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New Zealand

Executive Summary

The constitution provides the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.  The law prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.  In response to 2017 media reports that a little-used blasphemous libel law was still in the statutes, the minister of justice proposed in March to repeal the law as part of broader amendments to the criminal code.  In July a long-running dispute over the teaching of religious education in schools was relocated from the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) to the High Court.  Advocates for secular education had complained that provisions of the law authorizing religious instruction in state schools were inconsistent with the more recent Bill of Rights Act.  The High Court did not make a decision during the year.  In September the Ministry of Education released draft guidelines on religious instruction in state primary and intermediate schools to help clarify the legal obligation of the schools’ boards of trustees when allowing religious instruction.  The Catholic and Anglican Churches asked the government to broaden the terms of reference of a commission on child abuse in institutions of care to include faith-based institutions.

The government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 65 complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for 2017-18.  In July after media reported on anti-Semitic posters and leaflets in two cities, the New Zealand Jewish Council said anti-Semitism was increasing, particularly online.

The ambassador, as well as embassy and consulate general officers, continued to meet with the government and representatives of various religious groups throughout the country to discuss religious freedom and the role of religion in society.  The embassy supported religious tolerance through activities such as the ambassador’s attendance at the UN Holocaust Memorial Day service in Wellington in January.  In March the embassy sponsored a Holocaust-themed exhibition appearing in schools.  In August the ambassador met with Auckland Sikh and Muslim leaders, discussing among other things, interreligious cooperation on trafficking in persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In March the minister of justice proposed repeal of the blasphemy law, which carries a penalty of up to one year in prison, as part of broader amendments to the criminal code.  As of the end of the year, a parliamentary committee was considering the amendments.  In 2017, government ministers and religious leaders expressed surprise when the press reported there was such a law, which had last been used in an unsuccessful prosecution in 1922.

In July a long-running dispute over the teaching of religious education in schools was relocated from the HRRT to the High Court.  The Secular Education Network (SEN) said many schools ignored legal restrictions on religious instruction.  Unlike previous complaints targeting individual school boards, the SEN stated the HRC had not appropriately taken action against “state-sanctioned religious bias” by the Ministry of Education, or against alleged conflict between those sections of the Education Act authorizing religious instruction in state schools and the right of protection from discrimination due to religious beliefs in the more recent Bill of Rights Act.  The court took no decision during the year.

In September the Ministry of Education released draft guidelines on religious instruction in state primary schools to help clarify boards of trustees’ legal obligations when allowing religious instruction, and to help trustees develop best practices regarding how to offer religious instruction.  The draft guidelines provide guidance on how to enable the closure of schools during delivery of religious instruction in a way that reduces the possibility of discrimination.

In February the government announced the creation of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Historical Abuse of Children in State Care, for those youth who had been in detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, and orphanages.  The royal commission, the highest level of government inquiry, is focusing on physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect, and systemic bias based on race, gender, or sexual orientation during the period 1950 to 1999.  After lobbying from Catholic and Anglican Church leaders, the government broadened the mandate of the royal commission to include faith-based institutions.

The New Zealand First Party, a government coalition partner, proposed the Respecting New Zealand Values Bill, which would require immigrants to agree to keep several “New Zealand values,” including freedom of religion.  Critics said some of the values listed in the bill were anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, including one that would prohibit campaigning against alcohol consumption.  The prime minister said the ruling Labour Party would not support the bill.

Historically, every parliamentary session had begun with a Christian prayer, but in February the new speaker of the house allowed a nondenominational blessing.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; provides for freedom of belief, religion, and worship; and states no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his or her ideology or beliefs.”  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported “serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua” surrounding demonstrations opposing social security reforms in April, which resulted in “excessive and arbitrary use of police force,” stigmatization campaigns, and other human rights abuses.  Amnesty International reported that in October the state had implemented a strategy of repression.  On July 13, police killed two students and injured at least 10 others in a 15-hour attack on a Roman Catholic Church in Managua providing refuge to student protesters from a nearby university campus.  Catholic leaders reported physical attacks and verbal insults, death threats, and intimidation campaigns by progovernment groups and ruling party (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN) activists associated with President Daniel Ortega and Vice President and spouse Rosario Murillo.  Media reported Deputy Chief of Police Ramon Avellan physically assaulted Father Edwin Roman in Masaya on September 9, after the priest asked government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral service.  Observers said Bishop Silvio Baez was a frequent target of government harassment because he condemned its human rights abuses.  According to religious leaders and media, there were many incidents of vandalism and the desecration of sacred items in Catholic churches throughout the country.  Progovernment supporters frequently disrupted religious services by playing loud music through speakers positioned outside of churches.  Many religious leaders said the government politicized religion in the context of what the IACHR and other international bodies characterized as an ongoing political crisis and social conflict in the country.  Religious leaders said the government retaliated against clergy perceived as critical of the government.  According to religious leaders, Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders who provided shelter and medical assistance and defended human rights of peaceful protesters were routinely victims of government retribution, including slander, arbitrary investigations by government agencies on unfounded charges, withholding tax exemptions, reducing budget appropriations, and denying religious services for political prisoners.  Catholic leaders said the government continued to use religious festivities, symbolism, and language in its laws and policies to promote its political agenda, a practice that Catholic leaders said undermined the Church’s religious integrity.

According to media, on December 5, a Russian national woman threw sulfuric acid at a priest at the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral during confession.  By year’s end, the priest was still at a local hospital with burns over his entire body and a serious infection.  While some civil society leaders familiar with the case stated they believed the government sent her to the church, there was no evidence linking the attack to government officials.  A Jewish leader said his group’s interfaith director met regularly with Christian and Muslim counterparts as part of relationship-building efforts.

The Vice President of the United States repeatedly called on the government to cease violence and attacks on the Catholic Church and expressed the U.S. government’s support for faith communities in their fight for human rights, democracy, and freedom.  U.S. embassy officials met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to raise concerns over religious freedom in light of the country’s sociopolitical crisis.  Senior U.S. government leaders and the embassy used social media to express concern over attacks on the Catholic Church and other religious groups.  Additionally, embassy officials engaged like-minded members of the diplomatic corps to address concerns over religious freedom in the country.  Embassy representatives met regularly with a wide variety of religious groups, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Moravian Lutherans, Muslims, and the Jewish community, to discuss the groups’ concerns about politicization of religion and governmental retaliation against politically active religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The IACHR reported “serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua” surrounding social security reform protests that broke out in April, resulting in “excessive and arbitrary use of police force,” stigmatization campaigns, and other human rights violations.  Many religious leaders said the government politicized religion in the context of what the IACHR, the United Nations, and other international organizations called the country’s ongoing political crisis and social conflict.  On July 13, police led a 15-hour attack, using high-caliber ammunition, against the Divine Mercy Church in Managua, which had provided refuge to approximately 200 students trapped in the siege and medical assistance to injured students who had protested at a nearby public university campus.  Media reported informal armed groups, also known as “parapolice,” allied with the FSLN and working in coordination with police, killed two students and injured at least 10 others in the attack.  The Catholic Church spoke out against the violence through clergy homilies and pastoral letters, calling for respect of human rights, investigation, and prosecution of crimes, reparation for victims, the end of excessive use of police force, and the disarmament of parapolice.  By year’s end, the government had not investigated the deaths but prosecuted students for the incident and verbally accused the Catholic Church of a “terrorist and criminal mind.”

In June progovernment armed groups shot live ammunition at clergy and student protesters during the rite of confession conducted in a partially open space during active protests and violent suppression in Managua, according to Catholic clergy.  In July government supporters and FSLN activists physically assaulted senior Catholic Church leadership, including the papal nuncio, while they were attempting to assist persons sheltered in St. Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba.

On September 9, media reported Deputy Chief of Police Ramon Avellan grabbed and insulted Father Edwin Roman in Masaya after the priest asked government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral service.

In July media reported government supporters attacked the vehicle of Catholic Church spokesperson Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata, breaking the windows and slashing its tires.  FSLN supporters surrounded the bishop and prevented him from leaving until civic leaders negotiated a truce with the National Police to facilitate his release.

Bishop Silvio Baez, who observers said was one of the most outspoken of members of Catholic Church leadership on human rights abuses and in calling for a secular state, was a frequent target of government harassment.  On October 23, the San Pablo Apostol community, a Catholic-based denomination that does not recognize the Nicaragua Bishops’ Conference or Vatican leadership and publicly pledged its support for the government, called a press conference for official media and announced it had an audio recording of Baez conspiring with opposition activists to overthrow the government.  The religious community and FSLN followers demanded Baez leave the country and return to the Vatican, “where he never should have left.”  Laureano Ortega, son of President Ortega, called the bishop a “murderer and coup monger” on social media.  Online sources said sound technicians investigated the audio recording and found someone had edited it and concluded it was not an original recording.  Following the accusations, media reported a heavy presence of parapolice and armed FSLN supporters around Baez’s home.  According to media reports, in an apparent reference to the Baez case, government officials, including a Supreme Court justice, stated bishops did not have immunity and could be prosecuted and convicted for their political activism and alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Catholic leaders reported attacks on clergy, provoked by what they said was the government’s stigmatization and slander, which they said had led to a reduction in ecclesiastical travel by approximately 90 percent.  The leaders reported three priests had to go into exile due to threats from government supporters; death threats and assaults by government supporters and FSLN activists against the Catholic Church internally displaced two others.  According to media sources, some government officials forced workers to sign petitions denouncing Catholic Church leadership.

Government officials stated there was nothing governmental or societal preventing freedom of religion or expression in the country.  They stated violence against religious leaders was isolated, not systematic, and stated some religious leaders had encouraged violent actions among their followers.

Religious groups said the government politicized religious beliefs, language, and traditions, including by coopting religion for its own political purposes.  Religious groups also said that, as a form of retaliation stemming from the country’s sociopolitical crisis that began in April, the government infringed on religious leaders’ rights to practice faith-based activities, including providing safe spaces in churches to students and others fleeing violence.  Catholic clergy and media reported cases of government officials, including President Ortega, slandering, stigmatizing, and urging supporters to retaliate against houses of worship and clergy for providing shelter, medical assistance, and mediation attempts to stop violent action by government security forces against peaceful protesters.  Government leadership, including the president and vice president, referred to Catholic Church leadership as “terrorists,” “coup mongers,” and “diabolic.”  In some speeches, government officials differentiated between the “good” Catholics and the “bad” bishops, the latter who they said were more outspoken and active in the political crisis.  The government specifically targeted clergy that called on President Ortega to cease repression, said the president lacked political will to resolve the crisis, and placed responsibility with President Ortega for the repression that resulted in hundreds killed or injured and thousands detained.

The IACHR reported several “aggressions and acts of harassment committed against members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua” due to the Church’s role in the country’s sociopolitical crisis.  The IACHR stated members of the Catholic Church were victims of a government stigmatization campaign due to their efforts to protect the human rights and integrity of peaceful protesters, as part of their faith-based beliefs.  Amnesty International documented and reported “serious human rights violations committed or permitted” by the government, including attacks on bishops of the Catholic Church throughout the sociopolitical crisis.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders reported financial retaliation against groups deemed critical of the FSLN.  Religious leaders said the government provided or withheld tax exemptions for individual churches based on the political affiliation of a church’s leadership.  The government also cut national budget appropriations for individual Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches that amounted to a 42-percent reduction from $1.3 million to $740,000, following antigovernment demonstrations.  Government officials said the cuts were part of an overall budget decrease, while media investigations reported the reduction in appropriations specifically targeted churches that provided support to wounded and endangered protesters.  Religious leaders said the appropriation cuts particularly affected those groups active in the sociopolitical crisis and favored churches perceived to be friendly to the government.

