAD), work with international teams to exhume and identify the remains would likely take years.

According to media and human rights organizations, societal violence perpetrated by sectarian armed groups, mainly pro-Iran Shia militias, continued during the year, although there were no documented cases of violence specifically related to religious affiliation in the IKR.  Christians in the south and in PMF-controlled towns on the Ninewa Plain, as well as Sabean-Mandeans in Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Maysan Provinces, reported they continued to avoid celebrating their religious festivals when these observances coincided with Shia Islamic periods of mourning, such as Ashura.  There were continued reports that members of non-Muslim minority groups felt the Muslim majority pressured them to adhere to certain Islamic practices, such as wearing the hijab or fasting during Ramadan.

The U.S. embassy addressed at the highest levels a full range of religious freedom concerns in the country through frequent meetings with senior government officials, including with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, through interagency coordination groups, and in targeted assistance programs for stabilization projects.  These concerns included the presence of armed groups harassing religious groups and promoting and enabling demographic changes, lack of available resources for stabilization and rehabilitation efforts for internally displaced Christians and other minority groups, and general safety concerns.  The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met regularly with national and regional government officials, members of parliament, and parliamentary committees to emphasize the need for the security, full inclusion, tolerance, and protection of the rights of members of minority religious groups.  Embassy officials met with Shia, Sunni, Christian, and other religious group representatives to underscore U.S. support for these communities and to assess the needs and challenges they continued to face.

Ireland

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion.  From January until May, the government prohibited all in-person religious services as a COVID-19 mitigation measure and opened gradually thereafter until October, when it lifted all restrictions.  Church representatives generally supported the ban, although some individuals said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain essential businesses open.  There were continued reports that some school authorities in national Catholic schools continued to give preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes.  Thirteen government-funded multidenominational national schools opened during the year.  In April, the government introduced a bill, pending before parliament at year’s end, that would make provision for hate crimes and impose a heavier penalty for offenses committed with a hate element based on, among other things, the religious identity of the victim.  In November, a member of parliament, referring to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, said in the Dail (parliament) that Ireland should not sign up to a definition of antisemitism that did not allow for questioning Israel’s right to exist, when it was a “racist apartheid state.”  In January, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin and other senior government officials participated virtually in the National Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

The NGO Irish Network Against Racism recorded 334 incidents of hate speech related to race and religion in 2020, of which 69 targeted Muslims and 23 targeted Jews.  In October, a researcher published a report documenting antisemitic content posted online by members of parliament and members of the public, and recommended the government adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.  The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported it received 30 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion or belief in 2020, compared with 36 complaints in 2019.  On July 20, approximately 500 Muslims performed prayers at an interfaith celebration to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park.  Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government, attended.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with the government.  Embassy officials met with religious groups, secularist advocates, and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

The country’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation.  The 1992 Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.”  The 2018 Basic Law:  Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People determines, according to the government, that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”  In September, the Lod District Court sentenced Zion Cohen to three years in prison for carrying out a series of 2020 arson bombings of religious courts.  On June 9, according to press reports, police arrested 12 protesters who threw heavy objects towards them in a protest by a small ultra-Orthodox sect near Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem against the construction of part of the city’s light rail through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.  Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah, the Damascus Gate, and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  On April 13, on the evening of the first day of Ramadan, media and officials from the Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem, which administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, reported that the Israeli National Police entered the site and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer after the Waqf’s call to prayer disrupted an official Memorial Day service for fallen soldiers attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall Plaza.  During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7 and again on May 10, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians they said were throwing rocks.  While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities periodically banned individual Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, and Arab/Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site.  The government reiterated that non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the site, but non-Muslim visitors were allowed.  Some religious minority groups said the police were not interested in investigating attacks on members of their communities.  The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize as Jewish some citizens who self-identified as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others who could not prove Jewish matrilineage to the satisfaction of the Chief Rabbinate.  As a result, the government prohibited those individuals from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country.  Some Jewish individuals and groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the longstanding historical norms against overt non-Islamic prayer there.  On July 8, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 10-to-one, rejected 15 petitions challenging the Basic Law of Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (Nation State law).  The government maintained its policy of not accepting new applications for official recognition from religious groups but stated that members of unrecognized religious groups remained free to practice their religion.  Members of some religious minorities said that the government did not provide the same service and benefits to them as to the country’s majority Jewish population.

During a one-week period in May, amid tensions in Jerusalem and violence in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country, leading to multiple deaths and injuries.  The violence during the unrest included gunfire, stone throwing by protesters (both Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens), arson attacks on synagogues, desecration of Muslim gravestones, and vandalism of automobiles.  The Israel National Police (INP) made approximately 1,550 arrests during and after the unrest with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens.  On May 12 in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Lod, Jews shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in clashes between residents.  Later on May 12, Arab/Palestinian citizens in Lod stoned the car of Jewish resident Yigal Yehoshua who died on May 17 after being hit in the head with a thrown brick.  In the northern city of Acre on May 11, Arab/Palestinian citizens set fire to a hotel leading to the death of 84 year-old retiree Aby Har-Even on June 6.  On May 19, teenager Mohammed Mahamid Kiwan died after he was shot on May 18 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65.  His family said police were responsible.  In April, during the period leading up to the unrest, Palestinian youths in Jerusalem physically attacked ultra-Orthodox individuals and posted videos of the attacks on the social media app TikTok.  On July 1, police arrested Palestinian Jerusalemites for defiling graves in the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery while filming themselves on TikTok.  Jewish individuals and groups continued to engage in nationalist violent hate crimes against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and Arab/Palestinians in the country, (which the attackers called “price tag” attacks to exact a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests).  Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations.  In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews published in September, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents identified as either secular (48 percent) or traditional not religious (17 percent), the same result as in the 2020 poll.

In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups.  Numerous high-level U.S. officials made formal stops at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance site, to keep a public spotlight on antisemitism and highlight religious tolerance.  Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials.  Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.  Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations.  The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience, and through engagements aimed at greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy, especially the high-tech sector.

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration.  The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.  Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Italy

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions.  It specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support.  Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring.  Unregistered religious groups operate freely and are eligible for some of the benefits that registered groups receive, but they must apply separately for them.  According to the Ministry of the Interior’s website, during the year, the government expelled at least 46 persons, mostly due to links with what the ministry stated were violent extremist Islamist groups.  Muslim groups, none of which has an accord, again experienced difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques and provide dedicated areas appropriate for Islamic burials.  Some local governments granted permission to build mosques or temporary prayer centers and to allow or expand plots for Islamic burials, but not enough to meet growing demand.  Politicians from several political parties again made statements critical of Islam or antisemitic in nature.  On August 28, League Party leader Matteo Salvini said the Quran and Islam were incompatible with civil and democratic rights.  On September 9, the Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court of appeals) ruled that hanging a crucifix in classrooms was legal.  The court also stated that each public school should take into consideration the beliefs of all when deciding whether to hang a crucifix and that all schools should promote coexistence.

There were again reports of antisemitic incidents, including physical assaults, verbal harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism, as well as expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment and vandalism of Christian churches.  Press reported that in March, in Rome, a food delivery person stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming antisemitic insults.  The victim, whose wounds required hospitalization, was the son of a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.  In August, a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are assassins!”  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC) recorded 220 antisemitic acts during the year, compared with 230 in 2020 and 251 in 2019.  Of the incidents, at least 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet.  Press reported examples of antisemitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, antisemitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Perugia, and Arezzo.  Experts monitoring antisemitism said they believed the number of antisemitic incidents was vastly underreported.  According to Milena Santerini, the National Coordinator for the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, Facebook had removed only a small percentage of the Facebook posts containing antisemitic material.  The independent NGO Vox Diritti reported that during the year, 65 percent of all tweets mentioning Islam (165,297) contained negative messages against Muslims, compared with 59 percent (67,889) in 2020.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 11 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Italy said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths throughout the year.  They also discussed efforts to integrate new migrants – many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu – and second-generation Muslims living in the country.  Embassy officials additionally expressed support for a proposed accord between the government and the country’s Muslim communities.  U.S. government officials met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, to encourage religious groups to be more effective in interfaith outreach, and to help young faith leaders become more visible and accepted by elderly religious leaders at the grass roots level.  In September, embassy officials met with the national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and the president of the Rome Jewish community to discuss how to support their efforts to counter antisemitism.  The embassy and consulates continued to utilize social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays, as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the grass roots level.

Jamaica

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship and to change one’s religion.  It prohibits discrimination based on belief.  A colonial-era law criminalizing the practices of Obeah and Myalism remains in effect but is not enforced.  The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), an independent government agency responsible for investigating police abuses, investigated a claim that a Rastafarian woman’s locs (also called “dreadlocks”) were cut while she was in police custody in July.  Rastafarians said the incident underscored misconceptions about the health and cleanliness of people who wear their hair in locs.  The government continued compensating individuals from a trust fund it established in 2017 for victims of the 1963 Coral Gardens incident, in which eight persons were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between a Rastafarian farming community and security forces.  Over the course of the year, curfew dates, including for Sundays, fluctuated in response to COVID-19.  Media reported the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches in August negotiated an agreement with the Office of the Prime Minister to allow a maximum of 20 attendees in places of worship on Sundays, with streaming services for those unable to attend.  Religious groups, primarily nonmembers of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches, opposed the government’s imposition of movement restrictions and other barriers to free assembly to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.  In April, a church brought a constitutional challenge stating that the restrictions impaired religious freedom and were applied unequally to religious and secular gatherings.  Seventh-day Adventists reported that their observance of a Saturday Sabbath was not taken into account by government COVID-19 lockdown restrictions because the government made Saturdays one of only two permitted shopping days, while other denominations negotiated exceptions to COVID-19 movement restrictions for Sunday religious services.

In October, three members of a church in Montego Bay were killed in a ritual human sacrifice, prompting calls for action by religious leaders that included increased scrutiny of churches and further cooperation between churches and government entities.  Rastafarians continued to report prejudice, while also saying there was increasing societal acceptance and respect for their practices.  Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for religious dialogue open to participants from all religious groups.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship, which includes representatives from Christian, Rastafarian, Hindu, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Baha’i, Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist organizations, held virtual events to promote religious tolerance and diversity, such as an Interfaith Awareness Day event in April.

U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Ministry of National Security, the Jamaican Constabulary Forces (JCF), and the Jamaican Defense Force (JDF) to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country, including the rights and treatment of religious minorities.  Embassy officials also met regularly with leaders of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians, to discuss the importance of religious tolerance, social inclusion, and freedom of expression and assembly in relation to religious freedom.

Japan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state.  According to the Japan Uyghur Association (JUA), the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued to have police officials in the PRC intimidate JUA members residing in Japan by contacting them and implying threats to their families residing in the PRC.  According to the JUA, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country and did not deport any to the PRC during the year.  According to the Japanese Falun Dafa Association, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in April for the first time granted refugee status to a female Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country based on the PRC’s religious repression of Falun Gong practitioners.  In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Naha city government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by allowing a Confucian temple to use public land at no cost.  Citing religious freedom, the government refrained from issuing specific COVID-19 regulations for places of worship, although all COVID-19 infection control measures were voluntary and constitutionally prohibited from being enforced.  The MOJ reported that in 2020 (latest statistics available), its human rights division received 116 inquiries related to potential religious freedom violations, compared with 224 in 2019, and confirmed four cases, compared with seven in 2019, as highly likely to be religious freedom violations.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees continued to express concern regarding the government’s interpretation of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, which resulted in a low rate of approval of refugee applications.  According to available information, the ministry granted refugee status to two applicants based on a well-founded fear of persecution for religious reasons in 2020.  The government continued to grant special permits to stay on humanitarian grounds, or temporary stay permits, to most of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims who had entered the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma.

Muslim communities continued to report societal religious tolerance of their faith.  Several media outlets, however, reported that local communities, particularly in the western part of the country, remained reluctant to have Islamic cemeteries in their neighborhoods, as local residents were concerned that the Muslim tradition of burying a body could contaminate soil and water.

In meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with lawmakers, U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government to continue working with the United States to protect Muslims from the PRC and other countries otherwise restricting religious freedom.  The embassy used its social media platforms to highlight the importance of religious freedom.  In conversations and meetings with the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations (JAORO), as well as with leaders of religious groups and organizations representing religious minorities, embassy officials underscored the priority the United States places on respect for religious freedom, discussed issues faced by these communities, and advised some of them on outreach efforts with the government.

Jordan

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam the religion of the state but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  It stipulates there shall be no discrimination based on religion.  It does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  According to the constitution, matters concerning the personal and family status of Muslims come under the jurisdiction of sharia courts.  Under sharia, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  Converts to Christianity from Islam reported that security officials continued to question them to determine their “true” religious beliefs and practices.  The government continued to deny official recognition to some religious groups, including Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Converts to Islam from Christianity and from Christianity to Islam continued to report security officials questioning them regarding their religious beliefs and practices, as well as some instances of surveillance.  Muslim women were unable to attend congregational Friday prayers throughout the year as part of the government’s efforts to reduce crowd sizes, although the government eased most COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions in September.  Members of some unregistered religious groups continued to face problems registering their marriages and the religious affiliation of their children, and also renewing their residency permits.  The government continued to monitor mosque sermons and required that preachers refrain from unsanctioned political commentary and adhere to approved themes and texts.  The Judicial Council issued an order in February requiring adherents of unrecognized Christian denominations to use an ecclesiastical court (instead of civil courts) to adjudicate Personal Status Law (PSL), but it reversed the order in March.

Some converts to Christianity from Islam continued to report ostracism as well as physical and verbal abuse from their families and communities, and some worshipped in secret due to the social stigma they faced.  Some converts reported persistent threats of violence from family members concerned with protecting traditional honor.  Religious leaders reported continued online hate speech directed towards religious minorities and moderates, frequently through social media.  Some social media users defended interfaith tolerance, with posts condemning content that criticized Christianity or tried to discourage interfaith dialogue.  In December, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) suspended a 10-year-old partnership with Roya TV, a privately owned, Amman-based satellite television channel, over “the discovery of anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments and caricatures in social media disseminated” by Roya.

U.S. embassy officers continued to engage with government officials at all levels, including the Minister of Awqaf, Islamic Affairs, and Holy Places (Minister of Awqaf), Grand Mufti, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, and officials at the Royal Hashemite Court, to raise the rights of religious minorities, the protection of cultural resources, and interfaith tolerance.  Embassy officers also engaged with Muslim scholars, Christian community leaders and members, and representatives of unrecognized religious groups to promote interfaith tolerance and dialogue.  The embassy supported programs promoting religious tolerance, as well as civil society programs seeking to preserve the cultural heritage of religious minorities.

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of religion and belief as well as the freedom to decline religious affiliation.  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 on and conduct additional scrutiny of what the government considered “nontraditional” religious groups, including Muslims who practice a version of Islam other than the officially recognized Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, and some non-Lutheran Protestant Christian groups.  According to observers, authorities continued to arrest, detain, and imprison individuals on account of their religious beliefs or affiliation; 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 the use of religious attire; criminalize speech “inciting religious discord”; restrict proselytism; restrict the publication and distribution of religious literature; and censor religious content.  Observers said the government also restricted acquisition or use of buildings used for religious ceremonies and purposes.  The government continued to raid religious services, prosecute individuals for “illegal missionary activity,” and refuse to register certain religious groups.  Some religious minority groups faced attempts by local governments to seize their property.  The government detained and fined members of Christian, Muslim, and Society of Krishna Consciousness groups for practicing their faith in ways authorities said violated religious laws.  On December 29, the government adopted legislative amendments that reduced some requirements for religious organizations, but religious groups said they continued to view many of the remaining requirements as onerous and unnecessary.  The amendments followed a decree by the President in June that included instructions to improve religious organizations’ ability to register.  In September and October, the government extended for another year the refugee status of four Muslim ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizens who had crossed the border from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  The decision was based on credible fear of persecution if the four returned to China.

According to observers and members of religious minority groups, private and government-run media outlets continued to release articles or broadcasts defaming minority religious groups they regarded as “nontraditional,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academics said members of some religious groups, including Muslims who chose to wear headscarves or other identifying attire, as well as some Christian groups, including evangelical Protestants, Baptists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to face greater societal scrutiny and discrimination.

The U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. officials engaged with the government to urge respect for religious freedom, including by raising specific cases, and through a regular and recurring religious freedom dialogue with the MISD and CRA.  In the dialogue, U.S. officials discussed government-proposed changes to the country’s laws regulating religious practice.  They also raised concerns regarding the restrictive effects on religious freedom of the current religion law and criminal and administrative codes, especially concerning criminal penalties for peaceful religious speech, praying without registration, and censorship of religious literature.  The bilateral Religious Freedom Working Group with the United States met virtually in June to discuss cooperation to allow all persons to practice freely their faiths in the country.  U.S. officials maintained contact with a wide range of religious communities and religious freedom advocates.  An embassy official participated in a multifaith workshop, cosponsored by U.S.-based interfaith NGOs, MISD, CRA, and the Association of Religious Organizations of Kazakhstan, which includes many of the Protestant groups deemed “nontraditional” by the government.  The workshop aimed to promote greater religious tolerance in the country.  The embassy also engaged in social media outreach to urge respect for religious freedom.

Kenya

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws and policies prohibit religious discrimination and protect religious freedom, including the freedom to practice any religion or belief through worship, teaching, or observance, and to debate religious questions.  The constitution provides for special qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law.  Human rights and Muslim religious organizations stated that certain Muslim communities, especially ethnic Somalis, continued to be the target of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention.  The government continued to deny directing such actions.  The Registrar of Societies has not registered any new religious organizations since 2014, and religious organizations criticized the government for not taking necessary steps to resume registrations.  Thousands of religious group applications reportedly remained pending.  The government-appointed Inter-faith Council on the National Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic continued to adjust its guidelines for places of worship and holding of religious ceremonies based on evolving COVID-19 conditions.  Council members said government officials largely adopted the council’s recommendations.  Many religious leaders criticized politicians for holding political gatherings that did not adhere to the government’s restrictions on public events and for politicizing funerals and other religious gatherings.  Muslim leaders criticized the government for not protecting Muslims’ rights, highlighting the case of a Muslim employee of Lamu County who was reportedly abducted by individuals using a government vehicle.  Some human rights groups accused the government of profiling Muslims residing close to the Somali border by refusing to issue them national identification cards, and Muslims reported harassment by security forces.

The Somalia-based terrorist group Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (al-Shabaab) carried out attacks in the northeastern part of the country, some of which targeted non-Muslims because of their faith.  There were again reports of religiously motivated threats of societal violence and intolerance, such as members of Muslim communities threatening individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity.  Muslims from ethnic minority groups, particularly those of Somali descent, reported continued harassment by non-Muslims.

U.S. embassy officials emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom in meetings with government officials, especially underscoring the role of interfaith dialogue in stemming religious intolerance and addressing the grievances of marginalized religious groups.  The embassy supported efforts to strengthen mutual understanding, respect, and tolerance through programs such as the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya’s “Building Interfaith Bridges” initiative.  Throughout the year, the Charge d’Affaires hosted or participated in interfaith roundtables and meetings to build relationships with religious leaders and discuss efforts to improve tolerance and inclusion, especially in advance of the country’s August 2022 general election.  The embassy hosted events, including a September 14 roundtable discussion, that brought leaders of diverse faiths together to discuss religious tolerance and shared challenges facing faith communities around the country.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion.  Religious groups with memberships equal to or greater than 2 percent of the population are required to register with the government.  The government allowed the Kiribati Protestant Church (KPC) to operate, but the Church was not able to register during the year due to a court case and opposition to its registration from the Kiribati Uniting Church, according to KPC leadership.  Church officials stated they were optimistic the government would approve registration due to the government’s grant support for its activities.

Two islands in the southern part of the country continued to uphold a “one-church-only” policy due to a stated deference to the first Protestant missionaries that visited the islands in the 1800s.

Embassy officials held a teleconference with the leader of the KPC to discuss religious tolerance and registration.  The U.S. embassy in Fiji, which covers Kiribati, utilized its social media platforms to promote religious pluralism and tolerance on major Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim celebrations.

Kosovo

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion, subject to limitations to ensure public order, health, and safety or to protect the rights of others.  The law does not provide a means for religious groups to acquire legal status.  A draft bill to grant them such status, submitted to parliament in 2020, remained pending at year’s end.  The Islamic Community of Kosovo (BIK) said some schools continued to enforce a Ministry of Education and Sciences (MES) directive prohibiting religious attire, denying school access to Muslim students who wore a hijab.  In September, the Constitutional Court referred the government’s continued refusal to implement that court’s 2016 decision recognizing the Serbian Orthodox Church’s (SOC) ownership of land around the Visoki Decani Monastery to the state prosecutor.  In response to the government’s continued nonimplementation of both that ruling and a 2020 arrangement on road work within the Visoki Decani Monastery Special Protective Zone (SPZ), the SOC ceased official communication with the government in May.  In October, media reported the MES and police were investigating a Christian nongovernmental organization (NGO) following complaints the organization published photographs of children along with religious content without parental permission.  Media reported the NGO denied violating laws prohibiting NGOs from conducting religious activity in the country.  In August, the BIK and media reported police arrested author Gjin Morena in August on charges of publishing poems inciting intolerance towards Muslims.  Morena subsequently pleaded guilty and received a fine.  Kosovo Protestant Evangelical Church (KPEC) representatives said a lack of institutional support for dedicated burial sites prevented them from conducting burial services according to their beliefs.  According to the SOC, in June, police, without any explanation, ordered a bus with Serbian SOC pilgrims to return to Serbia.  In April, the pan-European federation of cultural heritage civil society organizations, Europa Nostra, included the SOC Visoki Decani Monastery on its list of the seven most endangered heritage sites in Europe, a determination government officials said was “biased” and “incorrect.”  SOC members said some municipalities failed to provide adequate security or maintenance of SOC sites.

In June, a Montenegrin citizen chanted “Kill the Albanians” during a gathering of SOC members celebrating St. Vitus Day at the Gazimestan memorial near Pristina.  A Pristina court sentenced him to a fine in lieu of imprisonment and banned him from entering the country for five years.  The BIK said media reports continued to portray their communities negatively, contributing to a climate of intolerance and discrimination.  BIK and KPEC representatives said some of their adherents were reluctant to practice their religion openly due to fear of discrimination.  National police said they received reports of 87 incidents during the year, mostly classified as aggravated thefts, primarily against Islamic or SOC religious sites or cemeteries but including one against the Roman Catholic community, compared with 57 in 2020.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported it continued advocating improved relations between religious communities and municipalities.

U.S. embassy officials continued to encourage the government to enact amendments permitting religious groups to acquire legal status, enforce mechanisms to protect freedom of religion, implement legislation and judicial decisions pertaining to SOC religious sites, and resolve SOC property disputes.  The Ambassador and other embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including equal protection and property rights concerns, with religious and civil society leaders and encouraged religious tolerance and improved interfaith dialogue.  In June, the embassy hosted Iowa National Guard chaplains, Kosovo Security Force representatives, and several senior religious leaders to discuss plans for a Kosovo Security Force chaplaincy corps.

Kuwait

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion but also declares freedom of belief is “absolute.”  It stipulates that the state protects the freedom to practice one’s religion, provided such practice does not conflict with established customs, public policy, or morals.  The constitution states that sharia is a main source of legislation and that all individuals are equal before the law, regardless of religion.  Defamation of the three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity), publication or broadcast of material the government deems offensive to religious groups, and practices the government finds inconsistent with Islamic law are prohibited by law.  The government prosecuted numerous individuals for remarks deemed religiously offensive, mostly for comments made online, and sentenced some to prison terms.  In January, according to press and human rights activists, authorities arrested Mubarak al-Bathali as a part of a 2014 criminal court ruling that convicted him of inciting sectarian strife, insulting a group of society (Shia), and disrupting national unity through his Twitter posts.  According to human rights activists and social media accounts, authorities arrested and interrogated religious freedom activist Nasser Dashti in July on charges of blasphemy for public statements he made criticizing religion and praising secularism.  The government continued to appoint and pay the salaries of Sunni imams and provide the full basic text for weekly sermons preached at Sunni mosques.  The government did not exercise the same oversight of Shia imams.  The government paid the salaries of some Shia imams.  The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs (MAIA) opened investigations on three Sunni imams for delivering sermons perceived as politically motivated, insulting to other religious groups, or violating the national unity law.  Minority religious groups said they were able to worship in private spaces without government interference provided they did not disturb their neighbors or violate laws regarding assembly and restrictions on proselytizing.  Leaders of registered churches reported that government authorities allowed only citizens to sign official documents, even if the citizens were not among the churches’ ordained clergy.  If there were no citizen members, the authorities recognized the highest church authority as the official signatory of the church.  Most minority religious groups reported a continued lack of facilities for worship and difficulty obtaining permission to construct new facilities.  The government did not accredit any religious schools or permit Shia religious training within the country.  Shia leaders continued to report discrimination in clerical and public sector employment.  The Ministry of Education continued to ban or censor instructional materials referring to the Holocaust or Israel.

Individuals continued to face societal pressure against conversion from Islam; some citizens who converted outside the country said their families harassed them because of their conversion.  In January, a television journalist and announcer posted a video on Snapchat announcing that he was converting from Islam to Christianity.  Reactions on social media varied, with some users stating the journalist had the right to choose his faith, and others saying he was an apostate risking damnation.  In January, a prominent cleric issued a statement condemning the construction an interfaith center in the United Arab Emirates that would include a synagogue, church, and mosque.  He also uploaded to YouTube a statement calling Jews “the brothers of apes and pigs, because they are essentially like them.”  Hotels, stores, and businesses continued to mark non-Islamic holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali.  News media continued to publish information about celebrations of religious holidays such as Christmas.  Some Muslim clerics continued to express disapproval on social media of the celebration of non-Islamic holidays and called for more government action to restrict public expression of these holidays.

In November, embassy officials met with MAIA representatives to better understand the ministry’s efforts to promote religious tolerance, its relationship with religious minority groups, and the activities of its Center for the Promotion of Moderation.  During the year, embassy officials met with religious leaders and members of the Sunni, Shia, Bohra, Hindu, Baha’i, and Christian communities to discuss the groups’ needs.  In May, November, and December, the Ambassador hosted roundtables with representatives from minority faiths, including the Bohra, Hindu, Baha’i, and Christian communities, to discuss a broad range of religious freedom issues.  The group discussed the status of religious freedom in the country, the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns on their communities, barriers to religious practice caused by the government’s administrative procedures for religious minority groups, and how to promote dialogue among expatriate religious minority communities and Kuwaiti citizens.

Laos

Executive Summary

The constitution provides citizens with “the right and freedom to believe or not to believe in religion.”  The government officially recognizes four religions:  Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith, with Buddhism paramount.  Decree 315 defines the government as the final arbiter of permissible religious activities.  Religious leaders continued to state that while authorities in urban areas and in some districts had a strong understanding of laws governing religious activities, improper restrictions on religious freedom remained prevalent in rural areas.  Reports continued of local authorities, especially in isolated villages, threatening to expel followers of minority religious groups, particularly Christians associated with the Lao Evangelical Church (LEC), for refusing to renounce their faith.  Local sources reported that seven Christians from two households in Pasing village, Ta-Oesy District, Salavan Province, remained homeless after villagers forced them out of their homes in October 2020; one Christian – a 20-year-old -male – died of health complications due to their poor living conditions.  According to the LEC, in January, villagers and village authorities from Talou village, Tao Oi District, Salavan Province, forced 14 Christians from three households to vacate their homes and later destroyed the families’ homes.  No new groups successfully registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) during the year.  The government issued Decree 315 in 2016 with the stated intent of clarifying rules for religious practice, although religious leaders continued to state Decree 315 established onerous requirements sometimes used to restrict travel for religious purposes.  Christian groups continued to report problems constructing churches in some areas.  Members of minority religions continued to hide their religious affiliation in order to join the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), the government, and the military, and to avoid facing discrimination in these institutions.  Central authorities said they continued to travel to provincial areas to train officials to implement Decree 315 and other laws governing religion.

According to government and religious group sources, tensions continued in rural areas among animists, Buddhists, and growing Christian communities.  Religious leaders said there were reports that villagers threatened to expel Christians from their villages if they did not renounce their faith.  According to local sources, villagers from Singsavanh village, Athxayphone District, Savannakhet Province, threatened to force out three Christian families from their homes in the village for refusing to renounce their faith and that due to this threat, some of the individuals reverted to Buddhism or Animism.  Burial ceremonies remained a point of contention in some areas, with reports of animists preventing the burial of Christians in public cemeteries.

U.S. embassy officials regularly raised specific religious freedom cases and issues regarding cumbersome regulations, including registration procedures, with the government and continued to encourage the use of open dialogue and conflict resolution to resolve them.  During introductory meetings with the newly appointed Minister of Home Affairs and the President of the Lao Front for National Development (LFND) in July and August, the Ambassador highlighted future areas for U.S.-Laos cooperation to protect religious freedom.  Embassy officials regularly met with leaders from a wide variety of religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to understand better the problems faced by members of minority religious groups.

