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Afghanistan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religion and ethnicity in the country were often closely linked.  Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment from Muslims, although Hindus and Sikhs stated that prior to the Taliban takeover, they continued to be able to publicly practice their religions.

According to international sources, Baha’is and Christians lived in constant fear of exposure and were reluctant to reveal their religious identities to anyone.  According to some sources, converts to Christianity and individuals studying Christianity reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members opposed to their interest in Christianity.  They said fears of violent societal repression had further increased since the Taliban takeover.

According to Christians and Ahmadi Muslims, members of their groups continued to worship only in private to avoid societal discrimination and persecution, including harassment from neighbors and coworkers.  They also said that following the Taliban takeover in August, relatives and neighbors who were aware of their identities were more likely to treat them harshly or report them to the Taliban, whether out of self-preservation or to curry favor with the Taliban.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, women of several different faiths, including Sunni and Shia Islam, continued to report harassment from local Muslim religious leaders over their attire.  Clerics in numerous provinces preached that woman must wear modest dress and that the faithful should publicly enforce a strict implementation of sharia law.  As a result, some women said they continued to wear burqas or other modest dress in public in rural areas and in some districts in urban areas, including in Kabul, before the Taliban takeover, in contrast to other more secure, Ghani administration-controlled areas, where women said they felt comfortable not wearing what they considered conservative clothing.  Almost all women reported wearing some form of head covering.  Some women said they did so by personal choice, but many said they did so due to societal pressure and a desire to avoid harassment and to increase their security in public.  Prior to the Taliban takeover, observers said local Muslim religious leaders continued their efforts to limit social activities, such as concerts, considered by the religious leaders to be inconsistent with Islamic doctrine.  Following the Taliban takeover, media reported instances of local Muslim religious leaders becoming more prohibitive of such activities.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, Ahmadiyya Muslims said they did not proselytize due to fear of persecution.  Ahmadiyya Muslims reported an increasing need to conceal their identity to avoid unwanted attention in public and their intent to depart the country permanently if there was a peace agreement with the Taliban.  Before the Taliban takeover of Kabul, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community said they were able to intermittently perform weekly congregational prayer at a nondescript location in Kabul.  According to international Ahmadiyya Muslim organizations with close ties to Ahmadi Muslims in the country, following the Taliban takeover, fear of persecution by the Taliban and its sympathizers had driven community members to refrain from worship at their center in Kabul.  Approximately 100 Ahmadi Muslims departed the country in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.  As of year’s end, hundreds remained in country.  Ahmadi Muslims said they received direct as well as indirect threats against their safety in the form of notes, telephone messages, and other menacing communications because of their faith.  Ahmadi Muslim representatives said they did not initially report or publicize these threats because they feared additional verbal harassment and physical abuse from Taliban representatives.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, Christian representatives reported public opinion, as expressed in social media and elsewhere, remained hostile toward converts to Christianity and to the idea of Christian proselytization.  They reported pressure and threats, largely from family, to renounce Christianity and return to Islam.  They said Christians continued to worship alone or in small congregations, sometimes 10 or fewer persons, in private homes due to fear of societal discrimination and persecution.  The dates, times, and locations of these services were frequently changed to avoid detection.  There continued to be no public Christian churches.  Following the Taliban takeover, Christians described raids by Taliban on the homes of Christian converts even after they had fled the country or moved out.  Christian sources stated the Taliban takeover emboldened intolerant relatives to threaten them with violence and inform on converts should they continue their practice of Christianity.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, some Sikhs and Hindus had refused to send their children to public schools because other students harassed their children, although only a few private school options were available to them due to the decreasing sizes of the two communities and their members’ declining economic circumstances.  According to community members, since the Taliban takeover, the small number of remaining Sikh and Hindu children did not attend school due to school closures related to COVID-19 and inclement winter weather.

Until the Taliban takeover, Kabul’s lone synagogue remained occupied by the self-proclaimed last remaining Jew in the country, and a nearby abandoned Jewish cemetery was still utilized as an unofficial dump; reportedly many abandoned Islamic cemeteries were also used as dumping sites.  The lone known Jew departed Afghanistan in late August, saying he feared the Taliban would be unable to protect him from an ISIS-K attack.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, NGOs reported some Muslims remained suspicious of development assistance projects, which they often viewed as surreptitious efforts to advance Christianity or engage in proselytization.

Albania

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious communities said interfaith relations were excellent.

Authorities reported that on April 19, Rudolf Nikollaj attacked individuals at the Dine Hoxha Mosque in Tirana with a knife following afternoon prayers, wounding five persons before police arrested him. Nikollaj, whose father is Catholic and mother is Muslim, had converted to Islam, according to his father, but was often prevented from entering mosques by worshippers who told him he was Christian. Nikollaj’s father told media his son had been depressed. In July, the Tirana prosecutor asked the Tirana District Court to put Nikollaj in a medical institution due to his history of mental health problems. In November the court accepted the prosecution’s recommendation.

According to an IRI report entitled Antisemitic Discourse in the Western Balkans released during the year, antisemitic statements in domestic media were rare, although there were some conspiracy theories regarding a Jewish American businessman’s role in influencing domestic politics and Jews controlling the world order and economy. Of 457 online media items studied between January 2019 and May 20, 2020, 17 (3.7 percent) contained what IRI determined was antisemitic content. Most media focused on Holocaust remembrance and the country’s good relations with Israel.

The Interfaith Council held several online and in-person meetings domestically and internationally on faith-related issues, such as a discussion on the country’s communist past and religion, as well as other topics, including the role of religious groups in combating trafficking in persons and countering violent extremism.

Together as the Interfaith Council and individually, religious communities provided books, food, and other donations to support institutions such as hospitals and families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Algeria

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Christian converts said they and others in their communities continued to keep a low profile due to concern for their personal safety and the potential for legal, familial, career, and social problems.  Other converts practiced their new religion openly, according to members of the Christian community.  In January, Catholic officials reported that because of what they believed was growing intolerance of Christians, the Archdiocese of Algiers was unable to find a person willing to engrave a cross on the tombstone in Algiers of Archbishop Henri Teissier, who died in Oran in December 2020.

Several Christian leaders said some Muslims who converted or who expressed interest in learning more about Christianity were assaulted by family members or otherwise pressured to recant their conversions.

According to religious leaders, some individuals who openly engaged in any religious practice other than Sunni Islam reported that family, neighbors, or others criticized their religious practice, pressured them to convert back to Islam, and occasionally insinuated they could be in danger because of their choice.

Media criticized religious communities they portrayed as “sects” or “deviations” from Islam or as “foreign,” such as Ahmadi Muslims and Shia Muslims.  Ahmadi leaders said news outlets continued to amplify what they considered government misinformation portraying Ahmadis as violent.

EPA leaders continued to say when Christian converts died, family members sometimes buried them according to Islamic rites, and their churches had no standing to intervene on their behalf.  Christian groups reported some villages, for example in the Kabylie region, continued to prohibit Christians from being buried alongside Muslims.  In these cases, Christians opted to be buried under Islamic rites so their remains could stay near those of their families.

Some Christian leaders stated they had good relations with Muslims in their communities, with only isolated incidents of vandalism or harassment.  Christian and Muslim leaders hosted each other during the year.  The Notre Dame de Santa Cruz, site of a fort and Catholic chapel, and the Pierre Claverie Center, a Catholic church and community center, in Oran hosted frequent nonreligious community events and reported Muslims frequently participated alongside Christians.

Protestant leaders said other faiths privately expressed support, and the EPA again reported excellent interfaith dialogue within the religious community.  The EPA reported some local authorities expressed regret for church closures but stated they were duty bound to follow government directives, regardless of their personal opinions.

Andorra

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In the absence of a mosque in the country, the Muslim community continued to rely on two Islamic prayer rooms that it rented in Andorra la Vella and in Escaldes-Engordany.

The Catholic Church of Santa Maria del Fener in Andorra la Vella continued to lend its sanctuary twice a month to the Anglican community so that visiting Anglican clergy could conduct services for the English-speaking members of that community.

Angola

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, several religious groups, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Communication, held an ecumenical dialogue and participated in an interfaith social action initiative called Abraco Solidario (Solidarity Embrace), which provided food to vulnerable populations affected by the severe drought in the southern provinces of Cuando Cubango, Cunene, Namibe, and Huila.  Participants included the Council of Christian Churches in Angola, the Evangelical Alliance, and Catholic organizations Caritas, and Justice and Peace.

Several faith-based organizations linked to the Catholic Church and the Protestant religious group Congregational Evangelical Church in Angola formed the Plataforma Sul (Southern Platform) to advocate for more efficient government and social responses to problems affecting rural communities and minority ethnic groups resulting from the widespread drought, such as food shortages.

In August, the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Friends of Angola (FOA) organized a roundtable on religious freedom in the country.  Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim leaders participated, as well as representatives of other NGOs.  FOA presented recommendations from the participants to President Joao Lourenco, members of the National Assembly, and INAR, all calling for changes, such as recognition of Islam as an official religion, improved government dialogue with mosques around the country, no preferential treatment for any religious group by the government, creation of an independent body to regulate national religious affairs, and updates to the 2004 law on religious freedom.  The government had not responded to the recommendations by year’s end.

In addition to the Catholic radio station Ecclesia, which broadcasted in 16 provinces, other Catholic (Vatican Radio and Maria Radio), Methodist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Tocoist radio stations also operated in the country under government licenses.  Several religious groups had radio shows on secular radio and TV stations, such as the Jehovah Witnesses and the IURD.

Antigua and Barbuda

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity often overlap, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

A video posted April 7 on YouTube showed an electronic music event recorded on March 20 on the grounds of the Saint Magar Armenian Monastery, the only Armenian monastery in Cyprus.  According to the RTCYPP, the video stirred negative reaction online among the Armenian community and news outlets.  In a RTCYPP-released joint statement, the five constitutionally recognized religious leaders of Cyprus condemned what they termed the monastery’s misuse and called for protection of all places of worship against vandalism, misuse, and desecration.

The TSPA continued to report societal discrimination, including verbal harassment, toward Protestants.  The TSPA again said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths, particularly Christianity, faced societal criticism and feared losing their jobs.  The TSPA continued to report many members preferred to remain silent about their faiths and beliefs.  The TSPA also reported police continued to closely monitor its activities and occasionally visited representatives to inquire about church activities and attendance levels.

During the year, there were few pilgrimages and meetings across the “green line” due to pandemic mitigation measures.

Argentina

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, media reported the country experienced overall increases in antisemitic incidents.  According to media and DAIA, in January, individuals forcibly stopped an Orthodox Jewish family traveling by car from to La Falda to La Cumbre in Cordoba Province and yelled “[expletive] Jews, get out of here.  Death to the Jews!”  When the father of the family left his vehicle to attempt to calm the situation, the assailants beat him and continued to shout epithets.  After his children tried to intervene, they too were beaten.  According to the report, the father and children managed to get back into the car and later filed a police report.  Authorities later arrested the suspected assailants but took no further action through year’s end.  DAIA denounced the incident.

On February 19, actor and singer Nicolas Pauls posted on Instagram a cartoon depicting a gigantic sleeved arm with a Star of David on it and a hand pressing down on dozens of persons with the caption, “To know who rules over you, simply discover whom you may not criticize.”  Martin Souto, a television host and friend of Pauls, reposted the picture.  Both faced intense criticism from social media, and both later apologized publicly.

According to vis-a-vis news portal, in March, an unidentified woman rammed her car into another car in which two Orthodox Jewish women were traveling in downtown Buenos Aires.  According to a witness, after the Orthodox Jewish women exited their car, the assailant pulled off the sheytl (wig worn by Orthodox Jewish women) of one of the women and then pushed her to the ground, shouting, “You [expletive] Jew.  I’m going to kill you; you should all have died in the Holocaust!”  Police at first ordered the female assailant to leave but later arrested her after she tried to run over the two Jewish women.

On March 2, unknown vandals damaged the sanctuary of Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Lomas de Zamora, Buenos Aires Province, stealing crowns from statues of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus.

On May 22, journalist Hugo Ojeda published an article entitled, “Song to Palestineuschwitz,” that compared Israeli actions in Palestinian territories to Nazi concentration camps, adding that Israel’s “ethnic cleaning operations … exceeded the crimes that the genocidal Nazis of the past century inflicted on gypsies, communists, homosexuals and jews [sic].”  DAIA condemned Ojeda’s article, and the publisher Pagina 12 later deleted the article.  Ojeda made no public apology.

In June, the Israeli Ambassador remarked during a panel at the College of Law in La Plata that the country was breaching its trade obligations by restricting shipments of meat to Israel.  In response, the owner of a chain of butcher shops and former Justicialist Party politician, Alberto Samid, tweeted, “The best that could happen is that the Jews no longer buy meat from us… the world does not want to sell them anything.  They are a disaster as clients.”  Samid did not apologize for his remarks despite receiving widespread public criticism.  In April, Samid accused pharmaceutical company Insud CEO Hugo Sigman of selling COVID-19 Astra-Zeneca vaccines to the “gringos.”  Samid wrote on Twitter, “This MOISHE has no limits.  He never gets tired of stealing from us!!!!  When are we going to go to Garin [the town where Insud is located] to block his laboratory?”

On June 3, unknown individuals spray-painted an evangelical Christian church in Neuquen Province and several Catholic institutions in San Luis Province during a day of nationwide protest against gender-based violence.  The Secretariat of Worship decried the vandalism in a statement on social media, noting that it distracted from the demonstrators’ message promoting women’s rights.

On July 26, DAIA objected to the use of Anne Frank’s likeness during an episode of Showmatch, a gameshow on the private television station El Trece.  Producers projected a photograph of Anne Frank alongside a contestant singing about women “who don’t leave the house.”  This incident was reported to the public defender.  The show’s producers issued a joint communique with the Anne Frank Center in Buenos Aires calling the episode an “unintentional error” and pledging to use it as a “learning experience.”

In August, evangelical Christian groups, including ACIERA, denounced a television production for Netflix entitled El Reino (“The Kingdom”), stating it fomented stereotypes and prejudices against evangelical Christian groups.  The plot depicted a fictional evangelical Christian pastor of questionable ethics who runs for president.

On August 23, prominent lawyer Alejandro Fargosi attacked parliamentarian and human rights activist Myriam Bregman as a “militant leftist Jew.”  Fargosi’s comments were widely criticized on social media, both by political figures and Nobel Laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, and President Fernandez expressed his solidarity with Bregman on Twitter.  Bregman told local media that Fargosi never apologized.

On August 27, lawyer Gregorio Dalbon made antisemitic comments during a radio interview.  Dalbon, whose clients included President Fernandez and Vice President Fernandez de Kirchner, accused the Jewish community of bribing a prosecutor in charge of the investigation of a violation of quarantine by President Fernandez, his wife, and friends.  DAIA condemned Dalbon’s comments.  On August 31, Dalbon publicly apologized, after apparently meeting with DAIA officials.  According to media, on September 2, a group of judges requested Dalbon’s suspension from the Argentine Bar Association for these and what they stated were other offensive comments.

In September, individuals were caught trying to steal 223 bronze plaques from headstones in La Tablada Jewish Cemetery in Buenos Aires.  The week before, more than 100 headstones had been smashed.  AMIA leaders implored local authorities to provide more security at the cemetery, saying it appeared to be a “free zone.”

A September 15 article from the University of Buenos Aires’ student media criticized the lack of Muslim viewpoints in local media during events in Afghanistan.  The article, noting a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, described an incident in which a Muslim student was heckled as she stepped from a bus with, “Be careful, she has a bomb!”

On September 24, unknown vandals damaged the sanctuary of the Cathedral of San Maron in the Retiro neighborhood of Buenos Aires and stole items from the church.  The CEA and Secretary of Worship Oliveri denounced the vandalism.

Interreligious groups such as the Interreligious Committee for Peace in Argentina, whose members included Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, as well as indigenous religious groups and CALIR, continued to work on increasing opportunities for interreligious action on common societal challenges.  CALIR issued statements denouncing acts of vandalism against religious institutions and sponsored local conferences, including a regional forum on religious freedom held on October 28-29.

In October, Jews, Christians, and Muslims jointly painted over Nazi symbols that had been placed on Jewish gravestones in the Jewish community of Santa Fe cemetery.  According to Horacio Roitman, Santa Fe’s DAIA representative, this response to the acts of hatred was “owed to the whole society.”

According to a University of San Martin study released in June, nearly 40 percent of the population believed that “Jewish businessmen” were benefiting from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Asked whether they agreed with the statement, “Behind the coronavirus pandemic, there are figures such as Soros and laboratories of Jewish businessmen who seek to profit financially,” 30 percent of respondents said they concurred “strongly.”  An additional 7 percent agreed to some extent with the statement.  Of the 43 percent of respondents who disagreed, 38 percent completely rejected the statement, and 19 percent said they either did not know or were indifferent.  The study’s main author, Ezequiel Ipar, said he was surprised by the “magnitude of antisemitic sentiment,” particularly among youth.

Armenia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some religious minorities, such as Seventh-day Adventists and several evangelical Christian groups, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, reported that public attitudes toward them had generally improved compared with the previous year and said there was little or no negative media coverage concerning them.  While NGOs said there were fewer antisemitic social media posts than in the previous year, there were some antisemitic references in posts criticizing a Jewish, U.S. citizen businessperson.

The evangelical Word of Life Church, which members of the prior government accused of having a role in organizing the 2018 revolution, however, was the object of ongoing hate speech and vilification by anonymous social media accounts opened specifically to target them, according to Church leaders.  The hate speech – including accusations of links with Azerbaijan and vilification for supporting anti-Covid-19 vaccination efforts – was posted on platforms such as Telegram, YouTube, and Facebook.  Unknown individuals also created a Facebook account falsely attributed to the Church’s leader, Senior Pastor Artur Simonyan, that espoused offensive views.  The Church reported the hate speech and the falsified account to the relevant social media companies, but the companies said they did not find evidence that their standards had been violated.  Simonyan said he had requested an official verified badge for his Facebook account – an emblem Facebook adds to pages to verify that they are authentic – to prevent the creation of more accounts falsely attributed to him but that the company had told him that his social media traffic was not sufficient to warrant a badge.

On February 18, the NSS terminated a criminal investigation it had launched in 2018 – on charges of incitement of religious hatred – into the creation of a Facebook page that falsely presented itself as associated both with the Word of Life Church and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party.  The NSS concluded the case lacked the elements of a crime.

Members of the Jewish community reported a rise in antisemitism since the onset of intensive fighting with Azerbaijan in the fall of 2020, an increase that the Jewish community and public media largely attributed to Azerbaijani use of Israeli-produced weapons.  Jewish community members stated that antisemitic slurs were again posted on social media platforms, in some cases together with cartoons depicting Jews in an offensive manner.  The use of offensive slurs was particularly prevalent in posts on Facebook by anonymous, antigovernment individuals targeting the Jewish leader of an international foundation.  Members of the Jewish community also reported antisemitic comments directed at them on public transport.

According to representatives of religious minorities, there were fewer instances of groups targeting religious minorities for political purposes during campaigning for parliamentary elections in June than in prior elections.  Religious minority activists stated that during the campaign, an opposition figure who had never held elected office and whom a representative of a civil society group characterized as increasingly irrelevant, stated that religious organizations took an active part in overturning the government in 2018 and would play a key role in the elections.  He singled out Word of Life as particularly active.  He also stated that “pastors tell the congregations whom to vote for, and they all do,” and that “even Jehovah’s Witnesses interfere in the political process,” adding that minority religious groups were funded from abroad.  He referred to both the Word of Life and Jehovah’s Witnesses as “sects,” a term these religious groups did not use to describe themselves and which was generally perceived as pejorative.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some religious groups increased their online presence, generating both positive and negative reactions in online comments.  Religious minority leaders stated that since the beginning of 2020, there had been less verbal targeting of religious minorities, both on and offline, as the individuals who had previously targeted them largely pivoted to discussing the aftermath of the 2020 fall fighting and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December 2020, the International Republican Institute released a nationwide poll examining public opinion on topics including human rights and hate speech, with a specific focus on social media.  The poll was conducted in August 2020.  According to the poll, 6 percent of the respondents agreed that freedom of thought, conscience, and religion was always violated (the question did not specify by whom), while another 45 percent said the violation occurred during a specific period; 33 percent said it occurred before the 2018 revolution, 6 percent said after April 2018, and 6 percent said during the 2020 state of emergency decreed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The same poll found that 55 percent of respondents believed that the rights of religious minorities were either very protected or somewhat protected in the country, and 18 percent believed that religious minorities were not at all protected or somewhat not protected, with the rest refusing to answer.  There was a difference in the perception of protection between members of the AAC (74 percent said they were protected) and members of other religious groups (58 percent said they were protected).  Of those surveyed, 77 percent indicated that they had not seen cases of insulting, threatening, or hostile behavior toward a person based on his or her religion or belief.  According to 35 percent of those surveyed, religious minorities were often or sometimes targeted by hate speech, while 53 percent said that religious minorities were never or rarely targeted.  Forty-one percent believed religious minorities needed special protections from hate speech.

A minority religious group again reported societal and family pressure as the most significant deterrent to its members’ freely practicing their belief.

Both the Hebrew- and Armenian-language sides of Yerevan’s Holocaust and Genocide Memorial were defaced on February 12, for the third time in five months.  In contrast to similar incidents in 2020, government officials criticized the act, restored the monument, and arrested a suspect.  Then Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan issued a statement saying, “The desecration of any monument is completely unacceptable, especially memorials related to minorities living in our city.”  Then Parliamentary Vice Speaker Alen Simonyan also condemned the act, calling it a “crime against universal values” and saying that “those who committed this crime should be held to account.”  Former Prosperous Armenia Party member Naira Zohrabyan, a member of the Armenia-Israel friendship group, said that “regardless of our attitude – and it is definitely negative – towards Israeli arms sales and overt military and political support to Azerbaijan … [the] memorial cannot be desecrated,” adding, “I bow before the memory of the innocent victims of the Holocaust.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, as in the previous year and contrary to years prior to 2020, there were no incidents of verbal harassment toward the group’s members.  The group halted all public activities in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On July 6, the Eurasia Partnership Foundation (EPF), a local NGO, held its Annual Media Award Ceremony for the best coverage of issues related to the freedom of religion or belief, awarding nine winners for their coverage of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and diversity in the country.  According to human rights NGOs, EPF’s religious tolerance and nondiscrimination initiative, which began in 2015, had had a positive impact on media coverage of religious issues in the country.

One Shia mosque, located in Yerevan, served all Islamic groups.

Australia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February, a group of men in Western Sydney, purportedly members of the Indian community, attacked four Sikh students.  Police investigated the attack but did not label it a hate crime.  Community leaders said divisions within the Indian-Australian community had grown, accusing “Hindu nationalists” of using Facebook and WhatsApp to spread divisive rhetoric targeting minority religious groups within the community, including Sikhs and Muslims.

In August, after a cluster of COVID-19 cases emerged at the Islamic al-Taqwa College, Principal Omar Hallak told media that for the second year running, families and students received “racial comments” on social media, blaming the Muslim community for Victoria’s sixth lockdown.

Twenty to thirty white supremacists rallied in a Victoria national park in January, chanting white power slogans and “Heil Hitler.”  The group timed the rally to coincide with the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Police did not charge the group, stating the individuals did not break any laws; however, state Premier Daniel Andrews told media there was evidence “evil and wicked” antisemitism was on the rise in Victoria.

In August, the Victoria government’s “COVID Commander” apologized to Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community after naming the group among those who tested positive for the virus during a COVID-19 media briefing, saying it was a “poor choice of words.”

Melbourne Jewish organizations reported an increase in antisemitic messages and social media posts after news reports emerged featuring video footage of an engagement party in August in the Jewish community that broke the state’s COVID lockdown rules.

In March, the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network filed a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Facebook under the national Racial Discrimination Act for direct and indirect discrimination and liability for hate speech.  At year’s end, the commission continued to investigate the complaint.  The network also sent Facebook a letter in March outlining its concerns about the spread of hate speech and dangerous conspiracy theories directed towards Muslims on the site.

In Melbourne, Victoria, an antisemitic group placed stickers during an August 21 anti-lockdown demonstration with the Star of David and a QR code linking to a video claiming the Jewish community was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The ECAJ reported 447 antisemitic incidents involving threats or abuse during the period October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, compared with 331 in the October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020 period.  According to the council, incidents increased in several more serious categories, including direct verbal abuse, harassment, and intimidation (147 compared with 128 in 2020), graffiti (106 compared with 42 in 2020), and stickers/posters (72 compared with 28 in 2020).  Physical assaults remained at the same number (eight).

The Community Security Group (CSG), which oversees the specialized and specific security needs of the Jewish community in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia under the auspices of the ECAJ, released a report on antisemitic incidents in 2020 in which it stated there were 356 reported incidents throughout the country.  The CSG recorded a 21 percent decrease in antisemitic incidents compared with 2019.

In May, police opened an investigation after closed circuit television recorded an unidentified man wearing a balaclava putting up posters around Perth’s northern suburbs that included imagery that was hostile towards Jews.  By year’s end, the perpetrator had not been arrested due to what police described as difficulties in identifying him.

The federal census form included “Greek Orthodox” as the only Christian Orthodox religious group, omitting other groups such as Coptic, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian.  In Perth, the Orthodox religious groups that were omitted raised concerns about the form.

Uyghur Muslims reported harassment and threats in the country from the Chinese Communist Party.

The Australian Human Rights Commission published a study in July entitled, “Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims,” based on a national survey of the country’s Muslims.  The study found 80 percent of survey participants experienced some form of unfavorable treatment based on their religion, race, or ethnicity.  The most common situations in which respondents experienced unfavorable treatment were when dealing with law enforcement (50 percent); in the workplace or when seeking employment (48 percent); at a shop or restaurant (43 percent); or online (43 percent).

The Victoria State Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission received 44 complaints involving religion from July 2020 to June 2021, an 18 percent increase from the previous period.  Of these complaints, 19 occurred in the provision of goods and services, 13 in education, eight in employment, and four in accommodation.

Austria

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year.  In all of 2020, there were 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six such crimes, respectively, in 2019.  The ministry said its figures included only incidents that were reported to it and in which authorities filed criminal charges, and the ministry attributed all the crimes in the three years to right-wing extremists.  Most incidents, according to the ministry, involved hate speech.  The ministry did not provide details on any of the incidents.

The IGGO’s Documentation Center on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Racism reported that there were1,402 anti-Muslim incidents in 2020 (1,051 in 2019).  The 2020 data were the most recent available.  In 2015, the first full year in which it collected such statistics, IGGO reported 156 anti-Muslim incidents.  The IKG reported 585 antisemitic incidents (550 in 2019) in the same year.  From January to June, the IKG recorded 562 incidents, more than twice the 257 in the first half of 2020.  Most incidents in 2021 consisted of hate speech or insults on the internet, although there were also 11 cases of violent threats and eight physical assaults.  The data were the most recent available.  Both groups included incidents regardless of whether they were reported to police or criminal charges were filed.  Most 2020 antisemitic and anti-Muslim cases concerned hate speech and insinuations of violence on the internet (1,019 cases), followed by insulting language and property damage.  Eight cases involved physical assaults.  The IGGO reported men were more likely to experience anti-Muslim behavior on the internet, while Muslim women were more likely to experience it in person in significant part because of their visible face or head coverings.

The IKG reported antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year included eight physical assaults, 58 cases of property damage, 154 mass mailings, and 331 threats.  Examples of antisemitic incidents included one in Vienna in May in which a group of teenagers were apprehended for throwing rocks at a Jewish family in traditional clothes, and antisemitic graffiti at the Vienna Jewish Museum in May.  The IKG attributed the increase in incidents in part to antisemitic messages at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions.

In July, the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes.  The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 2021, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.  The report stated 309 of the cases were religiously motivated.

In May, two days before the annual event commemorating the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp, police disbanded a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions attended by approximately 30 persons in Mauthausen after the organizer played a Hitler video.

In May, on the International Day against Racism and Violence, the Ministry of Interior reported several antisemitic postings on its Facebook site and launched investigations to identify the authors.

