Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution stipulates there is no official religion, all religions are equal, and the state has the duty to respect and protect religious coexistence. It declares the state is neutral in questions of belief and recognizes the independence of religious groups. According to the constitution, relations between the state and religious groups are regulated by agreements between these groups and the Council of Ministers and ratified by the parliament.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, and free expression. It states everyone is free to choose or change their religion or beliefs and to express them individually, collectively, in public, or in private. The constitution also states individuals may not be compelled to participate or excluded from participating in a religious community or its practices, nor may they be compelled to make their beliefs or faith public or be prohibited from doing so. It prohibits political parties or other groups from inciting religious hatred.
By law, the Office of the Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination receives and processes discrimination complaints, including those concerning religious practice. The law specifies the State Committee on Cults, under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Prime Minister, regulates relations between the government and religious groups, protects freedom of religion, and promotes interfaith cooperation and understanding. The law also directs the committee to maintain records and statistics on foreign religious groups that solicit assistance, and support foreign employees of religious groups in obtaining residence permits.
The government does not require registration or licensing of religious groups, but to qualify for certain benefits, including opening a bank account, owning property, and obtaining some degree of tax-exempt status, a religious group must register with the district court as a nonprofit association. The registration process entails submission of information on the form and scope of the organization, its activities, the identities of its founders and legal representatives, the nature of its interactions with other stakeholders (e.g. government ministries and civil society organizations) in a particular field, the address of the organization, and payment of a 1,000 lek ($8) fee to the district court. A judge is randomly assigned within 3 to 4 days of the submission of an application, and the process usually concludes within one session.
The government has agreements with the Sunni Muslim and Bektashi communities, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the VUSH. The bilateral agreements serve to codify arrangements pertaining to official recognition, property restitution, tax exemptions on income, donations and religious property, and exemption from submitting accounting records for religious activities. A provision of law enacted in 2009 specifies the government will provide financial support to the four religious communities with which it has agreements dating from the same time. This provision of the law does not include the VUSH, whose agreement with the government dates from 2011. There is no provision of the law stipulating the VUSH should receive financial support from the government.
The law requires the ATP – previously the Agency for the Restitution and Compensation of Property – to address claims by religious groups for properties confiscated during the communist era.
The law allows religious communities to run educational institutions as well as build and manage religious cemeteries on land the communities own.
Public schools are secular, and the law prohibits religious instruction in them. Private schools may offer religious instruction. According to official figures, religious groups, organizations, and foundations have 125 affiliated associations and foundations managing 116 educational institutions, including universities, primary and secondary schools, kindergartens, vocational schools, and orphanages. By law, the Ministry of Education and Sport must license these institutions, and nonreligious curricula must comply with national education standards. Catholic, Muslim, and Orthodox groups operate numerous state-licensed kindergartens, schools, and universities. Most of these do not have mandatory religion classes, but offer them as an elective. The Muslim community runs seven madrassahs that teach religion in addition to the state-sponsored curriculum.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to representatives of the Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities, the total government financial support for these four groups remained at 109 million lek ($850,000), the same as in 2015, with the Muslim community receiving a 28 percent share and the remaining three each receiving a 24 percent share. This support covered partial salaries for administrative and educational staff. For the Bektashi community, which had fewer staff, part of the support it received was used for new places of worship as well as for global outreach activities of its Tirana-based Bektashi World Headquarters.
Despite requests from the VUSH, the government continued not to provide it financial support. It did not amend the agreement with the VUSH to add the provision of financial support nor did it amend the law to include such financial support.
The government accelerated the process of legalizing unofficial mosques and issued 137 property certificates, compared to six in the previous year. The majority of these unregistered mosques had been built without permission during the 1990s. The government required endorsement from the Albanian Islamic Community (AIC) to legalize unofficial mosques.
Religious groups stated the government had made some progress addressing their claims for restitution or the return of property seized during the communist era. The government did not return any properties but approved partial compensation for 31 properties that had belonged to the Catholic Church, the AIC, and the Bektashi community. The government also stated some communities had not yet gone through the required step of requesting the funds.
Out of the many hundreds of claims submitted by the religious communities to the ATP since the fall of the communist regime in 1990, the vast majority remained unresolved. Religious groups continued to blame the slow progress with regard to the claims on government corruption, legal complexities stemming from the country’s communist past, and competing claims for the same property from individuals or private organizations. The ATP acknowledged there was a problem with the restitution process, saying the competing property claims and the constant restructuring and proliferation of government agencies involved in property disputes since the 1990s had left no agreement between the government and the religious communities on the number of valid property claims submitted over the past 25 years. The ATP met with the communities in March to begin reconciling lists of property claims and established a task force specifically to follow up on these claims.
The ATP reported it continued to budget funds for previous government decisions recognizing the rights of religious communities to numerous properties.
Although the government had promised to clear debris from a site in Dhermi where the local Inspectorate for the Protection of Territory had demolished an Orthodox church in August 2015, as of the end of the year the site remained untouched. A promise to find an alternate location for a new church had also gone unfulfilled. Authorities continued to state the Orthodox church had been built illegally on the site where a culturally significant 17th century church had stood. The Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania continued to protest the demolition.
VUSH members said they continued to rent existing buildings to use as places of worship, and reported continued difficulties in acquiring land on which to construct their own buildings due to local government tax assessments and regulations. They stated these difficulties impeded their ability to hold religious services and to run youth and social activities.
Construction continued on Bektashi places of worship in Korca, Permet, Gjirokaster, and Elbasan. Although the central government provided financial support to help build the properties in Permet and Gjirokaster, Bektashi representatives reported property disputes with some local government offices in these cities delayed progress.
In April Prime Minister Edi Rama announced a pilot project in 10 of the country’s secondary schools to introduce a new curriculum aimed at promoting religious tolerance. The prime minister and minister of education stated the initiative would not affect the country’s secular education system, and would serve as a way to counter violent extremism. Some religious communities expressed disappointment over what they saw as the limited consultation with them prior to the announcement. Religious leaders also expressed concern regarding the capacity of teachers to teach the new religious curriculum, as well as their own capacity to contribute to this initiative. While the government did not present a full version of the new curriculum by year’s end, it introduced elements of the new curriculum into the normal civics courses of several secondary schools.
VUSH leaders stated their churches continued to face problems early in the year concerning local tax requirements, particularly with regard to property taxes. In May VUSH reached an agreement with the Tirana municipality confirming VUSH’s exemption from these taxes. Some local governments continued to assess fines for nonpayment of other taxes, such as sales taxes, however, and VUSH administrators frequently had to appeal these fines, with varying degrees of success.
Representatives from the Catholic, Orthodox, and Bektashi communities all continued to state their numbers were underrepresented in the 2011 official census, leading to an inaccurate picture of the religious demographics of the country.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion and equality of all religions and all individuals regardless of belief. It protects freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to profess, individually or together with others, any religion or to profess no religion, and to express and spread religious beliefs. It also provides for the freedom to carry out religious rituals, provided they do not violate public order or public morality. The constitution states no one may be required to profess his or her religious beliefs or be persecuted for such, and the law prohibits forced expressions or demonstrations of religious faith.
The law requires religious organizations, which are termed “associations” in the country’s legal code and encompass religious groups, communities, and individual congregations of a denomination, to register with the government through the SCWRA, which controls the registration process and may appeal to the courts to suspend a religious group’s activities. Registration of a religious community is tied to the physical site where the community is located as stated in its application. A subsequent move or expansion to other locations requires reregistration. Registration allows a religious organization to hold meetings, maintain a bank account, rent property, act as a legal entity, and receive funds from the SCWRA. A religious organization failing to register may be outlawed and its activities declared illegal.
The Caucasus Muslim Board (CMB) oversees the activities of registered Islamic organizations, including training and appointing clerics to lead Islamic worship, periodically monitoring sermons, and organizing pilgrimages to Mecca. Muslim communities must receive an approval letter from the CMB before submitting a registration application to the SCWRA.
To obtain registration, a religious organization must submit to the SCWRA a notarized application signed by at least 50 of its members, a charter and founding documents, the names of the organization’s founders, and the organization’s legal address and bank information.
According to the law, the government must rule on a registration application within 30 days, but it does not specify any consequences if the government fails to act by the deadline. Authorities may deny registration of a religious organization if its actions, goals, or religious doctrine contradict the constitution or other laws. Authorities may also deny registration if an organization’s charter and other establishment documents contradict the law or if the information provided is false. Religious groups are permitted to appeal registration denials to the courts.
While the law prohibits the government from interfering in the religious activities of any individual or group, there are exceptions for suspected extremist, or other illegal, activity. The law states government entities and citizens have rights and responsibilities to combat “religious extremism” and “radicalism,” referring to other criminal, administrative, and civil provisions of the law in prescribing punishments. The law defines religious extremism as behavior motivated by religious hatred, religious radicalism (described as believing in the exceptionalism of one’s religious beliefs) or religious fanaticism (described as excluding any criticism of one’s religious beliefs). According to the law, this behavior includes forcing a person to belong to any specific religion or to participate in specific religious rituals, but also includes activities seeking to change by force the constitutional structure of the country’s government, including its secular nature, or setting up or participating in illegal armed groups or unions, and engaging in terrorist activities. Per an amendment to the criminal code passed by the parliament on October 28, the law penalizes actions aimed at changing the constitutional order or violating the territorial integrity of the country on the grounds of religious hatred, radicalism, or fanaticism, with prison terms from 15 years to life.
The law also specifies cases in which religious organizations may be dissolved, including if they act contrary to their founding objectives; cause racial, national, religious, or social animosity; or proselytize in a way that degrades human dignity or contradicts recognized principles of humanity, such as “love for mankind, philanthropy, and kindness.” Other grounds for dissolution include hindering secular education or inducing members or other individuals to cede their property to the organization.
According to the law, religious rituals and ceremonies may only be led by citizens who are educated within the country or whose religious education abroad is approved by the government. The law stipulates punishments for individuals who lead Islamic religious ceremonies in violation of the restrictions against citizens receiving unauthorized religious education abroad. The penalties include up to one year’s imprisonment or fines from 1,000 manat (AZN) ($540) up to 5,000 AZN ($2,700). A longstanding agreement between the government and the Holy See allows foreigners to lead Catholic rituals.
The law also restricts the use of religious symbols and slogans to the inside of places of worship.