Latvia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides every person the right to “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” and it specifies the separation of church and state.  By law, eight “traditional” religious groups (seven Christian groups and Jews) receive rights and privileges other groups do not.  On November 10, the Prosecutor General’s office filed an injunction to terminate the activities of the New Generation Organization, an evangelical Christian church, after it said representatives and members of two congregations were determined to have repeatedly disregarded COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of persons at public gatherings.  The government approved the applications of 10 new religious groups during the year.  In June, a social media post by Law and Order Party leader Aldis Gobzems equating COVID-19 restrictions to the Holocaust was condemned across the political spectrum.  Gobzems was consequently barred from participation in one Saeima (parliament) meeting, and the Saeima ethics committee initiated an ethics violation case against him.  In September, the first of three readings took place in the Saeima of a draft restitution bill that would satisfy the country’s commitments under the 2009 Terezin Declaration and provide 40 million euros ($45.35 million) to the Jewish community for heirless and communal properties seized by the Nazis and Soviets during World War II.  According to the annual report of the security police, authorities continued to monitor Muslim community activities but made no interventions during the year.  President Egils Levits and other senior government officials attended several Holocaust memorial events throughout the year.

Jewish and Muslim groups cited instances of antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate speech in news articles and on social media.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 6 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Latvia said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  On November 30, approximately 300 persons lit thousands of candles at the Freedom Monument in Riga in remembrance of Jews massacred by the Nazis in Rumbula Forest in 1941.

In September, the Secretary of State posted on Twitter a message reiterating the importance of resolving the country’s obligations under the Terezin Declaration.  U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with senior government officials and parliamentarians on the importance of religious tolerance and providing restitution and compensation for expropriated property to the Jewish community.  Embassy officials also engaged with representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities as well as NGOs MARTA Center and Safe House to discuss religious tolerance and acceptance.

Lebanon

Executive Summary

The constitution states there shall be “absolute freedom of conscience” and guarantees the free exercise of religious rites for all religious groups provided they do not disturb the public order.  The constitution also states there shall be a “just and equitable balance” in the apportionment of cabinet and high-level civil service positions among the major religious groups, a provision amended by the Taif Agreement, which ended the country’s civil war and mandated proportional representation between Christians and Muslims in parliament, the cabinet, and other senior government positions.  On October 14, clashes erupted between Shia members of Hizballah and the Amal Movement with Christian supporters of the Lebanese Forces (LF) party in the Tayyouneh area in Beirut.  Authorities arrested 68 individuals on October 25, and investigations were ongoing at year’s end.  Some members of unregistered religious groups, such as Baha’is and unrecognized Protestant faiths, continued to list themselves as belonging to recognized religious groups to ensure their marriage and other personal status documents remained legally valid.

Hizballah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, continued to exercise influence over some areas, particularly the southern suburbs of Beirut, parts of the Bekaa Valley, and southern areas of the country that are predominantly Shia Muslim.  A paper issued by the Middle East Institute stated that as an actor ideologically tied to Iran, Hizballah has multiple allegiances and “objectives describing the organization as ‘committed simultaneously’ to the decrees of Iranian clerics, the Lebanese state, its sectarian Shia community, and fellow Shia abroad.”

On August 1, armed clashes erupted between Shia Hizballah supporters and members of the Sunni Arab tribes of Khaldeh during the funeral procession of Hizballah member Ali Chebli, who was killed the night before in an apparent vendetta shooting during a wedding.  On January 27, Christian and Muslim religious leaders launched a joint appeal for the salvation of Lebanon in the face of an escalation of political, economic, and social and health crises.  On December 20, religious leaders representing the Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Sunni, Shia, and Druze communities met with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during his visit to the country.  In a joint statement with Guterres, the leaders confirmed their commitment to openness, tolerance, and coexistence, saying that these values are at the core of faith, especially during the country’s ongoing, compounding crises.  Muslim and Christian community leaders said relationships among individual members of different religious groups continued to be amicable.  The press reported that in a series of Sunday sermons throughout the year, Maronite Patriarch Rai appeared to criticize Hizballah, stressing the need to both expand the country’s policy of distancing the country from regional conflicts and maintain the current sharing of political power among the country’s religious groups.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers engaged government officials to encourage tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect among religious communities and to highlight the importance of combating violent religious extremism.  The Ambassador spoke with Christian, Shia, Sunni, and Druze religious leaders throughout the year to discuss the impact of the economic situation on different religious communities.  Embassy public outreach and assistance programs continued to emphasize tolerance for all religious groups, including through interfaith programs.

Lesotho

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the freedom to change religion or belief and to manifest and propagate one’s religion.  Although some Christian and Muslim groups stated the government did not consult them before establishing COVID-19-related guidelines that affected their religious practices, the government partnered with leaders from various religious groups to support the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.  A Muslim religious leader noted Christian groups had comparatively greater access to state media for the propagation of religious beliefs.  He said the country’s National Reforms Authority, which included representatives of political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups, among others, rejected Muslim advice on the constitutional reforms process.  The government continued to provide extensive support for schools operated by religious groups, including paying and certifying all teachers.  Some government and security sector officials said they were concerned regarding the growth of Islamic religious practices in urban areas.

The Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL), an umbrella organization representing eight church entities in the country, stated it met with various faith-based organizations throughout the country, including non-Christian groups.  The CCL also cited increasing concern among religious leaders regarding crime in the country, noting that it affected their members even if not targeted at specific religious groups.

U.S. embassy officials continued to maintain regular contact with religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and the need to prevent discrimination against adherents of the country’s growing minority religions, particularly Islam.

Liberia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the rights of others.  It also provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits religious tests for office and the establishment of a state religion.  Muslim groups continued to call on the legislature to pass a law recognizing Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as national holidays.  In May, Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe introduced three draft bills to make the two Islamic holidays as well as Easter Monday public holidays.  The draft bills gained the support of the Muslim community at large, but Christian organizations and leaders, some of whom described the actions of Senator Snowe as “unwise and hypocritical,” expressed opposition.  Some Muslim organizations, however, noted improvements in government attitudes towards Muslims, citing adjustments in school examination schedules to accommodate Islamic holidays and the government’s plans to incorporate Islamic teachings into the public school curriculum.  These organizations, however, pointed to the low proportion of Muslim chaplains relative to their percentage of the population and what the groups said were disproportionately low government subsidies to schools affiliated with Muslim organizations.  Religious leaders urged the government to engage religious communities in proactive dialogue on contentious social issues rather than calling upon religious organizations as mediators of last resort after problems develop.  Religious leaders continued to express willingness to mediate in conflict situations as an extension of their proactive dialogue on social issues.

In October, leaders of the secret, traditional Poro Society detained 11 members of the Saint Assembly Ministries International Church in Gbartala, Bong County.  According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), local residents had expressed anger when members of the Church, who had traveled from the capital Monrovia to Gbartala to proselytize, criticized the community’s culture and traditions as being “demonic.”  The 11 men were released after allegedly being conscripted by force into the society.  In March, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation School reportedly expelled a six-year-old female student accused of being a witch, on the grounds that she would initiate other students into witchcraft.  In July, a man in Sinoe County was subjected to a traditional “sassywood” practice – a trial by ordeal, which the government banned in 2009 – after he was accused of witchcraft, in a video widely circulated on social media.

U.S. embassy officials engaged with government officials, including the President’s religious advisors, to promote interfaith dialogue and to stress U.S. government support of religious freedom and tolerance in connection with issues relating to historical accountability, land disputes, and ethnic tensions.  In addition, embassy officials promoted religious freedom and tolerance through outreach and consultations with diverse religious leaders and communities.

Libya

Executive Summary

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration functions as the interim constitution and states that Islam is the state religion and sharia the principal source of legislation.  Proselytizing and the distribution or publication of information aimed at changing the country’s “social structure” is effectively illegal, and the circulation of non-Islamic religious materials, missionary activity, or speech considered “offensive to Muslims” is banned.  The criminal code effectively prohibits conversion from Islam, according to scholars and human rights advocates.  According to one press report, the Special Deterrence Forces (SDF), a Salafist militia nominally aligned with the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, engaged in Islamic religious policing in the capital.  According to human rights activists, the SDF continued to be involved in a number of arrests and detentions of individuals whom it accused of violating Islamic law.  Human rights activists said freedom of conscience for converts to Christianity, atheists, and Muslims who deviated from Salafist interpretations of Islam was not respected.  Multiple authorities and armed groups vied for influence and territorial control, with limited effective exercise of government authority in practice, according to international observers.  The GNU did not exercise control over large parts of the country, including in the south and east, where non-GNU entities competed for control over territory and governance by setting up parallel government institutions.  Armed groups provided security and administered some detention centers for migrants and refugees in the country, where, according to multiple international human rights organizations, Christians said they faced a higher risk of physical assault, including sexual assault and rape, than other migrants and refugees.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Without Frontiers International reported in July that the Union Church of Tripoli, a Christian denomination, faced possible eviction from the building it had been using for worship for approximately 50 years and which three other Protestant churches also used.  The churches faced possible eviction after the government returned the property to the original owners without returning a previous Union Church property the state seized in 1970.

Some areas of the country, including the eastern part, operated under the influence of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and LNA-affiliated armed groups.  Nonstate actors and militias continued to operate and control territory throughout the country, including in parts of Tripoli and in Benghazi, where there were reports of armed groups restricting religious practices, enforcing compliance with sharia according to their interpretation, and targeting those viewed as violating their standards.  According to media reports, elements of the Madkhali Salafist movement affiliated with the LNA continued to crack down on activities not sanctioned by their strict interpretation of Islam, including the sale of books deemed un-Islamic and events where men and women mixed.  According to the Christian rights advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), Islamic militant groups and organized crime groups targeted religious minorities, particularly Christian migrants and foreign residents, for physical attacks, sexual assaults, detentions, kidnappings, and killings.  NGOs reported that, as in 2020, Sufis were able to practice more openly in the western part of the country compared with previous years and engage in public religious celebrations in Tripoli and Zliten.  Salafist and Islamist groups, some nominally aligned with the GNU, assumed law enforcement functions.  U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations that included al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS continued to operate within the country but no longer controlled territory.

According to Christian NGOs such as MEC, Open Doors USA, and The Voice of the Martyrs, Muslims who converted to another religion faced intense social and economic pressure to renounce their faith and return to Islam.  Sources also reported converts to other religions, as well as atheists and agnostics, faced threats of violence or dismissal from employment and hostility from their families and communities because of their beliefs.  According to the World Organization of the Jews of Libya, an abandoned synagogue in Tripoli was being converted without permission into an Islamic religious center.

The U.S. embassy to Libya operated from Tunis, Tunisia; its officials made periodic trips into the country when security conditions permitted.  Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom on a number of occasions with a variety of local and national leaders.  The U.S. government supported international efforts to end the conflict and establish a unified, stable, democratic, and tolerant Libyan state, and continued to raise issues of religious freedom in conversations with authorities, NGOs, academics, and other human rights advocates.

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The constitution stipulates everyone is free to choose his or her faith.  It makes the state responsible for “protecting the religious…interests of the people” and establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion.  The constitution stipulates individuals may practice other religious faiths within the bounds of morality and public order.  There are criminal penalties for public incitement to hatred towards a religious group, religious discrimination, or “debasement” of any religion.  The Liechtenstein Human Rights Association (LHRA) continued to report the government took no additional steps toward separating religion and state in terms of financing religious communities and religious instruction in public schools.  Prime Minister Daniel Risch announced after his election in March his intent to revisit this issue during the current legislative session.  On January 27, government officials invited the entire population to attend virtually an event in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, hosted by former foreign minister Katrin Eggenberger.  According to an analysis conducted by the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights in May 2020, the government promoted religious pluralism and enhanced support for religious equality through increased assistance in integrating immigrants of different faiths, including Muslims.

According to the Liechtenstein Institute, Muslims continued to face discrimination in society, particularly Muslim women in the labor force who wore a headscarf, especially in academia.  The Muslim community reported it had problems constructing a second prayer room, creating an Islamic cemetery, and operating a prayer house, due in part to government inaction, but also due to the reluctance of private property owners.  Additionally, limited availability of available building plots and high property prices made finding a suitable location difficult.  As a result, the Islamic Community of Liechtenstein met in Sevelen, directly across the border in Switzerland.  The Islamic Community of Liechtenstein filed a petition in August calling for the establishment of an Islamic cemetery and a prayer room.  Parliament received the petition, called “Equality for Muslims,” favorably and referred it to the government for a final decision.  According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), religious groups in every municipality continued to open their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request, including to Orthodox and Islamic groups.  For example, the Catholic church in Schaan continued to make its church available to the Christian Orthodox community to hold an Orthodox Easter Sunday service.

The U.S. embassy in Bern, Switzerland, which is responsible for diplomatic relations with the country, continued to encourage the promotion of religious freedom in discussions with the MFA, focusing primarily on a second prayer room and Islamic cemetery.  Embassy staff also discussed religious freedom issues with the LHRA, such as what the organization saw as the extent of societal discrimination and the difficulties Muslims encountered in establishing religious houses of worship and cemeteries.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom of religious practice, and state recognition of religious organizations, provided they do not contradict the constitution or the law.  The government extends special benefits to nine “traditional” religious groups and more limited benefits to four recognized “nontraditional” religious groups.  On June 8, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a decision recognizing that the parliament had violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms when it denied recognition to the Romuva, an ancient Baltic neopagan religious community, in 2019.  On October 8, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee reintroduced a draft resolution on the recognition of the Romuva community.  On August 17, local media reported the government’s decision to cancel plans to redevelop the former Vilnius Sports Palace into a convention center.  Some Jewish communities in the country and internationally had opposed the project because of plans for the redevelopment on the site of an historic 15th century Jewish cemetery.  The spokesperson for the Prime Minister said that the COVID-19 pandemic “changed the market for conference tourism, and earlier visions of the project are being adjusted.”  On January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Member of Parliament (MP) Valdas Rakutis wrote an article in which he said, “There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves, especially in the ghetto self-government structures.”  Senior government officials, including Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, and Speaker of Parliament Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, rejected Rakutis’ remarks.  On June 15, parliament adopted a resolution marking the 80th anniversary of the start of deportations of Jews and the resistance to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.

On August 10, protesters opposed to government measures promoting vaccination against COVID-19 carried signs in front of parliament comparing government COVID-related restrictions to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust and that featured references to Nazis.  On September 9, workers at the Jewish cemetery in Kaunas reported that grave sites had been vandalized, including at least three graves that had been dug up allegedly by thieves searching for valuables.  In August, vandals damaged a sign listing information about a site in Kretinga where Jews were killed during the Holocaust.  In both cases, police started investigations, which remained open at year’s end.  Anonymous online commentators continued to express negative views of Muslim refugees.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met regularly with government officials, including the Prime Minister, the President’s foreign policy advisor, the Prosecutor General, the Ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Culture, the Speaker of Parliament, and MPs to promote religious freedom and discuss related issues, including restitution of private and heirless property for Holocaust victims and their families and combating religious discrimination.  They also discussed these issues with Jewish community leaders.  The Ambassador also met with the Archbishop of the Catholic Church of Vilnius and Tatar community leaders and discussed issues related to religious freedom with them.  During a visit to the country in June, the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and the chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad met with government and civil society representatives to encourage the government to provide private and heirless property restitution for Holocaust victims and their families, promote an objective evaluation of the Holocaust, and identify specific Jewish heritage sites for preservation and restoration.  On October 15, the Ambassador joined the director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee and cochair of the Good Will Foundation for meetings with senior government officials to discuss projects to preserve the country’s Jewish heritage and prospects for private and heirless property restitution.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also took part in and delivered remarks at multiple events throughout the year commemorating the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust in the country.  In meetings with senior government officials, the Ambassador and embassy officials encouraged them to find ways to promote tolerance and integration of religious minorities, including Muslim refugees, into society.

Luxembourg

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the right to practice one’s religious beliefs and express one’s religious opinions in public, and it prohibits compulsory participation in religious services or observance of religious groups’ days of rest.  At year’s end, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had not ruled on the Protestant Consistory’s 2020 appeal of a 2020 Court of Cassation decision appointing an external administrator to organize and monitor general assemblies and elections within the consistory.  In June, the Appeals Court ruled inadmissible a complaint by the Syndicate of Church Councils and 109 church councils challenging a 2018 district court decision to dismiss their lawsuit that sought to invalidate the agreement between the government and the Archdiocese of Luxembourg regarding disposition of Catholic Church property managed by local-level church councils.  The New Apostolic Church stated the government’s continued failure to create a legislative framework for formal recognition of religious groups discriminated against groups that did not have conventions with the government.  On January 27, the government, the Consistoire Israelite de Luxembourg (the group representing the Jewish community in dealings with the government), the Luxembourg Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization signed an agreement on Holocaust restitution and remembrance that included a process for resolving Holocaust-era claims.  The agreement applies to all Jews resident in the country during the Holocaust, regardless of their past or current citizenship.  At year’s end, the government continued to deliberate on a national action plan to combat antisemitism, which it committed to adopt in 2020.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Research and Information on Anti-Semitism in Luxembourg (RIAL) reported antisemitic incidents occurring during the year included physical altercations and antisemitic social media posts.  In its latest annual report, the group recorded 64 antisemitic incidents in 2020.  The NGO Islamophobia Observatory in Luxembourg (OIL) reported two incidents for the year.  Religious communities reported there were fewer incidents of physical harassment due to COVID-19 restrictions, with most instances of harassment occurring online.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues with government officials at the Ministry of State, including government efforts to combat antisemitic and anti-Islamic sentiment and its interaction with religious communities, as well as the impact of the government’s COVID-19 response on religious groups.  Embassy personnel met with religious groups to discuss their concerns.  The embassy and the Department of State Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues engaged with all the interested parties to finalize the agreement on Holocaust restitution and remembrance.

Macau

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Executive Summary

The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education.  These rights may be limited in extraordinary situations for national security reasons.  The law protects the right of religious assembly and stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad.  Under the Basic Law, the SAR government, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), safeguards religious freedom in the SAR.  In June, a group of 25 representatives from various religious groups, accompanied by officials from Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office in Macau, visited Zhejiang Province in mainland China.  The office said the visit was designed to maintain good relations between the PRC government and Macau’s religious communities.  Some religious activists in the diaspora called on the PRC government to allow for greater religious expression in Macau, as provided for by the Basic Law.  Some activists on social media criticized the meeting as insincere, stating the PRC has frequently cracked down on religious expression.

In May, a video showing more than 100 primary school students from a prominent Macau Catholic school singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of a Catholic site sparked discussion online on the ability of religious schools to preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

In virtual meetings with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and nongovernmental organizations, representatives from the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious diversity and religious freedom and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

Madagascar

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace.  Other laws protect individual religious beliefs against abuses by government or private actors.  Muslims born in the country continued to report that despite generations of residence, some members of their community were unable to acquire citizenship.  Muslim leaders again reported that some Muslims continued to encounter difficulty obtaining official documents and services from government offices because of their non-Malagasy-sounding names.  On multiple occasions the government consulted with the leadership of different religious communities regarding COVID-19 response measures and helped facilitate access for Protestant clergy to visit COVID-19 patients in public hospitals.  Representatives of some evangelical Christian churches, however, expressed disappointment that they were not invited to such consultations.  Religious leaders also cited discrepancies between the number of individuals permitted to attend religious services and the number permitted to take part in other public gatherings.  The government addressed these issues following consultations with religious groups.  One Muslim leader criticized the government for not consulting with that religious community when rescheduling COVID-delayed national secondary school exams to overlap with the Eid al-Adha holiday.  Members of some Muslim groups denounced political interference in their internal affairs by current and former political leaders.

Members of some evangelical Protestant churches continued to report they experienced discrimination in employment practices due to their religious affiliation, especially those who observed a Saturday Sabbath.

U.S. embassy officials engaged with Ministry of the Interior officials responsible for registration of religious groups.  Embassy officials also discussed Muslim citizenship issues with ministry officials and legislators.  Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders throughout the year and met with human rights organizations to discuss issues affecting some religious communities, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties some Muslims encountered in acquiring citizenship.  At embassy-sponsored events, senior embassy officials discussed with religious leaders the impact of national developments such as COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination efforts on religious communities, as well as other issues affecting religious life in the country.

Malawi

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and thought.  At year’s end, a court case initiated in January 2020 and involving a Rastafarian child’s ability to attend school with dreadlocks remained pending.  Muslim organizations continued to request that the Ministry of Education (MOE) discontinue use of the optional “Bible knowledge” course and use only the broader-based “moral and religious education” curriculum in primary schools, particularly in areas inhabited predominantly by Muslims.  By year’s end, the MOE had not yet acted on recommendations contained in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), submitted to the MOE for review on June 17, which proposed allowing female students to wear a hijab in their school colors as a part of their uniform.  By year’s end, the MOE had also not acted on a separate recommendation allowing inclusion of religious minorities on the Board of the Malawi Institute of Education.

According to media reports, there were a number of conflicts related to locally promulgated school dress codes.  On June 2, Muslim and Christian leaders signed an MOU as a part of a joint technical team convened to resolve ongoing disputes about locally imposed restrictions banning female students from wearing a hijab in some government-funded schools.  They submitted the MOU to the MOE for review on June 17.

The U.S. embassy hosted a virtual interfaith discussion with prominent religious and government leaders regarding COVID-19 related restrictions on assembly and religious freedom.  Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from Christian, Muslim, and other faiths to discuss religious freedom, interreligious relations, and community engagement.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

The constitution states “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony.”  Federal and state governments have the power to mandate doctrine for Muslims and promote Sunni Islam above all other religious groups.  Other forms of Islam are illegal.  Sedition laws criminalize speech that “promotes ill will, hostility, or hatred on the grounds of religion.”  The government maintains a parallel legal system, with certain civil matters for Muslims covered by sharia.  The relationship between sharia and civil law remains unresolved in the legal system, with state governments having responsibility for sharia law.  Individuals diverging from the official interpretation of Islam continued to face adverse government action, including mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that taught and enforced government-approved Islamic practices.  Sources stated that there was selective persecution of non-Muslim faiths through legal and extralegal means.  The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) continued its public inquiry into the 2016 disappearance of a Christian pastor and his wife.  A government-appointed panel formed in 2019 to investigate SUHAKAM’s findings on the enforced disappearances of another Christian pastor and a social activist accused of spreading Shia teachings in 2016 did not release its findings on the grounds that the report is classified as “secret” under the Official Secrets Act.  In a case on same-sex sexual activity, the Federal Court (the country’s highest court) held that existing federal law preempted a Selangor State sharia law, although both laws restricted such activity.  The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) stated publicly it would monitor online activity of Malaysians amid concerns over the spread of false information and statements “that touch on the 3Rs – race, religion and royalty.”  The government continued to selectively prosecute persons for allegedly “insulting” Islam, such as in the case of transgender activist Nur Sajat, while it largely ignored criticisms of other faiths.  Reports continued of forced conversions, especially among indigenous populations.  Non-Sunni religious groups continued to report challenges in registering as nonprofit charitable organizations or building houses of worship, although some religious groups successfully registered as companies.  The High Court ruled that a regulation issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986 banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims was unlawful and unconstitutional.  The government appealed the ruling.  The Deputy Religious Affairs Minister said state governments were directed to take steps to ensure religions other than Islam would be further limited in propagating their beliefs to Muslims and announced his intent to introduce legislation to “control and restrict the development of non-Muslim religions.”  Federal and state governments sought to limit the ability for transgender individuals to worship in mosques.

Local human rights organizations and religious leaders again expressed concern that society was becoming less tolerant of religious diversity.  SUHAKAM Commissioner Madeline Berma said that it was increasingly common to see social media users mocking the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus.  Individuals lodged more than 5,000 reports to the police against Islamic preacher Syakir Nasoha, who made disparaging remarks about non-Muslims in a viral video, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said the police took no action.  Religious organizations held virtual interfaith events and webinars to discuss religious freedom throughout the year.

U.S. embassy officials regularly discussed with government officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Malaysian Police, and Prime Minister’s Department, among others, issues including constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, an increase in religious intolerance, respecting religious minorities, the unilateral conversion of children by one parent without the permission of the other, and the disappearances of the three Christians and a Muslim activist in 2016 and 2017.  The Ambassador visited a number of houses of worship to show the importance of respecting religious pluralism.  Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups, including minority groups and those whose activities were limited by the government, to discuss the restrictions they faced and strategies for engaging the government on issues of religious freedom.  The embassy enabled the participation of religious leaders and scholars in virtual conferences and webinars that promoted religious freedom and tolerance.

Maldives

Executive Summary

The constitution designates Islam as the state religion, requires citizens to be Muslim, and requires public office holders, including the President, to be followers of Sunni Islam.  The constitution provides for limitations on rights and freedoms “to protect and maintain the tenets of Islam.”  The law states both the government and the people must protect religious unity.  Propagation of any religion other than Islam is a criminal offense.  The law criminalizes “criticism of Islam” and speech “in a manner likely to cause religious segregation.”  On May 6, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed was seriously injured in a bomb attack that also wounded five other persons.  While media accounts say that Nasheed may have been targeted because he criticized individuals characterized as religious extremists, authorities say he was targeted because the perpetrators believed he publicly mocked and insulted Islam.  Nine men whom the government described as supporters of ISIS were charged with the attack under antiterrorism legislation and eight were on trial at year’s end.  The ninth, Adhuham Ahmed Rasheed, entered into a plea bargain agreement that sentenced him to 23 years’ imprisonment in December.  In court, Rasheed said he had participated in the attack due to his religious beliefs.  The penal code permits the administration of certain sharia punishments, such as flogging, stoning, and amputation of hands.  Although nine persons were sentenced to flogging during the year, no sentences were carried out as the appeals process continued for each of them.  In April, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary faction stated that authorities should investigate social media comments, including death threats directed against MDP member of parliament (MP) Mohamed Waheed, who was criticized by a religious scholar for allegedly making comments opposing sharia during a party rally.  The MDP said Waheed was opposing the actions of the previous administration, not sharia.  Waheed asked the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to investigate, but there had been no arrests by year’s end.  In November, the government recharged Mohamed Rusthum Mujuthaba for “criticizing Islam” and “producing or distributing obscene material” in 2019.  Mujuthaba had been convicted and sentenced on separate charges in 2020 and served one year in prison.  In September, parliament announced an investigation into statements made by an MP who called for greater freedom of religion in the country.  In June and July, religious scholars, religiously affiliated nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and island councils launched a public campaign against a government-proposed amendment to the penal code that would criminalize public accusations that an individual had violated or insulted Islam and public allegations that a Muslim was a non-Muslim.  After consultations with Islamic scholars and taking into account some of their views, parliament ratified the amendment, which became law in December.  In July, the Maldives Customs Service announced it was launching a joint investigation with the police into incidents of Christian literature being mailed from abroad to institutions, companies, and individuals in the country.  In December, customs officials reported they were unable to verify the origin of these items, and police reported the investigation closed.  MPS reported it was investigating one website and 14 distinct Twitter handles for “criticizing Islam” as of September.  In November, the Criminal Court ordered internet service providers to block access to online content that targeted Maldivians “with the intention of spreading religions other than Islam.”  The Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA) continued to maintain control over all matters related to religion and religious belief, including requiring imams to use government-approved sermons in Friday services.  The government continued to prohibit resident foreigners and foreign tourists from practicing any religion other than Islam in public.

NGOs continued to report that persistent online and in-person threats against individuals perceived to be insufficiently Muslim effectively foreclosed the possibility of meaningful discussion of religious issues in the country.  NGOs continued to report instances of individuals deemed “secularists” or “apostates” receiving death threats and being cyberbullied.  In August, the NGO Maldives Journalists Association published a threat perception survey of journalists in which 37 percent of the 70 local journalists who participated reported “being labelled ‘irreligious’ and threatened by radicalized or violent extremist individuals or groups online.”  Respondents to the survey also reported an increase in anonymous social media accounts believed to be linked to government officials or groups characterized as religiously extremist that harassed journalists.  NGO reported the government continued to fail to take action against online death threats and attacks against those perceived to be critical of Islam.

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in Maldives, but the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka is also accredited to the country, and the embassy in Colombo represents U.S. interests there.  In meetings with government officials, embassy officials regularly encouraged the government to investigate threats against individuals targeted as “secularists” or “apostates,” to be more tolerant of religious traditions other than Sunni Islam, and to ease restrictions preventing non-Sunnis from practicing freely.  In meetings with government agencies, embassy officials expressed concern regarding harassment of individuals and organizations characterized as “irreligious,” and urged the government to formulate a longer-term strategy to deal with incidents of online hate speech and harassment of NGOs and individuals.

Mali

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law.  Following the August 2020 coup d’etat, in September 2020, the transition government adopted the Transition Charter, which recognized the continued validity of the 1992 constitution’s definition of the country as secular and prohibited religious discrimination under the law.  Following the May 24 consolidation of military power, the subsequent transition government also upheld the validity of these founding documents.  The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom.  The transition government drafted a bill governing religious freedom and the exercise of worship; it was adopted as a draft law by the Council of Ministers on December 15.  The request for full adoption and implementation of the law was pending with the transition government at the end of the year.  This law would make the process of registering religious associations with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Worship, and Customs (MARCC) more transparent.  On July 1, the transition government also adopted its 2021-25 national action plan for countering and preventing violent extremism and terrorism, which drew on data from religious groups.

Unidentified armed individuals continued to abduct individuals, including religious leaders, of all faiths or beliefs throughout the country.  Religious leaders were often targeted for abduction for ransom due to their proximity to armed conflict and the high-profile nature of their work, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and experts.  On October 9, captors released Colombian nun Sister Gloria Cecilia Argoti, abducted in February 2017 in Karangasso in the Koutiala Region by the al-Qa’ida affiliated terrorist group Jama’at Nasr al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).  Abbot Leon Dougnon, a Catholic priest from the Bandiagara region, and Pastor Emmanuel Goita from Koutiala were also abducted and subsequently released between June and October.  Individuals affiliated with terrorist organizations designated by the U.S. government used violence and launched attacks on civilians, security forces, peacekeepers, and others they perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam.  According to a report published in August by the Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) covering the period from April to June, terrorist and other armed groups publicly beat two women and a 16-year-old girl in the village of N’Doukala in the Segou Region because they refused to wear veils.  The report also mentioned these groups prevented women from performing work outside their homes.  Particularly in the center of the country, JNIM continued to attack multiple towns in the Mopti and Segou Regions and to threaten Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities.  Groups identified by authorities as extremist organizations continued to target and close government schools for their perceived “Western” curriculum.  In the region of Mopti, especially in Koro, groups identified as extremists reportedly entered into verbal “peace” agreements with local populations, with stipulations that permitted the local population to move freely across the subdistrict of Koro and practice their faith in exchange for not challenging the groups’ territorial claims.