In May, demonstrators chanted “Allahu Akbar” and “Child Murderer Israel” and waved Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian rally in Vienna.  The IKG appealed to its members to stay away from the area of the demonstration and warned that the political situation in Israel could pose a threat to Jewish communities in Europe.  Police launched investigations into the use of antisemitic slogans during the demonstration, while Integration Minister Raab and then Interior Minister Karl Nehammer warned that the right to assemble should not be abused to make antisemitic statements.  Authorities arrested and questioned 11 individuals but released them without filing charges.

In May, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel held demonstrations with pro-Palestinian groups to protest Israeli house evacuations in East Jerusalem.

In a video on Twitter that became publicly known in January, Martin Sellner, head of the pan-European nationalist Identitarian movement, widely described as right-wing extremist, called People’s Party member of parliament Martin Engelberg an infamous hypocrite, antipatriotic traitor, despicable person, and “destroyer of the homeland” who has “abandoned any Christian values.”  Sellner was reacting to a December 2020 statement in which Engelberg criticized FPOe Parliamentary Floor Leader Kickl for not distancing himself from the Identitarian movement.  Sellner also praised Kickl for “taking a stance” against persons like Engelberg.  EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler condemned Sellner’s message as antisemitic and also called upon the FPOe and Kickl to distance themselves from the Identitarian movement.  In June, Engelberg obtained an injunction from the Vienna Commercial Court that ruled that Sellner must cease the slanderous statements about Engelberg.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews, and 26 percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (26 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (30 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (28 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (17 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (19 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (40 percent).

At the July presentation of a Council of Europe survey on online hatred against Muslims conducted among Muslim associations in eight European countries, the council’s special representative on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred cited the country’s “Islam map” as a negative example fueling discrimination.  The study stated the authors of hate postings were usually “anti-migration, right-wing groups, and – especially in Austria – the Identitarian movement.”

A counseling center in Vienna managed by the Society Against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO that described itself as an organization working against harm caused by “destructive cults” such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to the general public and provide counseling for former members of such groups.  All provinces funded family and youth counseling offices that provided information on “sects and cults.”

In October, the Graz Provincial Court for Criminal Matters convicted a Syrian man of assaulting Graz Jewish Community president Elie Rose in Graz in 2020 and vandalizing the Graz synagogue and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community center.  The court sentenced him to three years in prison, stating the man could not be dissuaded from his anti-Jewish sentiments.  In response to the attack, the Graz Jewish Community continued to receive additional police protection, and the government continued to provide orientation and values courses on antisemitism for refugees.

According to the IGGO report covering 2020, in June of that year a woman insulted and hit a Muslim woman on the head with a newspaper, causing her hijab to slip off on one side.  The woman complained that none of several persons sitting in a nearby sidewalk cafe came to help her.  In September 2020, a woman assaulted another woman wearing a headscarf on a city bus in Vienna, spitting on her, pulling on her headscarf, and shouting she should go back to Turkey.  Property damage cited in the report included an arson attack against a Somali cultural association and prayer room in Vienna in May 2020.

A report presented in June by the NGO Initiative for Discrimination-Free Education listed a total of 186 cases of discrimination in schools in 2020 (403 cases in 2019), of which it attributed 15 percent to anti-Muslim sentiment and 2 percent to antisemitism.  While the NGO said the sharp drop in total discrimination cases was due to the reduced physical presence of students in schools due to COVID-19, the percentage of incidents motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment (approximately 31 percent of total discrimination cases in 2019) and antisemitism (approximately 11 percent of total cases) also dropped significantly.  Examples included statements by a physics teacher in Vienna who said in 2020 in front of her Muslim students that Muslims were responsible for a November 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna by a man police identified as an ISIS sympathizer.  In another example, a sports teacher suggested to a 12-year-old student who was wearing a headscarf that she should go to another country if she wanted to continue wearing it.

The organizers of the annual May gathering of Croatians and Bosnians in Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians killed in 1945 canceled the event after parliament passed a resolution in 2020 prohibiting the event.

In June, a court in the Carinthian provincial capital of Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and illegal possession of weapons and sentenced him to a 19-month prison sentence.  The man had a Nazi symbol tattoo on his testicles.

In January, the court in Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and sentenced him to 24 months in prison, 16 months of which were suspended.  The man had performed the Hitler salute in 2019 and had a swastika tattoo.

In January, the Vienna Criminal Court issued a six-month suspended prison sentence on incitement charges for an imam whom it convicted of making antisemitic statements in a sermon in 2018.  The imam said, “Allah hates the Jews; they are the worst kuffars (unfaithful).”

Fourteen Christian groups, consisting of the Roman Catholic Church, various Protestant denominations, and eight Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches, continued to meet twice a year within the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria to discuss religious cooperation.  The Christian groups coordinated with other religious groups and the government to create a unified set of COVID-19 restrictions on all religious services in 2020 and 2021.  Baptists and the Salvation Army had observer status on the council.  Two permanent working groups on “Religion and Society” and “Media” remained in place.

Azerbaijan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local experts on religious affairs and civil society representatives stated citizens and civil society organizations continued to tolerate and, in some cases, support financially “traditional” religious minority groups, such as Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Catholics.  These sources also said that some individuals viewed groups with less of a historical presence in the country, such as Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with suspicion and mistrust.

Bahamas

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some private entities required employees to either be vaccinated against COVID-19, which Rastafarians said they viewed as a violation of their religious beliefs, or pay for their own weekly tests.  Rastafarian leaders said those entities discriminated against employees who did not comply.

Bahrain

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Non-Muslim religious community leaders again reported that there was ongoing societal pressure on individuals not to convert from Islam.  Those who did so were unwilling to speak publicly or privately to family or associates about their conversions out of fear of harassment or discrimination.

Both anti-Shia and anti-Sunni commentary appeared in social media.  Anti-Shia posts described Shia opponents of the government as “traitors,” “agents of Iran,” “terrorists,” “killers,” “criminals,” plotters,” and, occasionally, “rawafid” (a derogatory term describing Shia who refused to accept the early caliphs).  Anti-Sunni posts described the royal family and its supporters as “nawasib” (a derogatory term describing Sunnis who are hostile to the family of the Prophet Muhammad).

NGOs working on civil discourse and interfaith dialogue reported Sunni-Shia tensions and historical political divisions continued to have a negative economic effect.  Shia representatives stated the persistent higher unemployment rate among members of their community, limited prospects for upward social mobility, and the lower socioeconomic status of Shia, exacerbated by ongoing private sector discrimination against them, added to the tensions between the two communities.  Because religion and political affiliation were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize these effects as being solely based on religious identity.

In February, the Jewish communities in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia announced the formation of the region’s first communal organization, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC), incorporated in Dubai.  The AGJC president was Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, a citizen of Bahrain.  On August 22, Bahraini Jews held services in the newly renovated synagogue in Manama for the first time since 1947, with the participation of diplomats, members of Jewish communities throughout Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and Bahraini and Emirati Muslims.  In October, the AGJC organized the first Jewish wedding in the country in 52 years.  The event, conducted under the auspices of the Orthodox Union, which identifies itself as “the world’s largest kosher certification agency,” was the first strictly kosher wedding in the country’s history.

The government-supported NGO King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence held a conference in December entitled “Ignorance is the Enemy of Peace,” focusing on religious freedom.  The center conducted programs on combating antisemitism in the wake of the government’s normalizing relations with Israel under the 2020 Abraham Accords.

According to minority religious groups, there was a high degree of tolerance within society for minority religious beliefs and traditions, although not for conversion from Islam or for atheistic or secularist views.  Holiday foods, decorations, posters, and books were widely available during major Christian and Hindu holidays, and Christmas trees and elaborate decorations remained prominent features in malls, restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels.  The news media continued to print reports of non-Muslim religious holiday celebrations, including Christmas celebrations and Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi.

Anti-Zionist commentary in social media peaked with announcements of government normalization efforts with Israel, alongside protests employing antinormalization slogans such as “Death to the Zionists” and “Death to Israel.”  After the normalization took place, there was negative public reaction to a Twitter post by Houda Nonoo, a former Bahraini Ambassador to the United States, inviting Jews from abroad to visit and settle in Bahrain.

The UAE research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 37 percent of Bahraini respondents said their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, slightly higher than the regionwide result of 34 percent and the result from the previous year’s survey of 32 percent.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Bangladesh

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Freedom House in September assessed that members of religious minorities – including Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and Shia and Ahmadi Muslims – faced harassment and violence, including mob violence against their houses of worship.  According to the BHBCUC and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), communal attacks against ethnic and religious minorities occurred throughout the year.

From October 13-24, during and after the Hindu festival of Durga Puja, national and local media reported that mobs attacked and destroyed Hindu homes and temples after a local man publicized a post on Facebook that showed the Quran on the lap of the deity Hanuman inside a Hindu temple in the city of Cumila.  The post went viral and sparked violent reactions across the country.  According to the World Hindu Federation (WHF) and the HAF, mobs vandalized more than 340 Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries, vandalized or burned nearly 1,650 Hindu owned houses, and looted Hindu-owned shops and businesses.  Reporting about the numbers of deceased varied:  The Guardian reported seven persons died but the WHF said more than 14 Hindus died in the violence.  According to media and official estimates, at least four Muslims were also killed through clashes with police.  The UN attributed four deaths to the anti-Hindu violence but said others died due to subsequent law enforcement measures to quell the violence.  The BHBCUC said communal violence against minorities continued throughout the year, stating mobs destroyed 70 temples and 100 homes and businesses.  Ain o Salish Kendra, a domestic human rights organization, estimated that 3,769 attacks had taken place against Hindus since 2013, including those in the October violence.  In response to the violence, there were several interfaith demonstrations throughout the country that denounced the attacks.  Hindus refrained from public celebrations of Diwali on November 4 in favor of private ceremonies in their temples and homes.  Hindu worshipers covered their faces with black cloth to protest the lack of security for Hindus.

According to Al-Jazeera, on June 19 in Bandarban in CHT, activists from an indigenous minority group killed an indigenous man because he converted to Islam.

Asia News reported the attack and death of Joy Haldar, a Christian student at St. Joseph’s High School and College.  Eleven Muslim students sent Haldar death threats by phone before later attacking him and three other Christian students on May 16.  Haldar sustained blows to the head and eventually died after 22 days in the hospital.  The students attacked Haldar in a dispute over Pubg, an online video game.  After Haldar’s brother filed a police complaint, the accused were detained and released on bail.  “As Christians, we are a long way from enjoying security and justice,” the brother said.

On May 31, according to various media reports, two men with machetes attacked and left for dead Augra Jyoti Mahasthabir, a Buddhist monk from an indigenous community, at a monastery in Khagrachari in the CHT.  The attackers, two Bengali construction workers who worked at the monastery, also looted money from the temple.  The officer-in-charge of the Panchhari police station said police opened an investigation for attempted murder in the case.

On February 10, a group of Muslims destroyed the church sign of Emmanuel Church in Lalmonirhat District in the northern part of the country, cut down trees, vandalized the entrance to the church, and stole chairs and carpets.  The local pastor said Muslims in the area were angry with Christians because new members had joined their faith community as converts from Islam.  Media reported the destruction was spurred by anti-Christian propaganda at a local Islamic meeting place where Muslim religious leaders engaged in hate speech.  The Bangladesh Christian Association condemned both incidents of violence.

According to media reports, on March 17, a crowd of Muslims vandalized dozens of Hindu residences and temples in Noagaon village in Sunamganj District after a Hindu man criticized Hefazat-e-Islam joint secretary general Mamunul Haque on Facebook.  The media reported police arrested 113 persons, including a Jubo League (the ruling Awami League’s youth wing) party leader, following the attacks, and many of were released on bail.  On March 25, police filed a Digital Security Act case against the man whose Facebook post sparked the attacks.  The court granted his release on bail in September.

In September, Freedom House assessed recent violent incidents were “part of a pattern in recent years in which violence against religious or other minorities appears to have been deliberately provoked through social media.”   Human rights organizations and religious leaders echoed this assessment, saying social media contributed to religious polarization and an increase in attacks on religious minorities.

On May 8, numerous individuals sent abusive comments to actor Chanchal Chowdhury’s Facebook account after he posted a photo with his mother to celebrate Mother’s Day.  In the photo, his mother is wearing a vermilion bindi mark on her forehead.  Numerous followers expressed surprise at Chowdhury’s religion, and some made abusive comments about his mother being Hindu.  Some individuals also made negative personal comments about Chowdhury, and the comment thread was characterized by negative back and forth postings between Muslims and Hindus.  In response, Chowdhury said, “What do you stand to gain or lose if I am a Hindu or Muslim?  The biggest identity of everyone is that we are human beings.  May these vulgar questions and embarrassing discussions stop everywhere.  Come and let’s become human beings.”

Human rights activists expressed concerns regarding the wellbeing of Hindu and Christian groups, including the Rohingya Christian Assembly, in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.  They said the Hindu community was segregated from the rest of the camp in response to an increase in violence against the community.  Hindu leaders said they struggled to hold festivals, as these were prohibited without special permission, which was rarely given.  Hindu leaders said there was inadequate access to the established temple, as access was only allowed for a maximum of 24 persons.  Government officials, however, said limits on gatherings or building new permanent structures were a result of overall restrictions in the refugee camps.  Authorities rarely granted permission to any group in the camps to gather during the year due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Camp authorities did not allow any permanent structures, such as shelters, houses of worship, or learning centers, regardless of religious affiliation.

On September 29, unknown assailants killed prominent Rohingya leader Mohammed Mohib Ullah in Cox’s Bazar.  Although authorities did not ascribe a motive for his killing, Mohib Ullah was known for being an active Rohingya community defender and rights advocate, including for religious freedom.  The media reported police arrested up to a dozen suspects in October and November.

In November, the New York Times reported Rohingya Christian refugee families relocated to the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal due to what they reported was persecution and violence against them in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.  Members of the Christian minority in the camps stated the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant Rohingya group present in the camps, had temporarily abducted and tortured some Christian refugees.

Media reported that in September, Rohingya Muslims protested the burial of Mohi Uddin, a Christian Rohingya refugee, in the Kutapalong refugee camp, preventing the burial from taking place for 30 hours.  According to the pastor of the Baptist church in Chattogram where Uddin was eventually interred, the burial of individuals of different faiths in the same place had not been an issue of contention at the camp in the past, but despite the intervention of the camp manager and UN staff, on this occasion Muslim Rohingya refugees formed a barrier to protest Uddin’s burial.

According to media, large protests took place before and during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh on March 26.  On March 19, 500 Muslims protested in the street outside the Baitul Mokarram Mosque in Dhaka and 200 student activists marched through the streets on Dhaka University’s campus.  The protestors said Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party were oppressing Muslims in India.

Media reported that on June 9, Christians and other religious minorities continued their annual observation of “Black Day” protests against the 1988 constitutional amendments establishing Islam as the state religion in the country.

According to local human rights organizations, a growing group of Hindu activists inside the country campaigned to reform Hindu family law to allow for greater rights for Hindu women, including female inheritance of property and provisions for divorce.  According to media reports, Hindu groups they characterized as conservative protested in August the submission of a set of reform proposals to the Law Commission by the NGO Manusher Jonno Foundation (Foundation for Human Beings).  The Bangladesh National Hindu Grand Alliance urged the government to take legal action against The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam and his wife Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, who advocated changes in the law, for hurting religious sentiments of the Hindu community and creating chaos in Hindu families.  These tensions among different elements within the local Hindu community continued through the end of the year, without changes to the family law.

Human rights NGOs continued to report harassment and social isolation of, and physical violence against, converts to Christianity from Islam and Hinduism.  The NGOs said individuals commonly associated a person’s faith with his or her surname.  Despite constitutional guarantees protecting an individual’s right to change faiths, the NGOs stated that when someone’s professed faith deviated from the faith tradition commonly linked with his or her surname, harassment, threats, and social isolation could ensue.

Barbados

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders representing the Anglican, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists churches, among others, acknowledged the growing social acceptance of same-sex relationships but said they were committed to following their beliefs and were opposed to the idea of their churches sanctioning same sex relationships.

Following a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections that threatened the medical system’s capacity, religious leaders called for all to pray to help reduce the surge.

Some church leaders said they had to defend their continued provision of limited in-person services following COVID-19 outbreaks among their members.  Church leaders said that following these outbreaks, social and media criticism called for the complete closure of all facilities involving public gatherings, including places of worship.

The Anglican Church provided space for a shelter for victims of abuse, regardless of religious affiliation or belief.

Most religious leaders said they were not seeing growth in their membership and were concerned that the demographic profile of their membership continued to skew to older individuals.

Belarus

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Antisemitic comments appeared on social media and in the comment sections of local online news articles, although it was unclear whether the comments were posted by persons in the country.  For example, online communities on the Russian social media platform VKontakte posted images and videos featuring neo-Nazi themes and calling for violence against Jews and others.

Various religious communities reported instances of vandalism.  For example, on March 4, the Homyel Jewish community reported a communal multiuse building on its premises was painted with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.  Police launched an investigation into the vandalism but did not provide further information.

In March, individuals broke into and vandalized the BOC Saint Maria Magdalena Church in Navalukaml.  The next day, police arrested two men who had allegedly also vandalized residential buildings in Navalukaml.  A local court convicted them on charges of hooliganism and gave them suspended sentences of one and a half years as well as a fine of 1,450 rubles ($570) and 80 hours of community service, according to a September report by the General Prosecutor’s office.

In May, unidentified persons vandalized the Roman Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Minsk, damaging flower beds, streetlamps, a door, and the vehicle of one of the priests.  Police announced an investigation but by year’s end had not announced the results.

Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, former Archbishop of Minsk-Mahilyou and one of the senior Roman Catholic prelates in the country, retired on January 3 at the age of 75, the standard retirement age for Catholic bishops.  The Lukashenka regime had frequently targeted the Archbishop for criticism and barred his return to the country between August and December 2020.  On September 14, the Vatican announced as his replacement Bishop Iosef Staneuski, general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the country.

The BOC continued its annual commemoration in honor of Hauryil Belastoksky (Gabriel of Bialystok), a child allegedly killed by Jews in Bialystok in 1690.  The Russian Orthodox Church considers him one of its saints and martyrs, and the BOC falls under the authority of the Russian Church on traditional practices such as this.  The traditional memorial prayer recited on the anniversary of Belastoksky’s death on May 3 states the “martyred and courageous Hauryil exposed Jewish dishonesty,” although a trial after the boy’s death acquitted the Jew who was charged with the crime.  Some antisemitic references about Belastoksky remained on the BOC’s official website, though in recent years the BOC’s online materials focused more on his role as a regional patron saint of children.  While Jewish community leaders said they prioritized other concerns, prayers for the commemoration reportedly continued to include antisemitic references.

An interreligious working group comprising the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches, and Jewish religious communities organized seminars and educational events, some of which were virtual due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.  For example, in July, representatives of the working group held a forum marking the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Minsk ghetto.  The participants highlighted the importance of preserving shared historic memories.

Belgium

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media and NGOs, including Amnesty International, the Collective Against Islamophobia in Belgium, the NGO Antisemitism Belgium, and Unia, reported incidents of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews.

In 2020, the most recent period for which data were available, Unia reported 115 antisemitic incidents, a 45 percent increase from 2019.  Unia defined these as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against Jewish practices, which it tracked separately.  Of these, 70 percent were related to hate speech and 49 percent took place on the internet.  Unia reported four cases of destruction of public property and four cases of verbal harassment related to antisemitism.  No cases of physical assault or attacks were recorded.

Unia reported 261 cases of other religious discrimination or harassment in 2020 and noted that the decreased number of in-person social interactions due to COVID-19 might account for the decrease in cases from 2019, when 336 cases were recorded.  Of the 2020 incidents, 37 percent were media related, and 30 percent occurred in the workplace, mostly against Muslims.  Approximately 88 percent of the cases targeted Muslims.  There were 11 incidents against Jewish religious practices, seven against Christians, and 13 in which the religious link was categorized as “other” or “unclear.”

Unia cited 112 cases of religious hate speech in its 2020 annual report. Approximately 90 percent of these were related to “inciting hatred, discrimination or violence.”  A total of 29 religious hate crimes were recorded by Unia, with 93 percent being cases of intimidation or harassment and no cases of physical attacks.

In February, Flemish media outlets De Morgen and Gazet Van Anwerpen reported that Flemish Jews pointed to increasing antisemitic comments on social media following news reports about large gatherings in synagogues and higher infection rates in the Antwerp Jewish community during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Security services also reported an increase in hate messages targeting Jews, including some accusing the Jewish community of spreading COVID-19.

In March, the Flemish television program TelefactsNU reported it had infiltrated and exposed an extreme right online chat group called “Volksverbond” that praised violence and spread racist and anti-Muslim propaganda.  Members of the chat group created fake online Muslim profiles and posted provocative and purportedly Islamist messages, such as calling for adoption of sharia, to “open the eyes of the people.”  Others proposed dressing as Muslims and throwing Molotov cocktails at protestors during a far-right demonstration.  Group members also shared information on how to acquire weapons and arms licenses.  According to the Flemish media outlet Het Laatste Nieuws, the group had 350 followers on Instagram and 26 core members in its private chat.

On June 3, the Court of Mechelen sentenced a man to six months in prison and fined him 800 euros ($910) for performing the Nazi salute in Fort Breendonk, located near the city of Mechelen, which had served as a Nazi prison hub for the transit and deportation of the country’s Jews during World War II.  The man was a member of Right-Wing Resistance Flanders, listed as a right-wing extremist group by the government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis.

In May, press reported that the Royal Belgian Football Association had begun an ethics investigation of a Dutch soccer player for the Brugge soccer club after video appeared of the man singing with club fans that he would “rather die than be a Jew” following a match with Brussels club Anderlecht.  According to local media, other teams commonly referred to Anderlecht players and supporters as “Jews.”  The player said on social media he had not intended to offend, and the Brugge club said he “had no antisemitic undertone.”  Jewish parliamentarian Michael Freilich said the player needed to hear “how offensive his words have been to Belgian Jews.”

The Aalst Carnival, which in previous years was marked by open displays of antisemitism, did not take place due to COVID-19.  In January, press reported that the director of the carnival, Sven de Smet, posted a message on Facebook referencing accusations that Orthodox Jews did not follow COVID-19 restrictions.  The message read, “Hey, Jew, the rules apply to you, too.  Anything!  The chosen people of God.”  Journalist Rudi Roth filed a complaint with Unia about de Smet’s post.

According to Antisemitism Belgium, in early May five men insulted a man, his wife, and children, shouting “Free Palestine”; one of them later punched the man twice in the face.  The victim received medical care at the hospital, and the perpetrator was arrested by local guards and transferred to the police.  There was no further information on the status of the case.

Also in May, two persons threw rocks at a group of Jews in Antwerp.  Police were unable to identify the individuals responsible.

In July, an Antwerp resident assaulted two members of the Antwerp Jewish community near a synagogue.  The police later arrested a suspect.  There was no further information on the status of the case.

Other cases reported by Antisemitism Belgium include online antisemitic hate messages, for example postings comparing Israel and Zionists to Nazis or calling for the killing of Jews or the destruction of Israel; in-person verbal harassment, for example, instances of calling persons “dirty Jews”; and discrimination and vandalism, such as the defacement of posters highlighting the issue of violence against Jews.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 8 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Belgium said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Four percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23 percent); “There is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (23 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (14 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (24 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (16 percent); “Many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (9 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (12 percent); and “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (22 percent).

Belize

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The interfaith BCS, which includes representatives from the Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Chinese Christian Mission, as well as Muslim and Baha’i leaders, held limited counseling services for relatives of crime victims, as permitted under health regulations.  COVID-19 pandemic assembly restrictions significantly curtailed BCS services to the central prison and to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital staff, patients, and relatives, along with BCS weekly Sunday services and Islamic prayers on Fridays at hospital chapels.  During the year, the BCS organized food drives and distributed meals to the needy.

Fifteen registered religious-based radio stations operated in the country.  According to the Belize Broadcasting Authority, evangelical Protestant groups continued to own and operate most of the stations.  Others included Catholic, Mennonite, and Pentecostal radio stations.

The Kolbe Foundation continued to manage the country’s central prison, with a focus on rehabilitating inmates.  It provided support for all religious denominations within the inmate population, subject to the availability of a suitable chaplain.  According to the BCC, the Kolbe Foundation continued to respect dietary restrictions for prisoners of diverse religious backgrounds.  During the year, the Jehovah’s Witnesses sent letters of encouragement to each inmate, along with a copy of Watch Tower magazine.

Benin

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 6, a former priest of the Christian Church of Baname, Jean Claude Assogba, sent a letter to government authorities, diplomatic missions, and trade unions to denounce what he said were abuses committed by Church leadership against its congregants.  He said these abuses included fraud and occult practices such as selling beverages made of animal blood to followers, poor conditions for and ill-treatment of priests, and mysterious disappearances and poisoning of followers.  Reports about his letter circulated widely on social media.  In 2017, four leaders of the same Church were briefly detained on order of the Court of Porto-Novo after five congregants died following practices advised by Church leaders.  As of year’s end, neither the Church nor the government had addressed the latest allegations.

Bhutan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some converts reported continued societal pressure on individuals to participate in Buddhist traditions and practices.  The Open Doors 2021 report said converts to Christianity faced intense pressure to return to their former religion, especially from relatives who viewed the conversions as bringing shame to their entire family.  The NGO characterized persecution of Christians in the country as “very high.”  The NGO report said that anyone who left Buddhism was viewed with suspicion by neighbors and friends, and family members went to great lengths to bring converts back to their original faith.  One local organization said persecution varied in different regions of the country, with pressure to return to Buddhism likely to be higher in rural areas.

Bolivia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media, on October 31, groups in favor of abortion interrupted a Mass at the San Francisco Basilica and San Miguel Church in La Paz and at the San Lorenzo the Martyr Cathedral in Santa Cruz, spray painting the latter with red paint.  The activists were demonstrating on behalf of the 11-year-old pregnant rape victim.  “From the point of view of our faith, there’s an absolute conviction to protect life,” Susana Inch, legal counsel for the BEC, said.  “Even when there’s an instance of sexual violence, even when there’s a high-risk pregnancy, even when everything is unfavorable, the conviction is to protect and save that life under any circumstance.”  A representative of the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz condemned the attacks on the Catholic Church and its buildings.

Media reported a November 25 incident in which a group of pro-abortion rights protesters confronted a group attempting to protect the Maria Auxiliadora Church in La Paz.  The protesters threw buckets of paint, feces, and other objects at the group protecting the church.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The IRC, which records and tracks cases of religious intolerance and hatred, recorded three incidents against religious officials and 23 cases of vandalism against religious buildings.  Of the 23 incidents of vandalism, eight targeted Catholics, 10 Muslims, three the SOC, and two the Jewish Community.  In 2020, the IRC recorded 17 incidents of vandalism against religious buildings, identifying suspects in only three of those cases.  Because religion and ethnicity often are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many actions as solely based on religious identity.

The IRC again stated it believed the actual number of religiously motivated incidents against religious persons or buildings was much higher but that members of religious groups feared reporting them.  The IRC also stated it lacked the staff, capacity, or funding to follow up in detail on every case.

In one of the three incidents against persons, on January 18, a man in Livno Canton verbally insulted imams and Muslims gathered in a mosque.  Livno Canton Police identified the individual and arrested him.  Authorities fined him for disturbing public peace and order.

The BiH Jewish Community reported a significant increase in antisemitic speech online, especially after clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in May.  Examples of online hate speech included targeting members of the Jewish Community, sending them death threats, denying the Holocaust, glorifying Hitler, and stating that “all Jews should be sent to Auschwitz gas chambers.”  The IRC condemned this social media post and called on local police to investigate the case and identify the author of the post.

On February 18, an unknown person fired several gunshots at the minaret of the historic Aladza Mosque in Foca, causing minor damage.  Police investigated but had not identified a suspect by year’s end.

In March, a person drew a swastika on an obituary that was hanging on the entrance of the Ashkenazi Synagogue/Jewish Community headquarters in the center of Sarajevo.  The obituary was of a prominent member of the Jewish Community in Sarajevo.  Using surveillance camera footage, Sarajevo Canton Police identified the 17-year-old who drew the swastika and filed a criminal report against him with the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office.

