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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam the official state religion and says no law may contravene the beliefs and provisions of the “sacred religion of Islam.” It further states there shall be no amendment to the constitution’s provisions with respect to adherence to the fundamentals of Islam. According to the constitution, followers of religions other than Islam are “free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law.”

There is no definition of apostasy in the criminal code. Apostasy falls under the seven offenses making up the hudud as defined by sharia. According to Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence, which the constitution states shall apply “if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case,” beheading is appropriate for male apostates, while life imprisonment is appropriate for female apostates, unless they repent. A judge may also impose a lesser penalty, such as short-term imprisonment or lashes, if doubt about the apostasy exists. Under Hanafi jurisprudence, the government may also confiscate the property of apostates or prevent apostates from inheriting property. This guidance applies to individuals who are of sound mind and have reached the age of maturity. Civil law states the age of majority for citizens is 18, except it is 16 for females with regard to marriage. Islamic law defines it as the point at which one shows signs of puberty.

Conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence applicable in the courts. If someone converts to another religion from Islam, he or she shall have three days to recant the conversion. If the person does not recant, then he or she shall be subject to the punishment for apostasy. Proselytizing to try to convert individuals from Islam to another religion is also illegal according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence applicable in the courts and subject to the same punishment.

Blasphemy, which may include anti-Islamic writings or speech, is a capital crime according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence applicable in the courts. Similar to apostates, blasphemers have three days to recant or face death, although there is no clear process for recanting under sharia. Some hadiths (sayings or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad that serve as a source of religious law or guidance) address the issue, suggesting discussion and negotiation with an apostate to encourage the apostate to recant.

According to a 2007 ruling from the General Directorate of Fatwas and Accounts under the Supreme Court, the Bahai Faith is distinct from Islam and is a form of blasphemy. All Muslims who convert to it are considered apostates; Bahai practitioners are labeled infidels.

The law prohibits the production, reproduction, printing, and publishing of works and materials contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and denominations. It also prohibits publicizing and promoting religions other than Islam and bans articles on any topic the government deems might harm the physical, spiritual, and moral well-being of persons, especially children and adolescents. The law instructs National Radio and Television Afghanistan (RTA), a government agency, to provide broadcasting content reflecting the religious beliefs of all ethnic groups in the country. The law also obligates RTA to adjust its programs in light of Islamic principles as well as national and spiritual values.

Licensing and registration of religious groups are not required. Registration as a group (which gives the group the status of a shura or council) or an association conveys official recognition and the benefit of government provision of facilities for seminars and conferences. By law, anyone who is 18 years of age or older may establish a social or political organization. Such an entity must have a charter consistent with domestic laws as well as a central office. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) may dissolve such organizations through a judicial order. Groups recognized as shuras or councils may cooperate with one another on religious issues. Associations may conduct business with the government or the society as a whole. Both groups and associations may register with the MOJ. According to the MOJ database, 2,215 Sunni and Shia organizations are registered, while the Sikh and Hindu National Shura is registered with the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs.

The criminal code punishes “crimes against religions,” which include verbal and physical assaults on a follower of any religion. It specifies a person who attacks a follower of any religion shall receive a prison sentence of not less than three months but no more than a year, and a fine of between 3,000 and 12,000 afghanis ($44 to $177).

The criminal code states persons who forcibly stop the conduct of rituals of any religion, those who destroy or damage “permitted places of worship” (a term not defined by the code) where religious rituals are conducted, or those who destroy or damage any sign or symbol of any religion are subject to a medium-term punishment. The criminal code defines medium-term as confinement in jail for a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years and/or a fine of between 12,000 and 60,000 afghanis ($177 to $884).

According to the constitution, the “state shall devise and implement a unified educational curriculum based on the provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” and develop courses on religion on the basis of the “Islamic sects” in the country. The national curriculum includes materials designed separately for Sunni-majority schools and Shia-majority schools, as well as textbooks which emphasize nonviolent Islamic terms and principles. The curriculum includes courses on Islam, but not on other religions. Non-Muslims are not required to study Islam in public schools.

According to the law, all funds contributed to madrassas by private or international sources must be channeled through the Ministry of Education (MOE).

The civil and penal codes derive their authority from the constitution. The constitution stipulates the courts shall apply constitutional provisions as well as the law in ruling on cases. For instances in which neither the constitution nor the penal or civil code address a specific case, the constitution declares the courts may apply Hanafi Sunni jurisprudence within the limits set by the constitution to attain justice. The constitution also allows courts to apply Shia law in cases involving Shia followers. Non-Muslims may not provide testimony in matters requiring sharia jurisprudence. The constitution makes no mention of separate laws applying to non-Muslims.

A Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman, but the woman must first convert if she is not an adherent of one of the other two Abrahamic faiths – Christianity or Judaism. It is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man.

The government’s national identity cards indicate an individual’s religion. Individuals are not required to declare belief in Islam to receive citizenship.

The constitution requires the president and vice presidents to be Muslim. Other senior officials (ministers, members of parliament, judges) must swear allegiance and obedience to the principles of Islam as part of their oath of office.

The constitution allows the formation of political parties, provided the program and charter of a party are “not contrary to the principles of the sacred religion of Islam.” The constitution states political parties may not be based on sectarianism.

In September parliament passed electoral reform legislation mandating an additional seat in parliament’s lower house be reserved for a member of the Hindu/Sikh community.

According to the MOJ’s database, the country has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but the parliament has not yet ratified the country’s signature.

Government Practices

The supreme court upheld the appellate court’s reversal of a death sentence handed down to four individuals convicted of the 2015 mob killing of a woman who allegedly had burned a Quran. The court ordered a review of one-year prison sentences given to seven police officers in the case, which resulted in the appellate court increasing their punishments. As in the past two years, there were no reported prosecutions for apostasy or blasphemy, but individuals who converted from Islam continued to state they feared government punishment as well as reprisals from family and society. Members of the Hindu and Sikh communities reported they continued to avoid settling disputes in the courts for fear of retaliation. They preferred to settle disputes through community councils. Representatives of minority religions continued to report the courts denied non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions. Although some Shia held senior positions in the government, Shia leaders said the number of official positions held by Shia did not reflect the country’s demographics.

In March the supreme court upheld an appellate court’s 2015 decision to reduce four death sentences handed down in the case of a woman killed by a mob in March 2015 for allegedly burning a Quran to 20 years imprisonment. The supreme court upheld the 16-year prison sentences given to eight other civilian suspects in the case, but rejected the sentences of seven police officers who had received suspended one-year prison terms. The court ruled the suspended sentences were too lenient. The court also called on the attorney general’s office to investigate the acquittals of 11 more officers who had been indicted in the case. The supreme court did not release the reasoning for its ruling or provide guidance to the appellate court. On August 7, the appellate court changed the one-year suspended sentences for the seven police officers to two-year suspended sentences, stipulating the police officers would not serve any prison time as long as they maintained clean records and committed no further crimes. The appellate court also sentenced a civilian who had not been sentenced in the initial decision to 16 years in prison.

Individuals who converted from Islam continued to report they risked annulment of their marriages, rejection by their families and communities, loss of employment, and possibly the death penalty.

As in the previous two years, there were no reports of prosecutions for blasphemy or apostasy during the year, including of Bahais who, although labeled infidels, were not considered to be converts and as such not charged with either crime. One individual convicted of blasphemy in 2013 remained in prison serving a 20-year sentence.