Both Catholic and Protestant leaders said there were investigations of their organizations by the government anti-money-laundering body, the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), primarily for financial transactions the government said were tied to the protests.  Human rights organizations reported government authorities used the UAF to prosecute opposition members on questionable and unfounded terrorism charges.  Evangelical Protestants also said the government’s use of the UAF and other government retaliation mechanisms against NGOs might result in a church losing its legal registration as a form of government retaliation over the pastor’s political preference or his faith-based work.  Evangelical Protestant leaders said the legal registration requirements categorizing churches as NGOs put evangelical Protestant churches at a disadvantage, leaving them particularly vulnerable to government actions against them.

Clergy and media reported government supporters and FSLN party activists committed acts of vandalism, including desecration of sacred items such as the holy sacrament, altars, tombs, and statues; thefts; and attacks on churches in Carazo, Masaya, Managua, Granada, Matagalpa, Esteli, and Jinotega, in some cases with police support.  Prominent churches had FSLN slogans painted on their walls, along with such labels as “coup mongers,” “terrorist,” and “murderer,” terms which local human rights organizations said the government regularly used against those it perceived as enemies.

Similar to media reporting, religious leaders said government supporters and FSLN activists routinely interrupted Catholic services in Managua, Masaya, and Granada by loudly playing partisan music in front of churches, and in some cases, interrupting services with political propaganda and verbally harassing clergy and the congregation members.  During a September 8 progovernment march in Granada, government supporters entered a Catholic church during Mass, waving red and black FSLN party flags and chanting “terrorists,” “murderers,” and “coup mongers,” among other epithets.  After clergy in Catarina, located in Masaya Department, announced the church would hold a somber Mass to commemorate its patron saint instead of its usual festivities, on December 26, progovernment militants entered the church and shouted ruling party chants, verbally assaulted clergy and congregation, and attempted to extract the church’s patron saint.  At demonstrations of government supporters, participants mocked Catholic Church leadership.  Clergy reported authorities expelled one student from a public university after they questioned him about a picture posted on social media in which the student appeared with a priest whom police and parapolice had attacked on several occasions.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant officials reported the government celebrated religious festivities for political and partisan purposes, saying these actions greatly diminished the ability of the churches to conduct their own celebrations.  They said that, while these government actions had occurred for years, they had become more prevalent and carried stronger messaging in the context of the country’s sociopolitical crisis.  One example, cited by religious authorities and reported by media, was the Catholic celebration of Saint Geronimo in Masaya, a traditional weeklong event.  Clergy cancelled the traditional patron saint festivities to respect the mourning of families who lost loved ones during protests and announced they would instead mark the occasion with a Mass.  FSLN municipal government officials, in tandem with local police, disregarded the local clergy’s decision and held a parade with a replica of the original patron saint statue.  They played at high volume a mix of religious and partisan music outside the church during the Mass in commemoration of the patron saint.  Referring to another event, an evangelical leader said he had requested the government not to participate in a religious celebration; however, in spite of the request, a government official came to the event, and state media insisted the religious leader give an interview.

Catholic clergy and congregation volunteers reported barriers to their faith-based volunteer work in prisons, primarily restricting Catholic clergy critical of the government access to political prisoners.  Evangelical Protestant volunteers did not report barriers to carry out their faith-based activities in prisons.  Official media, however, reported prisoners were attending Catholic and evangelical Protestant celebrations.  Several Catholic leaders said that, starting in July, prison wardens also denied Catholic clergy perceived as critical of the government access to male political prisoners, preventing them from offering religious sacraments such as communion and confession to the detainees.

Ministry of Education policy for public school curricula continued to require “Christian-based” education through civics classes and participation in state-sponsored religious events.  Religious leaders called on the government to respect the constitution’s mandate for a secular state; however, schools required students to participate in processions to commemorate Catholic religious events and festivals.  Municipal governments and the central government continued to hold celebrations of Purisima, in which Catholics commemorate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, conflicting with the Church’s official celebrations and despite the Church’s call to respect the sacredness of its festivities.  Government employees reported participation in these religious celebrations was mandatory; they risked losing their jobs if they did not attend.  National budget appropriations continued to fund state-led religious celebrations, with funding assigned to the different government agencies responsible for aspects of the events.  Catholic leadership said government manipulation of religious festivities for partisan purposes undermined their religious integrity.  Government officials also stated that, while there was no state religion, government officials sometimes spoke about religious issues and participated in religious events based on their personal beliefs.  The officials said the state performed only administrative functions for religious events and festivities and was involved with these events for cultural, economic, and security reasons.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders said the government continued to restrict travel selectively for some visa applicants intending to travel to the country for religious purposes based on the perceived political affiliation of the applicant’s local sponsor.  Representatives of both groups stated visiting religious leaders received additional scrutiny and faced selective application of laws if the government believed they or their local sponsor posed a political threat or had not pledged their support to the FSLN.

Muslim community leaders reported no limitations in government approval of entry visas and temporary residence permits for Muslim leaders.  They said a spiritual leader sponsored by the Egyptian government and a teacher sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government both obtained legal status according to national law.

Niger

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity.  It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties.  The government prohibits full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons.  The government also prohibits open-air, public proselytization events due to stated safety concerns.  An Islamic Forum, created by the government in 2017 with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country and preventing the use of Islamic institutions to spread Islamic extremism, continued to meet regularly and produced draft legislation for the regulation of religious practice.  The government’s Commission for the Organization of the Hajj and Umrah came under criticism again when some of the 15,000 sponsored Hajj pilgrims complained of difficulties with high costs, cancelled flights, lost luggage, poor hotels, bad food, and unfair business practices, leaving some travelers unattended in Saudi Arabia.

Representatives of both Muslim and Christian communities reported effective ongoing interactions through a Muslim-Christian forum.  Sources from both Muslim and Christian communities agreed, however, that an underlying stress surrounded the forum, with some Muslim leaders expressing discontent about its existence.

The U.S. ambassador and embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders.  Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance when they met with Muslim and Christian representatives and hosted an interfaith iftar during Ramadan.  The embassy sponsored programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism and amplifying moderate religious voices.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The government continued its efforts to reduce radicalization or the risk of radicalization through an Islamic Forum, a national forum representing more than 50 organizations, with the stated goal of standardizing the practice of Islam in the country.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs, within the MOI, initiated the forum in October 2017.  In meetings throughout the year, the forum discussed means to control mosque construction, regulate Quranic instruction, and monitor the content of sermons.  With the input of the forum, the MOI drafted a law during the year that would provide a framework for government control of these aspects of religious practice.  At year’s end, the law remained under ministerial review and, according to the MOI’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, was expected to be submitted to the National Assembly for possible passage in 2019.

Government officials expressed concern about funding from Iran, Turkey, and other countries for the construction of mosques and training of imams, but according to observers, the government had only limited resources to track the extent of the funding and fully understand its consequences.

Pilgrims complained, as in past years, about difficulties associated with performing the Hajj.  Complaints included high costs, cancelled flights, lost luggage, poor hotels, bad food, and unfair business practices leaving some travelers unattended in Saudi Arabia despite having paid for a package tour.  The government’s Commission for the Organization of the Hajj and Umrah came under criticism again, as in past years.  The commission oversaw Hajj participation of 15,000 pilgrims during the year.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion.  Members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons, and again on October 29, killing 39 and injuring over100, according to human rights organizations.  The government reported t conducted an investigation into these incidents but did not release its findings publicly.  The government did not keep its commitments to ensure accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and a soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.  On November 7, the Kaduna State High Court denied the bail request for the leader of the IMN Shia group, despite a December 2016 court ruling that the government should release him by January 2017.  Authorities arrested a Christian man for inciting violence after attempting to convert a Muslim girl.  A Muslim law graduate was called to the bar wearing her hijab after initially being denied.  The federal government launched military operations in Middle Belt states with the stated aim of stemming resource-driven rural violence, which frequently played out along ethnic and religious lines.  Members of regional minority religious groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.

Terrorist organizations Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued to attack population centers and religious targets.  On January 3, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Gambaru mosque, killing 14 and injuring 15.  According to international news, on April 22, two suicide bombers killed three in a Bama, Borno State mosque.  On May 1, twin suicide bombings in Mubi, one in a mosque and another in a market, killed at least 27 and injured more than 60 persons.  According to Christian news outlets, on June 12, Boko Haram burned 22 buildings, including part of a Catechetical Training Center in Kaya, Adamawa State.  On June 16, two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked the town of Damboa, killing 31 persons returning from Ramadan celebrations on Eid al-Fitr.  On July 23, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed eight worshippers in a mosque in Mainari.  Boko Haram also conducted limited attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA also attacked targets in Yobe.  Although government intervention reduced the amount of territory these groups controlled, the two insurgencies maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast.

There were incidents of violence reflecting tension between different ethnic groups involving predominantly Muslim Fulani herders and predominantly Christian farmers.  Scholars and other experts assessed that ethnicity, politics, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources were among the drivers of the violence, but religious identity and affiliation were also factors.  In January and May Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in northern Benue State, resulting in the deaths of more than 200, mostly Christian, Tiv farmers.  During the year, clashes between farmers and herders in Adamawa and Taraba States resulted in more than 250 deaths.  In June Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau State, killing approximately 200 ethnic Berom farmers.  The following day, Berom youth set up roadblocks and killed dozens of Muslim passersby.  In March the Nigerian Interreligious Council (NIREC), which includes the nation’s most influential religious leaders and addresses interfaith collaboration, met for the first time in five years.  In September religious leaders throughout the country met in Abuja to sign a peace pact and pledged to combat ethnoreligious divisions.

U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and interreligious tolerance in discussions throughout the year with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue.  The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to help reduce bias in their reporting and prevent tensions from becoming further inflamed.  The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Abuja, Kaduna, and Lagos to engage with relevant stakeholders and highlight U.S. government support for interfaith cooperation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

As in previous years, international and domestic media reported significant violence against the IMN, the country’s largest Shia organization, by security forces.  According to media, on October 27, members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons.  IMN members marched from Suleja to Abuja for the Arba’een Symbolic Trek, marking the Shia Muslim commemoration of the end of the 40-day period following Ashura.  The army released a statement saying the IMN had set up illegal roadblocks in Abuja, blocking the path of an army convoy transporting missiles.  The army also said it met “resistance” from IMN members who attempted to steal missiles and threw stones and other objects.  The army stated it opened fire in response, killing three civilians, while the IMN said 10 of its members died in the incident.  On October 29, with IMN marchers confirmed by the press to be approaching the city along at least three major feeder thoroughfares, an additional clash occurred at a military checkpoint at the border between Nasarawa State and the Federal Capital Territory near Abuja, in which the army used live rounds to break up the crowd.  Amnesty International Nigeria reported at least 39 deaths and numerous injuries among the marchers.  The government reported it opened an internal investigation of this incident but did not publish its findings, and no military or police were held accountable.  On December 17, the New York Times reported that video footage appeared to show armed forces members beating and shooting unarmed protesters.  The video contained no evidence the soldiers were provoked.

The federal government continued to detain IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky despite a December 2016 court ruling the government should release him.  Hundreds of IMN members regularly protested in Abuja against Zakzaky’s continued detention.  In April the Kaduna State government charged Zakzaky in state court with multiple felonies stemming from the death of the soldier in Zaria.  The charges include culpable homicide, which can carry the death penalty.  At year’s end, the case was pending.

There were no reports of accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and one soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave.  In July a Kaduna High Court dismissed charges of aiding and abetting culpable homicide against more than 80 IMN members.  The Kaduna State government appealed the ruling, and at year’s end the case remained pending.  Approximately 100 additional IMN members remained in detention.

According to international media reports, on December 25, unidentified gunmen abducted two Catholic priests from St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Umueze Anam, Anambra State, as they were returning from an official function.  Haruna Mohammed, the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, said police secured their release on December 27.

Both Muslim and Christian groups again said there was a lack of just handling of their mutual disputes and inadequate protection by federal, state, and local authorities, especially in central regions, where there were longstanding, often violent, disputes among ethnic groups.  In disputes between primarily Christian farmers and Muslim herders, herders stated they did not receive justice when their members were killed or their cattle stolen by farming communities, which they said caused them to carry out retaliatory attacks.  Farmers stated security forces did not intervene when herdsmen attacked their villages.