On May 9, an unknown person drew graffiti insulting Jesus on the front of the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua in Bihac.  Near the church, there was a swastika drawn on a traffic sign, and the slogan “Knife, Wire, Srebrenica,” referencing the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, written on a billboard nearby.  Bihac Mayor Suhret Fazlic condemned the vandalism and called on police to investigate it vigorously, but there were no developments in the case by year’s end.  The Islamic Community also condemned the incident, saying via social media that desecration of religious objects was an act not only against religion but also against civilization, and that should concern everyone.

On August 5, unidentified persons broke a window in the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin in the village of Vukovsko near Kupres and overturned the headstone of the grave of Simo Popovic, the priest who built the church in 1860.  The attack was the third on the church in recent years.  MHRR Minister Milos Lucic condemned the incident.  There were no developments in the case by year’s end.

Mesud Hrbat, a Sarajevo businessman, provided support to all four main religious groups in Sarajevo in order, he said, to contribute to good neighborly and interreligious relations in Sarajevo.  Hrbat funded the construction of a mosque in the Rjecica settlement of Sarajevo’s Novi Grad Municipality, paid BAM 100,000 ($58,000) for the facade of the Catholic Saint Luke the Evangelist Church in Sarajevo’s Municipality of Novi Grad and BAM 100,000 ($58,000) for restoration of the yard of the Old Orthodox Church in Sarajevo, and pledged BAM 60,000 ($34,800) for a new facade on the Ashkenazi Synagogue /Jewish community building in Sarajevo.

In 2020 (the most recent year for which data were available), the OSCE Mission to BiH observed through its monitoring program 16 potential bias-motivated incidents targeting Muslims and 27 incidents targeting Christians (Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Orthodox).  All 43 incidents, which represented a 39 percent increase over the 31 the OSCE reported in 2019, were reported to the police.  The incidents included threatening religious officials such as Cardinal Puljic, threatening believers, disturbing religious ceremonies, vandalism of religious properties, desecration of cemeteries, and other property offenses.  The OSCE said the data should be interpreted with caution because of an assumed high rate of underrecording and underreporting of bias crimes in the country.

The Council of Muftis of the Islamic Community said it was continuing efforts to persuade unregistered Islamic congregations (known as para-jamaats), which gathered predominantly Salafist followers and operated outside the purview of the Islamic Community, to cease what they described as “unsanctioned” religious practices and officially unite with the Islamic Community.  The Islamic Community reported there were 20 active para-jamaats, compared with 11 in 2020.  According to Islamic Community officials, the difference was not the result of an increase in the number of para-jamaats but of better data collection.  According to the Islamic Community, of these 20 groups, four had memberships consisting of up to 40 families, while other para-jamaats comprised only a handful of believers.

The IRC continued working on different projects through its 15 local chapters across the country, primarily focusing on youth and women.  The projects included publishing a manual to guide religious officials working with wartime sexual abuse survivors and organizing an interreligious camp that brought together youth from all principal religious communities across the country.  The IRC also continued to monitor and condemn attacks on religious leaders and buildings.  In September, the IRC organized a youth conference on combating hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, in social media.  The IRC also expanded its interfaith network of women belonging to different religious groups across its 15 chapters.

Botswana

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Representatives of religious organizations, including Christian and Muslim, again said that interfaith relations were strong, which in the past have included partnerships to address issues including HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.  They continued to say there was a high degree of tolerance for religious diversity in the country.

Brazil

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Although only approximately 2 percent of the population were followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, a disproportionate number of cases registered by the human rights hotline involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions. Media reported multiple incidents in which individuals and groups destroyed terreiros and sacred objects.

In January, an unidentified man broke into an Umbanda temple in Duque de Caxias, Baixada Fluminense, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and set a fire and destroyed sacred religious objects.  According to the temple’s priest, Maria Antonia dos Santos, the man said his pastor had instructed him to break “all the demons he could find in the temple.”  The suspect was arrested the same day and sent to a psychiatric hospital after police concluded he was suffering a mental health crisis.  The leaders of the temple organized a fundraising campaign and rebuilt the temple, which was rededicated in May.

In February, unidentified men set fire to a food stand of Candomble priestess and street vendor Maria Enoia de Sousa, known as Mae Enoia, in Macae, southern Rio de Janeiro State.  The priestess had reportedly been harassed since November 2020, when she had begun selling acaraje, a regional dish associated with practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths.  According to media reports, when she attempted to file a police report, the police precinct said she needed to pay a fee of 700 to 800 reais ($120-$140) to conduct the investigation.  Police investigated the case, with monitoring by the CCIR, through year’s end.

In February, Gleidson Lima, an evangelical Christian pastor and leader of the Tenda dos Milagres Church, destroyed Afro-Brazilian sacred objects and offerings in the neighborhood of Belford Roxo, part of the greater metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro.  A video posted on the internet following the attack showed the pastor stating he was breaking the objects “in the name of Jesus.”  Police indicted Lima on February 24 on charges of religious intolerance, and a trial date was pending at year’s end.

In March, media reported that an unidentified, apparently intoxicated man destroyed a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows in a Catholic church in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro State.  According to Father Lucas Thadeu, who witnessed the incident, the man broke the statue after declaring that due to his religion he did not like religious images.   Police were investigating at year’s end.

According to media in May, four individuals entered the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios Parish in Osasco, Sao Paulo, and destroyed seven religious images, plus flower vases, and toilets, saying they did so “in the name of Jesus.”  After reviewing security camera footage in June, the Secretariat of Public Security detained four suspects, including two minors.  Police indicted the two adults for the crimes of religious intolerance and “vilification of images” (the mistreatment or disrespect of objects) and took the minors to the Childhood and Youth Court.  Authorities released all the suspects after their hearings to await the outcome of the investigation, which according to media reports, the Ocasco police investigation continued through year’s end.

According to press reports, on December 3, police arrested and charged a man with aggravated theft and arson for the November 26 arson of the Shia Imam Ali Mosque in Ponta Grossa, in Parana State.  The man broke into and set fire to the husseiniya (Shia congregation hall), dirtied the kitchen walls, destroyed masbahas (prayer beads), and set fire to five volumes of the Quran.  The individual confessed to the crime, which carries a possible sentence of up to 14 years in prison.  In response to the attack, Parana Governor Carlos Massa Ratinho Junior stated his support for the mosque, stating, “We will not tolerate any criminal acts, especially those of religious intolerance, like what happened at the mosque, in Ponta Grossa,” and he pledged civil police would conduct a full investigation.

In December, a group of preschool students visited Xica Manicongo, the urban quilombo (a historical community founded by formerly enslaved persons) in the municipality of Niteroi in Rio de Janeiro State, to watch a cultural performance.  Afterward, individuals virtually attacked the participating school on social media.  Commenters conflated the quilombo with an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in the city, with posts using offensive language and criticizing the school administrators for permitting the visit.  In response, Niteroi’s municipal Secretary of Education defended the children’s participation in the event, explaining that schools have “autonomy to develop activities that defend freedom of expression and the antiracist education agenda.”  The secretary’s statement also reiterated that these activities were supported by laws that promote the culture and history of Afro-Brazilian peoples.  In response to the municipality’s clarification, many persons expressed support for the school’s position and the visit.

In February, followers of Afro-Brazilian religions in Maceio, Alagoas State, paid homage to Tia Marcelina, a temple leader whom security forces beat in 1912.  According to the Municipal Foundation for Cultural Action, the objective of the event, which included singing, instrumental music, and the hanging of a banner, was to remember the power and ancestry of the day in history and to renew what the foundation termed the fight against “religious racism.”

In July, former Mundial Supermarket employee Rafael Oliveira denounced the chain for religious intolerance, stating supermarket management verbally harassed, and ultimately fired him when he wore a protective facemask containing an image of the orixa ogun, an Afro-Brazilian deity.  According to Oliveira, other Mundial employees in the northern Rio de Janeiro State city of Ramos wore facemasks in support of other religions and sports teams without reprimand, while a manager told Oliveira to change his mask.  In the three weeks thereafter, the supermarket transferred Oliveira five times and changed his hours eight times before terminating his employment.  The supermarket chain stated that “it does not condone any act of discrimination or religious intolerance and respects all beliefs,” and said Oliveira’s dismissal was not related to discrimination.

In July, Afro-Brazilian religious leaders met with officials from Bahia State’s Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality to discuss a series of attacks against Terreiro Icimimo, a 104-year-old site recognized by the Bahia State government as a cultural heritage site.  That same month, unidentified men had broken into the temple and destroyed sacred objects and outdoor ceremonial spaces.  According to a representative for the terreiro, authorities had not indicted or arrested any suspects by year’s end.

In August, representatives of Afro-Brazilian religions in Pernambuco State, under the coordination of the Pernambuco Terreiros Walk Network (ACTPE), which unites the state’s terreiros to combat racism and religious prejudice, held a demonstration against acts of religious intolerance.  During the event, the representatives announced they had filed a complaint with the Public Ministry of Pernambuco through the State Secretariat for Social Defense against an evangelical Protestant pastor for having maligned Afro-Brazilian religions.  On social networks, Pastor Aijalon Berto of the Evangelical Church Dunamis (meaning power) objected to artistic graffiti panels installed near the Abolition Museum that depicted Afro-Brazilian cultural and religious symbols, saying these were associated with evil and Satan.  In the video, the pastor stated, “Entities referred to in Candomble are witchcraft.”  Civil police said they were investigating the case.  In November, the ACTPE held a second march in conjunction with the start of the country’s Month of Black Consciousness to mark the fight against racism and religious intolerance.  Local and state political leaders spoke alongside Afro-Brazilian religious leaders, calling for respect on a daily basis.

Media continued to report on cases of Candomble practitioners being expelled from the community and being prohibited from wearing the white clothing that is generally used by adherents of the Candomble faith in the area controlled by a criminal group self-identifying as evangelical.  Alvaro Malaqunas Santa Rosa, known as Peixao, who, according to media in 2020, had joined forces with a militia group to expand influence over a group of five favelas (informal housing settlements) to establish what came to be known as the “Complex of Israel” in northern Rio de Janeiro, continued to avoid arrest despite police operations targeting his drug trafficking operation.  As a child, Peixao followed his mother’s Umbanda practices but later converted to evangelical Christianity.

Media continued to report on cases of evangelical Christian missionaries traveling to isolated and recently contacted indigenous communities to proselytize.  Indigenous organizations said these actions violated indigenous peoples’ constitutional right to maintain their cultural heritage and sacred practices and threatened their safety.  In September, STF Minister Luis Roberto Barroso reaffirmed a 2020 court decision that prevented the entry of third parties, including members of religious groups, into areas in which isolated indigenous peoples were living to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

An August report published by Globo using data obtained through the Access to Information Law showed that in the first five months of the year, federal police investigated 36 cases entailing violations of the country’s laws against the use of symbols to publicize Nazism, a rate Globo estimated was on track to be only slightly fewer than the 110 cases opened in all of 2020.  In 2020, the highest number of cases was opened in the southeast of the country, particularly in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro States, with 27 and 23 cases, respectively.  The data did not include the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondonia, and Tocantins.

FISESP’s annual Antisemitism Report recorded 57 incidents and allegations of antisemitism in the country from January to July, compared with 149 incidents and allegations during the same period in 2020.  FISESP also reported a total of 92 incidents at year’s end.  The report was based on a range of sources, including traditional media, social media, and reports from branch offices of the organization.  The survey reported a variety of activities including sightings of swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti, antisemitic hand gestures, and the sale of Nazi artifacts.  FISESP attributed the drop in recorded cases to difficulties collecting data during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, when local FISESP branches were closed.

From the end of 2020 to May, neo-Nazi cells grew from 349 to 530, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas.  The cells were most prevalent in the south and southeast regions, with 301 and 193 identified, respectively.  Dias also mapped cells in the midwest (18) and northeast (13).  According to Dias, a neo-Nazi cell was a group of at least three persons inspired by the Nazism in Europe in the 20th century.

According to press reports, on March 12, the federal police raided the Pentecostal Generation Jesus Christ Church in the city of Rio de Janeiro to seize literature and antisemitic materials related to a 2020 video broadcast of the church’s leader, evangelical Pastor Tupirani da Hora Lores, praying with congregants for another Holocaust.  He said, “Massacre the Jews, God, hit them with your sword, for they have left God, they have left the nation.”  The police raid supported a cybercrimes police investigation of the pastor for inciting practitioners to discriminate against Jews through his in-person and online sermons.  In August, press reported that despite the police investigation, the pastor continued to make offensive comments.

Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online.  The National Cyber Crime Reporting Center, operated by Safernet Brazil, recorded for the second year in a row an increase in complaints about internet content supporting Nazism.  During the year, Safernet Brazil stated it received 14,476 reports of neo-Nazi content online, a 60.7 percent increase compared with 2020 and the highest number registered since 2010.  The reports included 894 different webpages, of which 318 were removed by TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter because of content defined as illegal and pro-Nazi.

There continued to be reports of private entities and individuals inciting violence against or engaging in verbal harassment of religious minorities on social media and in the press.  As of August, the Israelite Federation of the State of Rio de Janeiro reported that it had confirmed 10 cases of antisemitism in Rio de Janeiro.  The number of reports of crimes of intolerance – racial, religious, or related to sexual orientation or gender identity – registered by the ombudsman’s office of the Sao Paulo Department of State between January-July represented a 24.5 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.  During this period, 311 reports were registered, compared with 248 during the same period in 2020.

In June, the Federal Public Ministry indicted a man in the First Federal Criminal Court of Sao Paulo for incitement of Nazism on a Russian online social network in 2015.  Authorities accused the man, who had a history of involvement with neo-Nazi groups, of being responsible for a webpage containing neo-Nazi symbols and photos referencing Adolf Hitler, with faces covered by emojis.  Identified through police cooperation between Brazil and Russia, the man confessed to the authorship of the publications.  The Public Ministry said the man would be prosecuted for inciting discrimination and prejudice based on race, color, religion, or nationality and if found guilty, would be subject to a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

According to media, on August 7, an unidentified individual or individuals scattered antisemitic pamphlets on the sidewalks and streets of Rio de Janeiro’s Barra de Tijuca neighborhood that stated, “Jews, impulsive accumulators of gold, diamonds, and dollars.”  Rio de Janeiro civil police said they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

According to press reports, on August 23, unidentified men online posted pornographic images and antisemitic messages during a virtual Jewish ceremony organized by the Israelite Religious Association in Rio de Janeiro.  Hackers threatened the participants by posting messages such as, “We will burn all synagogues” and “Death to Jews.”  Organizers suspended the event until a new link could be sent to the participants.  Rio de Janeiro police were investigating the case at year’s end. 

In November, journalist Jose Carlos Bernardi, working for Jovem Pan, one of the country’s largest broadcasters, stated that Brazil could attain economic development enjoyed by Germany “only by attacking Jews.  If we kill a gazillion Jews and appropriate their economic power, then Brazil will get rich.  That’s what happened with Germany after the war.”  The journalist and network later apologized for the remarks, following public complaints.

According to FAMBRAS, anti-Muslim messages on the internet, mostly associating Islam with terrorism and spreading messages of hate against Muslim representatives and their religious symbols, continued.  In March, according to FAMBRAS legal advisor Mohamed Charanek, the Court of Justice in Brasilia ordered the removal from social media of all material associating Islam with terrorism posted by a group self-identifying as the “Conservative Party,” a group seeking recognition as a political party.  The court fined the group 10,000 reais ($1,800).

The Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ National Secretariat of Human Rights received 581 reports of religious intolerance via the nationwide Dial 100 Human Rights hotline during the year, compared with 566 in 2020.

The Rio de Janeiro Civil Police Office for Racial Crimes and Crimes of Intolerance (DECRADI) reported receiving 78 reports of religious intolerance during the year.  According to the Chief of Police and head of DECRADI, authorities had indicted nine persons on charges of religious intolerance.  The State Secretariat for Human Rights in Rio de Janeiro reported 51 instances of religious intolerance between January and July, compared with 26 instances during the same period in 2020.  Afro-Brazilian religious groups experienced the greatest number of occurrences, with harassment, discrimination, and destruction of religious temples reported regularly.

According to the Bahia State Secretariat of Racial Equality, there were 19 instances of religious intolerance in the state between January and July, compared with eight instances in the comparable period in 2020.

On January 21, in celebration of the Brazilian National Day Against Religious Intolerance, Temple Ile Axe Abassade Ogum organized a tribute to the late Candomble priest Mother Gilda, who experienced verbal abuse involving religious intolerance during her lifetime.  The ceremony took place at Parque do Abaete, in Salvador, Bahia State, the site of a bust of the religious leader.

Bahia State University (UNEB) organized an online event entitled “Religion, (in)Tolerance, and Respect” to celebrate the January 21 National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  The UNEB event focused on the growth of religious diversity in the country and how religious intolerance could lead to discrimination and aggression when members of one religious group did not recognize the religious freedom of other religious groups.

Brunei

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Non-Muslims and Muslims face social pressure to conform to Islamic behavioral guidelines.  Some male Muslims reportedly felt pressure from family and friends to attend Friday prayers even though they did not hold strong religious beliefs.  Members of the LGBTQ community expressed fears about openly expressing their sexual or gender identity, saying they believed it would bring shame on their families for violating religious mores.

Following the death of Cardinal Sim in May, individuals from a variety of faith backgrounds made numerous comments in online forums praising the Cardinal for his efforts to serve the people of the country, according to local press.

Legislative council member Khairunnisa binti Haji Ash-ari faced social media backlash when she reintroduced a 2012 proposal for MOHA to open village head positions to women in the March annual parliamentary sessions.  In her speech she pointed out that women held positions of significant leadership in the government and private sector, and there should be no issue in electing a village head regardless of gender.  Many social media users did not agree, using Instagram to state women should be ineligible due to the Islamic responsibilities mixed in with the village head’s otherwise administrative role.  The Minister of Home Affairs said the matter would be taken into consideration but by year’s end had taken no action.  One local online newspaper, The Scoop, turned off comments due to “abusive and derogatory” language and remarks containing misogyny, racism, and prejudice.

Social media users expressed anger after a court acquitted a religious teacher charged with sexual abuse.  Comments on Reddit, Borneo Bulletin’s Instagram, and Media Permata’s Instagram drew comparisons and contrasts with another sexual assault case reported on the same day in which a court handed down a lengthy sentence to the defendant.  Many commentators said the justice system in the country was flawed because it accorded leniency to the rich and powerful, and stated the court gave the acquitted teacher preferential treatment due to his association with MORA.  They also questioned the need for six witnesses in prosecuting the religious teacher’s case, while this was not required in the other case.

There were again reports that some individuals who wished to convert to another religion continued to fear social retribution, such as ostracism by friends, family, and their community.  If parents converted to Islam, there was often family and official pressure for the children to do the same if they were not young enough to have been automatically converted with their parents.  Some non-Muslims said they continued to feel pressured in the workplace or in social groups to convert to Islam.  While the SPC outlined harsh punishments for Muslims converting to another religion, there were no known cases during the year of the government having applied those penalties.  Non-Muslims reported, however, that government officials monitored their religious services and events to ensure that no Muslims attended and that there was no anti-Islamic content.

Bulgaria

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Antisemitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly in online comments and on social networking sites, for example, calling Jews “lampshades,” as well as in online media articles and in the mainstream press.  Antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas and offensive slurs, appeared regularly in public places.

In June, Shalom reported spotting stickers with Nazi symbols inside public transportation vehicles in Sofia and inside ski lifts in Bansko.  Shalom also reported increased incidents of antisemitic hate speech online in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing election campaigns.  In October, vice presidential candidate Elena Guncheva of the Vazrazhdane Party referred on social media to local politicians of Jewish and Turkish origin, saying they should consider themselves “guests” in the country.  After Shalom complained of “xenophobia and hate speech” to the Central Electoral Commission, which condemned her words but stated it could not interfere in the political campaign, Guncheva addressed Shalom specifically on social media, reiterating that “Bulgaria is the land of Bulgarians.”  In November, the Israeli embassy issued a public letter condemning her comments.

Jewish community leaders expressed concern regarding periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments and what they said was an increasing trend of antisemitic and xenophobic propaganda and graffiti.  In June, Shalom approached the local government in Provadia after discovering that the old local Jewish cemetery had become an illegal landfill, with bones scattered around the site.  Shalom asked the municipality to clean the cemetery and to allow a rabbi to collect the bones.  At year’s end, the municipality had not responded to Shalom.

On January 29, unknown persons defaced with a swastika a memorial plaque in Plovdiv for a Jewish man killed in 1943.  The Plovdiv municipality cleaned the plaque, but police had not identified the perpetrator by year’s end.

On August 22, vandals drew racist and antisemitic symbols, including a swastika, on the fence of the Sofia Synagogue.  Police had not identified any suspects by year’s end.

Shalom condemned remarks by Miroslav Ivanov, a candidate for parliament from the Bulgarian National Union-New Democracy Party during a television interview in July.  The party has no representation in parliament.  According to press reports, among other comments, Ivanov said that Jews were happy under Hitler because they could work freely, Nazi gas chambers were used for deworming, and that a Nazi salute he was shown to be doing in a picture was actually a “Roman salute.”  Shalom called for Ivanov to be prosecuted for Holocaust denial and spreading antisemitic propaganda.

For the second consecutive year, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported no cases of hostility or harassment against their members by nongovernment officials, which they attributed to COVID-19-related restrictions that forced them to switch to online gatherings.

The Church of Jesus Christ reported no instances of harassment of missionaries, compared with three such incidents in 2020.  The Church attributed the change to having moved most of its activity online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of the Grand Mufti said Muslims were targets of periodic hate speech, such as at a protest in November in front of the Embassy of Turkey in Sofia against alleged interference of Turkey in the general elections, where participants chanted “death to Turks.”  According to the office, since most of the Muslim population in the country is ethnic Turkish, Bulgarian society frequently conflates “Muslim” and “Turk.”  The office also cited several instances of offensive graffiti on Muslim properties, such as a swastika on a mosque in Plovdiv in January and obscenities spray-painted on a mosque in Kazanlak.

On February 14, Regional Mufti of Plovdiv Veli again hosted the annual Tolerance Coffee, gathering representatives of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities, local government officials, foreign diplomats, and representatives of civil society.  According to the press release from the mufti’s office, the event commemorated the 2014 attack on the local Cumaya Mosque and was intended as a sign of respect and tolerance among all people, regardless of their ethnic background or religious beliefs.

The National Council of Religious Communities, whose members include representatives of the BOC, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, Catholic, AAC, and Jewish communities, continued to serve as a platform for the largest religious groups to organize joint events and defend a common position on religious issues, such as legislative proposals, political statements, and actions by others, and religiously motivated vandalism.  The BOC only occasionally participated in the council’s activities, according to reports from members of the council and public reports of council activities.  The council again substantially curtailed activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including by canceling the annual Festival of Religions in Sofia for the second year in a row.

In July, Bridges – Eastern European Forum for Dialogue, an NGO, organized its fifth youth camp, gathering 15 youths from different regions in the country and from different faiths in Plovdiv for discussions on history, traditions, tolerance, and dialogue with BOC, Catholic, Muslim, AAOC, and Jewish leaders.

Burkina Faso

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Human rights organizations and religious groups continued to express concern that religiously targeted violence threatened what they termed the “traditional peaceful coexistence” of religious groups in the country.  Observers continued to report the stigmatization of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic community because of a perceived association with militant Islamist groups.  They said this aggravated social tensions in some regions, since self-defense militias at times exacted vigilante justice on Fulani communities in the northern and central regions of the country because of this perceived connection to militant and terrorist groups.

Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches continued to state that despite an increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread as a common value, and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations.  Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions such as FAIB, which conducted awareness campaigns throughout the country.  They also worked through NGOs such as the Dori-based Fraternal Union of Believers, which encouraged various religious communities, specifically in the Sahel Region, to conduct social and economic development activities with the goal of reducing vulnerability to terrorist recruitment and fostering religious tolerance between the communities.

In January, the Catholic Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo, denounced terrorist violence, calling it “an evil for humanity.”  Ouedraogo also said he feared how jihadist and terrorists attacks were challenging social cohesion.  He said, “Fundamentalism is gaining ground, due to the misinterpretation of the holy book.  We already see tensions, as evidenced by fundamentalist signs including within religions…”  He added, however, that Protestants, Muslims, and Catholics had met together with the Mogho Naba, a powerful traditional chief of the predominantly Muslim Mossi ethnic group, who had assisted in addressing and reducing such tensions.  Describing the closure of three of the six parishes of the Diocese of Dori in the Sahel Region, Ouedraogo said, “All priests, sisters, and worshippers have fled” to Kaya (Centre-Nord Region).  The Archbishop discussed his initiative to promote interfaith dialogue through the annual Christian-Islamic and interethnic couples pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Notre Dame de Yagma near Ouagadougou, taking place in February, the second time for this pilgrimage.

Pastor Henry Ye, the President of the Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions (FEME), stated that religious dialogue and tolerance was valued among religious leaders in the country, but observed that the broader religious community did not yet embrace this spirit at the same level.  To counter pressures toward radicalization and violent extremism among youth in particular, he noted that the FEME held regular exchanges over social media among youth organizations of religious groups.  Ye also described how acts of terrorism affected churches.  For instance, all FEME-related churches in Yagha Province, Sahel Region were closed.  Pastor Lankoande Isaie of the Assembly of God said that one group of violent extremists agreed not to close churches in Tapoa, Est Region, as long as members did not raise pigs or brew beer, and the men grew beards and wore short trousers.

Religious leaders continued to express their view that the foundation of interfaith dialogue in the country helped them resist and survive various crises over time, including the threat and challenge to interreligious and ethnic cohesion posed by terrorism.  They said the government often called upon them for assistance in resolving socioeconomic tensions including a case involving destruction of a mosque in 2020 on disputed land, and tensions regarding the length of closure of places of worship during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Another case involved a protest and attack at FAIB headquarters regarding the perceived prolonged closure of a mosque, to which the government responded by reopening the mosque.

As in previous years, new Muslim and Protestant congregations continued to form without approval or oversight from existing Muslim and Protestant federations.  Religious leaders stated the messages of tolerance by Muslim and Protestant federations were often undermined by small new religious groups that did not fall under their oversight and that took positions counter to the federations’ views.  They said the lack of oversight made it difficult for official religious groups to monitor and regulate the activities and messages of these new groups.

On February 4, FAIB leaders cited the growing social stigmatization of their wives when they wear a veil.  El Hadj Oumarou Zoungrana, then president of FAIB, also described FAIB’s newly-established National Technical Committee, charged with reviewing sermons for content promoting violence in sermons and speeches by imams, and reprimanding the offenders.

Burma

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In July, the NUG announced its appointment of a Rohingya activist as an advisor to its “Ministry of Human Rights.”  The NUG’s August 24 statement on the anniversary of atrocities committed against the Rohingya received public support via social media.  Some social media users commented that the coup had united the country against the military regime and had produced more sympathy for the Rohingya, which, they said, may have been responsible for a decline in online hate speech aimed at the Rohingya noted by some observers.

According to Muslim activists, Rohingya continued to be perceived as not truly belonging to the country, irrespective of citizenship status, and as belonging to a religion commonly viewed with fear and disdain.  There were continued reports of social stigma surrounding any assistance to or sympathy for Rohingya.  Some civil society leaders said that even among otherwise tolerant individuals, anti-Rohingya sentiment remained prevalent.  There were continued reports of general anti-Muslim prejudice, including social pressure not to rent housing to Muslims in some areas.  Some local media reports, however, said the Bamar ethnic majority’s empathy for the decades of persecution suffered by Rohingya and other minorities had grown due to their own post-coup experience of the brutal crackdown by regime security forces on innocent persons irrespective of ethnic and religious background.  For example, a schoolteacher told the New York Times, “I saw soldiers and police killing and torturing people […] I started to feel empathy for Rohingya and ethnic people who have been suffering worse than us for many years.”