The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA) continued to be responsible for managing pilgrimages (Hajj and Umrah), revenue collection for religious activities, acquisition of property for religious purposes, issuance of fatwas, educational testing of imams, sermon preparation and distribution for government-supported mosques, and raising public awareness of religious issues. The government continued to permit both Sunnis and Shia to go on pilgrimages, with no quota on either group. MOHRA also facilitated pilgrimages for Hindus and Sikhs to India, but did not collect any revenue for or from non-Muslims.

MOHRA estimated between 4,800 and 5,000 mullahs were registered with and worked directly for MOHRA out of a total of approximately 300,000 mullahs in the country as of the end of 2015, the last year for which data was available. The mullahs continued to receive an average monthly salary of 4,700 afghanis ($69) from the government. MOHRA continued to require mullahs who applied to be prayer leaders in MOHRA-registered mosques to hold at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, verified by the Ministry of Higher Education According to MOHRA, approximately 50,000 of the approximately 150,000 to 160,000 mosques in the country were registered, including the registration of an additional 700 mosques during the year. MOHRA said the ministry continued to lack the financial resources to create a comprehensive registry of mullahs and mosques in the country.

MOHRA continued to allocate a portion of its budget for the construction of new mosques. Local groups continued to pay the largest portion of the costs for new mosques and continued not to be required to inform the ministry about the new construction unless they wished to request financial or other assistance.

According to Hindus and Sikhs, the government continued not to restrict them from training other Hindus and Sikhs to become clergy, but per the law punishing conversion, they could not proselytize. The government continued not to hinder their communities from building places of worship.

According to Sikh and Hindu community members, they continued not to pursue land disputes through the courts for fear of retaliation, particularly when powerful local leaders occupied their property.

MOHRA reported there were 5,000 registered madrassas and “Quran learning centers” throughout the country. While the government did register some madrassas during the year, it did not report how many. More than 340,000 students were enrolled in the madrassas, mostly in Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Herat provinces, according to the latest available estimate from 2015.

The registration process continued to require a school to demonstrate it had suitable buildings, classrooms, accredited teachers, and dorms if students lived on campus. MOHRA registered madrassas collocated with mosques, while MOE registered madrassas not associated with mosques. In MOHRA-run madrassas, students received individual instruction, with one imam teaching approximately 50 to 70 children studying at various levels. Registration did not mean the government controlled a madrassa, but qualified the madrassa’s diplomas and certificates for government recognition. Only certificates issued by registered madrassas allowed students to pursue higher education at government universities.

MOHRA did not offer data on the number of unregistered madrassas, but estimated registered madrassas “far outnumbered” unregistered madrassas following the registration effort. The MOE had the authority to close unregistered madrassas, but ministry officials said in practice it was almost impossible to close any due to local sensitivities. The ministry officials reported the government did not close any madrassas during the year due to the potential for negative societal repercussions. They said the government was attempting to raise awareness within the madrassa community of the benefits of registering madrassas, including recognition of graduation certificates and financial and material assistance, such as furniture or stationery.

MOHRA did not operate primary level madrassas; mosques provided primary-level religious studies instead. While MOHRA operated no madrassas offering standard two-year degree programs, there were 80 madrassas registered with the MOE offering two-year degree programs. There were 1,200 public and 200 private madrassas registered with the MOE.

According to government authorities, the legal requirement for registered madrassas to route private or international donations through the MOE allowed the government to monitor financial assistance to institutes of learning, but the MOE seldom imposed a ban for failing to comply with this requirement. The tendency to make cash donations directly to the madrassas made it difficult, they said, for the government to track funds coming from private sources or abroad. Despite this, the government continued its efforts to solicit donations from other Muslim countries and from private individuals to support the madrassas. The MOE also continued to require independent madrassas to be accredited and disclose their funding sources.

Registered madrassas continued to follow the standardized curriculum provided by the MOE’s Department of Islamic Education. This curriculum specified 60 percent of the subjects taught in madrassas had to be religious in nature, while the other 40 percent consisted of mathematics, history, geography, and Dari literature.

There remained one government-sponsored school for Sikh children, located in Kabul. The government continued to provide the same proportionate funding to cover staff salaries, books, and maintenance as it did for other schools. The MOE also continued to provide the curriculum for the Sikh school, except for religious studies. The community appointed a teacher for religious studies, and the MOE paid the teacher’s salary.

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, a Swedish NGO, continued to support a privately-funded Sikh school in Jalalabad. A few Sikh children continued to attend private international schools. Hindus did not have separate schools but sometimes sent their children to Sikh schools. There continued to be no Christian schools.

According to observers, the courts relied primarily on statutory law in both civil and criminal cases. In some instances, however, members of minority religious groups reported the courts used Hanafi jurisprudence, even where such law conflicted with the country’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons.

The Ulema Council, a group of senior Sunni and Shia scholars, imams, and Muslim jurists, continued to advise the president on Islamic legal issues. It met with the president every two months, discussing topics such as support for the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and peace negotiations with insurgent groups. The Ulema Council also continued to advise the parliament and ministries on the formulation of new legislation and the implementation of existing law. In November the council voiced its support for the peace agreement between the government and the insurgent group Hizb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Although the Ulema Council remained officially independent from the government, its members continued to receive financial support from the state. The council also continued to advise some provincial governments, although in villages and rural areas scholars, NGO representatives and government officials said decisions continued to be based mostly on local interpretations of Islamic law and tradition.

Representatives of minority religions continued to report the courts did not apply protections provided to them by the law and denied non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims, even when the non-Muslims were legally entitled to those same rights. Members of minority religious communities said the state, including the courts, continued to treat all citizens as if they were Muslims, and some basic citizenship rights of non-Muslims were not codified. As a result, they said, non-Muslims continued to risk being tried according to Hanafi jurisprudence.

Sikhs and Hindus stated their community members continued not to take civil cases to court because they continued to feel unprotected by dispute resolution mechanisms such as the Special Land and Property Court. Instead, their members continued to prefer to settle disputes within their communities.

Leaders of both Hindu and Sikh communities stated they continued to face discrimination, including long delays to resolve cases in the judicial system. The most common judicial issues concerned illegal appropriation of Sikh properties. In one case reported by a Sikh community leader, a high-ranking Ministry of Interior official reportedly occupied a piece of land owned by a member of the Sikh community who was still a resident of the country. In another instance, according to the Sikh community leader, a National Directorate of Security (NDS) official reportedly stole the land of a Sikh who had emigrated to Germany and threatened the owner’s proxy at gunpoint when the proxy went to claim the land. Court proceedings continued in both cases, albeit very slowly according to the plaintiffs.

A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions, including one at the municipal level, one at the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and one as a presidentially appointed member of the upper house of parliament. Although Shia Muslims held senior positions in government, they said appointments to government administrative bodies continued not to reflect the country’s demographics based on their estimate of the percentage of Shia in the country’s population. Sunni members of the Ulema Council stated Shia were overrepresented in government based on Sunni estimates of the percentage of Shia in the population.

Shia leaders stated the law placed no restrictions on their participation in public life, but the government continued to neglect security in majority-Shia areas.

Although four Ismailis continued to serve as members of parliament, members of the Ismaili community continued to raise concerns about what they called the exclusion of Ismailis from other positions of political authority.

Judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different Islamic religious groups (Sunni and Shia) and supported by the government continued to meet to work towards Muslim intrafaith reconciliation. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and MOHRA continued to work together toward the stated goal of allowing women to attend mosques. The government funded Moderation Center of Afghanistan continued to promote what the government viewed as a moderate interpretation of Islam. The center continued educational exchanges to send Shia and Sunni clerics to Kuwait for training, and then appointed them as teachers in various provinces to train other clerics. Other organizations continued to work on intrafaith reconciliation as well, including the Ulema Council, the Islamic Brotherhood Council, and the MOHRA.