According to the law, the SCWRA reviews and approves all religious literature for legal importation, sale, and distribution. Punishment for the illegal production, distribution, or importation of religious literature can include fines ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 AZN ($2,700 to $3,800) or up to two years’ imprisonment for first offenses, and fines of 7,000 to 9,000 AZN ($3,800 to $4,900) or imprisonment of between two and five years for subsequent offenses.
There is no separate religious component in the curriculum at public or private elementary or high schools. Students may take courses in religion at higher educational institutions, and the CMB sponsors some religious training abroad. Individuals wishing to participate in state-supported religious education outside the country, whether supported by the national or foreign governments, must obtain permission from, or register with, the SCWRA or the Ministry of Education. If religious education abroad is not supported by the national or foreign governments, individuals are not required to obtain advance permission from authorities. Individuals who pursue foreign government-supported or privately funded religious education abroad without permission from the government are not allowed to hold official religious positions, preach, or lead sermons after returning to the country.
Although the constitution allows alternative service “in some cases” when military service conflicts with personal beliefs, there is no legislation permitting alternative service, and refusal to perform military service is punishable under the criminal code with imprisonment of up to two years or forced conscription.
New amendments introduced in December to the provisions of the law relating to citizenship specify new grounds for losing citizenship, including participation in terrorist actions, participation in religious extremist actions or military training abroad under the guise of receiving religious education, propagating religious doctrines in a hostile manner (the law does not further define what a hostile manner is), or participation in religious conflicts in a foreign country under the guise of performing religious rituals.
According to the constitution, the law may restrict participation of “religious officials” in elections and bars them from election to the legislature. By law, political parties may not engage in religious activity. The law does not define “religious officials.” The law prohibits religious leaders from simultaneously serving in any public office and in positions of religious leadership. It proscribes the use of religious facilities for political purposes.
The constitution prohibits “spreading and propaganda of religions humiliating people’s dignity and contradicting the principles of humanism,” as well as “propaganda” inciting religious animosity. The law also prohibits threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on religious belief.
The law prohibits proselytizing by foreigners but does not prohibit citizens from doing so. In cases of proselytization by foreigners and stateless persons, the law sets a punishment of one to two years in prison.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government continued to detain religious activists who local human rights groups deemed to be political prisoners. There were no reliable figures on the number of religious activists detained or released during the year, although the estimated total detained as of the end of the year was 86, compared to 46 in 2015, according to data collected by the Working Group for the Unified List of Political Prisoners and other NGOs. The registration process restricted the activities of religious groups the government considered nontraditional, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, and some Islamic religious organizations. Authorities continued to close mosques and interrupt religious services of unregistered communities. The government also imposed limits on the importation, distribution, and sale of religious materials. The government took some steps to promote religious tolerance.
According to the international NGO Forum 18, Inqilab Ehadli, a Shia Muslim, was arrested in January and transferred to the secret police Investigation Prison for allegedly supporting the Muslim Unity Movement. A human rights activist reportedly told Forum 18 Ehadli had been in poor health when arrested and as of April was in critical condition in a prison hospital. No further information on his case was available.
According to press and government reports, the government continued to detain representatives of minority religious groups, including Salafis and Baptists, in various parts of the country.
Throughout the year, but particularly after the attempted coup in Turkey in July, police conducted raids on, and confiscated religious materials from, purported followers of Turkish Islamic cleric and theologian Fethullah Gulen on charges of religious hatred and discrimination.
On March 23, police raided a gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Gakh, briefly detained 56 people, and confiscated religious materials that had not been authorized by the government. The court later imposed 1,500 AZN ($820) fines on 34 individuals on charges of participating in an illegal religious gathering.
According to the World Watch Monitor, a Christian NGO, two home church leaders in the southern village of Aliabad were fined 1,500 AZN ($820), after police raided a prayer meeting at their home and initially arrested all 30 participants before releasing them. At a December 12 court hearing, the two leaders were reportedly warned not to hold any further meetings unless they first sought official registration and permission, or there would be “more serious consequences.” National television reports described their arrest as based on “illegal religious activities” and “spreading illegal religious doctrines.”
During the year, the government continued the trials of 17 imprisoned Nardaran settlement residents, as well as theologian and chairman of the Muslim Unity Movement Taleh Baghirov (also known as Taleh Baghirzade), all of whom had been arrested in 2015 on charges of religious extremism. The trial was ongoing at year’s end. Police officers reportedly stood outside every mosque in Nardaran in an effort to intimidate villagers at the end of Ramadan. A human rights activist reported an “undeclared state of emergency” had been in effect in Nardaran since the November 2015 police action.
The Baku City Court of Grave Crimes in July began hearing the case of religious scholar Elshan Mustafayev (also known as Mustafaoghlu), a former department head at the CMB originally arrested in 2014 for treason. During the court hearings, Mustafayev stated he was subjected to physical abuse by the police in efforts to coerce his testimony against Muslim community leader Sheykhulislam Allahshukur Pashazade. Mustafayev also stated authorities did not permit visits from his family and appealed to the Prosecutor General and Ombudswoman to investigate his mistreatment. Authorities did not respond to his allegations. On December 30, Mustafayev was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
On April 19, the Baku Court of Appeals released Nurju followers Ravan Sabzaliyev, Zakariyya Mammadov, and Shahin Hasanov, who had been arrested in 2013 on charges of producing and distributing illegal religious materials and committing civil rights violations under the guise of performing religious rituals. The court also reduced the sentences of Eldaniz Hajiyev and Ismayil Mammadov, arrested for the same reasons, from five to three years in prison.
On September 30, authorities released theologian Jeyhun Jafarov from prison, reducing his sentence to house arrest. Security services had arrested Jafarov in March 2015 on charges of treason, after searching the offices of his translation center and confiscating computers and mobile phones.
On January 28, the Pirallahi District Court in Baku released two imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses, Valida Jabrayilova and Irina Zakharchenko, after 11 months in prison for illegal distribution of religious literature.
Members of unregistered Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups, which the government considered to be nontraditional, continued to report they had difficulty functioning, and the government continued to levy fines against them for gathering as unregistered religious groups. A number of Protestant leaders continued to report that registration problems prevented them from openly worshiping, conducting sacraments, or advertising their locations to bring in new members. Home church leaders reported they continued to keep their activities discreet after past registration attempts had brought them what they said was unwanted attention from the authorities.
According to many religious communities, the government continued to delay the registration application process and returned some applications because of what the government said were technical or administrative problems with the information provided. Seventh-day Adventists, however, reported some progress with their application to register their Baku church, although it was still not registered as of the end of the year. Religious groups whose registration applications remained pending included minority Muslim groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses outside of Baku, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists in Ganja, and the Baku International Fellowship, a nondenominational Protestant church. Many communities that had been registered prior to the 2009 law requiring all registered religious communities to reregister continued to report the SCWRA either rejected or did not adjudicate reregistration applications. Almost all religious groups awaiting registration, whether registered prior to the 2009 law or not, had submitted their original registration applications by the original January 2010 deadline and reported they had been involved in the process of making minor corrections to their applications since then as required by the government.
According to the SCWRA, previously registered communities whose new registration applications were pending were able to operate under their previous registration, and the SCWRA continued to provide the communities with letters authorizing them to operate. Some religious communities that were unable to reregister continued to report confusion within the Ministry of Justice about the validity of their preexisting registration. According to these communities, police continued to reject SCWRA letters authorizing them to continue operations with their pre-2009 documents; they said police had told them only communities listed on the SCWRA website as currently registered were allowed to operate.
The SCWRA reported it had approved the registration of 75 religious communities during the year, while 22 communities had dissolved themselves for unspecified reasons. The SCWRA continued to report it had not denied any new registration applications from religious communities during the year; however, the SCWRA reportedly returned registration applications to communities as incomplete or failed to take action on some applications. In addition, the SCWRA continued to consider pre-2009 registration status for such communities to apply only to the physical structures mentioned in their pre-2009 registration form. The SCWRA stated any religious activities of these communities in additional facilities or new locations acquired since 2009 were not covered under their pre-2009 registration status.
According to government officials, the 75 new registrations brought the total number of registered religious groups to 707, of which 25 were non-Muslim – 16 Christian, six Jewish, two Bahai, and one ISKON group. The SCWRA also reported there were 2,054 registered mosques.
In September according to the news service of Forum 18, authorities closed a Sunni mosque in Gobustan for operating without registration. Subsequently, the court found community leader Ahmad Simirov guilty of violating religious registration requirements and ordered him to pay a 1,500 AZN ($820) fine.
Local religious experts continued to report local authorities closed mosques, stating they were in need of renovation or had safety issues. Some mosques closed as long ago as 2010 remained closed. According to these experts, the closures were attempts by the government to counter extremism, especially in the Baku area. Government officials stated, in particular, the threat posed by ISIS remained a serious concern.
In July authorities closed the Ashurbey Mosque in the Old City of Baku for renovation. Some civil society activists stated the closure was related to the use of the mosque by Salafi Muslims. According to press and government reports, authorities confiscated religious materials and replaced community leaders and imams in other mosques suspected of being Salafi gathering places. Although Salafis were allowed to attend these mosques, they were prohibited from holding positions of leadership, leading prayers, or delivering sermons.
In January according to Forum 18, police closed a Sunni home mosque in Shirvan that had functioned for 20 years for operating without registration. No further information about the case was available as of the end of the year.
In May authorities and the police demolished a Shia seminary in Nardaran reportedly in order to widen a street that residents said could not be widened. Community members filed a complaint with the judicial authorities. No further information was available about this case as of the end of the year.
On February 22, according to an independent news agency, police stopped a religious ceremony devoted to the daughter of the Prophet Muhammed at a mosque in Nardaran, because they had not received prior notification of the ceremony.
According to Forum 18, some Muslim groups not part of the CMB, particularly Sunni groups, objected to the imposition of a calendar by the state stipulating when they were allowed to pray and celebrate Islamic festivals. They reportedly said they feared arrest if they prayed according to the calendar they believed to be correct.
The government continued to allow head coverings in most public places but not in photographs for official identity documents. According to local observers, the government and the majority of school administrators throughout the country also continued to allow girls to wear the hijab in primary and secondary schools, despite a prior directive not to do so.
The government continued its controls on activities by Muslim groups, including on the content of religious television broadcasts and the sale of religious literature. According to local religious experts, the authorities continued to confiscate banned books.
Several Muslim and Christian groups continued to complain of censorship and of a lengthy and burdensome process to obtain permission to import religious literature. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although the SCWRA allowed the importation of Jehovah’s Witness publications, the government allegedly ran out of the stamps necessary to mark the publications as approved so the group was unable to use or distribute the publications.