In June, a public opinion poll found that, when asked about relations among persons of different faiths in the country, 47 percent said that strict protection of one’s own religion would provide a stronger foundation for democracy in the future, while 48 percent said that granting more rights to religious minorities would provide a stronger foundation for democracy in the future.

Despite a continuing order by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (SSMNC), an independent but government-supported body that oversees Buddhist affairs, that no group or individual operate under the banner of Ma Ba Tha, some branches of the group continued to use the name Ma Ba Tha, while others used the new name, Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation.  According to Myanmar Now, in March SSMNC announced in a statement that it would suspend its activities and called on the military to end the violence and arrests.  One of SSMNC’s 47 abbots said of the suspension, “It is similar to the [Civil Disobedience Movement].”  According to local media, some Ma Ba Tha-affiliated monks held a rally in November in support of the military.

In March, protestors waved flags made of women’s sarongs in celebration of International Women’s Day.  Regime-controlled Myawaddy News called the act “inappropriate” and “severely insulting to religion and contempt of [Buddhist] religion…and monks.”

Burundi

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Independent National Human Rights Commission organized a workshop and training session on April 8 for religious leaders on the role of religious organizations in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Representatives from religious communities spoke and emphasized their contributions to establishing respect for human rights and made future commitments.

Cabo Verde

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Cambodia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In April, a report by the Cambodian Youth Network found that more than 3,200 acres of a 7,400-acre protected forest in Kratie Province had been illegally cleared, while another 1,140 acres were under threat.  The forest is a religious site for the indigenous Bunong people.  A network official accused “wealthy and powerful individuals” of illegally clearing the forests for profit from logging or converting the land to other commercial purposes.  Indigenous community leaders reported that individuals and companies who purchased sacred indigenous land commonly hid their intention to clear the land of forest cover, a fact that, if known, would have caused local residents and religious leaders to object to the sale of the land.  Sources stated that it was difficult for local communities to prevent the clearing of forest after a sale was completed and payments made.

Observers and religious leaders reported improved public acceptance of persons practicing non-Buddhist religions, although some biases and prejudice remained.  Leaders in the minority Muslim Cham community stated that the Cham had equal employment and educational opportunities.

After meeting with Tep Vong, the Supreme Patriarch of Mohanikaya Buddhism, Roman Catholic Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, head of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, reported that there was “reciprocal religious respect” among religious groups in the country and that government policies and social tolerance were instrumental in improving interreligious relationships.

In June, the Roman Catholic Church donated 20,000 masks to the High Council for Islamic Religious Affairs to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  A Council representative expressed gratitude to the Church for demonstrating solidarity with Cambodian Muslims.

Cameroon

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion, ethnicity, and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In September, tensions escalated between Muslims and Christians in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, according to Etienne Patrice Etoundi Essama, leader of the Cameroon Association for Interreligious Dialogue.  Etoundi Essama said the leading imam in the area, Cheikh Mahmoud Ali, accused authorities at the Catholic Mazenod High School of attempting to convert Muslim students to Christianity by compelling them to wear badges bearing a cross.  Ali characterized the practice as a subtle form of evangelization and urged Muslims to withdraw their children from the school.  According to the school authorities, the badge was part of a uniform that identified all students at the school, but the uniform requirement had previously not been required for Muslim students.  Following government-led mediation on September 12, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji said that both sides agreed that Muslim students at the school would be exempt from wearing badges bearing a cross.  On October 25, the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace service said many Muslim parents withdrew their children from the school after the incident.

In October, a group of evangelical Christians in Douala, Littoral Region, accused an elderly woman of being possessed by demons and assaulted her in her home after she refused to adhere to their doctrine.  According to the media, the assailants had previously attacked other individuals in the area who did not share their religious beliefs.  Security forces rescued the woman and arrested seven individuals on assault charges and jailed them at the New Bell Prison in Douala.  The trial of the seven was proceeding at the Douala Court of First Instance at year’s end.

In July, Derek Che Choh, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Bamenda, announced in a public statement that unidentified individuals had desecrated two churches in Njinikom, Northwest Region.  According to Che Choh, on May 14, intruders stole the eucharist from the Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Njinikom Parish.  He said on July 8 that in a separate incident, unidentified individuals removed the tabernacle from the wall of the Christ the King parish church in Fuli Kom.  Che Choh said the acts were sacrilegious and desecrated the most sacred aspects of the Catholic faith.

In its report covering 2021, NGO Open Doors said that Christians who converted from Islam in the country suffered persecution and were at great risk from their immediate family and their wider community if they told anyone about their conversion, or if Bibles are discovered in their possession.

In October, members of an LGBTQI+ organization in the North Region said they regularly faced the discrimination and violence from other members of their religious communities.  They said religious leaders and other worshippers physically assaulted them, often shunned or avoided them during services, and denied them entry into faith-based organizations.

In September, the Cameroon Association for Interreligious Dialogue (ACADIR) organized a roundtable that brought together diverse faith-based organizations to discuss doctrines and practices that the association said hindered peaceful coexistence and exacerbated religious extremism.  Participants at the roundtable discussed the response of Muslim leaders to threats of Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region and addressed perceived religious extremism associated with Pentecostal churches.  The roundtable additionally addressed a conflict between Muslims and Christians in Adamawa Region, and discussed the contribution of diverse groups, including women and youth, to national peace and development.

Some prominent religious leaders played significant roles in promoting COVID-19 vaccinations.  In June, the Cameroon Council of Imams and Muslim Dignitaries (CIDIMUC) launched a campaign to sensitize Muslims to the necessity of the vaccinations.  CIDIMUC members publicly received their vaccines at Djoungolo Hospital in Yaounde, and Muslim leaders urged worshippers to take the vaccine during prayers at mosques.  In June, CIDIMUC produced a commercial promoting COVID-19 vaccination that ran on state-funded CRTV television for several weeks.

In May, ACADIR – in partnership with UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health – organized a workshop in Yaounde during which participants urged Christians and Muslims to wear masks, observe COVID-19 safeguards, and get vaccinated.

On October 9, CIDIMUC organized an interreligious conference to promote interreligious dialogue and multiculturalism and consolidate peace.  According to the organizers, the conference sought to highlight the virtues of social cohesion and the contribution of religious groups to conflict prevention and resolution.

In February, ACADIR provided training on interreligious dialogue to Christians and Muslims in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region.  In March and in June, ACADIR provided similar training sessions to Christians and Muslims in Bertoua, East Region, Garoua, North Region and Maroua, Far North Region.

Canada

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of physical violence, vandalism, hate speech, and harassment directed at religious groups, particularly against Jews and Muslims.  In July, Statistics Canada released statistics for 2020 that showed a 16 percent decline in the number of police-reported, religiously motivated hate crimes from 613 in 2019 to 515 in 2020.

In 2020, the most recent year for which there were statistics, the B’nai B’rith Canada League for Human Rights reported nine cases of antisemitic violence, compared with 14 in 2019; there were 118 reports of vandalism, including the painting of swastikas and threatening messages on buildings, and 2,483 reports of harassment, compared with 182 and 2,011, respectively, in 2019.  The league received 2,610 reports of antisemitic cases in 2020, compared with 2,207 in 2019 and 2,041 in 2018.  More than 95 percent of the occurrences (2,483) involved harassment.  Seventy-one percent of all incidents reported in 2020 occurred online or had an online component; the physical location and identities of those posting the online messages were unknown.  Occurrences of in-person versus online harassment increased to one in four incidents in 2020.  In 2020, while overall incidents increased across the country, there were significant reductions in all provinces except for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, which include New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Ontario reported more than 1,000 incidents of antisemitism in 2020, a 44 percent increase over the span of a single year and which accounted for 43 percent of all antisemitic incidents in Canada.  Atlantic Canada, which historically was the region with the lowest recorded incidents of antisemitism, recorded a rise of more than 226 percent in antisemitic incidents.  All incidents in Atlantic Canada were either harassment or vandalism.  According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, police-reported hate crime data for 2019 indicated that Jews, although only approximately 1 percent of the population, were the targets of 15 percent of all hate crimes in the country and remained the country’s most targeted group.

In June, Nathaniel Veltman struck five members of a Muslim family with his truck, killing four of them, in London, Ontario.  Police stated the driver fitted his truck bumper with a ram bar and targeted the family because they were Muslim.  Authorities arrested Veltman and charged him with one count of terrorism, four counts of first degree murder, and one count of attempted murder.  Prime Minister Trudeau condemned the attack as “brutal, cowardly, and brazen” and said the “killing was no accident.  This was a terrorist attack.”  The Prime Minister said he would redouble the government’s efforts to dismantle “far-right hate groups” and groups that threatened public safety, adding the government would continue to fund programs to help community centers, religious schools, and places of worship protect themselves.

A preliminary hearing was held in January for Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, who was charged with first degree murder in the 2020 killing of a congregant in the parking lot of the International Muslim Organization Mosque in Rexdale, a suburb of Toronto.  Von Neutegem remained in custody at year’s end.

In June, an unidentified man attacked two Muslim women in Alberta, grabbing one of the women by her hijab, pushing her to the ground, and knocking her unconscious, according to media reports.  The man reportedly knocked the second woman to the ground and threatened her with a knife.  Police opened an investigation and released a sketch of the suspect but made no arrest by year’s end.

In March, a woman verbally harassed two Muslim girls, then physically assaulted one of them in Prince’s Island Park in Calgary, according to media reports.  The assailant reportedly punched one of the victims in the face and kicked her in the stomach.  Calgary police charged the assailant with assault, mischief, and causing a disturbance.  Dr. Mukarram Zaidi of the Canadian Muslim Research Think Tank said Muslim women and young girls told him, “These kinds of incidents occurred on a daily basis.”

According to B’nai B’rith Canada, more antisemitic incidents were reported to the organization in May than in all of 2020, 2019, and 2018 combined.  The increase occurred at the same time protests were taking place across the country in response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  B’nai B’rith Canada stated that incidents of antisemitism also “tend to increase during election campaigns in Canada, whether federal or provincial.”  In August, B’nai B’rith Canada reported unidentified persons vandalized the Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto, Ontario with swastikas and other graffiti.  A sign drawing attention to antisemitism in Toronto was vandalized with antisemitic rhetoric, and a school in a Jewish neighborhood in Thornhill, Ontario, was painted with swastikas and obscene graffiti.  Police opened investigations.  Also in August, unknown individuals in Montreal defaced the election signs of two Jewish candidates for the federal parliament with swastikas.  Montreal police opened an investigation.  In November, unknown vandals defaced the provincial courthouse and neighboring city hall in Ottawa with swastika graffiti and the letters “SS.”  Ottawa police opened a hate crime investigation but had made no arrests at year’s end.

According to B’nai Brith, in July, a customer assaulted an elderly Jewish liquor store employee in Toronto after another employee had asked to see the customer’s identification and the customer refused to comply.  The customer called the Jewish employee a “dirty [expletive] Jew,” struck him in the back with a wine bottle, and punched him in the face.  The victim required stitches and had to take medical leave from work.  Authorities arrested a suspect three weeks after the incident and charged him with seven criminal counts.  According to B’nai Brith Canada, Toronto police considered it a hate crime.

In May, Jewish and Palestinian groups held parallel demonstrations in central Montreal, and a group of men bearing Palestinian flags attacked a group of Jewish individuals.  The men threw stones at the Jewish demonstrators and physically assaulted some of them, according to media reports.  Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

A June, an Angus Reid Institute poll on racism and diversity found 25 percent of Canadians said they felt “cold” towards Muslims, the highest negative sentiment toward any other religious group described in the survey.  A November 2020 submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief reported 52 percent of Canadians said they trusted Muslims “a little” or “not at all.”

According to press reports, in January, police charged Adam Riga with threatening to set fire to a place of worship and possession of incendiary materials after one of Montreal’s largest synagogues, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, was vandalized with antisemitic symbols.  Large swastikas were painted on the doors of the synagogue and the man brought a canister of gasoline to the site.  In February, the judge hearing Riga’s case determined Riga was mentally unfit and could not be held criminally accountable for his actions and ordered that he be transferred to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

According to media reports in Vancouver in February, Susan Standfield, characterized as an anti-vaccine conspiracist, promoted a t-shirt online that depicted a yellow Star of David marked with the words “Covid Caust.”  B’nai B’rith’s CEO Michael Mostyn condemned Standfield “in the strongest terms” for what he called “trafficking in Holocaust imagery in order to promote COVID-19 conspiracy theories.”  He stated, “There can be no comparison between masks and vaccines, which are intended to save lives, and the cruel murder of six million Jews and millions of others by the Nazis and their collaborators.”

In June, unidentified individuals burned four Catholic churches in indigenous communities in suspected arson fires in British Columbia, with two fires set on National Indigenous People’s Day.  Police investigated the four incidents.  A Catholic church in Nova Scotia was also set on fire in a First Nations (indigenous) community north of Halifax.  In July, unknown persons vandalized 11 churches, both Catholic and Protestant, in Calgary, Alberta with red and orange paint, according to media reports.  Most of the targeted churches were Catholic, and the vandalism included a smashed window with paint thrown inside, splattered paint over a statue of Jesus Christ, painted handprints on doors, and texts that read “Charge the priest,” “Our lives matter,” and “215.”  The paint colors and the number 215 were symbolically linked to protests over the discovery of unmarked graves believed to be of indigenous children compelled to attend Indian Residential Schools.  One of the vandalized churches was an African Evangelical Church.  According to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who condemned the vandalism, many of the church’s congregants had arrived in the country as refugees.  Police in Alberta opened an investigation.

An indigenous Manitoba man was arrested in June for setting fire to a Catholic church on Easter Sunday on the territory of the St. Theresa Point First Nation.  Several days later, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Ontario was set ablaze, and police opened an investigation.  Police said they believed the church fires were likely set as protests after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves believed to be of indigenous children at the sites of former Indian residential schools.  Catholic and Protestant religious groups operated most of the schools between 1831 and 1998, and according to media, the government funded them to force the assimilation of Indigenous children into dominant Canadian culture and away from their own native culture and religion.  Prime Minister Trudeau commented, “The destruction of places of worship is unacceptable and it must stop.  We must work together to right past wrongs.”

In April, an individual shot an air rifle at the Assahaba Islamic Community Centre in Montreal, according to media reports.  Surveillance video showed a hooded individual taking 11 shots at the community center and then running away.  The Montreal police hate crimes unit opened an investigation.

In August, an unknown individual vandalized the Komagata Maru memorial in Vancouver.  The memorial is dedicated to the 376 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu passengers aboard the ship Komagata Maru that in 1914 was denied entry to Canada under exclusion laws and forced to return to India.  Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said, “This is disgusting and whoever did this is a coward.  This memorial is about the perseverance of a community that has helped to build and shape our city.”  Vancouver police opened a hate crime investigation that remained pending at year’s end.

Central African Republic

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim community leaders continued to report social discrimination against and the marginalization of their communities, including difficulties acquiring identification documents.  Members of the board of the Coordination of Central African Muslim Organizations (COMUC) expressed similar concerns.  Imams from mosques in the majority-Muslim PK5 community of Bangui’s Third District stated that despite numerous efforts to build social cohesion between Muslims and Christians nationwide, their community continued to experience discrimination and instability.

According to COMUC, the Muslim community was marginalized and suffered inequality and injustice at all levels of society.  Many Muslim children lacked birth certificates, since most administrative documents were destroyed during the 2013-14 conflict.  At times, this allowed civil authorities to question the citizenship of children with Muslim names.  As a result of not having birth documents, many Muslim children could not attend school.  The PK5 community, COMUC reported, faced more water outages than other Bangui neighborhoods; COMUC said it believed this was due to the city’s deliberately spending fewer resources in the area because the population was largely Muslim.

Christian burials continued to take place in Bangui’s Islamic cemetery near M’poko Airport, in contravention of a 2016 agreement between the Christian and Muslim communities that designated the area exclusively for Islamic burials.  One Muslim community leader described the burials as provocations that were indicative of underlying, persistent tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities.

COMUC leaders said that Muslims were stigmatized and largely discriminated against in the existing political system.  They also stated Muslims were deprived of property rights and business ownership.  Although at least five of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were Muslim, as well as National Mediator El Hadj Moussa Laurent Ngon Baba, civil society leaders in the Muslim community stated they perceived that Muslims were largely absent from positions of leadership.  Muslim community advocates again said that in their view, Muslims were underrepresented in the civil service and among recruits for state security institutions, despite diversity targets outlined in the National Defense Plan.

Traditional and social media outlets at times continued to portray Muslims negatively, particularly those of Fulani ethnicity.  On September 21, local newspaper Le Citoyen published an article that described Ali Darassa, the leader of the predominantly Muslim UPC armed group, as the “Caliph.”

The Nour al-Yaqin Mosque of the PK5 neighborhood of Bangui’s Third District reopened on February 26 following repairs by the local peace committee in partnership with MINUSCA.  The mosque had been vandalized during intracommunal violence in 2013 and 2014.

In March, the international NGO Conciliation Resources and its partners – the National Council of Central African Youth, Diocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Children and Youth, Central African Islamic Youth, African Evangelical Youth, and a taxi-moto association – carried out research on young persons’ views of the crisis in the country, peacebuilding prospects, and their visions for the future.  The research, funded by the United Kingdom, captured the views of 550 young persons in Bangui.  Despite suffering recurrent crises since 2013 and dealing with a legacy of trauma, loss, and disrupted lives and livelihoods, those polled expressed optimistic views in the survey, according to the researchers.  The study’s participants rejected sectarian and ethnic division, blamed bad governance and political manipulation – not each other – for social ills, and professed a deep desire to take the lead in transforming their own futures and their relationship with government.

The Platform for Religious Confessions in Central Africa (PCRC), composed of the senior Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Muslim leaders in the country, continued its efforts to promote interfaith dialogue.  The group remained focused on supporting the return of IDPs and refugees and promoting social cohesion in communities that previously experienced intercommunal violence occurring along ethnoreligious lines, such as the village of Ndangala in Lobaye Prefecture.  In September, local authorities and religious leaders in Ndangala launched a local branch of the PCRC in that village, which in turn organized interfaith discussions chaired by Christian leader Jean-Pierre Soalakpe and brought together 200 participants from the three religious groups of the village:  Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims.

Chad

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Analysts stated the country, which comprises a diverse society with many tribal, ethnic, and religious identities, remained relatively free from significant conflict between religious groups.  Most conflicts took place between farmers and herders over competing uses of land, not religious identity, according to observers.  Analysts stated that lengthy periods of largely southern and Christian rule (1960-1979), followed by largely northern and Muslim rule (1979-2021), against the backdrop of widespread poverty created an association between religion and geographic region that political actors continued to exploit for their purposes.  Media said N’Djamena and other large cities self-segregated according to religious divisions.

Analysts and human rights groups said poverty and a lack of government services and economic opportunity raised the risks that violent extremism, including extremism related to religion, could spread to the country, especially in the Lake Chad region, where Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa launched attacks against government soldiers and unarmed civilians during the year.  A Boko Haram attack occurred in the Lake Chad region in August 2021, killing 26 Chadian soldiers.  The Chadian military remained active in its fight against Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa in the Lake Chad region.

Religious leaders, including imams, continued to raise awareness among adherents of the risks of terrorist attacks, particularly in Lac Province, and to advocate for continued additional security in places of worship.  On a television program broadcast on Evangelical TV (ETV) during Easter, pastors and guests called on the government to address the root causes of religious extremism and recruitment to extremist causes by expanding access to economic opportunity.

In accordance with the legal prohibition against “inciting hatred,” media coverage continued to not mention instances of religious tension or conflict, instead using the term “communalism” – allegiance to a specific group or community rather than to wider society – to refer in general to divisions among various groups or communities, whether based on geographic, ethnic, religious, or other loyalties.

The Regional Forum on Interfaith Dialogue, comprising representatives of evangelical Protestant churches, the Catholic Church, and the Islamic community, did not meet during the year after meeting two or three times in 2020.  The National Prayer Day originally scheduled for November 28 was rescheduled for January 29, 2022.

Chile

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 12, unknown individuals burned a Catholic church and the Nuevo Pacto Pentecostal Church in a continuation of violent incidents in the southern region of Araucania.  Following the arson attacks, President Pinera declared a state of emergency for the region.  In April, arsonists burned a church in the municipality of Padre Las Casas on the road to Huichahue.  Media reported that individuals wrote, “Freedom to the prisoners of the Chilean state” on the front of the damaged church.  In February, assailants burned the Boroa Mission Church, located in the municipality of Nueva Imperial in Araucania Region.  This was the sixth year that such burnings occurred, with an increase in numbers of arson attacks reported during the year.

Several priests and churches in the Araucania Region reportedly received arson threats during the year.  ONAR reported that its regional directors were in constant contact with the churches and communities affected by the arson attacks, and it held discussions with governors regarding possible assistance from regional governments.  According to academic and nongovernmental sources, the Mapuche, an ethnonym chosen by the group and referring collectively to the country’s largest indigenous group, consider most of Araucania as ancestral territory and continued to call for the government to return lands confiscated prior to the return to democracy in the late 1980s.  Some factions of the Mapuche continued to use violence, including attacks on facilities and vehicles of industrial producers such as farms and logging companies, as well as churches and private residences, to demand the return of land.

Jewish community leaders again expressed concern regarding what they stated was a rise in antisemitism in the country.  According to the Antisemitism Cyber Monitoring System, an Israeli government monitoring system that tracks antisemitism worldwide, the significant Palestinian presence in the country influenced public discourse, “which is expressed in distinctly antisemitic tone under the guise of anti-Zionist activity.”  On May 19, a group of demonstrators burned Israeli flags outside the Israeli embassy in Santiago.  In May, the Jewish community reported a series of antisemitic comments and threats posted on social media coinciding with the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas.  On May 12, the Federation of Jewish Students received several antisemitic messages, including, “They are coming, pest murders of Palestinians…. HAIL HITLER.”  The CJCH’s annual report, “Anti-Jewish Incidents in Chile, 2020-2021,” identified several incidents:  on August 17, observers saw a poster hanging outside the National Institute of Human Rights with the slogan “From Colombia to Palestine the peoples resist against fascism and criminal Zionism.”  In September, individuals reported graffiti that featured swastikas and SS symbols in Las Condes Municipality in Santiago Metropolitan Region and near the Hebrew Institute in the city of Santiago.  On September 16th, a truck driver shouted “Heil Hitler” when passing the Aish Hatorah Synagogue in Santiago.

During the year, the Chilean Association of Interreligious Dialogue (ADIR Chile), which includes Catholics, Orthodox, Adventists, Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutherans, Church of Jesus Christ, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Brahma Kumaris, and indigenous spiritual traditions, held several events, including an interfaith dialogue about the constitutional process on July 28 and a virtual interfaith Gathering to Celebrate the International Day of Peace on September 21.  On October 19, representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Churches, National Evangelical Union, National Evangelical Platform, Church of Jesus Christ, Islamic Center of Chile, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and of Jewish and Muslim groups delivered a proposal to members of the country’s Constitutional Convention that addressed the importance of religious freedom in a free and democratic country.  On December 13, members of ADIR Chile and other religious leaders visited a Mapuche religious center, Ruca Mapuche, in the municipality of La Cisterna as part of a program to foster respect for spiritual and cultural diversity.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers continued to discriminate against religious believers.  Religious minorities continued to report employers terminated their employment due to their current or prior religious activities.

In 2020, the Economist reported employment discrimination against ethnic minorities was pervasive, citing a study that found that Hui job seekers had to send twice as many applications as Han applicants and that Uyghurs had on average to send nearly four times as many applications just to hear back from potential employers.  The study found the gap was greater for highly educated workers, with Uyghur candidates who were in the top 1 percent academically having to send six times as many applications as their Han counterparts.  According to the Economist, the application gap was “similar in both smaller cities and in the provincial-level regions of Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.  State-owned enterprises, which have an official mandate to hire more minority workers, appeared at least as biased as other firms.”

Discrimination against potential or current tenants based on their religious beliefs reportedly continued.  Since 2017 and 2018, when articles in the 2005 Public Security Administration Punishment Law related to “suspicious activity” began to be enforced in earnest, Falun Gong practitioners reported ongoing difficulty in finding landlords who would rent them apartments.  Sources stated government enforcement of this law continued to move the country further away from informal discriminatory practices by individual landlords towards a more formalized enforcement of codified discriminatory legislation.

In June, the Diplomat reported growing anti-Muslim sentiment in society as a result of the government’s Sinicization campaign, which the Diplomat said could lead to violence.  Sources said government propaganda portraying Uyghurs as radicals, extremists, and terrorists had created societal hostility toward that group.  Anti-Muslim speech in social media reportedly remained widespread.

There were reports that Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and other religious minorities continued to face difficulties in finding accommodation when they traveled.

In January, media reported messages on social media blamed local Catholics from Shijiazhuang City and “several priests from Europe and the United States” for the spread of COVID-19 in Hebei Province that resulted in a lockdown on January 6.  Local priests denounced the posts, saying there had been no religious activities, masses, or meetings since December 24, 2020.

Colombia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, the AGO investigated two cases of abuses of religious freedom in the municipalities of Soledad, Atlantico and Barrancabermeja, Santander.  In addition, the AGO investigated four cases of vandalism reported in Ayapel, Cordoba; La Plata, Huila; Cucuta, Norte de Santander; and Floridablanca, Santander.  The MOI also stated that several acts of vandalism against churches occurred during the year.

The DRA said acts of vandalism towards two churches occurred in the departments of Tolima in March and Valle del Cauca in May.  In addition, according to the Colombia Episcopal Conference, groups of women in favor of legalizing abortion vandalized the Catholic Cathedral of Ibague and the St. Francis Church of Bogota on March 8, International Women’s Day.  The women also damaged the physical structures and harassed church members.  In both cases, police were present but made no arrests.

According to the Colombian Episcopal Conference representing the Catholic Church, some state and private schools encouraged students to limit visible expressions of faith.  On February 17, Ash Wednesday, the French School in Pereira required three girls to wash the ash cross off their foreheads to enter the school.

According to media, Martha Sepulveda, a self-described devout Catholic, was scheduled to become the first person in the country without a terminal prognosis to die by legally authorized euthanasia on October 10.  On October 8, the private Colombian Institute of Pain (Incodol), which was scheduled to perform the procedure, determined that she was no longer eligible because her condition had improved.  Sepulveda’s family planned to appeal the decision.  A member of the national bishops’ conference urged Sepulveda to “calmly reflect” on her decision and invited all Catholics to pray that God would grant her mercy.  On October 27, a court in Medellin ruled that Sepulveda was entitled to die by euthanasia, with the procedure scheduled for early 2022.

During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation.  Faith-based and interfaith NGOs, including DiPaz and the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission on Justice and Peace, continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance through their programs and community engagement.

DiPaz, which includes the Presbyterian Church, Lutheran Evangelical Church, Council of the Assemblies of God, and various NGOs, focused on advancing the peace process in the country.  In a July 16 letter to the United Nations Security Council, DiPaz called on the international community to urge the government to resume the full implementation of the 2016 peace accord that ended the conflict between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and strengthen channels of dialogue to resolve societal issues.  The World Council of Churches and Action by Churches Alliance joined DiPaz in supporting the search for sustainable peace in the country.  The letter appealed for continued and further action to promote a genuine and sustainable peace for all the individuals in the country, especially the most marginalized communities and those most affected as victims of violence.  Several regional and global organizations, including the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Presbyterian Church, Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches of Latin America, Regional Ecumenical Advisory and Service Center, World Student Christian Federation, QONAKUY (a phrase of the aboriginal Quechua people meaning “to join with another is to share the best of oneself”), and the American Lutheran Church, endorsed the letter.

The Catholic Church and other religious organizations distributed food packages during the COVID-19 pandemic to all in need regardless of religion.

Comoros

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were continued reports that local communities unofficially shunned individuals suspected of converting from Islam to Christianity.  Societal abuse and discrimination against non-Muslim citizens persisted, particularly against Christians or those who were converts from Islam.  Non-Muslim foreigners reported little to no discrimination.

Most non-Sunni Muslim citizens reportedly did not openly practice their faith for fear of societal rejection, and some Shia Muslims reported being harassed by Sunni Muslims.  Societal pressure and intimidation continued to restrict the use of the country’s three churches to noncitizens.  Christians reported they would not eat publicly during Ramadan so as not to draw attention to their faith.