In June the High Court in Yola, Adamawa State sentenced five men to death for killing a Fulani herdsman.  Christian groups, including the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria, criticized the ruling.  They said the sentences highlighted the government’s bias in dealing with communal violence, noting the five men convicted were Christians who killed a Muslim, but there were no similar convictions when Fulani herdsmen killed Christians.

In July the Nigeria Body of Benchers, a body that regulates legal practice in the country, admitted Firdaus Amasa to the Nigerian Bar Association.  Amasa was denied participation in the call to the bar ceremony in December 2017 for refusing to remove her hijab, according to media reports.  After nationwide criticism from Muslim associations, including the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the body reversed its earlier decision.

According to international media, on November 13, the Lagos State government ordered the tutor-general and permanent secretaries and principals to permit use of the hijab in public schools immediately.  According to the government, since the case of wearing hijabs was still pending in the Supreme Court, schools should revert to the status quo, allowing the use of hijabs with school uniforms.

In February the federal government launched Exercise Ayem Apatuma (Cat Race) to combat armed ethnoreligious conflict in Benue, Taraba, and Kogi States.  In March the federal government sent security forces to halt the increasing rural violence occurring in several Middle Belt states, where several conflicts occurred between Muslim and Christian groups.  In May the military launched Operation Whirl Stroke to increase security in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Zamfara States, where some of the ethnoreligious violence took place.

In July the Plateau Peacebuilding Agency organized a three-day peace and security summit, which included participation from religious leaders, traditional youth leaders, and female leaders, along with state government ministries and heads of the security agencies operating within the state.  The summit’s mission was to address ethnoreligious tensions and conflicts in the state and find a path towards sustainable peace.  In August the Kaduna State Peace Commission inaugurated its committees in all 23 LGAs of the state.  The committees in each LGA were to be comprised of traditional, religious, and youth leaders, who would cooperate on peacebuilding among ethnic and religious groups.

In August the Office of the Vice President (OVP) collaborated with the U.S. Institute for Peace, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) to organize a two-day Justice and Security National Dialogue (JSD).  The event included government, military, paramilitary, traditional, and religious leaders, along with civil society organizations and representatives from farming and herding communities.  The participants agreed to set up state-level JSD models developed during the event to manage ethnoreligious conflicts, as well as criminal activities, which sources stated often exacerbated conflicts.  State-level stakeholders began preparing to set up the models, and as of the end of the year, the state-level police commands had nominated officers to attend training in 2019 that is expected to be designed and conducted by the OVP, NHRC, and IPCR.

A pending bill in Kaduna State that would require all preachers to obtain preaching licenses or risk fines and/or imprisonment for up to two years was deferred indefinitely after widespread opposition from Muslim and Christian religious leaders.

Christian groups reported authorities in some northern states refused to respond to requests for building permits for minority religious communities for construction of new places of worship, expansion and renovation of existing facilities, or reconstruction of buildings that had been demolished.  A Christian religious leader in Kano noted Christians could build churches freely in Sabon Gari, a part of town reserved for Christians, but only very old churches had valid permits; he added new permits had not been granted in decades.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zamfara noted a case where a Christian businessman sold land and the certificate of occupancy to a Christian church during the year.  The church attempted to register the sale with the state government, but the sale was not approved because, according to the church, the government was concerned it would build a church.  CAN also said Christians in local communities in Zamfara occasionally did not inform the government when building a church because they feared the government would have it demolished.  He noted some Muslim traditional rulers have also had difficulty getting the sales approved when they have sold land to Christian churches.

Muslim students at Rivers State University of Science and Technology continued to complain they were unable to construct a place of worship.  In 2012 the university prevented Muslim students from constructing a mosque, leaving them with no place of worship.  The Muslim students filed a suit against the university, and the court ruled in their favor, but the university had not granted them a license to build the mosque by year’s end.

The Hisbah continued to arrest street beggars and prostitutes, and destroy confiscated bottles of alcohol.  There were no reports of Christians being forced to use sharia courts.  In January the Kano State Hisbah arrested 94 individuals who violated the law banning street begging, and in April the Hisbah received 36 cases of prostitution.  In May Zamfara State signed a bill conferring more powers on the state Hisbah commission to interrogate and arrest individuals and to undertake searches for evidence of anti-sharia activities or substances banned by sharia.  In September the Kano State Hisbah stated it confiscated 12 million bottles of beer within the past seven years, including more than 17,000 confiscated in September.  In April the Jigawa State Hisbah Board announced it had “saved” 4,000 marriages in the past two years by settling marriage disputes.  According to international media, in December Hisbah arrested 11 women for planning a lesbian wedding in Kano.  Director-General Abba Sufi stated “We can’t allow such despicable acts to find roots in our society.  Both Islam and Nigerian laws prohibit same-sex relationships.”

Christian and Muslim groups continued to report that individual administrators of government-run universities and technical schools in several states refused to admit certain individuals or delayed the issuance of their degrees and licenses because of religion or ethnicity.  A Christian pastor in Yobe said while Christians could gain entry into universities dominated by Muslims, they were relegated to the “lower” subjects and found it difficult to study for degrees in more desirable areas such as engineering, medicine, finance, and law.  A Muslim leader in southern Kaduna stated all government positions in the region were reserved for Christians.  He said Hausa and Fulani Muslims earned livelihoods predominantly in the private sector because there was no alternative.  According to Christian and Muslim groups and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, the issue was connected to the country’s indigene-settler conflict, whereby state governments granted benefits, such as access to government services, to ethnic groups considered to be indigenous to a particular state, and distinguished them from ethnic groups considered to be settlers, even if their families had lived in the state for generations.  In certain states, especially in the Middle Belt, the divide between Christian indigenes and Muslim settlers was religious as well as ethnic and economic.

According to international reporting, on May 10, the Southern Kaduna Peace and Reconciliation Committee brought together security agencies in the state including police, army, civil defense, Department of State Security, and civil society, including religious leaders.  In the previous two years, southern Kaduna had experienced large-scale ethnoreligious violence, and the event was organized to foster trust through dialogue between the religious communities and security agencies.  Participants discussed the importance of resolving issues peacefully, how to focus on things the communities have in common instead of what divides them, and how security services could serve as assets in conflict mitigation.

Norway

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s religion.  A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs.  The Council of Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL), an umbrella organization for religious and humanist communities, said a draft law could affect funding for 650 of 800 groups receiving state support; some religious groups expressed concerns the draft law might allow the government to impose conditions on those receiving support.  The government continued to implement an action plan to combat anti-Semitism, which included a strategy that addressed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech through a combination of education, engagement with civil society organizations, and increased support for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.  Representatives from all registered religious communities began a review of the content of mandatory religion and ethics classes in public schools, half of whose content was devoted to Christianity.  The government continued to provide exclusive benefits to the Church of Norway, including covering the salaries, benefits, and pensions of clergy and staff.  The government provided financial support for interreligious dialogue, including to the Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN), to support dialogue between the Muslim community and other religious or life stance communities.

In 2017, police reported 120 religiously motivated hate crimes, a 24 percent increase from 2016.  There were reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim speech on the internet.  A rapper used a profanity against Jews during a concert to celebrate diversity, and a major newspaper published an anti-Semitic political cartoon.  The MDN replaced the Islamic Council Norway (IRN) as the principal organization representing the Muslim community.

U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Culture (MOC) to discuss the draft law on religion, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and perceptions by some religious groups of financial preferences for the Church of Norway.  Embassy staff discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MOJ) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes.  Embassy staff continued to meet with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), faith groups, including Muslims and Jews, and humanists to discuss religious freedom, integration of minority groups, and life as a religious person.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Debate continued over a draft law governing religious life, first proposed in 2017.  If enacted in its original form, the law would potentially require religious groups, as well as life stance groups, to have at least 500 members to be eligible for government funding.  The government collected public comments about the draft law, and parliament was expected to take it up for debate in the spring of 2019.  In response to criticism from numerous churches and NGOs, the STL said it believed the draft would be revised to significantly lower or eliminate the minimum membership requirement.  According to the STL, if the membership requirement remained, it could disqualify approximately 650 of the 800 religious communities receiving state funding from future support.

If enacted, the proposed law would codify the legal status and funding support structures for the Church of Norway and other religious groups, following the formal separation of the Church of Norway from the government.  The Church of Norway would retain financial support from the government under the proposed law, including for maintaining historic church buildings and certain administrative expenses.  Religious communities and those who worked on interreligious dialogue said the MOC had developed the proposed law without a preceding white paper on religion and life stance policies.  In response to those complaints, the government began preparing a white paper, with the participation of stakeholders, scheduled for publication in early 2019.  Some religious and life stance communities, such as the Norwegian Humanist Association and the STL, continued to say the proposed law would provide preferential financial treatment for the Church of Norway, giving it disproportionately large grants that, unlike other groups, would not depend on the size of its membership.

The STL and the Norwegian Humanist Association also expressed concerns the proposed law would no longer contain a provision stating there would be no restrictions on a religious organization’s activities as a condition of receiving state funding.  These groups said that without such protection, the government could impose social requirements as a condition for receiving state support.  For example, the STL stated the government might require Muslim religious communities to prohibit women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public to qualify for state support.

The government continued to ban the wearing of religious symbols, including religious headwear, with police uniforms.  The military and other uniformed organizations besides police allowed use of religious headwear.

Most chaplains in the armed forces were members of the Church of Norway and trained to accommodate members of different faiths.  The armed forces commissioned Christian, Muslim, and humanist chaplains as officers in the military.  In September the Ministry of Defense said it was committed to recruiting chaplains of different faiths to better serve the diverse religious needs of its military personnel.  Religious and humanist groups could provide chaplains at their expense in hospitals and prisons.

The government continued to implement its action plan to counter anti-Semitism in society.  The plan emphasized data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture.  As part of the plan, police authorities announced they were implementing changes to their training curriculum to improve the reporting, processing, and investigation of religiously based hate crimes.  Police also began collecting statistics on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic incidents, as required under the plan.  These statistics, which included information on prosecutions and convictions, were scheduled to become available in 2019 and 2020.

NGOs and religious communities worked with police and other government agencies to facilitate more reporting and cooperation.  The Oslo Synagogue worked with the National Police to coordinate security for the synagogue and Jewish heritage sites and acted as an intermediary between the Jewish community and police to facilitate timely reporting and monitoring of hate crimes.  The MDM worked with the National Police to provide outreach and education to encourage Muslims, some of whom were members of immigrant communities that distrusted law enforcement, to report discrimination and hate crimes to the proper authorities.  The Antiracism Center (Antirasisrisk Senter) provided training and advisory services to police on detecting, investigating and prosecuting both racial and religiously motivated hate crimes.  Police assigned personnel to support and coordinate these efforts, including providing resources to maintain hate crime investigators in each of the country’s 12 police districts.

The LDO, as well as NGOs such as FRI – Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity, encouraged the government to improve consistency of data collection and reporting of hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, for police districts outside of Oslo.

The Ministry of Local Government and Modernization continued to provide funding for security at the Mosaic Religious Community (Det Mosaiske Trossamfund – DMT) facility and synagogue in Oslo.  The DMT continued to maintain a dialogue with the MOJ and police to ensure proper safeguarding of the DMT’s facilities.

The National Criminal Investigation Service continued to maintain a website for the public to contact police regarding hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents.

A Ministry of Education and Research-commissioned committee composed of members from the major registered religious and life stance communities began to review the content of the CKREE course during the year as part of an overall review of the national curriculum.  The STL said the process for reviewing and updating the curriculum was fair and effective.

As part of the Action Plan Against Anti-Semitism, the existing CKREE curriculum included a component on the Jewish faith, and the history curriculum included teaching on the Holocaust.  In addition, the Ministry of Education and Research continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech.  The government also continued to fund a Jewish life module through which young Jews engaged with high school students about Judaism and being Jewish in the country.  The government provided funding to the Holocaust Center, an independent research and educational center associated with the University of Oslo, to design and release two online educational platforms on anti-Semitism and Jewish heritage and culture.

Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.  Schools continued to support an extracurricular program that took secondary school students to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland and other Nazi concentration camps to educate them about the Holocaust.

Although the Holocaust Center and DMT leadership said the government’s anti-Semitism plan could have gone further, they were generally positive about the plan, stating it allocated resources to education about anti-Semitism in society and focused attention on efforts to counter it.

In response to the effective ban on the production of most kosher and halal meat in the country according to the law on animal slaughter, the Ministry of Agriculture continued to waive import duties and provide guidance on import procedures to both the Jewish and Muslim communities.

The government continued implementation of its strategy to combat hate speech.  The strategy contained elements that addressed anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic hate speech using educational programs, provided support to religious and civil society groups engaged in promoting religious tolerance, expanded efforts to encourage reports of hate crimes by victims, and called for more focused legal efforts to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.

The government provided approximately 2.5 billion kroner ($288.02 million) to the Church of Norway during the year, including for pensions and benefits of church employees and clergy.  The MOC stated the grant to the Church would continue at a high level after the removal of its employees from the state payroll following the Church’s separation from the government in 2017.  The government provided other registered religious and life stance organizations approximately 344 million kroner ($39.63 million) in total.  Some representatives from these groups, including the STL and Norwegian Humanist Association, stated the size of the grant to the Church of Norway was not based on the size of its membership, and that the Church’s privileged relationship with the state continued.

Consistent with previous years, the MOC provided two million kroner ($230,000) to religious umbrella organizations, such as the Christian Council of Norway (500,000 kroner [$57,600]), MDN (500,000 kroner [$57,600]), and STL (one million kroner [$115,000]), among others, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life stance organizations.  Groups outside these umbrella organizations also applied for funding for specific events and programs to support interreligious dialogue.

The Catholic Church’s civil suit alleging the government underpaid the subsidy it owed the Church based on its membership size remained pending.  The District Court in Oslo ruled against the Catholic Church in 2017, but the Church appealed the decision to the Borgarting Court of Appeal, also in Oslo, which was expected to hear the case in January 2019.

The government continued to conduct workshops and other intervention programs targeting practitioners working with groups that included members of religious minorities to promote their economic and social integration into society.  Efforts focused on youth education and engaging local community stakeholders.  For example, the government provided financial support to the Forum for Integration and Dialogue (FIDA), an NGO.  Founded by the Muslim Union, this organization worked to integrate youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and encourage positive relationships among diverse groups in the Kristiansand community.  The government also funded the program for “democratic preparedness against racism, anti-Semitism and undemocratic attitudes,” which provided speakers, resources, and training to teachers working with at-risk youth to advance these objectives.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Oman

Executive Summary

The Basic Law declares Islam to be the state religion but prohibits discrimination based on religion and protects the right of individuals to practice other religions as long as doing so does not “disrupt public order or contradict morals.”  According to the law, offending Islam or any Abrahamic religion is a criminal offense.  There is no provision of the law specifically addressing apostasy, conversion, or renunciation of religious belief.  In January the government issued a new penal code which significantly increased penalties for blasphemy and criminalized groups that promote a religion other than Islam.  Proselytizing in public is illegal.  In April Hassan Al-Basham, who had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2016 for blasphemy and disturbing religious values in his comments on social media, died in prison.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) based outside the country had previously reported he had won an appeal on medical grounds to commute his sentence, but reportedly a court later overturned it.  The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs (MERA) monitored sermons and distributed approved texts for all imams.  Religious groups continued to report problems with opaque processes and unclear guidelines for registration.  Nonregistered groups, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) and others, remained without permanent, independent places of worship.  Non-Muslim groups said they were able to worship freely in private homes and government-approved houses of worship, although space limitations continued to cause overcrowding at some locations.  The MERA continued to require religious groups to request approval before publishing or importing religious texts or disseminating religious publications outside their membership.  According to religious observers, in practice the ministry did not review all imported religious material for approval, and non-Muslims were often able to import literature without government scrutiny.

Members of religious minorities reported conversion from Islam was viewed extremely negatively within the Muslim community.  The Protestant-run interfaith group Al-Amana Center and the MERA continued to host programs to introduce Protestant seminary students to Islam.

At various times throughout the year, embassy officers met with government officials to encourage the government to continue to support religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue.  In November the Ambassador hosted a lunch for various religious minority community leaders to express continued U.S. support for religious freedom and offer a forum for exchanging best practices.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Hasan Al-Basham, a former diplomat who had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2016 for what NGOs based outside the country reported were charges of “using the internet in what might be prejudicial to religious values” in his comments on social media, died in prison in April.  NGOs based outside the country had previously reported he had won an appeal on medical grounds to commute his sentence, but, according to the NGOs, in November 2017, a court reinstated the original verdict and authorities took Al-Basham back into custody.  The semigovernmental Oman Human Rights Commission, which followed the case closely, stated he lost his appeal and was subsequently imprisoned in accordance with the law.

According to international human rights advocacy organizations, on June 13, in connection with Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s Eid al-Fitr amnesty, authorities released writer and online activist Abdullah Habib.  He had served three months of a six-month sentence for violating the Information Technology Crimes Act by “using internet technology … to prejudice public order or religious values” and the penal code for “insulting an Abrahamic religion.”  In April the Muscat Appeals Court suspended the remaining two and one-half years of his sentence but prohibited him from traveling outside the country during that time.  According to the media advocacy group PEN America, during his imprisonment, authorities denied Habib regular access to his medication.

According to religious leaders, the MERA continued to monitor sermons at mosques to ensure imams did not discuss political topics.  Imams were required to preach sermons within politically and socially acceptable parameters, which the government distributed monthly, with outlines of acceptable topics along with standardized and approved Friday sermons for Ibadhi and Sunni imams.  Mosques under the purview of the Diwan (Royal Court), such as the Grand Mosque in Muscat, were not subject to this monitoring.  The government-appointed grand mufti, the senior Ibadhi cleric in the country, remained the only imam able to speak publicly outside of the designated government parameters.

Religious groups continued to report issues with opaque processes and unclear guidelines for registration.  While no published rules, regulations, or criteria existed for new religious groups to receive ministerial approval, the MERA reportedly considered a group’s size, theology, belief system, and availability of other worship opportunities before granting registration, and reportedly employed the same criteria whether the group was Muslim or non-Muslim.  Observers said the precise process remained vague, although there were reports the MERA consulted with existing religious communities before ruling on the application of a new religious group.  According to the MERA, there was no limit on the number of religious groups it could register.

The Church of Jesus Christ remained without a registration sponsor or a permanent place of worship, but church leaders said the government was working with the group to reach a solution.  Other religious minority groups reported they did not have permanent independent places of worship as recognized groups, despite representing a significant population in Oman, primarily of expatriate workers.

Non-Muslims who worshipped in private homes continued to say the government did not interfere with Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and other religious groups in their regular private worship services despite continuing legal prohibitions on worship outside of government-approved locations.  Non-Muslim minority groups continued to report overcrowding at their places of worship.  According to some religious leaders, space limitations also caused overcrowding at some private homes used for non-Islamic worship.

The MERA approved major religious celebrations for non-Muslim groups in commercial or public areas on a case-by-case basis.  For example, several Hindu groups held large religious celebrations in indoor and outdoor venues throughout the country.  According to the media, in May during Ramadan, the MERA organized an event entitled “The Quran speaks to you” to inform non-Muslims about Islam.

Religious groups said that, consistent with the government’s censorship policy mandating prior review of any published material, religious groups continued to need MERA approval to publish texts in the country or disseminate religious publications outside their membership.  Religious groups did not attempt, however, to share material with members of the public outside their places of worship.  The government also continued to require religious groups to notify the MERA before importing religious materials and to submit a copy to the MERA.  Religious minority leaders said that in practice the ministry did not review all imported religious material for approval and that non-Muslims were often able to import literature without government scrutiny.

The government provided land for all religious sites in the country.

Although the Basic Law states sharia is the basis for legislation, in practice the civil code continued to have precedence over sharia, consistent with the replacement of sharia courts by civil courts in 1999 with passage of the Judicial Authority Law.  Under this law, judicial outcomes reached under sharia jurisprudence could not contradict civil statutes.

The government continued to fund the salaries of some Ibadhi and Sunni imams, but Shia or non-Muslim religious leaders were privately funded.

There is no law stating religious affiliation is tied to custody, but according to legal contacts, judges often considered the religiosity of a Muslim parent during custody hearings.

The government, through the MERA, continued to publish Al-Tafahum (Understanding), an annual periodical whose purpose, according to the government, was to broaden dialogue within Islam and promote respectful discussion with other faiths.

According to religious minority leaders, the Royal Oman Police collected religious affiliation information from expatriates applying for work visas.

Pakistan

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam.  The constitution also states, “subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”  It also states “a person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), is a non-Muslim.”  The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranges from life in prison to execution for a range of charges, including “defiling the Prophet Muhammad.”  According to civil society reports, there were at least 77 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 28 of whom had received death sentences, although the government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy.  Some of these cases began before the beginning of the year but were not previously widely known.  According to data provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), police registered at least seven new blasphemy cases against seven individuals.  On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010.  In what was described as an effort to end widespread violent protests orchestrated by the antiblasphemy movement Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) against the government in the wake of Bibi’s acquittal, the government promised protestors it would not oppose a petition seeking further judicial review of the case.  Following violent antistate threats, the government later undertook a sustained campaign of detentions and legal charges against the TLP leadership and violent protestors.  The original accuser’s petition for a judicial review of Bibi’s case remained pending at year’s end, although most sources believed it was likely to be dismissed.  In October Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noor-ul Haq Qadri said the government would “forcefully oppose” any change to the blasphemy laws.  NGOs continued to report lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.  Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders and human rights organizations continued to express concerns that the government targeted Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, and Ahmadis continued to be affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation that denied them basic rights.  Throughout the year, including during the general election campaign, some government officials engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community.  NGOs expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities, and perpetrators of such abuses often faced no legal consequences due to what the NGOs said was a lack of follow-through by law enforcement, bribes offered by the accused, and pressure on victims to drop cases.  Minority religious leaders stated members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in public schools and tertiary education, and in private and civil service employment.  In September the newly-elected government withdrew its invitation to economist and Ahmadi Muslim Atif Mian to join the Economic Advisory Council after significant public criticism, including from religious leaders.  In a conference organized by UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed in October, Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Qadri said the “Government and the Prime Minister of Pakistan will always stand against Ahmadis.”  In March the Islamabad High Court (IHC) issued a judgment requiring citizens to declare an affidavit of faith to join the army, judiciary, and civil services and directed parliament to amend laws to ensure Ahmadis did not use “Islamic” terms or have names associated with Islam.

Armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government as extremist, as well as groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, continued to stage attacks targeting Christians and Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia Hazara community.  According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) however, both the number of sectarian attacks by armed groups and the number of casualties decreased compared to 2017, corresponding with an overall decline in terrorist attacks.  On November 23, a suicide bombing near a Shia prayer hall in Orakzai district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa killed 33 people, including Sunni and Shia Muslims, as well as some Sikhs.  Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) claimed responsibility.  There were multiple reports of targeted killings of Shia in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, although it was often unclear whether religion was the primary motivation.  In February and May several Shia residents were killed by alleged Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants, the same group believed to be responsible for multiple subsequent killings in the same area in August.  On April 2, gunmen shot and killed a Christian family of four traveling by rickshaw in Quetta, Balochistan.  An affiliate group of ISIS-K claimed responsibility.  The government continued to implement the 2014 National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, including countering sectarian hate speech and extremism, as well as military and law enforcement operations against terrorist groups; however, according to Ahmadi civil society organizations, the government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence, despite this being a component of the NAP.  Civil society groups expressed ongoing concerns about the safety of religious minorities.