Domestic human rights monitors continued to criticize the government for not offering any form of alternative service to conscientious objectors in place of military service. Government officials stated the reason for this situation was the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The supreme court continued to deny Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeals on the lack of alternative services despite the government’s July 14 statement to the UN Human Rights Council saying alternative service was an option provided by the law. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the State Service for Mobilization and Conscription (SSMC) threatened Jehovah’s Witness Daniel Khutsishivili with criminal prosecution for requesting conscientious objector status to military service. When Khutsishivili requested alternative service, the SSMC reportedly informed him no provision of law existed to implement conscientious objector status, even though the constitution allowed it.
The government allocated 1 million AZN ($543,000) to the Caucasus Muslim Board for the needs of Muslim communities, and 800,000 AZN($435,000) to non-Muslim communities, both traditional and nontraditional, to use at their discretion. According to SCWRA officials, 2.5 million AZN ($1.4 million) was allocated to their budget for religious education programs.
In February President Ilham Aliyev participated in the opening ceremony of the Shia Imamzade religious center in Ganja after its extensive renovation. Authorities also renovated 12 mosques, two churches, and one synagogue during the year.
The SCWRA held 14 regional conferences during the year on multiculturalism, tolerance, and combating religious radicalism as part of its annual work aimed at increasing religious tolerance and coexistence. The conferences, as well as training sessions and seminars, cosponsored by the Eurasian Regional Center of Islamic Conference Youth Forum, brought together representatives of different faiths to discuss religion and state affairs.
The government hosted the 7th Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations in April. The meeting focused on developing inclusive societies and issued a declaration rejecting the advocacy of religious hatred as a means of inciting discrimination, hostility, or violence.
The government did not exercise control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and NGOs, including Forum 18, continued to report the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh restricted religious activities in general, but information on specific abuses was unavailable.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Annex IV of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which serves as the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It stipulates no one shall be deprived of citizenship on grounds of religion and all persons shall enjoy the same rights and freedoms without discrimination as to religion. The entity constitution of the Federation states all individuals shall have freedom of religion, including of public and private worship, and freedom from discrimination based on religion or creed. It defines religion as a vital national interest of constituent peoples.
The entity constitution of the RS establishes the SOC as “the church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.” It guarantees equal freedoms, rights, and duties for all citizens, irrespective of religion, and specifies religious communities shall be equal before the law and free to manage their religious affairs and hold religious services; open religious schools and conduct religious education in all schools; engage in commercial activities; receive gifts; and establish and manage legacies in accordance with the law.
A state law on religion guarantees freedom of conscience, grants legal status to churches and religious communities, and grants to registered religious communities numerous rights, including the right to assemble, to conduct collaborative actions such as charity work, to raise funds, and to construct and occupy places of worship. The law states churches and religious communities serve as representative institutions and organizations of believers, founded in accordance with their own regulations, teachings, beliefs, traditions, and practices. The law recognizes the legal status of four “traditional” religious communities: the IC, the SOC, the Catholic Church, and the Jewish community. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains a unified register of all religious communities, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees is responsible for documenting violations of religious freedom.
According to the law, any group of 300 or more adult citizens may apply to register a new religious community or church through a written application to the MOJ. Other legal requirements for registration include the development of a statute defining the method of religious practice and a petition for establishment with the signatures of at least 30 founders. The ministry must issue a decision within 30 days of receipt of the application, and a group may appeal a negative decision to the state-level Council of Ministers. The law allows registered religious organizations to operate without restrictions. The law also stipulates the ministry may deny the application for registration if it concludes the content and manner of worship may be “contrary to legal order, public morale, or is damaging to the life and health or other rights and freedoms of believers and citizens.”
The law states no new church or religious community may be founded bearing the same or similar name as an existing church or religious community. The law also states no one may use the symbols, insignia, or attributes of a church or a religious community without their consent.
A concordat with the Holy See recognizes the public juridical personality of the Catholic Church and grants a number of rights, including establishing educational and charitable institutions, carrying out religious education, and official recognition of Catholic holidays. The commission for implementation of the concordat comprises five members from the government and five from the Holy See. A similar agreement exists with the SOC, but a commission for implementation does not yet exist.
The state recognizes the IC as the sole supreme institutional religious authority for all Muslims, including immigrants and refugees, as well as for Bosniaks and other Muslim nationals living outside the country who accept the IC’s authority. According to law, no Islamic group may register with the MOJ, or open a mosque, without the permission of the IC.
The law affirms the right of every citizen to religious education. The law calls for a representative of each of the officially registered religious communities to be responsible for teaching religious studies in all public and private pre-, primary, and secondary schools and universities. Children from minority religious groups are entitled to religious education only when there are 18 or more students from that religious group in one class. Religious communities train and select their respective religious education teachers. These individuals are employees of the schools in which they teach, but receive accreditation from the religious body governing the curriculum.
The IC, the SOC, and the Catholic Church develop and approve religious curricula across the country. Public schools offer religious education in a school’s majority religion, with some exceptions. Secondary students who do not wish to attend the religion class have the legal right to opt out if their school offers a class in ethics as an alternative, which many schools do. Primary school students may do the same at their parents’ request.
In the Federation’s five Bosniak-majority cantons, primary and secondary schools offer Islamic religious instruction as a twice-weekly course. In cantons with Croat majorities, Croat students in primary and secondary schools attend an elective Catholic religion course twice a week. In the 13 primary and secondary Catholic schools in the Federation, parents may choose either an elective Catholic religion course or a course in ethics. In Sarajevo and Tuzla, primary and secondary students may either opt out or take ethics courses in lieu of religious education classes. The Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Education offers Orthodox and Protestant religious education in addition to classes offered to the Muslim and Catholic communities.
A law against discrimination prohibits exclusion, limitation, or preferential treatment of individuals based on religion in employment, and the provision of social services in both the government and private sectors.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats) in the government and the armed forces. The constitution makes no explicit mention of representation for religious groups, although each ethnicity mentioned by the constitution is associated with a particular religion. Parliamentary seats and government positions are apportioned among the three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs) according to quotas set by constitutional provisions.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Legal proceedings in Livno Municipal Court continued throughout the year without conclusion against eight individuals charged with perpetrating a 2015 attack on a mosque in the Omerovici village of Tomislavgrad, which involved verbally attacking worshippers, breaking windows, and placing a propane tank in front of the premises.
In February, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council reconfirmed its 2015 decision prohibiting employees of judicial institutions from wearing any form of “religious insignia” at work, including headscarves. On February 7, according to media reports, more than 2,000 women marched in Sarajevo to protest the measure.
According to IC officials, Croat and Serb members of the presidency reportedly continued to resist an agreement between the government and the IC approved in 2015 by the Council of Ministers on dietary restrictions in public institutions, employer accommodations for daily prayer, time off to attend Friday prayers, and a one-time trip to Mecca for the Hajj. As of year’s end, the presidency had neither approved the agreement nor sent it to parliament for ratification.
According to representatives of the Catholic Church, the joint commission for implementation of the concordat with the Holy See made gradual progress but failed to reach agreement because the government and parliament remained unwilling to implement the church’s proposals, including specific legislation on observing religious holidays.
There continued to be no agreement on establishing a commission to implement the government’s agreement with the SOC. According to SOC representatives, the lack of government initiative and the SOC’s inability to reach internal consensus among its bishops regarding the composition of the commission contributed to the continued failure to reach an agreement.
Religious officials of minority populations throughout the country continued to report discrimination by local authorities regarding the use of religious property and the issuance of permits for new religious properties. In one instance, the Banja Luka Catholic diocese reported the Drvar municipal authorities continued to refuse construction permits for a new Catholic Church, emphasizing there had not been one prior to the 1990s conflict. Catholic Church officials in Banja Luka also reported the continued refusal of municipal authorities to return any of their nationalized properties, even after the authorities returned most of the previously nationalized property to the SOC.
Mostar city officials continued to deny issuance of the necessary reconstruction permits to the Mostar Evangelical Church to rebuild the church in the city center, as they have for the past 17 years, despite the evangelical church’s reported completion of all the legal and administrative requirements. Church representatives said this was the result of their continued failure to pay a bribe to municipal officials, as well as active lobbying by local Catholic Church officials against the evangelical church’s presence in Mostar.
Officials continued not to implement provisions in the law regarding religious education, particularly in segregated school systems or where there was resistance from party officials at the municipal level. In the RS, parents of more than 500 Bosniak returnee children in several communities, including Konjevic Polje in the Bratunac municipality and Vrbanjci in the Kotor Varos municipality, continued to boycott public schools for a fourth year, choosing instead to send their children to alternative schools organized by the IC and financed by the Federation Ministry of Education. Parents organized the boycott in response to a refusal by the RS Ministry of Education to approve a group of national subjects, including religious education, for the Bosniak returnee community. According to academics and representatives from NGOs, students from both majority and minority religious communities continued to face social pressure from teachers and peers to attend instruction in their respective religions.
Religious minorities, especially those comprising refugees returning to their original communities pursuant to the Dayton Peace Agreement, such as Bosniak communities in the RS, continued to report selective enforcement of their rights by government authorities. They said the authorities often failed to provide government services and protections to the minorities, including access to health care, pensions, and other social benefits, and the transfer of student records between districts as needed. Leaders of minority religious groups also continued to report discrimination by local authorities in terms of providing police protection and investigating threats of violence, harassment, and vandalism. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many actions as being solely based on religious identity.
Government authorities continued not to implement a 2009 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) calling for an amendment to the constitution to allow religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for president and the parliament’s upper house. According to the ECHR ruling, observers said, the constitution discriminated against minority groups in apportioning government positions and seats in the parliament only among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, which by extension meant to the SOC, the Catholic Church, and the Muslim community, respectively. Individuals who did not self-identify with one of the three major ethnic/religious groups said they continued to be unable to hold one of the proportionally guaranteed government positions, including president.
Political parties dominated by a single ethnic group continued to identify closely with the religion associated with that ethnic group. The biggest ethnic Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), remained aligned with the IC. The biggest ethnic Croat party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), remained associated with the Catholic Church. The two largest Serb parties, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), remained associated with the SOC.
In October, the Sarajevo Canton Assembly named a street and an elementary school after Mustafa Busuladzic, a World War II-era anti-Semite who glorified Hitler. The president of the Jewish Community strongly condemned the act. As of the end of the year, the school had not officially changed its name.