Costa Rica

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to UCR polling, the demographic shift to fewer adherents of the Catholic Church continued.  Approximately half of those who left the Catholic Church joined evangelical Christian groups, while the other half gave up religious affiliation altogether.  According to Catholic Chancellor Rafael Sandi, however, there were fewer requests to formally disaffiliate with the Catholic Church during the year compared with the number of requests made in 2020, 2019, and 2018.

An increase in instances of anti-Catholic language on social media was noted after media reports detailed the continued high-level investigations of Catholic priests charged with sexual abuse.  In May, the extradition from Mexico of Catholic priest Mauricio Viquez on four charges of sexually abusing minors prompted negative comments on social media against Viquez, his alleged enablers, and the Catholic Church, the latter for attempting to prevent Viquez’ case from going to trial.  At year’s end, Viquez remained in preventive detention.  In 2019, the statute of limitation ended for three of the four accusations.

Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Israeli comments appearing on social media, some of which, they said, were antisemitic, although not directed at Jews living in the country.  In September, the Israelite Zionist Center of Costa Rica reported antisemitic comments it detected online through its Antidiscrimination Web Observatory, which compiles antisemitic incidents and messages posted on social networks.  Some messages combined negative comments against Jews with actions taken by Israel.  For example, some messages compared former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with former Nazi officer Heinrich Himmler.  Another online comment accused Israeli citizens of using their religion and the Holocaust to repeat their experience with Palestinians.  One social media post stated, “Israel does not exist.  Not only do they appropriate a territory that does not belong to them, but also…most of these people are not even Semites, but rather, central European Aryans.”

Interludio, a forum of religious groups established by Pastor Jose Castro in 2017 to encourage interreligious dialogue among the country’s religious groups, continued to promote dialogue among religious leaders, with participation of representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, Protestant, Lutheran, Jewish, Baha’i, and Buddhist faiths.  The group met periodically throughout the year and hosted a variety of events, including talks on spiritual growth and moral values.  

The Museum of Empathy, associated with Interludio, continued to promote a Resilience Academy, which provided psychological and spiritual support to populations especially vulnerable due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on the elderly and on single mothers. 

Cote d’Ivoire

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Leaders of a Christian denomination reported an instance in May in which denomination members were prevented from building a church on land they owned in a majority-Muslim community in the south-central part of the country.  Local Muslims, mainly youths, opposed the project.  According to the Christian leaders, Muslim community members had asked Christian landowners earlier to let them use the land for prayer; in order to maintain good relations with the town’s Muslim community, the landowners agreed to allow this temporarily until they were ready to build their church.  The Christian landowners said they understood that Muslims would pray on the land without constructing a mosque, as Muslims often prayed in locations other than mosques.  The Christian leaders said that after they allowed the Muslims to use the land, the latter began building a mosque on the site and refused to leave when asked to do so.  The landowners contacted the community imam, who said he had not instructed his congregants to build the mosque, but he took no action to remove them from the land.  The landowners then petitioned the mayor (locally elected), the prefect and subprefect (regional representatives of the central government), and the DGC for assistance.  All initially said they could not help.  The mayor ultimately convened the landowners and local Muslim leaders and offered to give the landowners a different parcel of land in a more remote section of the community to build a church.  The Christian leaders said the landowners accepted this offer and ceded their original parcel of land to the Muslim community to maintain positive relations with the community.  The mosque remained on the land.  The Christian leaders said they did not report the issue to the press because they did not want to harm the group’s generally good relations with the Muslim community.

The leaders of the same Christian denomination reported a second incident in the central part of the country with the same basic circumstances – Muslims occupied a parcel of land owned by Christians and constructed a mosque, thus preventing Christians from building a planned church.  The landowners petitioned local government officials for assistance to mediate the dispute; the prefect offered the Christians another parcel of land, but, as of December, the dispute was unresolved.

Religious leaders and civil society representatives again stated that leaders across the religious spectrum were broadly united in their desire to work toward peace and reconciliation following the 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis and the upheaval surrounding the 2020 presidential election.

Imam Djiguiba Cisse, a member of COSIM’s leadership, the chief imam at a major Abidjan mosque, and the director of the nationwide Islamic radio network and television station Al-Bayane, stated that he continued to have strong relationships with Christian leaders.  He noted that COSIM met with Catholic leaders during the year to build support for officially forming and registering a multifaith platform called the Alliance of Religions for Peace, which previously operated informally.  Two weeks prior to the 2020 presidential election, the alliance held a national interfaith prayer for peace and social cohesion in Abidjan.  The country continued to host several other multifaith organizations dedicated to peace and social cohesion, including the National Forum of Religious Denominations.  Between January and November, forum delegations visited several locations across the country to encourage social cohesion, peace, and reconciliation, invoking both Biblical and Quranic verses in support of peaceful coexistence when addressing audiences.

Leaders of the country’s interdenominational evangelical association, the Federation of Evangelical Churches of Côte d’Ivoire, said they had good relations with leaders of the country’s major religions.  A Catholic priest serving as spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Abidjan expressed similar sentiments and noted a July conference organized by Muslim and Catholic journalists’ associations in which leaders of both faiths stressed the importance of communication among different religious groups.  Minister of National Reconciliation Kouadio Konan Bertin attended the conference and, in his remarks, said the journalists should assist the government in its mission to reconcile the country.  Bertin thanked the associations for working together to promote friendship and cooperation among religions.  He also noted the power of language and suggested the journalists, through their reporting, could help maintain peace.  A Methodist leader said the Abidjan Methodist community held an annual prayer session with the Catholic community and noted that Methodist leaders regularly met with other faith leaders, including Muslims and Baptists.  A leader of the country’s small Jewish community said the community had warm relations with other religious groups, including Muslims.  Christian and Muslim leaders in the northern part of the country reported generally good relations.  Some community radio stations reported reserving airtime for different religious groups to conduct prayers on Fridays and Sundays.

According to religious leaders and civil society organizations, numerous individuals regularly celebrated each other’s religious holidays by attending household or neighborhood gatherings and religious ceremonies, regardless of their own faith.  Muslim and Christian leaders in Korhogo, for example, noted that adherents of the two religions sang, danced, and prayed together on certain occasions and invited each other to religious events.

Some Muslim leaders continued to state that their community took steps to prevent the influence of what they called intolerant forms of Islam in the country.  Specifically, they referred to adherents who disparaged any who did not follow their specific interpretation of Islam.  These steps included providing imams with suggested themes for sermons and advising imams to closely vet guest preachers before allowing them to give sermons in their mosques.  Community leaders in the north of the country reported that some communities required traveling Muslim preachers to have their proposed sermons approved by village authorities before giving them in village mosques.  Muslim leaders in the north reported that, in a break from tradition, some imams no longer offered temporary shelter in mosques to male travelers not known to their communities out of fear these travelers might have ties to terrorist or criminal groups.

Government sources and civil society leaders said that religiously based hate speech sometimes was used on social media, but they stated that influential political and religious leaders did not use such language.  A nongovernmental organization that tracks online hate speech in the country said cases of religiously based hate speech were rare.

Crimea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that respondents, seeing “ordinary citizens” treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith, had increased sympathy for the organization.

On November 2, the Unian.net news website reported “authorities” in Crimea placed under house arrest a suspect who had allegedly painted offensive graffiti on a wall of a Christian church in Leninsky District.

Croatia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

SOC representatives reported that following the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije II on September 5 in a historic monastery in Cetinje, Montenegro, several negative media articles about the Church appeared.  One article appeared under the headline, “Zagreb Likes Patriarch Porfirije; however, this does not mean that the SOC is not evil.”  Commenting on the situation on September 13, Porfirije said, “The Church is not a political organization and has no political goals.”  He added that he had always spoken “affirmative[ly] of Croatia, even though sometimes there were reasons not to do so.”  He expressed regret for the negative messaging but said he was not surprised by the “fallacy of arguments” coming from Montenegro to Croatia.  He stated, “Croatia, together with its leadership and majority of its citizens, has a democratic capacity that leaves everyone a space to live in individual ethnic freedom and to freely declare feelings, regardless to which God he or she is praying.”

In April, the association In the Name of the Family published a “Report on Intolerance and Attacks on the Catholic Church and Catholic Believers in Croatia” that detailed incidents occurring during 2020.  The report stated there was an increasing number of incidents against the Catholic Church and Church members.  They included expression of hatred and intolerance, false accusations by the media, and dissemination of fake news and claims based on prejudice about priests, religious brothers and sisters, bishops, and the faithful.  The report also noted that individuals disputed the obligation and the right of bishops, priests, and monks to publicly express the views of the Catholic Church on social issues, and they also criticized Catholic teaching.  The report described burglaries of churches and desecration of church buildings and property.  The organization said the aim of the report was to shed light on the difference between constructive criticism and the spread of intolerance and discrimination.

The report of the ombudsperson described generally positive relations with the Muslim community in 2020; there was, however, an incident in which insulting messages appeared at the Zagreb Mosque and the perpetrator(s) was/were not identified.  The Office of the Ombudsperson also investigated an incident related to the alleged dissatisfaction of local citizens with the planned construction of an Islamic Center in the city of Pula but found nothing significant and closed the case.

Following complaints by a minority Christian religious group, the Office of the Ombudsperson issued a recommendation to the HRT to include more content intended for minority religious communities when designing and planning media programs.

As in recent years, some members of Jewish groups expressed concern over the public use of the Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni, associated with the World War II-era Independent State of Croatia.

Cuba

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media, the Community of Sant’Egidio intensified its activities, despite COVID-19 restrictions.  It continued to hold prayer and meetings in small groups.  “The community has flourished in the pandemic,” said an 80-year-old woman and member of the “Long Live the Elderly” program in Santiago de Cuba.  Sant’Egidio established the program to encourage youth to assist elderly individuals in various neighborhoods of Santiago, including Maceo, Cicharrones, Flores, and Marti.

According to a May National Public Radio article entitled, The Youth of Cuba’s Tiny Jewish Minority, a lack of tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country’s small Jewish community hard because the community relied on tourism for attendance at religious services, for donations, and for solidarity.

International faith-based charitable operations such as Caritas and Sant’Egidio, both Catholic, and the Salvation Army maintained local offices in Havana.  Caritas continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to all individuals regardless of religious belief.

Cyprus

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity often overlap, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Media reported a group of Greek Orthodox people staged a protest outside the stadium holding Greek flags and banners saying, “The Pope is persona non grata,” “Pope out of Cyprus,” and “Cyprus is Orthodox.”  At a separate event, Pope Francis led a prayer at the Catholic Church of Holy Cross in Nicosia with dozens of migrants and asylum seekers in attendance.  The entire visit appeared live on national television.  Press coverage was widespread and predominantly positive.

Vandals spray painted Greek nationalist graffiti consisting of Greek flags, crosses, nationalist slogans, and threats on the Episkopi Mosque in Limassol on March 25, the 200th anniversary of the Greek uprising against the Ottoman Empire.  The building, originally a Byzantine church dating to the sixteenth century, later became a mosque during the Ottoman period.  The graffiti included letters and symbols meaning “Jesus Christ Conquers.”  On the same day, government spokesperson Kyriakos Koushos issued a written statement saying the Republic of Cyprus “strongly and unreservedly condemns the actions of some brainless people who under the pretext of so-called patriotism, insult religious sites and the meaning and ideals of patriotism.”  The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus did not issue a public condemnation or comment.  “TRNC President” Ersin Tatar, the “MFA,” and the “Prime Minister’s” office separately released statements condemning the attack.  Tatar stated, “With only days to go prior to the 5+1 UN informal meeting to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, Greek Cypriot provocations have once again intensified.”  Chairman of the Turkish Cypriot People’s Party (HP) Kudret Ozersay also called the incident a provocation, adding, “If the same place is attacked twice, sometimes three times in a row, it is because the Greek Cypriot political leadership does not identify and punish those responsible.”

The Episkopi community council immediately cleaned the wall and the community chairman publicly condemned the incident.  The police said they examined footage from closed-circuit television and searched the residence and the car of a suspect looking for evidence linking him to attack.  The Supreme Court denied a request by the suspect to invalidate a search warrant.  However, the police investigation did not identify the individuals responsible.  Human rights defenders and representatives of the Muslim community stated on social media they did not believe there would be a serious investigation and named the lack of law enforcement action for previous incidents as the primary reason for repeated acts of mosque vandalization in the country.  Episkopi mayor Lefkios Prodromou told Politis Radio this was the third time that such a “reprehensible” incident had occurred at the mosque.  Speaking to the newspaper Phileleftheros on March 26, Prodromou said he asked the local police chief to provide a visible police presence at the mosque on April 1 to prevent a repeat attack on Greek Cypriot National Day.  Imam Alemdar said the incident marked a “worrying and growing trend” of hate speech in the country.  He added that authorities never fully investigated or prosecuted previous culprits and that security concerns would persist for mosques throughout the country until those responsible for such acts were held accountable.

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus called for the withdrawal of the country’s entry into the annual Eurovision contest, a song entitled “El Diablo,” charging the song made an international mockery of the country’s moral foundations by advocating “our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship.”  The Holy Synod, the Church’s highest decision-making body, said in a statement the song “essentially praises the fatalistic submission of humans to the devil’s authority” and urged the state broadcaster to replace it with one that expressed the country’s history, culture, and traditions.  The Church’s statement came a few days after authorities charged a man with uttering threats and causing a disturbance when he entered the grounds of the public broadcaster and condemned the song as blasphemous and an affront to Christianity.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported an increase in instances of antisemitic verbal harassment in public places, threats on social media and against Jewish students at schools, vandalism of menorahs and Israeli flags, and antisemitic and pro-Nazi graffiti outside schools attended by Jewish students.  They reported a physical attack against a 15-year-old Jewish student in Limassol by a group of Palestinian students.  Individuals who were attacked in public places wore kippahs or tzitzit.  Some of the incidents were reported to the police.  Authorities reported no arrests, according to Jewish community representatives.

The Catholic NGO Caritas reported that discrimination against Muslim children in schools declined compared with previous years and stated increased diversity awareness and language training during the year contributed.

The NGOs Caritas and Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) said women wearing the hijab often faced difficulties finding employment.  According to Caritas, in October 2019, a Somali woman filed a complaint with the ombudsman based on a hotel’s refusal to employ her because she was wearing a hijab.  Her case remained under review at year’s end.

Members of minority religious groups continued to report societal pressures to participate in the public religious ceremonies of majority groups.  For example, children of various religious minorities said they faced social pressure to attend Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies at school.  Armenian Orthodox representatives continued to say community members who married Greek Orthodox individuals received pressure from their spouse’s family members to have a Greek Orthodox wedding and follow Greek Orthodox rituals.  Similarly, Armenian Orthodox army recruits reportedly continued to feel peer pressure to take the oath administered by a Greek Orthodox priest.

Some Greek Orthodox adherents who converted to other faiths reportedly continued to hide their conversion from family and friends due to fear of social ostracism.

In June, the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH), one of the bicommunal (Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot) technical committees established as part of the UN-facilitated settlement negotiations process, finished the conservation of two Muslim cemeteries in Mandria/Yeşilova and in Kalo Khorio/Vuda.  In March, the TCCH launched tender processes for the restoration of mosques in the villages of Orounda, Maroni, Kalo Khorio/Vuda, Lefkara, Alektora, Avdimou/Evdim, and Tera.  In February, the TCCH launched conservation works at Zouhouri Mosque in Larnaca.

The leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet regularly, in-person and online, within the framework of the RTCYPP.  On June 7, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian, Maronite, and Roman Catholic leaders met in person for the first time since June 2020 to demonstrate what they said was their commitment to standing together for religious freedom and to advocating for others’ religious rights.

On May 2, the Mufti of Cyprus, on the RTCYPP website and on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, extended Easter greetings to the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and all Christians celebrating Easter.  On May 12, Christian religious leaders similarly issued a joint greeting to the Mufti of Cyprus and all Muslim faithful, wishing them a blessed Eid al-Fitr on the RTCYPP website and social media accounts.  The RTCYPP organizes regular meetings of religious leaders and facilitates interreligious communication and cooperation, and maintains an office in the buffer zone in Nicosia.

The RTCYPP continued its joint project of offering religious leaders Greek and Turkish language classes for priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons in the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite, and Roman Catholic communities who worked for faith-based organizations.  Classes continued online when in-person gatherings were not possible due to COVID-19-related restrictions.  In June, the RTCYPP expanded its Greek language classes to include 20 new students from the Muftiate of Cyprus, 10 women and 10 men, including imams and teachers of religious education.

Czech Republic

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NGO In IUSTITIA stated it received reports of one religiously motivated hate crime during the first half of the year – an incident against Jews – compared with seven such cases – four against Muslims, two against Jews, and one against Christians – in the same period in 2020.  The incident concerned an employee of the Jewish community’s school, who was part of a government on-line hate free campaign.  Someone posted “Juden raus” (“Jews out”, a common antisemitic slur) under his profile in the campaign.

In 2020, the most recent year data were available, the MOI reported 27 criminal offenses with antisemitic motives and nine with anti-Muslim motives, compared with 23 and 11 offenses respectively, in 2019.  The MOI reported only incidents that it investigated.

The FJC, which monitored the internet for instances of antisemitism, reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, an increase of 26 percent over the 694 incidents in 2019 and 252 percent over the 347 incidents in 2018.  The FJC attributed this increase to improved digital monitoring tools, rising political polarization, and a move from the real to the virtual world because of COVID-19-related restrictions.  The 2020 incidents included one of physical assault, one of property damage, and six of harassment.

In one incident, an unidentified person assaulted an Israeli student in a bar in Brno during the Purim holiday in March 2020 after he requested the disk jockey play an Israeli song.  The victim, who received medical treatment, did not report the incident to police.  In May 2020, the front gate of the synagogue in Krnov was doused with a sticky liquid.  The other 866 incidents included graffiti, videos, articles, and online comments.  According to the FJC, the largest increase was in antisemitic hate speech on the internet, which accounted for 98 percent of the incidents.  It stated 84 percent of incidents involved stereotypical statements and conspiracy theories about Jews, such as allegations Jews controlled the economy and government.  In 9 percent of the cases, the writers criticized Israel (the FJC did not classify all criticism of Israel as antisemitic) and wrote in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, while 4 percent denied the Holocaust.  The FJC stated that although the country remained safe for the Jewish community, online antisemitism should not be underestimated, as an analysis of attacks in other countries showed that violent acts were preceded by online radicalization.

In June, police charged four individuals and two companies associated with the publishing firm Guidemedia with Holocaust denial for producing a Czech translation of Germar Rudolf’s book Dissecting the Holocaust, which denies gas chambers were used in Nazi camps.  At year’s end, their trial had not begun.  Police continued to investigate Guidemedia for publishing an antisemitic children’s book, Poisonous Mushroom, first published in Germany in 1938 as part of antisemitic Nazi propaganda.  In January, police charged Emerich Drtina and the Nase Vojsko company with promoting a movement suppressing human rights and freedoms for publishing a 2021 calendar featuring Nazi figures.  As of October, the case was pending review by the District Court in Prague.  In September, police charged the Bodyart Press publisher and another person for publishing and distributing The Myth of the Six Million, a Holocaust denying book authored by a deceased U.S. historian.  In November, the state prosecutor indicted the publisher.  The case was pending at year’s end.

The MOI reported two private “white power” concerts were held during the first half of the year in which participants expressed antisemitic and neo-Nazi views, compared with nine such concerts in 2020.  The ministry estimated approximately 50 to 100 persons attended each concert.

A report published during the year on 2020 hate crimes in the country from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cited five antisemitic incidents, one of physical violence, two of threats, and two of vandalism.  In one case that ODIHR sourced to the FJC, a television presenter received an anonymous letter containing antisemitic and xenophobic insults and threats of physical violence.  ODIHR also cited the FJC as the source of one report of vandalism against a Jewish synagogue in 2020 and In IUSTITIA as reporting vandalism against a street sign pointing to a Jewish cemetery damaged by gunshots.

The ODIHR report, citing In IUSTITIA, included five incidents against Muslims – one of physical violence, one of a threat, and three of vandalism.  In one incident, five persons subjected a woman wearing a headscarf to anti-Muslim and misogynist insults and death threats on the street.  In another incident, a woman wearing a headscarf was repeatedly subjected to anti-Muslim insults.  The perpetrators ripped the hijab from her head.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Twenty-seven percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (24 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (23 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (14 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (14 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (15 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (20 percent).

In July, the Olomouc Appellate Court issued a two-year suspended sentence to Benedikt Cermak for online comments expressing approval of the deadly attacks on two mosques in New Zealand in 2019.  The court reversed a verdict of the Regional Court in Brno that had sentenced Cermak to six years in prison in May.

The Jewish community said it hoped to complete by 2022 a memorial that would include Jewish gravestone fragments.  The communist government took the fragments from a 19th century Jewish cemetery in the 1980s and cut them into cobblestones to be placed across the capital.  The Prague mayor’s office returned the fragments to the Jewish community in 2020.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local media outlet Actualite.cd on September 21 reported that armed men wearing police uniforms robbed a parish church in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, despite its proximity to a police sub-station, and assaulted the priests, tying them up, and stuffing a shirt into one priest’s mouth to prevent him from calling for help.

In August, RFI reported multiple instances of vandalism targeting Catholic churches in southwestern Kasai Province and southeastern Haut-Katanga Province.  The Archbishop of Lubumbashi denounced the theft of a statue of the Virgin Mary and other items from Catholic places of worship within his jurisdiction.  RFI reported further vandalism in October in western Kongo Central Province, where gunmen in a Protestant parish destroyed graves of Swedish missionaries.  According to RFI, local civil society members condemned these acts, and some politicians described them as a reaction to these religious institutions’ frequent criticism of those in power.  Some observers on social media explained the vandalism as merely the theft of valuable objects, and others suggested some perpetrators had hoped to gain spiritual power from stolen religious relics.

A representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said there have been several attacks on members in the interior provinces, which he described as less tolerant of Jehovah’s Witnesses than Kinshasa.  The representative said the attacks included threats, beatings, and kidnappings, and took place in Kwilu Province in the west and Maniema Province in the east.

Denmark

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Police reported 194 religiously motivated crimes in 2020, the most recent year for which statistics were available, 8 percent more than in 2019, in which 180 such crimes were reported.  There were 87 crimes reported against Muslims, compared with 109 in 2019; 79 against Jews, compared with 51 in 2019; 25 against Christians, compared with eight cases in 2019; and three against members of other religions or belief groups, compared with 12 in 2019.  Most incidents involved harassment, hate speech, and vandalism, including desecration of cemeteries, and mainly affected the Muslim and Jewish communities.  The report cited hate speech as the most common type of religiously motivated hate crime.  In 2020, 45 percent of religiously motivated hate crime cases reported were directed at Muslims.  The number of hate crime cases committed against Jews increased significantly since 2018, when there were 26 cases reported.  The police report attributed the 2020 increase in hate crimes against Christians to the 12 cases of parish priests who received threatening text messages in April and May that year.

Police Inspector Claus Birkelyng said it was unclear whether the increase in reports in 2020 reflected an increase in actual crimes or a higher number of reported crimes than in previous years.  He also said there had been an increase in hate crimes committed online compared with previous years, from 128 in 2019 to 164 in 2020.  Of the 164 reported online hate crimes, 99 were identified as religiously motivated, of which 32 were directed at Muslims and 51 at Jews.

In January, witnesses discovered the words “[expletive] the Quran,” accompanied by a drawing of a hand with the middle finger up, painted on the side of the mosque belonging to the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation in Aabenraa, in the southern part of the country.  This was the third time vandals damaged the mosque since 2019.  By year’s end, officials had not arrested anyone for the incident.

In April, vandals placed two dolls in nooses near a grave in the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg and poured red paint over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery. The vandals also left antisemitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical organization Nordic Resistance Movement near the dolls.  Police charged a man with vandalism and racism for the crime and in June, and a court sentenced him to one year in prison.  He appealed the verdict and officials released him in November, with the court expected to rule on his appeal in January 2022.

On April 6, a court sentenced a man to nine months in prison for racism, violation of the peace of a graveyard, and gross vandalism against a grave in a Jewish cemetery in Randers in 2019.

In May, a video of a Danish man verbally abusing a Muslim couple and their two small children went viral, prompting several politicians, including Prime Minister Frederiksen, to condemn the act.  Frederiksen said, “We all have a responsibility to speak out – against racism, hate, and discrimination.  It doesn’t belong in Denmark.”

In July, the newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad released the findings of a survey the paper had conducted among 81 Muslim associations in the country.  The survey found that 30 percent of the associations contacted had been vandalized since January 2017.  The incidents ranged from graffiti and stickers promoting hatred on walls to door handles wrapped in bacon.  The survey reported that in two-thirds of the cases, the mosque or organization involved did not report the incident to the police.  In a media report about the survey, Ismail Celik, chairman of the mosque in Odense and spokesman for the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation said, “People are worried about the hatred of Muslims.  We want to be part of society and we want to be respected in the community.”  Similarly, a study released by the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs in February showed that 19 percent of all churches had experienced vandalism since 2017.

In its report released in September, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate societal hostility to religion.”

In September, a Danish-Somalian family appeared on television after being harassed by their downstairs neighbor in Copenhagen.  The family showed videos, including a clip in which the neighbor yelled “You know what you are? You are dirty Muslim animals.”  Authorities did not file charges in this case.

Also in September, unknown persons physically and verbally assaulted a Muslim woman at a public library in Copenhagen, where an individual called her a “Muslim [expletive]” and told her to “take that [expletive] off,” referring to her hijab.  Authorities charged the perpetrator with assault.  No further information emerged on the case.

Djibouti

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Societal norms and customs discouraged conversion from Islam, but conversions reportedly occurred, particularly for marriages with non-Muslim partners.  An Islamic leader stated that Muslim women were less likely to marry outside the Islamic faith due to societal pressures.  Both Muslim and Christian leaders stated conversion from Islam was detrimental to a person’s social status; Muslim religious leaders said traditional social networks often ostracized converts from Islam.

One imam noted the possibility that unregistered religious groups could spread a message of extremism or religious intolerance as had happened in the mid-2000s, although he said the Muslim community had actively worked since then to ensure such messages did not become widespread.

A Christian leader noted that although societal religious tolerance is high in the country, with members of different religious groups living side by side without friction, religious leaders rarely came together to discuss issues and potential common responses to social concerns, such as poverty or food insecurity.

Dominica

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious groups produced live and recorded televised religious services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, broadcasting on radio, television, and social media.  Places of worship also provided drive-in services throughout the year.  The DAEC and other religious groups continued to operate counseling hotlines for persons experiencing fear, worry, or emotional stress because of COVID-19.

During the year, the Catholic church-associated Caritas Dominica Youth Emergency Action Committee’s (YEAC) trained individuals regardless of their religious background as first responders in cases of natural or manmade disasters.  YEAC used the opportunity to demonstrate and promote religious tolerance.  Interdenominational organizations continued their efforts to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity.  Interdenominational dialogue between the DAEC and the Christian Council occurred on a regular basis throughout the year.

Dominican Republic

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to evangelical Protestant leaders, Catholicism, Catholic practices, and Catholic holidays formed a big part of the country’s culture, and Catholic traditions were deeply intertwined with many aspects of life, including government and politics, marriage, family gatherings, and education, among others.

Some non-Catholic religious leaders said non-Catholic religious groups should focus more on the value of cultural change to help the population understand and value religious freedom and the right to freely practice one’s religious beliefs.  Representatives of some non-Catholic religious groups also said they were concerned that both governmental and societal discrimination against non-Catholic groups would continue even if the law that would allow non-Catholic religious groups to receive the same benefits as the Catholic Church were passed, because of the entrenched position of Catholicism in the country.

The Interfaith Dialogue Table, comprising members of all major Protestant church councils, continued to work together and with other religious groups, including the Jewish community, to provide assistance to poor communities, regardless of the religious affiliations of members of those communities.