Muslim religious leaders continued to condemn what they termed extremist interpretations of sharia, and non-Muslim religious leaders condemned what they characterized as extremism related to religion.  Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern regarding the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist.  Representatives of the Catholic organization Caritas stated such organizations banned alcohol and pork and forced women of all faiths to wear veils in some parts of the region of Mopti.  Caritas characterized these developments as signs of the growing influence of Islam in Mopti, which they believed threatened the Christian community.  Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leaders jointly called for peace and solidarity among all faiths at celebrations marking Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Fitr.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials discussed with religious leaders and human rights organizations the importance and long-held tradition of interfaith dialogue as a tool to bring peace to the country, and they underscored to these leaders their important role in promoting religious tolerance and freedom.  The embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation.  The embassy highlighted the work of Muslim frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in a call with the U.S. Secretary of State and met regularly with government officials charged with religious affairs and with representatives from religious minority associations operating in the country.  In April, to commemorate the beginning of Ramadan, the Ambassador met with influential imams in Bamako, highlighting the role of religious leaders in confronting religious intolerance and promoting peace, and released a statement on the important role religious leaders play in society.

Malta

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious worship and prohibits religious discrimination.  The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and mandates Catholic religious teaching in state schools, from which students may opt out.  The government did not introduce voluntary Islamic religious education as an after-school program in state primary or secondary schools despite statements in previous years that it was considering doing so.  The government again failed to act on a Russian Orthodox congregation’s application, pending since 2017, to build a church.

The Greek Catholic Church Our Lady of Damascus in Valletta continued to allow the congregation of the Russian Orthodox Parish of St. Paul the Apostle to use its building for services while the latter awaited the Planning Authority’s decision on its application from 2017 to build a new church.  Roman Catholic parishes also continued to provide facilities to the Ethiopian, Romanian, Serbian, and Russian Orthodox congregations.

In December, the Charge d’Affaires participated in the annual Hanukkah celebration in Valletta, together with the President of Malta, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs and the Minister of Equality, Research, and Innovation.  President George Vella delivered a message virtually, highlighting the importance of facilitating interreligious dialogue and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace.  In her remarks, the Charge d’Affaires emphasized the importance of promoting and defending religious freedom for all, citing it as a vital U.S. priority.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The constitution provides protections for religious freedom with “reasonable restrictions” to ensure public order and the rights of other individuals.  The constitution provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and to the free exercise of religion.  Governmental functions usually began and ended with a Christian prayer.

Muslims reported continued cyberbullying on social media platforms such as Facebook and harassing telephone calls to their places of worship by non-Muslim Marshallese.  As in past years, Muslims reiterated their feelings of being feared by the general public and sense of mistrust on a daily basis.  Female Muslims also described being shamed for wearing the hijab.  Protestant parishioners reported feeling pressured to give substantial amounts of income to their church or face severe penalties from church leaders, including excommunication, if donation quotas were not met.

U.S. embassy officials met with the Foreign Minister to affirm the importance of religious freedom and to discuss how interfaith dialogue could promote religious freedom.  Embassy officials also met with officials from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Assemblies of God, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the United Church of Christ, and nondenominational English-speaking churches to discuss the climate of religious tolerance.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and designates Islam as the sole religion of the citizenry and state.  The law prohibits blasphemy and apostasy and defines them as crimes punishable by death; however, the government has never applied this penalty for those crimes.  On January 11, the parliament adopted a law on associations making it easier for NGOs, including faith-based organizations, to register and operate in the country.  On November 9, the parliament approved a law protecting state symbols, reinforcing existing law that speech deemed to be insulting to Islam is a criminal offense and criminalizing the use of digital media deemed to insult Islam.  The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education (MIATE) continued to collaborate with independent Muslim religious groups as well as with international partners to combat what it termed threats of extremism, radicalization, and terrorism, primarily through workshops promoting moderate Islam throughout the country.  The government also collaborated with the Association of Mauritanian Ulemas (religious scholars) throughout the year to fight the spread of COVID-19.

During the year, there were calls for increased application of the country’s sharia-based criminal code.  For example, on April 21, many social media users criticized a video program on social media after a young woman was featured in an interview discussing premarital sex and why it was wrong to objectify women.  Following the interview, numerous individuals on social media called for the program participants’ arrest and prosecution under the country’s sharia criminal code.  Authorities detained the four participants on April 23 but released them without charges on April 27.

U.S. embassy officials raised apostasy, blasphemy, and other religious freedom issues with authorities on multiple occasions.  Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, discussed religious tolerance with senior government officials, including the Minister of Interior, Minister of Islamic Affairs, and Minister of Justice.  Embassy staff also met with senior members of the Islamist opposition Tawassoul Party to discuss political and social issues, including religious freedom.  Embassy officials also worked closely with MIATE on programs to promote religious tolerance among the country’s religious scholars.  The embassy promoted messages of religious freedom on its social media platforms in English, French, and Arabic, including one to celebrate International Religious Freedom Day on October 27.

Mauritius

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on creed and provides for the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religious beliefs.  The government recognizes seven groups as religions:  Hindus, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).  Other religious groups must register as associations.  Following the government’s announcement of COVID-19 restrictions that limited places of worship to 10 persons but allowed 50 persons in the same places for weddings and funerals, taking effect on November 12, three prominent Catholic priests released videos on social media that criticized the measures as incoherent.  The government again failed to act during the year on the Assemblies of God request, first made approximately 20 years ago, to be recognized as a religion rather than an association.

The Council of Religions, a local organization composed of representatives from 18 religious groups, said that, overall, religious communities coexisted peacefully.  However, police said tensions between Hindus and Muslims continued.  A passenger on a motorcycle shot and killed a prominent Hindu figure whom police suspected had been targeted because he had participated in the beating of a man who had converted to Islam from Hinduism.  The Council of Religions traditionally hosted regular interfaith religious ceremonies and celebrations to foster mutual understanding and enhance interfaith collaboration among faith communities, but COVID-19 restrictions again forced the cancelation of most events.

In February, the Charge d’Affaires attended a symposium entitled “Interfaith Dialogue on the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ persons in Mauritius.”  The Charge also took part in a diplomatic event hosted by the Muslim Ladies Council.

Mexico

Executive Summary

The constitution provides all persons the right to religious freedom, including the right to engage in religious ceremonies and acts of worship.  The constitution declares the country a secular state.  Under the constitution, indigenous communities enjoy a protected legal structure, allowing them some measure of self-governance to practice their own particular “uses and customs.”  The General Directorate for Religious Affairs (DGAR) within the Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB) continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups.  According to SEGOB, during the year, DGAR investigated five cases related to religious freedom at the state level (Morelos, Chiapas, Michoacan, and two in Guerrero) and one at the federal level, compared with four in 2020.  During the year, the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) opened three religious discrimination cases, compared with none in 2020.  In June, the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN), the country’s highest court, ordered Jalisco State authorities to supervise the implementation of a 2020 ruling guaranteeing reintegration and protection for a group of indigenous Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tuxpan de Bolanos, Jalisco.  Government officials and leaders within the Roman Catholic Church continued to state the killings and attacks on Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant pastors reflected high levels of generalized violence throughout the country and not attacks based on religion.  According to media reports, in January, Catholic authorities representing members of the indigenous Tzotzil Mitzition community in San Cristobal, Chiapas detained an evangelical Protestant pastor, and community members destroyed five houses belonging to him and his family and expelled the pastor and his family from the community.  On July 25, indigenous authorities representing a Catholic community in Ahuacachahue, Guerrero imprisoned a non-Catholic family who, citing religious beliefs, refused to sell alcohol during a Catholic festivity.  DGAR registered 61 new religious associations during the year, compared with none in 2020.

During the year, there were three reported killings of priests and attacks on priests and pastors.  Additional threats against, and abductions of, priests and pastors continued.  The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) reported a spike in incidents across the Diocese of Cuernavaca, Morelos, involving extortion and assault.  Because religious leaders were often involved in politics and social activism and were thus more vulnerable to generalized violence, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of violence against religious leaders as targeted based solely on religious identity.  The CMC identified the country as the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the consecutive 13th year, reporting killings of more than two dozen priests over the past decade and emphasizing that the ranking reflected high levels of generalized violence in the country.  Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to say criminal groups singled out Catholic priests and other religious leaders because of their denunciation of criminal activities and because communities viewed them as moral authority figures.  According to media, on March 7 in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, demonstrators marched for International Women’s Day and vandalized church buildings, public structures, and businesses.  Also on March 7, a group of women’s rights protesters removed pews from the San Felipe Neri Church in Mexico City and attempted to set them on fire.  In September, The Yucatan Times reported threats and insults against Alejandro Rabinovich, president of the Jewish community in Merida, Yucatan.

U.S. embassy and consulate representatives at all levels met regularly with government officials responsible for religious and indigenous affairs at both the federal and state levels.  Embassy representatives at all levels regularly raised religious freedom and freedom of expression issues with foreign affairs and interior secretariat officials.  Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups and religiously affiliated NGOs, including the Central Jewish Committee, CMC, and CSW (formerly known as Christian Solidarity Worldwide), to discuss the safety of religious workers, focusing on humanitarian issues and expressing support for religious tolerance.  The embassy published several social media posts commemorating religious freedom, including U.S. condemnation of religious freedom violations, a celebration of interfaith unity, and a commemoration of victims persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Micronesia

Executive Summary

The constitution states no law may be passed to establish a state religion or impair the free exercise of religion.  Senior government officials regularly met with religious leaders to promote the government’s commitment to freedom of religion.  Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some U.S. missionaries, church workers, and religious teachers from various churches departed the country.  Multiple religious leaders reported many of their staff and congregation members had to remain outside the country due to travel restrictions.  At year’s end, the backlog of returnees outpaced the limited number of repatriation seats available.  The government continued to provide grants to private, church-affiliated schools and continued to state it made no distinction between public and private schools in its grant programs.  All private schools were either Catholic or Protestant.

The Ahmadi Muslim community that had previously been established at a community center in Pohnpei State was inactive during the year due to the community organizers being off-island as a result of COVID-19-related travel restrictions.  Ahmadi Muslims reported that the closure of the center was not due to any mistreatment of their community.  The Interdenominational Council in Pohnpei stated it encouraged unity among religious groups by addressing local social problems and promoting cooperation among religious communities.  The council was inactive for most of the year as a result of key members being unable to return to the country due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but it restarted monthly meetings in November.

U.S. embassy officers held discussions with senior government officials and local religious leaders to promote religious inclusion and tolerance, including in Pohnpei and Yap States.

Moldova

Executive Summary

The constitution protects the right of individuals to practice their religion and states religious groups are independent from the state and free to organize and operate according to their own statutes.  The law cites the “exceptional importance” of Orthodox Christianity.  The Falun Dafa and Falun Gong Associations continued to freely practice after reregistering as religious organizations in 2020.  On October 12, the Ministry of Justice removed the Falun symbol from its register of extremist material, implementing a 2020 Supreme Court of Justice order to do so.  In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) fined the government for violating the European Convention on Human Rights when it earlier decided to dissolve the two associations.  Most churches belonging to the Moldovan Orthodox Church (MOC), Bessarabian Orthodox Church (BOC), and other religious denominations continued to hold services throughout the year, with some observing the pandemic-related restrictions decreed by the Extraordinary National Public Health Commission.  However, according to media reports, these requirements were not fully observed in some Orthodox churches, which were often overcrowded and did not require congregants to wear masks.  In June, the Orhei office of the government’s Public Services Agency (PSA) rejected an application by the Jewish Community of Moldova (JCM) to register a synagogue in Orhei city.  In October, the government approved the construction of a Holocaust memorial in Orhei, to be built with municipal funds.  Leaders of the Islamic League reported no further developments in the “unprecedented” police investigation of the league’s finances and assets, which began in 2020; they stated they believed the investigation was closed in April due to lack of evidence.  Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders reported that all their cases related to zoning permits were resolved and that they completed construction of all the Kingdom Halls they planned to build throughout the country.  The Union of Pentecostal Churches said it remained unable to obtain a zoning permit from local government officials for a building it used for religious services in Copceac village and was seeking an alternative location for its church.  Religious minorities continued to report no progress in obtaining government restitution or compensation for property confiscated prior to the country’s independence in 1991.  On October 18, the Supreme Court of Justice overturned a 2020 ruling by a lower court and ordered a retrial in an ongoing legal dispute between the MOC and BOC concerning which Church should control more than 800 monasteries and churches considered national heritage monuments; in 2003 and 2008, the government transferred control of these to the MOC.  Minority religious groups reported a general improvement in the authorities’ attitude towards religious groups in the country, improved societal acceptance of those groups, and an easing of the preferential treatment state institutions traditionally provided to the MOC.  Former president Igor Dodon and his Socialist Party often expressed support for Orthodox Christianity, particularly during the campaign for July 11 snap parliamentary elections.

In the separatist Transnistria region, Jehovah’s Witnesses said they remained unable to reregister as a religious organization with de facto authorities and faced problems with conscientious objection to military service.  There were two active cases in Transnistrian “courts” filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses members forced to serve alternative civilian service in defense-related institutions, contrary to their beliefs.  The Muslim community remained unable to secure a site for a mosque in Transnistria after receiving a permit for one in 2019.

There were instances of online hate speech against minority religious groups and vandalism of their properties.  The JCM reported antisemitic rhetoric on the internet and one case of discrimination against a rabbi in a public park in Chisinau.  The BOC again reported harassment by the MOC as well as by local officials in several communities.  The MOC said that MOC-BOC conflicts were at the local level and caused in some cases by individual priests’ reluctance to abide by Church disciplinary sanctions, according to sources.  Numerous property disputes from prior years between the MOC and BOC remained unresolved in the courts.  Several minority religious groups reported fewer or no cases of discrimination or harassment, which they attributed to continued COVID-19 restrictions that shifted attention away from religious minorities, as well as a higher level of societal acceptance of minority religious groups.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials urged the government to advance efforts to provide restorative justice for Holocaust victims and their families, including the return of historic cemeteries, synagogues, and yeshivas, and the creation of a Museum of Jewish History as a space of worship, reflection, and remembrance.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy staff urged “authorities” in Transnistria to respect the rights of religious minorities.  The embassy provided an additional $290,000 through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation for the last phase of restoration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Causeni.  Embassy officials held virtual meetings with religious leaders to encourage respect and tolerance for all religious groups and to highlight religious freedom as a U.S. government priority policy goal.

Monaco

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and its public expression and prohibits compelling participation in religious ceremonies.  Roman Catholicism is the state religion, and state ceremonies often include Catholic rituals.  Religious groups must apply to the government to build a public place of worship and to receive recognition, which provides certain legal rights and privileges.  Optional Catholic religious instruction is available in public schools.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 2019 case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for recognition as a religious group remained pending at year’s end.  In July, the ECHR formally notified the government of the case.  Without recognition, the government and Jehovah’s Witnesses both stated that the group could not open a place of worship in the country.

The only private religious schools are Catholic.  According to the government, while the law permits private, non-Catholic religious schools, there was insufficient demand for them.  Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish representatives again said there was no need for them to open a religious school.  A member of the Muslim community stated the community did not want to be officially recognized because most members did not practice their religion and it would be too expensive to build a place of worship.

In November, the U.S. Consul General in Marseille, who is accredited to the government of Monaco, discussed the state of religious freedom in the country with a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In September, representatives from the Consulate General in Marseille discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom with leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Catholic and Protestant Churches.  Consulate general officials spoke several times with representatives from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss religious concerns, including the government’s refusal to recognize the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  In November, consulate general representatives met with Jewish and Muslim religious communities to discuss religious freedom and diversity in the country.

Mongolia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion, prohibits discrimination based on religion, and mandates the separation of the activities of state and religious institutions.  The law requires religious institutions to register with authorities but provides little detail on registration procedures, leaving local authorities to decide most of the specifics of implementation.  The law prohibits hindering the free exercise of faith but limits proselytization.  Despite being listed on the legislative agenda for the autumn session, there was no information on the status or content of a draft update to the Law on the Relations Between the State and Religious Institutions, which has not seen progress since drafting began and stopped in 2018.  Some Christian and Buddhist groups reported continued difficulties or extended delays obtaining and renewing registration for their groups or their places of worship, or obtaining religious visas in some localities, reportedly due in part to the government’s desire to delay the issuance of new religious group registrations until after parliament passes a new religion law.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government prohibited all in-person religious activities most of the year, and restrictions on religious gatherings were lifted later than restrictions on other types of indoor gatherings, leading some churches to report that they believed the government was discriminating against religion.  Since October, the government allowed religious groups to conduct meetings and services upon entering into an “accountability agreement,” a pledge to comply with precautionary measures set by the applicable local government.  In January, the National Institute of Security Studies, a government think tank, published an article stating that foreign religions in the country have reached a level that could affect national unity and sovereignty and suggested that the state must “respect the dominance of Buddhist religion[.]”

Religious leaders from a variety of faiths cited instances of negative popular sentiment toward “foreign” religious groups, a term they said was sometimes used to refer to non-Buddhist and non-Shamanist religious groups.  Religious groups engaged in joint humanitarian and charitable activities.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom concerns, including registration difficulties faced by religious groups and the renewal of religious visas, with high level officials in the Office of the President, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, parliamentarians, provincial governments, and the Ulaanbaatar City Council.  The Ambassador and embassy officials met regularly with religious leaders in Ulaanbaatar to discuss religious freedom and tolerance and the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on their communities.  The Ambassador met with religious leaders in Bayankhongor and Darkhan-Uul Provinces in September and October, and an embassy official held similar meetings in Khentii, Bayan-Ulgii, and Khovd Provinces in September and October.  The embassy regularly promoted religious freedom on social media.

Montenegro

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It specifies there is no state religion and stipulates equality and freedom for all religious communities.  The law prohibits religious discrimination and hate speech.  On January 26, amendments to the law on religious freedom took effect, eliminating requirements that existing religious groups register to acquire legal status and that religious groups provide proof of ownership of certain religious property to retain title to it.  The Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) had strongly opposed these requirements.  Police clashed with individuals protesting the September 5 enthronement of SOC Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral Joanikije in Cetinje, resulting in what press reports described as minor injuries to approximately 50 persons, including protesters and police.  The SOC said the protesters, who had the support of President Milo Djukanovic and key members of the government’s political opposition, attempted to undermine its religious rights.  Religious groups continued to dispute government ownership of some religious properties and the transfer of cemetery ownership to municipalities or other entities.  The government again took no steps to resolve SOC and Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) disputes over ownership of 750 Orthodox sites held by the SOC.  After a public outcry, a teacher in Bar declined a government offer to become an acting principal at a school that had fired the teacher in 2020 for inviting her students to participate in a prayer service at an SOC church.  At a conference on the Western Balkans in July in Slovakia, President Djukanovic stated that he recalled the 1990s, when “the Serbian Orthodox Church arrived before the army,” and that “[t]hey followed the same path – first the Church, then the army and, in the end, they were responsible, among other things, for the genocide in Srebrenica.”  The SOC said the Ministry of Interior approved visas for clergy newly arrived in the country but did not address existing cases of clergy denied residence permits by the previous government.

Ahead of local elections in the city of Niksic in February, unidentified individuals defaced the Hadzi-Ismail Mosque with graffiti saying “Srebrenica,” “Turks,” and “Niksic will be Srebrenica,” a reference to the 1995 genocide of thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica.  The government, NGOs, and other religious groups condemned the vandalism, but there were no arrests.  During the year, there were incidents of vandalism of an SOC theological school and a monastery, both in Cetinje, as well as reports of hate speech against Muslims and evangelical Christians.  In November, local news site Berane Online published an article criticizing the distribution of evangelical Christian literature and Bibles in the northeastern town of Berane.  The news site quoted extensively a local SOC priest who condemned the evangelical literature and said the group’s members were “demons who are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  Private individuals posted critical comments or disparaging material on social media about both the SOC and the MOC, for example, calling the SOC war criminals or the MOC a construct of the state.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials discussed the government’s implementation of the amended law on religion and general treatment of religious groups under it, details of instances of religious discrimination, rising religious tensions following the protests at the SOC Metropolitan’s enthronement, property restitution issues, and relations between religious groups and the government.  They also advocated religious tolerance with the President and other government officials, including officials in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, the Ministry of Justice, Human, and Minority Rights (MJHMR), and mayoral and municipal offices throughout the country.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials also met with representatives of all principal religious groups.  After the defacement of the Niksic mosque in February, embassy representatives met with members of the Islamic Community of Montenegro (ICM), and the Ambassador met with the head of the ICM to express her concern and support.  In April, the Ambassador met with senior representatives of the Jewish community to discuss their relations with the government, as well as the Jewish community’s views on antisemitism.  In May, the Ambassador hosted an interfaith iftar at her residence, where she and other embassy officials discussed with leaders of the Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jewish, MOC, and SOC communities their general concerns, thoughts on the amended religion law, and ways for the embassy to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  In November, the Ambassador hosted an interfaith Hanukkah celebration, where she and other embassy officials discussed increasing societal fragmentation and the need for greater interreligious cooperation with leaders of the Jewish, Muslim, MOC, and SOC communities.

Morocco

Executive Summary

According to the constitution, Islam is the religion of the state, and the state guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly.  The constitution also says the state guarantees to everyone the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.”  The constitution states the King holds the title “Commander of the Faithful” and that he is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country.  The constitution prohibits political parties founded on religion as well as political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments that denigrate or infringe on Islam.  The law penalizes the use of enticements to convert a Muslim to another religion and prohibits criticism of Islam.  It criminalizes acts and speech “undermining the Islamic religion.”  Although the law allows registration of religious groups as associations, some minority religious groups reported the government delayed or rejected their registration requests.  The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism.  The government restricted the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.  According to the government, 79 persons were criminally charged or convicted for engaging in prohibited acts during the month of Ramadan.  On December 14, King Mohammed VI introduced an initiative to renovate Jewish heritage sites in the country, to include hundreds of synagogues, cemeteries, and other sites in several cities.  An organization of Moroccan Christians launched a campaign to revise laws restricting the ability to conduct and attend services in official churches and the right to ecclesiastical or civil marriage.  The group also called on the government to allow Moroccan Christians to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to hold Christian names.  The Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education, and Scientific Research announced a change to the public school curriculum to include Jewish heritage and history in both Arabic and French.

According to a 2020-2021 report by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), there was continued societal harassment of Shia individuals and Shia Islam in the press and in Friday sermons.  As a result, many worshipped in private and avoided disclosing their religious affiliation.  Representatives of minority religious groups said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families, social ridicule, employment discrimination, and potential violence against them by “extremists,” were the main reasons leading them to practice their faiths discreetly.  Jewish citizens continued to state that they lived and attended services at synagogues in safety.  They said that they were able to visit religious sites regularly and to hold annual commemorations.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with government officials, including from the Ministries of Interior (MOI) and MEIA, to discuss religious freedom and tolerance, including the rights of minority communities.  In regular meetings and discussions with members of religious minority and majority communities throughout the country, embassy and consulate general representatives highlighted the importance of the protection of religious minorities and interfaith dialogue.  The Charge d’Affaires and Consul General regularly met with members of the Jewish community in Casablanca, as well as with Jewish leaders in other cities, including Marrakesh and Tangier.  Together, they met with more than 50 Jewish government leaders, and others to highlight the country’s religious diversity.  Consulate general officials in Casablanca also engaged with Protestant, Catholic, and Anglican Church leadership.  As part of this outreach, the Consul General visited local churches and heard from committee members and church leaders about the growing Christian population in the country, comprised primarily of recently arrived sub-Saharan African migrants.

Mozambique

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to practice freely or not to practice religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency.  The constitution prohibits political parties from using names or symbols associated with religious groups.  Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools.  According to local organizations, as an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group, ISIS-Mozambique (ISIS-M) intensified attacks in Cabo Delgado Province, residents in the province who because of their appearance were identified as Muslim continued to face risk of sometimes arbitrary detention by police and armed forces.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), news media outlets, and human rights organizations continued to strongly criticize the government’s response as exacerbating existing grievances among historically marginalized majority-Muslim populations.  The government’s COVID-19 preventive measures limited religious services for significant parts of the year, restricted the size of gatherings, and at times prohibited services.  Government officials reported that numerous religious leaders contravened the restrictions, including seven evangelical Christian religious leaders who were detained in June for holding in-person services.

As in previous years, conflict in Cabo Delgado continued, with ISIS-M occupying entire communities and burning religious and government structures.  Regional forces deployed to Cabo Delgado in August conducted joint operations with Mozambican forces that resecured significant towns and roads by the end of the year with a marked decrease in violence.  Media reports indicated that ISIS-M targeted both Muslim and Christian communities.  Muslim and Christian leaders condemned violence as a means of political change, and Muslim leaders emphasized that religious-based violence that invoked Islam was inconsistent with tenets of the faith.

The U.S. Ambassador discussed the continuing attacks in Cabo Delgado with President Filipe Nyusi, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior, and other high-level officials.  Among other messages, he noted the continued need to engage partners from the religious community to effectively address the ongoing violence.  The Ambassador and embassy officers discussed the importance of religious tolerance to promote peace and security with leaders and representatives of religious groups and local civil society organizations.  The U.S. government continued to implement and fund activities in Cabo Delgado to improve faith-based community resilience and work with religious leaders to counter extremist messaging related to religion.  The Ambassador and a senior embassy official hosted virtual iftars with religious and community leaders in Maputo and Cabo Delgado as part of the embassy’s outreach to the Muslim community.

Namibia

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of belief and the right to practice, profess, and promote any religion.  The government periodically included religious leaders in discussions regarding issues affecting the country and in national events.  The government held both formal and informal consultations with leaders of major religious groups during the year to discuss socioeconomic issues, including vaccines, community responses to COVID-19, and human rights.

The nongovernmental Interfaith Council consisting of members of various Christian and Muslim groups, as well as representatives of the Jewish and Baha’i faiths, met on a regular basis to coordinate their approach to the government to address the socioeconomic needs of their congregations with greater urgency and to use the council’s collective voice to strengthen the influence of religious groups in general.

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with the government-run Office of the Ombudsman and the Namibian Correctional Services to discuss plans for Muslim prisoners to have access to their religious leaders as soon as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions permitted.  Embassy representatives, including at the senior level, met with religious leaders and the Interfaith Council to better understand the country’s religious environment and potential areas of religious discrimination.

Nauru

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, and for freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs.  Although the law requires registration for religious groups to conduct a full range of activities, religious groups stated they could conduct most normal functions without registration.  Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) was, as in previous years, unable to register during the year, representatives of the Church stated it made progress towards registration and was optimistic the Church would obtain some form of official recognition after Covid-19 restrictions in the country were fully lifted.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government.  The embassy and the Ambassador utilized social media platforms to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the U.S. President and posts during major Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim celebrations, including Diwali and Ramadan, in support of religious tolerance and practices.

Nepal

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the country as a “secular state” but defines secular as “protection of religion and culture handed down from the time immemorial.”  It provides for the right to profess and practice one’s own religion.  The constitution prohibits converting persons from one religion to another and prohibits religious behavior disturbing public order or contrary to public health, decency, and morality.  The law prohibits both proselytism and “harming the religious sentiment” of any caste, ethnic community, or class.  In September, police arrested four Christians, including two Catholic nuns, for religious conversion.  They were held in detention until November 18, when they were released on bail; their case continued at year’s end.  Proselytizing cases from 2020 against six of seven Jehovah’s Witnesses, including two U.S. citizens, remained pending at year’s end, but none were in custody.  Civil society representatives reported that the government deported one Ukrainian and two South Korean families for proselytizing.  Multiple religious groups stated that the constitutional and criminal code provisions governing religious conversion and proselytism were vague and contradictory, and opened the door for prosecution for actions carried out in the normal course of practicing one’s religion.  In January, a group of international and Nepalese Christian organizations submitted a stakeholder’s report to the UN Human Rights Committee, detailing allegations of persecution of Christians in the country, documenting cases of arrests over several years, and criticizing sections of the law they said unfairly favored Hindus or discriminated against non-Hindus.  As in prior years, human rights groups reported that police arrested individuals for slaughtering cows or oxen in several districts.  Tibetan community leaders again said government authorities generally permitted them to celebrate most Buddhist holidays in private ceremonies but prohibited the public celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday and continued to curtail their ability to hold other public celebrations.  During the year, police surveillance of Tibetans remained high and, in some cases, the number of security personnel monitoring Tibetans and the scrutiny of Tibetan cultural and religious celebrations, particularly those involving the Dalai Lama, increased.  Religious organizations said the government did not enforce COVID-19 restrictions equitably, allowing Hindu groups more leeway.  Christian religious leaders continued to express concern about the anti-Christian sentiment of the Hindu nationalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), which seeks to reestablish the country as a Hindu state.  Christian groups continued to report difficulties operating as NGOs and multiple religiously affiliated organizations reported increased challenges renewing or registering their organizations during the first half of the year.  Christian groups said they continued to face difficulties in buying or using land for burials, especially within the Kathmandu Valley.

