HomeReportsInternational Religious Freedom Reports...Custom Report - 94060a68fb hide International Religious Freedom Reports Custom Report Excerpts: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan +10 more Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Sort by Country Sort by Section In this section / Bahrain Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Bangladesh Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Barbados Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Belarus Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Belgium Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Belize Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Benin Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Bhutan Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Bolivia Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Bosnia and Herzegovina Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Botswana Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Brazil Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Brunei Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Bulgaria Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Burkina Faso Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Burma Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Burundi Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The Bahamas Executive Summary Section I. Religious Demography Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Government Practices Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Bahrain Executive Summary The constitution declares Islam to be the official religion and sharia to be a principal source for legislation. It provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of places of worship, and freedom to perform religious rites. The constitution guarantees the right to express and publish opinions provided these do not infringe on the “fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine.” The law prohibits anti-Islamic publications and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” In general, non-Muslim religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Jews reported they could practice their religion openly without fear of interference from the government. According to press, the government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics and community members. Some reports stated a number of clerics were detained over the content of their sermons during the commemoration of Ashura in September; authorities released all of those detained without charge by October 30. Shia Muslims held processions to commemorate Ashura and Arbaeen throughout the country with limited involvement by the government. On November 4, the Court of Appeal, after overturning a previous acquittal, sentenced Sheikh Ali Salman, Secretary General of the dissolved, and largely Shia, opposition Wifaq political society, to life in prison on espionage charges for allegedly conspiring with Qatar to undermine the government in 2011. On November 13, authorities detained Ali Al Asheeri, a Shia former Wifaq member of parliament (MP), for social media posts that the government described as “incitement of non-participation in the elections.” In February the government provided input to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) regarding the country’s compliance with its ICCPR obligations, noting that the country’s constitution guaranteed freedom of conscience and religious belief, as well as freedom to build and access places of worship without discrimination. In November the UNHRC, in its final concluding observations on the country’s compliance with its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) obligations, stated its concern about “reports members of the Shia community have been subjected to restrictions to their rights to worship and profess their religious beliefs” and “reports that the Shia population is underrepresented in political and public life.” On July 11, the government removed concrete barriers, police checkpoints, and barbed wire that had previously restricted entry into the predominantly Shia neighborhood of Diraz, but local Shia continued to state that authorities prevented nonresidents from leading Friday prayers. On June 12, the government enacted an amendment to the Exercising Political Rights Law, which prohibited former members of Wifaq, as well as other banned political societies, from running as candidates in municipal and parliamentary elections. Based on reports it received, Amnesty International (AI) published a report in September stating Shia prisoners were vulnerable to intimidation, harassment, and ill-treatment, and denied access to needed medical care because of their religious and political affiliation. Shia community representatives said there was ongoing discrimination in government employment, education, and the justice system. In June the government inaugurated the King Hamad Center for Interfaith Dialogue and Coexistence and in July it announced its plan to establish an Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom and Coexistence. In June the Catholic Church held a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a cathedral to be built on land donated by the king. Representatives of the Shia community reported the higher unemployment rate and lower socioeconomic status of Shia were exacerbated by continued discrimination against hiring of Shia in the private as well as the public sectors. Anti-Shia and anti-Sunni commentary appeared on social media, including allegations that some prominent former and current Shia political leaders were “traitors” and “Iranian servants.” According to non-Muslim religious groups, including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, Buddhist, and Jews, there was a high degree of tolerance within society for minority religious beliefs, traditions and houses of worship. Although there is no law that prevents individuals from converting from any religion to another, societal attitudes and behavior discouraged conversion from Islam. The Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Ambassador, and embassy officers met with government officials to urge respect for freedom of expression; to ensure full inclusion of all Bahraini citizens in political, social, and economic opportunities; and to pursue reconciliation between the government and Shia communities. U.S. officials also continued to advocate for the government to pursue political reforms, which would take into consideration the needs of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation. The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet regularly with religious leaders of a broad spectrum of faiths, representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and political groups to discuss their freedom of religion and freedom of expression as it relates to religious practices. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the population at 1.4 million (July 2018 estimate). Of the total population, citizens number 677,000, according to the local government 2017 statistics, its most recent available estimate. According to 2017 U.S. estimates, Muslims make up 73.7 percent of the total population, Christians 9.3 percent, Jews 0.1 percent, and others 16.9 percent (Hindus, Baha’is, Sikhs, and Buddhists). According to the government, the citizen population comprises approximately 45 percent of the total population. The government does not publish statistics regarding the sectarian breakdown between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Most estimates from NGOs state Shia constitute a majority (55 to 60 percent) of the citizen population. Local sources estimate 99 percent of citizens are Muslim, while Christians, Hindus, Baha’is, and Jews together constitute the remaining 1 percent. According to Jewish community members, there are approximately 36 Jewish citizens, from six families, in the country. Most of the foreign residents are migrant workers from South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Arab countries. Local government estimates report approximately 51 percent of foreign residents are Muslim, 31 percent Hindus, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Sikhs, 17 percent Christians (primarily Roman Catholic, Protestant, Syrian Orthodox, and Mar Thoma from South India), and less than 1 percent Jewish. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework According to the constitution, Islam is the official religion and the state safeguards the country’s Islamic heritage. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the inviolability of places of worship, the freedom to perform religious rites, and the freedom to hold religious parades and religious gatherings, “in accordance with the customs observed in the country.” The constitution provides for the freedom to form associations as long as these do not infringe on the official religion or public order, and it prohibits discrimination based on religion or creed. All citizens have equal rights by law. According to the constitution, all persons are equal without discrimination on the grounds of gender, origin, language, or faith. The labor law prohibits discrimination in the public sector on grounds of religion or faith. The law also stipulates recourse through a complaint process to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development to legal bodies in the event of discrimination or dismissal in the work place on the basis of religion. The constitution guarantees the right to express and publish opinions provided these do not infringe on the “fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine,” and do not prejudice the unity of the people, or arouse discord or sectarianism. Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives (COR) lower house, each with 40 seats. The country holds parliamentary elections every four years. A 2012 constitutional amendment permits the king to dissolve the COR, but it requires that he first consult with the presidents of both of parliament’s upper and lower houses as well as the head of the Constitutional Court. The king also has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws. The Shura Council has the power to overrule legislation by the lower house and the lower house has the authority to examine and pass legislation proposed by the king or cabinet. The law prohibits anti-Islamic publications and broadcast media programs and mandates imprisonment of no less than six months for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” Muslim religious groups must register with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJIA) to operate. Sunni religious groups register with the ministry through the Sunni Waqf, while Shia religious groups register through the Jaafari (Shia) Waqf. The waqfs are endowment boards, which supervise, fund the work of, and perform a variety of activities related to mosques and prayer halls. Non-Muslim congregations and groups must register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (MOLSD) to operate. In order to register, a group must submit an official letter requesting registration; copies of minutes from the founders’ committee meeting; a detailed list of founders, including names, ages, nationalities, occupations, and addresses; and other information such as the group’s bylaws and bank account information. Religious groups also may need approval from the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ministry of Information Affairs, or the Ministry of Interior (MOI), depending on the nature of the group’s intended activities. If any religious group organizes functions outside of its designated physical space without approval, it may be subject to government prosecution and a fine. The law prohibits activities falling outside of an organization’s charter. The penal code does not specifically address the activities of unregistered religious groups, but provides for the closing of any unlicensed branch of an international organization plus imprisonment of up to six months and fines of up to 50 Bahraini dinars ($130) for the individuals responsible for setting up the branch. According to the MOLSD’s official website, 19 non-Muslim religious groups are registered with the MOLSD: the National Evangelical Church, Bahrain Malaylee Church of South India Parish, Word of Life International Church, St. Christopher’s Cathedral and Awali Anglican Church, Full Gospel Church of Philadelphia, St. Mary and Anba Rewis Church (St. Mary’s Indian Orthodox Cathedral), Jacobite Syrian Christian Association and St. Peter’s Prayer Group (St. Peter’s Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church), St. Mary’s Orthodox Syrian Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church of Christ, Greek Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Bahrain (Hindu Temple), Indian Religious and Social Group (Hindu Temple), Spiritual Sikh Cultural and Social Group, St. Thomas Church Evangelical Church of Bahrain, Marthoma Parish, and the Anglican and Episcopal Church in Bahrain. Additionally, non-Muslim, nonregistered groups include the Baha’i, Buddhist, and Jewish communities. The penal code calls for punishment of not more than one year’s imprisonment or a fine of no more than 100 dinars ($270) for offending one of the recognized religious groups or their practices, or for openly defaming a religious figure considered sacred to members of a particular group. The law stipulates fines or imprisonment for insulting an institution, announcing false or malicious news, spreading rumors, encouraging others to show contempt for a different religious denomination or sect, illegally gathering, and advocating for a change of government, among other offenses. The Office of the Ombudsman addresses the rights of prisoners, including the right to practice their religion. The MOJIA oversees the activities of both the Sunni Waqf and the Jaafari Waqf. The respective endowment boards supervise the activities of mosques and prayer halls, review and approve clerical appointments for religious sites under their purview, and fund expenses for the building and maintenance of religious sites. According to the government, since August, MOJIA no longer funds endowment board members’ salaries. Endowment boards, like the remainder of MOJIA employees, now fall under the Civil Service Bureau, whose oversight during the year was changed to the crown prince-led Civil Service Council. Annually, the government allocates 2.7 million dinars ($7.16 million) to each endowment board. Tithes, income from property rentals, and other private sources largely fund the remainder of the endowment boards’ operations. The endowment boards may pay flat commissions and bonuses to preachers and other religious figures. The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA) oversees general religious activities taking place within the country, and reviews the parliament’s draft legislation as well as the publication of Islamic studies school curricula and official religious texts. The council comprises a chairman, a deputy chairman, and 16 prominent religious scholars, eight Sunni and eight Shia, most of them prominent preachers or sharia judges. The king appoints council members for a four-year term. Independent from other government scholarship programs, the council offers university scholarships for advanced Islamic studies for low-income students. The SCIA reviews all legislation proposed by the parliament to ensure the draft law’s compliance with sharia. The council also consults with other government entities before issuing permits to new Islamic societies or centers. The council is responsible for reviewing the content of Islamic programs aired or broadcast on official government media, such as the official television station and official radio programs. The council also organizes interfaith conferences and workshops. The king has sole legal authority to allocate public land, including for religious purposes, although he may delegate this authority to government officials, including the prime minister. By law, construction of places of worship requires approvals from appropriate national and municipal authorities. The law permits non-Muslim houses of worship to display crosses or other religious symbols on the outside of their premises. Government entities involved in allocating building permits include the MOJIA for non-Islamic religious sites, either the Sunni Waqf or the Shia Waqf under the MOJIA for Islamic sites, the Survey and Restoration Directorate, and the Survey Department. The construction of a new mosque, whether Shia or Sunni, is based on a government determination of the need for a new mosque in the area. The law regulates Islamic religious instruction at all levels of the educational system. The government funds public schools for grades 1-12; Islamic studies are mandatory for all Muslim students, and are optional for non-Muslims. Private schools must be registered with the government and, with a few exceptions (for example, a foreign-funded and foreign-operated school), are also required to provide Islamic religious education for Muslim students. Private schools wishing to provide non-Islamic religious education to non-Muslims must receive permission from the MOE. Outside of school hours, both Muslim and non-Muslim students engage in religious studies as their parents deem fit. According to the MOE, no particular school of jurisprudence forms the basis of the Islamic studies portion of the public school curriculum. According to the MOE, in coordination with the SCIA, a team of experts routinely reviews and develops the Islamic studies public school curriculum to emphasize shared Islamic values between different Sunni and Shia schools of thought, reject extremism, and promote tolerance and coexistence. According to the government, the SCIA provides financial assistance to the six registered hawzas (Shia seminaries); other hawzas choose to be privately funded. The government does not permit foreign donors to contribute to privately funded hawzas. There are no restrictions on religious studies abroad. The government also permits non-Muslim groups to offer religious instruction to their adherents. According to the constitution, sharia forms a principal basis for legislation, although civil and criminal matters are governed by a civil code. With regard to family and personal status matters, the constitution states inheritance is a guaranteed right governed by sharia. It also guarantees the duties and status of women and their equality with men, according to sharia. The personal status law states either the Sunni or Shia interpretation of sharia with regard to family matters, including inheritance, child custody, marriage, and divorce, shall govern depending on the religious affiliation of the party. Mixed Sunni-Shia families may choose which court system will hear their case. The provisions of the law on personal status apply to both Shia and Sunni women, requiring a woman’s consent for marriage and permitting women to include conditions in the marriage contract. Non-Muslims may marry in civil or religious ceremonies, and civil courts make decisions for them on matters such as divorce and child custody. The government does not designate religious affiliation on national identity documents, including birth certificates. Applications for birth certificates and national identity documents, however, record a child’s religion (either Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Other), but not denomination. Hospital admission forms and school registration forms may also request information on an individual’s religion. The constitution says the state shall strive to strengthen ties with Islamic countries. It specifies the succession to the position of king is hereditary, passing from eldest son to eldest son. The royal family is Sunni. The law prohibits individuals from being members of political societies or becoming involved in political activities while serving in a clerical role at a religious institution, including on a voluntary basis. In June the king signed into law amendments to the Exercising Political Rights Law of 2002, which prohibits the candidacies of leaders and members of political societies dissolved by a final court order. The law excludes former members of predominantly Shia Wifaq political society as well as other parties, whose membership is not predominantly Shia, including the Wa’ad political society. The new law also prohibits felons and anyone previously convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison from running for office. On July 3, the king signed an amendment to the Law on Associations, Social and Cultural Clubs, Private Bodies Working in the Field of Youth and Sports, and Private Institutions that prevents members of dissolved opposition groups, such as Wifaq and Wa’ad, from serving on the board of directors of nongovernmental and civil society organizations, stipulating that an NGO board member must be able to continue to enjoy “the entirety of his civil and political rights.” By law, the government regulates and monitors the collection of money by religious and other organizations. Organizations wishing to collect money must first obtain authorization from the MOJIA. The law guarantees inmates of correctional facilities the right to attend burials and receive condolences outside of prison. The country is party to the ICCPR with reservations stating it interprets the covenant’s provisions relating to freedom of religion, family rights, and equality between men and women before the law as “not affecting in any way ” the prescriptions of sharia. Government Practices Because religion and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. The government continued to question, detain, and arrest Shia clerics and community members. The government continued to monitor and provide general guidance for the content of sermons and to bring charges against clerics who repeatedly spoke on unapproved topics. Authorities arrested Shia cleric Isa Al Mo’min on February 4 for “inciting hatred against the government” during a Friday sermon and sentenced him to three months in prison. International and local NGOs reported the police summoned more than 25 individuals, including clerics, in the lead-up to, as well as after, the September 20-21 Ashura commemoration, the most significant day of the Shia religious calendar. Based on reports it received, AI said that many of those detained were reportedly under investigation for inciting hatred against the regime and more than 15 clerics and lay assistants among them were “interrogated for the content of their sermons.” The police held many individuals overnight; others were detained and released thereafter. According to local reports, of those summoned, authorities detained nine for varying periods ranging from one day to over a month pending investigation. As of October 30, none remained in custody. AI stated that prior to the November parliamentary elections, security forces carried out a series of arbitrary detentions of activists and religious figures suspected of supporting political opposition to the monarchy. On October 12, AI received reports that authorities detained approximately a dozen protestors in the village of Karrana and held them for approximately one month for unlawful assembly. On November 4, security forces entered approximately 10 private homes in the Shia majority town of Karbabad and detained 16 individuals, seven of them minors. In November AI received reports of the re-establishment of police checkpoints in the majority Shia village of Arad, the neighborhoods of al-Dair and Samahij, which have notable Shia concentrations, and the religiously mixed locality of Hamad Town. Several internal checkpoints and roadblocks remained in place in the mostly Shia town of Sanabis. On July 11, the government removed concrete barriers, barbed wire, and police checkpoints that had previously restricted entry into the predominantly Shia neighborhood of Diraz. Local Shia continued to state that authorities prevented nonresidents, including Shia clerics, from entering to attend or lead prayers at mosques in Diraz. On November 4, an appeals court sentenced Ali Salman, former leader of Wifaq, and two associates to life in prison for conspiring with Qatar to undermine the government in 2011. The appeals court reversed a previous June criminal court acquittal following an appeal by the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Authorities had already imprisoned Salman on another charge of inciting hatred; he was due to be released in December after completion of his original four-year sentence. The government tried Salman’s two co-defendants, former Wifaq MPs Hasan Ali Juma Sultan and Ali Mahdi Ali Al Aswad, in absentia. According to local press, NGO, and social media reports, on November 13, authorities detained former Wifaq MP Ali Al Asheeri for a social media post in which he announced his intention to boycott the elections, saying, “I am a Bahraini citizen deprived of my political and civil rights so I and my family will boycott the elections.” He was released from detention November 27, and charges were still pending at year’s end. The Public Prosecution stated authorities were investigating Al-Asheeri for “incitement of non-participation in the elections.” On April 18, a court sentenced former MP Mohamed Khalid to three months in prison for a posting on social media that “defamed” a religious symbol revered by Shia. In January Shia cleric Hussain al-Qassab lost his appeal of a suspended one-year sentence and a 100,000 dinar ($265,000) fine for money laundering and collecting funds without a government license. In 2017, the High Criminal Court convicted prominent Shia cleric Isa Qassim, who employed Qassab, on the same charges, but he did not appeal them. Media identified Qassim as the leading Shia cleric in the country and his supporters reported his office had collected the money and spent the funds in accordance with Shia customs and obligations, and said the government had targeted him due to his prominent status in the Shia community. Although Qassim had been under de facto house arrest since June 2016 and had his citizenship revoked, the government facilitated Qassim’s travel to London for medical treatment. At year’s end Qassim was still undergoing treatment in London. On October 29, the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the 2017 sentence imposed by the Lower Criminal Court on former Wifaq MP Hasan Isa to 10 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars ($265,000) for helping to finance a terrorist bomb attack in July 2015 that killed two police officers. Isa denied involvement in the bombing, saying he had not given money to terrorists, but had distributed funds to poor families in his role as a religious leader of his neighborhood. Several Shia clerics arrested in 2011 remained in prison at year’s end. They had been associated with the political opposition and given sentences ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment on charges related to terrorist activity or inciting hatred. Some human rights NGOs considered them to be political prisoners. On November 6, the MOJIA issued a notice to imams, muezzins, and preachers that candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections were prohibited from holding any campaign-related activities in houses of worship or religious centers. On November 15, both the government-sponsored Sunni and Jaafari Waqf endowment boards called on citizens to participate in the upcoming municipal and parliamentary elections. In November the UNHRC released its concluding observations on the country and its compliance with its ICCPR obligations. The government provided input to the UNHRC in February, indicating that the constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and of religious belief, that no law or custom discriminates against any group or religion, and the constitution “envisages freedom of worship and access to such places, without discrimination in favour of one group or religion over another.” The UNHRC, in its report, stated its concern about reports that “members of the Shia community have been subjected to restrictions of their rights to worship and profess their religious beliefs ….” The committee also expressed concern about “reports that the Shia population is underrepresented in political and public life, including in the National Assembly.” On freedom of religion, the committee was “concerned about the existence of practices that adversely affect the exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief enshrined in article 18 of the Covenant” and suggested the government “should decriminalize blasphemy and guarantee that all people within their territory can fully enjoy the right to freedom of conscience, religion or belief,” including efforts to ensure the Shia population is fairly represented in public and political spheres and protected from discrimination. In a submission prepared in June for the UNHRC review, a U.S.-based NGO stated that “the government has “intensified restrictions on Shia religious and cultural rights since 2011.” The submission also stated that “security forces routinely employ violence to suppress the Shia community’s rights to free assembly, free association, free speech, and free cultural or religious expression.” In December the king appointed Shia citizens to senior leadership positions, including cabinet members and members of the Shura council. Official statistics on the religious affiliation or sect of public employees, members of parliament, or ministers are not maintained by the government. However, according to informal estimates, the 40-member Shura Council included 18 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member, while the remaining 20 members were Sunni. Following the parliamentary elections in November and December, sources suggested that of 40 seats in the Council of Representatives, 25 were won by members identified as Sunnis and 15 identified as Shia. None of the current members of parliament ran on an explicitly sectarian platform. Five of the 24 cabinet members, including one of the five deputy prime ministers, were Shia. According to local activists and social media reports, the government’s amendments to the Exercising Political Rights Law of 2002, prevented at least five individuals from registering as candidates in the parliamentary and municipal elections in October due their prior affiliation with Wifaq, the largely Shia political society that was dissolved in 2016, a government decision that was upheld by the court in 2017. Although the government stated it viewed the amendments as necessary to prevent lawbreakers from participating in elections, many members of the Shia community stated they viewed the law as an attempt to limit participation of opposition-oriented Shia politicians. AI pointed out that since members of Wifaq, which it described as the largest Shia opposition group in the country, were prohibited from participating in elections, the new law “will have a de facto discriminatory effect on Shias’ political participation.” According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this legislation effectively disqualified opposition candidates from participating in the elections. After the elections, an NGO noted that “the [historic] gerrymandering of electoral districts … has diluted the influence of … [the] Shia majority.” According to the government, it generally permitted prisoners to practice their religion, but there were reports from Shia activists that authorities sometimes denied prisoners access to religious services and prayer time. The Office of the Ombudsman, which was criticized by at least one NGO for failing to fulfill its mandate, reported it had not received any complaints or requests for assistance on the rights of prisoners to practice their religion during the year. According to MOI, 10 inmates were permitted to attend funerals outside of the prison during the year. The government continued not to provide regular statistics on detainees. Based on reports it received, AI said Shia prisoners were vulnerable to intimidation, harassment, and ill treatment from prison guards, and denied access to needed medical care, because of their religion. Government officials continued to state the MOI, which supervised detention facilities, only prohibited practices when they violated prison safety rules, such as waving religious banners or organizing large-scale gatherings for religious ceremonies. The government reported that special rooms were available to prisoners for worship and prayer regardless of religious affiliation. The National Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), a government human rights organization, which has been criticized by a U.S.-based NGO for what it said was its lack of independence, stated that it had not received any cases of prisoners being subject to harassment or ill-treatment by prison guards due to their religious affiliation during the year. In September, according to reports received by HRW, three female prisoners said prison officials assaulted them after they complained authorities denied them the right to participate in religious commemorations of Ashura. According to one of the women’s relatives, prison authorities later restricted the inmates’ access to family visits, phone calls, and time spent outside their cells. Following a prison visit, meetings with the detainees, and reviews of prison files, the NIHR issued a statement on October 1 that the claims of interference in religious practice were “incorrect and contrary to reality.” On October 4, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, an NGO based in the United Kingdom, said the detainees contacted them to dispute the NIHR’s statement. The government reported no change from 2017 in the 452 licensed Sunni mosques and 91 Sunni community centers, and the number of licensed Shia places of worship remained at 608 mosques and 618 ma’atams (Shia prayer houses, sometimes called husseiniyas in other countries). The government reported it granted five permits during the year to build Sunni mosques and eight permits to build Shia mosques and ma’atams. The government stated that determining whether a mosque would be Sunni or Shia in new housing developments depended on the needs and demographics of the new residents. The MOJIA continued to monitor clerics’ adherence to a pledge of ethics it had created for individuals engaged in religious discourse. Preachers who diverged from the pledge were subject to censure or removal by authorities on the grounds their actions jeopardized national security. The MOJIA reported reviewing sermons submitted to the government on a weekly basis by preachers. The MOJIA reported regularly visiting mosques to ensure preacher’s sermons were “moderate,” avoided discussing controversial topics, did not incite violence, and did not use religious discourse to serve political purposes. The MOJIA also continued to announce how much money an adult should give on a voluntary basis to the poor on religious feast days. According to Shia community representatives, during Ashura, police again summoned some Shia chanters and preachers and had them sign pledges that they would avoid discussing politics from the pulpit. The government continued to permit Shia groups to hold processions to commemorate Ashura and Arbaeen throughout the country, with the largest procession organized by a Shia community-led organization, the Manama Public Processions Commission. During the annual two-day public holiday for Ashura, most public schools and government offices were closed. Local press estimated the largest procession attracted 150,000-200,000 attendees in downtown Manama. The government permitted public reenactments of the martyrdom of Hussein and public marches in commemoration of Ashura. As in previous years, the MOI provided security for the processions, but again removed some Ashura flags, banners, and decorations from streets and private property in Shia villages but not at the large procession in Manama, according to Shia leaders. The government stated MOI personnel had removed the banners because they violated zoning restrictions or because they contained political messages. The government continued to permit both registered and unregistered non-Muslim communities to maintain identifiable places of worship, hold religious gatherings, and display religious symbols. The MOI continued to provide security for large events held by religious communities, including non-Muslim ones. Security forces stated they continued to monitor sermons, religious gatherings, and funerals to maintain peace and security. Adherents of minority religious groups reported they were able to produce religious media and publications and distribute them in bookstores and churches, although the government did not permit publications that were perceived to criticize Islam. According to non-Muslim religious groups, the government did not interfere with religious observances and encouraged tolerance for minority religious beliefs and traditions. There was no progress reported on the construction of a Coptic Orthodox church in Manama following the announcement in 2016 by the king that he would permit the construction of the church. In June government officials, diplomats, and religious leaders attended the ground breaking for the construction of a Catholic cathedral on land previously donated by the king. The cathedral, intended to serve as headquarters for the Catholic Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, was scheduled to be completed by mid-2021. The Bahrain-based head of the Catholic Church’s Northern Vicariate Bishop Camillo Ballin has resided in the country since 2011. In March the MOJIA reported that it had concluded reconstruction to the extent feasible of 27 of the 30 mosques it had destroyed or damaged in 2011, in compliance with an independent fact-finding commission. Of the three remaining mosques, the government reported that one, in Salmabad, was reconstructed by local residents without a permit on an “illegal” site, despite the government’s offer for an alternative site in the same neighborhood. According to the government, the second remaining mosque, in Hawrat Sanad, remained under evaluation because nine other Shia mosques already existed within close proximity. The government stated the third mosque, in Madinat Hamad, would likely be relocated. Some Shia stated they remained dissatisfied with three of the 27 reconstructed mosques because they had been rebuilt in different locations. NGOs stated the government continued its disparate treatment of Shia versus Sunni individuals and stated this different treatment fueled perceptions among the Shia community of a justice system that was biased against them. In contrast to previous years, there were no reports during the year of Sunnis or Shia accused of crimes having their names or pictures featured in local press prior to a conviction and often that information was omitted even after sentencing. The government-run television station continued to air Friday sermons from the country’s largest Sunni mosque, Al Fateh Mosque, but not any sermons from Shia mosques. According to the law, Arab applicants with 15 years’ residence and non-Arab applicants with 25 years’ residence are eligible to apply for citizenship. The government stated that foreign residents applying for citizenship were not required to report their religious affiliation. Shia politicians and community activists, however, continued to say the government’s naturalization and citizenship process favored Sunni over Shia applicants. They said the government continued to recruit Sunnis from other countries to join the security forces, granted them expedited naturalization, and provided them with public housing while excluding Shia citizens from those forces. According to Shia community activists, this continued recruitment and expedited naturalization of Sunnis represented an ongoing attempt to alter the demographic balance among the country’s citizens. According to Shia leaders and community activists, the government continued to provide Sunni citizens preference for government positions, including as teachers, and especially in the managerial ranks of the civil service and military. They also said Sunnis received preference for other government-related employment, especially in the managerial ranks of state-owned businesses. They continued to report few Shia citizens served in significant posts in the defense and internal security forces. According to Shia community members, senior civil service recruitment and promotion processes continued to favor Sunni candidates. Other community members complained educational, social, and municipal services in most Shia neighborhoods remained inferior to those in Sunni communities. The government stated it made efforts to support public schools in Shia and Sunni neighborhoods equally. The government repeated public assurances affirming a policy of nondiscrimination in employment, promotions, and the provision of social and educational services. The MOLSD reported it organized expositions, job fairs, professional guidance, and assistance to needy families in predominately Shia neighborhoods. The MOLSD, which has a supervisory role in implementing labor law in the civil sector, again said there were no reported cases of religious or sectarian discrimination during the year. Shia community activists again responded that they lacked confidence in the effectiveness of government institutions to address discrimination, so they did not utilize them. Two public schools provided more in-depth religious instruction for students from elementary school through high school; the remainder of their curricula being consistent with the nonreligious curriculum in other public schools. The Jaafari Institute provided religious instruction in Shia Islam. The Religious Institute provided education in Sunni Islam. The University of Bahrain continued to offer degree programs in religious studies and Islamic jurisprudence for Shia and Sunni students. There were five registered institutes, publicly funded and overseen by the Sunni Waqf, offering religious education for Sunnis. There were several dozen hawzas, six of them registered and authorized by the SCIA. Human rights activists reported discrimination against Shia in education continued. Activists said interview panels for university scholarships continued to ask about students’ political views and family background. The government said its scholarships remained competitive. Rights activists said many top scoring Shia applicants continued to receive scholarship offers in less lucrative or less prestigious fields. The government reported students were offered funding in particular fields based on the student’s grade point average. The government reported the flagship Crown Prince International Scholarship Program (CPISP) continued to have both Shia and Sunni representation, but it did not provide a statistical breakdown. A list of scholarship recipients’ names, fields of study, and schools was published on the CPISP website. Some Shia business leaders reported that government officials had overturned decisions to deny scholarships to Shia students over concerns that the decisions had been biased and did not reflect student merit. There were continued reports of the MOE refusing to recognize the foreign degrees of some students, primarily those who pursued studies in China. Some activists said these refusals disproportionately affected Shia students. On March 14, the government announced a fine ranging from 50 dinars ($130) to 400 dinars ($1,100) for defacing the country’s passports. It stated that writing, tearing, or stamping a passport was illegal unless done by authorized immigration officials in Bahrain or overseas. The NIHR stated that the ban included any alterations done by ministries, embassies, hotels, banks, or tourism agencies. Often tourism agencies, hotels, and other individuals at overseas religious sites placed stickers or wrote on the passports. Former Shia MP Ali Al Ateesh said the law targeted citizens for visiting [Shia] religious sites in Iran and Iraq, while those with unofficial markings from other destinations were not held accountable. Other MPs said the new rule did not target sects, religious tours, individuals or countries. NGOs reported the government continued to monitor closely the collection of funds by religious organizations, including charity donations. The NGOs said religious leaders and organizations not authorized to collect money, or whom the government believed handled the money in improper ways, were potentially subject to legal action. On July 26, at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the Secretary of State in Washington, Minister of Foreign Affairs Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa delivered remarks highlighting that “religious violence, incitement to hatred, and sectarianism have no place in Bahraini society.” He announced the government planned to create a position of Ambassador at Large for Peace Coexistence and Religious Freedom to advocate for religious harmony and coexistence across the Middle East. The government had not filled the position at year’s end. Press editorials and statements from government and religious leaders emphasized the importance of religious tolerance. In March the crown prince and foreign minister met with the president of the World Jewish Congress to discuss interfaith and religious tolerance in the country. In June the government inaugurated the King Hamad Center for Peaceful Coexistence, led by a Board of Trustees comprised of representatives of the country’s Sunni, Shia, Christian, Catholic, Baha’i, Hindu, and Buddhist communities. In November the Bahrain News Agency reported the minister of education inaugurated the King Hamad Chair in Interfaith Dialogue and Peaceful Co-Existence at Sapienza University in Rome, which according to local Bahraini reports would allow the university students to conduct scientific research and studies in the fields of tolerance and religious science. Local press featured photos of senior government officials visiting the Diwali festivities of several prominent Hindu families throughout the country. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom During the year, local press reported individuals allegedly associated with militant groups committed attacks on police, and some groups claiming responsibility used Shia religious terminology to justify their attacks. The government reported 22 police officers suffered injuries from such attacks during the year. Protestors using Molotov cocktails in one attack on police stated they were throwing “holy fire” to demand the ruling family “step down.” Anti-Shia and anti-Sunni commentary appeared in social media. Posts stated that former Shia leaders were “traitors” and “Iranian servants,” used the hashtag “Iran Supports Sedition in Bahrain,” and displayed images of prominent Shia political figures Ali Salman and Isa Qassim. Non-Muslim religious community leaders reported there continued to be some Muslims who changed their religious affiliation, despite ongoing societal pressure not to do so, but those who did so remained unwilling to speak publicly or privately to family or associates about their conversions out of fear of harassment or discrimination. NGOs working on civil discourse and interfaith dialogue reported regional Sunni-Shia tensions and historical political divisions continued to have an economic effect. Shia representatives stated the persistent higher unemployment rate among their community, limited prospects for upward social mobility, and the lower socioeconomic status of Shia exacerbated by ongoing private sector discrimination against them, added to the tensions between the two communities. Because religion and political affiliation were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize these effects as being solely based on religious identity. Christian community leaders stated that they continued to search for a suitable location for a new non-Muslim cemetery. There were cremation facilities for the Hindu community. On March 12, however, the Southern Municipal Council announced it was considering banning traditional outdoor Hindu cremations due to environmental and health concerns. Hindu community leaders said they were not opposed to indoor incinerators since indoor cremations would be consistent with religious guidelines. Several Hindu temples and Sikh temples operated throughout the country. The Shri Krishna Hindu Temple was reportedly over 200 years old and was occasionally visited by high-level government officials. The country was also home to a historic, although seldom used, Jewish synagogue. There were more than a dozen Christian churches, which included a 100-year old evangelical church and an 80-year old Catholic church. There was no registered Buddhist temple; however, some Buddhist groups met in private facilities. Holiday foods, decorations, posters, and books continued to be widely available during major Christian and Hindu holidays, and Christmas trees and elaborate decorations remained prominent features in malls, restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels. The news media continued to print reports of non-Muslim religious holiday celebrations, including Christmas celebrations and Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi. According to minority religious groups, there was a high degree of tolerance within society for minority religious beliefs and traditions, although societal attitudes and behavior discouraged conversion from Islam. Local news reports during the year featured activities of minority religious communities, including announcements of changes in leadership, Muslim bands performing at Christmas festivities, and sports events organized by the Sikh community. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The Secretary of State, Deputy Secretary of State, Ambassador, and embassy officers met with government officials to urge respect for freedom of expression, including the right of clerics and other religious leaders to speak and write freely; to ensure full inclusion of all citizens, including members of the Shia majority, in political, social, and economic opportunities; and to pursue reconciliation between the government and Shia communities. U.S. officials both publicly and in private meetings continued to advocate for the government to pursue political reforms that would take into consideration the needs of all citizens regardless of religious affiliation. The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet regularly with religious leaders from a broad spectrum of faiths, representatives of NGOs, and political groups to discuss freedom of religion and freedom of expression as it related to religious practices. The Ambassador and embassy officials visited various houses of worship and attended religious events throughout the year, including the observation of Ashura, Christmas, and Diwali. At these events, they discussed issues related to religious tolerance with participants and emphasized the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom. The embassy continued to sponsor the participation of religious leaders in exchange programs in the United States designed to promote religious tolerance and a better understanding of the right to practice one’s faith as a fundamental human right and source of stability. In July the U.S. Department of State designated Al Ashtar Brigades (AAB) as a foreign terrorist organization. AAB is an Iran-backed terrorist group that claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks against security targets in Bahrain, and often used Shia religious terminology and symbols in justifying their attacks. Bangladesh Executive Summary The constitution designates Islam as the state religion but upholds the principle of secularism. It prohibits religious discrimination and provides for equality for all religions. The government continued to provide guidance to imams throughout the country on the content of their sermons in its stated effort to prevent militancy and monitor mosques for “provocative” messaging. In March police completed the investigation of the case involving the 2016 killing of 22 persons, most of them non-Muslims, at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka and forwarded it for prosecution. Legal proceedings against the attackers continued through year’s end. On March 30, led by a local political Awami League party leader, approximately 80 armed members of the Muslim community in Jamalpur District attacked members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community at an Ahmadiyya mosque, injuring 22 Ahmadis. Despite government orders to the contrary, village community leaders, often working together with local religious leaders, continued using extrajudicial fatwas to punish individuals, mostly women, for perceived “moral transgressions.” In April the government announced its intent to fund an approximately 76 billion taka ($904.76 million) project to construct madrassahs in every electoral constituency. Various local organizations and media reports said the project was a political tactic by the government to use religion to influence voters during an election year. Members of religious minorities, including Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians, who were sometimes also members of ethnic minorities, stated the government remained ineffective in preventing forced evictions and land seizures stemming from land disputes. The government continued to place law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considered possible targets for violence. In June unidentified individuals killed self-described secular writer and activist Shahjahan Bachchu. Security forces stated Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)-linked individuals may have been responsible for killing Bachchu, a former leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh and known for his secular beliefs and writings, for “offending Islam.” In March unidentified individuals killed a Hindu priest in Chatmohar Upazila in Pabna District. According to press reports, law enforcement suspected individuals with anti-Hindu sentiments may have killed the priest. In February approximately 30 Muslims attacked a Christian home in Vatara District and injured three family members. A police investigation continued at year’s end. Human rights organization Odhikar documented one killing and 34 cases of violent attacks resulting in injuries targeting Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians. In meetings with government officials and in public statements, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, and other embassy representatives spoke out against acts of violence in the name of religion and encouraged the government to uphold the rights of minority religious groups and foster a climate of tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy staff met with local government officials, civil society members, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious leaders to continue to underscore the importance of religious tolerance and explore the link between religion, religious freedom, and violent extremism. The U.S. government provided more than $345 million in humanitarian assistance to overwhelmingly Muslim ethnic Rohingya who fled Burma. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 159.5 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2013 census, Sunni Muslims constitute 89 percent of the population and Hindus 10 percent. The remainder of the population is predominantly Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and Theravada-Hinayana Buddhist. The country also has small numbers of Shia Muslims, Baha’is, animists, Ahmadi Muslims, agnostics, and atheists. Many of these communities estimate their respective numbers to be between a few thousand and 100,000 adherents. Many ethnic minorities practice minority religions and are concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and northern districts. The Garo in Mymensingh are predominantly Christian as are some of the Santal in Gaibandha. Most Buddhists are members of the indigenous (non-Bengali) populations of the CHT. Bengali and ethnic minority Christians live in communities across the country, with relatively high concentrations in Barishal city and Gournadi in Barishal District, Baniarchar in Gopalganj District, Monipuripara and Christianpara in Dhaka city, and in the cities of Gazipur and Khulna. The largest noncitizen population is Rohingya, nearly all Muslim. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 33,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma are officially registered in the country and are residing in the two official refugee camps within Cox’s Bazar District. The government and UNHCR estimate another 900,000 to 1,000,000 Rohingya from Burma are in Cox’s Bazar District, including an estimated 450 Hindu Rohingya. In August 2017, approximately 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following the start of violence in Burma’s Rakhine State. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework According to the constitution, “the state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal rights in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and other religions.” The constitution also stipulates the state should not grant political status in favor of any religion. It also provides for the right to profess, practice, or propagate all religions “subject to law, public order, and morality” and states religious communities or denominations have the right to establish, maintain, and manage their religious institutions. The constitution stipulates no one attending any educational institution shall be required to receive instruction in, or participate in ceremonies or worship pertaining to, a religion to which he or she does not belong. Under the penal code, statements or acts made with a “deliberate and malicious” intent to insult religious sentiments are subject to fines or up to two years in prison. Although the code does not further define this prohibited intent, the courts have interpreted it to include insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The criminal code allows the government to confiscate all copies of any newspaper, magazine, or other publication containing language that “creates enmity and hatred among the citizens or denigrates religious beliefs.” The law applies similar restrictions to online publications. While there is no specific blasphemy law, authorities use the penal code as well as a section of the Information and Communication Technology Act to charge individuals. The Digital Security Act, passed by parliament in September, criminalizes publication or broadcast of “any information that hurts religious values or sentiments.” The constitution prohibits freedom of association if an association is formed for the purpose of destroying religious harmony or creating discrimination on religious grounds. Individual houses of worship are not required to register. Religious groups seeking to form associations with multiple houses of worship, however, must register with either the NGO Affairs Bureau (NGOAB) as an NGO if they receive foreign assistance for development projects or with the Ministry of Social Welfare if they do not. The law requires that the NGOAB approve and monitor all foreign-funded projects. The NGOAB director general has the authority to impose sanctions on NGOs for violating the law, including fines of up to three times the amount of the foreign donation or closure of the NGO. NGOs also are subject to penalties for “derogatory” comments about the constitution or constitutional institutions (i.e., the government). Expatriate staff must receive a security clearance from the National Security Intelligence Agency, Special Branch of Police, and Directorate General of Forces Intelligence. Registration requirements and procedures for religious groups are the same as for secular associations. Registration requirements with the Ministry of Social Welfare include submission of certification that the name being registered is not taken; provision of the bylaws/constitution of the organization; a security clearance for leaders of the organization from the national intelligence agency; minutes of the meeting appointing the executive committee; list of all executive committee and general members and photographs of principal officers; work plan; copy of the deed or lease of the organization’s office and a list of property owned; budget; and a recommendation by a local government representative. Requirements to register with the NGOAB are similar. Family law concerning marriage, divorce, and adoption has separate provisions for Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. These laws are enforced in the same secular courts. A separate civil family law applies to mixed faith families or those of other faiths or no faith. The family law of the religion of the two parties concerned governs their marriage rituals and proceedings. A Muslim man may have as many as four wives, although he must obtain the written consent of his existing wife or wives before marrying again. A Christian man may marry only one woman. Hindu men may have multiple wives. Officially, Hindus have no options for divorce, although informal divorces do occur. Women may not inherit property under Hindu law. Buddhists are subject to Hindu law. Divorced Hindus and Buddhists may not legally remarry. Divorced men and women of other religions and widowed individuals of any religion may remarry. Marriage between members of different religious groups is allowed and occurs under civil law. To be legally recognized, Muslim marriages must be registered with the state by either the couple or the cleric performing the marriage; however, some marriages are not. Registration of a marriage for Hindus and Christians is optional, and other faiths may determine their own guidelines. Under the Muslim family ordinance, a Muslim man may marry women of any Abrahamic faith; however, a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim. Under the ordinance, a widow receives one-eighth of her husband’s estate if she is his only wife, and the remainder is divided among the children; each female child receives half the share of each male child. Wives have fewer divorce rights than husbands. Civil courts must approve divorces. The law requires a Muslim man to pay a former wife three months of alimony, but these protections generally apply only to registered marriages; unregistered marriages are by definition undocumented and difficult to substantiate. Authorities do not always enforce the alimony requirement even in cases involving registered marriages. Alternative dispute resolution is available to all citizens, including Muslims, for settling family arguments and other civil matters not related to land ownership. With the consent of both parties, lawyers may be identified to facilitate the arbitration, the results of which may be used in court. Fatwas may be issued only by Muslim religious scholars, and not by local religious leaders, to settle matters of religious practice. Fatwas neither may be invoked to justify meting out punishment, nor may they supersede existing secular law. Religious studies are compulsory and part of the curriculum for grades three through 10 in all public government-accredited schools. Private schools do not have this requirement. Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian students receive instruction in their own religious beliefs, although the teachers are not always adherents of the students’ faith. The code regulating prisons allows for observance of religious commemorations by prisoners, including access to extra food on feast days or permission to fast for religious reasons. The law does not guarantee prisoners regular access to clergy nor regular religious services, but prison authorities may arrange special religious programs for them. Prison authorities are required to provide prisoners facing the death penalty access to a religious figure from a religion of their choice before execution. A 2001 law allows the government to return property confiscated from individuals, mostly Hindus, whom it declares to be an enemy of the state. In the past, authorities used it to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups, especially Hindus, who fled the country, particularly following the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices In March police completed the investigation of the case involving the July 2016 killing of 22 persons, most of them non-Muslims, at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka and forwarded it for prosecution. The attackers singled out non-Muslims and killed the victims with machetes and firearms. In August a Dhaka court accepted the charges against the attackers. At year’s end, six of the attackers remained in jail, while another two fled the country. Legal proceedings against the attackers continued through the end of the year. On May 8, prosecutors announced the conviction of five suspects, two of whom received the death penalty, for killing Rajshahi University professor Reazul Karim Siddique in a 2016 machete attack. Prosecutor Entajul Haque stated the five suspects belonged to terrorist organization Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh, also known as a Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh or ISIS-B, a militant Islamic group outlawed by the government. Law enforcement officials stated the killing of Siddique was one of many attacks on individuals espousing secular beliefs in the last three years. The government’s investigation into the 2016 killings of six secular bloggers, online activists, writers, and publishers remained inconclusive, according to press reports. Police had not charged any individuals by year’s end. Legal proceedings against the three suspects allegedly involved in the killing of atheist blogger Avijit Roy continued at year’s end. In 2017, police announced they had detained Abu Siddiq Sohel, whom they said admitted to involvement in the 2015 killing of Roy, a critic of religious extremism. Also in 2017, police said they arrested two other individuals, Arafat Rahman and Mozammel Hossain, in connection with Roy’s killing. Machete-wielding assailants hacked to death Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, while he accompanied his wife home from a Dhaka book fair. The press reported police suspected Ansarullah Bangla Team, a militant Islamic organization claiming association with AQIS – accused of other acts of violence and banned by the government – was involved in Roy’s killing. A police official identified Rahman as a member of Ansrarullah Bangla Team. The press also reported Rahman confessed to involvement in the killings of four other secular activists. According to media reports, on March 30, approximately 80 armed members of the Muslim community in Jamalpur District attacked members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community at an Ahmadiyya mosque, injuring 22 Ahmadis. Ahmadiyya Muslim imam SM Asaduzzaman Razib stated Awami League Religious Affairs Secretary for Madarganj Upazila Monirul Islam Monir instigated the attack. When police responded to the incident, both sides agreed to refrain from any further violence. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community said the attack was a result of leaders of Jamalpur District’s Muslim congregation’s Waz Mahfil (religious discussion) attempt to provoke its members to support turning the country into a fundamentalist and militant state. By year’s end, the government stated it had compensated and otherwise assisted 70 Santal Christian families who were victims of attacks, arson, and gunshot wounds allegedly involving local authorities and law enforcement in 2016. According to media reports, at year’s end, the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) had not filed charges against a parliamentarian from the ruling Awami League party and a local civil servant reportedly involved in the attacks. Three Santal Christians were killed in the 2016 attack; in 2017, the government removed the superintendent of police of Gaibandha District and the entire police force from the Govidaganj Sub-District to comply with a High Court order. In 2017 personnel from the PBI detained Shah Alam, a Union Council member and one of the 33 accused in the case. Human rights organizations reported that, despite longstanding government orders to the contrary, village community leaders, often together with local religious leaders, continued to use extrajudicial fatwas to punish individuals, mostly women, for perceived “moral transgressions,” such as adultery and other illicit sexual relations. From January to December the human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra documented seven incidents of punishments under fatwas, including societal shunning, whipping, and forced interim marriages (a formality enabling a couple to remarry one another after the wife briefly marries and then divorces a new “interim” spouse), compared with 10 in 2017. In 2017, the High Court ordered a local government entity to report on action it had taken against the perpetrators of the extrajudicial punishment meted out to a man and woman in 2016 in Komolganj Upazila of Maulvibazar District for reported moral transgressions. No new developments regarding the case were reported at year’s end. In October unidentified individuals destroyed a Buddhist monastery and statue in Khagrachhari District. According to press reports, no eyewitnesses were present during the destruction of the structures; however, community members said local individuals were responsible for the destruction. The local governmental administration told members of the community it would rebuild the monastery and statue. The army supervised the reconstruction of the monastery. The Chittagong Hill Tracts commission condemned the incident and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice. A police investigation continued through the end of the year. Although most mosques were independent of the state, the government continued to influence the appointment and removal of imams and provide guidance to imams throughout the country through the Islamic Foundation on some aspects of the content of their sermons, for example by issuing written instructions highlighting certain Quranic verses and quotations of the Prophet Muhammad. Religious community leaders said imams in all mosques usually continued to avoid sermons that contradicted government policy. Early in the year, the government granted the Allama Fazlullah Foundation the requisite registration to work in Cox’s Bazar. Two other religiously affiliated organizations that applied for registration to work in Cox’s Bazar for Rohingya relief in 2017, Muslim Aid Bangladesh and Islamic Relief, remained banned throughout the year. In 2017, parliamentarian Mahjabeen Khaled stated to media, “It is believed they were running other operations under cover of relief efforts.” The government continued to prohibit transmission of India-based Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik’s Peace TV Bangla, stating the program spread extremist ideologies, and closed “peace schools,” which the government said reflected his teachings. A government-run media monitoring cell established in 2016 with the stated intention of helping maintain religious harmony in the country by tracking media and blogs that write negatively about Hindu, Muslim, and other religious beliefs continued to function. According to the Ministry of Land, authorities adjudicated approximately 15,224 of 118,173 property restitution cases filed under the Vested Property Return Act during the year. Of these judgements, the owners, primarily Hindus, won 7,733 of the cases, recovering 8,187.5 acres of land, while the government won the remaining 7,491 cases. Media reports, rights activists, and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) attributed the slow return of land seized under relevant legislation from Hindus who had left for India to judicial inefficiency and general government indifference. Religious minorities continued to state minority students sometimes were unable to enroll in religion classes of their faith because of an insufficient number of minority teachers for mandatory religious education classes. In these cases, school officials generally allowed local religious institutions, parents, or others to hold religious studies classes for such students outside of school hours and sometimes exempted students from the religious education requirement. The Ministry of Religious Affairs had a budget of 11.68 billion taka ($139.05 million) for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which covers June 2018-July 2019. The budget included 9.21 billion taka ($109.64 million) allocated for development through various autonomous religious bodies. The government provided the Islamic Foundation, administered by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, 8.24 billion taka ($98.1 million). The Hindu Welfare Trust received 780.8 million taka ($9.3 million), and The Buddhist Welfare Trust received 37.5 million taka ($446,000) of the total development allocation. While the Christian Welfare Trust did not receive development funding from the 2018-19 budget, it received 2.8 million taka ($33,300) to run its office. In April the government announced it would fund an approximately 76 billion taka ($904.76 million) project to construct madrassahs in every electoral constituency in the country. Under the two-year project, 300 members of parliament would receive funding to construct a five-story building in each electoral constituency. According to press reports, the project was in response to parliamentarians citing the dilapidated conditions of madrassah structures in their constituencies. A combination of news reports and think tanks criticized the project, stating the government’s use of public funds for such projects was a political tactic by the government to use religion to influence voters prior to national parliamentary elections in December. According to press reports, in November the government delayed national student examinations so Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina could attend a Qawmi madrassah rally in favor of the Awami League and chaired by Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh Chief Shah Ahmed Shafi. Hefazat-e-Islam is a self-defined Islamist advocacy group including madrassah teachers and students. According to press reports, the Hefazat-e-Islam rally was conducted to express gratitude for the government’s formal recognition of the Qawmi madrassah education system in 2017. The Qawmi madrassahs are independent community madrassahs with their own governing boards and are commonly viewed as more conservative than government-run madrassahs. In September the Daily Star newspaper reported government involvement, through a local teachers’ association, in the seizure of a Hindu temple and its surrounding land in Tangail District, in contravention of a court order and without requisite building permits. The report stated the association wanted to construct a multistory building on the site of the temple that many in the community said would be used for commercial purposes. The Daily Star reported that in January a court in Tangail District issued an order ordering a halt to the construction, but construction on the temple’s site continued, in what the press report said was due to the ruling Awami League’s alleged involvement in the project. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and members of other minority religious communities, who are also sometimes members of ethnic minority groups, continued to report several property and land ownership disputes and forced evictions, including by the government, which remained unresolved at year’s end. According to minority religious associations, such disputes occurred in areas near new roads or industrial development zones, where land prices had recently increased. They also stated local police, civil authorities, and political leaders sometimes enabled property appropriation for financial gain or shielded politically influential property appropriators from prosecution. Some human rights groups, including Odhikar, continued to attribute the lack of resolution of some of these disputes to ineffective judicial and land registry systems and the targeted communities’ insufficient political and financial clout rather than government policy disfavoring religious or ethnic minorities. According to religious rights groups, in April local Awami League politicians seized and illegally occupied one acre of land from a Christian family in Bagerhat District. Those allegedly responsible donated a portion of the land for local school use in an effort to conceal the illegal seizure and occupation, and they threatened the family with physical harm if members of the family pursued legal proceedings against the alleged culprits. Members of civil society attributed the alleged illegal seizure and occupation to a pending 1984 legal case between feuding family members over the land, which the occupiers allegedly exploited. The government continued to place law enforcement personnel at religious sites, festivals, and events considered potential targets for violence, including the Hindu festival of Durga Puja, Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, and the Buddhist festival of Buddha Purnima. According to religious advocacy groups, the government provided extra security to protect Buddhist monasteries in Chittagong and Dhaka in anticipation of possible retaliation for the actions against the majority Muslim Rohingya by the military and civilians in Burma’s Rakhine State. No attacks occurred during the year. President Abdul Hamid continued to host receptions to commemorate each of the principal Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian holidays and emphasized the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and respect for religious minorities. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom In June unidentified individuals killed writer and self-described activist Shahjahan Bachchu. Security forces stated AQIS-linked individuals may have been responsible for killing Bachchu, a former leader of the Communist Party of Bangladesh known for his secular beliefs and writings, for “offending Islam.” According to press reports, on March 6, unidentified individuals killed a Hindu priest, Haradhan Bhattacharya, and stole gold and cash from his nephew’s home in Pabna District, Chatmohar Upazila. According to press reports, law enforcement believed individuals motivated by anti-Hindu sentiment may have killed the priest. According to press reports, a witness said she saw a young female in a burqa flee the scene. Investigation of the case continued through the end of the year. According to the Bangladesh Christian Association, on February 13, approximately 30 Muslims attacked a Christian family’s home and attempted to seize the family’s land and small business in Vatara District. Association leaders said three members of the Christian community were injured. Police continued to investigate the case through year’s end. Law enforcement concluded one of eight investigations regarding a 2016 attack on Hindu individuals, homes, and temples in Brahmanbaria District. By year’s end, approximately 228 were charged and pending prosecution. Attackers injured more than 100 individuals and vandalized 52 Hindu homes and 15 temples in response to a Hindu resident’s Facebook post showing a Hindu deity pasted over the Kaaba in Mecca. The National Human Rights Commission stated the attack was orchestrated to drive Hindus from the area to obtain their land. Of the 104 persons detained for suspected involvement in the attacks, all but one was released on bail. According to Odhikar, acts of violence targeting religious minorities or their property resulted in the death of one person and injuries to 34 from January to December, compared with none killed and seven injured in 2017. Attackers destroyed 49 statues, monasteries, or temples, compared with 132 in 2017, and destroyed no homes, compared with 12 homes in 2017. The motivation for these incidents was often unclear. Some NGO representatives said the increase in violence targeting religious minorities and their properties could be due to increasing impunity. The BHBCUC compiled 806 reports of violations of minority rights, including religious minorities, from newspaper reports during the year, compared with 380 in 2017. Violations included killings, attempted killings, death threats, assaults, rapes, kidnappings, and attacks on homes, businesses, and places of worship. According to the BHBCUC, the primary motivation for most of the incidents was a desire to seize real property, steal, or extort money. According to the Hindu Post newspaper, 338 hate crimes occurred against members of the Hindu community during the year. The hate crimes included, but were not limited to, physical attacks, including killings and rapes, and real and personal property destruction. According to media reports, in May a fifth-grade Hindu girl was raped in Manikganj District of Gheor Upazila as she was traveling to a Hindu religious festival. The young girl was lured into an open agricultural field by a local resident, Jony Miah, where, joined by two of his accomplices, Rubel Islam and Shahidul Islam, the three began to rape her. Local inhabitants caught the three perpetrators in the act but soon released them. According to press reports, a local union council (parishad) member, Mujibur Rahman, tried to pressure the victim’s family to remain silent and attempted to offer the family an approximately $1,200 settlement. When the victim’s family refused, Rahman and others threatened the family. The victim’s brother filed a criminal case against the alleged perpetrators. Admitting he had attempted to settle the case quietly, Rahman said, “We tried to hush the matter as the girl was young and belonged to a different religion.” Some Buddhists continued to say they feared local Muslims would commit acts of vengeance against them in reaction to the Burmese Buddhists’ mistreatment of the Muslim Rohingya in Burma; however, no cases were reported during the year. The Bangladesh United Buddhist Forum, formed in 2017, announced it would publicly celebrate Buddhist holidays during the year. In 2017, the forum curtailed its public celebrations of Buddhist holidays to donate to the Rohingya relief effort. NGOs continued to report tensions in the CHT between the predominantly Muslim Bengali settlers and members of indigenous groups, primarily Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian, largely over land ownership. The Kapaeeng Foundation recorded 70 instances of human rights abuses in the CHT from January to June. These abuses included rape, unlawful evictions, and arbitrary arrests affecting primarily Buddhists, but also Christians and Hindus. The government continued to work to resolve land ownership disputes affecting indigenous non-Muslims, using a 2017 amendment to the law providing for more inclusive decision making and a harmonization of the law with the 1997 Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. According to some members of the indigenous community, procedural issues had delayed resolution of many of their property disputes. In October Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina publicly urged peace and harmony in the CHT at the inauguration of the Sheikh Hasina Chattogram Hill Tracts Complex in Dhaka. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The U.S. Ambassador, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and embassy staff met with officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Social Welfare, and local government representatives to underscore the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. They discussed the interface between religion, religious freedom, and violent extremism, and the importance of integrating religious freedom and other human rights in security policy. Embassy officials stressed the importance of respecting religious minorities’ viewpoints, minority religious inclusion within society, and protecting religious minorities from extremist attacks. The U.S. government provided more than $345 million in humanitarian assistance to overwhelmingly Muslim ethnic Rohingya who fled Burma from August 2017 to December 2018. In April embassy officials and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with government officials to discuss protection and humanitarian assistance for the approximately one million Rohingya from Burma living in the country. The Ambassador, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and other embassy officials also visited refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar to hear directly from Rohingya refugees about their experiences. Religious leaders across various faiths said they were encouraged by the Ambassador at Large’s visit and its importance for promoting religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation. As part of community policing training, the embassy encouraged law enforcement officials to protect the rights of religious minorities. Embassy officials attended public religious events demonstrating religious tolerance among religious groups. Embassy officials were invited to and attended several religious festivals celebrated by the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim communities and emphasized in these events the importance of tolerance and respect for religious minorities. In all these events, the Ambassador and other embassy officials emphasized the importance of religious tolerance and respect for diversity. The embassy conducted a social media campaign throughout the year to promote religious freedom and tolerance. On January 16-19, the embassy launched a three-day social media campaign to commemorate Religious Freedom Day. The campaign reached more than 230,000 individuals on Facebook and used social media on Jumma Mubarak (early afternoon Friday prayers) to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting and protecting religious freedom at home and abroad. During the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom’s visit in April, the embassy posted photographs on its Facebook page of his visit to Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where he advocated for religious tolerance and religious freedom. In July the embassy posted photographs on its social media platform of religious leaders from Bangladesh at the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington D.C. Embassy and other U.S. government officials expressed support for the rights of religious minorities and emphasized the importance of their protection. Embassy officials met regularly with a wide range of religious organizations and representatives, including the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, Bangladesh Christian Association, Buddhist Religious Welfare Trust, Christian Religious Welfare Trust, World Buddhist Association Bangladesh, Bangladesh Buddhist Federation, Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Commission, Bangladesh Prabarana Purnima Celebration Committee, Bangladesh Kathin Cibor Danustan Celebration Committee, International Buddhist Monestary of Dhaka, and the Aga Khan Foundation. Embassy officials met with a group of Rohingya imams on several visits to Rohingya refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar District. In these meetings, embassy and other U.S. government officials and representatives from the various groups discussed the state of religious freedom in the country, identified challenges religious minorities encountered, and discussed the importance of religious tolerance. Embassy officials met regularly with a working group of 11 foreign missions to discuss a broad range of human rights concerns, including religious freedom. Barbados Executive Summary The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion, and prohibit discrimination based on religious belief. Rastafarians continued to object to the prohibition of marijuana, stating marijuana was integral to their religious rituals. They also continued to oppose the government’s vaccination requirement for all children attending school. Some Muslims said they continued to object to a government policy requiring women to remove the hijab for identification and passport photographs. They said they were working with the government to review those policies. Rastafarians continued to report some social discrimination, specifically for their dreadlocks; however, they stated societal attitudes regarding Rastafarianism continued to improve. U.S. embassy officials raised religious freedom and specific cases with government ministries and offices at all levels. Embassy officials also engaged civil society and religious groups, including the Muslim and Rastafarian communities, on religious expression and societal or governmental discrimination based on religion or belief. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 293,000 (July 2018 estimate). According to the most recent census of 2010, approximately 76 percent of the population is Christian, including Anglicans (23.9 percent of the total population), Pentecostals (19.5 percent), Seventh-day Adventists (5.9 percent), Methodists (4.2 percent), Roman Catholics (3.8 percent), Wesleyans (3.4 percent), Nazarenes (3.2 percent), and the Church of God (2.4 percent). Religious groups with 2 percent or less of the population each include Baptists, Moravians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other religious groups, together constituting less than 3 percent of the population, include Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha’is. Approximately 20.6 percent of respondents do not identify a religious affiliation. The Barbados Muslim Association states there are 3,000 Muslims. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion, and prohibition of discrimination based on creed. A law criminalizing “blasphemous libel” is not enforced. The government does not require religious groups to register. To obtain duty-free import privileges and tax benefits, however, the government requires religious groups to register with the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office. A religious group must file the relevant customs and tax forms, along with a resolution passed by the majority of its board of trustees expressly authorizing the application, plus the group’s related statutory declaration. The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction. The government provides subsidies or financial assistance to some of these schools to help cover the cost of students who could not find space in a public school. The public school curriculum includes religious “values education” as part of the historic association of schools with Christian missionaries who founded many of the schools. At the primary school level, the focus is on Christianity from several denominations. At the secondary school level, all major religions are included. The constitution protects students from mandatory religious instruction, ceremony, or observance without personal consent or, if under the age of 21, consent of the guardian. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Rastafarians again stated their objection to the government’s enforcement of the marijuana prohibition for any use, including for religious rituals. Representatives from the Barbados Muslim Association said they objected to a government policy requiring women to remove all head coverings for identification and passport photographs. The association met with all political parties to discuss the issue, and the new administration stated that it would review this practice. Some Rastafarians again stated that police and immigration officials often asked them to remove head coverings and gave extra scrutiny to Rastafarian women at checkpoints as pretexts to search for marijuana. Rastafarians stated that the requirement for vaccinations for all children to enroll in public schools violated Rastafarian religious beliefs. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Some Rastafarians again reported societal discrimination. Rastafarian sources, however, also said they believed public opinion of their community was gradually improving. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement U.S. embassy officials raised freedom of religious expression and discrimination issues at all levels, including with the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and People Empowerment. Embassy officials engaged leaders and members of civil society and religious groups, including the Muslim and Rastafarian communities, regarding the importance of religious expression and any concerns regarding societal or governmental discrimination based on religion or belief. The embassy used Facebook to promote messages on the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean. Belarus Executive Summary The constitution grants individuals freedom to profess and practice any religious belief but prohibits religious activities directed against the sovereignty of the state, its constitutional system, and “civic harmony.” The law recognizes the “determining role” of the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC). A concordat grants the BOC rights and privileges not granted to other religious groups, although the law also acknowledges the historical importance of the “traditional” faiths of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism. By law, all registered religious groups must seek permits to hold events outside of their premises, including proselytizing activities, and must obtain prior governmental approval to import and distribute religious literature. The law bans all religious activity by unregistered groups. The government continued to detain or fine individuals for proselytizing, including a Baptist couple in Lepel who were singing Christian songs and distributing Christian literature. Police also detained Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox priest for proselytizing in public. Minority religious groups continued to have difficulty registering. Some groups remained reluctant to apply for registration, reportedly due to fear of harassment and punishment. The government continued its surveillance of minority and unregistered religious groups. Human rights groups said that while BOC and some Roman Catholic clergy had access to prisoners of their faiths, Muslim and Protestant clergy and clergy from nontraditional faiths did not. Minority religious groups said they continued to have difficulties acquiring buildings to use as houses of worship. Roman Catholic groups reported the government denied visas and requests to extend the stay of some foreign missionaries. Authorities convicted a number of individuals reportedly associated with neo-Nazis or skinhead movements for inciting ethnic and religious hatred against Jews and other religious minorities. On February 27, a court in the Vitsyebsk region sentenced a resident in Navapolatsk to three years in prison for posting videos on his social media featuring mass killings of Jews in the Holocaust and skinheads beating Muslims. In a similar case, authorities convicted an individual from the Baranavichy district for posting videos with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim content and sentenced him to a year and a month in jail on April 18. Jewish community leaders continued to express concern about the BOC’s annual commemoration of a young child allegedly killed by Jews near Hrodna in 1690 as one of its saints and martyrs. Despite a government ban, anti-Semitic print and video material continued to be imported from Russia and available locally. Interdenominational Christian groups worked together on charitable projects and programs. In a televised interview in November BOC Metropolitan Pavel said Baptists were “a sect,” focused on their “missionary activities,” and called them “annoying” and accused them of spreading “propaganda and not preaching.” The head of the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Leanid Mikhovich, called the Metropolitan’s remarks “unacceptable.” In October U.S. embassy officials and a visiting U.S. delegation that included the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Protection of America’s Heritage Abroad and the Deputy Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with officials from the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs as well as prosecutors to discuss concerns related to preservation of Jewish heritage sites. The delegation also participated in the Foreign Ministry-sponsored international roundtable to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk ghetto on October 22. Also in October the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs met with senior government officials for discussions that included religious freedom concerns. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with Jewish groups to discuss anti-Semitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage. Embassy officials also met with Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups, as well as with civil society activists and lawyers for religious groups, to discuss government restrictions on registration and the activities of minority religious groups. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.5 million (July 2018 estimate). According to a January 2016 survey by the state Information and Analytical Center of the Presidential Administration, approximately 53 percent of the adult population belongs to the BOC and 6 percent to the Roman Catholic Church. According to the state survey, 8 percent of the adult population is atheist, and 22 percent is “uncertain.” Smaller religious groups together constituting approximately 2 percent of the population include: Jews; Muslims; Greek Catholics (“Uniates”); Old Believers (priestist and priestless); members of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and other Orthodox Christian groups, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Apostolic Christians, Presbyterians and other Protestant groups, Armenian Apostolics, Latin Catholics, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Buddhists. Jewish groups state there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews. Ethnic Poles, who constitute approximately 3 percent of the population, tend to be Roman Catholic. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution grants individuals the freedom to profess any religious beliefs and to participate in the performance of acts of worship not prohibited by law. It stipulates all faiths are equal before the law. The constitution states relations between the state and religious organizations shall be regulated by the law “with regard to their influence on the formation of the spiritual, cultural, and state traditions of the Belarusian people.” It prohibits activities by religious groups that are directed against the country’s sovereignty, its constitutional system, and civic harmony; involve a violation of civil rights and liberties; “impede the execution of state, public, and family duties” by its citizens; or are detrimental to public health and morality. The constitution states the law shall determine the conditions for exemption from military service and the performance of alternative service as a substitute. The Office of the Plenipotentiary Representative for Religious and Nationality Affairs (OPRRNA) regulates all religious matters. The law recognizes the “determining role” of the BOC, an Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, in the development of the traditions of the people, as well as the historical importance of religious groups commonly referred to as “traditional” faiths: Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism. The law does not consider as traditional faiths newer religious groups or older groups such as the priestless Old Believers, Greek Catholics (Uniates), and the Calvinist churches, which have roots in the country dating to the 17th century. A concordat between the government and the BOC provides the BOC with autonomy in its internal affairs, freedom to perform religious rites and other activities, and a special relationship with the state. The concordat recognizes the BOC’s “influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and national traditions of the Belarusian people.” Although it states it does not limit the religious freedom of other religious groups, the concordat calls for the government and the BOC to combat unnamed “pseudo-religious structures that present a danger to individuals and society.” The BOC, unlike other religious communities, receives state subsidies. In addition, the BOC possesses the exclusive right to use the word “orthodox” in its title and to use as its symbol the double-barred image of the Cross of Saint Euphrosyne, the country’s patron saint. The concordat also serves as the framework for agreements between the BOC and individual state agencies. There are at least a dozen such agreements, including an agreement with the Ministry of Education covering cooperation on education through 2020 and providing for joint projects for the “spiritual and moral education” of students based on BOC traditions and history. The law establishes three tiers of registered religious groups: religious communities, religious associations, and national religious associations. Religious communities must include at least 20 persons over the age of 18 who live in one or several adjoining areas. Religious associations must include at least 10 religious communities, one of which must have been active in the country for at least 20 years, and may be constituted only by a national-level religious association. National religious associations may be formed only when they comprise active religious communities in at least four of the country’s six regions. According to government data as of January 1, 2017, (the most recent data available), there are 25 religious faiths and denominations registered in the country, encompassing 3,350 religious communities and 174 religious associations, monasteries, missions, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, and schools. The BOC has 1,681 religious communities, 15 dioceses, seven schools, 35 monasteries, 15 brotherhoods, and 10 sisterhoods. The Roman Catholic Church has four dioceses, five schools, 11 missions, nine monasteries, and 496 communities. Protestant religious organizations of 14 denominations have 1,033 religious communities, 21 associations, 22 missions, and five schools. There are 33 registered religious communities of Old Believers. There are three Jewish religious associations – Orthodox, Chabad-Lubavitch, and Reform Judaism – comprising 52 communities, including 10 autonomous communities. In addition, 24 Muslim religious communities – 23 Sunni and one Shia – are registered. National religious associations include the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, Old Believers Church, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, Confederation of Christian Seventh-day Adventists, Association of New Apostolic Churches, Union of Full Gospel Christian Churches, Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Union of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches, Jewish Religious Union, Association of Jewish Religious Communities, Union of Reform Judaism Communities, Muslim Religious Association, Spiritual Board of Muslims, and the Religious Association of Baha’is. To register, a religious community must submit an official application with the following information: a list of its founders’ names, places of residence, citizenship, and signatures; copies of its founding statutes; the minutes of its founding meeting; and permission from the regional authorities confirming the community’s right to occupy or use any property referenced in its founding statutes. A religious group not previously registered by the government must also submit information about its beliefs. The law stipulates authorities may take up to six months to review a new registration application due to an additional evaluation of the religion by a state-appointed religious commission of experts. The commission evaluates the fundamental teachings of the religion; rituals, practices, history, and forms and methods of activities; welfare and charitable services; proselytizing and missionary activities; approaches towards marriage and family; educational activities; attitudes toward health care; and compliance with legal requirements. In addition, the community must submit any texts written by its founder or considered sacred by the followers of the religion, information about prohibitions on clergy or adherents, a list of countries where the religion is widely practiced, and a list of countries officially recognizing the religion. It also must submit information about countries that have refused to recognize the religion and information about court cases against followers of the religion in other countries. Regional government authorities, as well as Minsk city authorities or local municipal authorities (for groups outside of Minsk), review all registration applications. Permissible grounds for denial of registration are broad and include failure to comply with requirements for establishing a community, an inconsistent or fraudulent charter or other required document, violations of the procedures to establish religious organizations, or a negative evaluation by the state-appointed religious commission of experts. Communities may appeal refusals in court. In order to register as a religious association or national religious association, a group must provide an official application with a copy of the founding statutes, a list of members of the managing body with biographical information, proof of permission for the association to be at its designated location, and the minutes from its founding congress. Religious associations have the exclusive right to establish religious educational institutions and organize cloistered and monastic communities. All applications to establish religious associations and national associations must be submitted to OPRRNA, which has 30 days to respond. Grounds for refusal are the same as for religious communities except they also include failure to comply with requirements for establishing an association rather than a community. Refusals or a failure by OPRRNA to respond within the 30-day period may be appealed in court. The law confines the activities of religious communities and associations to the jurisdictional area where they are registered. The law permits state agencies in charge of registration to issue written warnings to a registered religious group for violating any law or undertaking activities outside the scope of responsibilities in the group’s charter. The government may apply to a relevant court, depending upon jurisdiction, to shut down the group if it has not ceased the illegal activity outlined in the written warning within six months or if the activity is repeated within one year of the warning. The government may suspend activities of the religious group pending the court’s decision. The law contains no provision for appeal of the warning or suspension. The law bans all religious activity by unregistered groups and subjects group members to penalties ranging from unspecified fines to two years in prison. The housing code permits religious groups to hold services at residential premises if local authorities grant permission. The local authorities must certify the premises comply with a number of regulations, including fire safety, sanitary, and health code requirements. The government does not grant such permission automatically, and the law does not permit religious groups to hold services in private residences without prior permission from local authorities. By law, all religious groups must obtain permits to hold events outside of their premises, including proselytizing. The law requires all religious groups to receive prior governmental approval to import and distribute religious literature. The approval process includes official examination of the documents by state-appointed religious studies experts. Although there is no law providing for a systematic restitution process for property, including religious property, seized during the Soviet and Nazi periods, groups may apply for the restitution of property to local authorities. The law on religion specifically bans the restitution of seized property currently used for cultural or sports purposes. The law permits associations and national associations to establish schools to train clergy; however, it does not permit religious communities to do so. The law permits only registered religious groups that are members of national religious associations to organize extracurricular religious activities at educational institutions. The law states the national religious association must first conclude an agreement on cooperation with the Ministry of Education; the BOC is currently the only religious group to have such an agreement. Students who wish to participate in voluntary “moral, civic, and patriotic education” in collaboration with religious groups must either provide a written statement expressing their desire to participate or secure their legal guardians’ approval. According to the law, “such education shall raise awareness among the youth against any religious groups whose activities are aimed at undermining Belarus’ sovereignty, civic accord, and constitutional system or at violating human rights and freedoms.” The law prohibits religious groups from conducting activities in any school without identifying themselves. It also prohibits visits from representatives of foreign religious groups; missionary activities; collections of donations or fees from students for religious groups or any charity; distribution of religious literature, audio, video, and other religious materials; holding prayer services, religious rituals, rites, or ceremonies; and placing religious symbols or paraphernalia at educational institutions. The law does not allow private religious elementary, junior, or senior high schools or homeschooling for religious reasons. The law establishes penalties ranging from fines to five years in prison for failure to fulfill mandatory military service, with an exemption for conscientious objectors for religious reasons. The law allows alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors. By law, individuals who evade alternative civilian service may face up to five years in prison. Only registered religious associations may apply to OPRRNA for permission to invite foreign clergy to the country. OPRRNA must grant permission before foreign religious workers may serve in local congregations, teach or study at local institutions, or participate in charitable work. The government generally grants such permission for a period of one year, which may be reduced or extended. OPRRNA has 30 days to respond to requests for foreign clergy permits (religious visas) and may deny requests without explanation. There is no provision for appeals. By law, the government permits foreign missionaries to engage in religious activity only in the territorial area where their religious association is registered. Transfers of foreign clergy within a religious association, including from one parish to another, require prior government permission. By law, foreigners may not lead religious groups. The authorities may reprimand or expel foreign citizens who officially are present in the country for nonreligious work if they lead any religious activities. Law enforcement agencies on their own initiative or in response to recommendations from other government entities, such as the security service, may require foreign clergy to depart the country. The law does not restrict religious groups from raising donations in public. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices The international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18 reported that on October 27, police in Lepel in the Vitsyebsk Region detained Baptist husband and wife Andrei and Tatsyana Fokin, who were singing Christian songs and distributing Christian literature. Authorities charged both with violating procedures for organizing a mass event or demonstration and fined the husband 661.5 rubles ($310) and the wife 539 rubles ($250). Andrei Fokin said he and his wife were still in debt from 2017 fines levied following their detention in 2017 for similar activities. According to Forum 18 and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, authorities in Rahachou in Homyel Region detained Jehovah’s Witnesses Tamara Vitkouskaya and Volha Hrapava on March 24 as they were distributing religious literature, charging them with illegal picketing. On May 16, the Rahachou District Court fined the two Witnesses 49 rubles ($23) each, and the Homyel Regional Court dismissed their subsequent appeals in June. Forum 18 also reported that on November 26, authorities detained for 24 hours Father Vikentsy, a priest of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which is not officially registered, for preaching and seeking donations in an apartment block in Minsk. Forum 18 stated that on November 30, a Minsk district court found Vikentsy not guilty and closed the case. The government continued surveillance on minority religious groups of various Protestant denominations. According to various observers, government “ideology officers” (officials in charge of implementing political and social government policies) continued to monitor the activities of members of unregistered religious groups in their workplaces, although there were no reports of prosecutions. Government officials reportedly had occasional “informal” talks with members of religious groups to learn about their activities. According to religious leaders, state security officers also continued to attend religious services of registered Protestant communities to conduct surveillance, which group members described as intimidation and harassment. The Roman Catholic Church expressed concerns that in some regions of the country local ideology officers requested the church provide them with Sunday school programs and lists of children attending them. According to the independent Belarusian Christian news portal krynica.info, local authorities in some regions summoned Catholic priests for questioning after they held services to honor the anniversary of the 1918 establishment of the Belarusian National Republic on March 25. Christian groups continued to state the registration requirements for religious groups remained complex and difficult to fulfill, which they said restricted their activities, suppressed freedom of religion, and legalized criminal prosecution of individuals for their religious beliefs. The government’s guidelines for evaluating registration applications remained sufficiently broad, they said, to continue to give authorities a pretext for denying applications from groups they considered unacceptable. During the year, authorities in Barysau, Slonim and Vileika rejected applications from Jehovah’s Witnesses communities. Authorities also continued to deny registration to several Protestant religious communities, including a community within the Union of Full Gospel Christian Churches in Maladzechna. On July 6 and then on August 30, city authorities denied an independent Pentecostal community’s applications for registration in two separate locations in Minsk. In both cases, officials stated that locations provided by the community did not comply with regulations, but did not explain their refusals in detail. The community filed an appeal on October 18, which was denied in December. Independent religious experts continued to report minority religious groups remained reluctant to apply for registration because members continued to be unwilling to provide their names as part of the application process due to fear of harassment and punishment by the authorities. Additionally, a number of them said they did not report registration denials because they believed that if they did not publicize the denials, they might still be able to negotiate their communities’ registration with local authorities. In November the UN Human Rights Committee recommended the state repeal the requirement of mandatory state registration of religious communities, but the state had taken no action as of the end of the year. Many unregistered religious groups stated they continued to maintain a low profile because of what they believed to be government hostility and due to fear of criminal prosecution. According to independent religious experts, many registered religious communities also remained reluctant to report abuses and restrictions because of fear of punishment. Nontraditional religious groups continued to state the procedure for registering and using residential premises for religious gatherings remained cumbersome and arbitrary. Authorities continued to deny permission for a registered Jehovah’s Witness community in Homyel to hold religious services at a private home, but continued to allow it to hold services at rented premises. In October the local government in the city of Mahilyou allowed a local Jehovah’s Witness community to hold religious services at rented premises. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in August the Mahilyou Regional Executive Committee issued a warning notice to the local community for engaging in illegal religious activity and meeting in places that were not designated for worship and without authorization from the local authorities. Human rights groups reported prison administrators continued to deny Muslim and Protestant clergy, and in some cases Roman Catholic clergy, as well as clergy from nontraditional faiths (any faiths not among the four recognized as “traditional”), permission to visit inmates in prison. At the same time, they said, authorities continued to grant BOC, and in some cases Catholic clergy, permission to visit believers in prison on a regular basis, and many prisons had designated Orthodox religious facilities. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported Minsk city officials approved a request from the national association for a convention to take place in the city July 27 to 29. Approximately 9,000 members attended the convention without hindrance, compared with approximately 7,300 the previous year. In November, however, authorities in a Minsk district denied a Jehovah’s Witnesses community group’s application to hold a convention for its Minsk city community of approximately 1,000 members at a local cultural center on November 24-25. In Vitsyebsk, authorities denied a request from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to hold a local convention in November. In each case, authorities did not give a reason for the denial. Authorities in the town of Radashkovichi allowed the Full Gospel Christian Church’s “Youth With A Mission” group to hold its Christian youth conference at a local facility April 27-May 1. Religious groups, especially Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to report they remained cautious about proselytizing and distributing religious materials due to what they said was the general atmosphere of intimidation and fear of punishment. In contrast, Orthodox literature remained available countrywide. The BOC remained able to proselytize freely and, unlike other religious groups, continued to participate in government-sponsored public events such as rallies without the need to seek prior approval from authorities. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on March 30, the Brest Regional Executive Committee issued a notice to the Brest Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, warning the community it had distributed printed religious material at unauthorized locations. The Jehovah’s Witnesses stated the warning did not refer to any specific incidents. While the national government approved the import of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ requested literature during the year, local governments in Brest and Mahilyou issued written warnings to communities against proselytizing. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents generally had to wait three months before receiving permission to import new religious periodicals. Religious groups continued to report problems purchasing properties as places of worship. They continued to say that converting residential property to religious use also remained difficult. Renting a public facility to hold religious services remained difficult as well. For example, some Protestant communities continued to report they were able to conclude only short-term lease agreements with the owners of the facilities the communities rented, which allowed authorities to pressure owners to terminate or not renew lease agreements as a means of preventing religious activities. Protestant groups stated they continued to be more severely affected than other groups in this regard because they were less likely to own religious facilities and they could not apply for permission to conduct religious activities in private homes because these residences were too small to accommodate their numbers. The government continued to require students to use textbooks that representatives of nontraditional religious groups said promoted intolerance towards them, citing chapters in the books that labeled such groups as “sects.” The textbooks described nontraditional religious groups as “striving for the exclusiveness of their role, doctrine, and principles,” being isolationist, and claiming to be God-chosen, among other things. According to media reports, school administrators continued to cooperate only with the BOC among registered religious groups, based on the BOC’s concordat with the government. School administrators continued to invite BOC priests to lecture to students, organize tours of BOC facilities, and participate in BOC festivities, programs, and humanitarian projects. On August 28, the Catholic Diocese of Hrodna received a certificate granting registration to Saint Kazimir’s College of Theology in Hrodna. The college became the fifth Roman Catholic institute of higher education in the country. Religious groups said the government continued to apply visa regulations in ways restricting the ability of foreign missionaries to live and work in the country. Forum 18 reported OPRRNA rejected applications in the spring from the BOC’s Vitsyebsk Diocese for two Orthodox priests from Russia. Local human rights portals stated that on April 30, the government expelled Polish Catholic priest Krzysztof Poswiata, who ministered in the town of Hatava near Minsk, after authorities refused to extend his permission to serve. Poswiata reportedly received three speeding tickets in 2018, which authorities told Forum 18 was the reason for his expulsion. Forum 18 reported that on June 4, OPRRNA rejected the application of the Catholic Diocese of Vitsyebsk for Polish priest Karol Prandzioch to serve at a parish in Shumilina, replacing another Polish priest who was leaving voluntarily. Father Uladzimir Razanovich, secretary of the Vitsyebsk Diocesan administration, told Forum 18 that unofficially, the government wanted local religious communities to train local citizens as clergy rather than having foreigners. According to Catholic Archbishop of Minsk Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, foreign priests faced multiple challenges, including: newly arrived priests had to undergo a lengthy approval process before obtaining permission to celebrate Mass; the government often issued them visas for only three to six months; and they often encountered administrative difficulties when trying to renew visas. A representative of the Polish community in Hrodna told the press on July 26 that local authorities denied Polish priest Ryszard Umanski entrance into the country, saying he did not have a religious visa. In applying for the visa, he reportedly said the visit would be private and not related to any religious activity. There were no developments regarding the longstanding freeze placed on the assets of New Life Church in 2005. Minsk authorities did not renew their attempts to evict the church from its premises, a process that began in 2007 and continued through 2012 after the authorities refused to register the church at its location. While the church continued to use the space for religious purposes, it remained unable to obtain proof of ownership from the authorities and had no access to electricity. Church leadership’s discussions with Minsk city authorities on the status and operations of the church were continuing at year’s end. The authorities continued to permit the BOC to collect charitable donations in public as well as on its religious property. While the law does not restrict other religious groups from raising donations in public, representatives of these groups said authorities continued to limit their fundraising activities to their own places of worship or other properties. Groups said they faced government harassment if they tried to raise donations at other locations. During the year, the Jewish community worked with local authorities to erect at least eight new privately funded monuments in the villages of Svislach, Klimavichy, and Petrykau and other locations that specifically commemorated Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The government supported commemorative events and an international conference dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk ghetto on October 21-23. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held an international roundtable on October 22 to discuss remembrance and lessons of the Minsk ghetto, which included former ghetto prisoners, local historians, international and local officials, and representatives of the diplomatic and Jewish communities. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey condemned “hatred and bigotry, which could lead to killings of masses of people based on their religious or ethnic attributes.” He also noted increasing xenophobia, discrimination, anti-Semitism and hate crimes, and warned against the revival of Nazism and ideas of racial superiority. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom During the year, authorities convicted a number of offenders who reportedly associated themselves with neo-Nazis or skinhead movements for inciting ethnic and religious hatred against Jews, among others. On February 27, a court in the Vitsyebsk Region sentenced a resident in Navapolatsk to three years in prison for posting videos on his social media featuring mass killings of Jews in the Holocaust and skinheads beating Muslims. In another case, authorities convicted an individual from the Baranavichy District of Brest Region for posting videos with anti-Semitic content and calls for violence against natives of the Caucasus (the majority of whom are Muslim). A court sentenced the man to a year and a month in jail on April 18. In March a Mahilyou District court convicted two local residents detained in November 2017 for stealing parts of metal fencing from graves at a local Jewish cemetery. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, doctors continued to force their believers to accept blood transfusions as part of their treatment, despite their explicit written refusal of blood transfusions. The BOC, in particular the Minsk-based parish of the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, continued its annual commemoration honoring Hauryil Belastoksky, a child allegedly killed by Jews near Hrodna in 1690, as one of its saints and martyrs. Jewish community leaders again expressed concern over the memorial prayer recited on the anniversary of Belastoksky’s death on May 3, the text of which included a passage stating the “martyred and courageous Hauryil exposed Jewish dishonesty.” In a televised interview on November 24, Metropolitan of the BOC Pavel said Baptists were “a sect,” focused on their “missionary activities,” and called them “annoying” and said they were spreading “propaganda and not preaching.” He added, “You cannot talk to them about anything and if you do, they turn into gypsies” and “start soliciting until they rob you.” On November 27, head of the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists Leanid Mikhovich called the Metropolitan’s remarks “unacceptable” and blessed “all Baptists in the country, especially representatives of the Roma who are believers of [our] faith.” While the government had previously banned various literature and printed materials it classified as “extremist” and they were no longer widely sold in mainstream bookstores, anti-Semitic and xenophobic newspapers, literature, digital video discs, and videotapes, frequently imported from Russia, continued to be available. The Bible Society, an interdenominational Christian fellowship center, continued to print and distribute copies of the Bible and other religious literature, including donating Bibles to children’s and nursing homes, temporary shelters, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals during the year. The society also distributed copies of the Bible and other religious literature to foster and underprivileged families in towns and villages across the country. In addition, the society extensively promoted the distribution of the Bible translated into the Belarusian language. Founded by the BOC, Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, and Confederation of Christian Seventh-day Adventists, the Bible Society also engaged in educational and charitable projects targeting vulnerable populations. These projects included Bible studies, summer schools and camps, and literacy courses for children. An interreligious working group comprised of the BOC, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches, and Jewish religious communities organized quarterly meetings, seminars on theological themes, trips around the country, and a trip to Dachau and Flossenburg, Germany, that focused on interfaith dialogue. The group visited sites of former concentration camps and participated in commemorations of the1938 Kristallnacht pogrom in Munich. On January 20, BOC, Roman and Greek Catholic, Protestant, and Lutheran churches held ecumenical services marking the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at parishes across the country. Clergy stressed the importance of cooperation and understanding among Christians. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement In October embassy officials and a visiting U.S. delegation that included the Chair of the U.S. Commission on Protection of America’s Heritage Abroad and the Deputy Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with officials from the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs as well as prosecutors to discuss concerns related to the preservation of Jewish heritage sites. The delegation also participated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs-sponsored international roundtable to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk ghetto on October 22. Also in October the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs met with senior government officials for discussions that included religious freedom concerns. The Charge d’Affaires regularly raised religious freedom concerns at the highest levels of government throughout the year. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued to meet regularly with representatives of the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, and minority religious groups. They discussed anti-Semitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage with Jewish religious groups, and discussed government restrictions on registration and operations with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups. Embassy officials also continued to hold regular discussions about restrictions on religious freedom with religious freedom activists, religious leaders, lawyers for religious groups, and representatives of the For Freedom of Religion initiative, a group of civil society activists promoting religious tolerance. In October a Protestant pastor from Hrodna participated in the Interfaith Dialogue and Religious Freedom multi-regional program sponsored by the Department of State. On social media, embassy officials posted the Secretary of State’s speeches and other materials related to religious freedom. Belgium Executive Summary The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation. Federal law bans covering one’s face in public. Jewish and Muslim groups launched legal challenges against laws, scheduled to take effect in 2019 in Wallonia and Flanders, banning the slaughter of animals without prior stunning. The government maintained its policy of attempting to curb what it described as radical Islam. The federal government terminated Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels. The Brussels regional government recognized two mosques in July, increasing the number of recognized mosques in the country to 85. Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, and the government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public-sector jobs. There were reports of incidents of religiously motivated violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Jews and Muslims. The Center for Equal Opportunities, Unia, preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents (56 in 2017), and 319 incidents in 2017 (390 in 2016) against other religious groups, primarily Muslims. U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister and at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs to discuss anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and discrimination. Embassy officials met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to address anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment, and to promote religious tolerance. The embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S.-based imam to discuss interfaith tolerance and cooperation in meetings with religious groups, civil society, and police. It also sponsored visits of two young Muslim leaders to the United States on programs that included a focus on religious pluralism and tolerance. Through small grants, the embassy supported programs that promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance and raised awareness of religious minorities. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.5 million (July 2018 estimate). A 2011 report (based on 2009 data) by the King Baudouin Foundation estimates the religious affiliation of the population to be 50 percent Roman Catholic, 33 percent without affiliation (a figure that includes secular humanists), 9 percent atheist, 5 percent Muslim, 2.5 percent non-Catholic Christian, and 0.4 percent Jewish. According to the report, other religious groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Scientologists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A 2015 study by the Catholic University of Louvain updates the estimate of the Muslim portion of the population to approximately 7 percent, with no significant changes for other affiliations. The Muslim population is highest in Antwerp and Brussels, where some studies estimate it at more than 25 percent of the respective metropolitan areas. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution guarantees freedom of worship (including its public practice) and freedom of expression, provided no crime is committed in the exercise of these freedoms. It states no individual may be required to participate in any religious group’s acts or ceremonies or to observe the group’s religious days of rest and bars the state from interfering in the appointment of religious clergy or blocking the publication of religious documents. It obligates the state to pay the salaries and pensions of religious clergy (according to law, to qualify these clergy must work in recognized houses of worship and be certified by those religious groups), as well as those of representatives of organizations recognized by the law as providing moral assistance based on a nonconfessional philosophy. The law prohibits discrimination based on religious or philosophical (e.g., nonconfessional) orientation. Federal law prohibits public statements inciting religious hatred, including Holocaust denial. The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year in prison. The government officially recognizes Catholicism, Protestantism (including evangelicals and Pentecostals), Judaism, Anglicanism (separately from other Protestant groups), Islam, Orthodox (Greek and Russian) Christianity, and secular humanism. The requirements to obtain official recognition are not legally defined. The legal basis for official recognition is the constitution and other laws and interpretations, some of which predate the constitution itself. A religious group seeking official recognition applies to the Ministry of Justice, which then recommends approval or rejection. The government evaluates whether the group meets organizational and reporting requirements and applies criteria based on administrative and legislative precedents in deciding whether to recommend that parliament grant recognition to a religious group. The religious group must have a structure or hierarchy, a “sufficient number” of members, and a “long period” of existence in the country. It must offer “social value” to the public, abide by the laws of the state, and respect public order. The government does not formally define “sufficient number,” “long period of time,” or “social value.” Final approval is the sole responsibility of the federal parliament; however, parliament generally accepts the ministry’s recommendation. The law requires each officially recognized religion to have an official interlocutor, such as an office composed of one or more representatives of the religion plus administrative staff, to support the government in its constitutional duty of providing the material conditions for the free exercise of religion. The functions performed by the interlocutor include certification of clergy and teachers of the religion, assistance in the development of religious curriculum, and oversight of the management of houses of worship. The federal government provides financial support for officially recognized religious groups. The subsidies for recognized groups include payment of clergy salaries and for maintenance and equipment for facilities and places of worship, as well as tax exemptions. Denominations or divisions within the recognized religious groups (Shia Islam, Reform Judaism, or Lutheranism, for example) do not receive support or recognition separate from their parent religious group. Parent religious groups distribute subsidies according to their statutes, which may also include salaries to ministers and public funding for renovation or facility maintenance. Unrecognized groups outside of these recognized religions do not receive government subsidies but may worship freely and openly. There are procedures for individual houses of worship of recognized religious groups to obtain recognition and state subsidies. To do so, a house of worship must meet requirements set by the region in which it is located and by the federal Ministry of Justice. These requirements include transparency and legality of accounting practices, renunciation of foreign sources of income for ministers of religion working in the facility, compliance with building and fire safety codes, certification of the minister of religion by the relevant interlocutor body, and a security check. Recognized houses of worship also receive subsidies from the linguistic communities and municipalities for the upkeep of religious buildings. Houses of worship or other religious groups that are unable or choose not to meet these requirements may organize as nonprofit associations and benefit from lower taxes but not government subsidies. Houses of worship in this situation (i.e., not completing the recognition process) may still be affiliated with an officially recognized religious group. There is a federal ban on covering one’s face in public. Women who wear the full-face veil in public face a maximum fine of 137.50 euros ($160). The constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief. All public schools outside of Flanders offer mandatory religious or “moral” instruction (which is oriented towards citizenship and moral values); parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses. Francophone schools offer “philosophy and citizenship” courses alongside courses on the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling. Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference. The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes. Teachers of religion are permitted to express their religious beliefs and wear religious attire, even if school policy otherwise forbids such attire. Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister. Private, authorized religious schools, known as “free” schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes. Teachers at these religious schools are civil servants, and their salaries, as well as subsidies for the schools’ operating expenses, are paid for by the respective linguistic community, municipality, or province. Unia is a publicly funded but independent agency responsible for reviewing discrimination complaints, including those of a religious nature, and attempting to resolve them by such means as mediation or arbitration. The agency lacks legal powers to enforce resolution of cases. The justice minister appoints a magistrate in each judicial district to monitor discrimination cases and oversee their prosecution, including those involving religion, as a criminal act. Bans on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning enacted by the Walloon and Flanders regional governments in 2017 are scheduled to take effect in 2019, ending the long-standing authorization certified permanent slaughterhouses in those regions have had to slaughter animals without prior stunning. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices The government maintained its efforts, initiated after 2016 terrorist attacks, to curb what it termed radical Islam in the country’s mosques and highlighted Salafism in particular as a possible driver of violent extremism. The federal and regional governments stated they remained committed to their previously announced plans to encourage mosques to seek official recognition as a means of increasing government oversight. According to government officials, including Minister of Justice Koen Geens and Brussels Minister-President Rudy Vervoort, government funding for imams and infrastructure at officially recognized mosques would reduce the mosques’ reliance on foreign sources of funding, such as those from Saudi Arabia, and afford the government greater oversight of how those mosques vetted imams. Although the federal government recommended several mosques for recognition by the regional governments, the number of recognized mosques increased by only two, to 85, during the year. Some observers, such as a sociologist at the Free University of Brussels, stated a number of mosques opted not to seek official recognition because they received sufficient foreign funding and preferred to do without government oversight. Long-standing applications for government recognition by Buddhists and Hindus remained pending. Buddhists filed their request for recognition in 2008, and Hindus in 2013. There were no other pending recognition requests by religious groups. Despite the lack of recognition, Buddhists received federal government subsidies of approximately 200,000 euros ($229,000). Hindus did not receive any government subsidies. In accordance with recommendations in a 2017 report by a parliamentary commission investigating terrorist attacks, the federal government announced in March it would terminate Saudi Arabia’s lease on the Great Mosque in Brussels, effective March 31, 2019. Saudi Arabia had signed a 99-year lease for the building in 1969. The government called for the creation of a new, pan-Islamic institution to manage the mosque and said the Muslim Executive, the Muslim community’s official interlocutor with the government, would be responsible for creating the institution and ensuring it began managing the mosque by the lease termination date. The government said it terminated the lease because the Great Mosque was spreading Wahhabi Salafism, which the government stated played a role in spreading violent radicalism. According to media reports, in September the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, denied an appeal by Saudi Arabia against the lease termination, ruling that the council lacked jurisdiction in the case. The government maintained its ban on wearing religious symbols in public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public. On September 18, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the government had violated the EU Convention on Human Rights by excluding a Muslim woman from a courtroom in 2017 for refusing to remove her headscarf. The court ordered the government to pay the woman 1,000 euros ($1,100). Most public schools continued to ban headscarves, in accordance with government policy allowing individual schools to decide whether to impose such bans. According to media reports, at least 90 percent of Francophone community public schools and virtually all Flemish public schools maintained such bans. According to Muslim groups, city and town administrations continued to withhold or delay approval for the construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers. In Court-Saint-Etienne in May, city authorities granted an application for the construction of a new mosque after denying it four times during the previous several years. Mosque construction projects in La Louviere, Kortrijk, and Ghent still faced legal obstacles and/or opposition from public authorities or neighbors. The Jewish and Muslim communities remained opposed to the decisions by the Flanders and Walloon governments to ban slaughter without prior stunning. As in the previous year and unlike in years prior to 2017, the Brussels regional government did not authorize any temporary slaughterhouse to carry out slaughter without prior stunning during Islamic holidays. Appeals against the Flemish and Walloon laws banning animal slaughter without stunning remained pending at the Constitutional Court at year’s end. Members of the Muslim Executive, the Coordination Committee of Jewish Organizations of Belgium (CCOJB), representing Jewish groups in the country, together with the Belgian section of the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress, Muslim and Jewish NGOs, and Muslim and Jewish individuals, with the assistance of the U.S.-based NGO Lawfare Project, jointly appealed to the Supreme Court against the Flemish ban in a letter dated January 16. The Jewish Consistoire (the Jewish community’s official interlocutor with the government), the Francophone branch of the CCOJB, Jewish NGOs, and Jewish individuals appealed to the Constitutional Court against the Walloon ban in a letter dated November 28, 2017. The Muslim Executive, Muslim NGOs, and Muslim individuals also appealed to the Supreme Court against the Walloon ban in a November 30, 2017 letter. At year’s end there were four appeals against the Walloon ban and five against the Flemish ban, all pending before the Constitutional Court. In May the European Court of Justice upheld the existing Flanders law restricting the nonstun, ritual slaughter of animals by the Jewish and Muslim communities to licensed butchers. Muslims had originally challenged the law, which prohibited temporary slaughter arrangements at times of peak demand, for example, during Islamic holidays such as Eid al-Adha, in Belgian courts in 2016. The Ministry of Justice increased its annual allocation for clergy salaries and other financial support for recognized religious groups by four million euros to 111 million euros ($4.59 million to $127.29 million). Catholic groups once again received approximately 85 percent of the total available funding for religious groups, followed by secular humanists (8 percent) and Protestant groups (2.5 percent). Muslims again received approximately 2.3 percent of the funding, and Jews approximately 0.9 percent. According to the report for 2017 issued in June by the Observatory of Religions and Secularism at the Free University of Brussels, the Muslim community, contrary to other recognized religious groups, received a smaller percentage of the government’s allocation than its share of the population, and its representative body faced budget difficulties. According to a March report by Israeli online news site Ynet News, a parent in Bruges reported to the Jerusalem-based NGO International Legal Forum that a geography textbook approved by the education ministry and used throughout the country included an anti-Semitic cartoon. The cartoon stated that, according to Amnesty International, Israel denied Palestinians adequate access to water. It depicted an overweight Jew with payot (sidelocks) asleep in a bathtub overflowing with water juxtaposed with an old Palestinian woman unable to fill an empty water bucket. International Legal Forum Director Ylfa Segal wrote to the education ministry, stating, “It could scarcely be believed that in 2018 Belgian caricatures exist that scream anti-Semitism so bluntly… we demand the caricature be summarily expunged.” Ynet News reported that in May Flemish Education Minister Julia Crevits wrote to Segal, announcing the cartoon would be removed from the next edition of the book. The news site quoted Segal as stating, “We welcome the education minister’s understanding of the gravity of the matter and her action to expunge it.” Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom There were reports of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews during the year. Except for anti-Semitic incidents, which it defined as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against the practice of the Jewish religion and tracked separately, Unia reported 319 complaints of religious discrimination or harassment in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 390 complaints in 2016. Approximately 85 percent of incidents targeted Muslims. There were 10 incidents against Christians, five against Jewish religious practice, and three against nonbelievers. According to Unia, 39.5 percent of the complaints in 2017 involved speech in media or on the internet (half of these media/internet complaints involved Facebook), 26 percent concerned discrimination in the workplace, and 11 percent occurred in the education sector (where a plurality of incidents involved restrictions or prohibitions on wearing of the hijab). Unia also preliminarily reported 101 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, one of the highest totals in recent years, and 80 percent more than the 56 incidents reported in 2017. The report did not cite details of any of the incidents. Jewish groups reported anti-Semitic statements and attitudes in the media and in schools during the year, including ones related to the Holocaust. On July 3, two persons assaulted a Muslim woman in Anderlues, pulling off her headscarf and some clothes, including her bra, calling her a “dirty Arab,” knocking her to the ground, and then cutting her body, forming the shape of a cross. Police said they were investigating and did not disclose information on the victim’s condition. In December according to press reports, a man in Anderlecht punched a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the street. The footage was shared on the internet, and the woman called on the authorities to find her attacker. The Muslim Executive condemned the attack as “Islamophobic.” In October a man in Marchienne-au-Pont threatened a Jewish couple and their son in front of their home with a gun, saying he would shoot the woman in the head. The man had reportedly threatened the woman the week prior before the incident. Following the second incident, an unidentified person fired a shot from a vehicle in front of the Jewish couple’s home. In July the same woman stated that she and her family had become the target of harassment after neighbors discovered the family was Jewish. The woman said death threats had been stuffed into their mailbox and anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on their front door. She reported one letter called her “a dirty whore.” The family complained to the police, who had not identified any suspects. In February according to press reports, police said that an incident earlier that month in which a car nearly ran down an Orthodox Jewish man and his son was not anti-Semitic, contradicting a statement by the Belgian League Against anti-Semitism. Security cameras showed the car jumping the curb and swerving towards the father and son, who were dressed in Hasidic garb. Police reportedly charged the driver with driving while intoxicated. Also in February police briefly detained a man described as a refugee after security camera footage showed him destroying at least 20 mezuzahs in Antwerp and vandalizing the doorways of several Jewish institutions. Additional footage showed the man placing a Quran near a synagogue and knocking the hat off an Orthodox Jew on the street. Police released the man without charging him. Unia reported 82 complaints of workplace discrimination based on religion in 2017, compared with 88 in the previous year. The main target of reported discriminations were Muslims. According to Unia, NGOs, and media, incidents of religious discrimination towards Muslims in both the workplace and educational institutions typically involved actions directed against women wearing headscarves and a failure to make accommodations for prayer, religious holidays, or dietary requirements. In October the National Secretary for Culture of the ACOD public service trade union, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, wrote an article for online alternative media site De Wereld Morgen accusing Israel of starving and poisoning Gaza and kidnapping and murdering children for their organs. Wilfried Van Hoof, a private citizen, filed a complaint with Unia against Vanderbeeken. In May, according to press reports, police authorities transferred a Brussels senior police officer from his post while they investigated reports the officer had engaged in Holocaust denial and insulted Jewish subordinates. At year’s end the investigation was ongoing. In May the League Against Anti-Semitism filed a complaint of anti-Semitism involving testimony from multiple witnesses against the head of the canine police unit in the Midi police zone of the Brussels-Capital Region. One report stated he broadcast Nazi songs and shouted that the Nazi extermination camps and gas chambers were lies. According to Flemish and Francophone news media, including the news service of public broadcaster VRT and newspaper De Standaard, the group Schild & Vrienden (Shield & Friends) was an extreme right-wing movement that portrayed itself as a conservative, family-values, Flemish national group but was secretly seeking to influence social and political circles with an agenda that included anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim messages and Nazi propaganda. Journalists stated young people in the group were driving the movement and organizing training and camps abroad. News articles cited boot camps with close combat and weapons training, as well as political outreach training. Reportedly, the group’s leadership instructed members that their activities should remain nonviolent during organization-sponsored events. Media also reported the group circulated anti-Semitic messages and that Ghent University suspended its leader, Dries Van Langenhove. According to a report in the newspaper La Libre, Arabic-language training manuals for imams used in the Islamic and Cultural Center of Belgium, which included the Grand Mosque of Brussels, contained incitements to violence against Druze and Alawite religious minorities and hatred of Jews. One manual referred to the fictitious and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The newspaper cited as a source a report for a parliamentary review committee by the government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis issued in February and covering 2016-17. In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 785 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Belgium responded to the online survey. Twenty-eight percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 39 percent reported being harassed over the same period. One-quarter of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 87 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years. In November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a monument commemorating Holocaust victims was vandalized in Ghent. Anti-Semitic comments appeared on Google Business and “Jews of Antwerp” Facebook pages in November. In April Prime Minister Charles Michel joined Jewish groups, including the European Jewish Congress, in expressing regret at the Free University of Brussels’s decision to award British filmmaker Ken Loach an honorary doctorate. Speaking about the award at Brussels’ Grand Synagogue, Michel said, “No accommodation with anti-Semitism can be tolerated.” According to press reports, some critics accused Loach, a longtime Palestinian advocate and critic of Israel, of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial after remarks he made during an interview in 2017. Loach strongly denied he was anti-Semitic, calling the charge “malicious.” The Free University stood by its decision to honor Loach and issued a statement by Loach in which he said the Holocaust was real and “not to be doubted.” In August the Brussels public transportation authority dismissed an employee after it discovered he had Nazi tattoos on his arm. In May an Antwerp court sentenced a man to five months in prison and fined him 300 euros ($340) for Holocaust denial for statements he had made at his workplace in 2016. In June an Antwerp court sentenced a man to a partially suspended sentence of 18 months in prison and a 1,600 euro ($1,800) fine for incitement to hatred, harassment, and vandalism with racist intent against Jews and Jewish symbols. Media reports did not provide further details about the case. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement U.S. embassy officials discussed continued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment in meetings with representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice; and regional governments. Embassy officials also discussed with government officials the continued efforts of Buddhist and Hindu groups to obtain recognition and the status of the government’s plans to encourage more mosques to apply for official recognition as places of worship. In October the embassy sponsored the visit of a United States-based imam, who also headed an NGO fostering dialogue, to engage with religious leaders, local police officials, NGOs, and academics on ways to promote interfaith and intercultural understanding and tolerance. Also in October the embassy sponsored a Flemish Muslim community leader who runs a network for young Muslim professionals to participate in an exchange focusing on religious pluralism. In November the embassy sponsored the participation of a Francophone politician and civil society leader in a training program focused on youth empowerment and tolerance. Additionally, the embassy awarded small grants to fund programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding among youth. The embassy supported the NGO Actions in the Mediterranean, led by a prominent Jewish community leader and politician, which educated high school youth of different religious backgrounds on how to work constructively and bridge divides around the topic of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The embassy also supported a local NGO that taught negotiation skills to diverse groups of high school students from different religious and cultural backgrounds to promote mutual understanding. The embassy provided a grant to the Jewish Museum of Brussels to highlight the work of a Jewish photographer and invited disadvantaged youth groups of predominantly Muslim background to the Jewish Museum for guided tours to promote religious tolerance. Embassy officials regularly met with religious leaders to discuss incidents of religious discrimination and ways to counter public manifestations of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiment. They continued engagement with activists from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to promote interreligious understanding. In March the embassy sponsored the attendance of eight Belgian student leaders from a variety of Muslim NGOs who had participated in the embassy’s youth interfaith competition in 2017 at a leadership, intercultural, and interfaith program in the United States. The program focused on developing leadership skills by fostering tolerance and mutual understanding through interfaith dialogue. In June the embassy cohosted an iftar for disadvantaged Muslim and other youth who used the arts to promote religious tolerance and inclusion during Ramadan. In July the embassy sponsored the participation of six experts on Islam from academia, NGOs, and the clergy in an interfaith program in the United States that highlighted religious freedom and interfaith relations as pathways to a more tolerant society. Belize Executive Summary The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom to express one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. Nondenominational “spirituality” classes, including morals, values, and world religions, are taught in public schools; opt-outs are possible. The government continued to engage religious groups in the country on its stated commitment to fostering tolerance for religious minorities and for protecting religious freedom and equal protection under the law. Religious groups routinely collaborated with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to carry out missionary work in the country. Thirteen religious radio stations continued to operate countrywide. The interfaith Belize Chaplain Service (BCS) continued to promote several initiatives, such as counseling services for relatives of crime victims and for police officers, with the stated objective to provide professional, multifaith, compassionate pastoral care to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the public. Embassy representatives met with government officials to emphasize the importance of the government’s continued engagement with a wide spectrum of religious groups in the country, including with Christians and non-Christian religious minorities. The embassy invited representatives of religious groups to participate in embassy programming and outreach and to reinforce the role of religious groups in promoting respect for religious diversity and tolerance. The embassy also used social media to promote broad messages of religious tolerance. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the population at 386,000 (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2010 census, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious group, accounting for 40 percent of the population. Protestants make up 32 percent, including Pentecostals (8 percent), Seventh-day Adventists (5 percent), Anglicans (5 percent), Mennonites (4 percent), Baptists (4 percent), Methodists (3 percent), and the Church of the Nazarene (3 percent). Jehovah’s Witnesses make up 2 percent of the population, while other religious groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians, The Salvation Army, and Baha’is, together constitute 11 percent. Approximately 15 percent of the population does affiliate with a listed religious organization. No religious group is a majority in any of the country’s six districts. Catholics reside throughout the country. Mennonites and Pentecostals reside mostly in the rural areas of the Cayo and Orange Walk Districts. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom – either alone or in community with others – to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It states that no one may be compelled to take an oath contrary to one’s religion or belief. The constitution stipulates that religious groups may establish places of education and states that “no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.” Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal. The preamble to the constitution acknowledges “the supremacy of God.” The Council of Churches, a board including representatives from several major Christian denominations, and the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches (BAEC), together appoint one individual to the senate with the governor general’s concurrence. The two groups together include the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, the Salvation Army, the Chinese Christian Mission, the Church of Christ, Assembly of God Church, the Seventh-day Adventists, and other evangelical Protestant groups. They do not include, however, the National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB), which split from the BAEC in 2015 over political differences, or any non-Christian denominations. The current “church” senator was appointed in November 2015. Senate transitions typically occur with a change in administration. An unenforced law limits speech that is “blasphemous or indecent.” The law requires all religious groups to register with the official Companies Registry in the Ministry of the Attorney General in a process similar to that of a business. Registration permits the religious organization to operate legally in the country; receive state recognition; negotiate, sue, and be sued; own property; hire employees; and lend or borrow money. There is a one-time registration fee of 295 Belize dollars ($150) and a yearly fee of five Belize dollars ($3). Requirements for registration include a memorandum of association with the government delineating the group’s objective and mission, an article of association, and a letter from the central bank if the organization has foreign financial contributors. The government may shut down the facilities of groups that fail to register. The government does not levy property taxes on churches and other places of worship. Other church-owned buildings occupied on a regular basis, such as clergy residences, are not tax-exempt. Religious organizations may also partner with the state to operate schools, run hospitals and other charity organizations, and, depending on funding availability, receive financial assistance from the government. The public school curriculum includes weekly nondenominational “spirituality” classes incorporating morals and values. Government-aided church-run schools are allowed to teach lessons on world religions for students from kindergarten through sixth grade. While there is no official rule that governs a student’s ability to opt out of these sessions, parents may decide their children will not attend. The constitution prohibits any educational institution from obligating a child to attend any religious ceremonies or observances. Christian churches manage most public elementary schools, high schools, and some colleges. Schools routinely observe Catholic and other Christian holidays at the schools’ discretion. Non-Christian religious groups run a few schools, such as the Muslim Community Primary School in Belize City. The law grants respect for inmates’ religious beliefs, and as such, inmates may participate in religious activities in prison. Religious leaders may request use of the chapel inside the facility and offer religious services to inmates. Prison authorities avoid requiring unnecessary work by prisoners on Sunday and other major Christian religious holidays (Christmas and Good Friday), and by prisoners recorded as belonging to other religions on their recognized day of religious observance. The law allows religious scriptures and other books of religious observance be made available to prisoners. To enter the country and proselytize, foreign religious workers need a multi-entry visa, which costs 100 Belize dollars ($50) and is valid for one year. Applicants must also purchase a religious worker’s permit, costing 50 Belize dollars ($25). The visas are renewable on an annual basis. Visa requirements include information on intended length of stay, location, funding for activity, and specific purpose. Members of all religious groups are eligible to obtain visas. While a group does not need to be locally registered, recommendation by a locally registered religious group lends more credibility to the visa request, according to local authorities. The Belize Defense Force retains a nondenominational chaplain and space for religious observance. With the prior consent of authorities, any religious group may use the space for worship. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices The government continued to engage religious groups on fostering tolerance for religious minorities, protecting religious freedom, and ensuring equal protection under the law. Government engagement included meetings with the Council of Churches, Church Senator Ashley Rocke, and several other religious leaders. The government-owned and financed central prison continued to run under the administration of a Catholic NGO, the Kolbe Foundation, providing policing and security, and helping ensure all prisoners had the right to practice their religion. Religious leaders from varying denominations visited the prison to hold services at a nondenominational chapel in the prison. Kolbe reported the prison continued to respect dietary restrictions for prisoners from various religious backgrounds. Several religious groups, including Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, Nazarenes, Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Baptists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to make frequent use of the access to clergy granted by the prison administration. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Local religious groups, especially from Protestant denominations, continued to affiliate with international NGOs and religious partners from the United States and Canada to carry out missionary work in the country. They held joint conferences and outreach activities to address health, poverty, and education issues. Thirteen registered religious-based radio stations continued to operate in the country. Some sources said evangelical Protestant groups continued to own and run most of the stations. Other stations included one Catholic, two Mennonite, and one Pentecostal radio station. The interfaith BCS, which promotes respect for religious diversity and includes representatives from Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, Chinese Christian Mission, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal Churches, as well as Muslim and Baha’i leaders, promoted several initiatives. These initiatives included counselling services for relatives of crime victims, with the objective to provide professional, multifaith, compassionate pastoral care to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the public. BCS offered services to the central prison and the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital staff, patients, and relatives. BCS ran the chapel at the hospital, offering weekly Sunday services and Muslim prayers on Friday. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Embassy representatives met with government officials to emphasize the importance of the government’s continued engagement with a wide spectrum of religious groups in the country, including with Christians and non-Christian religious minorities. The embassy invited religious leaders to participate in embassy programs and outreach and to reinforce the role of religious groups in promoting respect for religious diversity and tolerance. The embassy also used social media to promote broad messages of religious tolerance. Benin Executive Summary The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice. All religious groups must register with the government. In February and March President Patrice Talon met with leaders of the Catholic Church, the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB), the Islamic Union of Benin (UIB), and the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin (CAEEB) to discuss government reforms and ways to defuse social discord. Bishop Antoine Sabi Bio donated furniture, teaching materials, and hardware to private French-Arabic primary and secondary schools in the city of Natitingou and stated that among the aims was to encourage interreligious dialogue. Embassy staff met with representatives from various religious groups to discuss their roles in promoting interreligious dialogue within the country. Embassy officials met with imams and Quranic teachers during visits to mosques and Quranic schools in the predominantly Muslim north. The Ambassador donated foodstuffs to the Muslim community at Ramadan and conveyed a message of religious tolerance. The Ambassador hosted an iftar with leaders from various religious groups during which she highlighted the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.3 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2013 census, 48.5 percent of the population is Christian, 27.7 percent is Muslim (mostly Sunni), 11.6 percent practice Voodoo, 2.6 percent are members of indigenous religious groups, 2.6 percent are members of other religious groups, and 5.8 percent declare no religious affiliation. The largest Christian denominations are Roman Catholicism with 25.5 percent of the population, and Celestial Christians with 6.7 percent. Other smaller religious groups include Methodists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is, Baptists, Pentecostals, the Family Federation of World Peace and Unification, the Very Holy Church of Jesus Christ of Baname, and Eckankar followers. Many individuals who identify themselves as Christian or Muslim also practice Voodoo or other traditional religions. Most Muslims are concentrated in northern regions. The few Shia Muslims are primarily foreign residents. Southern regions are predominantly Christian. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution establishes a secular state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of religious thought, expression, and practice, consistent with public order as established by law and regulations. The Ministry of Interior and Public Security has the authority to deploy the Republican Police to intervene in conflicts between religious groups to ensure public order and social peace, provided the intervention complies with the principle of state neutrality in religious affairs. Persons who wish to form a religious group or establish a religious affiliation must register with the Ministry of Interior. Registration requirements include submission of administrative materials (including the applicant’s birth certificate, police record, request letter, copy of identification, and the group’s internal rules) and payment of a registration fee of 50,000 CFA francs ($88). If a group is not registered, the Ministry of Interior orders the closing of its religious facilities until the group registers. By law, public schools may not provide religious instruction. Religious groups may establish private schools with authorization from the state and may benefit from state subsidies. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Observers stated that religious groups continued to hold political influence and their influence extended into other aspects of society. Local politicians regularly sought the support of religious leaders in addressing social issues. President Talon met with leaders of the Catholic Church on February 7, the Protestant Methodist Church of Benin (EPMB) on February 14, the Islamic Union of Benin (UIB) on February 22, and the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin (CAEEB) on March 1. During these meetings, the leaders discussed government reforms and ways to defuse social discord triggered by a labor dispute involving the health, justice, and education sectors. Each religious group proposed solutions for defusing the social crisis. Authorities released on bail four detained priests of the Baname Church charged with manslaughter. The priests were charged and jailed following a 2017 incident in which five followers of the Baname Church died from asphyxiation and several were hospitalized after church leaders told followers to shut themselves in their prayer rooms and burn incense and charcoal. Bail for the detainees ranged from 10 to 20 million CFA francs ($17,600 to $35,200) and the case remained pending at year’s end. Government officials continued to attend inductions, funerals, and other religious ceremonies organized by various groups. State-owned television often broadcast these events. Police continued to provide security for any religious event upon request. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom On February 12, Bishop Sabi Bio of Natitingou in the northwest donated furniture, teaching materials, and hardware to private French-Arabic primary and secondary schools in the city. The bishop stated the donation aimed to contribute to students’ educations and to encourage interreligious dialogue. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Embassy officials met with representatives of religious groups and encouraged religious tolerance. Embassy officials met with the President of the Group of the Evangelical Church Association of Benin and the Secretary General of the Islamic Union of Benin on March 20 and May 3, respectively, to discuss their roles in nation building and to share views on interreligious dialogue in the country. The embassy encouraged them to continue their activities promoting interreligious tolerance and understanding. On July 31, the Ambassador met with the imam of a large mosque in Cotonou and discussed ways to promote continued productive relations among the country’s various religious groups, and between these groups and the country’s government. On June 4-7, the Ambassador and other embassy officials visited three mosques and two Quranic schools in the predominantly Muslim north, in the towns of Nikki, Parakou, and Perere. The embassy delegation met with imams, members of mosque congregations, and Quranic teachers. The Ambassador expressed the U.S. commitment to advancing religious tolerance. On June 11, the Ambassador hosted an iftar with religious leaders from various religious groups during which she delivered remarks highlighting the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and respect for religious diversity. During Ramadan, the Ambassador also donated foodstuffs to the Muslim community and conveyed a message of religious tolerance. Bhutan Executive Summary The constitution recognizes Buddhism as the state’s “spiritual heritage,” provides for freedom of religion, and bans discrimination based on religious belief. The constitution states religious institutions and personalities shall remain “above politics.” The law restricts religious speech promoting enmity between religious groups and requires religious groups to obtain licenses to hold public religious gatherings. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that the lack of clarity in the law addressing “inducements” to conversion placed the activities of minority religious groups at risk of legal sanction by the government. NGO representatives, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, expressed continued concern over the lack of a clear definition in the constitution and legal code for terms such as “inducement” to religious conversion, which they indicated was tantamount to anticonversion legislation. Churches that applied for registration continued to await approval from the government’s Commission for Religious Organizations (CRO). Because of these delays, there was only one registered non-Buddhist religious group in the country: the Hindu Dharma Samudaya, an umbrella body representing the Hindu population of the country; registered Buddhist groups increased from 95 to 110. Media reports indicated authorities continued to support construction of Hindu temples, including a major project in the capital. The NGO Open Doors continued to maintain the country on its watch list, stating the government suppressed Christianity. NGOs reported that unregistered religious groups continued to be able to worship in private, but according to the law, they were unable to organize publicly, own property, raise funds, conduct outreach activities, or import literature. Christians said they continued to hold religious meetings discreetly in private facilities; Christians living near the border with India continued to travel to Northeast India to worship and attend workshops, according to one foreign pastor. Open Doors reported that authorities did not permit a student to graduate because of her Christian faith. According to NGOs, societal pressure on individuals to participate in Buddhist traditions and practices continued. One Christian told Open Doors he was fired from his company after discussing his faith with his coworkers. NGOs reported continuing societal discrimination against Christians in their personal and professional lives, and converts experienced pressure from family members to return to Buddhist beliefs and customs. The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan or a diplomatic presence in the country. During periodic visits, officers from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi engaged with a wide range of both government and nongovernment figures, including on issues relating to freedom of religious practice and treatment of religious minorities. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 766,000 (July 2018 estimate). According to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center, approximately 75 percent of the population follows the Drukpa Kagyu or Nyingma schools of Buddhism. Hindus are approximately 22 percent of the total population and reside mostly in southern areas. According to the Pew Research Center and the Open Doors World Watch List, estimates of the size of the Christian community range from the low thousands to 20,000. Most Christians are concentrated in towns in the south and are of Nepali origin. Although traditional Bon practices are often combined with Buddhist practices, very few citizens adhere exclusively to this religious tradition, according to scholars. The Sharchop ethnic group, which makes up the majority of the population in the east, practices elements of Tibetan Buddhism combined with elements of the Bon tradition and Hinduism, according to scholars. Media continued to report there were more than 53,000 foreign workers in the country, most from India. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said as of January there were approximately 60,000 Indian nationals living in Bhutan for construction-related labor, as well as between 8,000 and 10,000 workers crossing into and out of the country on a daily basis. While there is no data on their religious affiliation, most are likely Hindu and, in fewer numbers, Muslim. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution recognizes Buddhism as the state’s “spiritual heritage” and stipulates it is “the responsibility of all religious institutions and personalities to promote the spiritual heritage of the country.” The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and bans discrimination based on faith. The constitution says the king must be Buddhist and requires the king to be the “protector of all religions.” The constitution states, “No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.” The penal code criminalizes coercion or inducement to convert as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits oral or written communication “promoting enmity between religious groups” and provides for sentences of up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. There were no reports of prosecutions. The penal code states individuals found guilty of promoting civil unrest by advocating “religious abhorrence,” disturbing public tranquility, or committing an act “prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony” between religious groups shall be subject to punishment of five to nine years’ imprisonment. The law requires religious groups to register with the CRO. To register, a religious group must submit an application demonstrating its leaders are citizens and disclose their educational background and financial assets. The law also specifies the organizational structure, bylaws, and procedural rules registered religious organizations must follow. The law prohibits religious organizations from “violating the spiritual heritage” of the country and requires them to protect and promote it. The law also states no religious organization shall do anything to impair the sovereignty, security, unity, or territorial integrity of the country. The law mandates the CRO certify that religious groups applying for registration meet the requirements specified in the law. Registered religious groups may raise funds for religious activities; they are exempt from taxes. Registered groups require permission from local government authorities to hold public meetings outside of their registered facilities and must seek permission from the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs to invite foreign speakers or receive foreign funds. Unregistered religious groups may not organize publicly, own property, raise funds, conduct outreach activities, or import literature. According to the law, these activities are subject to penalties ranging from fines to prison terms, depending on the offense. Unregistered religious groups may hold private worship services in homes. The law states it is an offense for a religious group to provide false or misleading information in its religious teachings, to misuse investments, or to raise funds illegally. The CRO has authority to determine whether the content of a group’s religious teachings is false or misleading and whether it has raised funds illegally. Sanctions include fines and potential revocation of registration. The law states the CRO shall consist of an eight-member board responsible for overseeing the structure of religious institutions, enforcing the constitutional separation between the government and religious organizations, and monitoring religious fundraising activities. The chairperson of the board is a cabinet minister appointed by the prime minister, currently the minister of home and cultural affairs. A senior official from the Ministry of Finance and one of the king’s appointees to the National Council also sit on the board. The director of culture in the Ministry of Home Affairs serves as an ex-officio secretary. Heads of Buddhist religious bodies and the Hindu Dharma Samudaya occupy the remaining seats. The law requires the CRO to “ensure that religious institutions and personalities promote the spiritual heritage of the country” by developing a society “rooted in Buddhist ethos.” The constitution states the king shall appoint the chief abbot of the central monastic body on the advice of the five masters of the monastic body. Those individuals and a civil servant administrative secretary make up the Commission for Monastic Affairs, which manages issues related to Buddhist doctrine. The constitution says the state will provide funds and “facilities” to the central monastic body. The law permits the government to “avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses for public assembly, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and imposing curfews. The government may apply these measures to groups and organizations of all kinds, including religious groups. Government approval is required to construct religious buildings. By law, all buildings, including religious structures, must adhere to traditional Bhutanese architectural standards. The CRO determines conformity with these standards. The constitution states religious institutions have the responsibility to ensure religion remains separate from the state. It also says, “Religious institutions and personalities shall remain above politics.” The law prohibits religious organizations from involvement in political activity. Ordained members of the clergy of any religion may not engage in political activities, including running for office and voting. The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices NGO representatives, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, expressed continued concern over the lack of a clear definition in the constitution and legal code for terms such as “inducement” to religious conversion, which they indicated was tantamount to anticonversion legislation. They stated this lack of clarity continued to put the religious activities of minority religious groups at risk, citing religious teaching, charitable services, and public education as examples of activities the government could penalize. The NGO representatives said the potential existed for arbitrary government action; however, there were no reports during the year the government used the law in a punitive fashion, and surreptitious religious conversions from Buddhism to other religions continued. Open Doors listed the country on its World Watch List, stating the government was intent on maintaining a strong national identity and unity by suppressing outside influences, including Christianity. According to Open Doors, churches that previously applied for registration continued to await a response from the CRO. The Hindu Dharma Samudaya remained the only registered non-Buddhist religious group, out of 110 registered groups. During the year, the government registered an additional 15 Buddhist groups. Christian groups attempting to register on multiple occasions in the past also received no official response, according to previous information from local Christians. They said the lack of registration meant they continued not to be able to raise funds and to have their legality questioned at the district and village levels. Open Doors reported cases of Christian farmers being excluded from participating in communal planting and harvesting activities. Christian groups reported the government continued to provide preferential treatment to Buddhist groups for financial support. Unregistered religious groups continued to worship in private, according to one foreign pastor who mentioned receiving some reports of increased tolerance of Christian services by authorities. The groups, however, remained unable to exercise certain rights such as property ownership. Members of the Christian community continued to report holding religious meetings discreetly in private facilities. The foreign pastor reported that some Christians living close to the country’s border traveled to India for worship. Open Doors reported that a church building was locked up and another demolished. Open Doors reported that a Christian man was denied a government identification card because his Christian mother refused to renounce her faith in the registration process. Christians previously reported they often faced difficulty or failed to obtain a “non-objection certificate” from local authorities, required for loan and employment applications, property registration, and the renewal of identification cards. The government continued its financial assistance for the construction of Buddhist temples and shrines, as well as funding for Buddhist monks and monasteries. In a June speech, the then prime minister reported the government completed construction of a Buddhist college and a Hindu temple and that two other Hindu temples were under construction in Thimphu and Gelephu. NGOs reported compulsory Buddhist daily prayer sessions in schools continued. Children of Christian families faced discrimination from teachers and sometimes were denied access to schools, according to the NGOs. Open Doors reported one student was kept from graduating from school because she was a Christian. Courts and some other government institutions remained housed within or adjacent to Buddhist monasteries. Some religious groups previously stated government ceremonies continued to involve mandatory Buddhist prayer rituals. According to an NGO, there was continued pressure on non-Buddhists in civil service positions to participate in Buddhist rites and contribute to festivals. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom NGOs reported continuing societal pressure on individuals to participate in Buddhist traditions and practices. Open Doors said Christians faced discrimination in their personal and professional lives and rated persecution of Christians as “very high.” One Christian said he was fired from his company after discussing his faith with coworkers. According to Open Doors, converts experienced pressure from family members to return to Buddhist beliefs and customs. The group further stated converts faced surveillance by religious leaders and their communities, hindering the free expression and practice of their religious practices. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The United States does not have a diplomatic presence in the country and does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with the government. During periodic visits, officers from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi engaged with a wide range of both government and nongovernment figures, including on issues relating to freedom of religious practice and treatment of religious minorities. Bolivia Executive Summary The constitution stipulates the state is independent of religion and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion, and cult, expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private.” The constitution and other laws give educational institutions the right to teach religion, including indigenous spiritual belief classes. Religious leaders of various Christian and non-Christian groups stated that the country’s registration law had the potential to limit their ability to operate independently and could favor particular religious groups. Church leaders again worked with the government on a legislative proposal exempting churches from the registration requirements with a grace period of five years if the legislation passes. According to evangelical Protestant community sources, several smaller religious communities with “house churches” still preferred not to register their organizations, stating they did not want to provide the government with access to private internal information. In January the congress abrogated revisions of the penal code, including an article criminalizing recruitment into “religious organizations or cults.” In December, following a meeting with evangelical Protestant leaders, the government announced it would introduce a draft religious freedom law in February 2019. Tensions between Christian church leaders, particularly Roman Catholics, and government officials continued. Government officials continued to criticize church representatives for speaking out on presidential term limits and other political issues. Evangelical Protestant leaders again stated the government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by employing ethnic Aymara rituals and practices during government events and ceremonies. Evangelical Protestant leaders again cited expulsions by indigenous religious leaders of evangelical pastors from rural areas because the pastors had refused to participate in ancestral practices and rituals. U.S. embassy access to government officials was still limited despite embassy requests for meetings. Embassy staff regularly met with religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom. The Charge d’Affaires hosted interfaith meetings for religious leaders in October and November. Representatives from the evangelical Protestant, Catholic, Methodist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jewish, and Muslim religious groups participated. Topics discussed included the government’s respect for religious freedom and practices and the importance of respect for religious freedom, diversity, and tolerance. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.3 million (July 2018 estimate). According to U.S. government figures, 77 percent of the population identifies as Catholic and 16 percent as Protestant, including evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal groups. According to the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ in La Paz, approximately 300,000 thousand followers reside in the country; the Church of Jesus Christ’s central website estimates more than 200,000 followers. Approximately 5 percent identify with smaller religious groups and 5 percent self-identify as nonbelievers. There are approximately 1,500 Muslims and approximately 450 Jews, according to leaders of the respective faiths and news reports. Many indigenous communities, concentrated in rural areas, practice a mix of Catholic and indigenous spiritual traditions. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework According to the constitution, the state respects and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion and cult,” expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private. The constitution stipulates the state is independent of all religion. The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, including in access to educational institutions, health services, and employment and protects the right of access to public sport and recreational activities without regard to religion. The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in order to operate legally. Pursuant to a concordat with the Holy See, the Catholic Church is exempt from the registration law. According to the MFA’s Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations Office, religious organizations must fulfill 14 requirements to register their organization with the government. Organizations must submit their notarized legal documents, including statutes, internal regulations, and procedures; rental agreement documents, utility invoices for the place(s) of worship, and a site map; detailed information on board members and legal representatives, including criminal background checks; an INTERPOL certificate for foreigners; and proof of fiscal solvency. They must also provide the organization chart, with names, addresses, identification card numbers, and photographs; a full list of members and identifying information; details on activities and services provided by the organization, including the location of the services; and information on their financing source(s), domestic and/or foreign. The requirements for classification as a spiritual organization or religious organization vary slightly, but the government requires essentially the same type of information from both spiritual and religious entities. The constitution defines a spiritual organization as a group of natural, national, and/or foreign persons who organize themselves to carry out practices that develop their spirituality according to their ancestral worldview. Most spiritual organizations are indigenous in their origins. The constitution defines a religious organization as a group of natural, national, and/or foreign persons who organize themselves with the purpose of carrying out practices of worship and/or belief around a Supreme Being, in order to develop their spirituality and religiosity, and whose purpose does not pursue profit. The government may revoke a spiritual or religious organization’s operating license if the organization does not produce an annual report of activities for more than two consecutive years; does not comply with its stated objectives; carries out activities different from those established in its statute; or carries out activities contrary to the country’s constitution, laws, morality, or “good customs.” A religious or spiritual organization may also lose its operating license if it does not comply with the deadline for renewing the license. A 2017 regulation requires religious and spiritual groups to reregister their operating licenses to ensure all documents list the official name of the country as “Estado Plurinacional.” Prior to this new requirement, organizations could carry an older version of licenses that listed the name of the state as “Republica de Bolivia.” Reregistration also requires any amendments to organizations’ bylaws to conform to all new national laws. Organizations must comply with the new registration requirements by 2019. Registered religious groups receive tax, customs, and other legal benefits. The fees to obtain an operating license differ between “Religious Organizations” and “Spiritual Organizations,” with costs of 6,780 bolivianos ($990) and 4,068 bolivianos ($590), respectively. The government reserves the right to revoke an organization’s operating permit for noncompliance with the registration requirements. The government may not deny legal recognition to any organization based on its articles of faith. The constitution and other laws provide educational institutions the option to teach religion classes, including indigenous spiritual belief classes, with the stated aim of encouraging mutual respect among religious communities. While religion classes are optional, schools must teach ethics with curriculum materials that promote religious tolerance. The government does not restrict religious teaching in public or private schools, and it does not restrict a student from attending private, religiously affiliated schools. The law also requires all schools to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights. Government Practices Members of the evangelical Protestant community again said several smaller religious communities forming congregations that observe prayer at unofficial worship locations continued to refuse to register their organizations because they preferred not to provide the government with access to internal personal information. Sources stated that these unregistered groups still could neither own property nor have bank accounts in their name; however, the sources said the government did not interfere with these organizations for their refusal to comply with the law. According to the MFA’s Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations, there were approximately 440 registered religious groups, an increase from 434 in 2017. Many religious groups continued to state that the complexity of the registration procedure, including registering the legal name of the organization, required them to seek legal assistance in order to comply. This process generally took four to six months to complete. Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ and evangelical Protestant churches continued to work with the government on a legislative proposal exempting churches from the registration requirements for the next five years. The Bolivian National Association of Evangelicals sent a letter to the foreign minister on September 27, raising what it said was governmental preferential treatment of indigenous groups and citing the fee structure difference to obtain operating licenses for spiritual and religious groups as an example. The government did not respond to the letter during the year. On December 24, after a meeting between evangelical Protestant leaders and President Evo Morales, Foreign Minister Diego Pary, and the previous president of congress, Jose Gonzalez, the government announced the congress would introduce a draft Religious Freedom law in February 2019. In January the congress abrogated the revised penal code, which had included an article criminalizing recruitment into “religious organizations or cults.” The action was reportedly in response to civil society protests of the revision, including from members of the evangelical Protestant community. According to media reports and religious leaders, government leaders continued to criticize religious leaders who publicly commented on political issues. Catholic representatives said the longstanding and public tensions between the Catholic community and the government continued. According to media reports, in June the Bolivian Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CEB) deputy general secretary, Father Jose Fuentes, stated that President Evo Morales’ politics excluded portions of the country’s population. In response to these comments, President Morales accused the CEB of racism. In November Archbishop of Sucre Jesus Juarez stated that the CEB backed the outcome of the 2016 referendum reaffirming term limits for the president and vice president. On November 5, the CEB officially invited President Morales to the Assembly of Bishops. The minister of the Presidency, Alfredo Rada, publicly released a letter rejecting the CEB’s invitation. The letter, signed by Rada, stated that the Office of the President was surprised to receive the invitation because some bishops “attack” the current administration and “persist in using hard and false concepts” such as the accusation that the country’s democracy was at risk. On December 2, the CEB commented on the November 2017 Plurinational Constitutional Court of Bolivia (TCP) ruling, which invalidated the referendum’s outcome by removing term limits for elected officials, thus allowing President Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term. The CEB stated that the TCP decision “constitutes a serious damage to democracy, and ignores the popular will expressed in the referendum of February 21, 2016.” Father Fuentes of the CEB further stated, “This precedent may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the authorities and institutions called to preserve the democratic health of our country. It could put us in a situation of violation of the constitutional order of unforeseeable consequences.” President Morales responded to the CEB’s comments by stating that some bishops and other members of the Catholic Church were “inclined to support the powerful” and were “betraying Jesus” by supporting the opposition. A representative from the Jewish community stated the Jewish community still had no contact with the president or any other kind of relationship with the Morales administration. Evangelical Protestant leaders again said the government violated the constitution’s separation of religion and state by favoring an Andean spiritual philosophy, especially the philosophy of the ethnic Aymara community, over other religious beliefs, in public statements and ceremonies. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Evangelical Protestant leaders again stated that members of indigenous communities continued to expel missionaries and pastors from rural communities for practicing a religion that did not defer to traditional Andean spiritual beliefs. According to leaders in the evangelical Protestant community, indigenous leaders expelled pastors from rural villages for not observing indigenous customs such as making offerings to mother earth. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement U.S. government access to government officials continued to be limited despite embassy requests for meetings. Embassy representatives routinely engaged religious leaders to underscore the importance of tolerance and religious freedom. In October and November the Charge d’Affaires hosted interfaith meetings for religious leaders from the evangelical Protestant, Catholic, Methodist, Church of Jesus Christ, Jewish, and Muslim communities to discuss religious freedom issues, such as registration challenges and perceived discrimination, and to engage religious leaders in interfaith dialogue. Bosnia and Herzegovina Executive Summary The constitutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and each of the country’s two entities – the Federation of BiH (the Federation) and Republika Srpska (RS) – provide for freedom of religious thought and practice, prohibit religious discrimination, and allow registered religious organizations to operate freely. The Federation constitution declares religion to be “a vital national interest” of the constituent peoples. The RS constitution establishes the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.” A provision in the state constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, who predominantly belong to the SOC; Croats, who mainly belong to the Roman Catholic Church; and Bosniaks, who are predominantly Muslim – in the parliament and in government positions. Individuals not belonging to one of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they continued to be unable to obtain government positions or seats in parliament. There were few reports of the various levels of government making progress in resolving longstanding issues pertaining to religious freedom and rights. The Islamic Community (IC) continued to express its discontent over what it said was the Presidency’s continued inaction on the anticipated agreement between the state and the IC on certain accommodations for religious adherents. Local religious groups in the minority continued to report discrimination by municipal authorities regarding the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties. In March the Sarajevo Canton Assembly annulled its 2016 decision to name an elementary school after a World War II-era Ustasha anti-Semite who glorified Hitler; at year’s end, the annulment had not been implemented, and the school still bore the name. In April seven defendants were charged for a 2015 attack on a mosque and sentenced to one and a one-half years in prison, but their sentences were suspended pending two years of probation. Of the 209 attacks on religious officials and sites registered by the Interreligious Council (IRC) since 2010, police had identified perpetrators in 73 of the attacks, and the courts had prosecuted 23 of the cases. In an annual report issued in May on the protection of holy sites, the IRC registered 11 attacks from November 1, 2016, through December 31, 2017: seven attacks on IC members’ property, three attacks against SOC cemeteries, and one against property of the Catholic Church. The IRC said again that the failure of authorities to pursue many cases reflected ignorance about hate crimes and a desire to deflect criticism of religious intolerance. There were several instances of vandalism of religious buildings, including a mosque in Kiseljak (in December 2017), an SOC church in Visoko, and a Catholic church in Zenica. The IRC continued to take steps to promote interfaith dialogue, including organizing joint visits of senior religious leaders representing each of the major religious groups to sites of suffering in the past wars, supporting open-door days of religious communities, and sponsoring various projects with women believers and youth. U.S. embassy officials met with government officials to emphasize the need to promote respect for religious diversity and to enforce equal treatment under the law, including for religious minorities. In regular meetings with religious groups, embassy officials continued to urge these groups to improve interreligious dialogue in order to contribute to the development of a peaceful and stable society. In December the Deputy Secretary of State met with leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH to discuss religious freedom and interreligious dialogue. Embassy officials continued to attend significant events in the various religious communities, including events to commemorate Eid al-Fitr, Catholic Christmas, and Orthodox Christmas, to support religious tolerance and dialogue. In December 2017, embassy officials attended a meeting in Banja Luka with the local mufti, Catholic bishop, and Orthodox bishop to discuss ways to encourage increased interreligious dialogue. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population of BiH at 3.9 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the most recent census, conducted in 2013, Sunni Muslims constitute approximately 51 percent of the population; Serbian Orthodox Christians 31 percent; Roman Catholics 15 percent; and others, including Protestants and Jews, 3 percent. There is a strong correlation between ethnicity and religion: Bosnian Serbs affiliate primarily with the SOC, and Bosnian Croats with the Roman Catholic Church. Bosniaks are predominantly Muslim. The Jewish community estimates it has 1,000 members, with the majority living in Sarajevo. The majority of Serbian Orthodox live in the RS, and most Muslims and Catholics in the Federation. Protestant and most other small religious communities have their largest memberships in Sarajevo and Banja Luka. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework 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 the 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. It 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 numerous rights to registered religious communities, including the rights to assemble, conduct collaborative actions such as charity work, raise funds, and 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, SOC, Catholic Church, and 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 state 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 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 communities to establish their own suborganizations, which may operate without restriction. 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 its consent. A concordat with the Holy See recognizes the public juridical personality of the Catholic Church and grants a number of rights, including rights to establish educational and charitable institutions, carry out religious education, and officially recognize 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, due to inaction from the government and also from the SOC. The state recognizes the IC as the sole supreme institutional religious authority for all Muslims in the country, 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 the law, no Islamic group may register with the MOJ or open a mosque without the permission of the IC. The laws of the Federation and RS, as well as those of all 10 cantons, affirm the right of every citizen to religious education. The laws allow a representative of each of the officially registered religious communities to be responsible for teaching religious studies in public and private pre-, primary, and secondary schools and universities if there is sufficient demand. Children from groups that are a minority in a school are entitled to religious education only when there are 18 or more students from that religious group in one class. Religious communities select and train their respective religious education teachers. These individuals are employees of the schools where they teach, but they receive accreditation from the religious body governing the curriculum. The IC, SOC, and 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 right to opt out if their school offers a class in ethics as an alternative, which many schools do. Parents of primary school students may request an exemption for their child from religion class attendance. 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 five primary and 10 secondary Catholic schools spread throughout the Federation and the RS, parents may choose either an elective Catholic religion course or a course in ethics. In Sarajevo and Tuzla Cantons, 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. In September the RS Ministry of Education introduced religious education in secondary schools. 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 state constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – in the government and 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 major ethnicities – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks – according to quotas set by constitutional provisions. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Officials publicly acknowledged the need to the address a 2009 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stating the country should amend its constitution to allow members of religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for president and the parliament’s upper house, but they took no action during the year. According to the ECHR ruling, observers said, by apportioning government positions and seats in the parliament only among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, the constitution discriminated against minority groups. Individuals who were not members of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they could not hold any of the proportionally guaranteed government positions, including the presidency. There were reports of the various levels of government making little progress in resolving longstanding issues pertaining to religious freedom and rights. NGOs, academics, and government agencies reported the continued association of each of the country’s major political parties with the religion practiced by the dominant ethnic group among its membership. The biggest ethnic Bosniak parties continued to align with the IC, the biggest ethnic Croat parties with the Catholic Church, and the two largest ethnic Serb parties with the SOC. NGOs continued to report that government authorities were not enforcing the 2015 decision by the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council prohibiting employees of judicial institutions from wearing any form of “religious insignia” at work, including headscarves. During the year, the Border Police complied with a November 2017 state Constitutional Court ruling that declared their January 2017 regulation prohibiting beards for the police to be unconstitutional and ordering the police to abolish the regulation. According to IC officials, the Presidency again did not approve an agreement, reached in 2015, between the state and the IC that addressed dietary restrictions in public institutions, employer accommodations for daily prayer, and time off to attend Friday prayers as well as to take a one-time trip to Mecca for the Hajj. During the year, the Croat and Serb members of the Presidency refused to put this issue on the agenda of the Presidency sessions due to disputes over the proposed text of the agreement. According to representatives of the Catholic Church, there had been no meeting of the joint commission for the implementation of the concordat with the Holy See since June 2016 due to a perceived lack of government interest. Earlier agreements reached by the commission, including legislation on observing religious holidays, remained unimplemented by the government and parliament. In December SOC officials reported the government had taken no steps to establish a commission to implement the government’s agreement with the SOC. According to officials of religious groups that are in a local minority, authorities at all levels continued to discriminate against those groups with regard to the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties. Drvar municipal authorities continued to refuse construction permits for a new Catholic church, despite repeated requests from the local Catholic priest, the Banja Luka Catholic Diocese, and representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which became directly engaged on the issue. In pursuit of a solution, Drvar Catholics, led by their priest, began raising funds to purchase private land to build the church. In December leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH lamented the lack of any BiH institution responsible for the rights of religious communities. They said this lack hindered efforts on the part of the religious communities to resolve the issue of restitution for property confiscated and nationalized under communist rule from 1946 to 1965. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), provisions of the law regarding the religious education of returnee children remained unimplemented, particularly in segregated school systems, often at the behest of senior government authorities seeking to obstruct the process. Parents of more than 500 Bosniak children, who returned to their prewar homes in several RS communities, continued to boycott public schools for a sixth year, choosing instead to send their children to alternative schools organized on the premises of the IC’s administrative buildings and supported by the Federation Ministry of Education. Academic and NGO representatives reported continued social pressure on students from communities throughout the country to attend instruction in their respective religions. Authorities continued to enforce selectively the rights of religious groups in areas where those groups constituted religious minorities. These members of religious minorities reported discrimination regarding access to education, employment, health care, and other social services. They stated that refugees returning to their original communities pursuant to the Dayton Peace Agreement were particularly subject to discrimination. Leaders of religious minority communities and NGOs, particularly in Canton 10 in the western part of the Federation and several municipalities in eastern RS, reported the continued failure of authorities to provide government services and protections to minorities, including access to health care, pensions, other social benefits, and the transfer of student records between districts. NGOs reported that representatives of minority communities in the Canton 10 municipalities of Drvar, Bosansko Grahovo, and Glamoc were discriminated against particularly when it concerned access to education in their mother tongue and employment in public companies. The community leaders also said local authorities continued to discriminate when it came to providing police protection and investigating threats of violence, harassment, and vandalism. While only a few cases were recorded, the IRC said law enforcement treated these cases as simple theft or vandalism, without taking into consideration the acts occurred at religious sites and could be categorized as hate crimes. According to an annual report published by the IRC in May, only 45 percent of perpetrators were identified in these cases. Because religion and ethnicity often are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many actions as solely based on religious identity. On March 6, the Sarajevo Canton Assembly annulled its 2016 decision to name an elementary school and a street in the town of Dobrosevici in the canton’s Municipality of Novi Grad after Mustafa Busuladzic, a World War II-era Ustasha figure who glorified Hitler and was known for his anti-Semitism. As of the end of the year, the decision remained unimplemented. The school’s website continued to list the school name as Mustafa Busuladzic, and the street was still named after him. During the year, the president of the Jewish Community strongly condemned the continued use of the name. In April seven individuals were convicted for a 2015 attack on a mosque in Tomislavgrad and sentenced to one and one-half years in prison, but their sentences were suspended pending two years of probation. In 2017, a different defendant in the same case pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a similar one-year suspended prison sentence. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom In May the IRC, which records and tracks cases of intolerance and hatred in an annual report when members of affected religious communities report them, released data it had collected between November 2016 and December 2017. The data showed 11 attacks on religious sites, religious officials, or believers during that period (compared with 12 in the report covering November 2015-October 2016). One attack was against a Catholic site, seven against the IC, and three against the SOC. Of 209 attacks on religious officials and sites since 2010, the IRC reported police had identified perpetrators in 73 of the attacks. As of May 2018, the courts had prosecuted 23 of these cases. The IRC stated that while there were fewer reported attacks, authorities continued their practice of not categorizing these attacks as hate crimes. In March unknown perpetrators stole items from and desecrated the Catholic Church of Saint Elijah the Prophet in Zenica, causing significant material damage. The local chapter of the IRC condemned the incident, but as of year’s end, no perpetrators had been identified. In June individuals broke into an Orthodox church in the town of Cekrekije in the Visoko Municipality, set fire to sacral items, and stole valuables. Police arrested two suspects and forwarded the case to the Zenica Doboj Prosecutor’s Office for further proceedings. On July 10, three minors verbally accosted a Catholic nun in the central town of Fojnica. Police identified the perpetrators and discussed the incident with their parents. The local mayor condemned the attack. The Council of Muftis of the IC continued efforts to persuade unregistered Islamic congregations (or para-jamaats), which gathered predominantly Salafist followers and operated outside the purview of the IC, to cease their “unsanctioned” religious practices and officially unite with the IC. While the IC reported that 64 para‑jamaats were active in 2016, only 21 were active and operating outside the auspices of the IC in 2018. On July 18, during a talk show on the Serbian television program Cirilica, also broadcast on Alternative TV in BiH, then RS President and leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats Milorad Dodik referred to the adhan (Muslim call to worship) as “howling” that disturbed citizens in Banja Luka and caused property values to depreciate. The statement drew strong condemnation from opposition politicians, the international community, and the IC. On July 20, anti-Semitic graffiti appeared, almost at the same time, inside the hallways of apartment buildings in Tuzla and Sarajevo, where members of the Jewish community resided. Authorities condemned the incidents. No perpetrators were identified by year’s end. On December 28, 2017, individuals threw beer bottles at the city mosque in Kiseljak, inflicting light damage to the mosque’s facade. Police identified the perpetrators and forwarded the case to the local prosecutor’s office. No information was available what sanctions, if any, were handed down to the perpetrators. The IRC continued to sponsor projects aimed at increasing interfaith dialogue involving women and youth. On April 23, in cooperation with the German Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, the IRC organized its fourth “European Workshop on Facing the Past Burdened with Violence,” which also involved participants from other European countries. Within the project, religious leaders visited places of suffering of each ethnic/religious group from past wars. The visits included the testimonies of victims in those places. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Embassy officials engaged with the Presidency, the BiH Minister of Security, and other ministries to discuss the government’s efforts to combat violent extremism related to religion and religious freedom. They also underscored the need to promote respect for religious diversity and enforce equal treatment under the law, including for religious minorities, emphasizing that restrictions on minority religious groups can lead to their marginalization and possible radicalization. In a December meeting with leaders of the four major religious communities in BiH, the Deputy Secretary of State stressed the importance of religious freedom and interreligious dialogue. The embassy continued to promote interreligious dialogue in regular meetings with leaders and representatives of the four “traditional” religious communities and other religious groups, including discussing ways the groups could contribute to the further development of a peaceful and stable society. In December 2017, the embassy met with the local mufti, Catholic bishop, and Orthodox bishop in Banja Luka to discuss ways to promote interreligious dialogue. As part of a U.S. government program with the IRC to promote peace, reconciliation, tolerance, and coexistence among the country’s diverse religious and ethnic communities, embassy officials regularly attended significant events in the different religious communities – Eid al-Fitr celebrations with the IC, Christmas and Easter celebrations with the Orthodox and Catholic communities, and a Passover seder with the Jewish community. At these events, embassy officials emphasized the importance of interreligious dialogue and respect for religious diversity. The embassy continued to maintain regular contact with the IRC and support its activities, including the development of its first communication strategy, 14 small grant applications to be administered by local IRC chapters, and other activities to help the IRC further develop its institutional capacity. The IRC continued to participate in U.S. government-funded programs designed to help overcome ethnic and religious divisions through dialogue and restore trust among the country’s religious groups. Such events included multiple roundtables featuring prominent women and a youth summit. Botswana Executive Summary The constitution provides for freedom of religion, with certain exceptions, and protection against governmental discrimination based on creed. In July President Mokgweetsi Masisi said he would begin to permit yearlong visas for missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ). The government reportedly remained concerned that unregulated churches entering the country were demanding payments for routine services, and there were also reports that the government required visas for some pastors from countries for which visas were not required. Representatives of religious organizations stated interfaith relations were robust, and there was a high degree of tolerance for religious diversity. The U.S. embassy and senior elected U.S. government officials engaged with the government at high levels regarding residency permits for missionaries and religious freedom. Embassy officials met with representatives of faith groups to discuss religious freedom, interreligious relations, and community engagement. The Ambassador hosted an iftar during Ramadan for representatives of the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim communities, who highlighted the importance of empathy and peace between and among different religious groups. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.2 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2011 Population and Housing Census reporting on the population 12 years of age and over, 79 percent of citizens are members of Christian groups, 15 percent espouse no religion, 4 percent are adherents of the Badimo traditional indigenous religious group, and all other religious groups together constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Anglicans, Methodists, and members of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa make up the majority of Christians. There are also Lutherans, Roman Catholics, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Mennonites, and members of the Dutch Reformed Church and other Christian denominations. According to the 2011 census, there are approximately 11,000 Muslims, many of whom are of South Asian origin. There are small numbers of Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jews. Immigrants and foreign workers are more likely to be members of non-Christian religious groups than native-born citizens. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework Under its broader protections of freedom of conscience, the constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, the right to change religion or belief, and the right to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution permits the government to restrict these rights in the interest of protecting the rights of other persons, national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health when the restrictions are deemed “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” The government has never exercised this provision. The constitution’s provision of rights also prohibits discrimination based on creed. The constitution permits every religious group to establish places for religious instruction at the group’s expense. The constitution prohibits requiring religious instruction or participation in religious ceremonies in a religion other than one’s own. The constitution also prohibits compelling an individual to take an oath that is contrary to that individual’s religious beliefs. The penal code criminalizes “hate speech” towards any person or group based on “race, tribe, place of origin, color or creed” and imposes a maximum fine of 500 pula ($47) per violation. All organizations, including religious groups, must register with the government. To register, a group must submit its constitution to the Registrar of Societies section of the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs. A group must register to conduct business, sign contracts, or open an account at a local bank. In order to register, new religious groups must have a minimum of 150 members. For previously registered religious groups, the membership threshold is 10. Any person who manages, assists in the management of, or holds an official position in an unregistered group is subject to a fine of up to 1,000 pula ($94) and up to seven years in prison. Any member of an unregistered group is subject to penalties including fines up to 500 pula ($47) and up to three years in prison. According to a 2018 survey by the Registrar of Societies, there are 2,308 registered religious organizations. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Optional religious education remained part of the curriculum in public schools; this curriculum continued to emphasize Christianity but also discussed other religious groups in the country. Government regulation of private schools did not distinguish among Christian, Muslim, or secular schools. In general religious groups reported little difficulty or delay in the registration process. In July President Masisi said he would permit yearlong visas for missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ, who previously were permitted only short-term visits. The Church president stated four missionaries were granted one-year stays in September. The government reportedly remained concerned about unregulated churches (sometimes called “fire churches”) coming into the country to take advantage of local citizens by demanding tithes and donations for routine services or special prayers. There were reports by some pastors from countries that normally allowed visa-free travel that the government required them to apply for visas to enter. For example, the government reportedly put Shepherd Bushiri, the Malawian founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), on a visa-required list in April 2017. That same year, on December 6, the Registrar of Societies notified the ECG it had canceled its registration effective the same day. ECG subsequently appealed the decision and at year’s end awaited the determination of the Court of Appeal. The church has 14 branches around the country. Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups occasionally led prayers as well. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Representatives of religious organizations stated interfaith relations were robust, and there was a high degree of tolerance for religious diversity. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The Ambassador, senior embassy officials, and other U.S. government employees continued to engage the government on the issue of visas for Church of Jesus Christ missionaries. Embassy officials engaged with Muslim, Buddhist, Church of Jesus Christ, and other religious representatives to discuss religious freedom, interreligious relations, and community engagement. The Ambassador hosted an iftar for representatives of the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim communities, who highlighted the importance of empathy and peace between and among different religious groups. Brazil Executive Summary The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it guarantees free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. On September 19, a court convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide, which the court ruled was motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings. In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with the Coordination for the Promotion of Ethnic-Racial Equality (COPIER), filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of religious freedom. The Public Ministry filed the case on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva after police officers accused her of practicing black magic and abusing animals. In February the government-associated Brasilia-based Religious Diversity and Human Rights Advisory (ASDIR) and the National Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR) launched a national campaign entitled “Religious Diversity: To Know, To Respect, To Value.” The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week. In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a program incorporating discussions on religious intolerance into the curriculum of 1,249 public schools in the state. In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble houses of worship, known as terreiros, documenting 330 terreiros in the Federal District. In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance. Media reported Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced frequent acts of violence, which they said evangelical Christians committed against their shamanic rituals. According to media reports, unidentified individuals damaged religious buildings at various times throughout the year. These acts included the destruction of religious objects and spray painting of hateful statements at an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Rio de Janeiro in May, spray painting of swastikas on a church in Rio de Janeiro in October, and spray-painting “God is Gay” on a Roman Catholic church in Sao Paulo in the same month. On May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, threatening the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada.” The individuals also attempted to set fire to the building, causing minor damage. Attacks on terreiros continued, two occurring in May and one in July. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including on September 16, the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, which drew approximately 70,000 participants from across the religious spectrum, and on August 19, the Freedom Circuit three-kilometer and five-kilometer run in Brasilia. According to the Ministry of Human Rights’ Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH), its hotline received 210 complaints of religious intolerance between January and June compared with 169 complaints during the same period in 2017. The president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom for Rio de Janeiro State attributed the reported increase in religious intolerance to three factors: “The creation of a service trusted by society, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.” In October embassy officials engaged the Ministry of Human Rights’ coordinator for religious diversity, discussing the status of state religious diversity committees and plans for a potential conference on respect for religious diversity. In February embassy officials attended the event commemorating the Federal District’s third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In December an embassy official discussed with the public defender the increase in societal intolerance of African religions and the importance of applying the law to protect the religious freedom of these groups. Sao Paulo consulate officials met with several evangelical Protestant leaders in the months leading up to the October elections – discussing the leaders’ views on the participation of religious groups in the political process and their priorities from a religious perspective. Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Duque de Caxias, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, in June to speak with Conceicao D’Liss, a priest leader of a Candomble terreiro. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 208.8 million (July 2018 estimate). According to a 2016 Datafolha survey, 50 percent of the population identified as Catholic, compared with 60 percent in 2014. During the same period, the proportion of atheists increased from 6 percent to 14 percent, and the proportion of evangelical Protestants increased from 24 percent to 31 percent. According to the 2010 census, 65 percent of the population is Catholic and 22 percent is Protestant. Adherents of other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as followers of non-Christian religions, including Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and African and syncretic religious groups such as Candomble and Umbanda, comprise a combined 5 percent of the population. Some Christians also practice Candomble and Umbanda. Those identifying with no religion comprise 8 percent of the population. According to the 2010 census, approximately 35,200 Muslims live in the country, while the Federation of Muslim Associations of Brazil states the number at approximately 1.5 million. Some observers say the discrepancy in numbers may be because the 1.5 million figure may include the entire Arab-Brazilian population, all of whom the federation may assume are Muslim, but many of whom are Christian or adhere to other faiths. Religious scholars estimate the actual number of Muslims to be between 400,000 and 500,000. There are significant numbers of Muslims in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Foz do Iguazu, as well as in smaller cities in the states of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul. According to the Jewish Confederation of Brazil, there are approximately 125,000 Jews, 65,000 of whom reside in Sao Paulo State and 25,000 in Rio de Janeiro State. Many other cities have smaller Jewish communities. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed. The constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion. The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance. Courts may fine or imprison for two to five years any individual who displays, distributes, or broadcasts religiously intolerant material; the government did not apply the law during the year. It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance. Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality. States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status. Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship. Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies. Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters. By law, the instruction should be nondenominational, conducted without proselytizing, and with alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate. The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations. A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments. The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices According to media reports, on September 19, a court in Porto Alegre convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings. The attack took place in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul State, on May 8, 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The three convicted defendants were members of a group called Carecas do Brasil (Skinheads of Brazil) that disseminates anti-Semitic and Nazi content on the internet. The three sentences totaled 38 years and eight months in prison. According to media sources, the other 11 defendants in the case would also stand trial; however, by year’s end the court had not set a date. In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with COPIER, filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of the constitutional right to religious freedom. The Public Ministry filed the case for reparation of collective moral damages on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva, who was at the Rei Hungria terreiro when six police officers and one official from the Municipal Secretariat for the Environment (MSE) searched her building alleging she practiced black magic and abused animals. Dos Anjos Silva stated she suffered emotional trauma. The Public Ministry required the municipality to pay 50,000 reais ($12,900). The MSE stated it did not have a policy of restricting the right to use animals for religious worship and ritual and that the inspection was an isolated event carried out without the proper authorization and knowledge of the municipal secretary of the environment or the director of the department of environmental control. Rio de Janeiro State’s hotline, called “Dial to Combat Discrimination,” continued to respond to a growing number of incidents targeting practitioners and terreiros. The state government signed cooperation agreements with local universities to assist victims of religious intolerance. According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, between June and September the hotline received 32 calls and assisted 88 victims; no comparable information was available for 2017 because the hotline started operations in August 2017. The secretariat stated 74 percent of the callers were followers of Afro-Brazilian religions. The state also established the Police Station for Racial Crimes and Incidents Related to Religious Intolerance, created in August and officially launched in December. On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In Rio de Janeiro, the state governor signed a bill on January 19 to create the State Council for Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom. The council consists of 32 members from civil society, state officials, members of the Brazilian Bar Association, and religious groups. In Bahia State, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions and Black Movement nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) organized a debate and cultural activities at Tumba Junsara terreiro, Engenheiro Velho de Brotas in the state capital Salvador. Other cities, including Sao Paulo and Recife, also held events. In February Brasilia-based ASDIR and SEPPIR launched a campaign entitled “Religious Diversity: To Know, To Respect, To Value.” The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week. The campaign launch featured a showing of the short film “By My Side” (“Do Meu Lado”), a panel discussion on the theme “Dialogue for Diversity,” and the launch of two publications, “Religious Intolerance in Brazil” and “Secular State, Intolerance, and Religious Diversity.” In March the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) prohibited political campaigning in churches and religious spaces as well as in all public spaces. The TSE made its ruling ahead of national elections on October 7 and October 28. Some religious and civil society groups said they did not follow the ruling and continued to campaign for the candidates they supported. In April the Municipal Office for the Respect of Religious Diversity in Rio de Janeiro organized an interfaith seminar for practitioners of different religions in Rio. Approximately 120 individuals attended the event. In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a joint program between the State Secretariat of Education and the State Secretariat of Human Rights and Women’s Policies to incorporate discussions of religious intolerance into the curriculum of all public schools in the state. According to media, students across the state watched a video on religious tolerance produced by students participating in the More Human Education Program at the Pedro II State High School in the northeastern part of the state. This video was the first in a series of five short films; according to media sources, other public schools in the state would also produce original videos, which students could view at school and access on social media platforms. Student discussion would follow video screenings. In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and the University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble terreiros in the Federal District. The study verified the existence of 330 terreiros, of which 87.8 percent are in urban areas. The majority of the terreiros – 58 percent – are Umbanda, while 33 percent are Candomble and 9 percent both. In May the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly approved a bill to reduce prison sentences for prisoners who read the Bible. Based on a general recommendation from the National Council of Justice (CNJ), the law reduced prison sentences for prisoners engaging in work, study, or reading. The CNJ recommendation included reducing sentences by four days for every completed book with a limit of 12 books per year. The Sao Paulo law allows prisoners to receive credit for each individual book in the Bible. In June Federal Deputy Marco Antonio Cabral introduced similar legislation at the national level. In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance. Attendees recommended the creation of police stations in each state dedicated to investigating crimes of racism and religious intolerance, thorough implementation of a law requiring an Afro-Brazilian history and culture class in all schools, a nationwide mapping of violence against followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and financial compensation for victims of racism and religious intolerance. In August Rio de Janeiro State inaugurated a police station dedicated to investigating crimes of race and intolerance. The Federal District, Parana State, and Mato Grosso do Sul State continued to operate similar police stations. In June the Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the Federal District Legislative Assembly held a seminar on Rights, Public Policy, Religion, and Racism. The seminar included sessions on racism and religion; racial crimes, hate crimes, and combating intolerance; and public policies on combating racism and religious intolerance. The Supreme Court case on the right to practice animal sacrifice as an element of religious ritual began on August 9. The Public Ministry in Rio Grande do Sul State brought the case before the court, challenging a state court ruling permitting practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions to perform animal sacrifices. Adherents of Afro-Brazilian religions said the criticism of and challenges to the practice of animal sacrifice were motivated more by racism than concern for the welfare of the animals, stating the practice of animal sacrifice was in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights. On August 8, the eve of the Supreme Court vote, demonstrators gathered in the capitals of Bahia and Pernambuco States to defend animal sacrifice as part of their religious beliefs. Rapporteur Justice Marco Aurelio and Justice Edson Fachim voted to uphold the state ruling; however, Justice Alexandre de Moraes requested additional time to review the case, which indefinitely postponed the final vote of the 11-member court pending the completion of the review. On September 28, the Federal Court in Santa Catarina State overturned a regulation of the capital city of Florianopolis that restricted the hours of operation of terreiros. The existing regulation adopted in 2013 required terreiros to acquire business permits, similar to bars; terreiros without business permits had to close by 2 a.m. every day and could not use candles. On October 23, the Federal District commemorated its third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. The Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with the Federal District Committee for Religious Diversity hosted an interfaith event in Brasilia entitled “Intergenerational Meeting for Respect for Religious Diversity.” Participants discussed the creation of a working group to arrange for public officials to visit places of worship and schools to emphasize the importance of religious tolerance. A religious diversity specialist at the Ministry of Human Rights said five of the country’s 26 states – Amazonas, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Tocantins, and Rio de Janeiro – as well as the Federal District had committees for the respect of religious diversity. The ministry also stated the 10-member National Committee for the Respect of Religious Diversity remained active, meeting four times during the year. In May the State Secretariat of Human Rights launched the Itinerant Forum for the Promotion and Defense of Religious Freedom. The forum assisted victims of religious intolerance in several municipalities in Rio de Janeiro State. According to media, members of the forum visited the Afro-Brazilian terreiro Tenda Espirita Cabocla Mariana in Seropedica, Baixada Fluminense, and spoke to the terreiro priest who received death threats because of her religious leadership role. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Media reported that Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced what the group said were frequent acts of violence by evangelical Protestants against shamanic rituals of the Guarani-Kaiowas. Izaque Joao, an indigenous researcher and historian, said, “The churches enter in large quantities into the indigenous communities, degrading the traditional culture and devaluing traditional beliefs.” Spensy Pimentel, an anthropologist, journalist, and professor from Federal University of Southern Bahia, said, “The most visible facet of religious intolerance has been in incidents of the Umbanda and Candomble terreiros while the attacks on the indigenous groups remain covered up.” Pimental also said, “Incidents of religious intolerance against shamanic believers are rarely registered, because many times they involve the elderly, who speak Portuguese poorly and aren’t accustomed to leaving their villages.” In September Wicca Priestess Alana Morgana said she had been receiving death threats since the spread of rumors, including allegations she was involved in abductions and child sacrifices. An origin for the rumors may have been an unauthorized video posted online on August 13 showing Morgana and other Wiccans participating in a religious ceremony in Rio de Janeiro State. Morgana submitted a letter to local police requesting the removal of the video from the internet. She stated this was the first time in 30 years she had suffered religious reprisals. Media reported police continued to try to identify those who sent the death threats. According to media reports, in May heavily armed drug traffickers raided a Candomble terreiro in Cordovil, a neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro. According to the State Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance, they forced Didi Yemanja, the priestess on site, to leave the terreiro and expelled her from the community. The alleged traffickers said, “She knew she was not allowed to have an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in the neighborhood.” After the assailants expelled the religious leader, they remained near the terreiro to prevent other practitioners from entering. Yemanja said for a few months prior to the incident, Candomble practitioners faced discrimination when wearing religious clothing in public in the neighborhood. Yemanja said she decided not to press charges against the aggressors for fear of reprisals. According to media reports, on May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, telling the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada”; they also attempted to set fire to the building but caused only minor damage. This was the third incident to occur at this synagogue during the year. In response to the incident, President of the Jewish Federation of Rio Grande do Sul Zalmir Chwartzmann said, “We will not tolerate this kind of attitude; an attack of this magnitude is an offense against the democratic state of law, against freedom of expression and religion, as well as a warning that hate speech is passing from theory to practice, importing a conflict that is not Brazilian and putting our entire society at risk.” According to media reports, in July a group of unidentified individuals attacked a Candomble terreiro in Buzios in Rio de Janeiro State. Practitioners were inside when a group of individuals threw stones at the building, damaging the roof but not hurting anyone inside. Rio de Janeiro State police opened an investigation, which continued through the end of the year. Media reported that in May a group of vandals entered the Spiritist Center Caboclo Pena Branca terreiro in Baixada Fluminense, setting fire to some areas of the terreiro, destroying sacred objects, and spray-painting messages such as “get out of here macumbeiros (witches)” and “this is no place for macumba (witchcraft).” Followers of Afro-Brazilian religions said these terms were derogatory when nonpractitioners used them. In September the Jewish Israelite Federation of Rio de Janeiro reported that individuals spray-painted a swastika on a wall of a residence decorated with a mezuzah in the Zona Sul area of the city. They said police were trying to identify the attackers. According to media, on October 4, individuals vandalized the Church of Our Lady of Aparecida in the center of Teodoro Sampaio in Sao Paulo State. The assailants spray painted “God is gay” on the walls of the church. According to media, police identified two female suspects, but it was unclear whether police detained anyone. Media reported that on October 17, police arrested two individuals suspected of vandalizing the Sao Pedro da Serra chapel in Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro State. Police used security camera footage to identify the men who spray-painted swastikas. A third individual turned himself in to police authorities. Between January and June SDH’s nationwide Dial 100 human rights hotline registered 210 complaints related to cases of religious intolerance. The number of complaints during the comparable period of 2017 was 169. According to the Bahia State Secretariat, there were 47 cases of religious intolerance in the state during the year, compared with 21 cases in 2017. As of September the Sao Paulo Secretariat of Justice registered 5,290 reports of religious intolerance in the state. All of the reports were of “verbal harassment” and were under police investigation as cases of defamation, libel, or slander. The Brazilian National Movement against Religious Intolerance, created in 2016, sent 13 cases to the Public Ministry of Sao Paulo for further legal proceedings. These cases involved followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, who said they were subjected to slurs such as “son of Satan” or “Satan’s envoy.” The Mato Grosso do Sul State Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights and the coordinator of racial equality reported the number of cases of religious intolerance in the state increased 800 percent compared with 2017. According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, in Rio de Janeiro there was a 51 percent increase in incidents of religious intolerance from 2017 to 2018. From January until the first week of December, there were 103 incidents of religious intolerance, compared with 68 incidents during the same period in 2017. According to the State Secretariat for Human Rights, African religious groups experienced the greatest number of incidents, with 31 percent of complaints involving practitioners of Candomble, 26 percent other African religions, and 17 percent Umbanda. The municipalities with the highest record of incidents were Rio de Janeiro, Nova Iguacu, and Duque de Caxias – with 49 percent, 10 percent, and 7 percent of incidents occurring in these municipalities, respectively. Marcio de Jagun, president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom, said, “The increase in cases of religious intolerance can be attributed to three factors: the creation of a service in which society trusts, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.” In January the Parana State chapter of the NGO Collective of Negro Entities (CEN) signed a technical cooperation agreement with the Center for Legal Practice at University Positivo and the state’s Public Defender’s Office for the provision of legal counsel in cases of religious intolerance and racism. CEN also formed a group of researchers with expertise on the Umbanda and Candomble religions. The research group said it would produce articles on terreiros and the religious impact of laws and public policy. Media reported that on August 19, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with support from the Brazilian Bar Association in the Federal District (DF), Regional Psychology Council, Religious Diversity Parliamentary Front of the DF Legislative Assembly, and DF Religious Diversity Committee, organized the first Freedom Circuit run in Brasilia. The objective of the event was to promote respect, tolerance, and understanding of religion. More than 100 individuals from various religious faiths participated, during which organizers collected signatures in support of a local bill to combat religious intolerance in public schools in the Federal District. On September 16, the NGO Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance organized the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Organizers estimated the event drew approximately 70,000 practitioners from diverse religious and nonreligious backgrounds, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and atheists. The religious freedom commissions of chapters of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) across the country remained active throughout the year. OAB Recife organized a panel presentation on Citizenship, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom on April 12. OAB Bahia hosted an event called “Islamophobia” in Brazil on May 10. OAB Ceara held a workshop on religious freedom on May 22. OAB Sao Paulo hosted its sixth State Congress on rights and religious liberty on May 25, as well as a discussion on Religious Freedom and Economic Development on September 6. The Jewish Museum of Sao Paulo, built on the remains of Beth-El Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the city, was under construction during the year. Funding for the museum was raised primarily through private investors and the local community. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement In October embassy officials engaged the Ministry of Human Rights’ coordinator for religious diversity, discussing the status of state religious diversity committees and plans for a potential conference on respect for religious diversity and attending the launch of the ministry’s religious diversity campaign. In February embassy officials attended the event commemorating the Federal District’s third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In December an embassy official discussed with Public Defender Luis Fausto the increase in societal intolerance of African religions and the importance of applying the law to protect the religious freedom of these groups. Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Duque de Caxias, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, to speak with Conceicao D’Lisa, a priest and leader of a Candomble terreiro. U.S. officials met with sociologist Christina Vital from the Institute for Religious Studies to learn about attacks on the terreiros of practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions in the state. In March Sao Paulo consulate officials visited the site of the city’s Jewish Museum under construction on the remains of one of the city’s oldest synagogues, to discuss the museum’s development and issues affecting the Jewish community. Sao Paulo consulate officials met with several evangelical Protestant leaders in the months leading up to the October elections – discussing the leaders’ views on the participation of religious groups in the political process and their priorities from a religious perspective. In September Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) Cathedral (also known as the Templo da Gloria do Novo Israel) to learn about the IURD denomination in the state. They also discussed the IURD’s active participation in the October elections, including that of Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an IURD bishop. In June a Rio de Janeiro consulate official met with one of the country’s prominent evangelical leaders and televangelists, Assemblies of God pastor Silas Malafaia, to discuss religious priorities and preferences in the elections. In September a Rio de Janeiro consulate official met with Father Antonio Augusto Dias Duarte, the head of family and youth outreach for the Catholic Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, to discuss the religious vote and the Church’s position on addressing the elections and political issues from the pulpit. Brunei Executive Summary The constitution states that while the official religion is the Shafi’i School of Islam, all other religions may be practiced “in peace and harmony.” A partially implemented Sharia Penal Code (SPC) has operated in parallel with the existing common law-based criminal justice system since 2014 and primarily involves offenses punished by fines or imprisonment, such as propagating religions other than Islam, eating in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, cross-dressing, close proximity of unmarried persons of the opposite sex, and “indecent behavior,” which is defined broadly. The SPC applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, including foreigners, with non-Muslims exempted from certain sections. A government gazette dated December 29 contained an order from the sultan stating the final phases of the SPC, which include corporal and capital punishments, would go into effect on April 3, 2019. A separate government gazette announced that the Sharia Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which is necessary to implement the SPC, would go into effect January 1, 2019. The government permitted Shafi’i Muslims and members of non-Muslim religious minorities to practice their faiths but continued to ban several religious groups it considers “deviant.” The defendant in a long-running sedition case, accused of criticizing religious policy, fled before his verdict to seek refuge in Canada. In response, the prosecution obtained an arrest warrant and informed the court it intended to apply for judgment in absentia. The government continued to prohibit non-Muslims proselytizing among Muslims or persons with no religious affiliation but did not caution non-Muslims against publicly celebrating religious holidays as it did last in 2016. The government periodically warned the population about “outsiders” preaching non-Shafi’i versions of Islam. In a local press article, a government official said foreigners residing in the country must adopt the national philosophy, Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB). Islamic authorities organized a range of proselytizing activities and incentives to explain and propagate Islam. Non-Muslims and Muslims faced social pressure to conform to Islamic guidelines regarding behavior. In discussion of religion and religious freedom on social media, some Muslims and non-Muslims posted comments questioning the relevance of the MIB national philosophy, while others called for increased Islamification and increased restrictions on non-Muslims. Anecdotal reports indicated that some Muslims and Christians who wished to convert to another religion feared social retribution, such as ostracism by friends, family, and their community. Throughout the year, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, other embassy officers, and visiting U.S. government officials regularly engaged with the government regarding the content and implementation of the SPC, ratification of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), and protection of religious minority rights. The same issues were raised in June during a bilateral consultation between the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs II, Dato Erywan. In November Department of State officials met senior officials from the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) to discuss the SPC and preparations for implementation of SPC phases two and three. The Ambassador and the Charge d’Affaires met frequently with minority religious leaders and discussed their concerns over the implementation of the full SPC. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 451,000 (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 78.8 percent of the population is Muslim, 8.7 percent Christian, and 7.8 percent Buddhist, while the remaining 4.7 percent consists of other religions, including indigenous beliefs. There is significant variation in religious identification among ethnic groups. According to 2016 official statistics, ethnically Malay Bruneians comprise 66 percent of the population and are presumed to be Muslim as an inherited status. The Chinese population, which is approximately 10 percent of the total population and includes both citizens and permanent residents, is 65 percent Buddhist and 20 percent Christian. Indigenous tribes such as Dusun, Bisaya, and Murut make up approximately 4 percent of the population and are estimated to be 50 percent Muslim, 15 percent Christian, and the remainder followers of other religious groups, including adherents of traditional practices. The remaining fifth of the population includes foreign-born workers, primarily from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Asia or are stateless residents. According to official statistics, approximately half of these temporary and permanent residents are Muslim, more than one-quarter Christian, and 15 percent Buddhist. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution states the religion of the country shall be the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam but allows all other religions to be practiced “in peace and harmony” by the persons professing them. The legal system is divided between civil law and sharia, which have parallel systems of both criminal and civil/family law and operate separate courts under a single judiciary department. The civil courts are based on common law. The sharia courts follow the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence, in which there is no law of precedence and judges are not bound by the decisions of a higher court. Sharia courts have jurisdiction over both criminal law and civil/family matters involving Muslims and hear cases brought under long-standing sharia legislation as well as under the SPC. In some cases, non-Muslims are subject to sharia courts, such as in the case of khalwat (close proximity between the sexes) if the other accused party is Muslim. In 2014, the government announced it would introduce the SPC in three phases, and the first phase came into force that year. The SPC exists in parallel with the common law-based criminal law system and primarily involves offenses punishable by fines or imprisonment. It includes long-standing domestic sharia laws such as on drinking alcohol, propagating religions other than Islam, eating in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, cross-dressing, and close proximity between unmarried persons of the opposite sex. It prohibits “indecent behavior,” including pregnancies out of wedlock, and criminalizes any act that “tends to tarnish the image of Islam, deprave a person, bring bad influence, or cause anger to the person who is likely to have seen the act.” The SPC applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, including foreigners, as well as to offenses committed outside the country by citizens or permanent residents. Non-Muslims are exempt from certain sections, such as requirements for men to join Friday prayers or payments of zakat (obligatory annual alms giving). It states that Muslims will be identified for purposes of the law by “general reputation.” Government gazettes dated December 29 contained orders from the sultan that the CPC – a necessary step to implement the SPC – would enter into force on January 1, 2019, and both the SPC second and third phases, with provisions for both corporal and capital punishments, would take effect on April 3, 2019. The CPC outlines the procedures that law enforcement agencies and the sharia court need to follow when investigating and prosecuting sharia-related offenses. When fully implemented, the SPC will introduce corporal punishments, including amputation for crimes such as theft, and capital punishments such as stoning to death for rape, fornication, adultery, or sodomy, and execution for apostasy, contempt of the Prophet Muhammad, or insult of the Quran. The punishments included under the SPC have different standards of proof from the common law-based penal code, such as requiring four pious men to witness personally an act of fornication to support a sentence of stoning. Stoning sentences, however, could be supported by a confession in lieu of evidence at the discretion of a sharia judge. The government describes its official national philosophy as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), or Malay Islamic Monarchy, which the government defines as “a system that encompasses strong Malay cultural influences, stressing the importance of Islam in daily life and governance, and respect for the monarchy as represented by His Majesty the Sultan.” The government has said this system is essential to the country’s way of life and its main defense against extremism. A government body, the MIB Supreme Council, seeks to spread and strengthen the MIB philosophy and ensure MIB is enshrined in the nation’s laws and policies. MIB is a compulsory subject for students in both public and private schools, including at the university level. The Religious Enforcement Division under the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) is the lead agency in many investigations related to religious practices, but other agencies also play a role. The Religious Enforcement Division leads investigations on crimes that exist only in the SPC and other sharia legislation, such as male Muslims failing to pray on Fridays. Cases involving crimes that are not covered by sharia legislation, such as human trafficking, are investigated by the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF). Cases involving crimes covered by both sharia and the civil code are also investigated by the RBPF and referred to the AGC. In these cases, a committee of AGC and MORA officials determines in each case if a specific crime should be prosecuted and whether it should be filed in the sharia or civil court. No official guidelines for the committee’s determination process have been published. The government has permitted Shafi’i Muslims and members of non-Muslim religious minorities to practice their faiths but has continued to ban several religious groups it considers “deviant,” including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Al-Arqam, Abdul Razak Mohammad, Al-Ma’unah, Saihoni Tasipan, Tariqat Mufarridiyyah, Silat Lintau, Qadiyaniah, the Baha’i Faith, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The list is based on fatwas proclaimed by the state mufti or the Islamic Religious Council – a government body and the sultan’s highest authority on matters on Islam – and is publicly available on MORA’s website. The SPC also bans any practice or display of “black magic.” The SPC includes a list of words and expressions, including the word “Allah,” reserved for use by only Muslims or in relation to Islam. In 2016, the government clarified that the use of certain words, such as “Allah” by non-Muslims, did not constitute an SPC offense when used in a nonreligious context or social activity. Muslims are legally permitted to renounce their religion until authorities implement the complete SPC, but individuals wishing to renounce their faith must inform the Islamic Religious Council in writing. A person must be at least 14 years and seven months old to convert to a different religion. If parents convert to Islam, their children automatically become Muslim. The law requires all organizations, including religious groups, to register and provide the names of their members. Applicants are subject to background checks for leaders and board members, and proposed organizations are subject to naming requirements. Registered organizations must furnish information on leadership, election of officers, members, assets, activities, and any other information requested by the registrar. Benefits of registration include the ability to operate, reserve space in public buildings, and apply for permission to raise funds. The registrar of societies oversees the application process, exercises discretion over applications, and is authorized to refuse approval for any reason. Organizations are prohibited from affiliation with any organization outside the country without written approval by the registrar. Unregistered organizations may face charges of unlawful assembly and may be subject to fines. Individuals who participate in or influence others to join unregistered organizations may be fined, arrested, and imprisoned. The general penalty for violating laws on the registration and activity of organizations is a fine of up to 10,000 Brunei dollars (BND) ($7,300), imprisonment for up to three years, or both. The law states that any public assembly of five or more persons requires official approval in advance. Under long-standing emergency powers, this applies to all forms of public assembly, including religious assembly. In practice, however, places of worship are viewed as private. The law forbids the teaching or promotion of any religion other than Islam to Muslims or to persons of no faith. Under the first phase of the SPC, the penalty for propagating religions other than Islam is up to five years in prison, a fine of up to 20,000 BND ($14,700), or both. The SPC includes a provision that makes it illegal to criticize Islam, including the SPC itself. Laws and regulations limit access to religious literature. The law states it is an offense for a person to import any publication deemed objectionable, which is defined in part as describing, depicting, or expressing matters of race or religion in a manner likely to cause “feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will, or hostility between different racial or religious groups.” The law also bans distributing materials relating to religions other than Islam to Muslims or persons of no faith. The law establishes two sets of schools: those offering the national or international curriculum and administered by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and those offering supplemental religious education (ugama) that are administered by MORA. MOE schools are required to teach a course on Islamic religious knowledge, which is required for all Muslim children ages seven to 15 who reside in the country and who have at least one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident. Non-Muslims are exempted from all religious study requirements and receive teaching on moral behavior. Muslim students must also attend separate, MORA-run religious schools (often in the afternoon after MOE schools have adjourned), which provide additional ugama instruction. Ugama instruction in MORA schools is a seven-to-eight-year course that teaches the day-to-day practice of Sunni Islam according to the Shafi’i school and is mandatory for Muslim students ages seven to 14 who hold citizenship or permanent residency. Alternatively, MORA also administers a set of schools taught in Arabic that offer the national curriculum combined with ugama religious education. A 2012 government order mandates that every Muslim child between the ages of seven and 15 attend a MORA religious school. Parents may be fined up to 5,000 BND ($3,700), imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year, or both for failure to comply with the order. The law does not make accommodations for Muslims who have non-Shafi’i beliefs. In July the sultan directed that Islamic history be made a compulsory subject in all educational institutions, including private schools. Public and private schools, including private schools run by churches, are prohibited from providing religious instruction in beliefs other than the Shafi’i school of Islam during school hours. Schools may be fined or school officials imprisoned for teaching non-Islamic religious subjects. The SPC criminalizes exposing Muslim children or the children of parents who have no religious affiliation to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam. The law also requires practitioners to obtain official permission before teaching any matter relating to Islam. Churches and religious schools are permitted to offer non-Shafi’i Islamic education in private settings, such as private homes. All parental rights are awarded to the Muslim parent if a child is born to parents who are not both Muslim. The non-Muslim parent is not recognized in any official document, including the child’s birth certificate, unless that parent has converted to Islam. The law bans any Muslim from surrendering custody of a minor or dependent in his or her guardianship to a non-Muslim. Under the SPC, non-Muslims may be arrested for zina (fornication or adultery) or khalwat, provided that the other accused party is Muslim. Foreigners are also subject to these laws. A regulation requires businesses that produce, supply, and serve food and beverages to obtain a halal certificate or apply for an exemption if serving non-Muslims. MORA has declared circumcision for Muslim girls (sunat) a religious rite obligatory under Islam and describes it as the removal of the hood of the clitoris (Type I per World Health Organization classification). The government has stated it does not consider this practice to be female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and has expressed support for the World Health Organization’s call for the elimination of FGM/C. In his 2017 fatwas, the state mufti stated that both male and female circumcision are required and specified that female circumcision involves a “small cut above the vagina.” The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Government-provided statistics indicated sharia courts prosecuted 123 cases resulting in 71 convictions between January and August. The majority of convictions were for khalwat and illicit sex. Additionally, two individuals were convicted for disrespecting the month of Ramadan. The defendant in a long-running sedition case, accused of criticizing MORA’s halal policy, fled the country before his verdict in order to seek refuge in Canada. In response, the prosecution obtained an arrest warrant and informed the court it intended to apply for judgment in absentia. Public and private practitioners in the local legal community stated that the CPC does not fully address evidentiary standards for prosecution of corporal and capital punishment cases for phases two and three of the SPC. MORA continued to provide texts for Friday sermons to all mosques, which were then required to deliver the approved texts, and the government required the sermons to be preached only by registered imams. The Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index for Brunei stated journalists in the country practiced self-censorship as a rule when reporting on religion. There was no legal requirement for women to wear head coverings in public; however, religious authorities continued to reinforce social customs to encourage Muslim women to wear the tudong (a traditional Islamic head covering), and many women did so. When applying for passports, drivers’ licenses, and national identity cards, Muslim females were required to wear a tudong. Muslim women employed by the government were expected to wear a tudong to work, although some chose not to with no reports of official repercussions. In government schools and institutions of higher learning, Muslim female students were required to wear a uniform that includes a head covering. Male students were expected to wear the songkok (a traditional hat), although this was not required in all schools. Women who were incarcerated, including non-Muslims, were required to wear a uniform that included a tudong. Religious leaders and government officials did not officially warn citizens against publicly displaying symbols of religions other than Islam during Christmas and Chinese New Year, as they did last in 2016. Many businesses still chose not to display decorations; however, Christmas decorations were on display for sale in many shops in popular malls. As in past years, the government limited traditional Lunar New Year lion dance performances to a three-day period and restricted them to the Chinese temple, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese Association members. Members of the royal family publicly attended Lunar New Year celebrations and lion dance performances during the allowed period, with front-page coverage in state-influenced media. The government periodically warned the population about “outsiders” preaching non-Shafi’i versions of Islam, including both “liberal” practices and those associated with jihadism, Wahhabism, or Salafism. In November while addressing an audience that contained international Islamic scholars and several senior government officials, the head of the Religious Teachers’ University College stated the ideas of liberalism and individual freedom in religion were dangerous. According to a local press article, in May the head of the Traditions and Customs Council, Pengiran Aziz, told members of the Brunei-China Friendship Association that foreigners residing in the country must adopt the national philosophy, MIB, and described it as a concept of life and the foundation of national unity. The government continued to enforce strict customs controls on importing non-Islamic religious texts such as Bibles, as well as on Islamic religious teaching materials or scriptures intended for sale or distribution. Authorities generally continued to ban non-Islamic religious texts from import, and the censorship board continued to review Islamic texts to ensure they did not contain text that deviated from the Shafi’i school of Islam. Personal packages entering the country continued to be checked by customs to ensure they did not contain anything of a non-Shafi’i Islamic or perceived sexual nature, such as magazines showing women in swimsuits. Churches stated that a long-standing fatwa discouraging Muslims from assisting in perpetuating non-Muslim faiths continued to inhibit expansion, renovation, or construction of new facilities. Christian religious groups said, however, authorities generally permitted churches and associated schools to repair and renovate buildings on their sites if required for safety. This approval process remained lengthy and difficult, and there were continuing reports of the government stalling new construction projects for not meeting the complicated permit process requirements. With only six approved churches in the country, facilities were often too small to accommodate their congregations without significant overflow seating outdoors. Chinese Buddhist temples were also subject to the same fatwa, with only one official Chinese temple preserved as a cultural heritage site. Government data from 2015, the latest available, indicated there were 99 registered mosques. Christian worshippers continued to report difficulty accessing churches on many Sundays because of road closures by the government for official events, with some services being rescheduled to other times. The minister of religious affairs reported there had been a significant increase in the number of students attending religious school since the implementation of the 2012 order on compulsory religious education. The government reported many non-Muslim children elected to take courses on Islam. Reportedly, those applying for government-funded scholarships believed having such courses could be advantageous. Most school textbooks were illustrated to portray Islam as the norm, and women and girls were shown wearing the tudong. There were no depictions of the practices of other religious groups in textbooks. Authorities continued to prohibit non-Muslims and non-Shafi’i Muslims from receiving non-Shafi’i religious education in schools. The government tolerated non-Islamic religious education in private settings, such as at home or in approved churches. All church-associated schools were recognized by the MOE and remained open to students of any religion, although they were not permitted to offer religious instruction other than for Shafi’i Islam. Throughout the year, the government enforced business hour restrictions requiring all businesses to close for the two hours of Friday prayers. Religious enforcement officers continued to enforce a ban on restaurants serving dine-in food during the fasting hours of Ramadan and issued verbal warnings to those found in breach of the ban. In May an article in Borneo Bulletin, citing the SPC, advised local eateries not to serve dine-in customers during daylight hours and cautioned the public not to eat, drink, or smoke in public places during daylight hours throughout Ramadan. During Ramadan, a picture of government officials entering a restaurant and reportedly issuing a verbal warning for serving dine-in food during fasting hours went viral on social media platforms WhatsApp and Reddit. In March the owner of a prominent restaurant was fined 825 BND ($610) for violating halal regulations by having alcohol and nonhalal meat products on his premises. The government continued to enforce a ban on eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the fasting hours of Ramadan, which was applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Authorities reportedly stepped up enforcement of anti-alcohol laws. Law enforcement agencies raided two hotels and several private parties for serving alcohol illegally. The government maintained a long-standing ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, and a restriction against the import or consumption of alcoholic beverages by Muslims. In March border enforcement agencies began more rigorous enforcement and increased the frequency of border inspections, specifically seeking out those with alcohol or cigarettes. Religious authorities allowed nonhalal restaurants and nonhalal sections in supermarkets to operate without interference but continued to hold public outreach sessions to encourage restaurants to become halal. The government offered incentives to prospective converts to Islam and the Shafi’i school, especially those from indigenous communities in rural areas, including help with housing, welfare assistance, or help to perform the Hajj. During the year, Hajj participants received designer luggage from the government. The government gave presentations on the benefits of converting to Islam that received extensive press coverage in state-influenced media. According to government statistics, approximately 500 individuals converted to Islam during the year, similar to previous years. Converts included citizens and permanent residents, as well as foreigners. Official government policy supported Islam through the national MIB philosophy as well as through government pledges to make the country a zikir nation (a nation that remembers and obeys Allah). Despite the absence of a legal prohibition of Muslims marrying non-Muslims, all Muslim weddings required approval from the sharia courts, and officiants, who were required to be imams approved by the government, required the non-Muslim party to convert prior to the marriage. Most government meetings and ceremonies commenced with an Islamic prayer, which the government continued to state was not a legal requirement but a matter of custom. The government required residents to carry identity cards that stated the bearer’s ethnicity, which were used in part to determine whether he or she was Muslim; for example, all ethnic Malays, including those traveling in the country, were assumed to be Muslim. Malays were required to follow certain Islamic religious practices or potentially face fines, arrest, and imprisonment. Religious authorities reportedly checked identity cards for ethnicity when conducting raids against suspected violators of sharia. Visitors to the country were asked to identify their religion on their visa applications. Speaking at the closing of the Legislative Council session in March, the minister of religious affairs stated, “If asked by anyone where the democracy of Brunei’s MIB is, answer assertively that our democracy is based on the teachings of Islam. We will not export Brunei’s democracy, as it is a democracy that fits the land.” In June As-Syahadah Muallaf Youth, a government-associated youth group, hosted a first of its kind multifaith iftar and invited non-Muslims to the event at one of the country’s biggest mosques. Muhammad Yusri Hj Abdul Majid, one of the event organizers, stated the group hosted the iftar to foster understanding between Muslims and non-Muslim communities. Following the occasion, local press reported MORA intended to make the multifaith iftar an annual event. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Non-Muslims and Muslims faced social pressure to conform to Islamic guidelines regarding behavior. Male members of the Islamic community reportedly felt pressure from family and friends to attend Friday prayers despite not having strong religious beliefs. Members of the LGBTI community expressed fears about openly expressing their sexuality as they thought it would bring shame on their families who were religious. In discussion of religion and religious freedom on social media outlets such as Facebook and Reddit, Muslims and non-Muslims posted comments questioning the relevance of the MIB national philosophy, and some commenters called for religion to play no part in government policy. Others called for increased Islamification and increased restrictions on non-Muslims. Residents who questioned the SPC or Islamic values on social media sometimes reported receiving online abuse and threats and official monitoring. Some vocal activists who challenged established norms reported family and friends would pressure them to keep quiet due to fear they would attract the attention of authorities or damage the family’s reputation. Some Muslims who wished to convert to another religion reportedly continued to fear social retribution, such as ostracism by friends, family, and their community. If parents converted to Islam, there was often family and official pressure for the children to do the same. Some non-Muslims said they felt pressured in the workplace or in social groups to convert to Islam. In March an imitation grenade found in the parking lot of the Sharia Court building in the capital city prompted a security alert. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Throughout the year, the Ambassador, other embassy officers, and visiting U.S. government officials regularly engaged with the government regarding the content and implementation of the SPC, ratification of UNCAT, and protection of minority rights. In June the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs met with Dato Erywan, Minister of Foreign Affairs II, in Washington and encouraged Brunei to ratify UNCAT and avoid some of the more severe punishments proscribed under the SPC. During the meeting, the Acting Assistant Secretary discussed the implementation of sharia and encouraged the government to ensure implementation was in compliance with UNCAT. The meeting also included discussion of the controversy within the international community that further implementation of the SPC would cause. In November Department of State officials reinforced these points in meetings with senior officials from the AGC and discussed the SPC, preparations for implementation of SPC phases two and three, and likely international reactions to SPC phases two and three. In October the Charge d’Affaires, along with other members of the diplomatic community, met with Apostolic Delegate to Brunei Archbishop Joseph Marino, who discussed the SPC and its impact on religions other than Islam. U.S. officials continued to coordinate with other governments, including Australia and the United Kingdom, regarding shared concerns about implementation of the SPC and continued to encourage the government to postpone implementation. U.S. embassy officials emphasized the seriousness with which the United States takes assurances from the government that the evidentiary and witness standards in the SPC would, as a matter of procedure and policy, be so exacting as to effectively guarantee that torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment will not be carried out in practice. The Ambassador and other embassy officials also continued to raise concerns that a confession could be used in lieu of evidence, and that those accused could be coerced by social pressure to confess. Embassy officials urged religious enforcement officers and officials involved in implementation and enforcement of the SPC to comply with international human rights norms. Senior government officials continued to emphasize the uniqueness of the country’s sharia and the near-impossibility of meeting SPC evidentiary standards required for the harshest punishments. The Ambassador and the Charge d’Affaires frequently met during the year with government and religious leaders to discuss the concerns of religious minorities regarding the implications of the SPC for the non-Muslim community and the limitations placed on open practice of other religions. Embassy officials visited places of worship, spoke with leaders of all principal religious groups, and facilitated discussions on the SPC and laws and policies affecting religious freedom in the country, including obstacles to practicing religions and beliefs other than Shafi’i Islam in addition to provisions of sharia. Bulgaria Executive Summary The constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience. Religious groups may worship without registering, but registered groups receive benefits. The constitution recognizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion, and the law exempts the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) from registration. In December after protests by all major religious groups, the National Assembly passed amendments to a 2002 religious denomination law, providing for increased government funding for the BOC and the Muslim community. A wide range of religious groups opposed earlier versions that placed restrictions on some smaller religious groups. An appellate court issued guilty verdicts in a retrial of 13 regional Muslim leaders charged with spreading Salafi Islam. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported fewer cases of assault and harassment. There were multiple successful court decisions overturning local prohibitions on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious practices. The Muslim community protested a decision in the Stara Zagora Region to change Turkish and Arabic place names to Bulgarian names, citing “racism and intolerance regarding everything Muslim.” Jewish organizations denounced attempts by government leaders to distort historical facts at Holocaust-related events, including honoring individuals complicit in deportations of Jews. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported physical assaults, harassment, and threats. In February the Bulgarian National Union again staged an annual march honoring Hristo Lukov, leader of a pro-Nazi organization in the 1940s. Jewish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern about the continued increase of hate speech and other manifestations of anti-Semitism. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, some media outlets continued to misrepresent their activities. Muslims, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of vandalism of their properties. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups held events to promote religious tolerance. The National Council of Religious Communities, whose members include representatives of Bulgarian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities, continued its efforts to promote religious tolerance. The ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials regularly discussed cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and legislative initiatives restricting religious activities, including with representatives of the National Assembly, Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, local governments, and law enforcement. The ambassador protested the march to commemorate Lukov and publicly advocated tolerance and cited lessons from the Holocaust. Embassy officials met with minority religious groups, including the Jewish, Muslim, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Catholic, Protestant, Armenian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to discuss their concerns over existing and proposed restrictions on their activities. A Muslim scholar participated in a Department of State-funded exchange on religious pluralism in the United States. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.0 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 76 percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, primarily affiliated with the BOC. The census reported Muslims, the second-largest religious group, are approximately 10 percent of the population, followed by Protestants at 1.1 percent and Roman Catholics at 0.8 percent. Orthodox Christians from the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church (AAOC), Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and other groups together make up 0.2 percent of the population. According to the census, 4.8 percent of respondents have no religion and 7.1 percent do not specify a religion. Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically. Many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) live in the Rhodope Mountains along the southern border with Greece and Turkey. Ethnic Turkish and Romani Muslims also live in large numbers in the northeast and along the Black Sea coast. Some recent Romani converts to Islam live in towns in the central region, such as Plovdiv and Pazardjik. According to the census, nearly 40 percent of Catholics live in and around Plovdiv. The majority of the small Jewish community lives in Sofia, Plovdiv, and along the Black Sea coast. Protestants are widely dispersed, but many Roma are Protestant converts, and Protestants are more numerous in areas with large Romani populations. Approximately 80 percent of the urban population and 62 percent of the rural population identifies as Orthodox Christian. Approximately 25 percent of the rural population identifies as Muslim, compared with 4 percent of the urban population. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution states freedom of conscience and choice of religion or no religion are inviolable, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the state shall assist in maintaining tolerance and respect among believers of different denominations, as well as between believers and nonbelievers. It states the practice of any religion shall be unrestricted and religious beliefs, institutions, and communities shall not be used for political ends. It restricts freedom of religion to the extent that its practice would be detrimental to national security, public order, health, and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others. It states no one shall be exempt from obligations established by the constitution or the law on grounds of religious or other convictions. The constitution also stipulates the separation of religious institutions from the state and prohibits the formation of political parties along religious lines as well as organizations that incite religious animosity. The law does not allow any privilege based on religious identity. The constitution names Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s traditional religion. The law establishes the BOC as a legal entity, exempting it from the court registration that is mandatory for all other religious groups wishing to acquire legal recognition. The penal code prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment for persons attacking individuals or groups based on their religious affiliation. Instigators and leaders of an attack may receive prison sentences of up to six years. Those who obstruct the ability of individuals to profess their faith, carry out their rituals and services, or compel another to participate in religious rituals and services may receive prison sentences of up to one year. Violating a person’s or group’s freedom to acquire or practice a religious belief is subject to a fine of between 100 and 300 levs ($59 to $180). If a legal entity commits the infraction, the fine can range from 500 to 5,000 levs ($290 to $2,900). To receive national legal recognition, the law requires religious groups other than the BOC to register with the Sofia City Court. Applications must include: the group’s name and official address; a description of the group’s religious beliefs and service practices, organizational structure and bodies, management procedures, bodies, and mandates; a list of official representatives and the processes for their election; procedures for convening meetings and making decisions; and information on finances and property and processes for termination and liquidation of a group. The Directorate for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers provides expert opinions on registration matters upon request of the court. Applicants may appeal negative registration decisions to the Sofia Appellate Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Cassation Court. The law does not require the formal registration of local branches of registered groups, only that branches notify local authorities of the national registration of their group. The law prohibits registration of different groups with the same name in the same location. There are 180 registered religious groups in addition to the BOC. The law requires the government to provide funding for all registered religious groups, although there is no legal requirement on how to allocate the funds among the groups. Registered groups have the right to perform religious services; own assets such as houses of worship and cemeteries; provide medical, social, and educational services; receive property tax exemptions; and participate in commercial ventures. Unregistered religious groups may engage in religious practice, but they lack privileges granted to registered groups, such as access to government funding and the right to own property, establish financial accounts in their names, operate schools and hospitals, receive property tax exemptions, and sell religious merchandise. The law restricts the wearing of face-covering garments in public places, imposing a fine of 200 levs ($120) for a first offense and 1,500 levs ($880) for repeat offenders. The law allows registered groups to publish, import, and distribute religious media; unregistered groups may not do so. The law does not restrict proselytizing by registered or unregistered groups. Some municipal ordinances, however, restrict the activities of unregistered groups to include proselytizing and require local permits for distribution of religious literature in public places. By law, public schools at all levels may, but are not required to, teach the historical, philosophical, and cultural aspects of religion and introduce students to the moral values of different religious groups as part of the core curriculum. A school may teach any registered religion in a special course as part of the elective curriculum upon request of at least eight students, subject to the availability of books and teachers. The Ministry of Education and Science approves and provides books for these special religion courses. If a public school is unable to pay for a religion teacher, it may accept financial sponsorship from a private donor or a teacher from a registered denomination. The law also allows registered religious groups to operate schools and universities, provided they meet government standards for secular education. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent government body charged with preventing and protecting against discrimination, including religious discrimination, and ensuring equal opportunity. It functions as a civil litigation court adjudicating discrimination complaints and does not charge for its services; its decisions may be appealed to administrative courts. If the commission accepts a case, it assigns it to a panel and then reviews it in open session. If it makes a finding of discrimination, the commission may impose a fine of 250-2,000 levs ($150-$1,200). The commission may double fines for repeat violations. Regional courts may also try civil cases involving religious discrimination. The law establishes an independent ombudsman to serve as an advocate for citizens who believe public or municipal administrations or public service providers have violated their rights and freedoms, including those pertaining to religion, through their actions or inaction. The ombudsman may request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals for terminating existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court to abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional. The penal code provides up to three years’ imprisonment for forming “a political organization on religious grounds” or using a church or religion to spread propaganda against the authority of the state or its activities. It prohibits the propagation or incitement of religious or other discrimination, violence, or hatred “by speech, press or other media, by electronic information systems or in another manner,” as well as religiously motivated assault or property damage. Either offense is punishable by imprisonment for one to four years and a fine of 5,000-10,000 levs ($2,900-$5,900), as well as “public censure.” Desecration of religious symbols or sites, including places of worship or graves, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000-10,000 levs ($1,800-$5,900). The law allows foreign members of religious denominations to obtain long-term residency permits. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices On December 21, the National Assembly passed amendments to a 2002 religious denomination law that provide for increased government funding for the two largest religious groups, the BOC and the Muslim community, and require all religious groups to report to the government all places of worship they use. The original version of the amendments, presented in the National Assembly in May and approved at first reading in October, imposed restrictions on foreign funding and foreign clergy activities. They also prohibited preaching in a language other than Bulgarian, required denominations to prove they had at least 300 (subsequently increased to 3,000) members to obtain registration, and limited religious groups’ ability to open religious schools and conduct religious education. All major religious groups in the country opposed the proposed amendments, stating they would restrict religious freedom under the guise of protecting national security and combating terrorism. The religious groups also criticized the amendments as discriminatory toward smaller groups, stating they would violate the constitutional separation between religion and state and impose unprecedented government control on religious life. In November and December, following protests by all major religious groups, the political parties in the National Assembly negotiated with their representatives and agreed on a revised version of the amendments, removing the discriminatory provisions by year’s end. On March 30, the Plovdiv Appellate Court sentenced Ahmed Mussa to one year in prison for spreading Salafi Islam, which the prosecution characterized as an antidemocratic ideology, and for membership in an illegal radical organization. The court levied fines on 11 other Muslims ranging between 1,500 and 2,000 levs ($880-$1,200). The court found one individual not guilty. In 2016 the Supreme Cassation Court had vacated the guilty verdict against Mussa and rescinded the fines against the 12 other Muslims, ordering the Plovdiv Appellate Court to retry the case. By year’s end, Mussa continued to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Cassation Court. A trial that began in 2016 of 14 Romani Muslims, including Ahmed Mussa, on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, and propagating antidemocratic ideology and incitement to war continued at year’s end in the Pazardjik District Court. Mussa remained free on bail, and the court released the other defendants on their own recognizance. In April the High Muslim Council (HMC), representing Muslims in the country and led by Grand Mufti Mustafa Alish Hadji, issued a declaration protesting an interview in the online site Trafficnews. In the interview, the prosecutor of the two cases involving Ahmed Mussa and others described Muslims as “an easy to manipulate … monolithic mass” and a threat to the country’s security. The HMC accused the prosecutor of hate speech and called on authorities to take action against her. The prosecutor said she had not given such an interview. The prosecution service’s inspectorate concluded there had been no misconduct, and the Commission for Protection against Discrimination declined to open a case, citing lack of sufficient evidence. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community remained unregistered despite the June 2017 European Commission on Human Rights ruling that the government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by denying its registration application. In September the Ahmadis filed a new registration application with the Sofia City Court; the application was pending at year’s end. In April the Shumen Regional Court issued a four-month suspended sentence and a public censure to brothers Rosen and Atanas Yordanov, also known as Yuzeir and Ali Yuzeirov, for using “OTOMAN” as an acronym for a political party named “Unity for Tolerance, Responsibility, Moral, and Alternative Progress.” The court found that the party’s constituent assembly on the day of Christian observance of Good Friday, its wearing of fez hats, using a crescent on the new party’s flag, and performing a namaz prayer during a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of a Bulgarian war hero who fought in the Balkan War against the Ottomans constituted preaching religious hatred. On December 21, the Smolyan Regional Court began hearing the case against Efrem Mollov, charged with propagating discrimination and religious hatred in his book, Is There Future for Great Bulgaria or Why Pomak History Remains Hidden. According to the indictment, the book distorted history by glorifying Pomaks at the expense of all other Bulgarians. Mollov did not appear in court, but his attorney pled guilty on his behalf and requested a fast-track trial, meaning the court has to sentence him below the minimum penalty (up to four years’ imprisonment or probation and a fine of 5,000-10,000 levs ($2,900-$5,900)). The court, however, postponed the case because a fast-track trial requires the defendant’s presence. Former Grand Mufti Nedim Gendjev continued to challenge the legitimacy of Hadji as grand mufti. At year’s end, an appeal against Hadji’s election at a regular Muslim conference in 2016 remained pending in court. The national budget allocated a total of five million levs ($2.93 million) for the construction and maintenance of religious facilities and related expenses, including 3.8 million levs ($2.23 million) for the BOC; 400,000 levs ($234,000) for the Muslim community; and 60,000 levs ($35,100) each for the Catholic Church, AAOC, and the Jewish community. The budget distributed 100,000 levs ($58,600) among seven other registered denominations that had applied for funds to the Directorate for Religious Affairs. The directorate stated its goal was to make sure denominations that had not received funds previously received funding if they applied. The government’s budget also allocated 300,000 levs ($176,000) for the maintenance of religious facilities of national importance, 55,000 levs ($32,200) for the publication of religious books and research, and 15,000 levs ($8,800) to the National Council of Religious Communities. The budget kept 150,000 levs ($87,900) in reserve. Throughout the year, as was customary, the government allocated more than two million levs ($1.17 million) in targeted funding for restoration or construction of BOC facilities. Minority religious groups reported dozens of municipalities, including the regional cities of Kyustendil, Pleven, Shumen, and Sliven, had ordinances prohibiting door-to-door proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature. Many municipalities, including the regional cities of Razgrad, Varna, and Vratsa, restricted the activities of unregistered religious groups. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported many municipalities continued to have ordinances restricting their religious activities, including ones preventing them from expressing their religious convictions in public and carrying out what the ordinances termed “religious agitation on city streets” by distributing free printed materials, and from visiting individuals at their homes, which was often characterized as “religious propaganda.” They noted many of those municipalities did not enforce these ordinances, especially after the religious group started filing lawsuits. They continued to cite instances in which police or local government officials fined, threatened, warned, or issued citations to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses for violating these ordinances. On May 26, a police patrol approached two Jehovah’s Witnesses who were proselytizing in a Sofia neighborhood and told them engaging individuals in their homes was illegal, threatening to “take more serious measures” if they continued. Jehovah’s Witness representatives stated, however, that such instances had decreased significantly since 2017. There were continued instances of municipalities imposing fines on individual Jehovah’s Witnesses even though the city ordinances did not include restrictions on religious activities. Courts generally annulled these fines when Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed them. For example, on January 11, Varna municipal officials issued citations for unauthorized commercial activity to Jehovah’s Witnesses distributing religious literature, but the administrative court in Varna subsequently repealed them. In February and July, the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed the lower courts’ decisions and ruled the Stara Zagora and Kyustendil municipalities’ ordinances restricting proselytizing had violated the country’s constitution, declaring the ordinances null and void. Shumen Municipality’s appeal of a court ruling declaring provisions in its ordinance restricting proselytizing unconstitutional was pending at year’s end. In March, the government secured funding and started a procedure for the restoration of the Makbul Ibrahim Pasa Mosque in Razgrad, a national cultural monument managed by the Ministry of Culture. According to media publications, the government acted because of continued pleas by the regional mufti and requests for reciprocal maintenance of historic religious buildings by Turkey. In May the Office of the Grand Mufti issued a protest declaration against the decision of the municipal council in Stara Zagora to replace more than 800 place names of Turkish and Arabic origin with Bulgarian names, stating that the “level of racism and intolerance regarding everything Muslim is critical. It is an extremely dangerous process that could provoke a new line of division in society.” Catholic community leaders continued to object to the Sofia municipality’s refusal to recognize the religious status of two monasteries there, treating them instead as residential buildings and imposing taxes that otherwise would be waived. At year’s end, appeals were pending at the Sofia Administrative Court. The Office of the Grand Mufti again reported there had been no progress by year’s end regarding its claim, lodged with the Sofia City Court, for succession to the properties of pre-1940s Muslim religious communities seized by the communist government. Pending court review of who was the rightful successor to the confiscated properties, the government continued to suspend all restitution claims by the Office of the Grand Mufti. According to the Catholic Church, authorities had returned approximately 50 percent of the properties for which it was seeking restitution since the restitution law entered into force in 1992; however, the government again did not restitute any additional properties during the year. The United Evangelical Churches (UEC) – a group representing nine individual Protestant churches and three unions of Pentecostal, Baptist, and Congregational Churches – cited cases of small town mayors who pressured the chitalishta (local government-supported educational and cultural community centers) to refuse to rent their premises to Protestants for their religious activities because they were “sects.” In April the mayor of the village of Erden told representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that she prohibited them from preaching in the village because it was populated only by Orthodox Christians. She reportedly threatened them with “more serious” measures if they persisted. The UEC, however, reported satisfactory cooperation with local authorities in large cities such as Sofia and Plovdiv. In April the Stara Zagora Administrative Court ordered the prison administration to pay 1,000 levs ($590) in damages to a Muslim prisoner in Stara Zagora Prison because of its failure to provide pork-free meals. The government continued to permit religious headdresses in official photographs for national identity documents as long as both ears and one centimeter (0.4 inches) of hair were visible. In October Jewish organizations Shalom and B’nai B’rith protested the Ministry of Defense’s initiative to award a medal to Dyanko Markov, a former member of the anti-Semitic organization Union of Bulgarian National Legions that supported the deportation of Jews during World War II. In May Shalom described an exhibition on the role of King Boris III and the government of Bogdan Filov in the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust as a “provocation” and “distortion of history” because it attempted to “prove” the pro-Nazi government rescued the Bulgarian Jews. Speaking to a television reporter at the opening of the exhibition, then Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov blamed the rescued Jews for subsequently executing their rescuers after becoming part of the communist government. In April Shalom protested a statement by prosecutor Ivan Geshev, who joked during a media briefing that the World Jewish Congress was watching and would step in if prosecutors did not strictly apply the procedures prescribed by law. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and the Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO) parties, both members of the United Patriots coalition, did not actively continue their previous campaign against the religious group, which the Witnesses said was likely due to the absence of elections during the year. At year’s end, two members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to appeal the Burgas District Court decisions before the Supreme Cassation Court, which dismissed their claims against IMRO regional leader Georgi Drakaliev over his alleged instigation and participation in a 2011 attack on the Jehovah’s Witnesses kingdom hall in Burgas. In May President Rumen Radev hosted a traditional presidential iftar attended by religious leaders representing the six religions on the National Council, politicians, academics, diplomats, and refugees. At the iftar, Radev told the participants the event symbolized the “abiding tolerance of the Bulgarian people” and demonstrated the “will of the state to work for greater understanding and mutual respect.” In April Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva hosted a Passover dinner for local and regional members of the Jewish community, religious leaders, and diplomats from member countries of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). On November 29, the country became the 32nd full member of the IHRA. Deputy Foreign Minister Georg Georgiev served as the national coordinator for combating anti-Semitism. A Holocaust education program continued to train 20-25 history teachers annually, based on a 2016 memorandum between the Ministry of Education and Israel’s Yad Vashem. On September 12-14, Shalom hosted a workshop for 50 history teachers from Bulgaria and Macedonia on the Holocaust in the Balkans and the fight against anti-Semitism and hate speech. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported at least 13 instances of physical assault and harassment of missionaries, compared with 22 in 2017. More than half of the incidents occurred in Ruse in the northeastern part of the country. Other incidents took place in Burgas, Plovdiv, and Sofia. Church representatives said police sometimes refused to accept incident reports from victims. On September 19, Church representatives in Ruse reported a group of four young persons threatened two missionaries with a knife and tried to hit them with a motorcycle helmet. The regional prosecutor’s office refused to press charges and terminated its investigation of two teenage girls who in June 2017 attacked Deputy Grand Mufti Biralli Mumun Biralli’s wife and two daughters. After the attack, the HMC stated the attack was a consequence of negative anti-Muslim rhetoric by media and politicians, including in the national assembly. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that a man assaulted their members in the street in Nova Zagora on three occasions in June and July. A police officer registered a complaint of the incidents and stated police would “visit the perpetrator.” In May the Shumen District Court confirmed the three-year suspended prison sentence and the 15,129 lev ($8,900) fine imposed by a lower court on Nikolay N. for a 2016 assault on a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court did not accept the victim’s request that the crime be considered religiously motivated, instead basing its ruling on the prosecution’s charges of hooliganism and xenophobia. In February the Bulgarian National Union held a rally with more than 500 participants in downtown Sofia in honor of Hristo Lukov, leader of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi organization Union of Bulgarian National Legions in the 1940s. The Sofia municipality, the government, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally. Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova banned the march on the grounds it would disturb public order, but the Sofia Administrative Court revoked the ban and instructed the mayor to offer alternatives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the event in declarations issued both before and after the event, calling it a “shameful act” and a “demonstration of xenophobia, discrimination, and hatred.” On February 14, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria party condemned the march before a session of the National Assembly. A few days before the rally, a conference titled “Sofia Says No to Hate Speech and Extremism” gathered government representatives, NGOs, academics, students, and diplomats to discuss what participants said was rising nationalism and increasing intolerance and anti-Semitism, to make a clear statement against extremism, and to explore possible avenues for engaging the public in promoting tolerance. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments in online media articles. Anti-Semitic graffiti such as swastikas and offensive inscriptions appeared regularly in public places. Shalom indicated that during the year, there were no violent acts of anti-Semitism but stated anti-Semitic attitudes increased, in part due to the presence of “far-right and ultranationalist” political parties in the government. Souvenirs with Nazi insignias continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country. In May local authorities in Sliven removed a book on Hitler from a national festival of children’s books following a protest from the local Shalom branch. Booksellers promoted the book, entitled The Man behind the Monster, during the festival. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported negative characterizations in media continued to decline, but some local online media outlets continued to misrepresent regularly their activities and beliefs. On May 18, online media site Struma described the Jehovah’s Witnesses as “a very dangerous sect…ensnaring people in order to make them commit suicide as a sacrifice to God.” On April 2, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the 2016 decision of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination that levied a 2,000 lev ($1,200) fine on SKAT TV and a 1,200 lev ($700) fine on two of its journalists for spreading false information and making comments that it ruled constituted discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish community leaders, and the Office of the Grand Mufti, incidents of vandalism continued, such as painted swastikas, graffiti, and broken windows, in their respective places of worship. For example, in July local individuals, subsequently arrested by police, desecrated 55 Muslim and 14 Christian graves in the village of Gradnitsa. In May following the article in the Struma site, vandals broke the windows of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rented place of worship in Petrich, and the property owner subsequently decided to discontinue the rental lease agreement. In January unidentified individuals wrote “Enemies of King Boris III” on a monument to the Jews who perished in July 1944 when the labor camp in which they had been held was set on fire. In February Taner Veli, the regional Mufti of Plovdiv, hosted the fourth annual Tolerance Coffee event, commemorating a 2014 attack on the local Cumaya Mosque. Representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities, local government officials, foreign diplomats, and representatives of civil society attended the event. The National Council of Religious Communities, whose members include representatives of Bulgarian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities, continued its efforts to promote religious tolerance. It served as a platform for the largest denominations to organize joint events and defend a common position on religious issues such as certain legislative proposals, anti-Semitic actions, and other acts of defacement. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The U.S. ambassador and other embassy officials continued discussions with representatives of the national assembly, Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, local government administrations, and law enforcement agencies about cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and legislative initiatives restricting religious freedom. The ambassador discussed religious tolerance during the iftar hosted by President Radev in May and the Passover dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Zaharieva in April. In February the ambassador took a clear position against hatred and intolerance at a conference entitled “Sofia Says No to Hate Speech and Extremism,” highlighting the importance of teaching youth history without glorifying its dark chapters. Shalom and NGO Marginalia organized the conference, in partnership with the Sofia municipality, in anticipation of the march commemorating Hristo Lukov. Subsequently, the embassy released a statement in response to the march, expressing concern at the glorification of an individual who promoted hate and injustice, condemning intolerance, and amplifying the message on social media. Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, National Council of Religious Communities, Office of the Grand Mufti, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholic, Protestant, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss problems faced by religious groups, including proposed legislative changes potentially restricting the freedom to practice their respective religions. Embassy officials also met with human rights groups, such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Marginalia, Inforoma Center, the Sofia Security Forum, and academics to discuss these issues. The ambassador continued to meet with Shalom and B’nai B’rith to discuss the need to counter anti-Semitism and hate speech. In speeches at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the saving of the country’s Jewish population and at a Shabbat dinner in March, the ambassador spoke about the lessons of the Holocaust and the need for tolerance of different religious communities. The embassy used social media to disseminate the ambassador’s remarks. The ambassador discussed religious tolerance during an Eid-al-Fitr reception hosted by Grand Mufti Hadji in June. In October the ambassador met separately with Apostolic Nuncio Anselmo Pecorari, Grand Mufti Hadji, and representatives of Protestant churches and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to discuss tolerance and the proposed legislative restrictions on religious groups. From June 2 to July 14, a Muslim scholar from the High Islamic Institute participated in a Department of State-funded exchange program on religious pluralism in Philadelphia that explored the relationship between religion and state in the United States from both historic and contemporary perspectives. Burkina Faso Executive Summary The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19.7 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni, 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs. Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups. Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs. Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country. Indigenous religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities. The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population. There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity, political, or socioeconomic status. The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. Religious-based attacks and kidnappings continued in the Sahel Region and increased in the East Region. A number of domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated in the country throughout the year. The government believed individuals associated with these terrorist and extremist groups carried out the majority of religious-based attacks during the year. The government continued to subsidize travel costs for Muslim Hajj pilgrims and allocated subsidies to the four largest religious groups (Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional/animist). In April individuals affiliated with groups identified by local authorities as terrorist and extremist kidnapped a public schoolteacher in the Sahel Region, based on their stated belief that French is the language of infidels and all education should be conducted in Arabic. In May individuals affiliated with these groups burned down a public schoolhouse and a Muslim teacher’s house in the Center-North Region, stating the instruction was not Islamic. In September individuals affiliated with these groups burned and vandalized several schools and teachers’ houses in the East Region with a warning against secular teaching during the upcoming school year. Individuals affiliated with these groups kidnapped a Catholic catechist and a Christian pastor in the Sahel Region in May and June, respectively; both were later released without incident. In September individuals affiliated with these groups attacked two separate mosques and killed two imams in the East Region. In September unidentified individuals vandalized a Catholic church, removing the heads of religious statues in the southwest area of the country. These incidents highlighted what observers and media described as increased targeting of adherents of all religious denominations across the country. Embassy staff regularly discussed issues affecting religious freedom with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization as well as with religious leaders at the national and local levels to promote religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and civil dialogue. Embassy staff also discussed the increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and East Regions, with the government, including the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Ministries of Defense and Security, and the Office of the President. In May the Ambassador hosted an iftar with Muslim youth from the Mali and Niger border regions to promote and discuss religious freedom, and in July the Ambassador hosted religious leaders from a wide spectrum of religious groups in Kaya in the Center-North Region for a wide-ranging discussion. The U.S. embassy regularly promoted religious tolerance, particularly with individuals from the regions of the country more affected by conflict, such as during a forum on good governance for mayors from the Sahel Region in March. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19.7 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni, 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs. Less than 1 percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups. Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs. Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country. Indigenous religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities. The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population. There is no significant correlation between religious affiliation and ethnicity, political, or socioeconomic status. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework 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 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. Registration confers legal status, and the process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($88). Religious organizations are not required to register unless they seek legal recognition by the government, but after they are registered, they must comply with applicable regulations required of all registered organizations or be subject to a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($88 to $260). Religious groups operate under the same regulatory framework for publishing and broadcasting as other entities. The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization may 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, and it may conduct permit application reviews due to an identified increase in falsified membership lists. The government generally does not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conduct for-profit activities. The government provides subsidies to a number of Catholic schools as part of an agreement allowing students from public schools to enroll in Catholic schools when public schools are at full capacity. The government taxes religious groups only if they engaged in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production. Religious education is not allowed in public schools. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some schools of higher education. These schools are permitted to provide religious instruction to their students. By law schools (religious or not) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy; however, the government does not appoint or approve these officials. The government reviews the curricula of new religious schools as they open and others periodically to ensure they offer the full standard academic curriculum; however, the majority of Quranic schools are not registered, and thus their curricula not reviewed. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($132,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and traditional animistic communities. Sources stated that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country. 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 July the government allocated approximately one billion CFA francs ($1.76 million) to subsidize the costs of 8,100 Muslims for the Hajj. The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders. Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors A number of domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated in the country throughout the year. These included Ansaroul Islam, Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and Al-Mourabitoun. On September 17, individuals affiliated with groups identified by local authorities as terrorist and extremist killed an imam and six others, including members of his family, during an attack on a mosque in Diabiga, a village approximately 35 miles from Pama in the East Region. On September 25, individuals affiliated with these groups killed the imam in Kompienbiga, a village nine miles from Pama in the East Region. On April 12, suspected members of the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Islamic State of the Greater Sahara kidnapped a schoolteacher from Bouro primary school in Nassoubou commune in the northern area of the country for teaching in French rather than Arabic. The action followed the 2017 killings of a headmaster, as well as several other teachers and students, by individuals affiliated with groups identified as terrorist and extremist conducting an intimidation campaign to impose Quranic education in place of the secular curriculum and replace French with Arabic. The United Nations reported this intimidation campaign, predominately waged against government-supported public schools, led to the closure of 473 of the 644 primary schools in the North and Sahel Regions by midyear and left 65,000 pupils and 2,000 teachers out of school. On May 20, individuals affiliated with groups authorities identified as terrorist and extremist kidnapped Catholic catechist Mathieu Sawadogo and his wife Alizeta in Arbinda, located approximately 60 miles from Djibo. Sawadogo and his wife were released several weeks later without incident. The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, and Protestant and Catholic representatives confirmed their release. On June 3, individuals affiliated with groups authorities identified as terrorist and extremist kidnapped Pierre Boena, an Assembly of God pastor, in the village of Bilhore, Soum Province, in Sahel Region. Three members of his family – his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter – were also abducted. According to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the pastor and his family were released without harm after four days of captivity. On May 2, individuals affiliated with groups authorities identified as terrorist and extremist burned down a schoolhouse and teacher housing in the village of Guenbila, near Kaya in the Center-North Region. Sources stated that the individuals carried out the attack as part of an intimidation campaign against secular education in the region. On September 8, individuals affiliated with these groups burned and ransacked three primary schools and teacher housing units in Tankoalou, in the East Region. Sources stated that the individuals carried out the attack as a warning against secular schools opening at the beginning of the school year. This was the first attack against schools in the East Region. The government, religious leaders, and civil society organizations reported increased vigilance on the part of communities in light of the spate of religious-focused violence and kidnappings during the year. Sources stated that previously, attacks carried out by individuals authorities suspected to be extremists targeted military personnel and civil servants, leaving civilians generally untroubled. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom On September 16, unknown individuals vandalized a Catholic church, removed the heads from religious statues, and left a message citing Bible verses warning against religious idolatry in the village of Dissin in Ioba Province. Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the (Protestant) Federation of Evangelical Churches stated that despite the increase in religious-focused attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations. Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions, such as the National Observatory of Religious Facts, which conducted awareness campaigns and mediation throughout the country. They also worked through nongovernmental organizations such as the Dori-based Fraternal Union of Believers, which encouraged various religious communities, specifically in the Sahel Region, to conduct socioeconomic activities with the goal of fostering religious tolerance. The Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou cited an interfaith Eid al-Adha celebration in August, in which Christian religious leaders participated alongside their Muslim counterparts, in what they stated was an effort to promote religious tolerance in the country. New Muslim and Protestant congregations opened without approval and oversight from existing Muslim and Protestant federations, continuing a trend from the previous year. Religious leaders stated the Muslim and Protestant federations were often undermined by small new religious groups not falling under their oversight that took positions counter to the federation’s messages of tolerance. They said the lack of oversight made it difficult for the official religious groups to monitor and regulate the activities and messages of these new groups. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Embassy staff regularly discussed events and policies affecting religious freedom, including the equitable registration process for religious groups, the equitable treatment of religious groups by the government, and the status of the relationship between different religious groups with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization. The Ambassador and embassy officials met separately with Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders throughout the country, at the local and national levels, to encourage their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and advocate for religious tolerance and freedom. In March the embassy organized a forum on good governance for all the mayors from the Sahel Region that included a session on countering violent extremism. The session focused on leadership, community development, and the promotion of religious tolerance. From May 22-24, during Ramadan, the embassy organized and hosted an “Iftar Decouverte” (Ramadan discovery trip) for a group of 50 students ages 13-17 and 17 teachers from Quranic schools in which only traditional Islamic curriculum is taught. The schools were located in the remote villages of the northern regions bordering Mali and Niger. The trip ended with an iftar focused on religious freedom hosted by the Ambassador alongside the Minister of Territorial Administration, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the General Secretary of the National Muslim Federation. On May 29, embassy representatives visited two Quranic schools located in the villages of Boussouma and Lilboure in the Center-North Region. During the visit, the marabouts (traditional Islamic leaders), some of whom also attended the Iftar Decouverte, pointed to the positive impact embassy programs had in promoting civic engagement and religious freedom by countering extremist narratives. On July 19, the Ambassador invited the Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic leadership of Kaya in the Center-North Region to a breakfast to discuss religious freedom, youth unemployment, and domestic violence among their communities. On August 14, the Ambassador met with Cheick Boubacar Doukoure, a prominent Fulani religious leader and advocate for peace. Their discussion focused on potential strategies to engage Quranic schools and Muslim leaders in the promotion of religious tolerance. Burma Executive Summary The constitution guarantees every citizen “the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” The law prohibits speech or acts insulting or defaming any religion or religious beliefs; authorities used these laws to limit freedom of expression and press. Local and international experts said deeply woven prejudices led to abuses and discrimination against religious minorities by government and societal actors. It was sometimes difficult to categorize incidents as based solely on religious identity due to the close linkage between religion and ethnicity in the country. Violence, discrimination, and harassment against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State, who are nearly all Muslim, and other minority populations continued. Following the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that took place in 2017 and resulted in the displacement of more than 700,000 refugees to Bangladesh, Rohingya who remained in Burma continued to face an environment of particularly severe repression and restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education, healthcare, and livelihoods based on their ethnicity, religion, and citizenship status, according to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In March the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar reported that the government appeared to be using starvation tactics against remaining Rohingya. On September 17, the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council, published its final report on the country, which detailed atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, as well as other areas, and characterized the “genocidal intent” of the military’s 2017 operations in Rakhine State. The government denied the Fact-Finding Mission permission to enter the country and publicly disavowed the report. Some government and military officials used anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim rumors and hate speech circulating on social media in formal meetings, public speeches, and other official settings. Public remarks by the minister of religious affairs in November were widely understood to denigrate Muslims. Christians in Kachin State, according to media and NGO reports, stated the military was carrying out a campaign to eliminate them similar to the situation in Rakhine State. In other areas, non-Buddhist minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, reported incidents in which authorities unduly restricted religious practice, denied freedom of movement to members of religious minorities, closed places of worship, denied or failed to approve permits for religious buildings and repairs, and discriminated in employment and housing. The military’s selective denial of humanitarian access in some conflict areas, including Kachin, Chin, and Rakhine States, led to severe hardship on religious minorities and others and intercommunal tensions, according to NGOs. Among Rohingya who fled the country during the year, some cited ongoing abuses in Rakhine State, while others reportedly fled due to government pressure to participate in a citizenship verification campaign, which they stated they did not trust. NGOs and religious groups said local authorities in some cases worked to reduce religious tension and improve relations between communities. In the Wa Self-Administered Division, where the government has no administrative control, United Wa State Army (UWSA) authorities detained Christian leaders, destroyed churches, and otherwise interfered with Christian religious practice, according to media reports and the UWSA spokesperson. Some leaders and members of Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, better known by its former name Ma Ba Tha, continued to issue pejorative statements against Muslims. In May the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (SSMNC), an independent but government-supported body that oversees Buddhist affairs, reiterated its 2017 order that no group or individual was allowed to operate under the banner of Ma Ba Tha. In spite of the order, many local Ma Ba Tha branches continued to operate with that name. The SSMNC’s 2017 ban on public speaking by the monk Wirathu, a self-described nationalist, expired in March. He appeared at a large promilitary rally in Rangoon in October, at which he made anti-Muslim statements. Other Ma Ba Tha leaders continued propagating anti-Muslim sentiment in sermons and through social media. Anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya hate speech was prevalent on social media. Facebook removed pages belonging to Wirathu and a number of senior military leaders and military-affiliated groups for propagating hate speech, including anti-Muslim rhetoric. Religious and civil society leaders continued to organize intrafaith and interfaith events and developed mechanisms to monitor and counter hate speech. Senior U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, Secretary of State, Ambassador to the United Nations, USAID Administrator, Ambassador to Burma, and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom advocated for religious freedom and tolerance and consistently raised concerns about discrimination against religious minorities, the treatment of Rohingya and conditions in Rakhine State, and the prevalence of anti-Muslim hate speech and religious tension. In November the Vice President said, “The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse” and asked State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi about the country’s progress in holding accountable those who were responsible. In July at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, the USAID Administrator stated, “The Rohingya were victimized by nothing less than ethnic cleansing: extrajudicial killings, rapes, tortures, beatings, arbitrary arrests, displacement, destruction of property – all driven by intolerance and sectarian hatred.” The United States has sanctioned five generals and two military units for human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities. Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, frequently met with Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu leaders, including ethnic minority religious leaders, to highlight concerns about religiously based discrimination and abuses and called for respect for religious freedom and the values of diversity and tolerance in statements and other public messaging. Since 1999, Burma has been designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On November 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Burma as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 55.6 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the most recently available estimates, approximately 88 percent are Theravada Buddhists. Approximately 6 percent are Christians (primarily Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans, along with several small Protestant denominations). Muslims (mostly Sunni) comprise approximately 4 percent of the population. The 2014 Census reportedly excluded the Rohingya from its count, but NGOs and the government estimated the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim Rohingya population at 1.1 million prior to the outbreak of violence and initial exodus of Rohingya into Bangladesh in October 2016. According to current estimates from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh beginning in August 2017, and an estimated 520,000 to 600,000 remain in Rakhine State. There are small communities of Hindus and practitioners of traditional Chinese and indigenous religions. There is a very small Jewish community in Rangoon. There is significant demographic correlation between ethnicity and religion. Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion among the majority Bamar ethnic group and among the Shan, Rakhine, Mon, and numerous other ethnic groups. Various forms of Christianity are dominant among the Kachin, Chin, and Naga ethnic groups. Christianity also is practiced widely among the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups, although many Karen and Karenni are Buddhist and some Karen are Muslim. People of South Asian ancestry, who are concentrated in major cities and in the south central region, are predominantly Hindu or Muslim, although some are Christian. Ethnic Rohingya and Kaman in Rakhine State, as well as some Bamar and ethnic Indians in Rangoon, Ayeyarwaddy, Magway, and Mandalay Divisions, practice Islam. Chinese ethnic minorities generally practice traditional Chinese religions and to a lesser extent Islam and Christianity. Some smaller ethnic groups in the highland regions observe traditional indigenous beliefs. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution states that every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice his or her religious beliefs. The constitution limits those rights if they threaten public order, health, morality, or other provisions of the constitution. It further provides to every citizen the right to profess and practice his or her religion if not contrary to laws on security, law and order, community peace, or public order and morality. The law prohibits deliberate and malicious speech or acts intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings of any class by insulting or defaming its religion or religious beliefs. The law also prohibits injuring, defiling, or trespassing on any place of worship or burial grounds with the intent to insult religion. All organizations, whether secular or religious, must register with the government to obtain official status. This official status is required for organizations to gain title to land, obtain construction permits, and conduct religious activities. The law bars members of “religious orders” (such as priests, monks, and nuns of any religious group) from running for public office, and the constitution bars members of religious orders from voting. The government restricts by law the political activities and expression of the Buddhist clergy (sangha). The constitution forbids “the abuse of religion for political purposes.” Although there is no official state religion, the constitution notes that the government “recognizes the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union.” The constitution “also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Animism as the religions existing in the Union at the day of the coming into operation of this Constitution.” The government bans any organization of Buddhist monks other than the nine state-recognized monastic orders. Violations of this ban are punishable by immediate public defrocking and criminal penalties. The nine recognized orders submit to the authority of the SSMNC, the members of which are elected by monks. The Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasana (Buddhist teaching) oversees the government’s relations with Buddhist monks and schools. Four laws passed in 2015 for the “protection of race and religion” remain in effect. The Buddhist Women Special Marriage law stipulates notification and registration requirements for marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women, obligations that non-Buddhist husbands must observe, and penalties for noncompliance. The Religious Conversion law regulates conversion through an extensive application and approval process. The Population Control Law allows for the designation of special zones where population control measures may be applied, including authorizing local authorities to implement three-year birth spacing. The Monogamy Law bans polygamous practices, which the country’s penal code already criminalized. The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Investigations of the 2017 ethnic cleansing in northern Rakhine State released during the year, including the UN Fact-Finding Mission’s final report, corroborated earlier accounts of a systematic abuses and a campaign against Rohingya civilians that involved extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture. On September 17, the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council, published its final report on the country, which detailed atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, as well as other areas, and characterized the “genocidal intent” of the military’s 2017 operations in Rakhine State. The government denied the Fact-Finding Mission permission to enter the country and publicly disavowed the report. The report also found the actions of the military in both Kachin (mostly Christian) and Shan States (mostly Buddhist) since 2011 amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government established an independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate the 2017 violence in Rakhine State. It is comprised of two international and two Burmese members, and chaired by Rosario Manalo, a former diplomat from the Philippines. The commission did not make public any findings by year’s end. Multiple government-led investigations into earlier reported abuses by security forces culminated in denials that abuses occurred and did not result in accountability. In January Amnesty International (AI) reported three incidents of the military abducting Rohingya girls or young women. One such instance occurred in January in Hpoe Khaung Chaung village, Buthidaung Township: soldiers searched a house, held a man at gunpoint, and abducted a 15-year-old girl; the family has not seen the girl since. AI also reported that security forces strip-searched Rohyingya women fleeing the country and robbed both women and men. Two Reuters reporters, detained by the government in December 2017 and charged under the Official Secrets Act related to their investigation of security forces’ activities in northern Rakhine State, remained incarcerated throughout their trial and were sentenced on September 3 to seven years in prison. Independent observers said the trial lacked due process. UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee told the Human Rights Council in March that the government appeared to be using a policy of starvation in Rakhine State to force out the remaining Rohingya. The country’s envoy to the council denied the charge and called for Lee’s dismissal. In March AI reported increased “land grabs” and razing of formerly Rohingya villages by authorities in Rakhine State. AI stated that the military and police built roads and structures over burned Rohingya villages and land, making it even less likely for refugees to return to their homes and “erasing evidence of crimes against humanity.” According to satellite imagery, the military and police built at least three new security bases in northern Rakhine State. Reportedly, some Rohingya who were living near the new construction fled to Bangladesh in fear. In February AI reported military forces in Rakhine had denied Rohingya access to their rice fields in November and December 2017, a denial that amounted to forced starvation, and that many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh on account of the food shortages. The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) reported that military forces imposed limits on how much rice displaced villagers in Rakhine could purchase per month, causing shortages. An additional 13,764 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between January and September. The government prepared facilities to begin receiving some 2,000 of the 700,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh in 2017. In November amid efforts by the governments of Burma and Bangladesh to initiate returns, Rohingya refused to return, often saying they would be subject to human rights abuses if they returned without a guarantee of citizenship. Bangladesh authorities said they would not force them to go back, and no one chose to return. Several NGOs reported approximately 120,000 Rohingya remained confined to camps since violence in 2012. In May Hla Phyu was arrested and convicted of false representation after attempting to leave an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Rakhine State, where she had been living since her displacement during violence in 2012, and travel to Rangoon. The 23-year-old teacher, who is Muslim, had previously applied for official permission to travel without success, and eventually traveled without receiving permission. A court sentenced her to a year in prison with hard labor. The government continued to tightly restrict outside access, including UN and NGO humanitarian aid and media, to northern Rakhine State and portions of Kachin State during the year. Reportedly, the military selectively permitted humanitarian access to IDPs in some conflict areas – granting access to local relief organizations associated with certain religious denominations while denying access to organizations associated with other religious denominations, which created intercommunal tension. In August the human rights group Fortify Rights reported that the government’s travel-authorization process for aid groups in Burma effectively acted as a restriction on aid and humanitarian access to displaced populations in violation of international humanitarian law. Authorities suspended humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State entirely in August 2017; during 2018, the Red Cross Movement, World Food Program, and several other organizations regained some degree of access. According to Fortify Rights, from June 2017 to June 2018, authorities unconditionally approved only approximately 5 percent of 562 applications submitted by international humanitarian agencies seeking “travel authorization” to assist displaced communities in government-controlled areas of Kachin State. On May 21, the government’s minister of security and border affairs for Kachin State sent a letter to the Kachin Baptist Convention – one of the largest providers of aid to displaced communities in Kachin Independence Army (KIA)-controlled areas – saying the group would be prosecuted for illegally delivering aid in areas under KIA control. Sources stated that authorities singled out Rohingya in northern Rakhine State to perform forced labor and arbitrarily arrested them. Authorities imposed restrictions that impeded the ability of Rohingya to construct houses or religious buildings. Authorities in northern Rakhine reportedly prohibited Rohingya from gathering publicly in groups of more than five persons. Fighting between the government and ethnic armed groups that restarted in Kachin and northern Shan States in 2011 continued. UN Special Rapporteur Lee reported that in March the military started new ground offensives in Kachin State using heavy artillery. The UN estimated that 107,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, where there are many Christians as well as other religious groups. Christians in Kachin State, according to media and NGO reports, stated the military was carrying out a campaign to eliminate them similar to the situation in Rakhine State. It was often difficult to categorize specific incidents as based solely on religious identity due to the close linkage between religion and ethnicity in the country. The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reported that thousands of Kachin fled the military, including residents of more than 50 villages as of June. The KIO stated the military destroyed or damaged more than 400 villages, 300 churches, and 100 schools in Kachin State since 2011. In August, at the Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, several NGOs reported that government security forces encouraged the construction of Buddhist monasteries and temples in areas where they built new bases. Minority religious communities said they perceived this effort to be part of a process of “Burmanization.” According to a CHRO September report, the Chin people continued to face “institutionalized barriers to religious freedom.” According to the report, the barriers usually involved local authorities blocking the ownership of land for Christian worship. Christians have also faced mob violence by local communities, often “supported and even organized by local authorities and Buddhist-monks.” The CHRO report said there were cases where police failed to investigate or hold perpetrators to account. In Rakhine State, according to the UN and media reports, the government and security forces continued to restrict the movement of various ethnic and religious groups, particularly members of the Rohingya community. Restrictions governing the travel of persons whom the government considers foreigners, including both Muslim and Hindu Rohingya, some other Hindus living in Rakhine State, and others between townships in northern Rakhine State, varied depending on the township, usually requiring submission of an immigration form. The traveler could obtain this form only from the township of origin’s Immigration and National Registration Department and only if that person provided an original copy of a family list, temporary registration card, and two guarantors. The form typically authorized travel for two to four weeks. Authorities granted Muslims located outside of Rakhine State more freedom to travel, but they still faced restrictions on travel into and out of Rakhine State, and reportedly feared authorities would not allow them to leave Rakhine if they were to visit the state. Such restrictions seriously impeded the ability of Rohingya to pursue livelihoods, access markets, hospitals, and other services, and engage other communities. Sources stated that individuals stereotyped by security forces as appearing to be Muslim received additional scrutiny on movements in the region, regardless of their actual religion. Obtaining these travel permits often involved extortion and bribes. According to various religious organizations and NGOs, the process to register an NGO, whether religious in nature or not, remained lengthy and often went uncompleted due largely to bureaucratic inefficiency in local governments. Organizations noted that lack of registration did not generally hinder the ability of groups and individuals to conduct religious activities, except in a few cases, although being unregistered left organizations vulnerable to harassment or closure by the government. Religious groups throughout the country, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and especially Muslims, reported difficulties and delays that could last for years in getting permits to allow construction of and repairs to religious buildings. Buddhists, however, said getting such permission was harder for other groups. Religious groups said the multiple permissions, unclear authority among government agencies, and interminable delays in responses to requests for permits led them to construct places of worship without the required permissions, leaving them vulnerable to future government action or to pressure by members of other religious groups. Others said it was necessary to bribe authorities to obtain permits. In areas with few or no mosques, Muslims often conducted prayer services and other religious practices, such as teaching, in private homes. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs issued an order in June that restricted non-Buddhist religious teachings to government-approved religious buildings and prohibited prayer services and religious teaching in private homes. The order also required that teaching materials, with an implicit focus on Islamic materials printed in Arabic, be in the Burmese language and submitted to the ministry in advance. The General Administration Department, which has a significant leading role in all subnational administration aspects of daily life, issued notices in Yangon and Sagaing Divisions requiring compliance with the ministry’s order. Authorities in Mandalay Division continued to enforce similar restrictions. Local authorities closed 12 mosques and religious schools in Ayeyarwady, Mandalay, and Sagaing Divisions as well as in Shan State during the year, according to the Burman Human Rights Network (BHRN). A 2017 ban on prayers in eight Islamic schools in Thakayta Township in Yangon Division and the closure of two remained in force. Authorities prevented 14 mosques and religious schools in Yangon and Mandalay Divisions from operating in 2017 and they remained shuttered. Human rights and Muslim groups reported that historic mosques in Meiktila in Mandalay Division, Hpa-An in Karen State, and other areas continued to deteriorate in part because authorities denied permits to perform routine maintenance. Muslims in Mandalay Division reported continued obstacles to rebuilding mosques after anti-Muslim violence in 2014. Authorities ordered that mosques be shut down after the 2013 anti-Muslim riots in Meiktila, and they remained closed, in addition to mosques in Bago and Mandalay Divisions. According to a CHRO September report, Christian communities in Chin State reported applications to local authorities for property registration, construction, and renovation encountered delays spanning several years, or the applications were lost altogether. The CHRO reported local authorities in Chin State continued to delay applications from Christian groups and churches to buy land in the name of their religious organizations. Local authorities in Chin State also blocked Christian groups and churches from buying land in the name of their religious organizations for the purpose of worship. Religious groups said individual members circumvented this requirement by purchasing land in their own names on behalf of the group, a practice the government tolerated. In January, according to the CHRO, township administrators banned Christians from building a house for the local pastor in Magway Division and from worshipping in a residential house. As of September local authorities had not responded to a March request to use the house as a church, according to the CHRO. Christian and Muslim groups seeking to build small places of worship on side streets or other inconspicuous locations continued to be able to do so only with approval from local authorities, according to religious groups. Sources stated that the government increased restrictions on both secular and religious civil society organizations holding public events in hotels and other venues, imposing new requirements for advance notice of events and participants, and civil society organizations sometimes turned to churches and other religious institutions in light of restrictions on the use of other venues. Many religious and civil society organizations said they preferred to receive written authorization from ward, township, and other local authorities before holding events to avoid last-minute cancellations. The government continued to give financial support to Buddhist seminaries and Buddhist missionary activities. The government continued to fund two state sangha universities in Yangon and Mandalay that trained Buddhist monks under the purview of the SSMNC, as well as the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University in Yangon. According to religious organizations, the Ministry of Religious Affairs financially supported the SSMNC and religious ceremonies. Teachers at many government schools reportedly continued to require students to recite Buddhist prayers, although such practices were no longer a mandated part of the curriculum. Many classrooms displayed Buddhist altars or other Buddhist iconography. Several Christian theological seminaries and Bible schools continued to operate, along with several madrassahs, in Rangoon, Sagaing, and elsewhere. Due to movement restrictions, many Rohingya could not access education in state-run schools, although observers reported some increased access during the year. Authorities generally did not permit Rohingya high school graduates from Rakhine State and others living in IDP camps to travel outside the state to attend college or university. Authorities continued to bar any university students who did not possess citizenship cards from graduating, which disproportionately affected students from religious minorities, particularly Muslim students. These students were allowed to attend classes and take examinations, but could not receive diplomas unless they had a citizenship card, the application for which required some religious minorities to identify as a “foreign” ethnic minority. According to one human rights organization, schools sometimes submitted citizenship applications on behalf of non-Muslim students while denying the same privilege to Muslim students. Muslim students, after submitting the applications, sometimes had to pay bribes to immigration officials to obtain documentation. According to BHRN, instructors reportedly made anti-Muslim comments in university classrooms and Muslim students typically were not permitted to join institutes for professional studies. One human rights group documented the teaching of racist and anti-Muslim tenets in schools throughout the country. Muslims said government authorities denied them permission to slaughter cows during the Eid al-Adha festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Media and religious sources said local authorities in some villages restricted the licensing of and butchering of cattle by slaughterhouses, the vast majority owned by Muslims. These restrictions negatively affected business operations and the ability of Muslim communities to celebrate Islamic holidays. Sources stated that authorities generally did not enforce four laws passed in 2015 for the “protection of race and religion.” A 2005 local order in Maungdaw Township in northern Rakhine State continued in effect, requiring residents, predominately Rohingya, to obtain local authorization to marry. In addition, some Rohingya sources expressed concern about the two-child policy for Rohingya families, referring to a 2005 local order promulgated in northern Rakhine State and sporadically enforced. Rohingya remained unable to obtain employment in any civil service positions. Buddhists continued to make up nearly all senior officials within the military and civil service. Applications for civil service and military positions required the applicant to list his or her religion. According to one human rights organization, applications by Muslims for government jobs were largely rejected. Buddhists continued to make up the vast majority of parliamentarians. There were no Muslim members of parliament, and neither the ruling NLD nor the main opposition party ran any Muslim candidates during nationwide elections in 2015 or by-elections in 2017 and 2018. Second Vice President Henry Van Thio, a Chin Christian, continued to serve in his position, and the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament were Christian. Authorities required citizens and permanent residents to carry government-issued identification cards that permitted holders to access services and prove citizenship. These identification cards usually indicated religious affiliation and ethnicity. The government also required citizens to indicate their religion on certain official applications for documents such as passports, although passports themselves do not indicate the bearer’s religion. Members of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, faced problems obtaining identification and citizenship cards. According to Fox News, a local official said Christians in Karen State applied to the central government for identification cards identifying them as “Christians” but received cards identifying them as “Buddhist,” and officials refused to change the cards. Some Muslims reported that they were required to indicate a “foreign” ethnicity if they self-identified as Muslim on applications for citizenship cards. BHRN published a case study of Muslim migrant workers in Thailand who applied to Burmese immigration officials for a formal verification of their nationality, known as a Certificate of Identity (CI). Respondents consistently reported that they had to provide more documentation than did other groups, or that authorities said, “We are not giving CIs to Muslims.” BHRN’s case study found that twice as many Muslims were rejected as were accepted. The government continued to call for Rohingya to participate in the government’s citizenship verification process and to apply for National Verification Cards (NVCs, the first step in the citizenship verification process). Many Rohingya objected to the exercise, citing a fear of being identified as “Bengali,” fear of being designated a “naturalized” rather than “full citizen,” a lack of requisite change in their rights if they obtained the NVCs, and a general distrust towards the government. The government said it no longer required all participants to identify as “Bengali” as a condition of participating in the process, although implementing officials reportedly continued to require participants to identify as “Bengali,” and those verified as a citizen reportedly had “Bengali” listed as their race on their citizenship scrutiny card. Recipients of naturalized citizenship were ineligible to participate in some political activities and professions, although all citizens had the right to vote. The government also pressured Rohingya to apply for NVCs, including by continuing a requirement to have an NVC in order to have a fishing permit. Many Rohingya entering Bangladesh during the year cited the pressure campaign as a primary reason for leaving Burma. State-controlled media frequently depicted military and government officials and their family members paying respect to Buddhist monks; offering donations at pagodas; officiating at ceremonies to open, improve, restore, or maintain pagodas; and organizing “people’s donations” of money, food, and uncompensated labor to build or refurbish Buddhist shrines nationwide. The government published and distributed books on Buddhist religious instruction. In November Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs Aung Ko, speaking in nationally televised remarks at the funeral of a prominent Buddhist monk in Karen State, criticized “the followers of an extreme religion [who] take three of four wives and have families with 15 or 20 children.” He added, “Devotees of other [non-Buddhist] religions will become the majority and we will be in danger of being taken over.” His remarks were widely understood to refer to Muslims. Sources stated that government officials circulated or advanced rumors and false information concerning Rohingya and other Muslims, including claims of a demographic takeover of Rakhine State by Muslims. According to media reports, the military conducted a coordinated effort to spread anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiment through dummy Facebook accounts and other social media. The military in August published a book purporting to give a historic account of the Rohingya in northern Rakhine that included images from other areas and conflicts and falsely claiming to show a Rohingya influx into the country from Bangladesh before and after World War II. Government officials distributed the book at formal meetings. Also in August, government officials circulated anti-Rohingya videos to UN and other officials, and a military-linked think tank publicized such material at an event in Rangoon in October. In November the Yangon Division Rakhine Ethnic Affairs Ministry organized a speaker event in Rangoon called “Hidden Truths of the Western Frontier in Rakhine State,” at which the Rakhine ethnic affairs minister gave remarks in which he blamed the Rakhine crisis on “Bengalis,” a term used to refer to Rohingya that is considered pejorative. The government officially recognized a number of interfaith groups, including the Interfaith Dialogue Group of Myanmar, which organized monthly meetings and sponsored several religious activities promoting peace and religious tolerance around the country throughout the year. The group’s leadership included Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu leaders, as well as leaders from other religious groups. The government generally permitted foreign religious groups to operate in a manner similar to nonreligious foreign aid groups. Local religious organizations were also able to send official invitations for visa purposes to clergy from faith-based groups overseas, and foreign religious visitors acquired either a tourist or business visa for entry. Authorities generally permitted Rangoon-based groups to host international students and experts. Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors In September the UWSA, which controls the Wa Self-Administered Division in Shan State, detained approximately 200 Christian leaders, destroyed churches, and imposed severe limits on Christian worship, teaching, and proselytizing, according to media reports and the UWSA spokesperson. The UWSA later released most of those it detained. The government exerts no authority inside the Wa territory, which has been under UWSA control since 1988. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom In May AI reported that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was likely responsible for the killing of 45 Hindu villagers in Maungdaw Township on August 25, 2017, which the government previously had reported, but some civil society organizations had questioned. The Chin Human Rights Organization reported the Arakan Army beat villagers and looted property in a village in Paletwa Township, Chin State, in May. Local and international experts said deeply woven prejudices led to instances of abuse or discrimination against members of religious minorities by societal actors. Many prominent military, civilian, and religious leaders continued to promote the idea that Burmese Buddhist culture was under assault by Islam and Muslims, who would come through the mountains of western Burma – northern Rakhine State where the Rohingya live – and overwhelm Buddhist areas of the country. CHRO reported that in July a mob that included Buddhist monks attacked two Chin nursery school teachers in the house of a Christian pastor in Pade Kyaw Village, Ann District, Rakhine State. Village monks previously said there would be a 50,000 kyat ($33) penalty per household if each household did not send a member to a meeting at which the monks urged participants to harass Christians attending a church service. In August, according to CHRO, a mob attacked Pastor Tin Shwe of Good News Church in the same area of Rakhine State, and he was hospitalized. In January the village tract administrator in Gangaw Township, Magway Division, along with two police officers and some local Buddhist monks, tried to expel a family who had converted to Christianity from the village. Authorities reportedly failed to investigate or hold perpetrators accountable in these cases. Despite the renewal during the year of the 2017 order by the SSMNC that no group or individual could operate under the banner of Ma Ba Tha, some branches of the group continued to use the name Ma Ba Tha, while others used the new name, Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation. Many of the group’s leaders and members continued to make pejorative and hateful statements against Muslims in sermons and through social media. In August Reuters found more than 1,000 examples of anti-Muslim hate speech on Burmese-language Facebook pages, including calls for “genocide,” comparisons to “pigs” and “dogs,” and widespread use of pejoratives to refer to Muslims. In March the SSMNC’s ban expired on the influential self-defined nationalist Wirathu, a monk and the chairperson of the Ma Ba Tha branch in Mandalay, from delivering sermons across the country for one year. The SSMNC imposed the ban due to what the SSMNC called religious hate speech against Muslims, which inflamed communal tensions. In October Wirathu, who reportedly maintained strong ties to military and government officials, spoke at a large promilitary rally in Rangoon, mocking foreign sympathy for the Rohingya and making other anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim remarks. There were numerous previous reports of Wirathu making anti-Muslim remarks, such as praising the killers of the prominent Muslim lawyer Ko Ni in 2017. In September Facebook removed pages belonging to Wirathu and a number of senior military leaders and military-affiliated groups for propagating hate speech, including anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some observers said Ma Ba Tha received financial support from and otherwise coordinated with the military. In March prominent writer Maung Thway Chuun gave a speech in Sagaing Division in which he criticized the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament for being Christian and said the country’s religious and ethnic identity was under threat. Authorities arrested him in June on charges of inciting conflict between ethnic and religious groups, and in October a court sentenced him to two years in prison. Some observers criticized his case as an infringement of freedom of expression. There were continued reports of social stigma surrounding any assistance to or sympathy for the Rohingya community. Some civil society leaders said that even among otherwise tolerant individuals, anti-Rohingya sentiment remained prevalent. There were continued reports of general anti-Muslim prejudice, including social pressure not to rent housing to Muslims in some areas. Some Buddhist and Muslim community leaders in Mandalay continued to collaborate to quell rumors and prevent violence through formal and informal community-centered mechanisms. Religious and community leaders and civil society activists organized intrafaith and interfaith events, and some worked jointly to develop mechanisms to monitor and counter hate speech and to promote religious tolerance and diversity. A coalition of interfaith civil society groups continued advocating for and consulting on draft legislation to counter hate speech, although parliament did not take up the legislation by year’s end. In Mandalay Division, civil society and interfaith leaders held meetings and public events to promote peace and religious tolerance for community leaders and youth, as in previous years. For example, an event in August drew dozens of community members to a day of activities around the theme of diversity and tolerance. A number of interfaith groups continued mobilizing civil society around the country to promote religious tolerance. On November 21-23, the Religions for Peace Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and the Advancement of Peace in Myanmar convened in Nay Pyi Taw, bringing together voices from all major religions to advance an agenda of tolerance and respect. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the deputy commander-in-chief, and other senior government officials participated in the event. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement Senior U.S. officials – including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Ambassador to the United Nations, the Ambassador to Burma, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and senior Department of State officials for East Asia and human rights – consistently raised ongoing U.S. concerns about religious freedom in the country with senior government and military leaders. They specifically raised the plight of the mostly Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State, hardships facing minority religious communities in Kachin and northern Shan States in the midst of ongoing military conflicts, and advocacy on social media of violence against religious minorities on social media. On November 14, the Vice President stated, “The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse” and asked State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi about the country’s progress in holding those accountable who were responsible. In July at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the USAID Administrator said, “As our State Department and other sources have judged, the Rohingya were victimized by nothing less than ethnic cleansing: extrajudicial killings, rapes, tortures, beatings, arbitrary arrests, displacement, destruction of property – all driven by intolerance and sectarian hatred.” After his visit to Bangladesh in April, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom stated that the Rohingya situation “is a humanitarian crisis perpetrated by the Burmese security forces, and by vigilantes often acting in concert with security forces …. The Burmese military and others responsible must be held accountable for these horrific acts.” Senior officials, including the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, reiterated during the year the determination of former Secretary of State Tillerson that the military had committed ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. In December the Ambassador at Large said the Kachin and Karen were also being persecuted. He noted that the United States had sanctioned five generals and two military units. The U.S. government severely curtailed bilateral military-to-military relations, restricted visas for current and former military leaders, imposed additional targeted financial sanctions against military leaders and units involved in the 2017 ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State and human rights abuses in Kachin and Shan States, and pressed for full accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations. The Department of State published a report documenting atrocities perpetrated against Rohingya since 2016, drawing on over a thousand interviews with refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. U.S. government officials consistently called for sustainable solutions to the root causes of discrimination and violence in Rakhine State, including a voluntary and transparent path to provision of citizenship, freedom of movement and access to services for IDPs, and unhindered access for humanitarian actors and media in Rakhine and Kachin States. Embassy officials also urged government and interfaith leaders to improve efforts to mitigate religiously motivated violence in Mandalay, Kachin, and elsewhere. Embassy officials at all levels discussed the importance of addressing the effects of ethnoreligious violence and hate speech, including anti-Muslim rhetoric. Embassy officials promoted religious freedom and tolerance in meetings with high-level government officials, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the deputy commander-in-chief, the national security advisor, and the ministers of foreign affairs, religious affairs, home affairs, ethnic affairs, immigration, population, and labor affairs, and social welfare, relief, and resettlement affairs. Embassy officials also met with officials in the president’s office, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, parliamentarians, members of civil society, scholars, and representatives of other governments. A Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration led a delegation in November that engaged government officials, civil society groups, and international organizations on the importance of enacting durable solutions that will allow the Rohingya and other minority populations to live in safety and dignity, with freedom of movement and worship. Embassy officials traveled to ethnic minority-predominant areas to discuss religious freedom and tolerance with state and local government officials, NGOs, and members of community-based organizations and religious communities. The Ambassador visited Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, Mon, and Karen States, areas where conflict or violence have affected religious minorities in recent years, as well as other areas that had suffered from and were identified as at risk of ethnoreligious conflict. The multiple visits to Rakhine State by the Ambassador and other officials to assess the situation informed the embassy’s efforts and strategies in engaging the government and advocating for the rights of all communities in the state. The embassy continued to call for respect for religious freedom, tolerance, and unity in its interactions with all sectors of society, and in its social media accounts. At high-profile events, embassy representatives spoke out for religious freedom and against intercommunal conflict and hate speech. Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, repeatedly met with Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu leaders, including ethnic minority religious leaders, members of faculties of theology, and other religiously affiliated organizations – such as Ma Ba Tha and its successor organization – and NGOs to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance. To advance religious tolerance, the embassy hosted celebrations of Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays, and in each case invited members of various faiths to join. The embassy also shared multiple posts on Facebook about religious pluralism, tolerance, and shared identity in the United States. The Ambassador gave feature interviews to local media and international media in which he discussed the need for accountability for the 2017 ethnic cleansing and improved conditions for the Rohingya and other minority groups. The embassy regularly published statements highlighting concerns about religiously based tensions and anti-Muslim discrimination, as well as calling for respect for religious diversity, unity, and tolerance. Public programs at embassy facilities in Rangoon and Mandalay offered a platform for community leaders, media, students, and others to discuss intercommunal tolerance, often featuring individuals from minority ethnic and religious communities. The embassy hosted programs on digital and media literacy as a way to empower participants to reject online hate speech and the spread of rumors and other misinformation. It also sponsored travel to the United States to receive media literacy training in methods of combating disinformation on social media, including combating the spread of hate speech. As in prior years, the embassy worked with and supported numerous faith-based and civil society organizations working on programs promoting religious freedom and tolerance. Since 1999, Burma has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On November 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Burma as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. Burundi Executive Summary The constitution defines the state as secular, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for freedom of conscience and religion. It prohibits political parties from preaching religious violence or hate. Laws regulating nonprofit organizations and religious denominations require registration with the Ministry of the Interior, and religious denominations must meet standards including a minimum number of adherents in order to seek registration. Religious groups that do not seek or receive registration may face scrutiny, and at times harassment or prosecution, by government officials and ruling party members. On March 14, a man in Cankuzo Province died after being arrested and imprisoned for refusing to register as a voter due to his religious beliefs. The official cause of death was malaria, but witnesses cited beatings with iron rods and stated that they contributed to his death. Approximately 2,500 members of a nonrecognized religious group that fled the country to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2013 and 2014 returned to the country in April. The Ministry of Interior appointed 11 members of a new religious monitoring body, of whom eight were religious leaders, including the president and vice president of the committee. The committee included one Muslim representative, six representatives from Protestant denominations, and one Catholic representative, who resigned and was not replaced during the year. The committee reported extensive efforts to promote dialogue among and within religious denominations during the year. Among the committee’s stated functions was to track what were termed subversive or inflammatory teachings of religious groups. Religious leaders from different denominations sought to promote improved interfaith relations, which at times were strained by political differences, including through nongovernmental organization (NGO)-supported dialogue programs. The U.S. Ambassador and embassy representatives discussed religious freedom with the government and urged the government to respect the free exercise of religious conscience. The embassy encouraged societal leaders, including representatives of major faith groups, to support religious acceptance and promote interfaith discussion of the collaborative role religious groups could play in disseminating a message of peace and tolerance to the population. Embassy representatives met with the Ministry of the Interior’s religious monitoring committee, stressing U.S. support for religious freedom and discussing the group’s work to promote dialogue within and among religious groups. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.8 million (July 2018 estimate). A 2010 report from Pew Religious Futures lists Christians as constituting 91.5 percent of the population, indigenous groups 5.7 percent, and Muslims, 2.8 percent. According to the 2008 national census, 62 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 21.6 Protestant, 2.5 Muslim, and 2.3 Seventh-day Adventist. Another 6.1 percent have no religious affiliation, and 3.7 percent belong to indigenous religious groups. The Muslim population lives mainly in urban areas, and the head of the Islamic Community of Burundi estimates Muslims constitute closer to 10-12 percent of the population. Most Muslims are Sunni. There are some Shia Muslims and a small Ismaili community. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Hindus, and Jains. A 2013 national survey found that there are 557 religious groups in the country. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution establishes a secular state; prohibits religious discrimination; recognizes freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and provides for equal protection under the law regardless of religion. These rights may be limited by law in the general interest or to protect the rights of others, and may not be abused to compromise national unity, independence, peace, democracy, or the secular nature of the state, or to violate the constitution. The constitution prohibits political parties from preaching religious violence, exclusion, or hate. The government recognizes and registers religious groups through the law covering nonprofit organizations, which states these organizations must register with the Ministry of Interior. There is a 20,000 Burundian franc ($11) fee for registration. Each religious group must provide the denomination or affiliation of the institution, a copy of its bylaws, the address of its headquarters in the country, an address abroad if the local institution is part of a larger group, and the names and addresses of the association’s governing body and legal representative. Registration also entails identifying any property and bank accounts owned by the religious group. The ministry usually processes registration requests within two to four weeks. Leaders of religious groups who fail to comply or who practice in spite of denial of their registration are subject to six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. The law regulating religious groups also incorporates specific requirements for religious denominations seeking registration. Any new religious congregation must have a minimum of 500 members if initiated by a citizen and 1,000 members if initiated by a foreigner. It prohibits membership in more than one religious group at the same time. The law does not grant general tax exemptions or other benefits to religious groups, with certain exceptions. Some religious and nonreligious schools have agreements with the government entitling them to tax exemptions when investing in infrastructure or purchasing school equipment and educational materials. The official curriculum includes religion and morality classes for all secondary and primary schools. The program offers religious instruction for Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam, although all classes may not be available if the number of students interested is insufficient in a particular school. Students are free to choose from one of these three religion classes or attend morality classes instead. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices Human Rights Watch reported the March 14 death of Simon Bizimana following his arrest and alleged physical mistreatment during a month-long detention in prison in Cankuzo Province for refusing to register as a voter, which is not a crime under federal law, ahead of the country’s May constitutional referendum. A video of a local official questioning Bizimana prior to his arrest, during which he stated he would not participate in elections due to reasons of religious conscience, circulated widely on social media. Bizimana was a member of a small Christian fellowship group. A hospital certificate stated the cause of death was malaria, but witness accounts alleged his condition had been worsened by beatings with iron rods inflicted by police. The Ministry of the Interior sometimes denied requests for registration from religious groups but did not make information available on the applicants who were refused or the reasons for refusal. In May the minister of interior held a meeting with the leaders of religious groups to remind them that any group that did not comply with the law’s provisions for registration could be subject to suspension. In April approximately 2,500 followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana, aka Zebiya, returned to the country after seeking asylum first in the DRC and later in Rwanda. The members of the group departed the country in 2013 and 2014 following violent clashes with government security services and prosecutions of some members. Representatives of the group stated they had not sought accreditation as a religious denomination because they viewed themselves as members of the Catholic Church, leading to scrutiny from the government and the closure of the group’s shrine in Kayanza Province. The group primarily took refuge in the DRC but traveled from the DRC to Rwanda in March after refusing to comply with the requirements of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for biometric registration, which they stated they considered contrary to their beliefs. They similarly objected to registration requirements, vaccination requirements, and processed food rations in Rwanda, leading to the arrest of approximately 30 members and their subsequent decision to return to the country in April. Once back in the country, the government provided the group transportation to their home communes. There were subsequent reports that some members of the group faced scrutiny from government and ruling party officials. There were no reports of arrests or harassment as of the end of the year; a representative of the group stated that members had faced no significant harassment since their return, while articulating concern that the group continued to have no access to the Kayanza shrine. Ngendakumana reportedly remained in exile as of the end of the year. President Pierre Nkurunziza routinely employed religious rhetoric in the context of political speeches and invoked divine guidance for political decisions. The government continued a campaign launched in 2017 promoting the “moralization of [Burundian] society.” The president conducted events in provinces around the country attended by invited groups including government officials, ruling party members, religious leaders, and other local notables. During the events, which were not recorded or open to media and during which participants were not allowed to take notes, he gave lengthy addresses highlighting a mix of religious, historical, and cultural themes. The president also continued efforts begun in 2017, and connected rhetorically to the “moralization” campaign and invoking religious appeals, to require unmarried cohabitating couples to formalize their relationships as marriages. National Assembly President Pascal Nyabenda participated in a ceremony in September to welcome 60 Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca. First Lady Denise Nkurunziza, herself pastor of a church, organized a workshop with religious leaders to increase their involvement in fighting against mother-to-child HIV transmission. In August she organized a Christian prayer crusade in Kayanza Province, which government officials, ruling party members, and religious leaders attended. During the year, the Ministry of the Interior appointed 11 members of a new religious monitoring body, of whom eight were religious leaders, including the president and vice president of the committee. The committee included one Muslim representative, six representatives from Protestant denominations, and one Catholic representative, who resigned and was not replaced during the year. The ministry announced the establishment of the new religious monitoring body in 2017, stating its purpose was to “monitor, regulate, and settle” inter- and intradenominational disputes and to ensure that religious organizations operated according to law. The committee was also charged with tracking what were termed subversive or inflammatory teachings. The committee reported extensive efforts to promote dialogue among and within religious denominations during the year. The government continued to grant benefits, such as tax waivers, to religious groups for the acquisition of materials to manage development projects. According to the Burundi Revenue Authority, the government also granted tax waivers to religious denominations for the import of religious materials such as printed materials, wines for masses, and equipment to produce communion wafers. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom Religious leaders from different denominations sought to promote improved interfaith relations, which at times were strained by political differences. During the year, religious leaders representing the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations, and the Islamic community participated in interfaith dialogue activities facilitated by local and international NGOs. For instance, in November the Catholic Church’s national training center hosted 47 religious leaders representing a broad range of confessional backgrounds to participate in a workshop aimed at reinforcing the capacity of religious groups to engage in conflict resolution and peaceful coexistence. Civil society groups and media reported instances in which individuals and mobs threatened, attacked, and in some instances killed people accused of practicing witchcraft. Among other instances, on October 25, individuals set fire to the house of a man accused of practicing witchcraft in Cibitoke Province. In October a group of individuals in Bubanza Province complained of leaflets being distributed that accused them of witchcraft. A man in Ruyigi Province who had previously been accused of witchcraft was found decapitated on November 5. Such accusations were frequently tied to personal disputes or land conflicts, and sources stated that it did not appear that adherents to a specific religious faith were more likely to be targeted for allegations of witchcraft or that such accusations were tied to the religious practice of those targeted. Nor did there appear to be a correlation between individuals who attacked accused witchcraft practitioners and a religious group, according to observers. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement The U.S. Ambassador and embassy representatives discussed religious freedom with the government and urged the government to respect the free exercise of religious conscience. Embassy representatives met with the religious leaders who chaired the Ministry of the Interior’s religious monitoring committee, stressing U.S. support for religious freedom and discussing the group’s work to promote dialogue within and among religious groups. The Ambassador and embassy officials continued to encourage and support broad-based religious acceptance and dialogue in meetings with religious leaders from different faiths and denominations and through engagement with civil society organizations supporting interfaith dialogue. The embassy encouraged societal leaders, including political leaders and representatives of major faith groups, to support religious acceptance and promote interfaith discussion of the collaborative role religious groups could play in disseminating a message of peace and tolerance to the population. The Bahamas Executive Summary The constitution states freedom of religion is a fundamental right; individuals have the right to practice freely the religion of their choice or to practice no religion at all. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion. Practice of Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean belief system with some similarities to Voodoo, is illegal. Violators may face a sentence of three months in prison; however, according to Royal Bahamas Police Force officials, this law is inconsistently enforced. The government continued to include Christian prayer in all significant official events. Rastafarians said the government discriminated against them because of their use of marijuana and dreadlocks. The government met regularly with the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), comprising religious leaders from a wide spectrum of Christian denominations – including Baptist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Church of God, and Brethren – to discuss societal, political, and economic issues. There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom. U.S. embassy representatives met regularly with government officials, the president of the BCC, and representatives of the Muslim, Rastafarian, and Jewish communities to discuss issues of religious freedom. Embassy representatives discussed with Jewish and Muslim groups these groups’ concerns regarding participation of their children in Christian activities offered in public schools. Section I. Religious Demography The U.S. government estimates the total population at 333,000 (July 2018 estimate). According to the 2010 census, more than 90 percent of the population professes a religion. Of those, 70 percent is Protestant (includes Baptist 35 percent, Anglican 14 percent, Pentecostal 9 percent, Seventh-day Adventist 4 percent, Methodist 4 percent, Church of God 2 percent, and Brethren 2 percent). Twelve percent is Roman Catholic. Other Christians are 13 percent (includes Jehovah’s Witnesses, Greek Orthodox Christians, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Five percent is listed as other, having no religion, or unspecified. Other religious groups include Jews, Baha’is, Rastafarians, Muslims, Black Hebrew Israelites, Hindus, and Obeah, which a small number of citizens and some resident Haitians practice. Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal Framework The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the right to worship and to practice one’s religion. It forbids infringement on an individual’s freedom to choose or change one’s religion and prohibits discrimination based on belief. Parliament may limit religious practices in the interest of defense, public safety, health, public order, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, but there were no such actions reported during the year. The constitution refers to “an abiding respect for Christian values” in its preamble; however, there is no state-established religious body or official religion. The practice of Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean belief system with some similarities to Voodoo, is illegal. Those caught practicing it or attempting to intimidate, steal, inflict disease, or restore a person to health through the practice of Obeah may face a sentence of three months in prison. According to Royal Bahamas Police Force officials, this law is inconsistently enforced. The publication and sale of any book, writing, or representation deemed blasphemous is punishable by up to two years in prison; however, opinions on religious issues “expressed in good faith and in decent language” are not subject to prosecution under the law. This law is traditionally unenforced. The law does not require religious groups to register, but they must legally incorporate to purchase land. There are no legal provisions to encourage or discourage the formation of religious communities, which have the same taxation requirements as profitmaking companies if they incorporate. To incorporate, religious groups follow the regulations applicable to nonprofit entities, requiring the “undertaking” of the religious organization to be “without pecuniary gain” and to maintain a building for gathering. In accordance with VAT legislation, religious organizations seeking VAT exemptions must register with the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade and Industry, and Immigration and apply on a case-by-case basis for exemptions. The law prohibits marijuana use, including for religious rituals. Religion is a recognized academic subject at government schools and is included in mandatory standardized achievement and certificate tests. Religion classes in government-supported schools focus on the study of Christian philosophy, Biblical texts, and, to a lesser extent, comparative and non-Christian religions. Religious groups may establish private schools. The constitution states no one shall be compelled to participate in religious instruction or observances of a religion other than his or her own. It allows students, or their guardians in the case of minors, to decline to participate in religious education and observance in private schools. In government schools, students may not opt out of religious education, a core part of final examinations. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Government Practices The government continued to include Christian prayer in all significant official events. It was common for government officials and members of parliament to quote religious teachings during speeches, and senior government officials in their official capacities occasionally addressed assemblies during formal religious services. Rastafarians continued to be arrested for possessing small quantities of marijuana they used in ceremonial rituals and subjected to having their hair (locks) cut in prison. Rastafarians stated officials required family members of Rastafarian prisoners to pay to receive a vegetarian diet while in prison. Rastafarians also said the government discriminated against them in discussions on the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use. In an effort to engage religious communities, which frequently comment on government social and economic policies, the government met regularly with the BCC to discuss societal, political, and economic issues. Additionally, the government actively engaged with the Muslim community to develop opportunities for non-Muslim students to learn about Islam by having students visit the mosque to speak with local Muslim leaders. Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials and the president of the BCC regularly to discuss religious freedom. Embassy representatives increased their engagement with a wide variety of religious groups, including the BCC and smaller groups, which included the Jewish, Muslim, and Rastafarian communities. Embassy representatives discussed with Jewish and Muslim groups these groups’ concerns regarding participation of their children in Christian activities offered in public schools.