The ONSC continued to work on addressing religiously-motivated violent extremism as part of its effort to develop an overall strategy to counter violent extremism (CVE). Beginning in September, the ONSC sponsored a series of provincial-level conferences on religiously-motivated violent extremism to collect data to use in this effort. Concurrently, the ONSC established an inter-ministerial working group to coordinate the efforts of relevant government institutions and NGOs to implement the strategy.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and prohibits state institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic values. On February 7, parliament enacted amendments to the constitution, which included adding specific language providing for freedom of worship in accordance with the law. The new constitutional language reflected preexisting provisions in the law pertaining to freedom of worship. Prior to the amendments, the constitution only stated that freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion were inviolable. That language remains in the revised text.

While the law does not prohibit conversions from Islam, proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims is a criminal offense. The law prescribes a maximum punishment of one million dinars ($9,174) and five years’ imprisonment for anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or by using to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, social, culture, training…or any financial means.” Making, storing, or distributing printed documents or audiovisual materials with the intent of “shaking the faith” of a Muslim is also illegal and subject to the same penalties.

The law criminalizes “offending the Prophet Muhammad” or any other prophets. The penal code provides a punishment of three to five years in prison and/or a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 dinars ($458 to $916) for denigrating the creed or prophets of Islam through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means. The law also criminalizes insults to any other religion, with the same penalties.

The law grants all individuals the right to practice their religion as long as they respect public order and regulations.

The constitution establishes a High Islamic Council and states it shall encourage and promote ijtihad (the use of independent reasoning as a source of Islamic law for issues not precisely addressed in the Quran) and express opinions on religious questions presented for its review. The president appoints the members of the council and oversees its work. The constitution requires the council to submit regular reports to the president on its activities. A presidential decree further defines the council’s mission as taking responsibility for all questions related to Islam, for correcting mistaken perceptions, and for promoting the true fundamentals of the religion and a correct understanding of it. The council may issue fatwas at the request of the president.

The law requires any group, religious or otherwise, to register with the government as an association prior to conducting any activities. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) grants association status to religious groups; only registered associations are officially recognized. MOI’s registration requirements for national-level associations stipulate the founding members must furnish documents proving their identities, addresses, and other biographic details; furnish police and judicial records to prove their good standing in society; show they have founding members residing in at least one quarter of the country’s provinces to prove the association merits national standing; submit the association’s constitution signed by its president; and submit documents indicating the location of its headquarters. The law requires the ministry to provide a receipt for the application once it has received all the required documentation and to give a response to the application within 60 days of submission of the completed application. The law states applicants are de facto approved if the ministry fails to make a decision within the 60-day limit. The law grants the government full discretion in making registration decisions, but provides applicants an opportunity to appeal a denial to an administrative tribunal.

Registration applications of religious associations must be approved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA). The law, however, does not specify additional requirements for religious associations or further specify the MRA’s role in the process. Religious groups may appeal an MRA denial to an administrative tribunal. For associations seeking to register at the local or provincial level, application requirements are similar, but the association’s membership and sphere of activity is strictly limited to the area in which it registers. An association registered at the wilaya (provincial) level is confined to a specific wilaya.

The National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, a government entity, is responsible by law for facilitating the registration process for all non-Muslim groups. The MRA presides over the commission, composed of senior representatives of the Ministries of National Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs, the presidency, the national police, the national gendarmerie, and the governmental National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH).

The CNCPPDH monitors and evaluates human rights issues, including matters related to religious freedom. The law authorizes the agency to issue opinions and recommendations, to conduct awareness campaigns, and to work with other government authorities to address human rights issues. The agency may address concerns of individuals and groups who believe they are not being treated fairly by the MRA. The CNCPPDH does not have the authority to enforce its decisions. It submits an annual report to the president, who appoints the agency’s members.

The law specifies the manner and conditions under which religious services, Muslim or otherwise, may take place. The law states religious demonstrations are subject to regulation and the government may shut down any religious service taking place in private homes or in outdoor settings without official approval. With the exception of daily prayers, which are permissible anywhere, Islamic services may take place only in state-sanctioned mosques. Friday prayers are further limited to certain specified mosques. Non-Muslim religious services must only take place in buildings registered with the state for the exclusive purpose of religious practice, run by a registered religious association, open to the public, and marked as such on the exterior. A request for permission to observe special non-Muslim religious events must be submitted to the relevant wali (governor) at least five days before the event, and the event must occur in buildings accessible to the public. Requests must include information on three principal organizers of the event, its purpose, the number of attendees anticipated, a schedule of events, and its planned location. The organizers also must obtain a permit from the wali. The wali may request the organizers move the location of an event or deny permission for it to take place if he deems it would be a danger to public order or harm “national constants,” “good mores,” or symbols of the revolution. If unauthorized meetings go forward without approval, participants are subject to dispersal by the police. Failure to disperse at the behest of the police may result in arrest and a prison term of two to twelve months under the penal code.

The penal code states only government-authorized imams, whom the state hires and trains, may lead prayer in mosques and penalizes anyone other than a government-authorized imam who preaches in a mosque with fines of up to 100,000 dinars ($916) and prison sentences of one to three years. Fines as high as 200,000 dinars ($1,834) and prison sentences of three to five years are stipulated for any person, including government-authorized imams, who acts “against the noble nature of the mosque” or in a manner “likely to offend public cohesion.” The law states such acts include exploiting the mosque to achieve purely material or personal objectives or with a view to harming people or groups.

By law, the MRA provides financial support to mosques and pays the salaries of imams and religious personnel, as well as health care and retirement benefits. The law also provides for the payment of salaries and benefits to non-Muslim religious leaders who are citizens. The Ministry of Labor regulates the amount of an individual imam’s or mosque personnel’s pay, and likewise sets the salaries of citizen non-Muslim religious leaders based on their position within their individual churches.

The Ministries of Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Commerce must approve the importation of non-Islamic religious writings, except those intended for personal use.

The law states the government must approve any modification of structures intended for non-Muslim collective worship.

Under the law, children born to a Muslim father are considered Muslim regardless of the mother’s religion.

The Ministries of National Education and Religious Affairs require, regulate, and fund the study of Islam in public schools. Religious education focuses on Islamic studies but includes information on Christianity and Judaism and is mandatory at the primary and secondary school levels. The Ministry of National Education requires private schools to adhere to curricula in line with national standards, particularly regarding the teaching of Islam and the use of Arabic as the primary language of instruction, or risk being closed.

The law states that discrimination on the basis of religion is prohibited and guarantees state protection for non-Muslims and for the “toleration and respect of different religions.” It does not prescribe penalties for religious discrimination.

The constitution prohibits non-Muslims from running for the presidency. Non-Muslims may hold other public offices and work within the government.

The family code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men unless the man converts to Islam. The code does not prohibit Muslim men from marrying Christian or Jewish women.

By law, individuals who have converted from Islam to another religion are ineligible to receive an inheritance via succession.

The law prohibits religious associations from receiving funding from political parties or foreign entities. The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion.

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

Government Practices

Police arrested at least 83 Ahmadi Muslims in connection with the practice of their religion. A court sentenced a Christian convert arrested for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook to a three-year prison sentence. An appeals court ordered the release of a journalist previously sentenced to prison for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Some Christian groups continued to report facing a range of administrative difficulties in the absence of a written government response to their requests for recognition as associations. In October the MRA issued two permits to import Bibles and other Christian religious materials. The government issued the import authorization in four months, compared with an 18-month wait for the previous request made in 2014. MRA officials, including the minister, continued to state publicly the government’s willingness to accommodate minority faiths who wished to practice in the country by opening places of worship. Christian leaders stated the lack of government responsiveness to visa applications continued to pose complications for religious workers.