On August 22, Sarajevo Canton Police arrested an individual on suspicion of arson related to a blaze set the day before to a work shed attached to the SOC Holy Transfiguration Church in Sarajevo. Police identified and detained the suspect through a video surveillance tape obtained from the church. The police established no motive for the arson. The investigation remained ongoing as of the end of the year. Representatives from each of the religious communities, the IRC, and numerous local politicians and citizens condemned the incident. According to SOC officials, the church had been subject to more than 40 acts of vandalism since 2000.
The arson case was the only one out of nine cases involving attacks against religious sites in which the police arrested a suspected perpetrator, according to the IRC. The other eight cases involved vandalism at seven Islamic sites (primarily in the RS) and at one other Orthodox site in the Federation. The police investigated but did not report results in most of these eight cases, which mainly involved breaking windows and vandalizing graves, although the vandalism was accompanied by verbal attacks on religious officials in a few of the cases. Police did not ascribe these incidents to religious hatred, but stated the individuals responsible were either juveniles or intoxicated or mentally unstable. For example, police charged an individual with a misdemeanor and fined him 1,000 convertible marks ($539) for urinating on a memorial at the Atik Mosque in Bijeljina dedicated to Bosniak war dead. According to the IRC, which continued to monitor attacks on religious sites and advocate for the criminal prosecution of the perpetrators, the police response continued to reflect ignorance about hate crimes and a desire to deflect attention away from possible religious intolerance.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states the country is secular, 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 constitution states freedom of belief is subject to respect for law, public order, good morals, and “the human person.” Political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or regional affiliation are forbidden.
The law allows all organizations, religious or otherwise, to register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security, which is in charge of religious affairs. The ministry, through the Directorate for Customary Affairs and Worship, monitors the implementation of standards for burial, exhumation, and transfer of the remains; helps organize religious pilgrimages; promotes and fosters interreligious dialogue and peace; and develops and implements measures for the erection of places of worship and the registration of religious organizations and religious congregations. The registration process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($80). Registration confers legal status but no specific obligations or benefits. Religious organizations are not required to register, but when they do so, failure to comply with applicable regulations required by all registered organizations may result in a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($80 to $240).
Religious groups operate under the same regulatory framework for publishing and broadcasting as other entities. The Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security has the right to request copies of proposed publications and broadcasts to verify they are in accordance with the nature of the religious group as stated in their registration.
Religious teaching is not allowed in public schools. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some schools of higher education. By law, schools (religious or otherwise) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy, but the government does not appoint or approve these officials.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The National Observatory of Religious Facts (ONAFAR), an organization created by the government to “monitor regulations on cultural practices” and promote tolerance and interfaith dialogue, continued to monitor religious communities and cultural practices. Along with monitoring, the ONAFAR played a mediator role within the religious community. In August the ONAFAR monitored a dispute among members of the Federation of Burkina Islamic Associations (FAIB), an organization intended to unite Muslim organizations in Burkina Faso, on the renewal of their leadership.
The government gave all religious groups equal access to registration and routinely approved their applications, according to religious group leaders.
The government did not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conducted for-profit activities. Likewise, the government taxed religious groups only if they engaged in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production. The government reviewed the curricula of religious schools to ensure they offered the full standard academic curriculum; however, the majority of Quranic schools were not registered, and thus their curricula were not reviewed.
The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($120,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities. According to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Internal Security, the government could provide an additional subsidy when the religious community or organization pursued a mission of general interest, such as education, health, or vocational training; when the religious community conducted an activity of national interest, such as promoting peace or social stability; or when the success or failure of an activity could have affected a significant part of the population, as in the case of religious pilgrimages. For example, in September the government allocated approximately 1.1 billion CFA francs ($1.76 million) to subsidize the cost of the pilgrimage of the 5,500 Muslims going on the Hajj. The government also provided funding to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools through subsidies for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public school teachers.
In March the government established a constitutional commission to draft a new constitution. Of the 92 members appointed in June, six were representatives of the main religious communities.
The ethics commission of the High Council of Communication (CSC), the governmental body in charge of regulating media, summoned and questioned officials of the Al Houda and Femina FM radio stations on August 12 for content it stated was “undermining the principle of religious tolerance” and violating the terms of agreements signed between the CSC and media organizations. According to the CSC, Al Houda and Femina FM broadcast “offending” sermons. The government stated the broadcasts in question provided a comparative analysis of Islam and other religions with a “strong tendency to denigrate other religions, including Christianity.” The media executives present at the hearing reportedly indicated to the CSC they had not listened to the sermons in question beforehand and pledged to take steps to prevent such content in the future.
On January 15, gunmen armed with heavy weapons attacked a restaurant and two hotels in Ouagadougou, killing 30 and wounding more than 50. A counterattack by Burkinabe and international forces killed three attackers and freed 176 people who had been trapped in one of the hotels. AQIM and Al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for the attacks, which they described in a statement as being targeted against the “enemies of religion.”
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion. These rights may be regulated by law and may only be limited by law to ensure mutual respect for the rights of others and for the “imperative” of safeguarding public order and good morals. It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that infringes on national unity or the secular nature of the state.
Under the law, all associations, religious or otherwise, must register with the Ministry of Territorial Planning, Urban Development, and Housing. The associations must provide a list of all the founding members and their positions in the organization, the founders’ resumes, copies of the founders’ identification cards, minutes of the establishment meetings, a letter to the minister requesting registration, the principal source of the organization’s revenue, the address of the organization, a copy of the rules and procedures, and the statutory documents of the organization. The Ministry of Public Security and Immigration conducts background checks on every founding member and establishes a six-month temporary but renewable authorization to operate, pending the final authorization and approval. Failure to register with the ministry may lead to the banning of a group, one month to a year in prison, and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($80 to $804). Organizations that fail to register are not considered legal entities and may not open a bank account or enter into contracts. Registration does not confer tax preferences or other benefits.
Burqas, defined in a ministerial notice as a burqa, or any other garment where one sees only the eyes, are forbidden in the entire national territory by ministerial decree.
The constitution states public education shall be secular. The government prohibits religious instruction in public schools but permits religious groups to operate private schools.
The government-created High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA) oversees Islamic religious activities, including some Arabic-language schools and institutions of higher learning, and represents the country at international Islamic forums. The Salafi community is not a party to the council. The Grand Imam of N’Djamena, who is selected by a committee of Muslim elders and approved by the government, is the de facto president of the HCIA and oversees the grand imams from each of the country’s 23 regions. He has the authority to restrict Muslim groups from proselytizing, regulate the content of mosque sermons, and control activities of Islamic charities.
The constitution states military service is obligatory and prohibits invoking religious belief to “avoid an obligation dictated by the national interest.” The government does not enforce conscription, however.
The Office of the Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs under the Ministry of Territorial Planning, Urban Development, and Housing oversees religious matters. The office is responsible for mediating intercommunal conflict, reporting on religious practices, coordinating religious pilgrimages, and ensuring religious freedom.
According to regulations of the government board that oversees the distribution of oil revenues, Muslim and Christian leaders share a rotational position on the board.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government maintained its ban on the leading Salafist association but anecdotal evidence suggested that enforcement of this ban proved difficult. Those practicing this interpretation of Islam continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.
On July 6, during a speech marking the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday at the end of Ramadan, Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Pakacke stated that religious leaders of different faiths, through their prayers and actions, were the cornerstone of the country’s peace. Religious leaders of various faiths, diplomats, and other officials all attended the speech. The prime minister called on religious leaders to intensify interreligious dialogue and to continue to raise awareness about what he termed the trap of religious extremism. The prime minister congratulated young people who helped secure places of worship by using their own funds to purchase metal detectors, participating in interfaith vigilance committees, monitoring perimeters, and sometimes searching individuals entering places of worship to ensure that people could worship safely. On several occasions, Muslims and Christians coordinated this security jointly.
President Idriss Deby Itno encouraged religious tolerance in public statements and urged religious leaders to promote peaceful relations among religious groups. During the celebration of Eid al-Adha in September, political and religious authorities called on all religious groups to coexist peacefully and promote national unity. The president remarked, “The interreligious dialogue which has already proved its worth must be maintained on a permanent and lasting basis.” During a December 14 meeting with members of the Episcopal Conference, The president reiterated his appreciation of the religious leaders’ efforts for peaceful cohabitation in the country. He encouraged them to continue building a foundation of peace among different religious groups.
On April 23, the Episcopal Conference of Chad (CET) dedicated a new headquarters building constructed with financial support from the government. The structure centralized the CET’s various organizations working in the service of education, health, justice, peace, and rural development. On October 15, the prime minister, accompanied by several cabinet members, represented the president at Catholic Archbishop Edmond Djitangar’s installation ceremony.
The government conducted a long running public education campaign in the national media to inform people of the burqa ban; however, during the year there were no known prosecutions for violating this ban.
The government generally did not fund construction or maintenance of places of worship. The government offered, however, to contribute partial funding towards the construction of the country’s first Catholic basilica, as well as restoration of the Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral in N’Djamena. Both construction projects remained incomplete at the end of the year.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution requires the separation of state and religion, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion. It permits limitations on religious freedom as prescribed by law in order to protect public safety, education, and morals, and to guarantee the independence of government from religion. The law criminalizes religious “defamation” and incitement of one religious group against another. The law permits sharia courts to adjudicate personal status cases, provided both parties are Muslim and consent to the court’s jurisdiction.
Under the state of emergency, which went into effect on October 8, the government limits constitutionally granted freedoms, including religious freedom, for a period of six months that may be renewed. Individuals are prohibited from inducing fear or inflicting conflict during sermons in religious institutions.
Registration and licensing of religious groups are the mandate of the MFPDA. The MFPDA requires unregistered religious groups to submit a founding document, the national ID cards of its founders, and the permanent address of the religious institution and planned regional branches. The registration process also includes an application letter, information on the board members, meeting minutes, information on the founders, its financial reports, offices, name, and symbol. Religious group applicants must have at least 50 individuals for registration as a church and 15 for a ministry or association to be considered. During the registration process, the government publishes the religious group’s name and logo in a local newspaper and, if there are no objections, registration is granted.
All religious institutions, including the EIASC, are registered by the MFPDA. The EOC, however, is registered in a provision under the civil code passed during the imperial era, which is still in force.