According to NGOs, Hindu priests and other “high-caste” individuals continued to discriminate against persons of “lower” castes, particularly Dalits.  While Nepali law prohibits caste-based discrimination, on October 14, a Dalit man was beaten to death for trying to enter a temple during the Dashain religious holiday.  According to media reports, Bhim Bahadur Bishwakarma was beaten with a pipe after he questioned neighbors about Dalits not being allowed to enter the temple.  On September 25, Hindu nationalist groups demonstrated against a draft provincial bill regulating madrassahs in Province Two along the India border.  The groups said the Muslim community was trying to make the country like Afghanistan.  Muslim leaders said they interpreted the rally as an attempt to incite violence and a continuation of efforts to reestablish the country as Hindu state.  Some Muslim leaders continued not to accept converts to Islam, saying it would violate the law according to their interpretation.  Instead, they recommended that individuals who sought to convert travel to India to do so.  Catholic and Protestant sources stated discrimination against Christians, including on social media, continued.  Local media again published reports of alleged harmful practices by religious minorities that were disputed by local authorities, witnesses, and other media.

The Ambassador and visiting U.S. government representatives met with government officials to express concern regarding restrictions on the country’s Tibetan community.  Embassy officials met with civil society groups and government officials to discuss challenges registering and reregistering religiously affiliated NGOs and other NGOs.  Embassy officials also met with religious leaders and representatives from civil society groups to discuss concerns about the prohibition against “forced or induced” conversion, discrimination, attacks on social media, inflammatory rhetoric by Hindu nationalist groups, COVID-19’s impact on the ability to worship, and access to burial grounds.  The embassy used social and traditional media platforms to promote respect and tolerance, communicate religious freedom messages, and highlight the country’s religious diversity.  Embassy outreach and assistance programs continued to promote religious diversity and tolerance.

Netherlands

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief.  It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred.  Parliament continued to pressure the government to counter foreign funding of mosques and Islamic institutions in an effort to stop the influence of Salafist and radical ideas.  Authorities rarely enforced the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings.  Local and national security officials said they continued to work with Jewish and Muslim communities to increase security at religious sites.  Politicians from some political parties made anti-Islam statements during the year that were protected by constitutional provisions on free speech.  Government ministers spoke out against antisemitism.  In April, Eddo Verdoner became the country’s first National Coordinator for Countering Antisemitism.  In September, Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus announced that Holocaust denial would explicitly become a punishable offense under the law and King Willem-Alexander unveiled the National Holocaust Memorial of Names in Amsterdam.  During the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in October, Deputy Prime Minister Karin Ollongren announced the country would host the headquarters of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and help finance its establishment.  In September, leading Jewish organizations called on parliamentary parties to speak out against the use of Holocaust comparisons in political debates and messaging in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In March and June, Education Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven announced updates to the national artwork restitution policy which would end the “balancing principle” that weighed the interests of museums against claimants in deciding restitution cases.  The Minister also announced the allotment of 1.5 million euros ($1.70 million) annually for four years to support restitutions and to restart provenance research.

Government and nongovernmental organizations reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents involving nonlethal violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism, although the data collected by agencies often differed because of varied reporting, collection, and analysis methods.  The editor-in-chief of a prominent daily issued a statement in April in which he apologized for publishing a caricature depicting a Jewish political pollster and entrepreneur as a puppet master.  An unknown assailant vandalized a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam in February, the eighth incident targeting the restaurant since 2018.  The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), an independent government advisory body, received 22 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020 (the most recent information available), mostly in the workplace, compared with 26 in 2019.  Police registered 517 antisemitic incidents in 2020 (the most recent information available) compared to 768 in the previous year.  Of those incidents, 17 involved vandalism (swastikas or antisemitic texts sprayed on property and Jewish monuments) and 27 involved some form of violence.  Some observers attributed the decrease in complaints to the COVID-19 pandemic-related reduction in the number of public gatherings, for example sports events, where antisemitic incidents tended to occur.  Antisemitic chanting continued at soccer matches, despite agreements between authorities, the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association (KNVB), soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation to discourage antisemitic behavior at those events.  The Jewish community again stated it was concerned about increasing antisemitism.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 2 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Netherlands said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  In 2020, police registered 180 incidents of other forms of religious discrimination, most of which targeted Muslims, compared with 225 incidents in 2019.  Municipal antidiscrimination boards registered more overall incidents in 2020 (391) than in 2019 (297), 79 percent of which involved anti-Muslim discrimination.  Monitoring organizations said there was a further increase in anti-Muslim hate speech online and that many instances of workplace discrimination against Muslims were directed at women wearing headscarves.  Muslim women wearing niqabs or burqas reported they were subjected to increased physical and verbal abuse in locations where the full-face covering ban did not apply, such as parks and shops.

The U.S. embassy in The Hague and the consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of supporting all faiths and engaging in interfaith dialogue in both formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials from multiple ministries and with parliamentarians.  Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society groups.  U.S. officials met with the Dutch Jewish Council (CJO) regarding cooperation with the Jewish community on Holocaust restitution and reparations efforts.  The embassy and consulate general highlighted the need for religious tolerance and interfaith understanding and discussed issues of religious integration and countering violent extremism in outreach to youth, academics, religious leaders, and organizations from various faith traditions.  During these meetings, embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including the ban on full face coverings and the importance of safeguarding halal and kosher slaughter and religious education.

New Zealand

Executive Summary

The unwritten constitution, comprised of several basic laws, provides the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.  The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.  In March, in response to the release of a royal commission report on the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings which took 51 lives, the government promised reforms intended to safeguard minority religious and ethnic communities.  The report recommended expanding civil and criminal protections against the incitement of hatred – which currently focus on color, race, and ethnic origin – to include religion, among other categories.  In June, the government launched public consultations on proposed amendments to augment current hate speech laws.

The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 45 inquiries or complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for the period July 2020-June 2021, compared with 53 for July 2019-June 2020.  The New Zealand Jewish Council (NZJC) said antisemitism online increased, but that antisemitic incidents overall remained rare.

The U.S. Charge d’Affaires, as well as officers from the embassy and consulate general, met with government officials to discuss religious freedom and tolerance, and offered continuing support in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks.  Embassy and consulate general officers also met with representatives of various religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; provides for freedom of belief, religion, and worship; and states no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his or her ideology or beliefs.”  According to media reports, the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) and progovernment groups on several occasions harassed Catholic worshippers and impeded masses held in commemoration of individuals killed during 2018 prodemocracy protests.  Government authorities disrupted religious services by staging vendor fairs and playing loud music outside churches during Sunday services.  Throughout the year, President Daniel Ortega and Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo verbally harassed priests and bishops, labelled them “terrorists in cassocks” and “coup-plotters,” and accused them of committing crimes.  In August, a journalist of independent daily newspaper La Prensa said the Ortega-Murillo government had engaged in “open war” against the Catholic Church since April 2018.  According to media, starting on October 26, the NNP surrounded the home of Cardinal Leopoldo Jose Brenes, the Archbishop of Managua; in September, police started monitoring Brenes’ home and photographed all individuals who entered, including priests.  During the year, there were frequent reports that the NNP – along with progovernment groups (commonly known as parapolice), ruling party (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN) members, and individuals associated with Ortega and Murillo – conducted widespread, systematic harassment of religious leaders and worshippers.  Catholic leaders who provided shelter and medical assistance to peaceful protesters in 2018 continued to experience government retribution, including slander, arbitrary investigations by government agencies, charges they said were unfounded, withholding of tax exemptions, and denial of religious services for political prisoners, according to Catholic clergy.  After the government broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan on December 9 and recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan donated its former embassy building to the Archdiocese of Managua.  On December 26, however, the Ortega administration blocked Taiwan’s donation and gave the property to the PRC, stating it supported a one-China policy.  The government also seized the passport of a Nicaraguan priest, revoked the visas of at least two foreign priests after they criticized the government, and drastically reduced public funding to a university run by a Catholic bishop critical of the government.  The government revoked the broadcasting licenses of an evangelical Protestant television and radio station after the station owner, also a presidential candidate, denounced election irregularities in November.

Reported antichurch activities included verbal insults, death threats, burglary of Catholic religious items, and unlawful entry into Catholic churches.  In January, media reported that a woman stole the keys of the Santissima of the Calvario Church in Masaya, verbally harassed parish priest Alexander Ruiz and threw soda in his face.  In May, the Diocese of Esteli reported that unidentified vandals had beheaded the statue of Monsignor Jose del Carmen Suazo, a well-known priest who died in 2015, on the road connecting the Shrine of Our Lady of Cacauli and Somoto.

On November 16, the President of the United States proclaimed, “Members of the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP), along with violent mobs of pro-government supporters also controlled by government actors, have attacked religious institutions in retaliation for their support for political and religious leaders.”  On October 7, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs tweeted, “Ortega’s dangerous criticism of Catholic bishops shows his fear of independent Nicaraguan voices and willingness to attack all dissent.  We stand for religious freedom and free expression everywhere and we stand with civil society in Nicaragua.”  Early in the year, the U.S. embassy requested meetings with government officials but received no response.  The Ambassador and embassy officials met regularly with a wide variety of religious leaders of the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestant groups, the Moravian Lutheran Church, Muslim groups, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and the Jewish community to discuss restrictions on religious freedom and to foster religious tolerance.

On November 15, 2021 in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Nicaragua on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Niger

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity.  It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties.  Faith-based organizations are composed of Muslim and Christian groups and the Interfaith Dialogue Organization.  The 2019 National Worship Strategy was not yet implemented by year’s end.  The strategy states that religions are to supervise and manage themselves with the intent of promoting peaceful coexistence, preventing radicalization and religious extremism, and strengthening interreligious dialogue.  The Ministry of Interior has the authority under the strategy to “screen preachers, in a bid to prevent risks of instability and insecurity that could be motivated by some preaching.”  The government provided guidance on sermons and banned some religious leaders from preaching for violating the guidelines, including one who was arrested and briefly detained.  Following the announcement of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in early 2020, the Islamic Council and the Coalition of Nigerien Churches called for a ban on collective prayers and other religious gatherings in the country’s mosques and churches.  In April 2021, the council issued a statement urging Muslims to abide by the government’s COVID-19 prevention measures during Ramadan, including the ban on large public gatherings, and urged Muslim leaders and preachers to continue COVID-19 awareness campaigns.  Large numbers of Muslims reportedly prayed at mosques the day after these announcements were made.  Protesters rioted in several locations following implementation of these COVID-19 prevention measures.

The government said it faced a series of persistent and growing security threats from the group alternatively known as the “Islamic State in West Africa” or “the Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” formerly known as Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, as well as from Boko Haram, a terrorist organization based in northeastern Nigeria and active in southeastern Niger’s Lake Chad region.  Media reported numerous terrorist attacks during the year, including one during an Eid al-Fitr celebration that killed five persons and another in which perpetrators set fire to a Catholic church and killed men trying to escape.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives advocated for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders, including the Interior and Foreign Ministers.  Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance in meetings with Muslim and Christian representatives, including during the Ambassador’s meeting with the imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey on the eve of Eid al-Adha and in regular meetings with Catholic Archbishop of Niamey Laurent Lompo.  The embassy continued to sponsor nationwide programs with religious leaders focused on countering violent extremism by amplifying voices of religious tolerance.  For example, embassy assistance given to the design of new education programming, in consultation with traditional and religious leaders, included scrutinizing school curricula and texts for content contrary to the principles of religious freedom and tolerance.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion.  The constitution provides for states to establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law in addition to common law civil courts, although civil courts have preeminence over all other courts.  Sentences may be appealed from sharia and customary courts to civil courts.  In addition to civil courts, sharia courts function in 12 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory, and customary courts in most of the 36 states.  Religiously affiliated state schools must admit students of all faiths or no faith; Christian-owned state schools must allow students to wear the hijab, while Muslim-owned state schools require all female students to wear it.  Civil society organizations and media stated that general insecurity again increased and was prevalent throughout the country, particularly in the North West region.  There were kidnapping and armed robbery rings in the South as well as the North West, criminal groups in the South South, and criminal groups and separatists in the South East, but there was a significant reduction in the number of violent incidents and deaths in the North East linked to the terrorist insurgency there.  There were numerous violent incidents between predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Christian, but also Muslim, farmers in the North Central and South West regions and between predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Muslim, but also Christian, farmers in the North West.  According to the Council on Foreign Relations, there were an estimated 1,112 deaths during the year from violence among ethnic groups, herdsmen, and farmers.  The government continued security operations and launched operations that authorities stated were meant to stem the insecurity and violence throughout the country.  Some observers, such as the nongovernmental organization (NGO) International Crisis Group (ICG), said the government’s efforts were inadequate.  The Kaduna State Court released Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a Shia political organization, and his wife in July.  On several occasions, security forces clashed with IMN marchers, resulting in reports of casualties, including at least one death on each side, which both sides disputed.  After detaining him for more than a year, the Kano State government in June charged Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, with deliberately “posting blasphemous statement(s)…insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam” and Muslims in Kano State calculated to “cause a breach of public peace,” among other charges.  In January, the Kano State High Court vacated a sharia court’s conviction and death sentence of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for blasphemy and remanded the case to the sharia court for retrial.  The same high court acquitted a man convicted of blasphemy as a minor by the same sharia court and vacated his 10-year prison sentence.  Kano State authorities banned Muslim cleric Sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru-Kabara from preaching and charged him with blasphemy for comments he made during a television debate.

Terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked population centers and religious targets, including churches and mosques, and maintained an ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the North East, according to observers.  ISIS-WA increased its use of improvised explosive devices, which resulted in dozens of military deaths.  Observers also reported that ISIS-WA expanded efforts to implement shadow governance structures in large swaths of the region.

According to NGOs such as ICG, the level of insecurity and violence increased, including in the predominantly Muslim North West, where expanded numbers of criminal groups carried out thousands of killings, kidnappings, and armed robberies.  Because issues of religion, ethnicity, land and resource competition, and criminality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely, or even principally, based on religious identity.  According to information on its website, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), an NGO, reported 3,699 civilian deaths from the violence during the year, compared with 2,455 in 2020.  According to a survey conducted by NGO Mercy Corps, a minority of the violence in the north of the country was interreligious, and both Christians and Muslims were perpetrators and victims.  The NGO stated that “rather than religious belief or animus, we find that intercommunal violence is largely driven by insecurity and a lack of trust between ethno-religious groups competing for political power and control over natural resources.”  The report also stated that “for a minority of northern residents … religious freedom remains a concern,” if indirectly, because fear of attacks created a fear of gathering in religious communities and “exacerbates tensions and mistrust between religious groups – the primary pathway to intercommunal conflict in the north.”  There were instances of mob violence against clergy and members of religious groups and mass killings of Muslims and Christians that press reports and observers described as planned and carried out by organized groups.  For example, in May, criminals shot and killed eight Christians and burned down a church and several homes in Kaduna State.  In August, Christian youths killed 27 Muslims on a bus in Plateau State.  On September 26-27, according to international NGO CSW and subsequent reports by other NGOs and press, Muslim herders killed at least 49 persons and abducted 27, most of whom were Christian, in several attacks on communities in religiously mixed southern Kaduna State.  In June, the Tiv and Jukun communities, both of which are Christian, clashed over land and water resources, often razing churches.  On October 25, gunmen killed at least 18 worshippers and abducted 11 during early morning prayers at a mosque in Mashegu Local Government Area in Niger State.  On December 8, at a mosque in the same area, ICG reported an armed group killed between nine and 16 persons and injured 12 others during early morning prayers.  CSW reported several cases during the year of Muslim men kidnapping young Christian girls and forcing them into marriage and conversion to Islam.

The U.S. embassy, consulate general in Lagos, and visiting U.S. government officials – including the Secretary of State – raised freedom of religion issues such as the resolution of widely publicized blasphemy cases, the role of religious leaders in peacebuilding and social trust, and reports of societal abuses and discrimination against individuals based on religion during the year.  These included meetings with government officials such as President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Presidential Chief of Staff Ibrahim Gambari, cabinet ministers – including Attorney General Abubakar Malami, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, and Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola – and National Assembly members.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials regularly met with interfaith and religious groups across the country, including the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Society for the Support of Islam, the Islamic Society of Removal of Innovation and Reestablishment of the Sunna (JIBWIS), and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).  They met with religious leaders in Plateau and Taraba States to discuss and encourage efforts to promote peace and religious tolerance in those states.  The embassy continued to fund peacebuilding programs in conflict-prone states such as Kaduna and Plateau, and interfaith dialogue training for leaders in six North West and North Central states.  The embassy awarded five small grants to faith-based and community organizations to support reconciliation in communities, primarily in the North Central region, experiencing ethnoreligious violence.

The Secretary of State determined that Nigeria did not meet the criteria to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom or as a Special Watch List country for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 when such designations were announced on November 15, 2021.  Nigeria had previously been designated as a Country of Particular Concern in 2020 and a Special Watch List country in 2019.

North Korea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief, with the stipulation that “religion must not be used as a pretext for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.”  In July, the UN Secretary-General reported to the UN General Assembly that there was a “growing body of information confirming consistent patterns of human rights violations” carried out in places of detention.  He cited a report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the government was systematically attacking persons it considered a threat, including persons who practice religion, imprisoning individuals without due process, and subjecting them to “physical and mental suffering amounting to torture.”  The Secretary General also stated COVID-19 restrictions in the country further limited freedoms, including of thought, conscience, and religion.  In October, the UN special rapporteur on human rights stated that exercise of freedom of religion in the country was “nearly impossible.”  Multiple sources indicated the situation had not changed since publication of the 2014 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the DPRK.  The COI found the government almost completely denied the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  In many instances, the COI determined that the government committed violations of human rights that constituted crimes against humanity.  The government reportedly continued to execute, torture, arrest, and physically abuse individuals engaged in almost any religious activities.  The country’s inaccessibility and lack of timely information continued to limit the availability of details related to individual cases of abuse and made estimates of the number and composition of religious groups difficult to verify.  United Kingdom-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Korea Future stated the government’s denial of religious freedom was absolute and cited multiple incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and inhuman treatment, and executions directed against individuals because of their religious belief; officials principally targeted Christians and followers of Shamanism.  The NGO Open Doors USA (ODUSA) estimated authorities held 50,000 to 70,000 citizens in prison for being Christian.  For the 20th year in a row, it ranked the country number one on its list of countries where Christians experienced “extreme persecution” and said “[b]eing discovered as a Christian is a death sentence in North Korea.”  The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), a Republic of Korea (ROK)-based NGO, citing defectors who arrived in the ROK from 2007 until July 2020 and other sources, reported 1,411 cases of religious persecution by DPRK authorities, including 126 killings and 94 disappearances.  In October, Korea Future released a report on religious freedom violators in the country.  Of the victims interviewed for the report, 150 adhered to Shamanism, 91 adhered to Christianity, one to Cheondogyo, and one to other beliefs.  The report described violations against these victims including arrest, detention, forced labor, torture, denial of fair trial, deportation, denial of right to life, and sexual violence.  NGOs and defectors said the government often arrested or otherwise punished family members of Christians.  According to NGOs, the government used religious organizations and facilities for external propaganda and political purposes.

The government encouraged all citizens to report anyone engaged in religious activity or in possession of religious material.  There were reports of private Christian religious activity in the country, although the existence of underground churches and the scope of underground religious networks remained difficult to quantify.  Defector accounts indicated religious practitioners often concealed their activities from family members, neighbors, coworkers, and other members of society due to fear of being branded as disloyal and concerns their activities would be reported to authorities.  Some defector and NGO reports confirmed unapproved religious materials were available clandestinely.  According to the UN special rapporteur, for the second year in a row the state-controlled Korean Christian Federation (KCF) again did not participate in the annual “inter-Korean prayer for Korean Peninsula peace and reunification” held every year since 1989 ahead of National Liberation Day on August 15, stating that “a joint prayer between the two Koreas would be meaningless at this point.”

The U.S. government does not have diplomatic relations with the DPRK.  The United States cosponsored a resolution adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in December that again condemned the country’s “long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread, and gross violations of human rights” and expressed very serious concern about abuses, including imposition of the death penalty for religious reasons and restrictions on the freedoms of conscience and religion or belief.  The U.S. government raised concerns about religious freedom in the country in other multilateral forums and in bilateral discussions with other governments, particularly those with diplomatic relations with the country.

Since 2001, the DPRK 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 November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing restrictions to which North Korea is subject, pursuant to sections 402 and 409 of the Trade Act of 1974 (the Jackson-Vanik Amendment) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

North Macedonia

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and religious expression.  It grants equality before the law for all individuals regardless of religious belief.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and other government ministries discussed amendments to the 2007 law governing religion that would enable larger religious communities to acquire the status of “legal entities,” but the MOJ again postponed consultations with religious groups on the amendments.  On February 18, the Islamic Religious Community in North Macedonia (IRC) publicly condemned the government’s official registration of the Islamic Salafi community in December 2020, saying it would be detrimental to Muslim unity.  IRC leaders said relations with the government improved following a meeting in January between IRC leader Reis Shaqir Fetahu and President Stevo Pendarovski, but that some government ministries and the judiciary continued to treat the organization unfavorably.  The Skopje Appellate Court upheld a lower court’s rejection of the registration application of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid (OAO) because the application had not been submitted by the deadline.  The OAO continued to state there was detrimental government interference in Church affairs.  The Skopje Basic Civil Court ruled in May that the Tetovo-based Bektashi Community (a Sufi group) could resubmit its application to register as a religious group; the community did not resubmit its application during the year.  Bektashi Community (Tetovo) members again reported harassment by the government and the IRC.  The IRC said the government continued to show favoritism toward the Macedonian Orthodox Church-Ohrid Archbishopric (MOC-OA), and smaller religious groups continued to report unequal government treatment compared with the five constitutionally named groups.  IRC representatives said that the government delayed accreditation of IRC-run Islamic high schools, which prevented those students from enrolling in state-funded universities.  In an interview in April, the country’s first Jewish woman to become a Minister since the country’s independence said she faced antisemitism when she was dismissed from the cabinet in 2020 following her appearance at a press conference in front of a backdrop displaying the country’s former name, Republic of Macedonia.

OAO officials continued to say their clergy and their family members were often targets of insults in media and victims of physical attacks by individuals considered close to the MOC-OA.  The Bektashi (Tetovo) Community continued to dispute the IRC’s claims to full ownership of, and plans to renovate, the Harabati Baba Teqe, a complex the Bektashi (Tetovo) Community used as its headquarters.  Media reported one incident of vandalism against a monastery located in a majority-Muslim area and 18 incidents of theft from churches during the year.  The MOC-OA did not attribute the thefts and vandalism to religious motives.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials discussed interfaith dialogue and the importance of tolerance and understanding among the various religious groups with government representatives, including the director of the Committee on Relations between Religious Communities and Groups (CRRCG), mayors, and other officials.  With members of parliament, they also discussed the status of religious freedom in the country, religious property restitution, and the amendments to the law on high schools, including the accreditation of religious schools.  Embassy officials met with MOC-OA Archbishop Stefan and IRC leader Fetahu to discuss religious freedom issues, including perceived government favoritism toward certain religious groups.  They also met with representatives of other religious groups to discuss the government’s treatment of smaller groups and respect for their religious freedom.  Throughout the year, the embassy used social media to disseminate messages that emphasized the importance of religious freedom.

Norway

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s faith or life stance (belief in a nonreligious philosophy).  It declares the Church of Norway is the country’s established church.  The government continued to provide the Church of Norway with exclusive benefits, including funds for salaries and benefits of clergy and staff.  The government continued to implement an action plan to combat antisemitism, particularly hate speech, as well as its action plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment.  The government continued to provide financial support for interreligious dialogue.

Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) held a number of rallies during the year in different cities, including one outside the U.S. embassy, that received widespread media attention.

U.S. embassy officials met with officials from the Ministry of Children and Families to discuss the law on faith and life stance communities, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and the impacts COVID restrictions had on individuals’ right to practice their faith and religious communities’ ability to assemble and conduct ceremonies.  In addition, embassy officials discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes as well as to promote religious freedom.  Embassy representatives met with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and faith and religious minority groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Uyghur Muslims, and humanists, to discuss issues such as religious freedom and tolerance and the integration of minority groups.  The embassy routinely used social media to share messages of religious tolerance and to highlight religious holidays and events.

Oman

Executive Summary

The Basic Law declares Islam to be the state religion and declares sharia is the basis for legislation.  It protects the right of individuals to practice other religions as long as doing so does not “disrupt public order or contradict morals.”  According to the Basic Law, the Sultan must be a Muslim.  A royal decree issued by the Sultan on February 12 established a new mechanism for the appointment of a Crown Prince, stating that the Crown Prince must be a Muslim, sane, and a legitimate son of Omani Muslim parents.  According to the law, offending Islam or any other Abrahamic religion is a criminal offense.  There is no provision of the law specifically addressing apostasy, conversion, or renunciation of religious belief.  Proselytizing in public is illegal.  All religious organizations must register with the government.  The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs (MERA) continued to monitor sermons and distribute approved texts for all imams.  Religious groups continued to report problems with opaque processes and unclear guidelines for registration.  Nonregistered groups, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), remained without permanent, independent places of worship.  Non-Muslim groups said they were able to worship freely in private homes and government-approved houses of worship, though they requested more space to ease overcrowding concerns.  MERA continued to require religious groups to request approval before publishing or importing religious texts or disseminating religious publications outside their membership, although the ministry did not review all imported religious material.  According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), on May 10, government-appointed Grand Mufti Ahmad al-Khalili issued a message describing the confrontations at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators as an “attempt to desecrate” the mosque “by the enemies of God, the corrupters.”

Members of religious minorities reported conversion from Islam was viewed extremely negatively within the Muslim community.

The Ambassador and U.S. embassy officers met with government officials throughout the year to discuss support for freedom of religion and the needs of minority groups.  The Ambassador met with the Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs in March to convey U.S. support for religious freedom.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also met regularly with religious minority leaders and faith-based community members to discuss the needs and support the worship practices of all religious groups.

Pakistan

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam.  The constitution states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”  It also states, “A person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis) is a non-Muslim.”  According to NGOs, police failed to protect religious minorities and those accused of blasphemy.  The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranged up to the death penalty, although the government has never executed anyone for blasphemy.  According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a national nongovernmental organization (NGO), 84 persons were accused of blasphemy in 2021, a significant decrease from the 199 individuals accused in 2020.  Other NGOs also assessed 2021 had seen a decrease in blasphemy cases compared with the previous year, but they could not verify actual case numbers.  According to civil society reports, at least 16 of those charged with blasphemy during the year received death sentences.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that two of the blasphemy cases registered against Ahmadis during the year could result in the death penalty.  They reported that the cumulative number of Ahmadis charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 2019 was 61.  Ahmadiyya community leaders continued to report they were affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation and court judgments that denied them basic rights, including issuance of national identification cards, driver’s licenses, and passports.  Ahmadi Muslims also remained barred from representation on the National Commission for Minorities within the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments passed a series of laws targeting Ahmadi Muslim beliefs.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that police registered 49 cases against Ahmadi Muslims under these laws during the year.  Throughout the year, some government officials and politicians around the country engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community.  NGOs expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities due to fear of retaliation, inadequate staff, or apathy.  NGOs reported perpetrators of societal violence and abuses against religious minorities often faced no legal consequences due to a lack of follow-through by law enforcement, bribes offered by the accused, and pressure on victims to drop cases.  The government took some measures to protect religious minorities, including establishing a special police unit in all provinces to protect religious minorities and their places of worship.  Police and security forces enhanced security measures during religious holidays in consultation with religious leaders.

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals and mobs targeted and killed Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims in attacks believed to be motivated by religion or accusations of blasphemy.  On December 3, several hundred Muslim workers from a factory in Sialkot, Punjab, attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan Christian manager of the factory, for allegedly committing blasphemy by removing far-right extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party posters that included Islamic prayers.  Attackers beat, kicked, and stoned him to death and set his corpse on fire, according to media reports.  Prime Minister Imran Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry.  Media reported that authorities arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack.  On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured in a Shia-majority area when assailants opened fire on a passenger van traveling from Gilgit to Naltar.  On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  On September 2, unidentified assailants shot and killed Maqsood Ahmad, a dual British-Pakistani citizen and Ahmadi Muslim in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.  On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab.  It was the third sectarian attack in the area in two months.  Armed sectarian groups, including factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), continued to stage attacks targeting Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia ethnic Hazara community.  According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the number of sectarian attacks and killings by armed groups increased compared with 2020, reversing the overall decline in terrorist attacks reported in previous years.  Human rights activists reported numerous instances of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy; of efforts by individuals to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam; and of societal harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence directed at members of religious minority communities.  Sunni groups held large sectarian rallies in Peshawar and Karachi in September and October, with speakers warning religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, of dire consequences if anything they said was deemed blasphemous against the Prophet Mohammed’s companions.  NGOs expressed concern about what they stated was the increasing frequency of attempts to kidnap, forcibly convert, and forcibly marry young women and girls from religious minority communities, especially Hindus and Christians.  The Center for Social Justice recorded 41 cases of forced conversions through October 31.  There continued to be reports of attacks on Ahmadi, Hindu, and Christian holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols.  The government continued to implement its National Action Plan against terrorism, by countering sectarian hate speech and extremism and by conducting military and law enforcement operations against violent groups.  According to Ahmadi civil society organizations, however, the government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence, as provided for in the National Action Plan.  Civil society groups continued to express concerns about the safety of religious minorities.  Multiple civil society groups and faith community leaders stated the government had increased efforts to provide enhanced security at religious minority places of worship.