On June 13, police arrested nine Ahmadi Muslims in Blida and charged them with operating an unauthorized religious organization, illegally collecting contributions, and printing books. On October 2, police arrested 18 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community in the wilaya of Skikda for conducting Friday prayers outside of an authorized place of worship. In November the media reported that 17 Ahmadi Muslims in Skikda were given suspended sentences of between one and six months in prison, while three others were acquitted. The media reported the arrest and subsequent release on provisional liberty of six Ahmadis in the wilaya of Ain Temouchent in November. The press also reported the arrest of six Ahmadis in the wilaya of M’sila on November 26 on charges of “harming national security” and holding unauthorized prayer services. At year’s end, it was unknown whether they were released. Press reports stated four Ahmadi Muslims were arrested for the unauthorized practice of religion and proselytization on December 19 in the wilaya of Relizane. Authorities continued to detain them at year’s end. On December 12, press outlets reported the arrest and subsequent release on provisional liberty of 40 Ahmadis in the wilaya of Setif. The status of charges against them was unknown at year’s end. In December Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa stated the Ahmadi Islamic “sect” no longer existed in the country and that an effort must be made to bring youth who had been influenced by Ahmadi doctrine back to “our national religious beliefs.” Ministry officials said the Ahmadi community, along with other religious groups they described as “sects” such as the Bahai Faith, were not considered legitimate religious groups and would likely not receive permission to operate legally.

On July 31, police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page. A court sentenced him on August 7 to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars ($916). On September 6 his sentence was reduced to three years in prison. Bouhafs had reportedly posted altered verses from the Quran that satirized the Prophet Muhammad’s life. In July a court sentenced Christian convert Samir Chamek, to five years in prison for Facebook posts he made in 2015that the court found were offensive to the Prophet Muhammad. Christian media reported the Facebook post compared the Prophet Muhammad to Hitler and accused him of terrorism.

On June 14, the national gendarmerie published a press release saying it had “dismantled an international criminal network of blasphemers and anti-Muslim proselytizers on the internet.” News reports referenced the press release when they reported the arrests of Rachid Fodil and Daif Hichem in M’Sila Province for content on their Facebook page that the government said attacked the precepts of Islam and denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. Media reported in December Fodil was sentenced to five years in prison and a 20,000 dinar ($183) fine and Hichem to three years in prison and a 20,000 dinar ($183) fine.

Christian leaders reported two Protestants were arrested in Bejaia for transporting unauthorized religious literature. Additional details were unavailable.

In April an appeals court overturned the conviction of journalist Mohamed Chergui, who had been sentenced in 2015 to three years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 dinars ($1,834) for insulting the Prophet Muhammad following charges filed by the newspaper which had employed him. Authorities promptly released Chergui, who had authored an article in mid-2014 about European research on “Quranic expressions,” which had prompted the newspaper to fire him and pursue a legal complaint.

Some appeals of criminal convictions remained unresolved for several years after the defendant’s conviction. An appeal hearing continued to be delayed for Abdelkrim Siaghi, a Christian convert sentenced to five years in prison in 2011 for offending the Prophet Muhammad.

While the government continued to maintain the right to prescreen and approve sermons before imams delivered them during Friday prayers, MRA officials said they rarely did so. The MRA said it sometimes provided preapproved sermon topics for Friday prayers to address the public’s concerns following major events, such as after a highly publicized child kidnapping, or when trying to raise awareness, such as on World AIDS Day.

According to information provided by MRA officials, if a ministry inspector suspected an imam’s sermon was inappropriate, the inspector had the authority to summon the imam to a “scientific council” composed of Islamic law scholars and other imams who assessed the sermon’s correctness. The government could decide to relieve an imam of duty if he was summoned multiple times. The government also monitored activities in mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibited the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours.

The government continued to enforce the ban on proselytizing by non-Muslim groups. Several Christian representatives stated continued government observance of the ordinance against proselytizing by non-Muslims prompted churches to restrict some activities not related to proselytizing, such as the distribution of religious literature and holding of events in the local community that Muslims might attend.

Christian leaders said authorities in March threatened two house churches in the Kabylie region with closure. The churches remained open as of the end of the year. There were no reported cases of government prosecution of Christian citizens belonging to unregistered religious groups, who continued to meet in unofficial “house churches,” which were often homes or businesses of church members. Christian leaders said the authorities generally did not prosecute practitioners as long as house churches respected public order. Some of these groups met openly, while others held worship services more discreetly. These groups were most frequently reported in the Kabylie region. MRA officials said they privately urged such groups to come forward and operate in the open, saying the country tolerated religious minorities.

Christian leaders reported being able to visit Christians, most of whom were migrants, in prison.

Several religious groups that had been registered under the previous associations law prior to 2012 continued to try to reregister with the government. In November the MOI told the Protestant Church of Algeria, which had submitted a registration application in 2013, it considered that application incomplete. The Church submitted supplemental documentation in December. It was awaiting an MOI response at year’s end.

The Seventh-day Adventist and Reformed Churches were uncertain as to the status of registration applications they had pending with the government at year’s end.

According to the MOI, although religious associations were de facto registered if the ministry did not reject their application within 60 days of its submission, the 60-day clock did not begin until the ministry considered the application complete and had issued a receipt to that effect. NGOs and religious leaders said the MOI routinely failed to provide them with a receipt proving they had submitted a completed registration application.

Some religious groups viewed themselves as de facto registered after 60 days. Religious groups stated that even if they considered themselves de facto registered under the 60-day rule, service providers, such as utilities and banks, insisted on proof of registration. As a result, without official papers affirming their status, these groups still faced the same administrative constraints as unregistered associations.

MRA officials stated the delay in approvals had arisen because the government had hoped to issue a refinement of the law, specifically to address religious associations. The MRA stated it had never rejected a registration application for a religious group.

Members of Christian religious groups waiting for a ministry response to their applications reported there continued to be no government interference with their holding religious services, but said they continued to face administrative and bureaucratic difficulties because of their lack of documented registered status. They reported problems including a lack of standing to pursue legal complaints, an inability to open bank accounts or establish related charitable activities, and difficulty managing church billing accounts without documented standing as an association. Most Christian leaders stated they had had no contact with the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, despite its legal mandate to work with them on registration, since its establishment in 2006. Christian leaders stated some Protestant groups continued to avoid applying for recognition and instead operated discreetly because they lacked confidence in the registration process.

MRA officials said Muslim associations remained equally burdened under the registration process because the opening of every new mosque required the formation of an association under the law. Government officials stated the law was designed to apply the same constraints on non-Muslims as on Muslims, including ensuring the compliance of religious rites with the law and respect for public order, morality, and the rights and basic freedoms of others.

According to some Christian leaders, individuals and groups who believed the MRA was not treating them fairly rarely addressed their concerns to the CNCPPDH, which was viewed as having limited authority. The MRA said it instructed employees of the agencies making up the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups to fairly enforce the ordinance which prohibited religious discrimination, and it prohibited its employees from manipulating application of the law based on the employees’ own beliefs.

According to the MRA, the government continued to allow government employees to wear religious clothing including the hijab, crosses, and the niqab. Authorities continued to instruct some female government employees, such as security forces, not to wear head and face coverings that could complicate the performance of their official duties.