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals targeted and killed Shia Muslims, including ethnic Hazaras, who are largely Shia, and Ahmadi Muslims in attacks believed to be religiously motivated.  The attackers’ relationship to organized terrorist groups was often unclear.  According to the SATP, attacks against Shia members of the minority Hazara ethnic group decreased relative to 2017.  In four separate incidents, unidentified assailants shot and killed six members of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta in April.  Assailants killed a member of the Ahmadiyya community in Lahore on June 25 in what appeared to be a targeted attack, and robbers shot and killed another man in his jewelry shop in Syedwala on August 29 after singling him out as an Ahmadi.  Human rights activists reported numerous instances of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy; of efforts by individuals to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam, including forced conversions of young women; and of societal harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence directed at members of religious minority communities.  There also continued to be reports of attacks on the holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols of the Christian and Ahmadiyya minorities.

Senior officials from the U.S. Department of State, including the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, the Charge d’Affaires, and embassy officers met with senior advisors to the prime minister, the minister for foreign affairs, the minister for human rights, and officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss the need to combat sectarian violence, to ensure the protection of religious minorities, and blasphemy law reform.  Embassy officers met with civil society leaders, local religious leaders, religious minority representatives, and legal experts to discuss ways to combat intolerance and promote dialogue on interfaith cooperation to increase religious freedom.  Visiting U.S. government officials met with minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the federal cabinet to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and other minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.  The U.S. government provided training for provincial police officers on human rights and protecting religious minorities.  The Department of State publicly condemned terrorist attacks throughout the year, including the November attack near a Shia place of worship in Orakzai District, Khyber Pakhtunkha.

On November 28, the Secretary of State designated Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom, and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the important national interests of the United States.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to civil society reports, there were at least 77 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 28 under sentence of death, although the government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy.  Some of these cases began before the beginning of the year and were not previously widely known.  According to data provided by NGOs, authorities registered at least seven new blasphemy cases against seven individuals during the year.  The Supreme Court acquitted two persons charged with blasphemy during the year; a third case was closed due to the death of the accused while awaiting trial, while other blasphemy cases continued without resolution.  At least three individuals were accused of spreading blasphemous content through social media under a 2016 law criminalizing online blasphemy.  Civil society groups continued to state that the blasphemy laws disproportionately impacted members of religious minority communities.  Persons accused of blasphemy were often simultaneously charged with terrorism offenses.  NGOs continued to report lower courts often failed to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.

On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010.  Authorities arrested Bibi in June 2009 after a group of Muslim women with whom she was arguing accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.  In a supporting opinion, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa criticized the false testimony of the prosecution witnesses and warned that the witnesses’ insults to Bibi’s religion combined with false testimony was also “not short of being blasphemous.”  While Bibi was officially released from jail following the Supreme Court ruling, she remained in government’s protective custody because of threats to her life.  Media reported that her family went into hiding after the verdict.

The Supreme Court ruling on the Bibi case was followed by three days of violent, nationwide protests by the antiblasphemy movement TLP, whose leaders called for the assassination of the judges who ruled in the case.  On October 31, immediately after the verdict, Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned threats against the judiciary and military and said the government would act, if necessary, to counter disruptions by protesters.  Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, however, blamed violence during the protests on opposition parties, rather than the TLP, and said the government would seek dialogue with the TLP.  Protestors sought a judicial review of the court’s judgement, for which Bibi’s original accuser later petitioned.  In what was described as an effort to end the violent protests, the government pledged it would not oppose further judicial review of the case; the review remained pending at year’s end.  The government later undertook a sustained campaign of detentions and legal charges against TLP leadership and violent protestors.  It characterized its crackdown as an assertion that laws and courts rather than street justice would prevail when blasphemy charges were under consideration.  The original accuser’s petition for a judicial review of Bibi’s case remained pending at year’s end, although most sources believed it was likely to be dismissed.

Media reported that a Lahore district judge sentenced two Christian brothers from Lahore, Qaisar and Amoon Ayub, to death on December 13 for insulting the Prophet Mohammed in articles and portraits posted on their website in 2010.  The brothers had been in Jhelum Prison since 2014.

In January authorities in Lahore arrested two young Christian cousins, Patras and Sajid Masih, for alleged blasphemy after protestors threatened to burn them and their family home with gasoline.  Family members said Patras Masih had been framed for blasphemy on social media when he took his mobile phone to a repair shop, while media said he got into a dispute with Muslim youths over a cricket match.  Sajid Masih was severely injured after jumping from the fourth floor window of an FIA interrogation room.  According to media reports, he said police tortured him and ordered him to sexually assault his cousin, and he leaped out the window to escape.  Patras Masih remained in custody, and many Christian families fled the neighborhood.

According to NGOs, the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench postponed hearing the appeal of Zafar Bhatti multiple times.  Bhatti, a Christian, was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages in 2012.

In October police arrested a Muslim man in Sadiqabad, Khanewal District, Punjab, who claimed to be the “11th Caliph.”  Police arrested the man and charged him with blasphemy after videos of his statements circulated online.  At year’s end, he was awaiting trial.

Courts again overturned some blasphemy convictions upon appeal, after the accused had spent years in prison.  On March 13, Punjab provincial judges acquitted Christian school director Anjum Sandhu of blasphemy after an Anti-Terror Court (ATC) sentenced him to death in 2016.  According to media reports, two men had fabricated a recording of what was termed blasphemous speech and attempted to use it to extort money from Sandhu.  When Sandhu went to police to register a complaint of extortion, police had demanded more money from Sandhu and brought a blasphemy case against him.

According to NGOs and media reports, individuals convicted in well-publicized blasphemy cases from previous years – including Nadeem James, Prakash Kumar, Taimoor Raza, Mubasher, Ghulam, and Ehsan Ahmed, Sawan Masih, Shafqat Emmanuel, Shagufta Kausar, Sajjad Masih Gill, and Liaquat Ali – remained in jail and continued to await action on their appeals.

In February an ATC convicted 31 individuals for their role in the 2017 killing of university student Mashal Khan for alleged blasphemy.  The ATC sentenced the primary shooter to death, five others to life in prison, and 25 individuals to four years’ imprisonment.  The Peshawar High Court later suspended the sentences and released on bail the group of 25 individuals.

Authorities charged 15 Ahmadis in connection with the practice of their faith during the year, according to Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders.  Among these, two Ahmadis were arrested and charged with blasphemy, and two others were charged for offering a sacrifice at Eid al-Adha.  According to Ahmadiyya community members and media reports, authorities took no action to prevent attacks on mosques or punish assailants who demolished, damaged, forcibly occupied, or set Ahmadi mosques on fire.  The government sealed an Ahmadi mosque in Sialkot on May 14.  Social media videos of a crowd demolishing the mosque on May 24 showed a city administration official taking part in the demolition and thanking local authorities, including the police, for their “support” in allowing the crowd to attack the site.  According to the media reports, the official was a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which assumed power later in the year, although the party denied this and condemned the attack.

In September the newly-elected government withdrew its invitation to economist and Ahmadi Muslim Atif Mian to join the Economic Advisory Council after significant public criticism, including from religious leaders.  Clerics urged the government to take further steps to ensure no Ahmadis could serve in key government positions.  In a conference organized by UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed in October, Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Qadri said the “Government and the Prime Minister of Pakistan will always stand against Ahmadis.”  In March the IHC issued a judgment requiring citizens to declare an affidavit of faith to join the army, judiciary, and civil services and directed parliament to amend laws to ensure Ahmadis did not use “Islamic” terms or have names associated with Islam.  Neither the National Assembly nor the Senate had acted on this judgment by year’s end, but Ahmadiyya community representatives said the NADRA began requiring Ahmadis to declare in an affidavit that they are non-Muslims to obtain a national identification card, another requirement of the IHC judgment.

According to civil society and media reports, there were instances in which the government intervened in cases of intercommunal mob violence.  In September government officials negotiated a “peace accord” in Faisalabad, Punjab, after a dispute between largely Sunni Muslim and Ahmadi Muslim youths led to an attack on an Ahmadi mosque.  The agreement bound both sides to eschew further violence but required the Ahmadis to pay for the damage to their mosque.

Police also intervened on multiple occasions to quell mob violence directed at individuals accused of blasphemy.  On April 19, a crowd surrounded a family in Karachi, reportedly believing they were the source of blasphemous graffiti.  Police moved the family to a safe location, registered a blasphemy case against “unknown subjects,” and dispersed the crowd.  According to media reports, in August police prevented a crowd from setting fire to Christian homes in Gujranwala after a Christian man, Farhan Aziz, was arrested for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages.

On July 31, police filed charges against Parachand Kohli, a 19-year-old Hindu man in Mirpurkhas, Sindh, for posting blasphemous remarks on Facebook.  Local journalists reported that the suspect was deeply upset by his sister’s conversion to Islam and the intent of other family members to convert.

More than 40 Christian men remained in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, accused of lynching two Muslim men after terrorists bombed two Christian churches in March 2015.  An ATC indicted the men on charges of murder and terrorism in 2016.  The trial had not concluded at year’s end, and media and other sources reported that the deputy district prosecutor offered to drop charges against anyone who would convert to Islam.  Multiple legal advocacy groups representing the men reported conditions in the jail continued to be poor and had already contributed to the death of two prisoners in previous years.

Historically, Hindu and Sikh leaders had noted the legal uncertainty surrounding the process of registering marriages for their communities created difficulties for Hindu and Sikh women in obtaining inheritances, accessing health services, voting, obtaining a passport, and buying or selling property.  Observers stated the enactment of the 2016 Sindh Hindu Marriage Act and its 2018 amendments and the 2017 Hindu Marriage Act addressed many of these problems and also codified the right to divorce.  In September the first intercaste Hindu marriage in Sindh was registered under the 2016 Sindh Hindu Marriage Act, and media cited the law as helping the intercaste couple contract their free-will marriage despite community opposition.

Religious minorities said they remained concerned that government action to address coerced conversions of religious minorities to Islam was inadequate.  Minority rights activists in Sindh cited the failure to pass a 2016 Sindh bill against forced conversions as an example of government retreating in the face of pressure from religious parties.  Media and NGOs, however, reported some cases of law enforcement helping in situations of attempted forced conversion.  In March the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reported one victim of a forced marriage and conversion, Kinza, obtained a restraining order against her husband after she returned to her parents’ home.  She had previously testified in court that she wanted to live with her Muslim husband.  On October 23, police recovered an 11-year-old Hindu girl in Matiari, Sindh two days after she was abducted by a Muslim man who claimed he had married her after she converted to Islam.  The girl told police she was abducted and raped.  According to local police, the court returned the girl to her family and charged the accused with abduction, then released him on bail.

The government selectively enforced its previous bans on the activities of, and membership in, some religiously oriented groups it judged to be extremist or terrorist.  The Ministry of Interior maintained multitier schedules of groups that were either banned or had their activities monitored and curtailed (Schedule 1) and individuals whose activities in the public sphere could also be curtailed, including during religious holidays such as Ashura (Schedule 4).  In February then President Mamnoon Hussain issued a decree to ban UN-listed Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD, a political front of terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyiba) and its charity wing Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation, but did not place either group on Schedule 1, which would have mandated the government detain group leader Hafiz Saeed.  The ban lapsed in October after the government failed to convert the presidential decree into law.  Other groups including LeJ, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, and Jaish-e-Muhammad remained on Schedule 1, but groups widely believed to be affiliated with them continued to operate to various degrees.  The government permitted some of these parties and individuals affiliated with banned organizations to contest the July 25 general elections, including anti-Shia group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), whose ban the Ministry of Interior lifted shortly before the elections.

According to Ahmadiyya community leaders, authorities continued to target and harass Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes.  Ahmadiyya leaders stated the ambiguous wording of the legal provision forbidding Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against members of the community for using the standard Islamic greeting or for naming their children Muhammad.

While the law required a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint could be filed, NGOs and legal observers continued to state that police did not uniformly follow this procedure, and that if an objective investigation were carried out by a senior authority, many blasphemy cases would be dismissed.  According to religious organizations and human rights groups, while the majority of those convicted of blasphemy were Muslim, religious minorities continued to be disproportionately accused of blasphemy relative to their small percentage of the population.  NGOs and legal observers also stated police continued not to file charges against many individuals who made false blasphemy accusations.