Senior Department of State officials, including the Deputy Secretary of State, the Charge d’Affaires, and Consuls General, as well as other embassy officers, met with government officials and senior advisors to the Prime Minister, and officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss religious freedom issues.  These included blasphemy law reform; laws concerning Ahmadi Muslims; the need to better protect all religious minorities; sectarian relations; and religious respect.  Embassy officers continued to engage civil society leaders, local religious leaders, religious minority group representatives, and legal experts to discuss ways to combat intolerance and promote interfaith cooperation to increase religious freedom.  Visiting U.S. government officials met with religious minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the federal cabinet to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of religious minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.  The embassy and consulates highlighted the principles of religious freedom and examples of interfaith dialogue in the United States on their social media platforms and organized several outreach events throughout the year.

On November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation in the national interests of the United States.  Pakistan was first designated as a CPC in 2018.

Palau

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion.  On January 18, the government celebrated the annual National Day of Prayer that “welcome[d] all expressions of religion…without reservation or reproach.”

Activities to promote religious freedom included a Christmas celebration in Koror featuring Christian songs and prayers offered by various denominations.  Leaders from traditional religious groups continued to convene for cultural and government events across the country at times during the year.

On July 2, the U.S. Ambassador conducted a discussion with guests from church-affiliated high schools.  Visiting U.S. forces in the country for exercises and other civil engagements regularly deployed with military chaplains, who engaged with religious communities.  Between June and October, a visiting chaplain from the U.S. Army contacted the Evangelical Church and discussed the effect of drugs and alcohol abuse on families and the community.  A U.S. Navy chaplain visited for several months as part of exercise “Koa Moana” and met with the Seventh-day Adventist congregation and other faith groups and participated in a number of public discussions on topics that included youth suicide in the country.

Panama

Executive Summary

The constitution, laws, and executive decrees provide for freedom of religion and worship and prohibit discrimination based on religion.  The constitution recognizes Catholicism as the religion of the majority of citizens and requires Catholic instruction in public schools, with exemptions allowed.  According to religious group representatives, the discretionary power of immigration officials made entry of missionaries from certain countries more difficult.  Central American missionaries from the Balboa Union Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) said immigration authorities delayed or questioned their visits for pastoral work.  During the year, some indigenous persons declined COVID-19 vaccines due to their religious beliefs.  In November, health officials reported on television that some new COVID-19 cases occurred in families that chose not to vaccinate because of their religious beliefs.  Representatives from the Interreligious Institute of Panama said that although authorities generally respected the institute, officials did not always solicit its opinions on decisions that impacted general issues of religious freedom and practice.  According to the representatives, the group felt strongly about the need to create a government-level Secretariat for Religious Affairs similar to the existing secretariats for Afro-descendants and persons with disabilities.  At public events, the government continued to invite primarily Roman Catholic clergy to offer religious invocations.

According to evangelical Christian leader Pastor Alvarez, evangelical churches continued to decline to join the Interreligious Institute of Panama, preferring their own assembly, a large nationwide group that includes all evangelical churches.  On November 3, to celebrate independence from Colombia, and again on November 28 to celebrate independence from Spain, leaders of the Interreligious Institute of Panama prayed together during a Roman Catholic Mass at the National Cathedral.

Throughout the year, the U.S. embassy engaged government officials on issues of religious freedom.  In August, the Charge d’Affaires asked that immigration authorities ensure rules were applied equally and transparently when processing missionary visas.  Additionally, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith roundtable in August.

Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion and the right to practice religion freely.  From April to June, Prime Minister James Marape conducted a nationwide poll on a proposed constitutional amendment defining the country as Christian.  The government did not release the results of the poll by year’s end.  Political opponents, civil society groups, and some religious groups objected to the proposed amendment, saying the country did not have an exclusive ethnic or religious affiliation and that the amendment could spark conflict among the largest faith groups.  Marape said the government would erect a monument to the country’s Christian identity in Peace Park in Port Moresby, which is land owned by the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is.  Some national ministries continued to instruct civil servants to participate in weekly prayer devotionals, but government officials said individuals could opt out without repercussions.  Students were able to opt out of religious instruction and Christian life studies courses.  Individual members of parliament continued to provide grants of government money to religious institutions in their constituencies to carry out religious activities.  All of these institutions were Christian.

Civil society representatives and religious leaders said gender-based violence, including the killing of women and their daughters accused of sorcery, was increasing in the country, and that many perpetrators were not prosecuted because they had connections to senior government officials/societal leaders.  The Catholic Diocese of Wabag included in its 2021-2025 pastoral plan instructions to pastors to raise awareness and aid victims of violence related to accusations of sorcery.  The diocese reported there were 11 women and three girls under its care during the year because they were victims of such violence.  According to the diocese, two women accused of sorcery died as a result of being beaten and tortured.  Media reported that seven Catholic priests were assaulted and robbed in their home in the Catholic Diocese of Alotau; one priest was severely injured and hospitalized.  Sources said the attackers may have targeted the priests to gain attention from the government.

U.S. embassy officials discussed with government officials, including from the Department for Community Development and Religion, the importance of equitable distribution of governmental support for religious groups.  Embassy officials engaged with government officials and civil society representatives to ensure any moves to declare the country a Christian nation did not conflict with the freedom of religion stipulated in the constitution.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials discussed religious tolerance and religious groups’ roles as health and educational service providers in regular meetings with the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC) and local religious leaders.  Embassy officials attended a monthly interfaith dialogue.v

Paraguay

Executive Summary

The constitution accords individuals the right to choose, change, and freely practice their religion and prohibits religious discrimination.  It specifically recognizes the right of indigenous communities to express their religions freely.  The constitution states the relationship between the state and the Roman Catholic Church is based on independence, cooperation, and autonomy.  The Vice Ministry of Worship (VMW) continued to implement a law requiring all religious and philosophical groups to complete a mandatory registration process but did not impose penalties or monetary sanctions on groups that did not register by the end of the year, extending the deadline indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  According to the VMW, approximately 50 percent of religious groups were registered at year’s end.  In August, the Catholic Christian Apostolic National Church of Paraguay (ICCAN) began its third attempt to register with the VMW following a second VMW rejection in 2020.  By year’s end, VMW had not responded to ICCAN.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses Association reported the Supreme Court concluded three cases involving individual Jehovah’s Witnesses receiving hospital blood transfusions against their will, ruling against two of the suits and dismissing the third.

Some religious representatives said the Roman Catholic Church continued to exercise greater influence in politics by swaying public opinion more than any other religious group.  On May 14, the Roman Catholic Church hosted its annual religious service to honor the country’s independence.  President Mario Abdo Benitez and other members of the government attended.  During the service, Archbishop of Asuncion Edmundo Valenzuela criticized the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October, U.S. embassy officials met with VMW Director General Marco Mendez and discussed ICCAN’s registration status, government actions to facilitate the registration process, the promotion of religious freedom, interreligious dialogue, and the provision of state funding for schools run by religious groups.  Embassy officials met with representatives of the Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Mennonite, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Muslim, ICCAN, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jewish communities to discuss interfaith respect for religious diversity and hear their views on the status of religious freedom in the country and the government’s attitude towards and treatment of their communities.

Peru

Executive Summary

The constitution bars discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of conscience and religion, either individually or in association with others.  It provides for the separation of religion and state but also recognizes the historic importance of the Roman Catholic Church.  During the year, the government registered 166 non-Catholic religious groups, compared with 156 in 2020.  Among the newly registered groups were the International Center of Holistic Theo-Therapy and the United Korean Christian Church of Peru.  In May, the Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional to require a religious entity to have a minimum number of members to register with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MOJ).  In response, the MOJ amended registry regulations in July, eliminating the requirement for a minimum number of members for a religious group, previously set at 500.  In February, a judge of the 11th Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a terminally ill woman’s euthanasia request.  The court ruled in this specific case that Ana Estrada, who suffered from a degenerative and incurable disease, had the right to die on her own terms.  The Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement opposing the decision for religious reasons and saying the decision violated the country’s constitution.  The state had an opportunity to appeal the ruling but decided against it.  The People’s Agrarian Front of Peru (FREPAP), a political party founded by and directly affiliated with the Israelites of the New Universal Pact religious group, lost its status as a political party following the April general election due to its failing to meet the threshold of required votes in the April 2020 elections.  In July, the MOJ held a seminar to mark 10 years since the establishment of the 2011 Religious Freedom Law.  In November, the MOJ held a conference on religious freedom and the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence, during which the Vice Minister for Human Rights highlighted the importance of the state’s guarantee of religious freedom.  In December, the MOJ published a first-of-its-kind report that reviewed the religious landscape in the decade since the 2011 religious freedom law entered into force.  The report highlighted the cultural contributions of religious groups in the country and their recent work to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Interreligious Council continued to promote respect, tolerance, and dialogue among different faith traditions, including through virtual events that highlighted respect for migrants, refugees, and displaced persons.  The council sponsored the first Interreligious Gathering of Gratitude for the country on its bicentennial in July.  In his speech, the then president Francisco Sagasti emphasized the demonstration of unity and tolerance as exemplified by the religious groups participating in the event.  Sagasti also noted the importance of religious diversity, tolerance, solidarity, and equality.  In December, the council organized a migration-themed joint Hannukah-Christmas event with the participation of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Interreligious Committee on Migrants and Refugees (CIREMI) representatives.

U.S. embassy officials met with MOJ representatives to emphasize the importance of religious liberty and issues related to public health, education, taxation, and military chaplains.  Embassy officials also discussed the importance of tolerance and interreligious dialogue with representatives of the Interreligious Council as well as with the Catholic Church, Islamic Association, and members of CIREMI, including in providing assistance to migrants, a shared priority among all parties.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and religious worship and prohibits the establishment of a state religion.  The law treats intentional attacks directed against religiously affiliated buildings or facilities as war crimes or crimes against international humanitarian law.  The law forbids public officials from interrupting religious worship.  In August, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and Basilan Congressman Mujiv Hataman condemned the killing and burning of a Muslim businesswoman by a group that included police and civilians and urged the government to protect religious minorities following similar incidents in the past year.  As part of the government’s campaign against groups pursuing violent opposition to the state, particularly the Communist Party of the Philippines, some religious workers who were identified by the government as communist members or sympathizers were threatened and harassed.  Religious groups, human rights groups, and private individuals filed 37 petitions before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Antiterrorism Act of 2020, citing fears that it could lead to restraints in the free practice and free expression of their faith.  The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) expressed frustration with the pandemic-related government ban on religious gatherings during Holy Week while gyms and spas were allowed to remain open, with limited capacity.  Church groups complained they were not consulted prior to the government’s decision.

The government attributed several threats, attacks, and kidnappings in the south of the country to the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) – both of which are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government – the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other ISIS-related terrorist groups.

On January 24, unknown gunmen killed a Catholic priest in Malaybalay, Bukidnon Province.  Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas in the south of the country where Muslims are the majority of the population, were frequently associated with interclan rido (feud) violence.  Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, incidents were difficult to classify as solely based on religious identity.  Several Muslim public figures stated that Muslims continued to face discrimination and human rights abuses in the country.  Media reported in February that unknown individuals vandalized several Catholic churches in Lamitan City, Basilan Province.

The U.S. embassy conducted a broad range of engagement throughout the year with the government to highlight the importance of international religious freedom.  Together with civil society organization partners, the embassy engaged local governments in the Lanao Region to invest in community learning facilities that served as venues for cooperation and inclusive dialogues, including religious freedom discourses.  An embassy-sponsored project worked with local organizations in sensitizing community leaders about female empowerment from diverse perspectives, including religious and ethnic group viewpoints that encouraged tolerance and pluralism.  In May, the embassy commemorated Ramadan with speakers from different faith-based traditions in Southeast Asia through a month-long, virtual dialogue series focused on reducing violent extremism related to religion within local communities.

Poland

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion.  It states religion is a personal choice and that all churches and religious organizations have equal rights.  A concordat with the Holy See defines relations with the Roman Catholic Church.  Statutes determine relations between the government and 15 religious groups.  A separate statute regulates the functioning of religious groups that are not covered by individual statutes.  The law prohibits public speech offensive to religious sentiment and penalizes acts of violence motivated by religious differences.  In July, the Provincial Administrative Court in Warsaw suspended the government’s 2020 decision to invalidate the registration of the Reformed Catholic Church for recognizing same-sex marriage.  The government significantly restricted the process for seeking the return of, or compensation for, private property seized under the Nazi occupation or during the Communist era.  Revisions to the law that took effect in September made it impossible to challenge any administrative decision issued more than 30 years prior and ended any pending administrative challenges to those decisions.  During the year, the government decided 38 religious communal property restitution cases out of 2,912 outstanding cases, compared with 26 cases decided in 2020.  Some opposition parliamentarians and local government officials made antisemitic comments during the year.  Some antisemitic discourse appeared in the government-controlled public media.  Senior government officials participated in Holocaust remembrance events and publicly denounced antisemitism.

The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2020, the most recent period for which data was available, prosecutors investigated 346 religiously motivated incidents, compared with 370 in 2019.  The report cited investigations into 147 antisemitic, 111 anti-Muslim, and 88 anti-Roman Catholic incidents.  There were several physical attacks against Roman Catholic priests and incidents involving the disruption of religious services in Catholic churches around the country.  There were also cases of desecration of Catholic and Jewish religious sites, such as churches, monuments, and cemeteries.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 19 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Poland said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

The Charge d’Affaires, other embassy and consulate general staff, and visiting U.S. officials discussed with government officials antidiscrimination, the status of private property restitution, communal religious property restitution, and countering antisemitism.  In July, the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with government officials, parliamentarians, directors of museums and research institutions, and representatives of the Jewish community to discuss private property restitution, antisemitism, and Holocaust remembrance and education.  The Charge and other embassy and consulate general staff also met with Christian and Jewish leaders to discuss legislation restricting private property restitution, communal religious property restitution, Holocaust remembrance and education, and the community’s concerns over intolerance and antisemitism.  The embassy and the consulate general in Krakow engaged with Jewish leaders on countering antisemitism, and sponsored exchanges, roundtables, cultural events, and education grants promoting interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance, amplifying those messages on social media.

Portugal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  According to the most recent data, in 2020 the government granted citizenship to 20,892 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled during the Inquisition and rejected 163 applicants; 54,160 applications remained pending at year’s end.  On April 5, the Holocaust Museum opened in Porto, the first of its kind in the country.  On June 22, the National Day of Religious Freedom and Interreligious Dialogue, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa presided at a conference on the 20th anniversary of the country’s religious freedom law at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, promoted by the Religious Freedom Commission (CLR) and the High Commission for Migration (ACM).  On October 29, the government entered into an agreement with the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) to relocate the center’s headquarters from Vienna to Lisbon.  Many religious groups opposed legislation passed by parliament decriminalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.  The President vetoed the legislation, effectively deferring any further consideration until 2022.

In January, the producers of the Big Brother television reality show removed a contestant after evidence emerged of him repeatedly performing Nazi salutes in the presence of fellow contestants.  In February, public officials criticized Rodrigo Sousa Castro, a retired colonel who helped lead the country’s 1974 revolution, after he tweeted, “Jews, since they dominate global finance, bought and possess all the [COVID-19] vaccines they want.  It’s a kind of historical revenge.”  On October 28, media reported that a Middle Eastern grocery store in Lisbon was vandalized with graffiti and religious images that were painted on the store’s windows.

U.S. embassy officials maintained regular contact with government officials from the ACM and representatives of the CLR to discuss the importance of mutual respect and understanding among religious communities and the integration of immigrants, many of whom belonged to minority religious groups.  In February and March, the embassy sponsored interfaith dialogues, initially with leaders of the three major faiths and then with leaders of three smaller religious groups.  Discussions included how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their communities, religious freedom, societal tolerance of migrants, the effect of the rise of far-right political parties in the country on religious groups, and interfaith programs and events.  On April 29, the Charge d’Affaires visited the Holocaust Museum of Porto to underscore U.S. condemnation of human rights abuses and to present a congratulatory video message by the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues.

Qatar

Executive Summary

The constitution states Islam is the state religion and sharia shall be “a main source” of legislation.  According to the constitution, the Amir must be Muslim.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to practice religious rites in accordance with “the maintenance of public order and morality.”  The law punishes “offending” Islam or any of its rites or beliefs or committing blasphemy against Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.  Sunni and Shia Muslims and eight Christian denominations constitute the registered religious groups in the country.  Unregistered religious groups are illegal, but authorities generally permitted them to practice their faith privately.  The government continued to censor or ban print and social media religious material it considered objectionable.  In March, the Baha’i International Community (BIC) said it was “extremely concerned” by “systematic attempts over many years” by the government to blacklist and deport Baha’is, in particular a lifelong resident of the country whose residency permit renewal was refused in January on what the community described as “baseless charges.”  He left the country in August.  A ban on worship outside the Mesaymeer Religious Complex, which is located on government land and provides worship space for the eight registered Christian denominations, and which the government described as temporary when instituted in 2020 as a measure both to limit the spread of COVID-19 and for security reasons, remained in effect.  Citizens of the country and other Muslims were not allowed to attend services in the Mesaymeer Complex.  The “villa” (or house) church community wrote multiple letters to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and requested multiple meetings but received no reply.  In April, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a report on antisemitic material in textbooks of government schools, saying that while some material was removed from textbooks, the updated editions “still contained numerous passages that teach hateful antisemitic misinformation and myths.”  In June, the Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) updated its review of the country’s textbooks, stating that its “review determined that the Qatari curriculum does not yet meet … international standards” and “was influenced by elements of Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood.”  In December, in an updated report, IMPACT-se said, “…Since then [June], Qatar’s books have somewhat improved.  They still have a long way to go when it comes to removing hateful content and consistently teaching tolerance, and yet the improvements that have occurred over the last two academic years…are still a pleasant surprise.”  In December, the press reported that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued a directive regarding the need for suppliers, traders, and shopkeepers to refrain from selling goods bearing logos and symbols that do not comply with Islamic values.

On October 18, the privately owned newspaper Al-Sharq published a column by author Ahmad al-Mohannadi warning against what he considered attempts by Christian organizations to penetrate Muslim Persian Gulf societies via animated Bible-based missionary cartoons dubbed in Gulf dialects.  In its 2021 World Watch List report, the Christian NGO Open Doors USA stated, “There are two general categories [of Christians in country]:  Christian foreigners, most of whom are migrant workers, and Christians who have converted from Islam.  Foreign workers who are Christian are much freer to worship.  Muslims who convert to Christianity face much more significant persecution.  Converts from both indigenous and migrant backgrounds bear the brunt of persecution, and Qatari converts face very high pressure from their families.”

U.S. embassy leadership and other embassy officials continued to meet with senior government officials, relevant government bodies, as well as with quasigovernmental religious institutions, concerning the rights of religious minorities, Sunni-Shia relations, and antisemitism.  The Charge d’Affaires raised the reopening of worship space for the Christian community and freedom of worship for the Baha’i community with senior government officials.  Throughout the year, embassy officers met with various faith communities, including the Hindu, Shia Muslim, Baha’i, and evangelical Christian communities, and they also met with the Christian Church Steering Committee (CCSC), which oversees a variety of Christian denominations, to discuss issues of mutual concern.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution states that the country is secular, prohibits religious discrimination, provides for freedom of religion or belief, bans the use of religion for political ends, and stipulates that impositions on freedom of conscience stemming from “religious fanaticism” shall be punishable by law.  Following a February statement by Catholic bishops that expressed “serious reservations” regarding presidential election preparations, the government launched a campaign reminding civil society and religious organizations to remain politically impartial and refrain from commenting on government practices.  In the same statement, the bishops criticized government COVID-19 restrictions that they said had prevented persons from celebrating the previous Christmas.  In September, Antoinette Kebi, executive secretary of the government’s Consultative Council on Women, told women representatives from religious groups that the prohibition on the use of religion for political purposes was not intended to limit the free exercise of religion but rather to ensure that religion was not used as a pretext to violate the principles of equality between men and women.  In October, press reported that representatives of religious groups responded favorably to a request by Prime Minister Anatole Collinet Makosso for their support for the government’s campaign against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Council of Churches of Congo and the High Islamic Council, the largest bodies representing religious organizations in the country, with support from the United Nations and World Health Organization, organized multiple educational training sessions entailing interreligious cooperation on such issues as civil society engagement in promoting political stability, enhancing the role of women in religious organizations, and increasing citizen participation in democratic processes.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom and tolerance in engagements with government leaders.  Issues raised included interfaith relations and the impact of COVID-19 prevention measures on religious gatherings.  The Charge d’Affaires hosted meetings of local representatives of religious groups that were members of the Interconfessional Platform for Dignity and Peace for the Great Lakes, an association of faith groups from seven countries from the region, and highlighted the meetings in social media posts.  The stated mission of the platform, which included representatives of the dozen largest religious denominations in the country, was to promote peace and equal access to opportunity, regardless of religious denomination, and improve the relationship between the government and religious organizations.

Romania

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits restricting freedom of conscience and belief, as well as forcing an individual to espouse a religious belief contrary to the individual’s convictions.  It stipulates all religions are independent from the state, and religious groups have the freedom to organize “in accordance with their own statutes.” According to the law on religious freedom and religious denominations, the state recognizes the “important role” of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the history of the country, but it also recognizes the role of “other churches and denominations.”  The law specifies a three-tiered classification of religious organizations.  During the year, the government approved one application for registration of religious associations, compared with four in 2020.  In March, April, and May, the government waived COVID-19-related night curfew measures, allowing worshippers to attend Easter, Passover, and Ramadan services, stating the exemption was granted because religious activities were essential.  In October, a bishop told worshippers not to “rush to get vaccinated.”  Following the bishop’s statement, police placed him under criminal investigation for spreading “dangerous disinformation.”  There were continued reports of the slow pace of restitution of confiscated properties, especially to the Greek Catholic Church and the Jewish community.  The National Authority for Property Restitution (NAPR), the government agency responsible for overseeing the restitution process, reported the Special Restitution Commission (SRC) had approved 23 requests for the restitution of “immovable properties” (land or buildings) to religious denominations, approved compensation in 42 cases, and rejected 471 other claims during the year, compared with 26 approved requests for restitution, 57 approved compensations cases, and 500 rejected claims in 2020.  All the claims were submitted before the 2006 deadline.  In 28 cases, the filers withdrew their claims.  According to data provided by NAPR, the number of cases the SRC reviewed decreased from 816 in 2020 to 665.  In February, a Bucharest court found former Romanian Intelligence Service officer Vasile Zarnescu guilty of Holocaust denial and sentenced him to a deferred prison sentence of 13 months and two years’ probation.  In February, the website incorectpolitic.com published a written interview with Corvin Lupu, an associate professor at the public Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, who used antisemitic slurs, including the word jidan, the Romanian equivalent of “kike,” made statements distorting the history of the Holocaust, accused Jews of using the Holocaust for financial benefits, and blamed them for the rise of communism in the country.  In March, National Liberal Party (PNL) lawmaker Daniel Gheorghe delivered remarks in parliament glorifying Mircea Vulcanescu, a convicted war criminal who, according to the Wiesel Institute, supported antisemitic policies as a cabinet member in the government of World War II dictator Ion Antonescu.  In May, the government approved a two-year national strategy and action plan to combat antisemitism, xenophobia, radicalization, and hate speech.  Members of the Jewish community welcomed the strategy, while some antisemitic groups said the plan was the result of a Jewish-led conspiracy to hide the truth about the Holocaust and destroy Romanian identity.  In January, Prime Minister Florin Citu appointed Alexandru Muraru as the government’s Special Representative for Combating Antisemitism and Xenophobia and Promoting the Memory of the Holocaust and Communism.

Some minority religious groups, including the Greek Catholic and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, continued to report ROC priests and adherents at times blocked their access to cemeteries.  Material promoting antisemitic views, glorifying Legionnaires, an antisemitic group founded in 1927 and also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael, and messages promoting Holocaust denial and relativism continued to appear on the internet.  In March, the director of the Jewish State Theater received by email a letter with antisemitic slurs and death threats against her children, as well as threats to set fire to the theater.  In September, media reported that unknown persons vandalized a memorial located in the city of Bistrita, dedicated to Jews deported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  According to a study released by the Wiesel Institute in April, several articles published online stated Jews or Israel were responsible for manufacturing harmful COVID-19 vaccines and were profiting from the health crisis.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 14 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Romania said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy officials continued to advocate with the government for property restitution and religious tolerance.  The Charge d’Affaires and a senior embassy official participated in several Holocaust commemorations and spoke out against antisemitism.  Using its Facebook page, the embassy emphasized respect for religious freedom and paid tribute to Holocaust victims.  Embassy officials met with leaders of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the Jewish community, and the Greek Catholic Church to discuss ways to promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.

Russia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares the state is secular and guarantees freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one’s religion.  The law states government officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.”  The law allows the government to criminalize a broad spectrum of activities as extremist but does not precisely define extremism.  The law identifies Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country’s four “traditional” religions and recognizes the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).  A constitutional amendment cites the “ideals and faith in God” passed on by the country’s ancestors.  Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, physically abuse persons, and/or seize their property because of their religious belief or affiliation or membership in groups designated “extremist,” “terrorist,” or “undesirable,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Church of Scientology, Falun Gong, and multiple evangelical Protestant groups.  For example, an NGO reported that in September, while searching houses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Irkutsk, security forces stabbed a man and beat him unconscious and beat another Jehovah’s Witness and sodomized him with a glass bottle.  According to the NGO, officers also beat the two men’s wives while they were in various stages of undress.  The human rights NGO Memorial identified 340 persons it said were persecuted for their religious beliefs or affiliation as of November, compared with 228 in all of 2020.  Memorial said the actual total was likely three to four times higher.  Memorial did not report the number of persecuted persons for all of the year because the Supreme Court ordered the closure of the NGO on December 28.  In July, the Court of Kemerovo upheld the designation of the Falun Gong branch in the Khakassia Region as an extremist organization and ordered its dissolution there.  During the year, the government declared four Pentecostal and two Scientology groups undesirable, effectively banning them from the country, and banned and dissolved an Orthodox Church unaffiliated with the ROC.  The government criminally prosecuted 13 cases of offending the feelings of believers compared with two such cases in 2020, and prosecuted cases against members of smaller religious groups for what it called illegal missionary work.  The government continued to grant privileges to the ROC not accorded to other religious groups.

In December, a court sentenced a member of the “Citizens of the USSR” movement to six years in prison for attempting to organize a contract killing of the head of the Jewish Community of Krasnodar.  The SOVA Center, a Moscow-based NGO, stated antisemitism was a part of the movement’s ideology.  In the first six months of the year, the SOVA Center reported seven incidents of vandalism at religious sites – two Orthodox, two Jewish, two pagan, and one Protestant – as well as other incidents of religiously motivated vandalism.  In February, two persons shot an air gun at a grocery store containing a halal market in St. Petersburg.  Police opened a criminal case against the two individuals.  Authorities reportedly investigated antisemitic social media posts.  A survey by the polling firm Levada Center found that 22 percent of respondents professed a negative attitude towards Jews, compared with 34 percent in 2010.  Local residents opposed the construction of churches, mosques, and other places of worship in Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Stupino, and Irkutsk.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy representatives advocated greater religious freedom in the country, highlighting the government’s misuse of the law on extremism to restrict the peaceful activities of religious minorities.  The embassy also made extensive use of its social media platforms to disseminate messages advocating religious freedom.  Embassy representatives met with representatives of religious groups to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country, though these meetings were fewer than in previous years due to intimidation of religious groups by Russian authorities.  In August, the government prohibited the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff at its diplomatic facilities in the country, further constraining embassy outreach efforts to religious and civil society groups.  Department of State officials continued to monitor the situation of U.S. citizens working with religious institutions and organizations in the country to determine whether authorities targeted them for their faith or religious work.

On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State designated Russia a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the existing ongoing sanctions issued for individuals identified pursuant to section 404(a)(2) of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and section 11 of the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014, as amended by Section 228 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religion and worship.  The law requires religious groups and faith-based organizations (FBOs) to obtain legal status before beginning operations.  It requires new organizations to secure land and facilities adequate for their activities before obtaining legal status.  It also calls for legal representatives of FBOs and preachers with supervisory responsibilities to hold academic degrees.  During the year, approximately 6,500 churches, mosques, and other places of worship remained closed for being unable to meet health and safety standards or noise pollution ordinances introduced in 2018.  Of the 8,760 places of worship closed in 2018, the government reported 2,231 were allowed to open as of the end of 2020, but there were no new openings reported in 2021.  The government did not publish statistics on the total number of places of worship.  Many organizations reported the infrastructure improvements required to meet the standards were prohibitively expensive for groups of modest means, especially for those groups whose finances were negatively impacted by the country’s COVID-19-related economic downturn.  Government officials stated the cost of required improvements was only a problem for small informal groups, stating most religious groups with significant membership were able to bring places of worship into compliance with government requirements.  Jehovah’s Witnesses, noting their religious beliefs precluded them from swearing certain oaths, reported some members still faced obstacles obtaining certain professional licenses without having to swear an oath and with seeking to be married in civil ceremonies that did not involve an oath, but they also reported that civil servants no longer had to swear an oath to obtain employment.

Religious leaders stated religious groups and associations contributed to greater understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith meetings, organizing activities under the auspices of religious umbrella organizations or interfaith groups, and collaborating on public awareness campaigns and community development projects.