In October the government granted two permits, after a four month delay, for the importation of Christian religious texts to one authorized organization, which had sole standing to import Bibles on behalf of all Christian entities in the country. Christian leaders said they viewed the waiting period as an improvement over the 18-month delay in approving the previous request made in 2014. Non-Islamic religious texts, music, and video media continued to be available on the informal market, and stores and vendors in the capital sold Bibles in several languages, including Arabic, French, and Tamazight. The government enforced its prohibition on dissemination of any literature portraying violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.

The government, along with private contributions from local Muslims, continued to fund mosque construction. The government and public and private companies also funded the preservation of some churches, particularly those of historical importance. The province of Oran, for example, continued to work in partnership with local donors on an extensive renovation of Notre-Dame de Santa Cruz as part of its cultural patrimony.

MRA officials restated the government’s willingness to respond to a request to open a synagogue, while saying Jewish religious authorities did not believe there was a large enough Jewish community to require a synagogue. A ministry official said the ministry would be equally willing to open any other religious place of worship at the request of a minority population, but had received no such requests.

Christian leaders said when Christian converts died family members sometimes buried them according to Muslim rites, and the church had no standing to intervene on their behalf. Christian groups reported some villages continued not to permit Christians to be buried alongside Muslims. The government stated people whose lifestyle gave the impression they were non-Muslims were buried in Muslim cemeteries on the basis of their family’s testimonies. A ministry official stated that, where burial grounds were private, the cases were outside of the government’s domain.

Christians reported they continued to encounter refusals or delays when seeking government authorization to give Biblical names to their children, but said a second request following a refusal typically led to approval. The MRA stated similar delays sometimes occurred with other names which were uncommon locally, and attributed delays in approving Biblical names to overzealous local officials, who were unfamiliar with the proposed names and required additional time to seek higher-level approval.

The government did not always enforce the family code prohibition against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.

Government owned radio stations continued to broadcast Christmas and Easter services in French, although many Christians said they would prefer services to be broadcast in Arabic or Tamazight.

In May a member of parliament affiliated with the Green Alliance, a coalition of three Islamist political parties that represented a segment of the parliamentary opposition, criticized the government for granting a visa to an Israeli journalist accompanying the French prime minister on an April visit to Algeria. An Arabic language newspaper stated that, in the member of parliament’s view, the government was normalizing relations with “Zionists who make France a door to infiltrate” the country.

Government officials continued to invite leading Christian citizens to events celebrating national occasions, such as the November 1 commemoration of the revolution, according them the same status as Muslim, cultural, and national figures.

MRA representatives, in particular the minister, continued to make public statements warning against the spread of “extremist” Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, Ahmadi Islam, and the Bahai Faith. For example, in a radio interview in October, Minister Aissa stated, “We are living through a [religious] sectarian invasion.” In June he said “Neither Ahmadism, Shiism, Wahhabism, nor other sects are the products of Algerians.”

Senior government officials publicly condemned acts of violence committed in the name of Islam by nonstate actors, and urged all members of society to reject extremist behavior. At an April 19 seminar, Minister Aissa called on imams to “indefatigably fight” extremist doctrines, which he characterized as “contrary to the values and principles of Algeria.” In response to terrorist attacks in other countries during the year, including in the United States, Mali, France, Libya, and Turkey, the government issued statements calling the attacks “criminal acts” for taking innocent human lives in contradiction to the tenets of Islam.

Government officials regularly made statements about the need for tolerance of non-Islamic religious groups. In remarks at an international conference on Sufism on May 18, the Inspector General of the Ministry of Religious Affairs praised Sufism for providing “a radiant image of the Muslim religion based on tolerance, open-mindedness, and the illumination and acceptance of the other.” On December 28, Minister of Religious Affairs Aissa said, “We do not criticize Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, may God’s peace be upon him. It is their culture.” In November, a member of the Council of the Nation, the upper house of parliament, spoke at a conference on tolerance in Beirut on behalf of the Council, saying, “Integrated into the society and solidified at the legal, political, cultural, and religious levels, [Algeria’s Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation] seeks to eliminate all forms of conflict, fanaticism, and discrimination and to establish peace, security, stability, and coexistence.” During Ramadan, the government continued to dedicate numerous media programs to promoting interfaith tolerance, a message the government instructed imams to amplify in their sermons.

Church groups continued to report government delays in responding to the visa applications of religious workers; they said the government often provided no response rather than a documented refusal. Both Catholic and Protestant groups continued to identify the delays as a significant hindrance to religious practice. One religious leader identified lack of visa issuances as a major impediment to maintaining contact with the church’s international organization. The government typically continued to grant short-stay tourist visas and some cultural work visas, rather than the requested long-term work visas; religious leaders reported recipients of these visas were concerned about their legal status when working with churches while on tourist visas. Higher-level intervention with the officials responsible for visa issuance by senior MRA and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials at the request of religious groups often resulted in the issuance of long-term visas, according to religious groups.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the religion of the country shall be the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam, but allows all other religions to be practiced “in peace and harmony” by the persons professing them.

The legal system is divided between civil law and sharia, which run parallel systems of both criminal and civil/family law and operate separate courts under a single judiciary department. While the civil courts are based on common law, the sharia courts follow Islamic jurisprudence, including no law of precedence. Sharia courts have jurisdiction over both criminal law and civil/family matters involving Muslims and hear cases brought under longstanding sharia legislation as well as under the SPC. In some cases non-Muslims are subject to sharia courts.

Almost all crimes included in the first phase of the SPC, currently in force, were already prohibited in the country; however, the SPC applies some laws to non-Muslims for the first time, increases penalties such as fines, and broadens some definitions. Phase one of the SPC runs in parallel with the existing common law-based criminal law system and primarily involves offenses punishable by fines or imprisonment. It expands restrictions in longstanding domestic sharia law on drinking alcohol, eating in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, cross-dressing, close proximity between unmarried people of different genders, and propagating religions other than Islam. It includes a prohibition of “indecent behavior,” which criminalizes any act that “tends to tarnish the image of Islam, deprave a person, bring bad influence, or cause anger to the person who is likely to have seen the act.” The SPC applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, including foreigners, as well as to offenses committed outside the country by citizens or permanent residents. Non-Muslims are exempted from certain sections, such as requirements for men to join Friday prayers or payments of zakat (obligatory annual alms-giving). It states that Muslims will be identified for purposes of the law by “general reputation.”

The second phase of the SPC, which would include amputating the hands of thieves, is not scheduled to come into effect until one year after the publication of a Sharia Courts Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). The government has not published the CPC. Phase three of the SPC – which includes punishments, in certain situations, such as stoning to death for rape, adultery, or sodomy, and execution for apostasy, contempt of the Prophet Muhammad, or insult of the Quran – is scheduled to be implemented two years after the publication of the CPC. The punishments included in phases two and three include different standards of proof than the common law-based penal code, such as requiring four pious men to witness personally an act of fornication to support a sentence of stoning. Stoning sentences, however, could be supported by a confession in lieu of evidence at the discretion of a sharia judge.

The government describes its official national philosophy as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), or Malay Islamic Monarchy, which the government defines as “a system that encompasses strong Malay cultural influences, stressing the importance of Islam in daily life and governance, and respect for the monarchy as represented by His Majesty the Sultan.” The government has said this system is essential to the country’s way of life and its main defense against extremism. A government body, the MIB Supreme Council, seeks to spread and strengthen the MIB philosophy and ensure MIB is enshrined in the nation’s laws and policies. MIB is a compulsory subject for students in both public and private schools, including at the university level.