Ecuador

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Several religious leaders continued to express concern regarding what they considered a rise in secularism and societal discouragement of their participation in important legal and cultural discussions.  According to a Jewish leader, moral and ethical education tended to be relegated to religious leaders, whereas, he said, moral and ethical education should be the responsibility of all members of society.

In May, Jewish leaders said that during the military escalation between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, two local newspapers ran opinion articles that included comments they considered antisemitic.  A May 29 opinion piece in El Universo newspaper by Julio Cesar Roca De Castro compared contemporary Israeli policies to the Nazis, stating, “The wall is reminiscent of the ghettos where Jews were confined and crowded, subjecting them to hunger and disease, as the Nazis did in Warsaw, whose inhabitants they exterminated when they rebelled.”  Jewish leaders publicly condemned the statements but reported no acts of aggression on their community, unlike in previous years.

Religious leaders said although the COVID-19 pandemic continued to challenge their communities, their congregations were meeting in person for religious services.  Participation, however, remained lower than before the pandemic, mainly due to continued caution about attending large in-person gatherings.

Egypt

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Terrorist groups, including Islamic State-Sinai Peninsula (or ISIS-SP, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis), continued sporadic attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in the North Sinai Governorate.  According to an international NGO, at least 26 civilian deaths, 51 security force deaths, and 31 terrorist deaths occurred in the conflict in Sinai between January and July.  According to an ISIS media affiliate, ISIS-SP claimed 101 attacks resulting in 206 casualties during the year.

In April, ISIS-SP released a video that documented the killing of Nabil Habashi, a local Coptic Christian and cofounder of the only church in the district of Bir al-Abd, one of the focal points of ISIS-SP operations.  ISIS-SP kidnapped Habashi in November 2020, using the justification of “Christian support for the Egyptian military and state” and held him for ransom until killing him in February.  Pope Tawadros II released a statement mourning the “faithful son and servant” Habashi, offering condolences to his family and church, and “saluting the heroes of the Egyptian military and police.”  EIPR characterized the killing as a “murder based on religious identity.”

On July 27, Shenouda Salah Asaad, a Copt, was stabbed to death, allegedly by a Salafist neighbor, in al-Qusiyah, Assiut Governorate.  Salah’s wife was injured and hospitalized.  The investigative police in al-Qusiyah reportedly intensified efforts to arrest the perpetrator.  At year’s end, there had been no official confirmation of his apprehension.

In April, sectarian clashes in al-Mudmar village in Sohag Governorate resulted in at least one death and six injuries that required hospitalization.  Witnesses in al-Mudmar said that the events began with a dispute between two Copts, and later drew in a Muslim would-be mediator.  Following the violence, security forces moved into the village.  Eyewitness residents said the village generally experienced amicable relations between Muslims and Christians.

On October 11, local media reported that a female pharmacist working in Sharqia Governorate accused her coworkers of assaulting, harassing, and persecuting her for her decision not to wear a hijab.  The pharmacist filed a report with the Zagazig District police department against her colleagues, prompting the Governor of Sharqia to offer support, pending investigation by the prosecution.  The pharmacist also appealed to the Pharmacists Syndicate to intervene, and one of her colleagues documented the alleged assault in her workplace with a video that was widely circulated on Facebook.  One week after the pharmacist’s complaint, the Supreme State Security Prosecution ordered her detained for 15 days pending investigation on charges of “joining a terrorist group and spreading false news.”  In November and again on December 21, the State Security Prosecution Office extended the pharmacist’s detention by 15 days.  The pharmacist remained in detention at year’s end.

In September, the press reported that two doctors and another employee at a Cairo hospital had anonymously posted a video to social media of them bullying a nurse and demanding that he kneel and pray to a dog.  The nurse stated that it would be a sin for all of them if he complied.  The press reported that there was a “wave of indignation on social media.”   The Ministry of Health later said that it fired the senior doctor; the country’s Prosecutor General ordered the three men detained, pending an investigation on charges of bullying, abuse of power, and contempt of religion.  The case was referred to a criminal court, which sentenced the three to two years in prison in October.

Religious discrimination in private sector hiring continued, according to human rights groups and religious communities.

A July report by the NGO Coptic Solidarity stated that out of 141 athletes on the national Olympic team that competed in the 2020 Tokyo games (held in 2021), only one was a Copt.  The Olympic teams in 2012 and 2016 had similar breakdowns, which the NGO stated was due to “entrenched, deep-rooted, systematic, and systemic discrimination against the Copts.”

In February, Al-Monitor, a news website, reported that Christian soccer players formed a team, Je Suis Club, in 2016 to provide Christians playing opportunities.  The report stated that the main Egyptian teams, including Zamalek, Ahli, Ismaili, and the Alexandria Union, had only Muslim players on their rosters.

During a nationally broadcast television program, an al-Azhar University professor responded to the beating of a woman by her husband by saying that women tended to exaggerate when complaining, that no man would resort to this degree of violence unless strongly provoked, and that wives were guilty of bringing domestic violence upon themselves.  A local advocacy group for battered spouses posted the video on social media, criticizing the downplaying of spousal abuse by a member of the country’s religious establishment.  One of the professor’s female colleagues at al-Azhar’s Tadwein Center for Gender Studies denounced the professor’s televised statements and said Islam did not justify violence against women under any circumstances.

Reuters reported the country’s first all-female Muslim recitation choir, al-Hour, was challenging “deep-rooted taboos about women singing in public or reciting from the Quran.”  Al-Hour founder Nemaa Fathi said, “Having women in the Muslim religious chanting field not only breaks social stereotypes about female chanters.  It also gives a new, distinctive style to an art that has long been dominated by only men.”

The press reported that a video of a girls’ choir singing Christian hymns on the Cairo Metro was extensively reposted after initially having been posted by Nabila Makram, a Copt and Minister of Emigration and Expatriate Affairs.  One human rights lawyer characterized the singing as courageous, adding, “The reality is that Egyptian society is intolerant of Christians’ public expression of faith.”

In June, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar welcomed a proposal to establish a center in Egypt for Islamic studies, presented to him by a delegation from the Anglican Episcopal Church. The proposal was the first of its kind in the history of relations between al-Azhar and the Church.  Also included in the proposal were the establishment of an Islamic library, in cooperation with al-Azhar University.

In November, Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and All Africa inaugurated the Patriarchal Center for Studies and Dialogue in the Holy Monastery of St. Georgios in Cairo as a new center for interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

In October, the Syndicate of Musical Professions in Egypt issued a decision banning its members from dealing with Egyptian rapper Marwan Pablo due to his having “defiled a religious invocation” during a concert in New Cairo.  In a statement, the syndicate said that Marwan “repeated a well-known religious invocation but that he replaced its words with vulgarity and emptied it of its moral content.”

According to a January 8 report on Al-Monitor, following a decision by the Government of Pakistan to ban the release of a British film, The Lady of Heaven, a number of social media activists, Islamic scholars, and Salafist imams called for a ban on screening the film in Egypt.  They urged the issuance of fatwas prohibiting the viewing of the film and sent demands to the United Kingdom to stop the international distribution of the movie.  According to press, the film portrayed the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, who also was the wife of Ali, fourth caliph of Sunni Muslims and first imam of Shia Muslims.  Several newspapers reported that the film featured the voice of the Prophet Muhammad as a narrator in the film.

On April 3, 22 royal mummies and 17 sarcophagi were transferred from the Egyptian Museum, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, to the National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations, also in Cairo.  During the transfer, prominent actors and actresses portrayed figures from the history of Egyptian civilizations, including the centuries-long coexistence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – including prominent scenes within churches and synagogues.

The research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 24 percent of Egyptian respondents said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, which was lower than the regionwide result of 34 percent.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

El Salvador

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On April 12, gang members assaulted an elderly priest, Father Gregorio Landaverde, in Santa Tecla, La Libertad Municipality, when he unknowingly drove into a gang-controlled neighborhood to find an alternative route around a traffic jam.  When Landaverde, pastor of the Asuncion Pleca Parish in the Delgado Municipality, stopped to ask for directions, gang members immediately surrounded him and searched his truck, where they found a machete that he had used the previous day to clear land for relatives, which gang members said made the priest a potential threat.  The gang members beat him with stones, took his wallet, and damaged his car.  Landaverde was hospitalized, and the parish church cancelled Mass until Landaverde recovered.

In January, Father Manuel Acosta, a professor of theology at the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, told Catholic press outlet Crux that he was disturbed about the violence against Catholic priests, including the thus far unexplained killings of three priests in fewer than three years ending in 2020.  All were his former students.  “I had no words,” said Acosta recalling his thought the morning he heard of the killing in August 2020 of yet another former student, Father Ricardo Cortez, who was found dead after being shot in the head.

According to law enforcement representatives, gang members continued to extort organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, demanding payments in exchange for allowing them to operate in some territories.  Reports of criminals targeting churches, stealing religious relics and other valuable cultural items, and violently assaulting parishioners continued.

According to media, on July 28, security guards killed one thief and injured another when they attempted to rob the Los Heraldos del Evangelio Catholic Church in the Santa Elena neighborhood of San Salvador.  A third assailant escaped.  Authorities investigated the incident and charged the injured suspect with trespassing; he remained in detention and awaited trial at year’s end.

Media again reported, and religious leaders also said, former gang members who joined evangelical Protestant churches were allowed to leave their gang to dedicate themselves to their faith only after they gained approval from their gang leaders.  According to the national police, conversion to an evangelical Protestant group was a way out of gang membership from which there was otherwise no exit.  Gangs continued to monitor former members for years after they left the gang to ensure they were routinely attending church services and following strict religious practices.  If the gang discovered the religious conversion was not authentic, the penalty for the deception was death.  For some gangs, even if a member was allowed to leave for religious reasons, the member still could be called to rejoin the gang as needed.  According to law enforcement representatives, the gangs used death threats against these former gang members or their families to force their return to the gang.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 12th annual study of restrictions on religion, issued in September but covering 2019, El Salvador had a moderate decrease in its social hostilities index compared with Pew’s 11th annual report issued in 2018 and covering 2019.  The social hostilities index measured acts of religious hostility by private individuals and societal organizations or groups.

Equatorial Guinea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Eritrea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

While government control of all media and public discourse limited information available concerning societal actions affecting religious freedom, religious tolerance appeared to international observers to be widespread within society.  Churches and mosques are located in close proximity to each other, and most citizens congratulated members of other religious groups on the occasions of religious holidays and other events.  There were no reports of sectarian violence, and most towns and ethnic groups included members from all of the major religious groups.

Some Christian leaders continued to report Muslim leaders and communities were willing to collaborate on community projects.  Ecumenical and interreligious committees did not exist, although local leaders met informally.  Some shrines were venerated by both Orthodox and Muslim believers.  Some Muslims expressed privately their feelings of stress and scrutiny in professional and educational settings because of their religion.

Estonia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In August, unknown persons defaced a poster promoting vaccination with antisemitic graffiti in Tallinn.  City council member Vladimir Svet denounced the incident saying, “The district government takes such situations very seriously and condemns antisemitism and any incitement of hatred against any group.”  Police did not file formal charges due to what they stated was a lack of evidence and suspects.

According to government statistics, in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, police registered three cases of physical abuse, breach of public order, or threats (as defined by law) that included hatred against persons belonging to religious or other minorities, compared with eight cases in 2019.  According to government sources, at least two of these cases were tied to the victim’s race or national origin.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to many religious and other civil society leaders, there was societal support for religious freedom and tolerance.

On September 5, the Jewish Community held its annual commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust at the memorial for the victims of Nazism at Kalevi-Liiva, with the participation of foreign diplomats and representatives of the state, municipalities, and public organizations.

Eswatini

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim leaders continued to report negative and/or suspicious views of Islam in society.  Muslim leaders and business owners said they felt their community was unfairly targeted during civil unrest, as a significant percentage of the businesses that were looted and burned were owned by members of the Muslim community, although sources stated that it was unclear if this was due to religious or racial/ethnic bias.  Other observers attributed the motivation for attacks on Muslim-owned shops during the protests to racism and a widely held perception that the Asian community had close ties to the King.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, with Muslims in the country being primarily of South Asian descent, it was difficult to categorize such incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Due to complications from COVID-19 restrictions and ongoing civil unrest, the Baha’i community did not hold the planned interfaith devotional fellowship dialogues during the year, although Baha’i and Muslim faith groups sometimes collaborated on community service or development initiatives.

Ethiopia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Human rights groups stated that societal violence was on the rise, especially in the context of the conflict in the northern part of the country.  Because ethnicity and religion are often closely linked and because criminality, politics, access to resources, and historical grievances were also drivers of violence, it was difficult to characterize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In October, the Amhara Region Islamic Affairs Supreme Council said the TPLF had demolished a historic mosque in Zarema town, North Gondar, Amhara Region.  The secretary general of the council said the attack proved TPLF’s continued antireligious stand.  He said the TPLF had destroyed several other mosques and religious sites in the region and massacred religious students in madrassahs.

On March 5, according to the Addis Standard, members of the OLA killed 29 individuals in Abo Church in Debos Kebele, East Wollega, Oromia Region.  Witnesses said victims were marking the beginning of the EOTC’s two-month period of fasting.  Reports stated members of the OLA stormed into the church, immediately killing the church administrator.  The OLA members took the rest of the victims to a nearby forest and killed them.

In May, the EOTC stated that the government allowing Muslims to hold the Grand Iftar celebration in Meskel Square – of which the EOTC claimed traditional “ownership” – could threaten coexistence between the country’s Christians and Muslims.  The EOTC advised Muslims to hold the event at its usual venue, Abebe Bikila Stadium.  After the government disrupted the celebration on May 9 and despite the EOTC’s protests, the rescheduled celebration took place peacefully on May 11 in Meskel Square.

The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) expressed continued concern about what it said was the influence of foreign Salafist groups within the Muslim community.  The EIASC accused foreign Salafist groups of forcibly taking control of local mosques.  The EIASC said it continued to hold these foreign groups responsible for the exacerbation of tensions between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community.

According to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the EIASC, the number of Islamic religious schools was growing.  Abdul Geni Kedir, a headmaster at one school, said that the expansion of the schools, which were “significantly contributing to the spread of the faith,” reflected the steady increase of the community’s influence in society.  He said, “Islamic education has been reinforced by the burgeoning Islamic media and related public activities.  Now, we have private newspapers, television stations, educational videos, and there is an increase in the production of multilingual traditional and modern Islamic hymns.”

Observers described a small revival of Waaqeffanna – an indigenous religion in Oromia – especially on university campuses.

The IRCE continued to include representatives from the EOTC, EIASC, Catholic Church, and several evangelical Christian groups, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church, and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.

Fiji

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 29, police investigated an alleged incident of criminal sacrilege involving Rajesh Goundar, a pastor of the El-Shaddai Assemblies of God Church, who was recorded on video demolishing a statue of a Hindu god at a house in Wairabetia, Lautoka.  Hindus in the country, including politicians and those from religious organizations such as the Sanatam Dharam Pratinibhi Saba who viewed the widely circulated video on social media, condemned the incident as an “act of sacrilege.”  Veena Wati, the owner of the home where the alleged desecration occurred, later explained in local media that she had consented to the removal of the statue from her family’s property.  Wati said that the “issue was blown out of proportion,” stating that parts of the video showing the family conducting what she called a peace mantra before removing the Hindu statue were edited out.  Wati and her family, recent converts to Christianity, stated that they resorted to breaking the idol when they couldn’t remove it from its foundation.  The Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission received at least three complaints regarding the incident and said it would investigate the issue and called for religious leaders in the country to promote religious tolerance and respect.  A police investigation remained pending at year’s end.

The Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Hindu and Muslim groups operated numerous schools, including secondary schools, which were eligible for government subsidies based on the size of their student population.

Finland

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In 2020, the latest period for which data were available, police reported 108 hate crimes against members of religious groups, including crimes involving assault, threats and harassment, discrimination, and vandalism, compared with 133 such incidents in 2019.  There were 39 incidents involving Muslims, 28 involving Christians, including two involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, 18 involving Jews, and 21 involving others or unknown religious groups.  Police did not, however, cite any details of the incidents or release information on how many were motivated solely by religion.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Despite the ban on the self-described Pan-Nordic neo-Nazi NRM in the country, the group continued to operate a website, make statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims, and participate in demonstrations.  Authorities stated that in 2020, Finnish members of the NRM began operating as part of the Towards Freedom group, considered to be the NRM’s successor by the National Bureau of Investigation.  While Towards Freedom’s website remained active, it had not been updated since December 2020.  Former NRM members continued activities under new websites, including Partisaani, a far-right news aggregation website that spread anti-Muslim and antisemitic conspiracy theories and Finn Aid (Suomalaisapu), an organization that describes itself as a charity organization but also used anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.  These outlets often featured the traditional NRM logo that includes neo-fascist imagery.

Finnish researchers studying online extremism stated that neo-Nazi activities decreased significantly during the year following the ban of the NRM.  Helsingin Sanomat reported in March, however, that the threat of terrorism posed by far-right groups, particularly as a response to racist and anti-Muslim “replacement theory” (which asserts that immigration and low birth rates among native populations will result in the replacement of native populations by foreigners of different races and religions), increased in the country, corresponding with the findings of a 2020 study by the National Bureau of Investigation.

In August, former Tampere City Council member and far-right party organizer Terhi Kiemunki led a protest organized by the Alliance of Nationalists commemorating the fourth anniversary of a terrorist attack by a self-identified soldier of ISIS in Turku, Finland.  While the Alliance of Nationalists stated that it did not take a position on the activities or opinions of its members or discriminate against other nationalities, religions, and ethnicities, the alliance hosted regular “White Lives Matter” events and promoted news articles describing “replacement theory” ideology on its webpage.  Leaders of the Alliance of Nationalists include former NRM members.  Police estimated attendance at the protest at more than 100 participants, fewer than both previous memorial demonstrations.  Police estimated attendance at a concurrent counterdemonstration by the anti-fascist group Turku Without Nazis as larger than the event sponsored by the Alliance of Nationalists.  Police arrested one person for harassing behavior, but police did not comment on whether the detainee took part in the protest or counterprotest.

Stickers and posters with antisemitic images and messages were placed on the synagogue of Helsinki’s Jewish Congregation, in neighborhoods with significant Jewish populations, and on public property throughout the year.  Sources stated the vandalism was both random and targeted.  Antisemitic graffiti and stickers bearing iconography of the NRM also appeared at LGBTQI+ Pride events.  Representatives of the Jewish community reported that despite available video and photographic evidence of those responsible, police made no arrests.

In September, anti-immigration activists organized a demonstration called Rise Finland (Nuose Suomi) in Helsinki’s Parliament Park to protest the reception of Afghan refugees in the country.  Speakers included former members of the NRM, and organizers advertised the event on the Norwegian branch of the NRM’s website and on Partisaani.  Speeches, broadcast live on YouTube, focused on what the organizers called “the Islamization of Finland” and called on Finns to take a stand for “Finnishness.”

In a Swedish documentary series released in Finland in January, Linda Karlstrom, the coach of the IK Kronan gymnastics club of Kronoby, made several remarks questioning the existence of the Holocaust.  The Swedish-speaking Sports Federation raised Karlstrom’s case, but the Gymnastics Association Disciplinary Committee did not punish her on free-speech grounds.  The disciplinary committee stated that, as a general rule, matters outside sports do not fall with its remit.  As of March, Karlstrom no longer coached at IK Kronan.

Anti-Muslim and antisemitic organizations were active across a variety of social media platforms.  “Replacement theory” references spread on Facebook, Twitter, the Russian social media network VK, and the American social media network Gab.  The European Jewish Congress and leaders of the Helsinki Jewish community reported antisemitic incidents in European social networks, including posts in Finnish, throughout the year.  Telegram, VK, Gab, and Twitter spread Holocaust denials and conspiracy theories of Jewish “world domination.” According to Helsingin Sanomat, the Finnish Football Association announced in May that it would donate Nike sports hijabs to every soccer player who wanted one.  The announcement was met with a backlash on Twitter, where a significant proportion of comments expressed opposition to the hijab.

NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center.  A representative of the center said converts to Christianity in migrant reception facilities continued to face harassment, including social exclusion, threats, and blackmail but that there were limited security and social services resources to combat these issues.

Leaders of Muslim religious organizations were divided concerning the need for additional houses of worship that could accommodate the growing and diverse Muslim community.  A representative of the CORE Forum said that Muslim groups continued to seek adequate houses of worship, but that they were hindered by insufficient funds from purchasing property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government and did not choose to register.  Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were located in converted commercial spaces.  Other members of the Muslim community noted that, in sum, the spaces available were sufficient, but that persons from some religious or ethnic backgrounds may not feel comfortable using the currently available spaces.  According to one community leader, while the number of prayer rooms was sufficient, there were not enough spaces providing community services, particularly for women and children, or prayer services in Finnish.  Members of the LGBTQI+ Muslim community noted that there were no “safe spaces” for Muslims who identified as LGBTQI+ and, in particular, for LGBTQI+ Muslims in asylum-seeker reception centers.  Attempts to build a large grand mosque in the south of the country stalled; some Muslim community leaders identified politicization of zoning laws, anti-Muslim and racist attitudes in some local communities, and deep divisions across the diverse Muslim community as contributing factors.

Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland stated that other Muslim groups continued to block the group’s formal membership in interfaith organizations.  Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland said the group planned to construct a mosque and cultural center in the future and that although the mosque would be built solely with funds from the Ahmadi community, it would be open to all religious and nonreligious individuals.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 34 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020 – 3 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 37 complaints in 2019.

The website Magneettimedia continued to post antisemitic content and in January published an article entitled, “Biden:  Jews in leadership positions in the White House, CIA, NSA, and Ministry of Finance,” and in April a piece entitled “World Power Aspirations of the Jewish Mafia.”  The website also warned of what it said was a coming confrontation among the Christian and Islamic and Jewish worlds that could lead to the destruction of Christianity.  Major companies and consumer brands continued to boycott the department store chain owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his antisemitic views.

In June, the Ministry of the Interior published a report by a working group dedicated to improving security at religious sites.  The report found that while nearly all (93 percent) Christian respondents reported feeling safe in or near their religious facilities, only 69 percent of Muslims and 33 percent of Jews reported feeling safe in the vicinity of designated religious spaces.  The report’s recommendations included improving state support for security for all religious communities.  According to the leadership of the Central Council of Jewish Communities, proposed budget cuts to synagogue security funding were a significant concern.  Representatives of the Ahmadi Muslim community said that they were not consulted in the production of the report and expressed additional security concerns, particularly about what they termed extremist groups.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of religious groups participated in virtual events hosted by other religious groups.  Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interfaith iftar, bringing together virtually representatives from the largest religious groups, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.  The theme of the event was “Loving Thy Neighbor in the Time of a Pandemic:  An Inclusive Approach,” and it discussed how interfaith dialogue and community organization might advance religious freedom during difficult times and restrictions, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

France

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Ministry of Interior reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported.  (According to the ministry, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.)  While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020).  Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent, to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).

On August 9, Emmanuel Abayisenga, a Rwandan asylum seeker, killed Father Olivier Maire, a Catholic priest in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre in the Loire Region.  Abayisenga was under judicial supervision while awaiting trial for allegedly setting fire to the Nantes Cathedral in 2020.  Since the end of his pretrial detention, following an assessment he was mentally unfit to remain in the judicial system, Abayisenga had been staying with the victim.  In an August 9 press conference, the regional deputy prosecutor said there was no initial indication of any terrorist motive.  Media reported the killing had prompted a strong public outcry; President Macron and Prime Minister Castex both tweeted their condolences, and Minister of Interior Darmanin offered his support to the country’s Catholics.  At year’s end, remained in a psychiatric hospital.

On May 29, a group of approximately 10 men jeered, whistled at, and physically attacked Catholics taking part in a procession in Paris commemorating Catholics killed during the 1871 Commune.  The perpetrators tore down flags and threw projectiles at the marchers, injuring two of them.  Interior Minister Darmanin condemned the attack on social media.  Authorities charged one suspect with “aggravated violence” and “violation of religious freedom”.  His trial was scheduled for 2022.

In September, press reported that five men beat a Jewish man wearing a kippah on a street in Lyon, after the man confronted them when the group called him “a dirty Jew.”  The man sustained minor injuries.  Police arrested one suspect, a teenager.  There was no further information on the case at year’s end.

On March 29, a Pakistani national in the country illegally attempted to attack with a knife three young Jewish men wearing kippahs as they were leaving a synagogue in Paris during Passover.  According to press reports, authorities indicted the man for making a “threat with a weapon” but not for an antisemitic hate crime, reportedly because of insufficient evidence, and then released him.  Authorities subsequently deported the man to Pakistan on April 16.  The president of the local Jewish community expressed relief at the man’s deportation.

In March, according to press reports, guards at a Jewish school in Marseille overpowered a man with a knife whom they suspected of planning to stab customers at a nearby kosher store and bakery.  The guards disarmed the man and police took him into custody.  There was no further information on the case at year’s end.

According to media reports, in November, police arrested a teenager who brandished a machete, hurled marbles, and shouted “dirty Jews” in front of a Jewish high school outside Lyon.  Police were investigating whether the teenager or his family had ties to terrorism.

On December 1, legal authorities announced the trial of a man known as Aurelien C., whom security forces arrested in 2020 in Limoges because they suspected him of planning an attack on the Jewish community, would begin in Paris in January 2022.  Aurelien C, a former member of both the military and the Yellow Vest protest movement, had posted on social media white supremacist conspiracy theories and both antisemitic and anti-Islamic comments, while glorifying terrorists such as the 2019 Christchurch and 2011 Oslo attackers.  Investigators reportedly found incendiary tools in his home that could be used as mortars and found evidence he had researched when Jewish religious sites would reopen in his town.  Aurelien C. remained in detention at year’s end.

On May 26, a priest at the Toulon Cathedral received a voicemail warning that someone would come to “kill people in the church” and “make the building jump [i.e., explode].”  Police secured the cathedral and arrested a minor in Annecy later that afternoon for what they said may have been a prank.  The priest and police admonished the public that such jokes were unacceptable, particularly in light of recent attacks on places of worship.

On April 17, authorities deported to Algeria an Algerian food delivery driver whom the Strasbourg Criminal Court had convicted on January 14 of antisemitic discrimination for refusing to transport orders of kosher food to Jewish customers.  Interior Minister Darmanin said the courier, who was in the country illegally, was deported after serving his four-month prison sentence.

Jehovah’s Witnesses officials reported 14 incidents during the year.  On December 31, a physical attack took place against a Jehovah’s Witness in a parking lot in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.  The individual filed a lawsuit.

According to the Israeli government’s Aliyah and Integration Ministry figures released in October, 2,819 French Jews emigrated to Israel in the first half of the year, compared with 2,227 in all of 2019.  According to the same source, approximately 2,220 Jews left France for Israel during the first 11 months of 2020.

On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the kidnapping, torture, and killing of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man, the CRIF commissioned a survey from research firm Ipsos on the perception of antisemitism in France.  The survey was conducted between February 5 and 8 with a sample of 1,000 persons over the age of 18.  The poll showed at least 74 percent of respondents believed that antisemitism was a widespread phenomenon in the country.  The poll also found 56 percent believed antisemitism was more severe than 10 years previously and 88 percent believed that the fight against antisemitism should be a priority for public authorities.  According to the poll, 69 percent of respondents were aware of the Ilan Halimi case; 53 percent believed that antisemitism had the same roots as other forms of racist hatred, and 38 percent did not fully understand the meaning of “anti-Zionism” rhetoric.

The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, released on July 22, included the results of an Ipsos poll conducted in November 2020 and involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,323 residents above the age of 18.  The results were similar to a poll Ipsos conducted a year earlier.  According to the more recent poll, 47.6 percent (compared with 34.2 percent in 2019) of respondents believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 21.9 percent (18.6 percent in 2019) thought Jews had too much power in the country.  The poll found 46.1 percent (35.5 percent in 2019) of respondents had a negative image of Islam, and 58.9 percent (44.7 percent in 2019) considered it a threat to national identity.  The commission’s report again cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, finding, for example, that 68.8 percent of respondents (45.5 percent in 2019) opposed women wearing a veil.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that in France was collected between February and June 2020.  According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Twelve percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (21 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (28 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (13 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (12 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (28 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (24 percent).