All groups must register with the Directorate of Faith and Religious Affairs at the MFPDA to gain legal standing. Most religious groups are registered by the MFPDA. Religious groups must renew their registration at least every five years; failure to do so could result in a fine.
Registered religious organizations are required to provide annual activity and financial reports. Activity reports must describe evangelical activities and list new members, new pastors ordained, and new buildings opened or built. The Charities and Societies Proclamation prohibits certain charities, societies, and associations, including those associated with faith-based organizations that engage in rights-based advocacy, and prevents civil society organizations from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources. Rights-based advocacy includes activities promoting human and democratic rights or equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, genders, and religions; protecting the rights of children or persons with disabilities; advancing conflict resolution or reconciliation; and enhancing the efficiency of the justice system or law enforcement services.
Religious groups undertaking development activities were required to register their development arms as charities with the Charities and Societies Agency and follow legal guidelines.
The constitution prohibits religious instruction in schools, whether public or private. The law permits religious instruction in churches and mosques, and schools may organize clubs based on shared religious values.
Under the constitution the government owns all land and therefore individuals, private businesses, and religious groups must apply to both the regional and local governments for land allocation, including for land to build places of worship, schools, hospitals, and cemeteries. The Charities and Societies Association and the Ministry of Health regulate religious schools and hospitals, which the government may close at any time for not following regulations.
The law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion.
The government mandates a two-hour break on Fridays for Islamic prayers.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights without reservations.
On October 2, at least 55 were killed at a religious and cultural festival in Bishoftu. The government’s response to the highly charged environment reportedly led to the deadly stampede that resulted in most of the confirmed deaths. The initial cause of the disruption remained unclear, but according to media sources there were sounds of gunfire, teargas, and helicopters overhead. During protests that followed the incident and on social media, many individuals blamed the government for instigating the stampede and for incompetence in securing the gathering, among other accusations. On October 7, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted there was a need to investigate what occurred and urged the government allow independent observers access to Oromia and Amhara regions. On October 10, a group of UN human rights experts highlighted the October 2 events and urged the government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate the protests and any violence used against protesters since November 2015.
The government used the six-month state of emergency declared on October 9, the ATP, and other measures, to restrict organized opposition and antigovernment protests, including through the detention and prosecution of Muslims engaged in nonviolent protests. The state of emergency, in particular, restricted freedom of speech and media consumption while earlier restrictions prevented the use of social media. There were no new violent protests focused solely on Muslim grievances, but some Muslims participated in larger Oromo protests airing past Muslim grievances. Some Muslim community members stated the government co-opted religious leaders to impose Al-Ahbash, a Sufi religious movement rooted in Lebanon and different from indigenous Islam, on local Islamic religious practice. The government stated in 2015 that it no longer supported the program to impose Al-Ahbash on Islamic religious practice, although reports suggested Al-Ahbash teachings were still disseminated and Friday prayers generally conformed to Al-Ahbash teachings.
Muslim community sources stated there continued to be widespread sentiment in the community that the government exercised excessive influence over the EIASC. Some Muslim community members also reported government interference in religious affairs, including the government’s refusal to allow elections in mosques because women would not be allowed to vote. Muslim groups continued to reject the 2012 EIASC elections for alleged government interference and the lack of new elections since then. There were mostly peaceful protests by Muslims against this perceived interference; however, the number of protests this year sharply declined compared to previous years and were incorporated into demonstrations addressing broader grievances, such as the rights of Oromo people. The state of emergency further discouraged such protests. Muslims in Jemo and Furi areas in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Chiro, Jimma, and Gondar protested during the celebration of Eid al-Adha on September 12. Protestors showed red cards, crossed their arms above the head and carried placards that read “We Need Freedom!,” “Hear our Voices!,” and “A Government that Refuses to take Criticism, Will not Last long!”
The government continued to take actions regarding the Muslim Arbitration Committee, a group identified with the 2012 protests. In 2015, the Federal High Court found 18 members and supporters of the Muslim Arbitration Committee guilty of terrorism under the ATP and sentenced the individuals to imprisonment ranging from seven to 22 years. Later that year, the government pardoned and released five of those convicted. In early September the government pardoned two arbitration committee leaders (Abubeker Ahmed Mohamed and Kemal Shemsu Siraj), four members (Bedru Hussein, Sheik Seid Ali, Sheik Mekete Muhe, and Mubarek Adem) and three journalists (Yusuf Getachew, Murad Shekur Jemal, and Nuru Turki Nuru). On December 21, the Federal High Court found guilty 20 supporters of the Muslim Arbitration Committee. The defendants were convicted for “participation in a terrorist organization,” a crime under the ATP, and for committing or conspiring to commit crimes. The defendants found guilty included a leading Muslim scholar, Kedir Mohammed, and two radio journalists.
On January 19, the Federal High Court sentenced all 16 defendants in the 2013 Elias Kedir case to seven years in prison under the charge of participation in a terrorist organization, a crime punishable under the ATP. The defendants said they were protesting government interference in Muslim affairs and called for the release of the Muslim Arbitration Committee members through writings in various media and peaceful protests in mosques. Police arrested the defendants in 2013 in Addis Ababa and Wolkite town in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s (SNNPR) Region. On December 16, the Federal Supreme Court reduced the sentences of 12 of the defendants from seven years to three years and four months following the defense’s appeal of the High Court’s original sentences. Authorities also pardoned and released four other defendants in September.
The Federal High Court heard the case of 28 Muslim individuals, 11 of whom were tried in absentia, and found 24 of the defendants guilty of terrorism under the ATP. Some of the defendants told the court they had taken military and political training with Al-Shabaab and worked towards establishing an Islamic state in their country. The court acquitted four individuals of the charges in February. In March the court passed sentences ranging from four-year to 21-year prison terms.
The trial of 14 Muslims charged with the July 2013 killing of Sheikh Nuru in Dessie town continued into its third year. According to media sources, Sheikh Nuru was a follower of Al-Ahbash teachings and defended the government’s policy of imposing the new teachings. The government charged the individuals in November 2013 under the ATP law for “terrorist activity.” At year’s end, the prosecution and defense rested their cases and were awaiting a verdict. One of the 14 defendants reportedly died while in prison.
In November three teenage Christian girls and one young woman were sentenced to one month in prison after distributing a Christian book that allegedly sought to counter widely-circulated writings by a well-known Islamic critic. The four individuals were charged with inciting religious violence in October in Babile. Muslim communities in the area stated the book was an insult to Islam. Four teenagers attacked a local church shortly after the book was distributed; four suspects in the church burning were arrested in October.
The Directorate for Registration of Religious Groups within MFPDA reported it registered 1,600 religious groups and associations as of year’s end.
There were reports of discrimination in registration and land allocation. Members of some religious groups stated the exemption of the EOC and the EIASC from the registration requirement amounted to a double standard between the EOC and EISAC, on the one hand, and other religious groups on the other.
Protestants privately reported unequal treatment by local officials compared to the EOC and the EIASC with regard to religious registration and allocation of land for churches and cemeteries. The MFPDA, which had oversight responsibility for religious affairs, stated the perceived inequities were a result of poor governance at the local level and of zoning regulations governing a property’s existing and proposed communal use.
Some religious groups, mainly Protestant, continued to work through private and unofficial channels to seek the return of property confiscated between 1977 and 1991. Although some property was returned in previous years, there were no reports the government returned any property during the year.
The MFPDA, working with the EIASC and other civil society groups, sponsored workshops and training of religious leaders, elders, and influential community members with the stated intention of addressing the potential for sectarian violence.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution declares Islam to be the official religion of the state, and a “foundation source” of legislation. It states no law may be enacted contradicting the “established provisions of Islam,” but also states no law may contradict the principles of democracy or the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in the constitution.
The constitution protects the “Islamic identity” of the Iraqi people, although it makes no specific mention of Sunni or Shia Islam. The constitution also guarantees the freedom of religious belief and practice for Christians, Yezidis, and Sabaean-Mandeans. The law, however, prohibits the practice of the Bahai Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.
The constitution states each individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, and followers of all religions are free to practice religious rites and manage religious endowment affairs, and religious institutions. The constitution guarantees freedom from religious coercion, and states all citizens are equal before the law without regard to religion, sect, or belief.
In August the Council of Representatives passed an Amnesty Law, which includes a provision allowing for reinvestigation and retrial of detainees who were convicted under the antiterrorism law based solely on the information provided by secret informants.
Personal status laws and regulations prohibit the conversion of Muslims to other religions, and require administrative designation of minor children as Muslims if either parent converts to Islam.
The following religious groups are recognized by the law and thereby registered with the government: Islam, Chaldean, Assyrian, Assyrian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Roman Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Latin-Dominican Rite, National Protestant, Anglican, Evangelical Protestant Assyrian, Adventist, Coptic Orthodox, Yezidi, Sabaean-Mandaean, and Jewish. Recognition allows groups to appoint legal representatives and to perform legal transactions such as buying and selling property. All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts which are responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues. There are three diwans (chambers) responsible for administering matters for the recognized religious groups within the country: the Sunni Endowment Diwan, the Shia Endowment Diwan, and the Endowment of the Christians, Yezidi, and Sabaean-Mandaean Religions Diwan. The three waqfs operate under the authority of the prime minister’s office to disburse government funds to maintain and protect religious facilities.
Outside of the IKR, the law does not provide a mechanism for a new religious group to obtain legal recognition. Iraqi law allows punishment for anyone practicing the Bahai Faith with 10 years’ imprisonment. For unrecognized religions other than Bahai – e.g., Wahhabi, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i – the law does not specify penalties for practicing; however, contracts signed by institutions of worship for unrecognized religions are not legal or permissible as evidence in court.
In the IKR, religious groups obtain recognition by registering with the KRG Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs (MERA). To register, a group must have a minimum of 150 adherents, provide documentation of the sources of its financial support, and demonstrate it is not anti-Islam. Eight faiths are registered with the KRG MERA: Islam, Christianity, Yezidi, Judaism, Bahai, Sabean-Mandean, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i (Yarsan).
In addition to the Christian denominations recognized by the government of Iraq, the KRG has registered nine evangelical Protestant churches: Rasolia Church, Baptism Church, Kurd-Zman Church, Unite Evangelical Church, Mushikha Evangelical Church, Ashti Evangelical Church, International Church, al-Nahda Church, and Evangelical Free Church.
In the IKR, Christian groups may register separately with the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders, an independent group formed by church leaders, consisting of representatives from Christian churches and six evangelical Protestant churches with Christian-background membership. Registration with the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders provides Christian churches and leaders with access to the KRG MERA and to the KRG’s Christian endowment (waqf).