The Religious Enforcement Division under the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) is the lead agency in many investigations related to religious practices, but other agencies also play a role. MORA’s Religious Enforcement Division leads investigations on crimes that exist only in the SPC and other sharia legislation, such as male Muslims failing to pray on Fridays. Cases involving crimes that are not covered by sharia legislation such as human trafficking are investigated by the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF). Cases involving crimes covered by both sharia and the existing civil code are also investigated by the RBPF and referred to the Attorney General’s Chamber (AGC). In these cases, the AGC determines in each case if a specific crime should be prosecuted and whether it should be filed in the sharia or civil court. No official guidelines for the AGC’s determination process have been published.

The government bans several religious groups it considers deviant, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Al-Arqam, Abdul Razak Mohammad, Al-Ma’unah, Saihoni Tasipan, Tariqat Mufarridiyyah, Silat Lintau, Qadiyaniah, the Bahai Faith, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The list is based on fatwas made by the state mufti or the Islamic Religious Council – a government body and the sultan’s highest authority on matters on Islam – and is publicly available on the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ website. The SPC also bans any practice or display of “black magic.”

The SPC includes a list of words and expressions, including the word “Allah,” reserved for use by only Muslims or in relation to Islam.

The law forbids the teaching or promotion of any religion other than Islam to Muslims or to persons of no faith. Under the first phase of the SPC, the penalty for propagating religions other than Islam is up to five years in prison, a fine of up to 20,000 Brunei dollars (BND) ($13,840), or both. The SPC includes a provision that makes it illegal to criticize Islam, including the SPC itself, though no cases, arrests, or charges under this provision have been reported.

Muslims are legally permitted to renounce their religion until phase three of the SPC is implemented but must inform the Islamic Religious Council in writing. The law states the conversion of children is not automatic with the conversion of the parent. A person must be at least 14 years and seven months old to convert to Islam. Children are presumed to be of the same religion as their parents.

The law requires all organizations, including religious groups, to register and provide the names of their members. Applicants are subject to background checks for leaders and board members, and proposed organizations are subject to naming requirements. Registered organizations must furnish information on leadership, election of officers, members, assets, activities, and any other information requested by the registrar. Benefits of registration include the ability to operate, to reserve space in public buildings, and to apply for permission to raise funds. The registrar of societies oversees the application process, exercises discretion over applications, and is authorized to refuse approval for any reason. Organizations are prohibited from affiliation with any organization outside the country without written approval by the registrar. Unregistered organizations may face charges of unlawful assembly and may be subject to fines. Individuals who participate in or influence others to join unregistered organizations may be fined, arrested, and imprisoned. The general penalty for violating laws on the registration and activity of organizations is a fine of up to BND 10,000 ($6,920), imprisonment for up to three years, or both.

The law states that any public assembly of five or more persons requires official approval in advance. Under longstanding emergency powers, this applies to all forms of public assembly, including religious. In practice, however, places of worship are viewed as private.

The law establishes two sets of schools: those offering the national or international curriculum and administered by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and those offering supplemental religious education (ugama) that are administered by MORA. MOE schools teach a course on Islamic religious knowledge, which is required for all Muslim children aged seven to 15 who reside in the country and who have at least one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident. Ugama instruction in the MORA schools is a seven to eight-year course that teaches the day-to-day practice of Sunni Islam according to the Shafi’i school and is mandatory for Muslim students aged seven to 14 who hold citizenship or permanent residency. Ugama is studied alongside the national curriculum. Alternatively, MORA also administers a set of schools taught in Arabic that offer the national curriculum combined with ugama religious education. Muslim parents who fail to enroll their children in ugama school may face a BND 5,000 ($3,460) fine, imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or both. The law promulgates the officially recognized Shafi’i school and does not make accommodations for Muslims who have non-Shafi’i beliefs.

Public and private schools, including private schools run by churches, are prohibited from providing religious instruction in beliefs other than the Shafi’i school of Islam during school hours. Schools may be fined or school officials imprisoned for teaching non-Islamic religious subjects. The SPC criminalizes exposing Muslim children or the children of parents who have no religion to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam. The law also requires practitioners to obtain official permission before teaching any matter relating to Islam. Churches and religious schools are permitted to offer non-Shafi’i Islam education in private settings.

Laws and regulations limit access to religious literature. The law states it is an offense for a person to import any publication deemed objectionable, which is defined in part as describing, depicting, or expressing matters of race or religion in a manner likely to cause “feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups.” The law also bans distributing materials relating to religions other than Islam to Muslims or persons of no faith.

All parental rights are awarded to the Muslim parent if a child is born to mixed-faith parents. The non-Muslim parent is not recognized in any official document, including the child’s birth certificate, unless that parent has converted to Islam. The law bans any Muslim from surrendering custody of a minor or dependent in his or her guardianship to a non-Muslim.

Under the SPC, non-Muslims may be arrested for zina (fornication or adultery) or khalwat (close proximity between the sexes), provided that the other accused party is Muslim. Foreigners are also subject to these laws.

The country is not a party to the ICCPR.

Government Practices

The government continued to enforce sharia restrictions and prosecute offenses under the SPC. It continued to apply sharia to Muslims and, for certain offenses, non-Muslims, resulting in arrests, fines, and confiscations, as well as to impose traditional Islamic social norms more broadly. These included placing limitations on businesses, activities suspected of encouraging mingling of men and women, proselytizing, and religious education.

The authorities continued to arrest and prosecute persons for offenses under both the SPC and longstanding sharia. From January to August the government reported 52 criminal cases prosecuted under sharia including not respecting the month of Ramadan, intercourse or pregnancy out of wedlock, and alcohol consumption. During the same period the government also prosecuted 55 khalwatcases, resulting in 46 convictions including one of a non-Muslim. Not all of those investigated or accused of sharia crimes were formally arrested. There were some reports of administrative penalties, such as travel bans or suspension from government jobs, for individuals accused but not yet convicted of khalwat, but application of such practices reportedly was not consistent. Implementing regulations governing sharia proceedings were not issued by year’s end.

In August a local man was arrested for wearing women’s clothing in a public area as part of a joint operation between religious enforcement officers and the RBPF, but was not convicted. Other arrests and prosecutions under sharia were generally not reported by local media.

The government continued to enforce restrictions on non-Muslims proselytizing to Muslims or people with no religion. During the year, religious enforcement officers investigated an accusation of “propagating a faith other than Islam” against a manager of an international franchise.

Friday sermons were uniform across all mosques with approved texts drafted by MORA and preached by registered imams. The government periodically warned the population about “outsiders” preaching non-Shafi’i versions of Islam, including both “liberal” practices and those associated with jihadism, Wahhabism, or Salafism. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in December warned students studying abroad not to misuse the internet and to be cautious of religious gatherings so as to not “fall into any activities that violate any laws and religion.” In February the sultan called for the strengthening of da’wah (dissemination of Islamic teachings) amid “uncertain times” and “social ills” affecting the country.

During the Christmas season religious leaders and government officials warned citizens that the act of publicly displaying symbols of religions other than Islam could be seen as the propagation of religions other than Islam, an offense under the SPC. In February the minister of religious affairs spoke at an education seminar in which he encouraged Muslims to be respectful and tolerant of other religions as commanded in the Quran, while also reminding them of the restriction imposed in Islam that forbids one to imitate or copy other religious practices or beliefs. There were no reports of raids or charges, although businesses and members of the Christian community reported practicing self-censorship. As with past years, the government limited traditional Lunar New Year lion dance performances to a three-day period and restricted them to the Chinese temple, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese Association members. There were no reports of charges. Members of the royal family and the minister of religious affairs publicly attended Lunar New Year celebrations and lion dance performances during the allowed period, with extensive coverage in state-influenced media.