In a July 25 interview with weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, CRIF President Kalifat condemned the anti-COVID-19 vaccine movement’s use of references to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.  Kalifat said he was angry at those who “compare the implementation of the COVID-19 health pass, a tool intended to save lives, with the yellow star, which was itself the symbol of discrimination and the death of six million Jews [who] went up in smoke in Nazi crematoria.”  Kalifat said the pandemic was a pretext for online conspiracy theories accusing Jews and Israel of introducing the virus to profit from the vaccine.

According to a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, French antisemitic content in online media platforms Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram increased seven-fold in the first two months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020.  In addition to frequent antisemitic content related to COVID-19, the study found 55 percent of the content had to do with conspiracy theories about Jews controlling international, financial, political, and media institutions.

On February 1, on the occasion of an official visit to a CEF session by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia, CRIF President Kalifat, and Joel Mergui, then president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France (the main Jewish administrative governance body), the CEF expressed its strong opposition to antisemitism and concern for growing intolerance against Jews in the country.  In a statement released to mark the visit, the bishops said their warning of the dangers of rising antisemitism in the country was “all the more urgent” given a “trivialization of violence” raised through hate speech, especially on social media.  The bishops also urged “not only Catholics, but also all our fellow citizens to fight vigorously against all forms of political and religious antisemitism in and around them.”

A report covering 2019-20 and issued in December by NGO The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe stated that society in the country seemed to be increasingly divided between Christians, secularists, and Muslims, adding that the government’s secularism had resulted in strong pressures on Christians on moral issues in which Christians and secular society have different views, such as marriage, family, education, bioethics, and identity politics.  It also said media helped to perpetuate certain stereotypes about Christianity, leading to further division.  The NGO expressed concern about what it called a lack of respect for Christianity and a high number of attacks on Christians, churches, and Christian symbols, as well as reports by Christians of feeling Islamic oppression.  The report also stated authorities had noticed “the high number of serious attacks against churches, Christian buildings and symbols as well as against some citizens.”

In a report issued in March, NGO European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) stated that the overwhelming majority of converts to Christianity from Islam in the country experienced family and community contempt and persecution, most commonly in the form of verbal or physical aggression, threats, harassment, or rejection by members of the Muslim community.  ECLJ added that persecution was greater for women and girls who converted from Islam, a significant proportion of whom it said were threatened with being forcibly married, sent to their parents’ country of origin, or sequestered if they did not return to Islam.  The report stated that every year, 300 persons of Muslim origin were baptized into the Catholic Church and estimated that twice that number joined Protestant churches, concluding that there were at least 4,000 converts to Christianity from Islam in the country.

In September, religious leaders and other commentators criticized presidential candidate for 2022 Eric Zemmour’s statement that the Nazi-aligned Vichy regime “protected French Jews” during the Second World War.  In an October TV interview, Chief Rabbi Korsia called Zemmour, who is of Jewish heritage, an antisemite for his comments doubting the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus, famously exonerated of treason charges in 1906.  Zemmour was convicted in 2018 of incitement to religious hatred for making anti-Islamic comments.

On August 27, a fire, suspected to be arson, damaged a Protestant church in Behren-les-Forbach, in the eastern part of the country.  On Twitter, Interior Minister Darmanin strongly condemned the arson and expressed his “support to France’s Protestants.”  A gendarmerie investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On April 12, students found a spray-painted crossed-out Star of David with the inscriptions “Death to Israel” and “Kouffar” (“nonbelievers” in Arabic and a pejorative term commonly used to describe Christians and Jews) on the facade of the Institute of Political Sciences, an institute of higher learning, in Paris.  The Union of Jewish Students of France called for the institute to take action “to fight the scourge of racist and antisemitic hatred within its walls.”  Higher Education Minister Vidal condemned the vandalism “in the strongest possible terms” on social media.  At year’s end, authorities had not identified any suspects.

According to media reports, on August 28, neighbors discovered antisemitic slogans, such as “Death to the Jews,” painted on the wall of the cemetery and an adjoining barn in Rouffach, located in Upper Rhine Department.  President of the Grand East Region Jean Rottner immediately condemned the incident on Twitter and called for an inquiry.

On August 11, local media in Brittany reported that a monument to French Holocaust survivor and European Parliament president Simone Veil in Perros-Guirec had been defaced three times with excrement and swastikas.  On August 24, following a joint investigation conducted by gendarmes and the Central Office for the Fight against Crimes Against Humanity, two men were arrested.  The local prosecutor announced on August 26 that the men were formally charged with aggravated degradation, aggravated public insult, and incitement to hatred charges, and were released on bail, with conditions.  A trial had not been scheduled by year’s end.

On August 7, antipolice graffiti was discovered on the walls of the Nour El Mohamadi Mosque in central Bordeaux, which was vandalized twice in 2020.  A police investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On April 11, unidentified individuals defaced the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center in Rennes with anti-Muslim graffiti, prompting a same-day visit by Interior Minister Darmanin and CFCM President Moussaoui.  The Rennes prosecutor opened an investigation for vandalism of a religious nature.  On April 29, vandals again defaced the Avicenne Muslim Cultural Center and a nearby halal butcher shop with anti-Muslim graffiti referencing a recent Islamist terror attack in Rambouillet, presidential candidate Melenchon, and right-wing monarchist group Action Francaise.  Action Francaise denied responsibility for the vandalism.  Elected officials and the regional prefect issued statements condemning the vandalism and affirming support for the Muslim community.  The CFCM also condemned the incident as “a new and cowardly” provocation.

On December 10, unknown persons vandalized dozens of tombs in the Muslim cemetery in the town of Mulhouse, knocking flowers and ornaments off the graves, according to press reports.  Mulhouse Mayor Michele Lutz condemned the vandalism.

On January 4, press reported local officials discovered swastikas and antisemitic graffiti spray painted on the walls of churches in Echouboulains and Ecrennes and the town hall of Vaux-le-Penil.  Vandals had painted near-identical graffiti a week earlier on graves at a local cemetery and at a nativity scene in the nearby towns of Fontainebleau and Melun.  The prefect of Seine-et-Marne Department and the mayor of Echouboulains condemned the vandalism, and Seine-et-Marne authorities opened an investigation.

On April 17, “The Return of Satan,” “Traitors,” and antisemitic graffiti were scrawled in red paint on the Saint-Sernin Basilica and in surrounding areas in Toulouse.  Mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc condemned the vandalism.  Local press said they believed far-right agitators could be behind the vandalism to create the impression of a Muslim attack on both Catholics and Jews.

The investigation of the 2020 killing of three Catholic worshippers in the Basilica of Notre Dame in the southern city of Nice continued at year’s end.  The suspect in the killings, identified as Brahim Aouissaoui, an asylum seeker from Tunisia who entered the country shortly before the attack, remained in prison.  The national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office said it was treating the attack as a terrorist incident.

On November 9, a Paris prosecutor requested a 32-year prison sentence for Yacine Mihoub, convicted of killing Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in 2018 and 18 years in prison for his accomplice, Alex Carrimbacus.  On November 10, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced Mihoub to life imprisonment, with no possibility of parole before 22 years.  Carrimbacus was acquitted of murder but found guilty of theft and sentenced to 15 years in prison.  The court ruled the killing was fueled by “a broader context of antisemitism” and “prejudices” about the purported wealth of Jewish people.  The victim’s family said the verdict was “just.”  On November 15, Mihoub’s lawyer announced his client had appealed the ruling, paving the way for a second trial.

On August 27, the Paris Criminal Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction to hear a case involving two men who in 2020 shouted antisemitic insults and assaulted a Jewish man, stole his watch, and beat him unconscious.  The criminal court transferred the case to the Court of Assizes – which hears the most serious criminal cases – because the two men could face more than 15 years in prison on a charge of violent theft motivated by religious reasons.  At year’s end, a trial had not been scheduled, and the two men remained in detention.

On July 2, the Seine-Saint-Denis Criminal Court sentenced nine individuals to prison, with sentences ranging from four to 12 years for the violent September 2017 robbery of a Jewish family in Livry-Gargan, a northern Paris suburb.  The individuals were convicted of breaking into the home of Roger Pinto, the president of Siona, a group that represents Sephardic Jews, and beating Pinto’s son and wife.  The court confirmed the antisemitic nature of the robbery.  The Pinto family’s lawyer called the ruling “a victory for the law.”  The convicted individuals’ lawyer announced her clients would not appeal the ruling.

On July 8, the Colmar Court of Appeals declared a man accused of attempted murder after crashing his car into a mosque in Colmar in 2019 criminally not responsible for his actions and ordered he be sent to a psychiatric hospital instead.

On July 7, the Paris Criminal Court handed down suspended prison sentences ranging from four to six months to 11 of 13 defendants after they were found guilty of harassing and threatening a 16-year-old student, Mila, online in Lyon in 2020.  The 13 defendants represented a variety of backgrounds and religions; one had charges dismissed for procedural reasons, and another was acquitted.  The court considered the case a “real business of harassment.”  The student’s lawyer told the court Mila had received approximately 100,000 threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynist messages, and hateful messages about her homosexuality after she posted a vulgar anti-Islam video online.  The student said she posted the video in response to a vulgar attack on her sexuality by a Muslim.  Mila was also forced to change schools and continued to live under police protection through year’s end.  In July, the student met with Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Great Mosque of Paris.

On September 22, four men and four women appeared before the Paris Criminal Court for posting antisemitic tweets against April Benayoum, the runner-up in the 2021 Miss France competition.  The eight were tried for “public insults committed because of origin, ethnicity, race, or religion.”  Benayoum received numerous antisemitic comments on social media after revealing that her father was Israeli during the televised competition in 2020.  Prosecutors requested suspended sentences of two months’ imprisonment.  On November 3, a Paris court ordered seven of the eight defendants to each pay fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340-$910).  Each of the seven was also ordered to pay one euro ($1.13) in damages to the contestant and to each of several associations involved in combating racism and antisemitism which had joined the plaintiff in the lawsuit.  Four of the defendants were also ordered to attend a two-day civic class.  The court acquitted the eighth suspect, finding that his tweet did not target Benayoum directly.

On July 2, a Paris court sentenced French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala to four months in prison for “public insult of an antisemitic nature” and “contestation of a crime against humanity” for two 2020 videos regarding the Holocaust.  M’Bala appealed the decision.

On May 19, the Paris Court of Appeals condemned writer Alain Soral, commonly described in the press as a right-wing extremist, to four months in prison, with work release during the day, for incitement to religious hatred for blaming the 2019 fire in Notre Dame Cathedral on Jews from Paris.  In a separate case, the Court of Cassation on October 26 rejected Soral’s appeal of a 2020 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals that convicted him for contesting crimes against humanity for his remarks regarding the Holocaust and ordered Soral to pay a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,700) or face imprisonment.

On October 19, a court in Metz sentenced teacher and former National Rally political candidate Cassandre Fristot to a suspended prison sentence of six months for “inciting racial hatred.”  Fristot held a placard with antisemitic slogans at an antivaccine protest in August, sparking wide condemnation and prompting Interior Minister Darmanin to ask the Prefect of Moselle to take legal action.  The court also ordered Fristot to pay fines of between one and 300 euros ($1.13-$340) to eight out of 13 groups, including CRIF and various NGOs, that joined the case as plaintiffs.  Education authorities also suspended Fristot from her teaching position on August 9, pending disciplinary action.

On May 18, the Lyon Criminal Court dropped charges against French-Palestinian activist Olivia Zemor, stating lack of evidence.  An Israeli pharmaceutical company had sued Zemor for defamation and incitement to economic discrimination after she posted an article on Europalestine, a pro-Palestinian website, accusing the company of being complicit in “apartheid and occupation.”

According to media, on October 26, a court in Val d’Oise, a region north of Paris, gave an optician a one-year suspended prison sentence for having a harassed a Jewish family returning from synagogue on August 21.  The woman repeatedly gave the Nazi salute, shouted “Heil Hitler,” and told the family, “Dirty Jews, you are the shame of France.”

On October 29, the Paris Criminal Court declared Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 93-year-old founder of the National Front party, now known as National Rally, not guilty of charges of inciting racial hatred for comments targeting a Jewish pop singer.  Asked in June 2014 about the French singer and actor Patrick Bruel, Le Pen referred to Bruel’s Jewish origins with a pun evoking the Holocaust, stating, “I’m not surprised.  Listen, next time we’ll do a whole oven batch!”  The court said Le Pen had clearly targeted Jews with his comment but that the statement did not amount to “inciting discrimination and violence.”

According to press reports, in September, the Correctional Tribunal of Toulouse acquitted Mohamed Tatai, the Rector of the Great Mosque of Toulouse, for a sermon he gave in Arabic in 2017 that prosecutors stated was antisemitic.  In the sermon, posted on a U.S. website, Tatai said, “The Prophet Muhammad told us about the final and decisive battle:  the last judgment will not come until Muslims battle Jews.”  The court ruled that Tatai, who said he was mistranslated, had no desire to incite hatred in his sermon.  Jewish leaders criticized the ruling.  Franck Teboul, the president of the Toulouse chapter of the CRIF, likened the decision to the Court of Cassation’s ruling not to convict the killer of Sarah Halimi, and commented, “…so you tell thousands at a mosque to kill Jews and hide beyond a centuries-old text.”  Abdallah Zakri, President of the Observatory for the Fight Against Islamophobia, called Tatai a moderate Muslim who had maintained good relations with Jews and Catholics and said his acquittal would undercut radical fundamentalists.

On January 5, the Correctional Court of Saint-Nazaire ordered a man to pay a 400-euro ($450) fine and complete an internship on citizenship for posting in 2020 on social media, “You want to honor [Samuel Paty]?  Go burn down the mosque in [the southern town of] Beziers to send the message that we are sick of it.”

On May 5, the Rhone Mosque Council published a request asking women not to attend mosques for the planned May 13 Eid al-Fitr prayer.  Kamel Kabtane, the Rector of the Lyon Great Mosque, said this decision was due to the COVID-19 crisis, and added that the elderly and weak were also advised to stay home.  He denied accusations of discrimination that were posted on social media stating individuals were trying to be malicious toward Muslims.  Kabtane also said mosques did not have sufficient capacity to hold all worshippers and cited a note from the Ministry of the Interior prohibiting prefects and mayors from renting them larger spaces.

On October 5, the Catholic Church’s Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church released its report on child abuse committed by Catholic priests, concluding that, not counting deceased victims, priests had abused 216,000 minors in the country between 1950 and 2020.  Adding claims against lay members of the Church, such as teachers at Catholic schools, the report said the number of victims might total 330,000.  Commission President Jean-Marc Sauve said the abuse was systemic and the Church had shown “deep, total, and even cruel indifference for years.”  CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, who had requested the report along with Sister Veronique Margron, President of the Conference of Monks and Nuns of France, expressed “shame and horror” at the findings.  The CEF said it would financially compensate victims by selling its own assets or taking on loans if needed and that an independent national commission would be set up to evaluate the claims.  In a November 8 statement, CEF leadership recognized formally for the first time that the Church bore “an institutional responsibility” for the abuse and, in what they said was a gesture of penance, prayed on their knees at the sanctuary of Lourdes.

Gabon

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim leaders met to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and official social distancing restrictions.

Gambia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

SIC leaders continued to state that all religious organizations in the country were entitled to freedom of expression and assembly.  The SIC continued to state that Ahmadi Muslims did not belong to Islam, and it therefore did not include Ahmadi members in SIC events.  The Ahmadiyya community had deep links to the educational and medical sectors in the country; they operated one of the largest affordable sharia-compliant schools in the country.  The group proactively sought new adherents, predominantly by distributing printed material and preaching at health-care facilities.  Ahmadi Muslims said they believed themselves free to practice their religion without interference but expressed frustration with the SIC’s refusal to integrate them into the broader Muslim community.

Intermarriage between Muslims and Christians continued to be common.  However, due to cultural and gender norms, women were generally required to convert to their husband’s religion and raise all children in the husband’s religion.  It was not uncommon for persons of different faiths to live in the same dwelling, and observers said religious differences were widely accepted among family members and neighbors, with each jointly celebrating the religious events and holidays of the other.

Georgia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, the Human Rights Department of the MOIA investigated 13 cases involving crimes reported as religiously motivated, compared with 22 cases in 2020 and 44 cases in 2019.  These included three cases of violence (zero in 2020); one case of domestic violence (zero in 2020); one case with multiple criminal code violations, including violence, a threat, and liability for a domestic crime; two cases of criminal threats (zero in 2020); one case of persecution (four in 2020); and five cases of damage or destruction of property (five in 2020).  In one case, a man abused his wife physically and psychologically because he was irritated by her praying.  Religious organizations and NGOs, which also tracked cases, said COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made gathering sufficient data on exact figures for the current or previous year difficult, but that due to government- and self-imposed COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public activity, crimes committed against religious groups declined, compared with prepandemic years.

According to the Social Justice Center, on January 12, in Buknari Village, Chokhatauri District, Guria Region, a group of Christians assaulted two teenage Muslim boys, injuring the teens, who required medical treatment.  The incident reportedly occurred while the boys were going to or from a local prayer room established in a private home.  The center said authorities arrested, tried, and convicted one of the Christians and sentenced him to prison, but further details of the case were unavailable.  Following the assault, Muslims from the area and neighboring regions held demonstrations in the village, resulting in clashes between Muslim demonstrators and Christians.  Police intervened and SARI Chair Zaza Vashakmadze said that the Muslim community’s rights had been protected, a statement that many NGOs and members of the Muslim community disputed.

The Public Defender’s Office reported it received six complaints of discrimination or hate crimes based on religion during the year, compared with seven in 2020.  Three cases involved potential hate crimes.  One of these involved the religious conflict in Buknari and another stating that the investigation into events surrounding the dismantling of the mosque in Mokhe in 2014 was insufficient and was carried out only in response to a case at the European Court of Human Rights.  In the third case, on March 25, a person threw a Molotov cocktail in a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Mtskheta.  The attack destroyed several items, but the hall was unoccupied at the time and there were no injuries.  According to the Public Defender’s Office, authorities officially recognized the Jehovah’s Witnesses as targets of a religiously motivated crime in the incident.  At year’s end, the investigation of the attack was ongoing.  The other three complaints the Public Defender’s Office received involved discrimination cases, one pertaining to speech that incited discrimination because of religion; and two others alleging the Penitentiary Service did not post the list of food allowed for Muslims on religious holidays.  The Public Defender’s Office stated that cases from previous years remained largely unresolved, partly because of what it described as a lack of urgency and resources from the government.

According to media, in May, in Dmanisi City in Kvemo Kartli District, ethnic Georgians and ethnic Svan (an ethnic subgroup of Georgians) Christians clashed with ethnic Azeri Muslims when an ethnic Azeri shopkeeper refused to sell alcohol on credit to a group of ethnic Svans, who then attacked the shopkeeper and vandalized the store.  Fellow Azeris came to the shopkeeper’s defense, causing ethnic Georgians to enter the violence en masse on the side of the Svans.  Participants spoke of the violence, which had both ethnic and religious dimensions, in terms of “Muslims versus Christians.”  The media report stated that on May 18, the mufti of eastern Georgia, Etibar Eminov, and the head of the communications office of the patriarchate of Georgia, Andrija Dzhagmaidze, went to the district with Georgian Dream Member of Parliament Sozar Subari and persuaded the communities to cease hostilities.

During the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office prosecuted five individuals for crimes motivated by religious intolerance.  One was charged with persecution, one with domestic violence, one with rape and “disclosure of secrets of personal life,” and two with exceeding official powers.  On April 10, the Tbilisi City Court convicted an ethnic Azerbaijani Muslim man of “regular violence” and sentenced him to a two-year suspended sentence.  The appellate court upheld the conviction and sentence on November 29; the Prosecutor General’s Office appealed the decision to the Court of Cassation, arguing for a heavier sentence.  The Prosecutor General’s Office cited both religious and gender discrimination, stating the man had systematically assaulted his wife and threatened to kill her on several occasions from 2017 until April 2021 because she attended a Christian church and wore a cross.  The prosecutor’s appeal was pending at year’s end.

On September 16, the Tbilisi City Court convicted a man of rape and “unlawful obtaining, storage, use, dissemination of or otherwise making available secrets of personal life” and sentenced him to seven years in prison.  The Prosecutor General’s Office stated the man raped a female Jehovah’s Witness on two occasions and took sexually explicit photographs of her in 2020.  According to the prosecutor, the crime was motivated by religious and gender discrimination, and the defendant told the victim she deserved to be raped because she was a Jehovah’s Witness.

Jehovah’s Witnesses again said there were fewer attacks against members compared to prepandemic years because the group, in response to COVID-19 restrictions, shifted to online activities and ceased conducting public outreach, including door-to-door proselytizing.  At year’s end, Jehovah’s Witnesses had reported six religiously motivated incidents to the government, compared with eight in 2020.  Of the reported incidents, one involved attempted arson (the Molotov cocktail incident of March 25 in Mtskheta), two instances of vandalism against Kingdom Halls in Martkopi and Mtskheta, and three break-ins and/or thefts.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said at year’s end, the six cases remained under investigation, along with five of eight cases from 2020.  Of the other three 2020 cases, Jehovah’s Witnesses stated one investigation was ongoing; in another, the court found the attacker guilty of persecution; and in the third, charges were dropped after the vandal paid compensation for damages.

On December 24, 2020, the Tbilisi City Court upheld its earlier conviction in the case of an individual who verbally insulted, then physically attacked, a Jehovah’s Witness who had just left a religious service at a Kingdom Hall in Tbilisi.  The victim required medical treatment for injuries to his eye and lip, and the attacker was found guilty of “purposeful, less grave damage to health.”

During the year, some religious leaders stated SARI pressured AMAG as well as the Tbilisi Synagogue to publish statements against the LBGTQI+ advocacy organization Tbilisi Pride’s planned July 5 Tbilisi “March for Dignity.”  Tbilisi Pride subsequently cancelled the march on the day the march was to take place when approximately 3,000 violent individuals described as far-right actors, including some GOC priests, attacked journalists, destroyed Tbilisi Pride’s office, and attacked offices of sympathetic NGOs.

Representatives of the Public Defender’s Office’s Tolerance Center and minority religious groups continued to report what they termed a widespread societal belief that minority religious groups posed a threat to the GOC and to the country’s cultural values.  On January 14, the Public Defender’s Council of Religions issued a statement expressing concerns over discrimination and hatred of people based on religious grounds.  The statement cited violence against Islamic places of worship, the violence in Buknari, and a “wave of antisemitic speeches of the clergy.”  The statement said, “Insults and discrimination on religious grounds against people or religious communities, as well as manifestations of persecution, are disturbing.”

Minority religious communities, including Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and Protestants, continued to report resistance from local communities to their establishment of places of worship and religious schools.  A Social Justice Center report on the January violence in Buknari said that since 2012, the Chokhatauri municipality had denied requests to build a mosque in Buknari after public opposition by the Orthodox community.  As a result, the Muslim community purchased a private house to use as a prayer room in 2020.

During the year, the Media Development Foundation (MDF) documented 117 instances of religiously intolerant statements on television, online, and in print by media representatives, political parties, clergy, public organizations, and others, compared with 30 such incidents in 2020.  Of these statements, it classified 89 as being directed against Muslims, while 28 were directed against various other religious groups.  Ten statements were made by politicians from the Alliance of Patriots (three against Catholics and one praising the GOC), Georgian Dream (one against Muslims), and Georgian Idea (two against Baptists and three against Muslims) Parties, 73 by media representatives, 10 by various other organizations, two by religious representatives (including GOC Deacon Davit Isakadze, who criticized environmental activist Maka Suladze for choosing not to wear a cross), and 22 by members of the public.  MDF attributed the increase in incidents in part to intolerant statements by television station Alt-Info, which began broadcasting during the year, and to reporting on the violence in Buknari.

In August, in an anti-COVID-19 vaccine video posted on Facebook, GOC Deacon Archil Mindiashvili stated the vaccines had not been tested on animals “because you, Judaists and Jews, are in a hurry to bring your Antichrist to the realm and conduct experiments on people.”  TDI characterized the February 8 sermon of GOC Bishop Saba Gigiberia as antisemitic.  In the sermon, Gigiberia linked COVID-19 vaccines to a conspiracy theory about Israel reconstructing the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

TDI reported that on January 4, GOC Archpriest Ilia Karkadze made antisemitic remarks in a sermon defending a 2020 sermon by Bishop Ioane Gamrekeli that was also antisemitic.  In his sermon, Karkadze repeated common antisemitic tropes about Jewish control of banks and the media.  He also cited 19th-century Russian monk Vasiliy Vasilyev, known as Monk Abel, who said Jews had “poisoned Russia.”  On January 1, Bishop Ioane stated that TDI was seeking to damage Georgian-Jewish relations.  On January 8, the GOC published a statement acknowledging that Archpriest Karkadze’s January 4 sermon was antisemitic, saying that it “represents completely groundless accusations against the Jewish people [and] individual representatives.  It is not based on the teachings of the Church and is inspired by antisemitic pathos [i.e., sentiment].”

On January 13, Alt-Info anchor Shota Martineko said in a broadcast, “… if within your influence sphere you give space to the religion contrary to yours, then you give it the means to defeat you.”

Germany

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents across the country, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.

In August, a group insulted and severely beat a young Jewish man wearing a kippah while he was sitting in a Cologne park.  The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face.  The two attackers were arrested and released; police investigations into the crime continued at year’s end.  Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker, Catholic Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria Charlotte Knobloch condemned the attack, which police said they suspected was motived by antisemitism.

In Hamburg on September 18, a man and his companion shouted antisemitic slogans before attacking a 60-year-old Jewish man, leaving him hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries, according to media reports.  Hamburg Anti-Semitism Commissioner Stefan Hensel said the attacker and his companions were shouting antisemitic and anti-Israel insults at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg and, when vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face, breaking his nose and cheek bone.  Hamburg Deputy Mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank condemned the attack.  Police arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Aram A., in Berlin in late September.

In May, during clashes in Gaza and Israel, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country.  On May 10, unknown individuals burned a memorial plaque at the site of the former Duesseldorf synagogue, and on May 11, demonstrators burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Bonn and Muenster.  Demonstrators also threw stones at the Bonn synagogue.  Approximately 180 persons attended an anti-Israel demonstration in Gelsenkirchen May 12, chanting antisemitic insults describing Jews as subhuman.  Some made the hand signal of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish right-wing extremist group.

The NRW Interior Ministry reported a total of 77 incidents with antisemitic or anti-Israeli connections (the ministry did not separately categorize antisemitic from anti-Israeli incidents) at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in May, for which it believed at least 125 individuals were responsible; it identified 45 persons by name.

On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin that turned antisemitic.  Demonstrators chanted antisemitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis.  According to media reports, participants included members of the Grey Wolves and left-wing extremist groups.  After police tried to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 requirements, participants became violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event.  Ninety-three police officers were injured, and 59 persons were arrested for battery, assaulting police, and other charges; police restored order after several hours.  Police investigations were underway at year’s end.  The then mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller, condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”

In a statement delivered by the federal government spokesman, then Chancellor Merkel condemned the demonstrations and attacks on Jewish institutions as antisemitic abuses of the right to free assembly.  They had shown that those involved were not protesting a state or government but expressing hate against a religion and those that belong to it, she said.  Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the demonstrations and attacks, saying that that country “will not tolerate hate against Jews, no matter who it comes from … Nothing justifies threatening Jews or attacking synagogues in our cities.”  Then Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble issued a statement that there was “no justification for antisemitism, hate, and violence at the protests,” while acknowledging the existence of antisemitism in the country.  Then Interior Minister Seehofer said that attacks on synagogues and spreading antisemitism would be met with the full force of the law.  President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster and Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Mazyek also condemned the incidents.  The president of the Central Council of Jews and the German Conference of Bishops issued a joint press statement warning of growing antisemitism and a “combination of political conflict and religious fanaticism.”  Several state-level religious leaders and government officials, including DITIB Hesse Managing Director Onur Akdeniz, Bishop of Limburg Georg Baetzing, and Hesse Antisemitism Commissioner Uwe Becker, spoke out against antisemitic propaganda at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In May, the Hessian State Criminal Police Office arrested a Berlin-based man, identified only as Alexander M., for sending more than 85 threatening letters with right-wing extremist content, sometimes including antisemitic content, to politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures from late 2018 through 2020.  Many of the most visible targets were Muslim women.  Among the recipients were the heads of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

In June in Moenchengladbach, two men assaulted a Jewish man, speaking to him in Arabic.  Police were investigating but had not identified any suspects at year’s end.