U.S. embassy representatives engaged the government to discuss the FBO law and its implementation, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Embassy representatives encouraged government officials to be transparent and practice flexibility in working with religious groups seeking to meet the law’s requirements.  Embassy representatives urged the government to ensure the law would not harm any party’s freedom of religion.  Embassy representatives consulted with religious groups and FBOs on continued challenges in meeting government requirements for reopening places of worship.  Through virtual and in-person engagement, embassy leadership and representatives also discussed with religious organizations the impact of COVID-19 on their communities and emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and mutual support during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Ambassador and embassy representatives partnered with religious organizations to sponsor food deliveries to needy community members in lieu of religious ceremonies, which were cancelled due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  According to Protest and evangelical Christian religious groups, the government made concrete efforts to promote religious tolerance and freedom.  Religious groups were generally supportive of government COVID-19 mitigation efforts, and during the year, Prime Minister Timothy Harris praised the cooperation of religious groups in addressing the pandemic.

The St. Kitts and Nevis Christian Council, which includes the Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, and Roman Catholic Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association, including the Church of God and Pentecostal Assemblies, continued to promote joint activities encouraging tolerance in schools.  A representative from the small Jewish community on the island of Nevis said the community enjoyed excellent relations with the Christian churches on the island and felt welcomed and supported.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives of the government, including from the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, on issues of religious freedom, including the importance of respect for religious diversity and tolerance.  During the year, embassy officials engaged with representatives of the evangelical Christian, Rastafarian, and Jewish communities.  The embassy promoted National Religious Freedom Day, as well as Chinese Lunar New Year, Holi, Easter, and Ramadan on the embassy’s official social media platforms.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing.  It grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction.  The law requires religious groups with more than 250 members to register with the government.  The Islamic Association of Saint Lucia, which officially registered as a religious organization in 2020, continued to seek land to build a mosque and cemetery and to request exemptions from a law mandating casket burials.  The country’s single Jewish organization, Chabad, still pursued formal government recognition.  According to Rastafarian representatives, the September passage of legislation decriminalizing marijuana possession – accompanied by an apology for past discrimination from Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre – was a welcome step, but Rastafarians called for further action, such as legalizing cannabis production or expunging criminal records of those previously convicted.  Together with their Muslim counterparts, Christian groups stated they were generally supportive of COVID-19 vaccines and of pandemic-related health measures; Rastafarians opposed the vaccinations.  The Christian Council, composed of the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant churches, and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean engaged the government on issues of interest to members – and ultimately obtained a religious exemption to the all-day Sunday curfew imposed for much of the fourth quarter of the year.  One religious leader said registration was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because only registered groups were legally allowed to hold services.

According to an Islamic Association representative, there was respect generally for Muslims in the country, but reports of verbal street harassment continued to appear on social media.  The Christian Council continued to hold interdenominational meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the priorities of the Religious Affairs Council, the status of the Islamic Association’s request for land and changes to burial laws, and the status of the Jewish community’s request to lower the registration threshold with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for most issues regarding religious groups.  Embassy officials also discussed issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities on several occasions during the year.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion.  Religious organizations may register as nonprofit religious institutions with the government or register as corporations, the latter option requiring an application to parliament.  On August 5, demonstrators, including individuals associated with some religious groups, protested a revision of the country’s public health law that mandated COVID-19 vaccination for some categories of workers.  The government provided legal exemptions for the vaccination requirement based on religious belief.  In December, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves stated that the government had exempted educators belonging to religious denominations whose doctrines reject vaccination.  According to government officials, during the year, the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information continued to approve exemptions from vaccination requirements for school enrollment, including for COVID-19 vaccinations, a stance that Rastafarians and Thusia Seventh-day Adventists with school-age children supported.

Rastafarians said they were increasingly accepted in society, and overall, the country’s citizens were becoming more tolerant of their way of life, including in their use of cannabis.  Rastafarians stated, however, they still faced discrimination in both private and public employment and in some private schools.

U.S. embassy officials continued to underscore with government officials the need to respect all religious groups and protect religious freedom as a fundamental right.  Embassy officials also met virtually with individuals from the Christian and Muslim communities and nongovernmental organizations to discuss governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities.  The embassy used Twitter, Facebook, and its website to promote messages regarding the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Samoa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion, and it defines the country as a Christian nation.  The Ministry of Customs and Revenue announced its intention to halt enforcement of a 2017 law that required clergy to begin paying income taxes, from which they were previously exempt.  Some nongovernmental organizations and leaders from minority religious groups reiterated concerns about amendments passed by parliament in 2020 that reformed the Land and Titles Court structure, which has jurisdiction over customary land and title disputes, and exempted its decisions from Supreme Court and Court of Appeal review.  The leaders said this could eliminate the ability of civil and criminal courts to address potential violations of religious rights and freedom.

There was reportedly strong societal pressure at the village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities and, in some cases, to give large proportions of household income to support church leaders and projects.  Some local denominations continued to own and operate their own television stations, which were available to other religious groups and nonreligious organizations for broadcasting their organizations’ messages.  The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa’s (CCCS) TV2 station, for example, was used primarily by the former opposition to convey its messages in the lead-up to and following the 2021 general election.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the state of religious freedom with the ombudsman, the country’s highest-ranking official responsible for human rights and religious freedom.  Embassy officials also met with representatives of various religious groups to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society.

San Marino

Executive Summary

The law prohibits religious discrimination and restrictions on religious freedom and provides for prosecution of religious hate crimes.  Religious groups recognized by the government are eligible to receive contributions from income tax earmarked by individual taxpayers.  The law requires Catholic religious instruction in all public schools but guarantees the right of nonparticipation without penalty, and it provides for alternative ethics classes for students who opt out of Catholic instruction.  Catholic symbols remained common in government buildings.  In a September referendum, voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of abortion, but by year’s end, parliament had not enacted an implementing law that would allow abortions to be performed.  The Catholic Church strongly opposed legalization.  The vicar general of the country’s Catholic diocese, Monsignor Elio Ciccioni, expressed disappointment with the referendum result and said he hoped that the law, when passed, would not be as “permissive” as the text voters approved in the referendum.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

During visits and telephone discussions, the U.S. Consul General in Florence, Italy, discussed the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sao Tome and Principe

Executive Summary

The constitution and the law on religious freedom provide for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief, and assure judicial protection to all religious denominations.  Both the constitution and the religious freedom law grant religious groups autonomy and the right to teach their religion.  Religious groups must register with the government.  From the outset of the pandemic, religious leaders supported government COVID-19 awareness campaigns and used television and radio messages in support of prevention measures.  The government invited religious leaders to listening sessions prior to deciding on preventive measures to be adopted.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

U.S. embassy local staff based in Sao Tome met with government officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, Public Administration, and Human Rights and with religious leaders to encourage continued respect for religious freedom.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

According to the 1992 Basic Law of Governance, the country’s official religion is Islam and the constitution is the Quran and Sunna (traditions and practices based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad).  The legal system is based largely on sharia as interpreted by the Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.  Freedom of religion is not provided for under the law.  The law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  The law bans “the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form,” “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam,” publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts, including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim.  In practice, there is limited tolerance of private, non-Islamic religious gatherings and public displays of non-Islamic religious symbols, but religious practitioners at variance with the government-promoted form of Sunni Islam remained vulnerable to detention, harassment, and, for noncitizens, deportation.  According to Shia community members, processions and gatherings continued due to decreased sectarian tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities, and Ashura commemorations were marked by improved relations between the Shia and other communities and public calls for mutual tolerance.  Shia activists stated, however, that authorities continued to target members of the Shia community while carrying out security operations and legal proceedings against them specifically because of their religious beliefs.  On June 15, authorities carried out a death sentence against Shia citizen Mustafa al-Darwish, initially arrested for involvement as a minor in antigovernment protests in 2012.  Government authorities stated al-Darwish received the sentence not for crimes he committed as a minor but rather for crimes that he committed subsequently as an adult.  As many as 41 individuals faced the possibility of execution, according to an October report by the Berlin-based European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), which stated that an undetermined number were Shia.  On October 12, London-based human rights organization ALQST and Prisoners of Conscience, which monitors and documents arrests in human rights cases in the country, reported that religious leader Musa al-Qarni, a former professor of Islamic jurisprudence, died in prison after his health deteriorated while serving a 20-year prison sentence of which he completed 15 years.  On March 29, al-Watan newspaper reported that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA) fired 54 imams and preachers in Mecca Province because of ideological and administrative violations.  In a September review of Saudi textbooks used in the second semester of the 2020-21 and the first semester of the 2021-22 school years, the Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) reported that the trend of “significant improvement” in content dealing with religions other than Islam had continued from its last review of the Saudi curricula in late 2020.  The 2021 Riyadh International Book Fair, organized by the Ministry of Culture under the sponsorship of the King, allowed booksellers to exhibit and sell antisemitic publications.  The fair permitted the sale of books about atheism as well.

Some social media platforms carried disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  Terms such as “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were found in some social media discourse.  An Orthodox Jewish rabbi made several unofficial visits to the country to conduct outreach and offer religious services to Jewish residents.  His social media posts depicted him in traditional Orthodox clothing and showed positive experiences with Saudis.

In discussions with the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and other ministries and agencies, senior U.S. officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, continued to raise and discuss reports of abuses of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforcement of laws against religious minorities, promotion of respect and tolerance for minority Muslim and non-Muslim religious practices and beliefs, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards.  Embassy officials engaged regularly with like-minded partners and with religious leaders and participated in interfaith discussions.

Since 2004, Saudi Arabia 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 November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated Saudi Arabia as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the important national interest of the United States pursuant to section 407 of the Act.

Senegal

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference.  By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association.  The government continued to work with Muslim religious leaders in a campaign to stop abuses against children in some Quranic schools or daaras, but child protection legislation proposed in 2016 and 2018 remained pending.  For a second year, the government allowed the October Magal Muslim pilgrimage to the religious city of Touba to be held without restrictions, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.  The government continued to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups.  The government also continued to encourage religious groups to register through the Ministry of Interior to receive legal status.

In April, in a village in the western part of the country, a spokesperson for a local Christian community filed a police complaint against a Muslim cleric, accusing him of inflammatory preaching and attempting to convert members of the predominately Catholic local community to Islam.  The national gendarmerie intervened in subsequent clashes between members of the cleric’s mosque and village youth.  Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some daaras.  These organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officers met regularly with senior government officials to discuss conditions faced by students (known locally as talibe) at daaras, as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Dakar and across the country.  In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, embassy officers emphasized the importance of religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  The embassy sponsored a film workshop in which one of the short films focused on educating the public about the daily living conditions of talibe and encouraged policy makers to protect Quranic students better from forced child begging.  With the Timbuktu Institute, the embassy again sponsored a webinar for participants from the Casamance region to promote positive dialogue, understanding, and tolerance among youth from different religious backgrounds.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion, including the right to change one’s religion; forbids the establishment of a state religion; guarantees equality for all religious groups; and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches remained unregistered.  Leaders of the country’s two Islamic communities continued to say that, due to a continuing dispute, neither could represent the entire Muslim community when dealing with the government, creating difficulties in coordinating property restitution claims and selecting instructors for religion courses in public schools.  In January, one of the Islamic communities sued the government at the European Court of Human Rights for registering the other Islamic community.  The government continued to return heirless and unclaimed properties seized during the Holocaust and restitute religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later.  The government continued efforts to develop a Holocaust memorial center at Staro Sajmiste, the site of a World War II-era concentration camp in Belgrade, which would also incorporate another former concentration camp in Belgrade, Topovske Supe.  Representatives of several religious groups said the government’s grant of 2.4 billion Serbian dinars ($23.17 million) to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) to complete the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade constituted government favoritism.

In January, May, and June, unknown individuals wrote antisemitic messages and placed antisemitic posters on multiple buildings in Novi Sad and Belgrade.  In May, Jewish leaders filed charges with the Republic Public Prosecutor and the Ministry of Interior against unknown perpetrators, which is permitted within the legal system, who put up antisemitic posters in downtown Belgrade.  Antisemitic literature continued to be available from informal sellers via online platforms.  A report by the International Republican Institute cited cases of antisemitism in online postings related to conspiracy theories involving the Jewish community and Israel.  Smaller, nontraditional groups, mainly Protestant, again said they encountered continued public distrust and misunderstanding.  They said that some websites, traditional media, and members of the public often branded small religious groups as “sects,” a term with a strong negative connotation in the Serbian language.  On February 18, the SOC elected Metropolitan Porfirije Peric as its Patriarch.  Patriarch Porfirije publicly cited the importance of interreligious dialogue and the SOC’s responsibility to “overcome polarization” among ethnic and religious groups.  On October 10, the Jewish Community of Belgrade elected Aron Fuks as its new president.  None of the candidates disputed the results, avoiding a repeat of the 2019 contested election.

Embassy officials engaged with a variety of government ministries and offices to advocate religious freedom and tolerance, continued interfaith dialogue, and protection of religious sites throughout the country.  The embassy urged the government to finalize plans for the Holocaust memorial center at Staro Sajmiste in Belgrade and emphasized the importance of continued restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property.  Embassy officials met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Islamic community, Jewish community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Baptist Church, to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance, the religious groups’ cooperation with the government, interaction between traditional and nontraditional religious groups, and property restitution.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds and forbids any laws establishing any religion or imposing any religious observance.  It provides for freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religion.  Because of COVID-19 restrictions that limited gatherings, the government suspended public discussion of a proposed amendment to the law regulating religious groups and associations (the Registration Act) that would tighten registration and fraud-detection mechanisms.  A Catholic priest was detained briefly on April 4 and fined for allowing too many persons in his church for Easter Mass, in contravention of COVID-19 protocols.  The government consulted with the Seychelles Interfaith Council (SIFCO), an interfaith group composed of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, and other religious groups present in the country, on issues directly affecting religious groups as well as the country.  President Wavel Ramkalawan met with the outgoing chair of SIFCO, Bishop Denis Wiehe, in October to discuss the future of interreligious affairs and the continued role of SIFCO.  SIFCO supported the amendment to the Registration Act; it continued to express concern regarding the number of religious groups that registered as nongovernmental organizations, as well as the registration process, which SIFCO said could attract fraudulent religious groups to the country.  The President also met with Catholic leaders, members of the Seychelles Bible Society, the secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, and members of the newly created National Muslim Council of Seychelles.  The President said he supported the Seychelles Bible Society project to create a “Bible House,” which would be a center for Bible study and would provide counseling services to various Christian groups.  Although the constitution prohibits compulsory religious education, some non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction did not have access to alternative activities during those classes.

SIFCO members participated in national events, including special interfaith prayers for COVID-19 victims and an end to the pandemic, as well as prayers with multiple religious leaders on the country’s national day, June 29.

The U.S. embassy in Mauritius monitored religious freedom in Seychelles.  However, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and restrictions on gatherings, there were no significant engagements during the year.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the protection of fundamental human rights and individual freedoms, including freedom of thought and religion, subject to the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, and health, and to the protection of other persons’ rights and freedoms.  The constitution also provides for freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of expression.  The law prohibits religious discrimination and allows all persons to observe their own religious practices and to change religions without interference from the government or members of other religious groups.  In July, the government closed places of worship due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.  Religious leaders, including the Interreligious Council (IRC), the umbrella NGO responsible for interreligious affairs, said the government failed to consult with them beforehand and did not close entertainment centers, bars, and restaurants.  The IRC, however, encouraged members to comply.  On August 12, the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone published a press release condemning calls on social media for a mass protest of the COVID-19 restrictions.  In August, the number of COVID-19 cases declined and the government revised the restrictions to reopen religious venues on August 16.

Religious leaders reported recurrent disagreements between Muslims and Christians, who accused each other of disrupting prayers with loud worship music and disturbing sleep with early morning calls to prayer, respectively.  The IRC circulated a draft code of conduct intended to address the issue.  The United Council of Imams (UCI) suspended a Muslim cleric in Imperi Chiefdom, Bonthe District, for defying the council’s directive not to preach against the COVID-19 restrictions instituted by the government to address the public health emergency.  The head of the country’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Emir Saeed ur Rahman, said some other Islamic scholars continued to preach against the group, but he said that discrimination had lessened since the group joined the IRC, and that the government continued to promote policies discouraging other religious leaders from discrimination.  The emir said foreign Sunni individuals from Tabligh Jamaat were recruiters for the Taliban and traveled from village to village preaching against other Islamic groups.

The U.S. embassy engaged with religious nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the IRC and the United Council of Imams (UCI), and supported activities to advance free, peaceful, and pluralistic expression among all parts of society, including religious communities.

Singapore

Executive Summary

The constitution, laws, and policies provide for religious freedom, subject to restrictions relating to public order, public health, and morality.  The government continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).  It restricted speech or actions it perceived as detrimental to “religious harmony.”  The government held 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the armed forces’ detention facility for refusing to complete mandatory national service on religious grounds, compared with 12 the previous year.  In February, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) detained a 20-year-old Muslim man for planning to attack a synagogue using a knife.  According to the MHA, the individual self-radicalized through online material.  The government and religious groups condemned the planned attack.  Throughout the year, police investigated several social media messages and online incidents directed at specific ethnic and religious groups.  In November, the government’s media and telecommunications regulator, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), banned a book on political cartoons and censorship by academic Cherian George and cartoonist Sonny Liew on the grounds of containing religious images and references considered offensive, affecting Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.  The government made multiple high-level affirmations of the importance of religious harmony and respect for religious differences.  It emphasized the role faith leaders played in promoting solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Government organizations initiated interfaith programs and funded community-led interfaith initiatives to promote religious tolerance and build interfaith understanding.

Multiple religious groups held virtual interfaith events and celebrations during the year.  Religious groups and civil society organizations continued to promote interfaith understanding.  When the government tightened COVID-19 restrictions in May, six faith-based organizations released a joint statement pledging to maintain interfaith solidarity and urging a united stand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  In August, the Deputy Prime Minister joined members of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) to celebrate the annual IRO Day virtually.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officers promoted religious diversity and tolerance throughout the year.  The Charge d’Affaires and President Halimah Yacob emphasized the importance of religious diversity and tolerance and commended these goals in remarks they delivered at an event organized by the interfaith organization Roses of Peace in February.  At the event, Roses of Peace also launched a program supported by the U.S. embassy that trained “ambassadors” to promote interfaith dialogue and religious harmony.  During Ramadan in April, the Charge d’Affaires met with Muslim and interfaith community leaders at a mosque to exchange views on interfaith relations and the impact of COVID-19 on religious communities in the country.  The Charge d’Affaires delivered best wishes for Ramadan in April and Deepavali in November via video and with written messages on social media, and the Ambassador sent holiday greetings in December.

Slovakia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith.  Registration requirements for religious groups include the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents, which members of some religious groups considered discriminatory.  A group lacking the minimum 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may register as a civic association to function; in doing so, however, it may not identify itself officially as a religious group.  Some groups registered as civic associations in order to function.  Government officials and members of parliament (MPs) from both the government coalition and opposition parties continued to make anti-Muslim statements.  In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented restrictions on the freedom of movement and public assembly throughout the year that some religious leaders stated violated freedom of religion.  A former deputy prime minister asked the Prosecutor General’s office to formally request that the Constitutional Court assess whether these restrictions violated the right to freedom of religion.  The court confirmed that the state of emergency accorded with the constitution.  The government’s ombudsperson separately concluded that while COVID-19 measures introduced by the government in 2020 did restrict fundamental rights, the measures were substantiated and proportional and “did not interfere with the core of religious freedom.”  State authorities continued to prosecute some members of the Kotlebovci – Ludova strana Nase Slovensko (Kotleba’s – People’s Party Our Slovakia) (LSNS) for defaming minority religious beliefs and denying the Holocaust.  The party chairperson’s appeal against a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence for an act of antisemitism remained pending before the Supreme Court.  The government adopted a formal resolution apologizing for crimes committed by the Slovak fascist state and denouncing the adoption of an antisemitic “Jewish Code” in 1941 that enabled the deportation of Slovak Jews.  The government created the position of Plenipotentiary for Freedom of Religion or Belief charged with promoting religious freedom at home and abroad.

The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media, which it mostly attributed to public statements by politicians portraying Muslim refugees as a threat to the country’s society.  According to a survey by a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), a majority of Slovaks, citing the religion as “very dangerous,” held negative attitudes toward Muslim refugees and migrants; 43 percent believed Islam should be banned in the country.  Organizations that media described as far right continued to publish material on and to commemorate the World War II-era, Nazi-allied Slovak state, and to praise its leaders.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 20 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Slovakia said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Unregistered religious groups said the public tended to distrust them because of their lack of official government recognition.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers raised with government officials the treatment of religious minorities and the difficulties those groups faced regarding registration, as well as measures to counter what religious groups and others described as widespread antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  The Ambassador and other embassy officers also repeatedly raised public awareness of the importance of religious freedom, using private and public events, as well as social media, to highlight the need for tolerance in society and the importance of countering hate speech.  Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to raise the issue of hate speech and to highlight the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance.  The embassy continued to support efforts aimed at combating anti-Islamic sentiment and antisemitism and increasing tolerance through public diplomacy grants.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs in public and private.  It states all religious communities shall enjoy equal rights and prohibits incitement of religious hatred or intolerance.  The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) continued a joint research project to establish the scope of Jewish heirless properties seized by the Nazis or their collaborators during World War II.  The resulting report was expected in 2022.  Restitution efforts remained complicated by an earlier law addressing property nationalization claims that generally excluded property seized from Jewish families prior to 1945.  The government registered one new religious group during the year, bringing the total number registered to 55.  Muslims continued to ask the government to provide halal meals in public institutions such as schools and hospitals.  Some minority religious communities continued to report the government did not provide space or personnel for adherents to receive spiritual care in hospitals, prisons, and the military, despite requests.  The government again did not respond to the Muslim community’s request to reserve special areas in cemeteries for Muslim graves and allow gravestones to face Mecca.  Although male circumcision was legal, some hospitals, acting on a nonbinding opinion by the government’s Commission for Medical Ethics, refused to perform the procedure, requiring some Muslims and Jews to travel overseas for that service.  On May 20, the government established a council for dealing with unresolved issues between the state and the Roman Catholic Church, including the Church’s desire for greater autonomy on internal matters.  The Archbishop of Ljubljana complained that charitable organizations connected with the religious community were by law unable automatically to participate in public tenders, since they first had to prove their status as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to the government.  Media reported that in October and December, Prime Minister Janez Jansa generated Twitter posts regarding a Jewish American businessman that were criticized as antisemitic.  The country held multiple events on and around International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On October 26, the Slovenian-based NGO Peace Institute published a study that found 41 percent of respondents who identified as religious minorities reported experiencing discrimination based on their faith, particularly at work, in public, and on the internet.  Orthodox Christians and Muslims reported the highest number of incidents.  The vice chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia expressed concern regarding what he described as negative attitudes towards Jews.  The editor in chief of the National Press Agency, a privately run media platform, tweeted, “Hitler is [a] hero.”  A former justice minister tweeted in response that glorifying Hitler was a criminal act, and the police and State Prosecutor’s Office in Ljubljana initiated a criminal investigation that was pending at year’s end.  In separate incidents, unknown individuals vandalized a Christian NGO, a Catholic cathedral, and three Muslim graves.  On November 9, the Jewish community reopened the Ljubljana Synagogue following a renovation that spanned several years; during the renovation, the only synagogue in the country had been located in Maribor.

U.S. embassy officials met with government officials responsible for upholding religious freedom, including the Ministry of Culture’s (MOC) Office for Religious Communities, to discuss the concerns of religious groups regarding the legal requirement to stun animals before slaughter and the state of interfaith dialogue.  Embassy officials met with Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders, including the Catholic Archbishop of Ljubljana and the former and current muftis of Ljubljana Mosque.  The embassy used social media to highlight its outreach to religious communities, posting about events such as embassy officials attending a ceremony to honor the memory of Ljubljana’s Jews deported to concentration camps during World War II and the reopening of Ljubljana’s only synagogue.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom, including the freedom to change religions, proselytize, and establish religious schools.  Laws “reasonably required” to achieve certain listed public goals may restrict these rights.  Government officials said the proposed constitutional amendment to declare the Solomon Islands a Christian country had not moved from the constitutional review committee in parliament, while members of minority faiths said that most citizens, who are predominantly Christian and Protestant, would likely support the proposed amendment.

During political and social unrest in November, leaders of several churches took action to encourage peaceful resolutions to problems in the country.  There were, however, reports of rumors spread by dominant religious groups denigrating the reputation of minority religious groups.

The U.S. government, through the embassy in Papua New Guinea and the consular agency in Solomon Islands, discussed religious tolerance and the proposed constitutional amendment to declare Solomon Islands a Christian country with government officials during the year.  Embassy officials discussed with religious minorities whether groups believed they could freely exercise their religious beliefs.

Somalia

Executive Summary

The provisional federal constitution (PFC) provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  Most areas of the country beyond greater Mogadishu remain outside federal government control.  Federal Member State (FMS) administrations, including Puntland, Jubaland, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and self-declared independent Somaliland, govern their respective jurisdictions through local legislation but do not fully control them.  Somaliland’s constitution declares Islam the state religion, prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, bars the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and requires all laws to comply with the general principles of sharia.  According to several Christian advocacy groups working in the region, on January 25, Somaliland police in Hargeisa arrested six local residents on charges of offenses against the state religion and inciting others to disobey laws relating to public order.  On August 5, a Hargeisa court dismissed all charges against the group and released them immediately.  The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education continued to implement its curriculum, declaring that a secular education with a focus on Islamic values and instruction in Somali was important in order to counter efforts by the terrorist group al-Shabaab to impose a strict version of Islamic law.

During the year, the terrorist group al-Shabaab attacked government-linked forces and targets throughout the country and pressured noncombatants to support the group’s extremist ideology.  According to media reports, al-Shabaab killed, injured, or harassed persons for a variety of reasons, including failure to adhere to the group’s religious edicts.  During the year, al-Shabaab was responsible for the killings of civilians, government officials, Somali security forces, police, and troops from contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christian crusaders” intent on invading and occupying the country.  During the year, the group conducted public executions of persons whom the group accused of committing crimes such as sorcery and spying, according to local and international press reports.  Al-Shabaab continued its practice of targeting humanitarian aid workers, often accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity.  Compared with the same period in 2020, there was a decrease in violence against aid workers.  From January to October, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Access Unit recorded at least 194 security incidents that directly affected humanitarian operations, with two aid workers killed, eight injured, 11 detained, and one abducted.

Strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions continued.  Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas.  Those suspected of conversion reportedly faced harassment by members of their community.

Travel by U.S. government officials remained limited to select areas when security conditions permitted.  U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom remained focused on supporting efforts to bring stability and reestablish rule of law, in addition to advocating for freedom of speech and assembly.

South Africa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status.  Over the course of the year, the government adjusted the regulations placed on religious gatherings as it adjusted the level of lockdown to control the COVID-19 pandemic.  At year’s end, religious gatherings were permitted but were limited to 750 persons indoors (with social distancing of five feet) and 2,000 persons outdoors.  Some religious groups and religious advocacy organizations protested government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship and said police response to complaints about violations of COVID-19 restrictions resulted in occasional clashes with worshippers and arrests of church leaders.  In September, the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) approached the Constitutional Court to urgently interdict the government from declaring the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory.  In court papers, SANCF argued the government had the obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens regardless of their decision to take or not take the vaccine.  On November 28, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the appointment of a task team to “undertake broad consultations on making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations.”  At year’s end, however, there was no vaccine mandate in place.  In August, the Al Jamah-ah Party submitted a Private Members Bill, the so-called Nikah Act, calling for registration of Muslim marriages, to the Speaker of Parliament.  In August, the draft Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, first introduced in 2018, was released for public comment.  Movement on the draft legislation occurred after the Constitutional Court handed down a unanimous judgment in July in the decade-old case, John Qwelane versus the SA Human Rights Commission.  Opponents of the measure, including religious figures, stated the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  Media outlets and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) drew attention to what they described the Judicial Services Commission’s (JSC) unfair treatment and questioning of two Jewish candidates for senior judicial positions relating to their views on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, levels of religious observance, and relationship with the SAJBD in April.  The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution launched a successful challenge in the High Court, which directed the JSC to reinterview the candidates.  Although the JSC did not select the candidates after reinterviewing them in October, the SAJBD stated it considered it a “victory” because of the role it and other members of civil society played in mounting pressure on the JSC to conduct a second round of interviews.  Throughout the year, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) examined allegations of sexual abuse, cult-like practices, and financial malfeasance against leaders of various religious organizations in what it said was a continued effort to protect congregants from abuse and fraud.  In January, a spokesperson from the military said the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) had updated dress regulations to allow Muslim women to wear headscarves.

The SAJBD recorded 65 antisemitic incidents during the year, similar to the 69 in the previous year.  Numerous individuals made antisemitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.  More than half of these incidents occurred in May, during and after hostilities erupted between Israel and Hamas.

U.S. embassy officials met with the CRL to discuss its role as a Chapter 9 institution established by the constitution to safeguard freedom of religion and belief.  Embassy officials met with religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and humanist representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  In June, the Charge d’Affaires met with the SAJBD to hear its concerns about anti-Jewish rhetoric.  The Charge heard from a diverse gathering of religious advocates who called for faith leaders to condemn hate crimes against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  Officials approved 1,292 alternative service applications from conscientious objectors to military service, and courts allowed all but three of 192 conscientious objectors with pending trials to begin alternative service.  In the other three cases, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported courts convicted three of their members and sentenced them to 18-month prison terms.  In April, the Supreme Prosecutor’s office apologized to Won Buddhists after accusations the office had removed a member of the group from an independent review panel based on his religious beliefs.  In a lawsuit against COVID-19 restrictions brought by several Protestant pastors, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in September that religious gatherings of fewer than 20 people were permissible for religious groups that had not previously violated COVID-19 restrictions.  In January and February, courts in Suwon and Daegu acquitted several leaders of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (Shincheonji Church) charged with interfering with government contact-tracing efforts during the country’s initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.  Diverse religious groups and much of civil society again urged the National Assembly to adopt a draft antidiscrimination law that would include protections for religious affiliation.  Some Protestant groups, including the United Christian Churches of Korea, opposed the legislation because one of the protected categories was sexual orientation.  In August, the government provided temporary humanitarian stay status to 434 predominantly Muslim Afghans and evacuated and resettled 391 Afghans who had assisted the government during the war in Afghanistan.  The government extended the humanitarian stay status of 740 predominantly Muslim Yemenis and granted 18 Yemenis refugee status.