In October proposed amendments to the penal code to discourage individuals from making false blasphemy accusations, initiated by the Senate Human Rights Committee in December 2016, failed after the ruling PTI party withdrew support.  Senior PTI leaders requested adjournment of discussion of the amendments in the National Assembly and the Senate in September and October, and the media reported Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Qadri said PTI members would “forcefully oppose” any change to the blasphemy laws.  Despite an August 2017 directive from the IHC, the parliament took no public action to amend the penal code to make the penalties for false accusations of blasphemy commensurate with those for committing blasphemy, and the PTI withdrew the related bill in September.

Some sources said there were instances in which government entities, including law enforcement entities, were complicit in the practice of initiating blasphemy complaints against neighbors, peers, or business associates to intimidate them or to settle personal grievances.  Legal observers also said some police failed to adhere to legal safeguards and basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.  Sometimes lower-ranking police would file charges of blasphemy, not a senior police superintendent who had more authority to dismiss baseless claims, as required by law, or a thorough investigation would not be carried out.  At the same time, media reports and legal observers said some authorities took steps to protect individuals from unfounded accusations of blasphemy, often at risk to their own safety.

Ahmadiyya leaders continued to report the government hindered Ahmadis from obtaining legal documents and pressured community members to deny their beliefs by requiring individuals wishing to be listed as Muslim on identity cards and passports to swear the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet of Islam and the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder was a false prophet.  Ahmadiyya community representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they identified themselves as such.  According to Ahmadiyya leaders, the government effectively disenfranchised their community by requiring voters to swear an oath affirming the “finality of prophethood”, something against Ahmadi belief, in order to register as Muslims.  Since voters who registered as Ahmadis were kept on a separate voter list, they said they were more exposed to threats and physical intimidation, and many Ahmadis continued their longstanding boycott of the political process by not voting in the July 25 general elections.

Members of the Sikh community reported that although the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act covers registration of Sikh marriages, they were seeking a separate Sikh law so as not to be considered part of the Hindu religion.  Some local administrative bodies continued to deny Christian and Ahmadi marriage registrations; advocates called for a new law governing Christian marriages, as the existing regulation dated to 1872.

The government continued to fund and facilitate Hajj travel for most Muslims, but Ahmadis were unable to participate in the Hajj, community leaders said, because of passport application requirements to list religious affiliation and denounce the Ahmadiyya prophet.

The government continued to prohibit citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, from traveling to Israel.  Representatives of the Baha’i community said this policy particularly affected them because the Baha’i World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – was located in Israel.

According to media reports and law enforcement contacts, in the weeks leading up to and during the Islamic month of Muharram – religiously significant for Shia Muslims – authorities at the federal and provincial levels restricted the movement and activities of dozens of clerics on the Ministry of Interior’s Schedule 4.  According to civil society and media reports, the government restricted the movement and activities of these individuals because they were known for exacerbating sectarian tensions.  Provincial governments deployed hundreds of thousands of police and other security personnel to protect Shia religious ceremonies across the country during the commemoration of Ashura, which passed peacefully for the second year in a row.

Religious minority leaders continued to state the system of selecting minority parliamentarians through the internal deliberations of mainstream parties resulted in the appointment of party stalwarts or those who could afford to “buy the seats,” rather than legislators who genuinely represented minority communities.  They also stated the system discouraged the election of minority women, who were rarely in a position of sufficient influence within the major political parties to contend for a seat.  In the July 25 general elections, Mahesh Kumar Malani became the first Hindu to be directly elected to the National Assembly rather than picked for a reserved seat, 16 years after non-Muslims won the right to vote and contest for general seats.  Another Hindu candidate, Hari Ram Kishori Lal, was directly elected to the Sindh Provincial Assembly in the general elections.

The requirement that Muslim elected officials swear an oath affirming their belief that the Prophet Muhammed is the final prophet of Islam continued to discourage Ahmadi Muslims from seeking public office.  In order to seek office, Ahmadis would be forced to do so as non-Muslims, despite self-identifying as Muslim.

The government continued to permit limited non-Muslim foreign missionary activity and to allow missionaries to proselytize as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim.  According to the government’s immigration website, it grants visas to foreign missionaries valid from one to two years and allows two entries into the country per year, although only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time.  Non-Muslim missionaries, some of whom had been working in the country for many years, said they continued to be denied visas, given short extensions, or received no response from immigration authorities before their visas expired.  Others were allowed to remain in the country while appeals of their denials were pending.

The government continued its campaign against blasphemy on social media, although with less intensity than in 2017.  Media observers reported a decline in political statements and in the number of text messages sent by the PTA warning them that uploading or sharing blasphemous content on social media were punishable offenses under the law.  The decline in political rhetoric and official warnings corresponded with the conclusion of general elections on July 25; however, the broader crackdown on online blasphemous content continued.  In July the Senate directed the PTA to immediately block all websites and pages containing blasphemous material, due to what was reported to be increased concern regarding blasphemous content on social media.  In a 2017-2018 report, the PTA stated it had blocked 31,963 websites for containing blasphemous material.  Human rights activists continued to express concern the government would use this initiative as a pretext to suppress views on the internet that differed from those of the government, including on religious issues.

According to representatives of some minority religious groups, the government continued to allow organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy.  Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship, local authorities regularly denied requisite construction permits, and Ahmadis remained forbidden to call them mosques.

According to Ahmadiyya community members, Ahmadi mosques previously sealed by the government and later demolished remained sealed and unrepaired.

Legal experts and NGOs continued to state that the full legal framework for minority rights remained unclear.  While the Ministry of Law and Justice was officially responsible for ensuring the legal rights of all citizens, in practice the Ministry for Human Rights assumed primary responsibility for the protection of the rights of religious minorities.  The NCHR was also mandated to conduct investigations into allegations of human rights abuses, but legal sources said the commission had little power to enforce its requests.

Members of religious minority communities said there continued to be inconsistent application of laws safeguarding minority rights and enforcement of protections of religious minorities at both the federal and provincial levels by the federal Ministry of Law and Justice, as well as by the federal Ministry of Human Rights and its provincial counterparts.  They also stated the government was inconsistent in safeguarding against societal discrimination and neglect, and official discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadiyya Muslims persisted to varying degrees, with Ahmadiyya Muslims experiencing the worst treatment.

Legal observers continued to raise concerns regarding the failure of lower courts to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases, which led to some convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts overturned their convictions and freed them for lack of evidence.  According to legal advocacy groups, lower courts reportedly continued to conduct proceedings in an intimidating atmosphere, with members of antiblasphemy groups such as the TLP often threatening the defendant’s attorneys, family members, and supporters.  These observers said the general refusal of lower courts to free defendants on bail or acquit them persisted due to fear of reprisal and vigilantism.  Legal observers also reported judges and magistrates often delayed or continued trials indefinitely in an effort to avoid confrontation with, or violence from, groups provoking protests.

In January then-Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Sardar Muhammad Yousuf declared 2018 the year of “Khatm-e-Nabuwat” (finality of the Prophet), a theological declaration frequently used to target Ahmadi Muslims.  The minister called for seminaries and universities to establish “Khatm-e-Nabuwat chairs” and elevate the topic in their curricula.  Multiple Khatm-e-Nabuwat conferences held in Lahore in January, March, and November, as well as in Islamabad and at other religious sites around the country, attracted politicians and government officials.  According to media reports, Prime Minister Khan spoke at Khatm-e-Nabuwat conferences in Islamabad in January and October.  On March 8, Yousuf and several Islamic clerics attended another Khatm-e-Nabuwat conference in Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque.

Minority religious leaders stated members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in admission to colleges and universities.  Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the declaration students needed to sign on their applications for admission to university continued to prevent Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims.  Their refusal to sign the statement meant they were automatically disqualified from fulfilling the admissions requirements.  The government said Ahmadis could qualify for admission as long as they did not claim to be Muslims.  Ahmadiyya community leaders reported an Ahmadi graduate student was expelled from the National Institute of Biotechnology in September after not disclosing her religious affiliation at her initial admission.

Religious minority community members stated public schools gave Muslim students bonus grade points for memorizing the Quran, but there were no analogous opportunities for extra academic credit available for religious minority students.

Most religious minority groups said they continued to face discrimination in government hiring.  While there remained a 5 percent quota for hiring religious minorities at the federal level, minority organizations said government employers did not enforce it.  According to religious minority members and media reports, provincial governments in Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also failed to meet such quotas for hiring religious minorities into the civil service.  Minority rights activists said almost all government job advertisements for janitorial staff listed being non-Muslim as a requirement.  Minority rights activists criticized these advertisements as discriminatory and insulting.

Representatives of religious minorities said a “glass ceiling” continued to prevent their promotion to senior government positions.  Although there were no official obstacles to advancement of minority religious group members in the military service, they said in practice non-Muslims rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.

According to civil society activists and monitoring organizations, most public school textbooks continued to include derogatory statements about minority religious groups, including Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Christians.  In September the prime minister held a meeting with minority religious leaders and heard their requests for the removal of discriminatory content in educational curricula.  Federal ministers said they had begun a review of textbooks for derogatory material, but minority faith representatives said the government had not consulted them in the process, and feared problematic content would remain in curricula.  Ahmadiyya community representatives said local associations of clerics frequently distributed anti-Ahmadi stickers to school districts to place on textbooks, and the school boards usually accepted them.  These stickers contained phrases such as “It is strictly prohibited in Sharia to speak to or do any business with Qadianis,” “The first sign of love of the Prophet is total boycott of Qadianis,” and “If your teacher is a Qadiani, refuse learning from him.”

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), the Catholic Church’s human rights body in Pakistan, reported that subjects such as social studies and languages had almost 40 percent religious material which non-Muslim students were required to study.  While schools were required to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students, sources reported many non-Muslim students were in practice also required to participate, as their schools did not offer parallel courses in their own religious beliefs or ethics.  The government did not permit Ahmadis to teach Islamic studies in public schools.

Some prominent politicians engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric during the general election campaign that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community.  Then-candidate Imran Khan said no one who does not believe Muhammad is the last prophet can call themselves a Muslim.  PTI candidate Amir Liaquat Hussain printed campaign posters calling himself the “Savior of the End of Prophethood.”  PTI leader Pervez Khattak told a political rally in Peshawar he had made a chapter on the finality of prophethood compulsory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa textbooks.  In Chakwal, Punjab, a Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) candidate called for expelling Ahmadis from Pakistan, and the PTI candidate asked voters whether they would stand with those who would change the Khatm-e-Nabuwat law, or with the lovers of the prophet.

On August 17, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa hosted Catholic and Church of Pakistan (Protestant) leaders in honor of the elevation of Archbishop of Karachi Joseph Coutts as a cardinal in the Catholic Church.  Bajwa expressed appreciation for the role Christians played in the country’s public institutions and armed forces and urged greater interfaith harmony.  Federal Minister for Defense Production Zubaida Jalal also spoke at a reception for Coutts and paid tribute to the contributions of religious minorities in education and social work.  Sources reported military officials and Islamic clerics attended Christmas services at churches in Quetta to show support one year after the bombing of Bethel Memorial Methodist Church.  Authorities also provided enhanced security for churches and Christian neighborhoods during the Christmas season.

In September leading to and during the days of ninth and tenth Muharram (September 20-21), the government condemned sectarianism and urged all Muslims to respect Shia processions around the Ashura holiday.  Prime Minister Khan gave a nationwide address upholding the martyrdom of Hussein at Karbala as an example of sacrifice for the greater good, and President Arif Alvi called on Muslims of all sects to resist oppression.  Law enforcement deployed extra security around Shia processions in major cities throughout Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan provinces, including for Hazara Shia communities in Quetta.  According to civil society contacts, authorities also restricted the movement and public sermons of both Sunni and Shia clerics accused of provoking sectarian violence.  The government placed some clerics on the Schedule 4, a list of proscribed persons based on reasonable suspicion of terrorism or sectarian violence, and temporarily detained others under the Maintenance of Public Order Act.