There was no legal requirement for women to wear head coverings in public; however, religious authorities continued to reinforce social customs to encourage Muslim women to wear the tudong (a traditional Muslim head covering) and many women did so. Muslim civil servants were expected to join prayers in the workplace, and some employees reported being pressured by supervisors to attend. Muslim women employed by the government were expected to wear a tudong to work, although some chose not to with no reports of official repercussions. In government schools and institutions of higher learning, Muslim female students were required to wear a uniform that includes a head covering. Male students were expected to wear the songkok (a traditional hat), although this was not required in all schools. Women who were incarcerated, including non-Muslims, were required to wear a uniform that included a tudong.

The government continued to enforce strict customs controls on importing non-Islamic religious texts such as Bibles, as well as on Islamic religious teaching materials or scriptures intended for sale or distribution.

The MOE required courses on Islam and MIB in all schools, with non-Muslims exempted from some religious requirements. The government reported many non-Muslim children elected to take courses on Islam. MORA posted religious teachers in some embassies abroad to teach Brunei citizens in those locations. Most school textbooks were illustrated to portray Islam as the norm, and women and girls were shown wearing the tudong. There were no depictions of the practices of other religious groups in textbooks.

Authorities continued to prohibit non-Muslims and non-Shafi’i Muslims from receiving non-Shafi’i religious education in schools. The government tolerated non-Islamic religious education in private settings, such as at home or in approved churches. All church-associated schools were recognized by the MOE and remained open to students of any religion, although they were not permitted to teach religions other than Shafi’i Islam.

Churches confirmed that a longstanding fatwa that discourages Muslims from assisting in perpetuating non-Muslim faiths continued to inhibit expansion, renovation, or construction of new facilities. With only six approved churches in the country, facilities were often too small to accommodate their congregations without significant overflow seating outdoors. Chinese temples were also subjected to the same fatwa, with only one official Chinese temple in the country preserved as a cultural heritage. Data from 2015 indicated there were 99 registered mosques. Christian churches and associated schools were generally allowed, for safety reasons, to repair and renovate buildings on their sites, but the approval process remained lengthy and difficult and there were reports of the government stalling new construction projects for not meeting the complicated permitting process requirements. Government officials denied permission for a church to shift the location of one of its facilities. Christian worshippers reported difficulty accessing churches on some Sundays because of road closures by the government for official events, with some services being rescheduled to other times.

Throughout the year, the government enforced business hour restrictions for all businesses, requiring they close for the two hours of Friday prayers. Religious enforcement officers continued to enforce a ban on restaurants serving dine-in food during the fasting hours of Ramadan, although take-out food to be consumed in private was permitted, and officers issued verbal warnings to restaurants and customers found in breach of the ban. According to Chinese social media, at least three restaurants were raided, with religious enforcement officers issuing warnings to those present. The government continued to enforce a ban on eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, which was applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims. The government reported 17 convictions during the year for not respecting Ramadan.

The government maintained a longstanding ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, and a restriction against the import or consumption of alcoholic beverages by Muslims. Religious authorities partnered with the RBPF in conducting “anti-vice raids” in which they confiscated alcoholic beverages and nonhalal meats brought into the country without proper customs clearance. They also monitored restaurants and supermarkets to ensure conformity with halal practices. In June the sultan warned the government to avoid shortcuts in halal certification that could violate Islamic law. Religious authorities allowed non-halal restaurants and non-halal sections in supermarkets to operate without interference, but continued to hold public outreach sessions to encourage restaurants to become halal.

The government continued to favor the propagation of Shafi’i beliefs and practices, particularly through public events and the education system.

The government clarified that the use of certain words, such as “Allah” by non-Muslims, did not constitute an SPC offense when used in a nonreligious context or social activity, and there were no reports during the year of charges or prosecutions based on violations of using words or expressions in question.

Incentives offered to prospective converts to Islam and the Shafi’i school, especially those from indigenous communities in rural areas, included help with housing, welfare assistance, or funds to perform the Hajj. In April the Islamic Da’wah Center gave three Muslim convert families new homes using zakat funds, and in August, seven converts each received BND 14,000 ($9,688) in funding for the Hajj as a gift from the sultan. The government gave presentations on the benefits of converting to Islam that received extensive press coverage in state-influenced media, which reported conversions to Islam increased in the first half of the year. According to government statistics, each year an average of 500 people convert to Islam. Converts included citizens and permanent residents, as well as foreigners. Official government policy supported the Islamic faith through the national MIB philosophy as well as through government pledges to make the country a zikir nation (a nation that remembers and obeys Allah).

Despite the absence of a legal prohibition of Muslims marrying non-Muslims, all Muslim weddings required approval from the sharia courts, and officiants, who are imams approved by the government, required the non-Muslim party to convert prior to the marriage.

Most government meetings and ceremonies commenced with an Islamic prayer, which the government continued to state was not a legal requirement but a matter of custom.

The government required residents to carry identity cards that stated the bearer’s ethnicity, which were used in part to determine whether he or she was Muslim; for example, all Malays were assumed to be Muslim. Female Muslim citizens were required to wear a tudong in photographs on national identity cards and passports, and non-Muslim women were required to dress conservatively. Ethnic Malays traveling in the country were generally assumed to be Muslim and required to follow certain Islamic religious practices or potentially face fines, arrest, and imprisonment. Religious authorities reportedly checked identity cards for ethnicity when conducting raids against suspected violators of sharia. Visitors to the country were asked to identify their religion on their visa applications and foreign Muslims were subject to the same laws governing local Muslims.

In February the sultan called on his officials to proceed with finalizing the CPC, the prerequisite for implementing phases two and three of the SPC. Officials continued to state the harshest punishments included in the later phases of the SPC, if implemented, would rarely if ever be applied because of the extremely high standards of proof required.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitutional declaration of 2011 functions as the interim constitution. It states Islam is the state religion and sharia is the principal source of legislation, but accords non-Muslims the freedom to practice their religion. The interim constitution also states “there shall be no discrimination among Libyans on the basis of religion or sect” with regard to legal, political, and civil rights. The GNA remains bound by the constitutional declaration until a new constitution is drafted and passed by the HoR and a public referendum is held. The laws governing religious practice predate the internal conflict and provide a national legal framework with regard to religious freedom.

There is no law providing for individuals’ right to choose or change their religion or to study, discuss, or promulgate their religious beliefs, nor is there a law prohibiting conversion from Islam to another religion or prohibiting proselytizing. The law prohibits “instigating division” and insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, charges that carry a maximum sentence of death.

The Ministry for Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) administers mosques, supervises clerics, and has primary responsibility for ensuring all religious practices within the country conform to state-approved Islamic norms. According to the law, the grand mufti, appointed by the parliament, is the leading religious authority in the country, and Dar al-Ifta is the government office that issues fatwas the grand mufti deems appropriate. In November 2014, the HoR voted to dismiss Grand Mufti Sadiq Al-Ghiryani, dissolve Dar al-Ifta, and transfer its authorities to the MEIA.

Religious instruction in Islam is required in public and private schools. Attendance at religious instruction is mandatory for all students; students cannot opt out.

Sharia governs family matters for Muslims, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. Under sharia, a non-Muslim woman who marries a Muslim man is not required to convert to Islam; however, a non-Muslim man must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim woman. The MEIA administers non-Muslim family law issues, although there is no separate legal framework governing non-Muslim family law. The ministry draws upon neighboring countries’ family law precedents for non-Muslims.