In February, a district office in the city of Daegu suspended construction of a mosque after residents, who reportedly voiced anti-Muslim slurs, blocked the work.  Construction had not resumed at year’s end, despite a court ruling that the suspension order was illegal.  Critics of the government’s policy to evacuate and accept Afghan refugees who had aided the government during the Afghan war expressed their opposition vocally in online media.  A petition calling on the government not to accept the refugees garnered more than 30,000 signatures but fell short of the 200,000 signatures that would have necessitated a government response.  The author of the petition wrote that the “introduction of Islam” by the refugees would “expose the country to terrorism.”  Online criticism of Christian congregations that were at the center of COVID-19 outbreaks in the country with cluster infections in 2020-2021 diminished, according to several religious leaders.

U.S. embassy officers engaged with government officials on issues related to religious freedom, including the status of religious asylum seekers.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues and underscored the U.S. commitment to religious freedom with Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, Jewish, Falun Dafa, and other communities.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

The transitional constitution provides for separation of religion and state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides religious groups freedom to worship and assemble, organize themselves, teach, own property, receive financial contributions, communicate and issue publications on religious matters, and establish charitable institutions.  In June, the Episcopal Church in Central Equatoria State stated publicly the South Sudanese People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) detained five persons during a church service in Loka, Central Equatoria State, and later killed them while in custody.  In a separate incident in June, the government ordered an investigation into claims the SSPDF killed four worshippers during a church service in Lainya, Central Equatoria State.  In January, government officials detained two Episcopal bishops at Bor airport in Jonglei State who were reportedly linked to a continuing dispute within the Episcopal Church of South Sudan (ECSS).  Government officials stated they detained the visiting bishops, as they believed their presence would aggravate tensions.  Officials later returned the bishops to Juba and released them.  Catholic bishops released a September 15 public statement criticizing the government for its inability to guarantee law and order, and for failing to implement fully the 2018 peace agreement.

Media reported a number of attacks on clerics, including the killing in August of three persons, including two nuns, in an ambush on the Juba-Nimule road, and the shooting in April of the Roman Catholic Bishop-designate of Rumbek, who survived the attack.  At year’s end, the motives for the attacks remained unclear and the perpetrators unidentified.  The country’s religious institutions remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country, according to researchers and international NGOs.  Religious leaders stated that a diverse network of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim domestic and international organizations frequently provided noncombatants shelter from subnational conflicts throughout the country.

U.S. embassy officials raised concerns with government representatives regarding a lack of rule of law, increasing subnational conflict, impunity for violent crimes, and reports of human rights abuses and their impact on religious workers.  The U.S. Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives promoted religious freedom through discussions and outreach with religious leaders and civil society organizations, including an interfaith event for religious leaders in September.

Spain

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It states that while no religion shall have a “state character,” the government shall form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths.  The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to the three other groups with which the government has agreements:  Muslims, Protestants, and Jews.  Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits.  Throughout the year, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) called for the government to reform the part of the penal code that criminalizes offending “religious sentiments,” which, it stated, unduly restricted freedom of expression.  Some organizations said laws criminalizing public statements disparaging religious beliefs or nonbelief, or perpetrating “profane acts” that “offend the feelings” of persons equated to criminalizing blasphemy.  Religious groups that in prior years participated in the government’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom reported that the committee, an important venue for coordination with the government, had not met since 2019.  Some religious groups and NGOs voiced concerns about government restrictions on places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There were instances of members of parliament and local government officials using derogatory language against Jews and Muslims.  The governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation continued outreach to various religious groups and organized events promoting religious freedom.  Several religious groups cited continuing obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of teachers of religion in schools, given the legal requirement for a minimum of 10 interested students to initiate non-Catholic religious education classes in public schools.  The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on Hate Crimes offered assistance to victims of religiously motivated hate crimes and provided training to law enforcement.

The NGO Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 148 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first 10 months of the year, 33 fewer than in approximately the same period of 2020.  Of the 148 cases, 110 (74 percent) were against Christians, nine were against Muslims, three against Jews, and 26 were classified as being against all faiths.  Separately, the Ministry of the Interior documented 45 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2020, compared with 66 in 2019.  The General Prosecutor’s 2020 annual report identified one new prosecution during 2020 for hate crimes involving religion, compared with seven such cases in 2019.  Several individuals were sentenced to fines and imprisonment for antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crimes and hate speech.  Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported they continued to experience both elevated hostilities directed against them on social media and frequent instances of vandalism.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Spain said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy and consulate representatives met with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs officials to discuss antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities.  Issues discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, religiously motivated hate crimes, and hate speech.  Embassy officers also raised these issues with religious leaders who participated in Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation meetings.  Embassy and consulate officials met with leaders of Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhist, and other religious groups, and civil society groups.

Sri Lanka

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion.  The law recognizes four religions:  Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity.  The constitution and other laws accord Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commit the government to protecting it while respecting the rights of religious minorities.  A government investigation continued into the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks that targeted Christian churches and luxury hotels.  As of the end of the year, more than 300 suspects remained in detention, most being held without charge.  The Attorney General’s Department indicted 25 suspects for direct involvement in the attacks, including three facing U.S. terrorism charges.  Civil society organizations and diplomatic missions called upon the government to grant due process to all of those arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), including five prominent Muslims.  Local nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports stated that local officials and police responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated discrimination and violence against minorities.  In 10 cases of intimidation or attacks by Buddhist groups on Christian churches, police said the pastors were to blame for holding worship services and in three additional cases, police accused a pastor of breaching the peace.  The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reported few arrests and none of Buddhist monks.  Religious rights groups reported instances in which police continued to prohibit, impede, and attempt to close Christian and Muslim places of worship, citing government regulations, which legal scholars said did not apply.  On March 12, the government announced regulations on “de-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology” and created a system for referring individuals detained under the PTA to a mandatory rehabilitation program as an alternative to prosecution.  International and domestic human rights activists criticized the new regulations as a form of extrajudicial detention.  Civil society groups challenged the regulations in the Supreme Court, which issued an interim order on August 5 suspending the regulations until it issued a final ruling, which remained pending at year’s end.  On February 25, the government reversed the mandatory cremation policy for COVID-19 victims, which denied Muslims the right to bury their dead.  On March 5, the government chose a location in the Eastern Province as the sole burial ground for COVID-19 victims.  Throughout the year, Muslims complained of the hardships in traveling to this location and in adhering to strict and cumbersome government burial procedures.  On October 26, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a 13-member Presidential Task Force to implement his “One Country, One Law” campaign pledge and named General Secretary of the Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero, as chairman.  Following criticism that the task force and Gnanasara, a Buddhist monk known for anti-Muslim rhetoric, would “eventually turn towards targeting minorities,” the President narrowed the task force’s mandate.  In media appearances in September, Gnanasara said the Muslim community was complicit in the Easter Sunday attacks and any future attacks, and also admonished the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo for his criticism of the government on the Easter Sunday investigations.  Muslim leaders lodged a complaint with police against Gnanasara for inciting hate speech, and Christian clergy and Buddhist monks warned the public of what they said were planned attempts by Gnanasara to create communal tension in the country.

According to civil society groups, highly visible social media campaigns by Buddhist nationalist groups such as BBS targeted and incited violence against religious minorities, in particular the Muslim community.  BBS continued to use social media to promote what it called the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and vilify religious and ethnic minorities.  During the year NCEASL documented 77 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services, compared with 50 incidents in 2020.  In 11 instances, NCEASL said crowds assaulted or threatened pastors, their family members, and congregants.

U.S. embassy officials repeatedly urged senior government officials and political leaders, including the President and Prime Minister, to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing the importance of religious minorities in the national reconciliation process, and calling for due process for those in prolonged detentions under the PTA, including Muslims detained in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks.  The Ambassador affirmed in a public statement in January that the rights and dignity of families of COVID-19 victims should be respected by permitting the observance of their faith in accordance with international public health guidelines.  Embassy personnel met often with religious and civic leaders to understand the views of the communities they represent, the challenges they faced, including government and societal discrimination and the COVID-19 cremation policy, and to identify ways their communities could help diffuse ethnic tensions.  The U.S. government funded multiple assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith and interreligious cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building.

Sudan

Executive Summary

The country’s civilian-led transitional government, installed in August 2019, was led until October 25, 2021, by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who headed the Council of Ministers.  On October 25, Sovereign Council Chair and head of the Sudanese Armed Forced (SAF) General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved the cabinet, declared a State of Emergency, and detained Prime Minister Hamdok, along with other senior government officials.  On November 21, Prime Minister Hamdok’s dismissal was reversed, and at year’s end he was attempting to forge a political consensus that would allow the naming of a new government.  As of year’s end, the country remained under a State of Emergency, without a Council of Ministers.  An undersecretary named by Prime Minister Hamdok on December 2 was charged with running the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA), with its activities severely limited.

The constitutional declaration signed in August 2019 includes several provisions protecting the right to freedom of religious belief and worship “in accordance with the requirements of the law and public order.”  Unlike the former constitution, it makes no reference to sharia as a source of law, although the clause restricting the death penalty permits its imposition as sharia-sanctioned (hudud) punishment for certain crimes.  Laws promulgated under the former constitution remained in effect while the civilian-led transitional government (CLTG) worked to amend or abolish those laws and pass new legislation within the framework of the constitutional declaration.  The Miscellaneous Amendments (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms) Act of 2020 (MAA) repealed the law criminalizing apostasy, although some criminal laws and practices established by the previous government led by Omar al-Bashir remained in effect, including those dealing with blasphemy.  Those criminal laws and practices were based on that government’s interpretation of a sharia system of jurisprudence, which human rights groups stated did not provide protections for some religious minorities, including minority Muslim groups.  In March, General al-Burhan and the rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), active in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan States and led by Abdul Aziz al-Hilu, signed a declaration of principles agreement that outlined priorities for restarting peace talks.  The declaration prioritized unification of the armed forces and the separation of religion and state, a key demand of the SPLM-N.  On February 19, General Intelligence Services (GIS) officers reportedly detained the president of a Christian youth organization in Wad Madani in Gezira State.  Local parishioners continued to state that compared with Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship were disproportionately affected by unclear zoning laws.  According to Muslim religious leaders, the CLTG discontinued the practice of security forces monitoring imams’ sermons.  Members of minority religious groups continued to express concerns regarding the education system, which lacked sufficient teachers equipped to teach courses on Christianity and textbooks that promoted religious diversity.  On January 7, Prime Minister Hamdok, following criticism from Muslim clerics, instructed the National Center for Curricula and Educational Research in Khartoum to stop work on developing new school curricula, and established a committee that included religious leaders to review the education program.

Media reported a Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) church located in Jabarona near Khartoum that was attacked four times between December 2019 and January 2021, was rebuilt during the year.  Church leaders stated that during the period of reconstruction, they received threats from individuals whom they characterized as Muslim extremists living in the area.  On July 2, five armed men reportedly attacked an advisor to the MRA in Khartoum, threatening to kill him if he continued to publicly press the government to return church properties confiscated during the Bashir regime.  On January 3, a youth set fire to an SCOC church in Tamboul, Gezira State.  During the year, Shia husseiniyas (places of worship) remained closed, but followers of Shia Islam continued to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

Embassy officials encouraged respect for religious freedom and the protection of minority religious groups.  They urged repeal of blasphemy laws.  In addition, they highlighted the need for a new and inclusive education curriculum and urged government officials to abstain from the former regime’s abuses of religious freedom, which included confiscating and demolishing religious properties.  Embassy officials maintained close contact with religious leaders, faith-based groups, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Embassy representatives monitored the state of religious freedom in the country and stressed the importance of religious tolerance among the various religious groups.

Suriname

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion.  Both the constitution and the penal code prohibit discrimination based on religion.  Any violation may be brought before a court of justice.  Religious groups seeking financial support from the government must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs.  Limited government financial support for religious groups remained available through the Ministry of Home Affairs, primarily as a stipend for clergy.  The government continued to pay wages for teachers and support staff of schools managed by religious organizations, as well as subsidies to cover operational costs and school supplies.  Religious organizations, primarily evangelical Christian groups, protested government-implemented COVID-19 lockdowns as infringements on the right to religious freedom.  In June, religious leaders from the principal interfaith organizations consulted with President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and other government officials on ways in which to resume in-person religious services.  During the year, the Ministry or Home Affairs worked towards developing standards for religious training programs to gain government recognition.  The standardized training developed with support of religious groups was designed to help the government determine who is clergy and the accuracy of the stipends they received.  The President and other government officials noted the country’s religious diversity and the importance of respect for that diversity during public speeches.

The Interreligious Council (IRIS) – an organization encompassing two Hindu and two Muslim groups, the Jewish community, and the Roman Catholic Church – continued to discuss interfaith activities and positions on government policies and their impact on society.  IRIS collaborated with nonmember religious organizations such as the Committee of Christian Churches in Suriname, which comprises the Roman Catholic Church, the Moravian Church, the Lutheran Church, as well as the Protestant Church, on efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  In March, leaders of the IRIS and the Committee of Christian Churches joined forces to promote vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus.

In meetings with government representatives, U.S. embassy officials continued to highlight U.S. government policy on the importance of protecting religious freedom and tolerance.  One individual participated in an embassy-sponsored virtual exchange program on religious freedom.

Sweden

Executive Summary

The constitution protects “the freedom to practice one’s religion alone or in the company of others” and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  In July, the Skurup and Staffanstorp municipalities appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court to overturn a regional court’s verdict that a ban on hijabs, burqas, niqabs, and other face- and hair-covering garments for students and employees in preschools and elementary schools introduced in 2020 was illegal.  On May 20, the Malmo police granted Danish party Hard Line (Stram Kurs) leader Rasmus Paludan permission to hold an anti-Muslim demonstration with the purpose of drawing an image of the Prophet Muhammad.  In a May 1 speech, then prime minister Stefan Lofven stated that no new independent schools with religious orientations should be established, reaffirming the Social Democratic Party’s promise to introduce a ban in 2023.  The Center Party revoked its 2019 decision to work for a ban on nonmedical circumcision for boys younger than age 18.  In an April report, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers, in partnership with five Christian organizations, criticized the Migration Agency’s asylum decisions for Christian converts as arbitrary.  Several faith leaders described the government’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions as discriminatory when places of trade and culture were allowed more visitors per square meter than locations used for religious purposes.  Some politicians from the Sweden Democrats, the country’s third-largest political party, made denigrating comments about Jews and Muslims.  The then prime minister Lofven and other politicians condemned antisemitism and religious intolerance.  The Equality Ombudsman (DO) concluded its third, and final, inquiry into a Jewish doctor’s allegations of antisemitism at New Karolinska Hospital (NKS) in 2017 and found there was insufficient evidence to prove the surgeon’s allegations of reprisals by the employer.  The government hosted the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Malmo on October 13.  As a part of the government’s pledges ahead of the forum, on September 13, it announced several initiatives totaling 95 million kronor ($10.53 million).  In April, the government announced it would appoint an all-parliamentary committee to review legislative options for criminalizing Holocaust denial.

On January 20 and 24, unknown individuals threw several Molotov cocktails at the Spanga Church in the northeast region of the country.  Police investigated the acts as hate crimes and linked them to an incident earlier in the month when unknown persons overturned 300 tombstones in a nearby cemetery.  Jewish leaders stated their community registered increased antisemitic acts and threats from immigrant Muslim communities linked to the May conflict between Israel and Palestinians.  On January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, five antisemitic acts of vandalism took place in Linkoping, Norrkoping, and Gothenburg.  On March 27, the first night of Passover, antisemitic messages and symbols were placed outside a synagogue in Norrkoping.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 3 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Sweden said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  During the year, courts convicted leading Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) members for hate speech directed against Jews.  On November 24, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden Antje Jackelen apologized to the country’s indigenous Sami community for what she said were centuries of mistreatment perpetrated by the Church of Sweden.

On October 13, the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources headed the U.S. delegation to the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, which also included the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, the Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. government and embassy officials.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives continued to meet with the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the Swedish Agency for Support to Faith Communities (SST), parliament, police, and local government officials on religious freedom issues, supporting government efforts to improve security for religious groups and highlighting threats to members of some religious minorities, including Muslim immigrants.  The Charge d’Affaires met with four leading members of the Jewish community in May to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish community.  Embassy officials underscored the importance of religious tolerance with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Malmo and Stockholm.

Switzerland

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of faith and conscience.  Both the constitution and the penal code prohibit discrimination against any religion or its members.  The constitution delegates regulation of the relationship between the government and religious groups to the 26 cantons.  In a June national referendum, voters approved a new law parliament had approved in September 2020 that criminalizes recruiting, training, and travel for the purpose of terrorism.  Under the new law, individuals above the age of 12 whom authorities have reason to suspect are potential terrorists may be placed under house arrest for up to six months, renewable once.  Authorities may also require such individuals to report to a police station regularly, prohibit them from traveling abroad, and confine them to stay within specific geographic areas.  Human rights groups and international organizations criticized the law as too broad.  They also warned it could impact freedom of religion if movement restrictions applied to “potential terrorists” denied them access to religious sites.  In March, voters approved an initiative that would add to the constitution a ban on wearing full facial coverings in public spaces.  The ban applied to the burqa and niqab, as well as to masks worn by protesters.  Parliament and the Federal Council, the country’s highest executive body, opposed the initiative.  Some prominent Muslims and feminists spoke out in favor of the ban, while others opposed it.  The Federal Council was tasked with drafting a new related article in the constitution.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) and a nongovernmental organization (NGO) cited 532 antisemitic incidents in the German-speaking part of the country in 2020 – compared with 523 in 2019 – of which 485 involved online hate speech.  Another NGO reported 147 antisemitic incidents in the French-speaking region in 2020, compared with 114 in 2019.  A report prepared by an NGO in collaboration with the Federal Commission against Racism cited 55 incidents against Muslims in 2020.  Anti-Muslim incidents were the third most prevalent form of hate crime, following xenophobia and racism, according to the report.  In July, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences published a study of 500 Jewish survey respondents in the country wherein 17 percent had experienced antisemitic harassment in recent years.

U.S. embassy officials discussed projects, such as training events and workshops, aimed at promoting religious freedom and tolerance with federal and cantonal government officials.  In May, embassy staff visited the leadership of the multifaith House of Religions and spoke on religious freedom and tolerance.  In October, embassy staff met separately with the leadership of three religious groups:  the largest Muslim association, the Federation of Islamic Organizations of Switzerland (FIDS), the Free Churches Association, and the Reformed Alliance Association.  In each meeting, they discussed financial and social discrimination, government support for their organizations, and other issues pertaining to religious freedom.  In January, the embassy cohosted a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony.  In remarks, the Charge d’Affaires underscored the importance of religious freedom.

Syria

Executive Summary

The constitution declares the state shall respect all religions and shall ensure the freedom to perform religious rituals as long as these “do not disturb the public order.”  There is no official state religion, although the constitution states “Islam is the religion of the President of the republic.”  The constitution states Islamic jurisprudence shall be a major source of legislation, and the law prohibits conversion from Islam.  Membership in the Muslim Brotherhood or “Salafist” organizations remained illegal and punishable with imprisonment or death.  Sectarian violence continued during the year due to tensions among religious groups that, according to nongovernmental organization (NGO) and media sources, was exacerbated by government actions, the deterioration of the economy, and the broader ongoing conflict in the country.  At year’s end, more than half of the country’s prewar population was displaced, including 6.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and approximately 5.6 million refugees.  Government and progovernment forces continued aerial and ground offensives initiated in 2019 in the northwest of the country, killing civilians and forcing the additional displacement of more than 11,000 people.  The government, with the support of its Russian and Iranian allies, was reported to have continued to commit human rights abuses and violations against its perceived opponents, the majority of whom, reflecting the country’s demographics, were Sunni Muslims and whom the government described as violent extremists.  There also continued to be reports that the government, with its foreign supporters, continued to engage in the widespread destruction of hospitals, homes, and other civilian infrastructure.  The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported at least 972 cases of arbitrary detentions during the first half of the year and documented at least 150,049 Syrians who were detained or forcibly disappeared between 2011 and November 2021, the vast majority of whom were disappeared by the Assad government and remained missing.  The government continued to use Law No. 10, which allows for creating redevelopment zones across the country designated for reconstruction, to reward those loyal to the government and to create obstacles for refugees and IDPs who wished to reclaim their property or return to their homes; in line with the demographics of the country, this move impacted the majority Sunni population more frequently than other groups.  The Alawite minority continued to hold an elevated political status disproportionate to its numbers, particularly in leadership positions in the military, security, and intelligence services.  Some researchers and media stated that under the Assad government, sectarianism and the advancement of the Alawite minority had become more entrenched, disenfranchising non-Alawite Muslims, as well as Christians, Druze, and members of other religious minority groups; others said political access remained primarily a function of proximity and loyalty to the regime.

In March, Foreign Policy reported Iran used its influence, the dire economic situation in Syria, and financial incentives to encourage Sunnis to convert to Shia Islam or join Iranian militias.  The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI) again reported it had reasonable grounds to believe some Turkish-supported Syrian armed opposition groups (TSOs) committed abuses, including torture, rape, looting, and appropriating private property, particularly in Kurdish areas, as well as vandalizing Yezidi religious sites in areas under their control.  The COI, human rights groups, and media organizations reported killings, arbitrary detentions, rape, and torture of civilians, and the looting and seizure of private properties in and around Afrin.  Community representatives, human rights organizations such as the NGO Syrians for Truth and Justice, and documentation-gathering groups reported Yezidis were often victims of TSO abuses.  The COI found that despite its territorial defeat, violent attacks by ISIS remnants had increased, while human rights organizations stated that ISIS often targeted civilians, persons suspected of collaborating with security forces, and groups ISIS deemed to be apostates.  Many former victims of ISIS remained missing.

Christians reportedly continued to face discrimination and violence at the hands of violent extremist groups.  NGOs reported social conventions and religious proscriptions continued to make conversions – especially Muslim-to-Christian conversions, which remained banned by law – relatively rare.  These groups also reported that societal pressure continued to force converts to relocate within the country or to emigrate in order to practice their new religion openly.

The President of the United States and senior Department of State officials continued to state that a political solution to the conflict must be based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and respect for the human rights of the country’s citizens.  The Secretary of State and Department of State officials continued to work with the UN Special Envoy for Syria, members of the opposition, and the international community to support UN-facilitated, Syrian-led efforts in pursuit of a political solution to the conflict that would safeguard the human rights and religious freedom of all citizens.  It continued to support the evidentiary-gathering work of UN bodies and NGOs to promote accountability for the atrocities committed by the government and others.  In July, the United States imposed sanctions on eight Syrian prisons, five Assad regime officials in the institutions that run those facilities, two militia groups, and two militia leaders implicated in human rights abuses.  In December, the United States imposed sanctions on two senior Syrian Air Force officers responsible for chemical weapons attacks on civilians in 2017 and 2018 and three senior officers in the security and intelligence apparatus for human rights abuses.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief.  The labor standards law does not cover domestic service workers and caretakers, who are therefore not legally guaranteed a weekly rest day.  Due to this exclusion, many domestic workers continued to be unable to attend religious services.  According to the Ministry of Labor (MOL), foreign caregivers and household workers whose employers denied them a weekly rest day to attend religious services could report their cases to the ministry.  The MOL continued to coordinate with the Ministry of Health and Welfare to expand subsidized short-term respite care services for employers, thereby enabling more migrant caregivers to take leave to attend religious services or other conduct other activities without risking their jobs.  Pusin Tali, Taiwan’s Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, stated Taiwan’s failure to safeguard migrant workers’ rights, including guaranteeing their ability to attend weekly religious services, might affect Taiwan’s relations with the migrant workers’ countries of origin.  Taiwan authorities conducted outreach to the Muslim community – for example, by organizing an Islamic cultural exhibit in coordination with civil society groups and foreign missions of Muslim countries.

In April, the PRC-owned media outlet Wen Wei Po reported that PRC authorities temporarily blocked access to the Taiwan Presbyterian Church website for internet users in Hong Kong.  Radio Free Asia (RFA) stated the interference was done in retaliation for the Church’s support of the 2019 prodemocracy movement in Hong Kong.

Throughout the year, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) representatives engaged with legislators and ministries, as well as Ambassador Pusin.  AIT representatives encouraged religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of faith-based social service organizations throughout Taiwan to continue promoting religious freedom.  AIT used social media to engage the public on religious freedom issues.

Tajikistan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right, individually or jointly with others, to adhere to any religion or to no religion, and to participate in religious customs and ceremonies.  The constitution states, “Religious associations shall be separate from the state and shall not interfere in state affairs.”  The law restricts Islamic prayer to specific locations, regulates the registration and location of mosques, and prohibits persons younger than 18 from participating in public religious activities.  The government’s Committee on Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations, and Ceremonies (CRA) maintains a broad mandate that includes approving registration of religious associations, construction of houses of worship, participation of children in religious education, and the dissemination of religious literature.  The government continued to detain and prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to serve in the military.  Starting January 20, a new law on military service permitted men to fulfill their military service obligation without serving on active duty by paying a fee and completing a one-month reserve training course, after which there was no commitment to be available for active duty.  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said this new provision was not acceptable according to their faith because the alternative arrangement required participation in the military (through training) and payment of a fee to the Ministry of Defense, and did not allow for an exemption based on religious beliefs.  On January 7, before the new law took effect, the Khujand Military Court sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Rustamjon Norov to three and a half years in prison for evading compulsory military service.  According to the international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18, this was the longest known sentence to date in the country given to a conscientious objector.  In accordance with a widespread prisoner amnesty, authorities released Norov from prison on September 21.  Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to seek registration, an effort begun in 2007, and some adherents stated they were harassed by authorities.  Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at those mosques.  Government officials continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in religious organizations identified by authorities as extremist and banned, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.  According to NGOs, law enforcement agencies continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in, or of supporting, groups banned by the government, including groups that advocated for Islamic political goals and presented themselves as political opponents of the government.  In April, the Supreme Court sentenced 119 individuals who were arrested in 2020 for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood; their prison sentences ranged between five and 23 years.  In August, the Minister of Internal Affairs said that in the first half of the year, law enforcement officials arrested 143 individuals on suspicion of participation in banned movements and organizations, terrorist groups, and extremist organizations.  Authorities reportedly continued to discourage women from wearing hijabs.  On December 23, a new article was added to the Criminal Code that criminalized providing “unapproved religious education,” including through the internet.  In February, local officials in Mastchoh District destroyed the dome of a newly constructed mosque they said had not been approved by the CRA.

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 different religious groups, remained a subject they avoided.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government to adhere to its commitments to respect religious freedom.  The Ambassador discussed freedom of religion and belief and advocated for imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses during his interactions with the government.  Embassy officers raised concerns regarding the restrictions on participation of women and minors in religious services, restrictions on the religious education of youth, and the situation facing Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.  During the eighth U.S.-Tajikistan Annual Bilateral Consultations on July 1 in Washington, D.C., officials from the two countries discussed opportunities to advance religious freedom, and U. S. officials urged the government to ease religious restrictions and to free detained Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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 November 15, 2021, 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.”

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The constitutions of the union government and of the semiautonomous government in Zanzibar both prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religious choice.  Since independence and by tradition, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim Presidents, who then appoint a Prime Minister from the other religious group.  Following the unexpected death of President John Magufuli in March, Vice President Samia Hassan, who is Muslim, assumed the presidency and in a break with the tradition, opted to maintain Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, also a Muslim.  In June, 34 members of the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO), an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, were released after being arrested in 2013 on terrorism charges.  Some religious leaders said religious institutions continued to be discouraged from involvement in politics.  According to civil society organizations, the government issued a new directive by the Registrar of Societies requiring all previously registered societies, including faith-based organizations, to reregister every five years, to intimidate leaders.  Instead of the previous permanent registration status, all societies were required to be reevaluated every five years, and failure to reregister within the allotted time could result in deregistration.  There were no reports of religious associations or faith-based organizations being deregistered under this directive, which was subsequently amended to remove reregistration provisions for churches, mosques, and other places of worship.  In September, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro directed the police to review Quranic and Bible studies in madrassahs and church-affiliated schools and stated that the police force would begin inspecting houses of worship to verify if terrorism was being taught at schools.  In response, Sheikh Issa Ponda, secretary of the Council of Imams and an outspoken government critic, held a meeting with other imams to discuss Sirro’s statements, stating that the directive was contrary to freedom of religion and pledging to meet with bishops to coordinate joint measures to address potential interference in religious education.

On September 20, 10-15 suspected members of the Islamic State in Mozambique carried out an attack in the Mtwara region.  Following one individual’s killing of three police officers and a security guard in Dar es Salaam on August 25, a pro-Islamic State media group promoted the attack online as an example of an effective lone wolf attack.  Police said the attacker had accessed Islamic extremist content on social media depicting terror acts by al-Shabab and ISIS.  There was one report of an alleged witchcraft-related killing in the country.

The U.S. Ambassador met with prominent religious leaders to discuss COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among the population.  The embassy brought together religious leaders of various faiths.