During Hindu celebrations of Holi in March, authorities also provided enhanced security at Hindu temples throughout the country.

There were continued reports that some madrassahs taught violent extremist doctrine.  Increasing government supervision of madrassahs remained a component of the NAP, and there was evidence the government continued efforts to increase regulation of the sector.  The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) stated in May that it had nearly completed a mapping process of places of worship and madrassahs throughout the country and that it was developing registration forms in consultation with ITMP.

Security analysts and madrassah reform proponents observed many madrassahs failed to register with one of five wafaqs or with the government, to provide the government with documentation of their sources of funding, or to accept foreign students only with valid student visas, a background check, and the consent of their governments, as required by law.  The provincial Balochistan government announced in February it had registered over 2,500 madrassas in 2017.  It stated, however, that it had not yet registered madrassas located in so-called “backward (rural) areas.”  According to media reports, the Sindh provincial government’s efforts to register madrassahs were met with resistance.  Some Karachi madrassahs declined to provide data about their operations, staff, and students to Sindh Police Special Branch personnel.  An ITMP spokesperson stated the wafaqs did not object in principle to providing the requested information, but wanted greater coordination from the government before doing so.  Police reportedly agreed to suspend the attempts at data collection.

The Ministry of Interior reported it continued to prosecute counterterrorism actions under the NAP, which included an explicit goal of countering sectarian hate speech and extremism, by arresting people for hate speech, closing book shops, and confiscating loudspeakers.  In January NACTA launched an app called “Surfsafe” to help citizens report websites that published extremist content and hate speech.  Activists asserted that many of the groups banned by NACTA for involvement in terrorism continued openly using Facebook to recruit and train followers, including sectarian groups responsible for attacks on members of religious minority communities.

While print and broadcast media outlets continued to occasionally publish and broadcast anti-Ahmadi rhetoric, unlike in previous years, there were no reports of advertisements or speeches in the mainstream media inciting anti-Ahmadi violence.  Observers stated it was unclear if this was due to self-censorship by media outlets fearing repercussions for any political disturbance, or if the government specifically fulfilled its promise from the NAP to restrict such calls for anti-Ahmadi violence.  Anti-Ahmadi rhetoric that could incite violence continued to exist in some media outlets.  In June TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi broadcast on YouTube that Ahmadis should either “recite the Kalima (Islamic statement of faith) or accept death.”  JuD leader Hafiz Saeed was quoted in the Islamist publication The Daily Ausaf as saying “Qadianis are open enemies of Islam and Pakistan.”

The status of a National Commission for Minorities remained unclear at year’s end.  Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony representatives said the commission continued to exist and met yearly.  Minority activists stated this commission’s effectiveness was hindered by the lack of a regular budget allocation and the lack of an independent chairperson, as well as resistance from the ministry.  NGOs and members of the National Assembly put forth various proposals and bills to establish a new independent National Commission for Minorities’ Rights, as directed by the Supreme Court in 2014.  The ministry also proposed its own bill that would establish a “National Commission for Interfaith Harmony,” and stated that minority affairs had been devolved to the provinces since 2010.  According to media reports, a subcommittee of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs met in April to merge bills for the new commission’s development.  The ministry pledged to work with parliamentarians to combine the bills, and sources reported that work was ongoing at year’s end.  A similar bill in the Sindh Provincial Assembly was also pending at year’s end.

Human rights activists continued to state that neither the federal nor most provincial governments had made substantial progress in implementing the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision directing the government to take measures to protect members of minority religious groups, citing the failures to establish an empowered National Commission for Minorities and a special task force to protect minority places of worship as primary examples.  According to various sources, the Sindh government conducted a province-wide audit of security at 1,899 minority places of worship and made recommendations to increase security to the Sindh Home Department.  Several activists and pastors reported improved provision of security at places of worship, notably in Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta during the major holidays of Holi, Ashura, and Christmas.

Religious minority community leaders continued to state the government failed to take adequate action to protect minorities from bonded labor in the brick-making and agricultural sectors, an illegal practice in which victims were disproportionately Christians and Hindus.  Such families, particularly on agricultural lands in Sindh Province, often lived without basic facilities and were prevented from leaving without the permission of farm landlords.

Palau

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion.  On January 11, the government commemorated the National Day of Prayer that “welcomes all expressions of religion, no matter of his or her choosing without reservation or reproach.”  The government invited all faiths and denominations to the Capitol for a program of prayers and singing praises.

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

Embassy officials met with senior government officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and religious groups throughout the year to discuss the importance of government protection of religious freedom for all groups.  Groups with which the embassy interacted included the Palau Baptist Church, Palau Catholic Mission, Palau Seventh-day Adventist Mission, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The National Day of Prayer on January 11 gathered religious leaders, schoolchildren, and diplomatic corps members, among others.  The government invited all faiths and denominations to the Capitol for a program of prayers and singing praises.  According to the government, the program “welcomes all expressions of religion, no matter of his or her choosing without reservation or reproach.”  Participants gave prayers, delivered speeches, and presented awards.

Government-sponsored events featured Christian prayers from various denominations.

Traditional chiefs from various religious groups continued to convene for cultural events across the country.

The government provided funding to nine private schools run by religious groups, distributing a total of $947,000.

Panama

Executive Summary

The constitution, laws, and executive decrees provide for freedom of religion and worship and prohibit discrimination based on religion.  The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the religion of the majority of citizens but not as the state religion.  In March the Ministry of Education issued a resolution allowing girls attending public schools in the provinces of Panama City and Herrera to wear the hijab.  Public schools continued to teach Catholicism, but parents could exempt their children from religion classes.  Some non-Catholic groups continued to state the government provided preferential distribution of subsidies to small Catholic-run private schools for salaries and operating expenses and cited the level of government support given to the Catholic Church in preparation for the January 2019 World Youth Day.  Local Catholic organizers continued to invite members of other religious denominations to participate.  Some social media commentators criticized the use of public funds for the religious event.

On August 16, the Interreligious Institute of Panama, an interfaith organization, held a public gathering entitled, “Interfaith Coexistence towards a Culture of Peace.”  Approximately 100 individuals attended.  The institute’s objectives included providing a coordination mechanism for interfaith activities and promoting mutual respect and appreciation among various religious groups.  On August 29, the Panama Chapter of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Cultural Center hosted its Second Interreligious Dialogue with panelists from the Baha’i Spiritual Community, Kol-Shearith Jewish Congregation, Krishna-Hindu community, and Catholic Church.

Embassy officials met on several occasions with government officials and raised questions about fairness in distribution of education subsidies for religious schools and the need for equal treatment of all religious groups before the law.  The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy officials met frequently with religious leaders to discuss government treatment of members of religious groups, interfaith initiatives promoting tolerance and respect for religious diversity, and societal perceptions and treatment of members of religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The law continued to require Muslim women, Catholic nuns, and Rastafarians to pull back their head covering to show their ears in pictures taken by immigration officials upon their arrival in the country.  Civil registry and customs authorities, however, continued to allow the taking of photographs and conducting of body searches in private if requested to do so.  According to the Ombudsman’s Office and a leader of the Muslim community, there were no complaints regarding these procedures.

In August members of the indigenous Guna community protested outside the Electoral Tribunal for alleged discrimination involving an Ibeorgun woman.  According to La Estrella newspaper, government officials had required that she remove her ceremonial olasu u orasu, or religious nose piercing, for a national identification photograph.  After the incident, the Electoral Tribunal instructed regional offices they could not force a citizen to remove the piercing, according to Law 20 of June 2000, which protects the right to traditional garb.

In March, upon the request of the Sunni Muslim Religious Association of Panama, the Ministry of Education issued a resolution allowing girls attending public schools in the provinces of Panama City and Herrera to wear hijabs.

Catholic schools continued to represent the majority of parochial educational institutions.  According to a Ministry of Education official, non-Catholic religious schools received equal consideration regarding government grants; however, privately some non-Catholic groups continued to state the government provided preferential distribution of subsidies to small Catholic-run private schools for salaries and operating expenses.  These non-Catholic groups also pointed to the government’s continued support for the January 2019 World Youth Day event as a sign of preference.  The Ministry of Education reported that in accordance with a decree mandating “fair and equitable allocation of funds to schools,” it had granted government subsidies ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 balboas ($5,000-$50,000) to small religious and nonreligious private schools, including a Panama City-based Catholic school and an evangelical Protestant school.  The Ministry of Education also provided a subsidy of 367,000 balboas ($367,000) to an Episcopalian (Anglican) school to cover the school’s annual teacher and administrative staff payroll.  The government provided 90,000 balboas ($90,000) for social programs conducted by the Catholic-run school Colegio Javier.

In February the National Assembly Budget Committee approved the government’s request for additional funds to reconstruct several Catholic facilities in Herrera Province.  In May the government allocated 210,359 balboas ($210,000) to build a new Catholic church in Valle Rico, Las Tablas.  The funds came from the budget of the Social Assistance Directorate, an office within the Ministry of the Presidency.

Throughout the year, the government continued to coordinate closely with the Vatican on preparations for hosting World Youth Day in January 2019.  In August the government sponsored 105 Catholic youth to take language courses at the University of Panama to serve as interpreters during World Youth Day.  Local Catholic organizers continued to invite members of other religious denominations to participate; however, some social media commentators criticized the use of public funds for the religious event.  The posting of World Youth Day banners at public schools throughout the country was commonplace.  The National Migration Service announced it would waive a requirement that tourists attending the event possess $500 in funds to apply for a visa if they applied as a “religious pilgrim.”

The government continued to rely primarily on Catholic clergy to conduct religious invocations at government events, including National Assembly openings and reconvenings.  Many official celebrations included participation of the highest-ranking officials at Catholic masses, including the Te Deum on November 3.  Muslims and Jews continued to serve in senior positions in the government, such as ambassador to Spain (Jewish) and minister counselor of the Ministry of the Presidency (Muslim).

The Netherlands

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief.  It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred.  In June the government enacted a ban of face coverings in schools and some public spaces and expected to implement the ban in 2019.  The Jewish community asked the government to focus more attention on combating anti-Semitism and to appoint an anti-Semitism coordinator.  Politicians from several parties made anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic statements.  There were several proposals in parliament to reduce benefits for religious groups and eliminate religion from public spaces, but no such legislation was passed.

The government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported hundreds of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, involving violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism.  According to police, incidents targeting Muslims decreased by 45 percent compared with 2016 while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 15 percent over the same period.  In August an Afghan man stabbed two persons, stating he had done so in response to Dutch insults to Islam.  A study by two historians found most instances of anti-Semitism in recent years involved verbal or written speech, and that Dutch Moroccans and Dutch Turks, but not recent immigrants, were overrepresented among those committing anti-Semitic acts.  A study by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) found significant numbers of Muslims held a negative opinion of Dutch society.

The U.S. embassy and consulate general in Amsterdam emphasized the importance of support for refugees of all faiths, integration for newcomers, and interfaith dialogue in formal meetings and informal conversations with government officials, including at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Social Affairs, and Education and with parliamentarians and police.  Embassy and consulate general representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of several different faith communities and a broad range of civil society activists, and they pursued public outreach to youth to increase interfaith understanding and tolerance.  The embassy also discussed religious tolerance with refugees.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions, as required.  Separately, the national government continued to address security issues with representatives of the Muslim community, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, and local authorities, through a special working group established in 2017.  Local governments, in consultation with the national government, also continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions.  The Foundation for Life and Welfare, an NGO that advised the Jewish community on security and protection, stated in its annual report in July that the Jewish community was exposed to substantial threats.  It emphasized the importance of maintaining rigorous security measures and expressed regret over the city of Amsterdam’s 2017 decision to replace manned police booths at Jewish institutions with camera surveillance.

Ron van der Wieken, president of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), which advocated for the rights and interests of the Jewish community in the country, said that when the CJO met in February with a government delegation that included Prime Minister Mark Rutte, it requested the establishment of a Dutch anti-Semitism coordinator.  At year’s end the government had not yet taken a position on whether to appoint such a coordinator.