The KRG MERA operates endowments (waqfs) which pay salaries of clergy and fund construction and maintenance of religious sites only for Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Yezidis.
The constitution requires the government to maintain the sanctity of holy shrines and religious sites and guarantee the free practice of rituals for recognized religious groups. The penal code criminalizes disrupting or impeding religious ceremonies and desecrating religious buildings. The penal code imposes three years’ imprisonment or 300 dinars (25 cents) for such crimes.
By law, the government provides support for Muslims outside the IKR desiring to perform the Hajj and Umrah, organizing travel routes and immunization documents for entry into Saudi Arabia. The Sunni and Shia waqfs accept Hajj applications from the public and submit them to the Supreme Council for the Hajj. The council, attached to the prime minister’s office, organizes a lottery process to select pilgrims for official Hajj visas. According to the law for the high commission for Hajj and Umrah, the commission offers 3.5 million dinars ($3,000) for Hajj travel by land, and 4.2 million dinars ($3,600) for travel by air. The commission chooses pilgrims to receive the benefit based on a lottery system. The KRG also funds Hajj and Umrah travel, but individuals are only eligible to receive government assistance once.
The constitution guarantees minority groups the right to educate children in their own languages. While it establishes Arabic and Kurdish as official state languages, it makes Syriac, typically spoken by Christians within the country, and Turkmen official languages only in the administrative units in which those groups “constitute density populations.” The constitution provides the federal Supreme Court be made up of judges, experts in Islamic jurisprudence, and legal scholars. The constitution leaves the method of regulating the number and selection of judges to legislation that requires a two-thirds majority in the Council of Representatives for passage.
The constitution guarantees citizens the right to choose which court (civil or religious) will adjudicate matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, endowments, and other personal matters. Islam takes precedence when one of the parties to the dispute is from a nonrecognized faith. The law states civil courts must consult the religious authority of a non-Muslim party for its opinion under the applicable religious law and apply the religious authority’s opinion in court. In the IKR, the Personal Status Court adjudicates personal disputes between Muslims, and the Civil Status Court handles all other cases.
National identity cards denote the holder’s religion. The only religions which may be listed on the national identity card are Christian, Sabaean-Mandean, Yezidi, and Muslim, and there is no distinction between Shia and Sunni Muslim affiliation nor designation of Christian denominations. Individuals practicing other faiths may only receive identity cards if they self-identify as Muslim, Yezidi, Sabaean-Mandean, or Christian. Without an official identity card, non-Muslims and those who convert to faiths other than Islam may not register their marriages, enroll their children in public school, acquire passports, or obtain some government services. Passports do not specify religion.
The law states constitutional guarantees providing for the reinstatement of citizenship to individuals who gave up their citizenship for political or sectarian reasons do not apply to Jews who emigrated and gave up their citizenship under a 1950 law.
The Rights of National and Religious Minorities Protection Law in the IKR, which formally recognized the Bahai, Zoroastrian, and Sabean-Mandean faiths, promotes equal political, cultural, societal, and economic representation of all minority groups and forbids “religious, or political, media speech individually or collectively, directly or indirectly that brings hate and violence, terror, exclusion, and marginalization based on national, ethnic, or religious or linguistic claims.”
Of the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives, Iraqi law reserves eight seats for members of minority communities: five for Christian candidates from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Dahuk; one for a Yezidi; one for a Sabaean-Mandaean; and one for an ethnic Shabak. The Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament reserves 11 of its 111 seats for minorities: five for Christians, five for Turkmen, and one for Armenians.
On October 22, the Council of Representatives passed a law which contained an article banning the sale, import, and production of alcoholic beverages. The law had yet to take effect as of the end of the year, however, as the president returned the law to the COR for further consideration.
Islamic education, including study of the Quran, is mandatory in primary and secondary school, except in the IKR. Non-Muslim students are not required to participate in Islamic studies. The government provides Christian religious education in public schools in some areas where there are concentrations of Christian populations, and there is a Syriac curriculum directorate within the Ministry of Education.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
There continued to be reports that local police and Shia militia killed Sunni detainees. International and local NGOs reported the government continued to use the antiterrorism law as a pretext for detaining Sunnis without timely access to due process. Community leaders said forced conversion was the de facto result of the national identity card law. Some Yezidi and Christian leaders continued to report harassment and abuses by KRG Peshmerga and Asayish forces in the portion of Ninewa Province controlled by the KRG or contested between the central government and the KRG. Displaced members of certain religious groups report they were prevented from returning to their homes after their cities were liberated from ISIS. Yezidi groups said the presence of armed affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Sinjar and the imposition of security restrictions on the district by the KRG hindered the return of IDPs. In May KRG representatives revoked permission for Yazda, the largest Yezidi-run humanitarian and political advocacy organization, to operate in IDP camps. Officials restored access in October. In some parts of the country, non-Muslim religious minorities, as well as Sunni and Shia in areas where they formed the minority, faced harassment and restrictions from the authorities. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continued to deploy police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship, during Islamic and non-Islamic religious holidays. The KRG also offered support and funding to some non-Muslim minorities, but other minorities in the IKR, such as evangelical Christians, faced difficulties registering and proselytizing. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) reported evidence of torture and ill-treatment of Sunni detainees by Iraqi Security Forces (including PMF fighters), as well as the deaths of Sunni men who were in custody, detained under the antiterrorism law.
In October, AI reported that men in Federal Police (a Shia-dominated organization) uniforms carried out multiple unlawful killings of Sunnis suspected of being ISIS militants or sympathizers in and around Mosul. In some cases, AI stated individuals were tortured before they were shot and killed execution style or run over with armored vehicles. In October in the Al-Shora subdistrict, men in Federal Police uniforms reportedly brutally beat and killed Ahmed Mahmoud Dakhil and Rashid Ali Khalaf, villagers from Na’na’a, as well as a third man from the village of Tulul Nasser.
In an October report, AI reported Sunni Arab IDPs from parts of Salah al-Din and Diyala Provinces feared attacks by Shia militias in control of those towns, and said the militias had committed gross human rights abuses against residents. AI documented what it referred to as “war crimes and gross human rights violations,” including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, committed against Sunnis fleeing Saqlawiya and al-Sijir and accused of being complicit in ISIS crimes or having supported the group. AI stated the violations were committed by Shia PMF militias and fighters wearing military or Federal Police uniforms. For example, AI reported the extrajudicial execution of at least 12 men and four boys from the Sunni Jumaila tribe in al-Sijir by armed men in various security force uniforms. The Iraqi Federal Police denied any involvement in the abuses.
Hundreds of men seized by the PMF on May 27 and June 3 remained unaccounted for at year’s end. According to the testimonies of some survivors, ISF and the Shia militia group Kata’ib Hizballah had been close by when these individuals were captured. Iraqi forces had been stationed near the sites of crimes in Tarek’s Military Camp (Mu’askar Tarek), located along the old Baghdad-Falluja road. On June 5, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi established a committee to investigate the May and June disappearances, vowing to punish those responsible, and announced the arrest of an unspecified number of individuals who had committed the crimes. The prime minister, however, said the abuses were not part of a systematic pattern, and should not overshadow the battlefield successes and the assistance provided by Iraqi forces to Sunni Arab IDPs. In many cases, Shia PMF units reportedly operated independently and without oversight or direction from the government.
International and local NGOs stated the government continued to use the antiterrorism law as a pretext for detaining Sunni men – and their female relatives – for extended periods of time without access to a lawyer or due process. In October courts in Basrah announced 1,251 Sunni detainees had been affected by the new Amnesty Law, which allowed some individuals convicted under the antiterrorism law to apply for judicial review, and 538 had already been retried. The Ministry of Interior’s spokesperson reported that in June, 700 Sunni men were detained following the battle of Falluja based on their confessions of being ISIS supporters. According to the Anbar Police Command, out of 19,400 Sunni men initially arrested under the antiterrorism law for suspected connections to ISIS, 2,046 men were detained, while the remaining individuals were released. AI reported evidence of torture and ill-treatment of Sunni detainees, as well as deaths of Sunni men who were in custody, detained under the antiterrorism law. Religious organizations such as the Association of Muslim Scholars spoke publicly about human rights abuses in prisons in their annual report.
Official investigations of abuses by government forces, armed groups, and terrorist organizations continued to be infrequent, and the outcomes of investigations which did occur continued to be unpublished, unknown, or incomplete, according to NGOs.
According to local human rights organizations, the KRG internal security service had temporarily detained Yezidi activists and demonstrators in Dahuk.
Yezidi groups said the presence of armed affiliates of the PKK in Sinjar and the KRG’s impositions of security restrictions on the district have hindered the return of IDPs.
Christian groups and political leaders accused members of the KRG Peshmerga and other security forces of taking over homes abandoned by Christians as they fled from ISIS to safety in Erbil and other areas of the IKR.
According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and a Christian political leader, Peshmerga fighters removed generators and water pumps from the town of Tal Skuf after liberating it from ISIS in May, and restricted some Christians from entering the town.
Advocacy groups and representatives of religious minority communities reported continued emigration of minority community members subjected to ISIS violence in Mosul and across the Ninewa Plain.
Members of religious minority communities, civil society organizations, and the media continued to report some non-Muslims, including Yezidis and Christians, chose to reside in the IKR and areas under KRG control because they continued to consider these areas to offer greater security, tolerance, and protection for minority rights.
Christian, Yezidi, and Kaka’i community leaders said that forced conversion was the de facto result of the national identity card law, which stated that children of one Muslim parent would be automatically identified as Muslim. Christian leaders said, in some cases, families formally registered as Muslim, but actually practicing Christianity or another faith, reportedly fled to avoid being forced to register their child as a Muslim or to have the child remain undocumented.
The KRG MERA banned 14 Muslim preachers from preaching Friday sermons because of defamation and incitement against religious minorities, including Christians. The imams were placed on administrative leave, and drew salaries while undergoing required rehabilitation training. The KRG MERA announced as of September, the KRG had shut down 10 media outlets accused of promoting extremism; they also lacked proper licenses.
While the government continued to support the establishment of armed volunteer groups to counter ISIS, Prime Minister Abadi repeatedly called for these groups to place themselves under the command and control of the security forces. In 2015, the Council of Ministers announced the PMF was an official body reporting to the prime minister, but the prime minister’s ability to control the PMF remained a source of disagreement and debate.