Thailand

Executive Summary

The constitution “prohibits discrimination based on religious belief” and protects religious liberty, as long as the exercise of religious freedom is not “harmful to the security of the State.”  The law officially recognizes five religious groups:  Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians.  The Ministry of Justice allows the practice of sharia as a special legal process outside the national civil code for Muslim residents of the “Deep South” – described as the four southernmost provinces near the Malaysian border, including three with a Muslim majority – for family law, including inheritance.  Ethnic Malay insurgents continued to attack Buddhists and Muslims in the Malay Muslim-majority Deep South, where religious and ethnic identity are closely linked in a longstanding separatist conflict.  According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Deep South Watch, as of September 30, violence in the Deep South resulted in at least 86 deaths – among them 59 Muslims, 26 Buddhists and two individuals with unidentified religious affiliation – compared with 116 deaths, including 83 Muslims, 29 Buddhists, and four with unidentified religious affiliation, in the same period in 2020.  Observers attributed the decline to a combination of the resumption of peace talks, improved security operations, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Authorities blamed Muslim insurgents for an April 24 attack in Sai Buri District of Pattani Province in which three Buddhists were shot and killed, possibly in retaliation for the April 22 killing of two suspected insurgents by security forces.  The Muslim community in the Deep South continued to express frustration with perceived discriminatory treatment by security forces and what they described as a judicial system that lacked adequate checks and balances.  Duay Jai, an NGO working on peacebuilding efforts in the Deep South, said that authorities have used excessive use of force while conducting operations.  Compared to previous years, immigration authorities conducted fewer raids to detain refugees (including those fleeing religious persecution) registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as a part of what the government said were routine measures against illegal immigration.  Media and NGOs reported during the year that several dozen Uyghur Muslims from China remained in immigrant detention centers (IDCs) across the country, most of them detained since 2015.  During the year, there was one insurgent attack against Buddhist monks, the first reported attack since 2019.

Some Buddhist groups continued to express frustration with perceived special allowances for Muslims, with one group protesting and obstructing the construction of a new mosque in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima; construction continued after the group departed the area.  Buddhist activists continued to campaign to designate Buddhism as the country’s official religion.

U.S. embassy officials met with international NGOs, academics, and representatives of faith-based organizations to discuss religious pluralism, tolerance, and refugees fleeing religious persecution. Embassy officials awarded multiple grants to partners in the Deep South for projects focusing on digital literacy, diversity and inclusion, youth engagement, and community building. Embassy officials led quarterly virtual training sessions on digital citizenship for peace and diversity; the embassy also hosted interfaith meetings that brought together academics, religious leaders, community organizers, and youth influencers to create new connections, share perspectives on religious freedom issues, and consider future collaboration.

Tibet

Read A Section: Tibet

CHINA | Xinjiang | Hong KongMacau

Executive Summary

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief,” but it limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.”  CCP regulations allow Chinese citizens to take part only in officially approved religious practices and stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security.”  CCP regulations control all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, personnel, and schools, and prohibit “accepting domination by external forces,” which authorities said included Tibetans living outside the country – particularly the Dalai Lama.  The State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) issued new regulations, effective May 1, entitled the “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” that required all clergy to pledge allegiance to the CCP and socialism and created a database of “religious personnel” to track their performance.  The SARA also issued new regulations on September 1 that required all religious schools to teach Xi Jinping Thought and adhere to the “Sinicization” of religion.  In the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas, there were reports of forced disappearances, arrests, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detentions without trial of monks, nuns, and other individuals due to their religious practices.  There were also media reports stating prison authorities routinely sexually abused nuns.  There were reports of individuals dying in custody after being beaten.  There were reports of individuals who had been released from detention dying as a result of long-term illnesses and injuries suffered following beatings and mistreatment during incarceration.  Authorities arrested writers and artists for promoting Tibetan language and culture.  Authorities continued to arrest individuals for possessing photographs of, or writings by, the Dalai Lama.  The government continued to restrict the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions and to implement a campaign begun in 2016 to evict monks and nuns from monasteries and to prohibit them from practicing elsewhere.  The CCP continued to promote “Sinicization” policies that aimed to interpret religious ideas in accordance with CCP ideology and to emphasize loyalty to the CCP and the state.  The CCP continued to implement the Administrative Measures for Religious Organizations regulations, released in 2020, that further formalized administrative procedures for Sinicizing all religions.  Media reported authorities took measures to require Buddhist monasteries to translate texts from Tibetan to Mandarin, in what observers said constituted an ongoing attempt to erase the Tibetan language.  On May 21, the government issued a white paper that asserted Tibet had always been part of China and that the PRC would be responsible for the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama.  Authorities continued to restrict the religious practices of monks, nuns, and laypersons.  Travel and other restrictions hindered monastics and laypersons from engaging in traditional religious practices and pilgrimages.  Repression, including arbitrary surveillance, increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  The government, citing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, again canceled some religious festivals and limited access to religious sites for Tibetans but allowed Chinese tourists greater access to the same locations.  Authorities intensified overt surveillance of monks and nuns and forced former political prisoners to use government-issued mobile phones and wear ankle bracelets containing recording and GPS tracking devices.  One nongovernmental organization (NGO), the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), described surveillance methods at monasteries and nunneries, including ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras, police stations adjacent to or on the premises, monitoring monks’ and nuns’ internet and social media use, and thousands of government workers employed at temples, as being “of dystopian proportions.”  The government encouraged families to inform on their neighbors, and it attempted to control access to social media.  It continued to force monasteries to display portraits of CCP leaders and the national flag and required Tibetans to replace images of the Dalai Lama and other lamas in their homes with portraits of prominent CCP leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong and General Secretary and PRC President Xi Jinping.  PRC authorities continued to restrict children from participating in many traditional religious festivals, going on pilgrimages during school holidays, or receiving religious education.  As part of efforts to Sinicize the population, authorities aggressively promoted Mandarin-language-only instruction.  According to a report by the NGO Tibet Action Institute (TAI), the government required nearly 80 percent of Tibetan children to attend government-run boarding schools, where they were separated from their families, suffering emotional and psychological harm, and were at risk of losing connection to their language and culture.  Authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in monastic practices, including by appointing government and CCP personnel and government-approved monks to manage religious institutions.  The government continued to control the selection of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervised their religious and political education.  It continued to force monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology.  Religious leaders and government employees were often required to denounce the Dalai Lama and express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu.  Officials routinely made public statements denigrating the Dalai Lama and promoting the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.  President Xi visited the TAR on July 21-22, where he urged Tibetans to “follow the party.”  Authorities continued in state media to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities.

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

The PRC continued to tightly restrict diplomatic access to the TAR and to deny U.S. embassy in Beijing’s requests to visit the area.  No U.S. diplomats were allowed to visit the TAR during the year.  U.S. officials repeatedly raised concerns about religious freedom in Tibet with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels.  U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, who was appointed in December, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officers continued sustained and concerted efforts to advocate for the rights of Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the succession of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by the Tibetan people, free from interference, and they raised concerns about the continued disappearance of Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, missing since 1995.  During the year, the U.S. government used a variety of diplomatic tools to promote religious freedom and accountability in Tibet, including continuing visa restrictions on PRC government and CCP officials that it had determined to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas,” pursuant to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018.  In July, the U.S. Secretary of State met with Central Tibetan Administration representative Ngodup Dongchung in New Delhi.  In April, the Department of State spokesperson said, “We respect Tibetans’ right to select, educate, and venerate their own leaders, like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, according to their own beliefs, and without government interference.”  The embassy and consulates used social media to deliver direct messaging about religious freedom in Tibet to millions of Chinese citizens.

Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship and of religious instruction.  There is no official state religion, although Catholicism is the predominant religion.  Religious organizations may register with the government under the regulations provided for nonprofit corporate bodies.  Religious minority groups continued to report instances in which civil servants rejected marriage and birth certificates issued by religious organizations other than the Roman Catholic Church.  Muslim religious leaders continued to express concerns about discriminatory practices in civil service hiring.  As part of its annual budget, the government allocated $15 million for distribution among the country’s three Catholic dioceses, in line with the terms of its concordat with the Holy See.  Non-Catholic groups reported tensions regarding unequal allocation of government funds, since non-Catholic religious groups needed to apply for funding from a separate source instead of receiving a dedicated budget allocation.  In October, the multireligious Asosiasaun Turizmu Relijiouzu Timor-Leste (ATR-TL), or Faith-based Tourism Association, launched and received a $110,000 grant from the government to support its work.  Government leaders continued to meet with religious leaders as part of the government’s broader engagement with civil society.

Members of minority religious groups, including from the Muslim and Protestant communities, generally reported there was religious tolerance in the country.  However, some noted continuing strong societal pressure for individuals to remain in the Catholic Church, particularly from family or community members.

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

Togo

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies the state is secular and protects the rights of all citizens to exercise their religious beliefs, consistent with the nation’s laws.  All religious groups must register with the government and apply for authorization to open places of worship.  Approximately 900 registration applications from religious groups remained pending at year’s end, the same as in previous years, and the government continued to refuse intake of new applications.  According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA) in the Ministry of Territorial Affairs (MTA), however, the government did not prevent these groups from opening new religious institutions and carrying out their activities informally.  In response to an increase in COVID-19 cases and the refusal of some religious groups to check members for proof of vaccination, on September 17, the government ordered a suspension of religious weddings and funerals and the closure of religious establishments including churches, mosques, and voodoo temples for one month.  The Togolese Conference of Bishops denounced the closure of places of worship on September 24, accusing the government of ignoring the opinion of religious authorities.

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

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious tolerance with government officials and met with religious leaders throughout the year to support their efforts to reduce tensions in communities and support peace and social cohesion, specifically regarding countering violent extremism related to religion.  The embassy continued to promote interreligious dialogue through grants to nongovernmental organizations.

Tonga

Executive Summary

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

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

The U.S. Embassy in Fiji utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including through posts highlighting the religious holidays of minority religions in the country, including Ramadan and Diwali.

 

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and practice, including worship.  It prohibits discrimination based on religion.  Laws prohibit actions that incite religious hatred and violence.  According to the secretary of the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), an interfaith coordinating committee representing approximately 27 religious groups, the 2018 application by the National Council of Orisha Elders of Trinidad and Tobago for government recognition of the Orisha religion remained pending.  The Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) received six religiously based discrimination complaints during the year, compared with eight in 2020.  In May, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented a state of emergency, which included limitations on religious gatherings.  Religious leaders criticized the restrictions, with IRO members stating that more consultation was needed, especially since businesses were allowed to operate with fewer restrictions.  Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh criticized the actions of some Christian groups that urged their members and followers to refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.  Various Christian groups reacted negatively to the health minister’s vaccine comment, stating his criticism was too broad.  The IRO, which received private and public funding, publicly endorsed the COVID-19 vaccine and called upon the health minister and the government to publicly identify the individual religious groups advocating vaccine refusal rather than refer to them in broad terms as members of the Christian faith.  Several Hindu groups called on the government to repeal its prohibition on open-pyre cremation for COVID-19 decedents, stating that there was no scientific basis for the ban and citing the “harsh, oppressive and disproportionate” burden it placed on Hindu families.  Orisha, Spiritual/Shouter Baptist, and Hindu leaders said the government’s closure of beaches, rivers, streams, and ponds – part of the COVID-19 restrictions – was disruptive to their religious practices.  Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for major religious holidays, underscoring religious freedom, diversity, and unity.

In June, the IRO appointed Hindu Pandit Lloyd Mukran Sirjoo as its new president.  The IRO, which includes Christian denominations as well as Islamic, Hindu, Orisha, and Baha’i groups, continued to advocate for matters of religious and social concern, such as COVID-19 policies, education, tolerance, and respect for the law.  IRO members continued to ask their religious communities to open their doors to support refugees and migrants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The IRO continued to advocate for religious tolerance, urged religious groups to support the government’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and encouraged everyone to get the vaccine “for the common good.”

U.S. embassy officials engaged the government, including the EOC, on the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued outreach with religious leaders.  The embassy hosted meetings throughout the year to discuss COVID-19’s impact on the religious community, government policy in support of religious freedom, vaccine hesitancy among various religious groups, religious pluralism, interfaith cooperation, discrimination, and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO.  The embassy funded programs in support of interfaith communication and cooperation and promoted religious freedom and tolerance through social media.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

The 2014 constitution declares the country’s religion to be Islam.  The constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.”  The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and obligates the state to disseminate the values of “moderation and tolerance.”  It prohibits the use of mosques and other houses of worship to advance political agendas or objectives and guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practice.  Press reported in August that Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian Christian refugee living in Tunisia since 2018, was forcibly returned to Algeria on August 25 to face terrorism charges.  Bouhafs previously served two years in prison in Algeria on charges including “offending Islam.”  The High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAICA) ordered the closure of several news outlets, including some with religious affiliations, for not complying with HAICA licensing requirements.  HAICA regulations prohibit outlets with political or religious affiliation from broadcasting.  On October 5, the Ministry of Interior enforced HAICA’s order to close Zitouna TV, which frequently broadcasts religious programming, for violating its operating license by being affiliated with the Nahda political party, which describes itself as being comprised of Muslim democrats.  On November 2, the government ordered the closure of Quran Kareem, a religious radio station for also operating without a license.  In announcing the decision, HAICA said that Quran Kareem was “promoting hate speech to incite violence and hatred.”  On November 18, a Tunisian court overturned HAICA’s decision to confiscate Zitouna TV and Radio Quran broadcasting equipment, but upheld HAICA’s decision to confiscate Nessma TV’s equipment.  HAICA announced plans to appeal the court’s decision to ensure all media outlets are treated equally under the authority’s regulatory mandate.  The government continued not to recognize the Baha’i Faith or grant its association legal status, despite a 2020 administrative court ruling in favor of allowing the Baha’i Faith to establish an association.  The General Prosecutor appealed the ruling in 2020 and the case remained ongoing at year’s end.  Wearing the niqab remained prohibited, although this law was generally not enforced.  Christian sources and the multicultural Attalaki Association for Freedom and Equality (Attalaki Association) continued to state there was strong governmental and societal pressure not to discuss a church’s activities or theology publicly and reported several instances of security forces banning Christians from meeting in hotels or private homes.  Christian citizens stated the government did not fully recognize their rights, particularly as they pertain to the establishment of a legal entity or association that would grant them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery.  The Attalaki Association reported continued positive exchanges with members of parliament regarding efforts to combat hate speech based on religion and license a Christian cemetery and Arabic-language church, prior to President Kais Saied’s suspension of Parliament on July 25.  Jewish groups said they continued to worship freely, and the government continued to provide security for synagogues and partially subsidized restoration and maintenance costs, but the government continued to fail to act on a 2019 petition to establish a Jewish community association.  In February, the municipal government of Dar Chaaban in Nabeul evicted Shia residents who were using residential property for religious meetings.

Christian converts from Islam said threats from members of their families and other persons reflected societal pressure against Muslims leaving the faith.  Some atheists reported facing societal pressure to conceal their atheism, including by participating in Islamic religious traditions.  On March 9-10, Free Constitutional Party (PDL) members allegedly attempted to break into the Qatar-based International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) national headquarters in Tunis, which PDL president Abir Moussi called a Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored terrorist organization.  The Karama Coalition political grouping, described by some think tanks and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) as a coalition that includes Islamists, organized a counterprotest and there were violent clashes among PDL, IUMS, Karama Coalition, and some Nahda supporters until security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds.  In April, Jewish leaders and Attalaki stated that there were several assaults targeting Jews during Passover.  Some members of the Christian community said that citizens who attended church services faced pressure from family members and others in their neighborhood not to attend.

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

Turkey

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds.  The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to enable the practice of Islam, provide religious education, and manage religious institutions.  According to media, some members of the Uyghur Muslim community expressed fear that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was attempting to pressure the government to change its policy of not deporting members of the Uyghur diaspora community to the PRC.  According to media and public government statements, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country, did not deport any Uyghurs to the PRC during the year, and consistently denied plans to change this policy.  In July, media reported nine Kurdish Sunni imams were arrested, charged with terrorism related offenses and for preaching in Kurdish, and then released.  The lawyer representing the imams told media he believed his clients’ “freedom of religion and belief has been openly violated” because they could not preach in their chosen language.  In March, government media regulator Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined independent television broadcasters for “insulting society’s religious values,” which independent Turkish media stated was a common means of retaliation against media organizations critical of the government.  In March, the Constitutional Court upheld a regional court decision sentencing a journalist to seven months in prison for tweets “insulting religious values.”  Government officials continued to use antisemitic rhetoric in speeches.  In May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Israelis were “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old.  They are only satisfied with sucking their blood.”  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  Media and nongovernmental organizations reported continued entry bans and deportations of non-Turkish citizen leaders of Protestant congregations.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy domestically, and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed.  In January, an Armenian Christian parliamentarian condemned the demolition of a 17th-century Armenian church in Kutahya that had been protected under local law.  Construction of a new Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul continued, according to the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Office.

According to media reports, isolated acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued.  In February, media reported that unidentified individuals vandalized the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Akhisar District of Izmir.  According to media, in March, police opened an investigation of a fire set at the gate of the historical Kasturya Synagogue, located in Ayvansaray District in Istanbul.  Media reported that three men videotaped themselves dancing atop the gates of Surp Tavakor Armenian Church, causing damage to the gate’s crucifix, in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District on July 11.  Government officials condemned the men’s actions; authorities subsequently detained and then released them.  In December, the three suspects were indicted and charged with “insulting religious values.”  Judicial proceedings continued through year’s end.  In September, media reported unidentified individuals vandalized Kurdish Alevi homes with graffiti that read, “Kurdish Alevi get out,” in the province of Mersin.  Antisemitic discourse and hate speech continued in social media and the print press; in August, some social media personalities and journalists linked the devastating wildfires spreading through the country to a foreign rabbi living in the country.  On June 18, media reported that representatives of the Jewish community filed a criminal complaint against the head of a health and social services business after he tweeted that those protesting at Bogazici University “are all dishonest… You are all a traitor.  You are all a Jew.”

On October 25, the U.S. President met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  According to the White House press release, they discussed the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right.  The Secretary of State also met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, tweeting afterwards, “We value our partnership with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey and the region.”  The U.S. Ambassador, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to emphasize to government officials the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  On May 18, the Department of State spokesperson issued a statement condemning President Erdogan’s antisemitic rhetoric.  U.S. officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and make progress on property restitution.  Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call on the government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and to permit the training of clergy members from all communities in the country.  In May, during a visit to Istanbul, the Deputy Secretary of State met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  The Deputy Secretary also visited St. George’s Cathedral.  Embassy and consulate officials continued to hold meetings with a wide range of Islamic religious leaders and religious minority community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Baha’i, and Chaldean Catholic communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.

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 separates the roles of government and religion and stipulates that religious organizations are prohibited from “interference” in state affairs.  Once registered with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), a religious organization must reregister in the event of a change in legal address or a change in its charter.  The government allowed four religious organizations to reregister during the year, including three Muslim and one Christian, but religious organizations said that reregistration remained a challenge due to excessive bureaucratic requirements.  Buying or renting a place to conduct worship services remained a common problem for several religious organizations.  In May, as part of a larger prisoner release for Ramadan, the President pardoned and released all 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been imprisoned as conscientious objectors since at least 2019.  According to the government, there were no religious conscientious objectors in prison following the release.  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.  In one case, the government raided a house where 10 Muslim men were praying and said the men had violated COVID-19 safety restrictions.  According to an international advocacy group, Muslims and non-Muslims questioned why mosques and other places of worship remained closed due to COVID-19 restrictions when the government permitted large events such as the commemoration of the President’s father’s death in April to occur without precautionary measures being taken.  According to religious organizations, government security forces continued to restrict the importation of religious literature.  The government stated that as of November 11, it permitted 240 pieces of religious literature to be imported during the year.  The government continued to appoint all senior Muslim clerics and, according to religious groups, to scrutinize or obstruct groups attempting to purchase or lease buildings or land for religious purposes.

Religious leaders as well as private citizens stated they were reluctant to speak out publicly about religious freedom issues due to fear of harassment, ostracism, or public shaming by their family members, friends, and neighbors.  Numerous citizens stated that the government’s suspicion of religion continued to be mirrored in the private sector, and that membership in a minority religious organization or even “excessive” expressions of religiosity could result in the loss of employment opportunities and frequently triggered harassment.  Members of minority religious groups reported societal prejudices against religious groups that were not Sunni Muslim or Russian Orthodox.  According to Christian community leaders, Muslims who converted to Christianity faced pressure from families, friends, and local communities to return to their former faith.

In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the Ambassador, other U.S. embassy representatives, and other U.S. government officials expressed concern about religious freedom issues, including the legal status of conscientious objectors, the ability of religious groups to register or reregister, restrictions on the import of religious literature, and other factors that contributed to Turkmenistan’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  During an April religious freedom roundtable hosted by the Ambassador, eight minority religious groups discussed religious freedom challenges with embassy staff and high-ranking members of the diplomatic corps.  Throughout the year, the Ambassador and other embassy officials visited places of worship of minority religious groups, including a Christian Orthodox church, a Baha’i worship center, and a Sunni mosque, to show support for these communities and provide a forum to discuss their concerns.

Since 2014, Turkmenistan has been designated as a CPC for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State again designated Turkmenistan as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice.  The law designates the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, or EKT) as the state church and allows it to conduct “special services on major national events.”  The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom, and labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  Traditional island councils, including on Nanumanga, Nukufetau, and Vaitupu, reportedly continued to discourage public meetings of several minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and informal religious bans on such groups by traditional leaders remained in place.  Missionaries continued to practice without government restrictions on some islands, such as Funafuti.  The government imposed a 15-minute pause on all public activities in the capital Funafuti every evening so that EKT members could observe evening prayers, although prayer was not mandatory.

On smaller islands, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious groups were reportedly perceived by residents as being outside of traditional norms.  Local traditional leaders of the island of Vaitupu sometimes discouraged groups from proselytizing and withheld approval for meetings other than the EKT and Seventh-day Adventists.  Local minority religious leaders said the EKT continued to exert considerable influence in the social, cultural, and political life of the country.  For example, the Church continued to limit social and sports activities on Sunday and encouraged a modest dress code in local villages.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society.  The embassy used social media platforms to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, posting messages during major Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim celebrations in support of religious tolerance and practices.

Uganda

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion.  It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and the right to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution.  The government requires religious groups to register.  Muslim advocacy groups petitioned the Uganda Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings by security agencies of 12 Muslim terror suspects, including one cleric.  The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) and Muslim civil society organizations also called upon authorities to try Muslim suspects via a fair and speedy process, noting that the government’s failure to convict Muslims arrested for murder or on terror-related charges created the impression that it was biased and discriminated against the Muslim community.  According to international media, in August, the government suspended 54 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including faith-based aid groups, for failing to meet registration requirements.  According to media, members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party accused some Roman Catholic priests of indirectly telling their congregations to vote for the opposition National Unity Platform party.  Party members also accused some Anglican Church clerics of using their sermons to campaign for the NRM.  Both Churches denied the allegations.  Although the government consulted with the umbrella religious body, the Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), before suspending religious ceremonies in efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, two religious leaders sued the government for this action, saying it infringed on their religious freedom.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church of Uganda petitioned Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja concerning a reported plan by the Ministry of Education and Sports to start lessons on Saturdays (the Adventist Sabbath) to make up for lost time as a result of long-term school closures due to COVID-19 countermeasures.  The UMSC stated that despite an increase in the number of Muslims represented in the cabinet, the government used the 2014 census, which classified Muslims as a smaller minority than believed by the council, as a justification for discrimination.  According to the UMSC, this enabled the government to discriminate against Muslims in providing social programs and hiring for government positions.

In October, UMSC representatives reported that some elite Christian high schools limited the number of qualifying Muslim students accepted for admission, in contravention of laws against religious discrimination, admitting as few as five Muslim students out of more than 100 applicants.  The Uganda Muslim Youth Development Forum (UMYDF) reported that some Muslims experienced discrimination in employment, and it cited a case in which a telecom company dismissed a staffer after she ignored instructions not to wear a veil at work.  Numerous social media users used their accounts to accuse religious leaders of rival faiths as “false prophets” and their followers as “lacking brains.”  In the period preceding the January 14 general elections, the IRCU reached out to local government leaders, media, and civil society to encourage tolerance and nonviolence.

U.S. embassy representatives regularly discussed religious freedom issues with government officials.  The Ambassador met on several occasions with President Yoweri Museveni and emphasized the government’s obligations to respect the rights of all persons, regardless of religious affiliation.  At the start of Ramadan on April 13, the Ambassador used the embassy’s social media platforms – amplified by the Uganda Radio Network – to promote religious tolerance, charity, and unity.  Embassy representatives engaged local government officials in the eastern part of the country to promote religious tolerance.  On May 6, the Ambassador met with the UMSC and the Kibuli Order of the Supreme Mufti (both Sunni umbrella organizations).  Embassy representatives met with Nadwa (a coalition of Muslim scholars), the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Uganda, and the Tabliq Sunni community to promote religious tolerance, education, and peacebuilding in the country.

Ukraine

Read A Section: Ukraine

Crimea

In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.  United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers Crimea a part of Ukraine.  In 2014, Russia-led forces also occupied parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (regions), which latter created the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic.”  The United States does not recognize these so-called “republics.”

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for “the separation of church and religious organizations from the state.”  By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.  A new law, adopted by parliament in September, defines the concept of antisemitism and reaffirms that crimes motivated by antisemitism are punishable in accordance with the law.  Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report attacks on their followers that went unpunished and detentions of members, reportedly for draft evasion.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, amendments to a law on military duty and service passed in April provided no possibility of an exemption from military reserve service until the end of the “special period” (i.e., while hostilities with Russia-led forces continue in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts), even for conscientious objectors.  Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to call on the government to implement four 2020 European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisions to ensure effective investigation of hate crimes committed against the group and its places of worship between 2009-13 and to prosecute the perpetrators of those religiously motivated attacks.  During the year, the government paid compensation awarded by the ECHR to some, but not all, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses whom the ECHR found to be victims of hate crimes.  In March, following an appeal by the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine concerning the State Migration Service and the police practice of profiling worshipers at one of Kyiv’s largest mosques during Friday prayers in 2020, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said it would adhere to recommendations by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to reduce or eliminate criminal profiling.  Members of multiple religious groups welcomed a law on military chaplaincy, adopted by the parliament in November, that defined selection criteria for clergy to become chaplains.  According to the International Center for Law and Religious Studies, the government at times continued to try to balance tensions between the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) – granted autocephaly by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019, but not recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow – and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which competed for members and congregations.  According to the Orthodox Times and other media, the Russian government continued to use a disinformation campaign to fuel further discord between the two churches.  Local authorities in Lviv continued to allow a local developer to construct a private medical clinic on the grounds of an historical Jewish cemetery despite an August 2020 stop-work order from the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy.  According to observers, government investigations and prosecutions of vandalism of religious sites continued to be generally inconclusive, although the government condemned attacks and police arrested perpetrators.

Media sources, religious freedom activists, the OCU, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that Russia-backed “authorities” in the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts continued to exert pressure on minority religious groups.  In the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”), “authorities” continued their ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist” organization, while the “Supreme Court” in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) upheld a similar ban.  Russia-backed “authorities” in the “DPR” and “LPR” continued to implement “laws” requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them.  According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), most religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law continued to be unable to reregister because of stringent legal requirements under Russian law preventing or discouraging reregistration.  Many religious groups continued to refuse to reregister because they did not recognize the Russia-installed “authorities” in Donetsk and Luhansk.  In its oral update on Ukraine in October, the OHCHR also highlighted that the self-proclaimed “republics” continued to restrict freedom of religion, in particular of evangelical Christian denominations.  All but one mosque remained closed in Russia-controlled Donetsk.  Russia-led forces continued to use religious buildings of minority religious groups, including those of Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as military facilities.

The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the UOC-MP continued to label the OCU a “schismatic” group and continued to urge other Orthodox churches not to recognize the OCU.  UOC-MP and OCU representatives continued to contest some parish registrations as not reflecting the true will of their congregations.  UOC-MP leaders continued to accuse the OCU of seizing churches belonging to the UOC-MP; the OCU responded that parishioners, rather than the OCU, had initiated the transfers of affiliation.  The independent National Minorities Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) reported three documented violent acts of antisemitism, compared with four in 2020.  During Hanukkah (November 28-December 6), individuals vandalized several public menorahs in different cities, prompting condemnations from Jewish leaders, some of whom stating that the widespread vandalism must have been orchestrated.  There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls.  Church ownership disputes between UOC-MP and OCU members in Zadubrivka village, Chernivtsi Oblast, and in some other villages and cities continued.  UOC-MP-affiliated media reported perpetrators attacked a man due to his church affiliation; OCU-affiliated media, however, citing the police report, stated the drunken teenage perpetrators were not religiously motivated.  The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and respect for religious diversity.

U.S. embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, engaged with officials of the Office of the President, ministry officials, members of parliament, and municipal governments to discuss the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and combating manifestations of antisemitism.  Embassy officials continued to urge government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences.  Embassy officials also continued to encourage religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular a dispute regarding ongoing construction of parts of the Krakivskyy Market on the site of the Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery.  Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims and other religious minorities from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Russia-occupied Crimea.  In May, the U.S. Secretary of State met with OCU leadership to discuss pressure on the OCU in Crimea and occupied territories of eastern Ukraine.

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The constitution states that Islam is the country’s official religion.  It guarantees freedom of worship as long as it does not conflict with public policy or morals.  It states all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief.  According to the constitution, sharia is the principal source of legislation, although the judicial system applies both sharia and civil law, depending on the case.  The law prohibits blasphemy and proselytizing by non-Muslims.  An antidiscrimination law includes prohibitions on religious discrimination and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religions.  The government, having desi