Proponents of the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings, which included most political parties (132 out of 150 members of parliament voted in favor of it) argued the law had nothing to do with religion, and was necessary for individuals to integrate into an open democratic society.  Opponents, which included the D66 Party, the Green Party, and the DENK Party, stated the legislation targeted devout Muslim women and religious freedom and was largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small.

Regional Muslim organizations, including SIOHR (the Alliance of Islamic Organizations in The Hague region), SMBZ (the Alliance of Mosque Boards in Brabant and Zeeland), and SPIOR (the Foundation Platform of Islamic Organizations in the Rotterdam Region) also protested the ban.  Authorities said they expected to begin enforcing the ban beginning in summer 2019 after coming to agreements on the logistics of enforcement with the leaders of sectors to which the ban applied.  The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam said they would give no priority to enforcing the ban.

Freedom (PVV) Party leader Geert Wilders announced in May he would hold a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in November in his party’s offices in parliament.  The government, including National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism Dick Schoof, distanced itself from the event but said it was prepared to provide security in order to protect freedom of expression.  In August Prime Minister Rutte said the contest was “not respectful,” but the government “stands firmly by freedom of expression.”  He called it “a provocation.”  On August 27, police arrested a Pakistani man in The Hague after the man posted a video on Facebook stating he planned to attack the organizer of the cartoon contest or the parliament.  Shortly thereafter, Wilders cancelled the contest because of what he said were threats against him and others.  He stated the response to the contest had proven his point that Islam was violent and intolerant.

In March the PVV campaign produced a television commercial with the text reading, “Islam equals discrimination, violence, terror, misogyny, hatred of gays, hatred of Jews, hatred of Christians, subjugation, forced marriage, honor killing, totalitarianism, death of apostates, sharia, animal suffering, injustice, slavery, and is lethal.”  Several organizations, including the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, filed a complaint with police for inciting discrimination of, and violence against, Muslims.  On May 1, the prosecutor’s office announced the video did not constitute a criminal offense, as it was directed against a religion, and not against people, and did not incite discrimination or violence against Muslims.

In September Forum for Democracy (FVD) Party leader Thierry Baudet, whose party had two seats in parliament, stated in media interviews that Islam posed a threat to society.  He said “the radicalization of Muslims [was] increasing” and the construction and architecture of mosques in the country was intentionally provocative.  He also stated mosques were “a breeding ground for anti-Dutch sentiments and behavior,” Islamic schools were a problem, and Christianity was superior to Islam.

On February 14, the discrimination officer at the prosecutor’s office decided that a January statement by a local PVV politician, Henk van Deun, did not constitute hate speech or incitement to commit criminal offenses.  Van Deun said in a radio interview about a particular mosque, “We prefer if it was burned down, so to speak.  We are truly against mosques.  We do not recognize Islam as a religion.  It is an ideology.”

In its most recent report, covering 2017, the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) reported half a dozen anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the DENK party and local Hague Unity Party.  In October 2017, CIDI said DENK had queried the cabinet about what it said was a slander campaign by the “Israeli lobby” against a minister married to a Palestinian.  At the same time, according to the CIDI report, DENK posted on Facebook a picture suggesting that Israel or Jews controlled politics in the country and alluding to the anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”  In May CIDI filed a complaint with police against a tweet by Hague Unity Party council member Arnoud van Doorn saying, “May Allah destroy the Zionists.”

In September the prosecutor’s office said it had initiated an investigation into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity Parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in Rotterdam in 2017.  The investigation continued at year’s end.

The government continued to monitor the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions and said it was examining whether it was legally possible to obligate foreign countries or organizations to be transparent about their donations.

Spokespersons for Christian political parties such as the Political Calvinist Alliance (SGP) and Christian Democratic Appeal said political parties that were part of the secular majority in parliament regularly presented proposals to ban religion from public spaces and eliminate what it called privileges of religious communities, such as the right to conduct religious slaughter, tax advantages, and death notification services (when the government informs churches of the deaths of citizens.)  These proposals failed to gain sufficient support to move forward in parliament.  Representatives of religion-based parties in parliament, such as SGP leader Kees van der Staaij, stated in October that true democracy reflected respect for minorities, which included persons of religious belief.

On July 12, the Amsterdam District Court convicted Saleh Ali, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, of vandalism and theft and sentenced him to a six-week prison term.  It also ordered him to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.  In December 2017, Ali waved a Palestinian flag and smashed the windows of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam.  According to his attorney, he carried out the attack out of frustration over Israeli policy toward Palestinians and President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.  Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus reacted to the attack by saying, “discrimination of population groups in whatever form … is unacceptable.”  According to The Times of Israel newspaper, Vice President of CJO and former head of CIDI Ronny Naftaniel said Ali’s sentence “does not constitute any deterrence” for those contemplating anti-Semitic crimes.  On social media, CIDI expressed concern that “someone who constitutes such a risk can walk about freely.”

Government ministers, including Prime Minister Rutte, regularly spoke out against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in speeches, such as at the annual Auschwitz and Kristallnacht commemorations.  At the National Holocaust Commemoration in Amsterdam on January 28, Rutte stated, “Contemporary anti-Semitism still frightens people.  There is always fear.  Not daring to go outside wearing a yarmulke, and the surveillance at synagogues, Jewish schools, and shops.  We must remain alert in the fight against the big evil that may always raise its head again.”  On April 13, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus said in parliament, “There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, honor killings…inciting hatred and violence against those with different opinions and minorities.”

On September 11, two parliamentarians, Gert-Jan Segers (Christian Union Party) and Dilan Yesilgoz (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), organized a roundtable in parliament on anti-Semitism at which Jewish organizations highlighted proposals they believed would help combat anti-Semitism.  Proposals included explicit condemnation of anti-Semitic offenses by public officials, heavier penalties for hate crimes, adoption of the European working definition on anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Holocaust education initiatives.

In its annual report issued in April and covering 2017, the NIHR said that in November of that year the National Police had discriminated against a police officer by not allowing her to wear a headscarf with her uniform.  The police, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, and politicians from various political parties, however, stated police must convey a neutral and uniform image, and said  that was the basis for the ban on wearing any visible and recognizable sign of religion in combination with a uniform.  According to Grapperhaus, the National Police disregarded the NIHR’s finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.

According to several religious community leaders, the government continued its policy of not allowing religiously affiliated organizations to proselytize at asylum centers.  The government agency charged with overseeing asylum centers, the Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers, again said it had instituted this policy to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment.  Some members of religious groups said they continued to have difficulty gaining access to the centers, even as volunteers.

In August Said Bouharrou, spokesman for the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, said the government had not properly communicated the stricter requirements on ritual slaughter that it introduced in 2017, and thereby caused significant unrest within the Muslim community.  Richard de Mooij, spokesman for the Association of Slaughterhouses, said the new rules were not unclear, but the procedure had become more cumbersome due to the requirement of having a veterinarian present.  According to attorney Herman Loonstein, who represented the only kosher butcher in the country, the stricter rules created some initial problems, but they were resolved after consultations between the communities and the local authorities.

PVV leader Wilders presented draft legislation on September 19 to close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, and to ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public.  The bill proposed substantial financial penalties.  Wilders tweeted “Islam is no religion but an ideology – totalitarian-like fascism.  Let us treat Islam as such and not grant it constitutional protection anymore.”  Other parties did not support the bill, and at year’s end parliament had not taken it up for debate.

Wilders unsuccessfully tried in the spring and fall to void his December 2016 court conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally.  Wilders argued that the 2016 trial was politically motivated and that his statements were protected free speech.  The court did not void the conviction, and Wilders’ formal appeal was scheduled to proceed in spring 2019.

Following the release of a 2017 government report stating that Salafist organizations were growing in the country and promoting intolerance towards others, the government issued a policy paper in October citing its commitment to religious freedom for the wide variety of religious communities in the country.  The policy paper stated Dutch society had room for “a huge diversity of [religious] doctrines, opinions, and value systems,” but that within the Salafist movement there were those who promoted intolerance, incited hatred, and rejected government authority.  The paper added that religious freedom had limits, and that, while the government did not interfere with religious aspirations, “it must act against those who aim to limit the freedom of people with different views.”

On February 8, Prime Minister Rutte, three deputy prime ministers, Minister of Justice Grapperhaus, and security officials met with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual slaughter.  The CJO, Netherlands-Jewish Congregation, Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, Contact Body for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and CIDI attended the meeting.  The mayors and responsible aldermen in the larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, also met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest to the Jewish community.  These city governments supported a range of projects, such as educational projects to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews.  Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, was particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Holocaust commemoration center.

On April 26, the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.  Among the government-funded projects the report cited were several to train teachers to deal with such issues.  The University of Amsterdam developed teaching material to address current and historical relations between Jews and Muslims.  Other programs trained leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouraged interfaith dialogue through a project titled Building Bridges, which established local networks of persons from different religious communities.  In April the government presented a comprehensive manual for local governments on developing a local antidiscrimination policy, including religiously motivated discrimination.

In May the government appropriated two million euros ($2.29 million) of additional funding to expand two sites located at former concentration camps in Amersfoort and Vught currently used for Holocaust education programs for schoolchildren.  The camps received growing numbers of visitors, including many school classes.  “It is good that these sites keep the memories alive and that stories are not forgotten,” State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis said regarding Holocaust remembrance.

Also as part of the action plan, the government continued to work with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association, local authorities, police officials, the prosecutor’s office, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation NGO on ways to counter anti-Semitic chanting, salutes, and other behavior directed against religious groups during soccer matches.  According to the plan, as soon as anti-Semitic chanting occurred, soccer clubs asked supporters to stop immediately.  If they did not, the clubs suspended the match.  Participants agreed on measures to prosecute offenders or ban them from stadiums.  With government funding, the Anne Frank Foundation organized government-sponsored projects such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter anti-Semitic chanting by educating soccer fans on why their actions were anti-Semitic.  Another Anne Frank Foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination.

Among the elements of the action plan designed to counter discrimination against Muslims were projects examining how to better enable reporting of discrimination complaints against Muslims, and improve security at mosques.  As part of this effort, authorities conducted regional meetings in which representatives of local governments, police, antidiscrimination bureaus, and Muslim communities discussed ways to improve collaboration.  Representatives of the Muslim community, National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, national government, local authorities, and police together drafted the Safe Mosque Manual, containing information, recommendations, and best practices for mosques, local authorities, and the police on how to deal together with concrete tension and incidents around mosques.

In the run-up to the March local elections, all major political parties except the DENK and Bij1 Parties, which had a significant number of migrant members, signed an accord in which they pledged to protect the Jewish community in Amsterdam.  The signatories to the accord offered support and guidance to schools and teachers that had trouble discussing the Holocaust in the classroom.  As a part of the accord, the city of Amsterdam added programs to its existing Holocaust education curriculum for schoolchildren.

In March CIDI called on the government to pay specific attention to anti-Semitism in efforts to combat discrimination; adopt the working definition on anti-Semitism of the IHRA; monitor anti-Semitism on social media; issue heavier penalties for anti-Semitic crimes of violence; make anti-Semitism part of the government’s integration and radicalization policy; bar foreign terrorist fighters from the country; and improve Holocaust education at all schools.

In late November a majority of parliamentarians supported a nonbinding motion to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, per the European Parliament’s 2017 call to EU member states.  Foreign Minister Stef Blok stated the government accepted the IHRA definition, although it was not legally bound by it.  On December 12, parliamentarians expressed concern over the findings of a survey by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) that Jews perceived anti-Semitism to be on the rise in Europe and the Netherlands.  GreenLeft Party Parliamentarian Kathalijne Buitenweg said she would call Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus to parliament to inquire what was being done to counter anti-Semitism.

The government continued to require asylum seekers seeking to obtain a residence permit to sign a statement of participation in civic integration.  The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of fundamental values, including freedom of religion.

The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country.  This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries, or to approximately 140 Turkish imams appointed by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate.  The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch, free of foreign influence.

The government is a member of the IHRA.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future