NGOs continued to state constitutional provisions on freedom of religion should override laws banning the Bahai Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, but there continued to be no court challenges lodged to invalidate them, nor was legislation proposed to repeal them.
According to evangelical Christian representatives, evangelical Christian groups could not register with the MERA in the IKR without first obtaining clearance from the KRG Ministry of Interior. Evangelical Christian pastors in Erbil stated other religious groups were not required to undergo this step. The evangelical Christians also reported they were unable to meet the minimum requirements for registration, resulting in their lack of recognition by the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders. They said the inability to register also constrained the ability of evangelical Christians to proselytize, and subjected them to unfair scrutiny by the government.
The KRG recognized two evangelical churches with Muslim-background membership; other evangelical Christian churches proselytizing to Muslims said the registration process was onerous, and their groups were subject to scrutiny and harassment by the internal security service.
The KRG provided several religious groups with offices within the KRG MERA following the passage of the KRG Rights of National and Religious Minorities Protection Law. In September Zoroastrians opened a temple in Sulaimaniya with KRG MERA approval and support. Additionally, representatives from the Zoroastrian and Bahai faiths were provided with offices housed within MERA.
The ISF continued to deploy police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship, during religious holidays. For example, during the Shia religious ceremony of Arbaeen, ISF deployed security to protect pilgrims walking to Karbala. Even with added protection, many worshippers said they did not attend religious services or participate in religious events because of the repeated attacks on religious pilgrims in the past and the continued threat of violence.
Non-Muslims said they had difficulties persuading local authorities to take steps to resolve issues involving their holy sites, such as evicting squatters from the grounds of churches, temples, and cemeteries.
The government continued to provide increased protection to Christian churches during the Easter and Christmas holidays. Bahais reported they continued to celebrate the festivals of Naw-Ruz and Ridvan without government interference or intimidation. Provincial governments also continued to designate these as religious holidays in their localities. Followers of the Bahai and Yezidi faiths reported the KRG allowed them to observe their religious holidays. Yezidis used Kurdish, one of the languages officially sanctioned by the constitution, in their worship services. The Maysan Provincial Council reportedly continued to recognize a Sabaean-Mandaean holiday as an official holiday, to provide physical protection for the Sabaean-Mandaean community during times of worship, and to excuse the group from Shia Islamic dress codes during times of mourning.
Government policy continued to require Islamic religious instruction in public schools, but non-Muslim students were not required to participate. In most areas of the country, primary and secondary school curricula included three classes per week of Islamic education, including study of the Quran, as a graduation requirement for Muslim students. Syriac and Christian religious education was included in the curricula of 152 public schools in Baghdad, Ninewa, and Kirkuk. Private Islamic religious schools continued to operate in the country, but had to obtain a license from the director general of private and public schools and pay annual fees.
In the IKR, private schools were required to pay a registration fee of 750,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqi dinars ($640 to $1,290) to the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Higher Education, depending on the type of school. To register with the KRG, private schools needed to provide information on the school’s bylaws, number of students, size, location, facility and safety conditions, financial backing, and tax compliance, and undergo an inspection. In February the Catholic University in Erbil opened with KRG approval, open to students of all faiths.
While the government continued not to require non-Muslim students to participate in religious instruction in public schools, some non-Muslim students continued to report pressure to do so from teachers and classmates. There were also continued reports that some non-Muslim students felt obliged to participate because they could not leave the classroom during religious instruction. Christian and Yezidi leaders reported continued discrimination in education and lack of minority input into issues such as school curricula and language of instruction. By year’s end, schools had not universally adopted the 2015 Ministry of Education curriculum incorporating lessons of religious tolerance. Many Christians who spoke the Syriac language stated it was their right to use and teach it to their children as a matter of religious freedom. The Chaldean church in Basrah, seeking to establish private Christian schools, said local authorities mandated the inclusion of Islamic religious instruction in their curricula for the Muslim students enrolled.
The KRG Ministry of Education continued to fund the religion curriculum for Islam and Christian classes for students of those faiths per ministry regulations. The KRG Ministry of Education continued to fund Syriac-language public schools (elementary and high school), intended to accommodate Christian students, in its territory; the curriculum does not contain religious or Quranic studies. In June Salahaddin University, a government-run institution in Erbil, approved the creation of a Syriac language department.
Christian leaders reported the KRG continued to provide land and financial support for construction of new, and renovation of existing, structures for use as educational facilities, although budget cuts halted some projects.
Non-Muslims have generally not held positions in the Iraqi Council of Ministers (COM), or in the KRG’s COM, although there is no legal bar to ministerial appointments for members of religious minorities. Members of minority religious communities held senior positions in the national parliament and central government, as well as in the KRG, although minority community leaders said they were proportionally underrepresented in government appointments, in elected positions outside the Council of Representatives, and in public sector jobs, particularly at the provincial and local levels. Minority community leaders continued to say this underrepresentation limited minorities’ access to government-provided economic opportunities. The federal Supreme Court continued to represent a cross section of ethnicities and religions in its nine-member composition.
Some Sunni Muslims continued to say they perceived an ongoing campaign of “revenge” by Shia government officials against them in retribution for the Sunnis’ favored status and abuses against Shia during the Saddam Hussein regime. Sunnis continued to complain about discrimination in public sector employment as a result of de-Baathification, a process originally intended to target loyalists of the former regime. According to Sunnis and local NGOs, the government implemented the de-Baathification provisions of the law selectively and used the law to render many Sunnis ineligible for government employment. The government established a committee to rectify sectarian imbalances in ministries, but to date have implemented no reforms. Sunni Arab government officials, particularly those from ISIS-stricken Ninewa Province, have complained about a political “witch hunt” against Sunni Arab ministers, led by allies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The parliamentary Reform Front movement’s political targets have largely been Sunni Arabs from Ninewa, a proposition leading Sunnis stated came from Shia majoritarian sectarian tendencies.
Human rights NGOs and Yezidi leaders stated KRG authorities discriminated against organizations providing humanitarian assistance to Yezidi communities. Starting in April, KRG authorities maintained a blockade of goods into Sinjar District that prevented the return of most Yezidi families. While the KRG said the blockade was designed to constrain the PKK, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that had established a presence in the Sinjar area, HRW stated that these restrictions caused “unnecessary harm to people’s access to food, water, livelihoods, and other fundamental rights.” Security forces restricted items such as food, medicines, and farming supplies needed for local livelihoods.
The 2015 national identity card law, adopted by the Council of Representatives, did not clarify whether the national identity card would continue to identify the holder’s religion. The law has prevented Yezidis (many of whom consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic group as well as a religious group) and Shabaks from self-identifying with their religious and ethnic group and from official government recognition through official documentation. President Fuad Masum returned the bill to parliament for further debate, however, following protests from minority communities.
Christian groups said the KRG did not consistently enforce court decisions regarding land disputes, many of which stemmed from the Saddam Hussein regime’s Anfal campaign. Many Christians left the country during the Saddam Hussein regime, they stated, and when these Christian families returned home, they found Kurdish families occupying their residences. On July 26, KRG security forces demolished buildings built on land illegally occupied by a Muslim Kurd and owned by Christians, pursuant to a court order. The demolition sparked violent reactions from Muslims in the neighboring town of Bakrman, who harassed some Christians in response.
In May KRG representatives revoked permission for Yazda, the largest Yezidi-run humanitarian and political advocacy organization, to operate in IDP camps. Officials restored access in October.
ISIS continued to target victims on the basis of their religious identity, killing and subjecting people of all faiths to violence, abductions, and intimidation. Media reported the security situation remained precarious as a result of ISIS’s occupation of territory and the escalation of fighting between ISIS and government forces in Ninewa and Kirkuk; although the Iraqi military and progovernment forces retook large amounts in territory in both provinces, fighting continued in some areas of Anbar and Salah al-Din. In areas under its control, ISIS continued to commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, and detention, including mass abductions and enslavement of women and girls from minority religious communities. ISIS also continued to engage in harassment, intimidation, robbery, and the destruction of personal property and religious sites. In areas not under ISIS control, it continued suicide bombings and VBIED attacks against civilians. ISIS also targeted religious pilgrims and pilgrimage sites for attack. ISIS enforced strict rules on dress, behavior and movement on the inhabitants who remained in the areas it controlled, and severely punished infractions. Its fighters carried out execution-style public killings and other punishments, including after its “courts” condemned people for transgressing its rules or its interpretation of Islamic law. ISIS fighters burned or destroyed Shia, Yezidi, and other religious shrines and cultural artifacts.
UNAMI reported in December that 12,038 people were killed during the year and another 411 were wounded as a result of bombings and acts of violence, mostly in Baghdad and in the northern and western provinces. ISIS claimed responsibility for the majority of these bombings.
After forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians from subdistricts of Mosul to Tal Afar, ISIS killed 172 civilians held in al-Jazeera secondary school in the Hay al-Khadraa neighborhood of Tal Afar, according to UNAMI. Reportedly, among those killed were 43 Yezidi and Shia girls and women who had been enslaved by the group since June 2014.
In November ISIS posted on its Wilayat al-Jazeera website photos of victims killed under the slogan Iqamat al-hudud’(imposing legal penalties) for allegedly committing breaches of sharia, including smoking. One of the victims portrayed in the photos was reportedly a cigarette merchant. The exact dates of the killings are not known. In some photos, children are seen witnessing the executions.
ISIS posted a video on the Wilayat al-Jazeera website showing four children between the ages of 10 to 12 shooting and killing four civilians accused of spying for the ISF and Peshmerga. The video shows two children aiming their guns at the heads of two kneeling civilians and then shooting them. The other two children performed the same act against two other civilians in a location near a river. The video identifies two of the children as originally from Uzbekistan and Russia and the other two from Iraq, while the victims were identified as shop owners from the Baaj District of Ninewa Governorate. One of the children in the video was recognized by his Yezidi parents, having been abducted from his family by ISIS at an earlier date.
ISIS targeted all religious minorities who refused to convert to Islam or who opposed the terrorist group. ISIS also targeted Sunni civilians who cooperated with the ISF. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reported cases of ISIS killing women for not wearing a veil. According to multiple reports from international NGOs and the local press, ISIS fighters continued to question members of detained groups to determine if they were Sunni, and then killed or abducted the non-Sunnis.