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

Government Practices

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported that courts in the area controlled by the GNA continued to sentence defendants to corporal punishment in accordance with its interpretation of sharia, including flogging for adultery and amputations for theft.

The GNA continued not to respond to reports of groups such as ISIS perpetrating attacks on individuals and religious sites, reportedly on the basis of religious belief. This was partly due to the GNA’s lack of capacity or lack of control over large areas of the country.

The GNA continued to fail to maintain law and order through the justice and security systems. Instead, a variety of groups – revolutionary brigades, tribal militias, and local strongmen – supported local security. The government reported it did not have much control over these groups, and its response to instances of violence against members of minority religious groups was limited to condemnations.

During the year, the LNA operated in the east outside the purview of the GNA, and intensified its military campaign against violent extremist organizations. LNA Commander Khalifa Haftar publicly declared his intention to rid the country of all “Islamists,” and made no distinction between groups that espoused violence as a tactic and those that did not. Neither the HoR nor GNA maintained effective civilian control over the LNA.

According to UNSMIL, the judiciary did not adequately function and citizens had little recourse for violations of religious freedom.

The role of Islam in policymaking remained a major point of contention among members of the Constitutional Drafting Assembly, the elected body in charge of drafting the new constitution. In the current draft constitution, sharia is defined as “the source of legislation”; however, there is a spectrum of dissenting opinions ranging from those calling for a secular constitution to those saying the draft is not “Islamic enough.”

The MEIA provided texts for Friday services to imams, often including political and social messages. The government permitted religious scholars to form organizations, to issue fatwas, and to provide advice to followers. The fatwas did not have legal weight. The GNA, however, did not have effective administrative control of mosques and supervision of clerics outside the limited areas under its control. Political opponents of the GNA stated that the GNA’s “bureaucracy” charged with overseeing religious affairs did not regulate imams and other officials who supported ISIS and other violent extremist organizations.

Former Grand Mufti Al-Ghiryani, who remained influential among Islamist groups, rejected the GNA, publicly opposing its seating in Tripoli in March. Al-Ghiryani said Libyans who supported the GNA would suffer “divine punishment.” Al-Ghiryani also rejected the LNA and called for “revolutionaries” to travel to Benghazi to fight Commander Haftar. The Association of Libyan Religious Scholars criticized Al-Ghiryani’s statements. In August anti-Ghiryani and anti-Muslim Brotherhood posters appeared on a wide scale in Tripoli, seemingly overnight according to media reports. The Muslim Brotherhood quickly sought to distance itself from Al-Ghiryani and his incitement of violence and civil conflict.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the sole religion of its citizens and the state. Only Muslims may be citizens. Persons who convert from Islam lose their citizenship.

The law and legal procedures are derived from a combination of French civil law and sharia. The judiciary consists of a single system of courts that uses principles of sharia in matters concerning the family and secular legal principles in all other matters.

The law prohibits apostasy. A Muslim convicted of apostasy who does not recant within three days may be sentenced to death and have his or her property confiscated. The government, however, has never applied capital punishment in this regard.

The government does not register Islamic religious groups, but all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including humanitarian and development NGOs affiliated with religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior. NGOs must also agree to refrain from proselytizing or otherwise promoting any religion other than Islam. The law requires the Ministry of Interior to authorize all group meetings, including non-Islamic religious gatherings, in advance, even those held in private homes.

By law, the MIATE is responsible for enacting and disseminating fatwas, fighting “extremism,” promoting research in Islamic studies, organizing the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, and monitoring mosques. The government appoints the six imams of the High Council of Islam, who advise the government on conformity of legislation to Islamic precepts. The government also appoints the High Council for Fatwa and Administrative Appeals, which has sole authority to regulate fatwa issuance and resolve related disputes among citizens and between citizens and public agencies.

The law requires members of the Constitutional Council and the High Council of Magistrates to take an oath of office that includes a promise to God to uphold the law of the land in conformity with Islamic precepts.

A ministerial decree requires public schools and private secondary schools – but not international schools – to teach four hours of Islamic studies per week. Religious instruction in Arabic is required for students seeking the baccalaureate.

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

Government Practices

On November 15, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of blogger Mohamad Cheikh Ould Mohamad Ould Mkheytir, often known as MKheytir. MKheytir was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in December 2014. At the November hearing for MKheytir’s case, hundreds of individuals protested outside of the courthouse demanding his execution. One of MKheytir’s defense lawyers reported to the media that he received death threats for representing the accused. Several of the prosecuting lawyers threatened the justices in court if they failed to affirm the death sentence. The November hearing followed a ruling in April by the Regional Court of Appeals in Nouadhibou, which affirmed the death sentence for MKheytir, but determined that his recantation in the appellate court was proper and timely. In 2013, MKheytir published an online article, Religion and Religiousity and the Blacksmiths, that the government said criticized the Prophet Muhammad and implicitly blamed the nation’s religious establishment for the plight of the country’s forgeron (blacksmith) caste. This caste has traditionally suffered discrimination. The case was awaiting judgment from the Supreme Court at the end of the year.

On December 20, 2015, several local news outlets reported that the government closed 40 madrassahs in the Hodh El Garbi district in the southeast, 680 miles from Nouakchott. Local authorities stated they closed the madrassahs on the basis of their affiliation with Warsh, an unauthorized Islamic institute. The government reopened the schools on January 6, following demonstrations in many communities.

The MIATE continued to collaborate with independent Islamic religious groups to combat extremism, radicalization, and terrorism through a series of workshops in all 15 provinces.

Authorized churches were able to conduct services within their premises, but could not proselytize publicly. No public expression of religion except Islam was allowed.

An unofficial government requirement restricted non-Muslims worship to the few recognized Christian churches. There were Roman Catholic and other Christian churches in Nouakchott, Kaedi, Atar, Nouadhibou, and Rosso. Mauritanian citizens could not attend non-Islamic religious services, which remained restricted to foreigners. By the end of the year, the Ministry of Interior had not acted on a request by a group of foreign Protestants for authorization to build their own place of worship. The group first sought authorization to construct a place of worship in 2006, and then renewed the process in 2012, but was still awaiting approval as of the end of the year.

Although there remained no specific legal prohibition against non-Muslims proselytizing, in practice the government prohibited such activity through the broad interpretation of the constitution stating Islam shall be the religion of the people and of the state.

The possession of non-Islamic religious materials remained legal, although the government continued to prohibit their printing and distribution. The government maintained a Quranic television channel and a Quranic radio station. Both stations sponsored regular programming on themes of moderation in Islam.

The government continued to provide funding to mosques and Islamic schools under its control. The government paid monthly salaries of 50,000 ouguiyas ($152) to 200 imams who passed an examination conducted by a government-funded panel of imams and heads of mosques and Islamic schools. It also paid monthly salaries of 25,000-100,000 ouguiyas ($76-$303) to 30 members of the National Union of Mauritanian Imams, an authority established to regulate the relationship between the religious community and the MIATE.

Islamic classes remained part of the educational curriculum, but attendance at the classes was not mandatory. The results in the classes did not count significantly in the national exams that determine further placement. Additionally, many students reportedly did not attend these religious classes for various ethnolinguistic, religious, and personal reasons. Students were able to advance in school and graduate with diplomas despite missing these classes, provided they performed otherwise satisfactorily in other mandatory subjects. The Ministry of National Education and the MIATE continued to reaffirm the importance of the Islamic education program at the secondary level; the government reportedly considered religious education a tool to protect children and society against extremism and to promote Islamic culture.

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