Coordinated ISIS bomb attacks continued to target Shia neighborhoods, markets, mosques, and funeral processions, as well as Shia shrines. On July 3, a coordinated bomb attack in Baghdad resulted in the deaths of more than 300 and injuries to hundreds more. A few minutes after midnight, a suicide bomber in a truck targeted the mainly Shia district of Karrada, busy with late-night shoppers for Ramadan. A second roadside bomb was detonated in the suburb of Sha’ab, killing at least five. On April 4, there were multiple coordinated suicide bombings, including two in the Shia-majority southern provinces of Basrah and Dui War. Five people died in Basrah and in Dui War, and 14 people were killed and 27 wounded at a restaurant popular with Shia PMF fighters. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.
ISIS fired chemical weapons into the Salah al-Din villages of Tara and Basheer on March 16 and May 2, respectively. The attacks injured more than 400 victims, who were primarily Turkmen Shia civilians. ISIS fighters continued their practice of claiming responsibility for these attacks via social media postings.
Large celebrations of Ashura in Najaf and Karbala were violence free, in part because of extensive security efforts.
According to the mayor of Sinjar, as of September 27, mass graves containing the remains of ISIS victims were under investigation, others were located, and potentially dozens more remained in ISIS-controlled territory in Sinjar district. On April 26, Yezidi religious leaders in Lavish published an open letter to diplomats and human rights organizations reporting 410 Yezidi men had been missing for a year after the men were directed to a mosque in the ISIS-controlled city of Tal Afar and taken away by truck.
In August the Associated Press reported that analysis of satellite imagery identified a possible mass grave site at Badmouth Prison near Mosul, where more than 600 inmates died. The KRG exhumed 67 remains from a mass grave in Sinjar for DNA analysis.
According to the KRG MERA, 3,735 Yezidis captured by ISIS remained in ISIS captivity or were unaccounted for at year’s end.
The Yezidi Organization for Documentation reported ongoing cases of rape, forced labor, forced marriage, forced religious conversion, material deprivation, and battery by ISIS. ISIS provided videos of its fighters continuing sexual assaults on captured Yezidi women. ISIS repeatedly said it had conducted the “large-scale enslavement” of Yezidi women and children because of their religious beliefs.
NGOs reported ISIS continued to kidnap religious minorities for ransom. According to officials from a Turkmen Women’s Association, ISIS militants had kidnapped and held 500 Turkmen women and children from Tal Afar and Mosul since June 2014. A Shabak member of the Ninewa Provincial Council said ISIS held over 250 Shabak people (most of whom are thought to be Shia) captive, and had executed three Shabaks in October. UNAMI reported that between October 27 and the beginning of November, ISIS had relocated between 64 and 70 abducted Yezidi women from Aaliyah subdistrict of Tal Afar, Muhalabiya subdistrict of Mosul, and from Qayrawan subdistrict of Sinjar, to the Seventeen-Tamouz area in Mosul city. On November 4, ISIS allegedly brought an unspecified number of Yezidi women to Tal Afar and placed them in one of the schools. ISIS reportedly gave some of the women to its militants and sent others to Raqqa, Syria.
According to religious leaders, killings, forced conversion, threats of violence, and intimidation continued to motivate many minorities to leave ISIS-controlled areas. Yezidi civil rights activists reported 400,000 Yezidis were displaced to Dahuk Province in the IKR because of ISIS in 2014. Yezidi and Kaka’i IDPs largely remained in place during the year, with a limited number returning to liberated areas of Ninewa. Sources said between 10 to 15 Christian families were leaving the country daily.
In an October report, UNAMI stated ISIS’s attacks against Christians, Faili (Shia) Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabaean-Mandeans, Shabak, Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Yezidis, and others appeared to be part of a systematic campaign to suppress, permanently expel, or eradicate entire religious communities from their historic homelands now under ISIS control. ISIS continued to publish open threats via leaflets, social media, and press outlets of its intent to kill Shia “wherever they were found” on the basis of being “infidels.”
In Mosul, ISIS fighters reportedly continued to threaten with death local residents who did not convert to Islam. They also continued to punish those who failed to adhere to the group’s strict interpretation of sharia. ISIS continued to impose severe restrictions on women’s movement and dress, and enforcement patrols by ISIS forces were reportedly routine occurrences. According to local press reports, in June the director general of Yezidi affairs at the Ministry of Waqf said ISIS compelled captured Yezidis to fast during Ramadan, and beat those who refused to perform Islamic prayers five times daily.
ISIS fighters continued to attack mosques and other holy sites, including Sunni religious sites, rendering many of them unusable. They converted Christian churches into mosques, and looted and destroyed religious and cultural artifacts. In January UNESCO reported ISIS destroyed the Monastery of Saint Elijah, which was more than 1,400 years old, and the oldest Christian monastery in the country. In April ISIS destroyed Mosul’s “Clock Tower Church” with explosives. Based on their interpretation of Islam, in June ISIS members removed Islamic motifs and Quranic verses on Mosul’s mosques, and also converted churches to weapons storehouses or offices after destroying crosses and religious motifs in the churches. ISIS also damaged many churches and Yezidi temples located in the Ninewa plains during its occupation, including 17 Yezidi shrines in the towns of Bashiqa and Bahzani in the Bashiqa subdistrict. In addition, ISIS blew up the clock tower of the Roman Catholic Church of Al-Sa’a in Mosul city and the Church of Al-Qiayama in Bakhida city in al-Hamdaniya District. The terrorist organization also destroyed the Christian Shrine of Bahnam and Sara in the Nimrud subdistrict.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states that “every person shall have the freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice,” as long as doing so does not impinge on the rights of others or on the national interest. The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, the establishment of a state religion, and religiously-based political parties.
The constitution establishes qadi courts, with Muslim judges trained in the Islamic legal tradition. The qadi courts are located in each of the country’s seven regions and apply sharia. Their jurisdiction applies only to marriage, divorce, custody over children, and inheritance questions for Muslims. Sharia also applies to interfaith couples where there is one Muslim spouse. Non-qadi district tribunals, which deal with issues under customary and traditional law, apply sharia, if relevant, when presiding over cases involving Muslims. A five-member qadi panel has purview over appeals regarding decisions of the qadi courts and non-qadi district tribunals relating to sharia. Muslims also have access to civil courts. Non-Muslims are not subject to qadi courts.
There are no formal guidelines for registration of religious groups, but faith-based groups that operate as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must meet the same eligibility criteria as other NGOs. All NGOs are required to register with the NGO Affairs Agency according to the law, and must register as charities at the Attorney General’s chambers under the Companies Act. They are required to have governing boards of directors of at least seven members responsible for policy and major administrative decisions including internal control. The NGO decree requires all NGOs to submit to the NGO Affairs Agency a detailed annual work program and budget, a detailed annual report highlighting progress on activities undertaken during the year, work plans for the following year, and financial statements audited by NGO Affairs Agency-approved auditors. The government has stated the submissions help the NGO Affairs Agency monitor the activities of the respective NGOs.
The law requires all public and private schools throughout the country to include basic Muslim or Christian instruction in their curricula. Students may not opt out of these classes. The government provides religious education teachers to schools that cannot recruit such teachers.
The constitution bans political parties organized on a religious basis.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 12, authorities arrested approximately 12 Christian youths in Kuloro village in West Coast Region for singing and dancing during Ramadan, according to Christians living in the area. On June 7, the inspector general of police stated “all ceremonies, festivities, and programs that involve drumming, music, and dance during the day or at night [during Ramadan] are prohibited.” The youths were released after 24 hours in detention.
On March 21, the family of Imam Alhagie Ousman Sawaneh of Kanifing South Mosque sued the government requesting his release nearly six months after his arrest from his home in Kanifing. Sawaneh, along with two other imams, was arrested without explanation by the National Intelligence Agency in October 2015. Following two court proceedings, at which the state failed to appear, Justice Basiru Mahoney ordered the release of the imam in March. Sawaneh, however, was not released as of year’s end; the other two imams also remained in detention. Requests for an explanation from the SIC concerning the arrests went unanswered; the SIC stated it had no knowledge of the arrests or detentions. Advocates for the three individuals said that the constitution states that no accused should be held without charge in excess of 72 hours. Residents of Central River Region stated the imams were members of a new rice farmers association that was perceived by the government to be unsupportive of the ruling party.
During a July 25 International Award for Quran Memorization Competition hosted by President Jammeh, he stated, “The Gambia will be a truly Islamic country, and the constitution shall be the Quran.” Leaders of Christian organizations said this declaration, following Jammeh’s December 11, 2015, presidential announcement declaring The Gambia an Islamic state, raised concerns that the president would apply sharia in all facets of society. Observers noted, however, that this would require the parliament to pass legislation to change the constitution.
On February 3, the SIC, a government-sponsored religious advisory body tasked with providing Islamic religious guidance but with no legal mandate to regulate religious groups, stated it was in charge of religious affairs in the country and that it contributed to the maintenance of peace and order by screening and certifying all Islamic scholars who wished to propagate the Islamic faith through local media to ensure that scholars preach in accordance with acceptable principles of Islam. In September 2015 the SIC had banned the Ahmadi Muslim community from airing religious programs on the government-owned GRTS and on all public and private radio stations. The Ahmadi community remained banned from the airwaves at the end of the year.
On January 4, the president issued an executive decree requiring female government employees to wear headscarves to work. According to media sources, the memorandum was delivered to all ministries and departments. The president’s decree received attention from international media and opposition parties. On January 13, GRTS announced the directive was lifted and female employees did not have to cover their hair.
Leaders of the Gambia Christian Council (GCC) said that while they remained concerned, they had not seen any actions suggesting an impending imposition of sharia and stated they were hopeful that no changes would occur. Local media reported the GCC sought clarity from the government that the declaration would not adversely affect the practice of their faith, but did not receive the desired reassurances. The GCC reportedly received a letter from the Office of the President on January 11 that indicated the government’s commitment to maintain peace and freedom of religious practice.
On February 9, the Knights of Saints Peter and Paul issued a press release on the president’s Islamic state declaration. The press release stated that an Islamic state would bring no benefit to Christians and doubted it would bring any to their “Muslim brothers and sisters.” It stated that the declaration was an unwelcome development that emphasized the differences between Gambians, rather than the things that bind them together, and concluded that it had the potential to “tear us grievously apart.” The Knights of Saints Peter and Paul is a society open to all Catholic men with a membership of 53 at year’s end.
The Bahai National Spiritual Assembly said the president’s statements had not affected its relations with the government and the council did not anticipate problems arising from the declaration.