During a September 30 soccer match in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium between 1.FC Union Berlin and Haifa Maccabi – the first time an Israeli team had played in the stadium opened by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympic games – Maccabi supporters reported that some Union supporters threatened them, used antisemitic insults, and threw objects at them.  According to press reports, one Union fan also attempted to burn an Israeli flag.  1.FC Union apologized for the flag burning, insults, and physical attacks, all of which it termed antisemitic, and banned one person from attending games in the future.  Police were investigating at year’s end.

In April, on Easter Sunday, three unidentified men entered a church in Nidda, Hesse, shouted slogans such as “There is only one God, and that is Allah,” and “Allah is greatest,” and insulted a worshipper attending the church service.  The political crimes unit of the Hesse state police investigated the incident as a possible infringement of the free exercise of religion.

In September, a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019.  The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and reportedly expressed sympathy for the attacker, while minimizing his crimes, in conversations with colleagues.  The police officer had left the force as of October 31, according to newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

On June 15, the Erfurt newspaper Thueringer Allgemeine reported that local construction companies had repeatedly declined orders for the construction of a mosque in Erfurt because they feared their involvement would precipitate attacks on their vehicles by opponents of the mosque.  Another newspaper reported in 2020 that construction companies had also declined to participate in the mosque construction at that time.  Suleman Malik, the spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt, said the reaction of the construction companies had delayed the construction of the mosque by two years.

In July, according to press reports, the Duesseldorf Hyatt Hotel cancelled the reservation of the Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Yezidis, and his two companions.  The hotel said the cancellation was due to technical issues, apologized for the misunderstanding, and upheld the reservation.

In October, Jewish singer Gil Ofarim reported that hotel staff told him to remove his Star of David necklace during check-in at the front desk of Leipzig’s Westin Hotel.  Hotel employees denied doing so and filed a defamation suit against the singer.  In response, Ofarim accused employees of filing a false report.  Ofarim’s discrimination lawsuit against the hotel was pending at the end of the year.  According to the hotel, it conducted its own investigation that exonerated its employees.

Media again reported that women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photographs as part of job applications.  According to one March report, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she got an interview, while hearing about others who did not wear headscarves and received interviews after four applications.

In June, a man attempted to set fire to the Ulm synagogue, resulting in limited damage to the building.  The suspect was a German-born Turkish national who fled to Turkey after the attack.  According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite the suspect.  Following the incident, nearly 500 persons, including various city and state politicians, attended two separate support vigils, and the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing antisemitism.

In April, an unknown perpetrator shot at the Bochum synagogue and a nearby planetarium.  According to police, the attack destroyed windows in both buildings.  Police did not rule out an antisemitic motive for the crime.  In May, police announced they had surveillance camera footage and issued an appeal to the public to help identify the suspect.  The Bochum prosecutor’s office closed the investigation in December, citing insufficient evidence.

On July 24, unknown persons set on fire a banner announcing the construction of a new synagogue in Magdeburg.  Police were investigating the case.  The state of Saxony-Anhalt earmarked 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million) for the construction of the synagogue, out of a total construction cost of approximately 3.4 million euros ($3.85 million).

In June, a swastika was found painted on the Torah ark in a Jewish prayer room at Frankfurt International Airport.  The country’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference denounced the act of vandalism, saying, “This hatred of Jews must finally stop.”

According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 2,351 antisemitic crimes committed during 2020 (the most recent year for which complete statistics were available), including 57 crimes involving violence.  This represented a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 antisemitic crimes reported in 2019, of which 73 were violent; federal crime statistics classified 2,224 crimes (94.6 percent) as motivated by far-right ideology.  RIAS attributed the increase in antisemitic crimes and incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, and it reported 489 antisemitic incidents connected to the pandemic.

The federal OPC annual report stated that, of the 57 violent antisemitic crimes committed in 2020, 48 were motivated by right-wing extremism, a 14 percent drop compared to 2019, when it reported 56 such crimes.  According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party dropped slightly, from approximately 13,330 persons in 2019 to 13,250 in 2020.

In May, the NRW commissioner for antisemitism published the second NRW antisemitism report, which cited 276 antisemitic crimes (down from 310 in 2019) registered in the state in 2020, of which 254 (down from 291) were motivated by right-wing ideologies.  The crimes ranged from verbal abuse to physical injury; all cases resulted in criminal investigations.  The NRW commissioner stated that 500 antisemitic incidents were reported to her office, including incidents that did not rise to the level of criminal complaints.

A July study by RIAS based on Jewish residents in the state and other sources found that antisemitism was an everyday experience of Jews in Baden-Wuerttemberg, ranging from mundane to virulent forms.  A leading Jewish community representative described antisemitism as “background noise of Jewish life.”  The study analyzed 671 antisemitic crimes that occurred in the state between 2014 and 2018.  A spokesperson of the state’s youth foundation pointed to an increasing online dimension to antisemitism, stating there were 200 such incidents reported in 2020, and 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.

RIAS, to which victims may report antisemitic incidents regardless of whether they file charges with police, reported 1,437 such incidents in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and Schleswig-Holstein in 2020, compared with 1,253 in 2019, an increase of 14.6 percent.

Lower Saxony’s government recorded 189 antisemitic crimes in 2020, down from 212 in 2019.  The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania government counted 73 such crimes in 2020, up from 52 in 2019.

In 2020, the Ministry of Interior registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, including 77 against places of worship and 51 incidents of battery.  The ministry classified most of these incidents as having been carried out by right-wing extremists.  Other recorded incidents included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive public behavior against persons who appeared to be Muslim.

The Ministry of Interior counted 141 anti-Christian crimes in 2020, including seven cases involving violence, up from 128 in 2019, an increase of 10 percent.  The ministry classified 30 percent of these crimes as motivated by right-wing ideology and 12 percent as motivated by left-wing ideology.

In May, the Ministry of Interior presented its annual report on politically motivated crime, according to which police registered 1,026 crimes motivated by antireligious sentiment.

In January, an unknown person threw stones and paint at St. Luke’s, a confessional Lutheran church in Leipzig, breaking windows and damaging a newly restored mosaic.  An anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the attack was posted online; the writer accused Martin Luther of sexism and tyranny and called churches “one of the best targets” for attacks against western morals.  At year’s end, police had not identified a suspect.

In April, an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing.  Police arrested and charged a suspect.  A trial was scheduled for 2022.

In August, a man assaulted a woman wearing a headscarf at a subway station in Berlin.  The unknown assailant beat her severely and tore off her headscarf while shouting xenophobic insults.  As she attempted to flee, he knocked her to the ground with his bicycle and left the scene.  The woman required hospitalization; the police unit responsible for hate crimes and political violence was investigating the incident at year’s end.

In September, unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past.  Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.

In February, the Hamburg District Court found a man who had assaulted a Jewish student with a shovel in October 2020 guilty of attempted murder and aggravated battery.  The court, however, ruled the man was mentally ill and therefore not criminally liable, sentencing him to psychiatric institutionalization.  The man, who was wearing a military-style uniform, assaulted the student at a Sukkot celebration at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg, leaving him with a serious head injury.

In January, the Hildesheim District Court in Lower Saxony ruled that a Hildesheim resident arrested in 2020 upon suspicion of planning attacks against Muslims and mosques was suffering from a severe mental illness and could not be held responsible for his behavior.  It ordered him placed in temporary psychiatric care.  Police had found weapons in his apartment, and the suspect had said in an online chat that he wanted to carry out an attack similar to the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand and “kill Muslims.”

On June 16, the Bavarian Court of Administrative Appeals ruled in favor of a COS member whose 2018 application for a 500 euro ($570) electric bicycle subsidy was rejected by the city of Munich because she refused to sign a written statement pledging not to employ COS methods or spread COS ideas.  The state of Bavaria and some other states and many cities require persons to sign such a declaration before they can accept public employment or government grants.  The court ruled that, as a citizen, the plaintiff had a right to the subsidy from the city, just like anyone else.

In July, the Court of Justice of the European Union, addressing appeals in two cases, one from Hamburg and one from Bavaria, ruled that employers could ban employees from wearing headscarves under certain circumstances.  Both cases were brought by employees who did not wear headscarves when they started their jobs but decided to do so after returning to work from maternity leave.  Their employers refused to allow them to do so, saying that the employees had to project a neutral image to clients.  The court agreed with the employers.  Muslim organizations and NGOs criticized the verdict, saying it made it difficult for Muslim women to choose a profession.

In September, a trial of two individuals arrested for the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Geilenkirchen began.  According to police, the pair knocked over more than 40 gravestones in the cemetery and defaced gravestones with blue paint and Nazi symbols in 2019.  They were charged with property damage and disturbing the peace of the dead.  Prosecutors said both were members of a Neo-Nazi group.  The trial started in September and continued at year’s end.

In September, the Moenchengladbach District Court convicted a man of placing a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas in front of the al-Rahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach in 2019 and sentenced him to four months’ probation.

In October, a man claiming that Christianity is a false religion forcibly removed sacred religious objects from a church in Nordhausen, Thuringia, including its crucifix and a medieval wooden altarpiece, damaging both.  Police stated they intended to press charges against the man, whose asylum claim had been denied.

The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly.  “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church continued to investigate “sects and cults” and publicize what they considered to be the dangers of those groups.  On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views continued to warn the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing the groups.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Fifteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (15 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (12 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (8 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (7 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (23 percent).

In a nationwide, representative survey conducted for the Alice Schwarzer Foundation, Giordano Bruno Foundation, and WZB Berlin Social Science Center published on June 11, 65 percent of respondents said it was “right” that freedom of religion applied to Muslims as well as Christians, whereas 18 percent said it was “not right” and 17 percent were unsure.  When asked whether “Islam is part of Germany,” 44 percent said “yes, but only peaceful, non-radical groups” and 44 percent answered “absolutely not,” excluding all Muslim groups.  Only 5 percent said they would completely agree that Islam was part of the country.  The survey also showed support for a ban on burqas among the general population had grown to 73 percent, from 56 percent in 2016.  Another 17 percent supported a ban in certain situations (32 percent in 2016), and 5 percent were generally opposed to such a ban (8 percent in 2016).  Majorities also supported banning headscarves for certain groups:  61 percent supported headscarf bans for public school teachers, 58 percent for public-sector employees, 56 percent for child-care workers, and 53 percent for girls younger than 14 years of age.

In February, Bundestag member Norbert Roettgen removed a social media post and image of a discussion he had held with Muslim students after the post was flooded with anti-Muslim insults.  Roettgen said he removed the image to protect the identities of the participants and decried what he described as the anti-Muslim hate the post had exposed.

In September, authorities initially did not allow a woman in Bergheim, Hesse, to cast her vote at a local polling station because she was wearing a headscarf and a medical mask.  Poll workers insisted she remove her headscarf to identify herself, stating that the law required that a person’s face not be covered when voting.  According to the electoral committee, the scarf only covered the woman’s hair and neck, not her face.  The woman protested to city election authorities and was later allowed to vote while wearing the headscarf.  The city apologized for the incident.

The far-right group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden, although media reports indicated significantly fewer demonstrators than in years prior to 2020.  Approximately 300 to 400 supporters continued to join PEGIDA rallies, even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Participants regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wore religious head coverings.  Authorities approved the demonstrations contingent upon participants adhering to masking and social distancing requirements.

Protesters at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin, Kassel, Munich and other cities continued to use antisemitic rhetoric, including equating vaccines or the anti-COVID lockdown to Nazi-era persecution of Jews, or asserting that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.  For the year ending on March 17, RIAS registered antisemitic incidents, none of them violent, at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  For example, in March, numerous antisemitic acts, including ones trivializing the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, were reported at a large demonstration against COVID-19 measures in Kassel.

In May, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster remarked on the connection between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism, saying, “The old antisemitic narrative of the Jewish world conspiracy has been adapted to the current situation.”  Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein also cited the role of the internet, saying, “In times of crisis, people are more open to irrational explanations, including antisemitic stereotypes…. What is new, however, is that…groups that previously had little or nothing to do with each other are now making common cause at demonstrations against the corona measures or on the [inter]net.”

In June, the U.S.-based newspaper The Algemeiner cited a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue that found German-language antisemitic posts in major online platforms in January and February had increased 13-fold over the same period a year earlier.  According to the report, antisemitic narratives related to COVID-19 were frequent, and the most common narratives, 89 percent of the content, pertained to conspiracy theories about Jews controlling financial, political, and media institutions.

In May, NRW Antisemitism Commissioner Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the University of Bielefeld published a study on the influence of rap on antisemitic attitudes in young people.  The study found listeners of rap were more likely to have antisemitic and misogynistic views and were more prone to believe in conspiracy theories.

In July, a woman from Cologne was fined 700 euros ($790) for incitement for sharing an antisemitic Facebook post.  The woman said she had not read the full text of the post.

Approximately 20 churches continued to use bells bearing Nazi symbols and inscriptions.  A church in Berlin removed such a bell, and some churches in other part of the country said they had plans to do so.  In June, the Association of Protestant Churches in Central Germany held a conference on the issue; the association also offered financial support to churches under its jurisdiction to cover the cost of new bells.

In October, Cologne Lord Mayor Henriette Reker announced a two-year test phase for Muslim communities to issue calls to Friday prayer using outdoor speakers, if they applied to do so.  The call to prayer may only be made between noon and 3 p.m. and is limited to a maximum of five minutes.  The volume is to be based on the location of the mosque.  Of approximately 35 mosque congregations, two had requested permits by early December.

Ghana

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGO International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based Christian advocacy organization, three members of the Action Prayer Ministry in Kumasi were wounded when armed assailants attacked their all-night prayer service on February 6.  According to police and congregation members, gunmen fired into the congregation at 2:00 am, slightly injuring three individuals.  Police responded and found church members restraining one of the attackers.  The perpetrators were later found to be members of armed gangs who sought to extort money from church members.

Muslim and Christian leaders continued informal dialogue between their respective governing bodies and the National Peace Council.  Faith leaders said they regularly communicated among themselves on religious matters and ways to address issues of concern or sensitivity.  Religious institutions played a key role in providing vulnerable citizens a social safety net during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were Muslim-Christian and intra-Muslim tensions in the country, with the latter being found largely in northern areas.  Researchers described the main cause of intra-Muslim tensions as doctrinal differences, with different groups interpreting the Quran and hadith differently.  They stated the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamaa viewed the Tijaniyya as heretics and innovators, while the latter viewed the former as ignorant and resistant to change.  According to sources, chieftaincy, land tenure, and politics played an important role in exacerbating intra-Muslim tensions between the two major chieftaincies in the Dagbon region.

Greece

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to statistics issued by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) on acts of discrimination and violence in 2020, the most recent available, 74 of the 107 incidents recorded targeted migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, or skin color, compared with 51 cases of the 100 incidents recorded in 2019.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as solely or primarily based on religious identity.

In the same report, RVRN reported that police received 31 reports of accusations of violence sparked by religion, compared with 36 in 2019.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.  Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (45 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (58 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (40 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (36 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (44 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (33 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (37 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (46 percent).

In October, the Piraeus First Instance Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Aspropyrgos, Attica.  The court ruled that the crime was motivated by hate.  The man was convicted of issuing threats and insults and committing bodily harm.

On January 15, police in the northern city of Drama arrested the perpetrator of an act of vandalism carried out in December 2020 at a local Jewish monument.

At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage to a portion of a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims a few days after the mural was created, vandals on August 5 opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in Epirus.  KIS issued a statement condemning this “shameful act.”  In a March 18 statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “abhorrence of any actions that insult the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarity.”  “We once again underscore the importance of rejecting racism, hatred and fanaticism, and the need to defend our moral values,” the statement concluded.  According to media reports, local artists and social activists worked together to restore the mural.  On September 10, a different grave was vandalized at the same cemetery.  Similar incidents at the same cemetery occurred in previous years.

On January 10, unidentified vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the Orthodox Christian cathedral in Heraklion, Crete, according to media reports.  Police launched investigations in all cases but made no arrests.

On April 1, KIS addressed a letter to the mayor of Xanthi, writing that unknown individuals had removed a commemorative plaque, placed in 2001 outside a tobacco warehouse to mark the location where local Jews began their transfer to concentration camps in World War II.  KIS underscored the importance of collective memory in a city that lost 99 percent of its Jewish population.

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were illustrated with Jewish sacred symbols or comparisons to the Holocaust.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch that showed the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon opposing an education bill on universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”

On March 9, KIS issued a statement denouncing columnist Elena Akrita for comparing life in an Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II to life in contemporary Greece, drawing parallels between attacks against protesters opposed to pandemic restrictions and the Holocaust.  KIS, in a statement, noted that “Greek Jews … will never stop denouncing any attempt to denigrate and instrumentalize the Holocaust, which leads to the oblivion and distortion of history.”

According to a report published on January 13 by the Ministry of Education and Religion, there were 404 cases of vandalism/theft/desecrations against religious sites in the country in 2020, with most (374) targeting the Orthodox Church, seven the Catholic Church, four the True Orthodox Christians (Old Calendarists), 10 categorized as antisemitic, and nine targeting Islamic sites.  This number represented a decrease from 524 incidents reported in 2019.

Grenada

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The CCG, an ecumenical Christian body that includes Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian members, continued to serve as a forum to promote mutual understanding, unity, and tolerance among religious organizations despite restrictions on all gatherings, including religious services, during the COVID-19 pandemic that were in place from September through October.  These organizations continued to encourage discussions with different faith-based Christian and non-Christian organizations.  The CCG and the Alliance of Evangelical Churches met with religious organizations and government representatives to agree on COVID-19-related restrictions involving religious groups during the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in August.

In September, the Alliance of Evangelical Churches held a National Day of Prayer under the theme “Heal our Land” that was broadcast live on all social media platforms.

Guatemala

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to reports from nongovernmental organizations, on January 4, unidentified assailants brutally killed Mayan spiritual guide Jesus Choc Yat in Quiche, located northwest of Guatemala City – shackling him to a pickup truck for hours and then dousing him with gasoline and setting him ablaze.  Choc Yat had arrived in Quiche to perform Mayan rituals in the community.  Sources close to Mayan spiritual leaders reported that community leaders in Quiche and Choc Yat’s family were afraid to denounce the killing and make it more public because sentiments against Mayan spiritual practice were prevalent in the area.  Reportedly, some of the killers may have been associated with a local evangelical Protestant group.  The same sources stated the killing and lack of arrests or prosecution demonstrated that the 2020 case of Domingo Choc had not raised more awareness, tolerance, or protection of Mayan spiritual practitioners.

Mayan spiritual leaders reported continued societal discrimination.  According to an anthropologist, evangelical Protestant missionaries in Chichicastenango, located northwest of Guatemala City, distributed fliers asking for donations to build new churches to fight against “satanic” practices, referring to Mayan spiritual practices.  A Catholic parish priest in Izabal reported that this kind of practice was widespread; he mentioned similar efforts by small unorganized evangelical Protestant churches denouncing Mayan spiritual practices in their local publications and announcements online.

Some Catholic clergy continued to report receiving electronic threats and harassment targeting them because of their association with environmental protection and human rights work.  For example, the director of the Office of Human Rights of the Catholic Church reported that during the year, his office received anonymous social media threats.  Some Catholic clergy reported they continued to receive anonymous threats, mostly on social media, because of the Church’s support of transitional justice cases stemming from civil war-era military abuses of indigenous populations.

According to law enforcement professionals working in the penal system, gang members often converted to evangelical Protestant religious groups in prison as an alternative to gangs and as an option to safely leave gangs; unless a gang leader converted before leaving a gang, the gang would likely kill him or her.  Community evangelical leaders who visited prisons to provide aid or incarcerated religious community leaders who guided spiritual practices in prison conducted the conversions.

According to Mayan spiritual groups, some landowners continued to deny them access to locations on their private property that Mayans considered sacred to them, including caves, lagoons, mountains, and forests.  According to one Mayan source, there was no recourse available through the government for Mayans to obtain access to these private lands.

According to Religions for Peace, whose membership comprises representatives from the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Alliance, individual evangelical Protestant churches, the Muslim and Jewish faiths, and Mayan spirituality groups, it continued to seek to resolve misunderstandings among religious groups and to promote a culture of respect.  Some political organizations, including the Municipal Indigenous Council in Solola, rotated leadership between Catholic and Protestant representatives.  Guardians of the Dignity of the State, an interfaith group with members from the Tibetan Buddhist, Protestant, and secular communities, continued to promote social activism and change, including working with Mayan spiritual leaders.

According to representatives from the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ, evangelical Christianity was growing, and while there was no central leadership, the Evangelical Alliance comprised approximately 67 percent of the country’s evangelical Protestant congregations.  According to alliance leadership, the alliance was unable to meet more than one or two times during the year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Guinea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media and Catholic Church sources, a series of long-running property disputes between the Catholic Saint-Jean Monastery in Kendoumaya, Lower Guinea, and local Muslim Susu villagers continued during the year.  Villagers continued to claim parcels of land near the monastery, which they began selling to third parties in 2020.  In addition, according to media sources, villagers said they believed that the Church had not honored its commitments from earlier negotiations to pave the main road from Coyah to Kendoumaya, provide electricity to the village, and build a local school.  The Church stated that it made no such commitments.

On September 22, local Muslim Susu residents attacked Saint-Jean Monastery, seeking to occupy more of the disputed land.  After a monk fired warning shots from a shotgun to disperse the crowd, villagers assaulted and dragged him to the home of a local neighborhood elder, then returned him to the monastery.  Security forces later arrived to disperse the crowd.  No charges were filed and there were no arrests.  The monk suffered only minor injuries.  By year’s end, several lawsuits over the land dispute continued in the courts.  On June 15, the Coyah Court of First Instance ruled in favor of the Catholic Church regarding one of the disputed parcels of land.  The court also awarded 150 million francs ($16,200) to the Church as compensation for damages suffered due to local citizens’ occupying and dividing some of the property since the dispute began in 2016.  On October 22, the Church held a press conference at which it publicly requested the transitional government uphold and implement the June 15 court ruling, but the transition government took no action on the issue by year’s end.  A 2020 appeal by the Church against a separate lower court ruling in favor of the villagers was pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end.

In parts of the country, including the middle and upper regions, particularly strong familial, communal, cultural, social, or economic pressure continued to discourage conversion from Islam, according to observers.

Guinea-Bissau

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NGO Human Rights League Guinea-Bissau (HRL) highlighted 50 reported instances of persons being accused of witchcraft since 2019.  Of those, 20 resulted in deaths, with six killings reported in 2021, according to HRL.  An HRL representative said that the trend during the past three years represented a substantial increase in cases and that there was a significant overlap between witchcraft and indigenous religious beliefs.  HRL conducted research to determine why persons were being accused of witchcraft, and it promoted a campaign with religious leaders and village chiefs focused on training and capacity building.  HRL also indicated that it was trying to raise awareness within the government, which had not introduced legislation related to witchcraft.

HRL indicated that its three main objectives included training qualified individuals who can train others to resist various forms of religious radicalization, gathering information to identify signs of religious extremism, and promoting a large conference in Bissau on the issue.  HRL further indicated that its local office was partnering on these initiatives with Chatham House in England and the Timbuktu Institute (African Center for Peace Studies) in Senegal.

Other religious leaders said that different ethnic and religious groups were still mostly respectful and tolerant of one another throughout the country.  Some religious leaders, however, expressed concern regarding the spread of religious extremism.  They identified education as the key mitigating factor to combat the spread of religious extremism, which they believed was a particular risk when young students traveled abroad and were exposed to what they said was a more radical practice of Islam.  One leader stated that children must be taught at a young age to build a strong base of traditional beliefs before being tempted to go abroad, where their beliefs may be easily manipulated.  This leader also emphasized the need to educate youth in modern schools, with a focus on teaching values that promote social and religious peace.  Another individual assessed that Islamic schools offered only Arabic and Quranic studies, many of them connected to newly constructed mosques, and left students isolated from the rest of society.  In response, he noted that his organization built a network of 12 conventional schools offering a government-approved curriculum.

One Muslim leader noted instances which, he said, highlighted religious tolerance, including examples of Muslim families who sent their sons to live with Christian families, in some cases for multiple years.  In these instances, the Muslim sons continued to practice Islam while learning about a different culture and religion.  The Muslim leader also said there were examples of children who attended conventional schools of different faiths while continuing to practice their own religion.  The interim Bishop of Bissau indicated that Catholic schools accepted all students who met the basic criterion of having moral values.  He said the Catholic Church wanted to provide an opportunity for all children to gain an education and to respect the values of different faiths.

Guyana

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The IROG, whose membership includes approximately 40 religious bodies and organizations, continued its stated purposed of promoting social cohesion and respecting religious diversity through its programs and initiatives.  IROG hosted a series of events during UN World Interfaith Harmony Week in February, including a panel discussion at the University of Guyana and an interfaith program of prayers and reflection.  In March, IROG launched the Women of Faith Network to promote the participation of women from different faith traditions in peace building.  In August, during a roundtable discussion, IROG participants, including representatives of Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups, stated their religious groups did not discriminate against members of the LGBTQI+ community but did not condone the open practice of their lifestyle.

Because religion, ethnicity, and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize issues as being solely based on religious identity.  According to religious leaders, there was a high degree of religious tolerance, but politics inflamed ethnic tensions, especially around national elections.  They said faith could be a vehicle for healing ethnic tensions, but they were wary of proceeding too deeply into the political sphere, explaining it could lead to claims of bias and therefore diminish their stature and ability to impartially carry out their work.

Haiti

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders said that rising general insecurity was the issue with the most impact on religious freedom and that armed criminal gangs consistently targeted religious leaders and congregants during the year.  Media reported gangs targeted and killed several religious leaders during the year.  Gang members killed Catholic priest Andre Sylvestre on September 8, after he completed a transaction at a bank in Cap Haitian.  400 Mawozo gang members killed prominent sculptor and houngan (male Vodou priest) Anderson Belony on October 12 during an attack on the artisanal village of Noailles in Croix-des-Bouquets.  The gang also vandalized artists’ studios, as well as Vodou shrines and sacred works.  On September 26, unknown gunmen killed Baptist deacon Sylner Lafaille while he was entering his church in Morne A Tuff for Sunday morning services.  They kidnapped his wife Marie Marthe Laurent Lafaille during the incident and subsequently released her on October 1, after receiving a ransom for an undisclosed amount.  On November 11, unknown bandits in Croix-des-Bouquets believed to be 400 Mawozo gang members attempted to kill Baptist Pastor Stanis Stifinson in an attack that killed his young daughter.  Pastor Stifinson and his young son escaped the attack and survived bullet wounds.

Religious leaders stated that the rising level of violence against them and their communities was a new phenomenon, resulting in numerous victims and significant challenges for the continuation of religious services.  Religious leaders said religious communities were targeted not because of their religion, but rather because gangs believed religious organizations had access to money.  Despite saying that they lived in constant fear, religious leaders stated that the cause was general insecurity, not any particular animosity towards them as religious leaders.  One Vodou leader stated that Vodouists were less likely to be kidnapped due to the perception that Vodouists were poor, while many believed Protestant churches had rich foreign donors.

Media also reported kidnappings for ransom of numerous religious leaders and their congregants during the year.  By year’s end, police had not opened cases or made arrests in any of the crimes.  According to media reports, on each occasion, gangs demanded ransoms in the order of millions of dollars and sometimes received payments for undisclosed amounts.  On January 8, unknown gunmen kidnapped Sister Dachoune Severe, a nun from the Catholic congregation the Little Sisters of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, in front of her convent in Carrefour and held her until January 10.  Media reports did not mention whether a ransom was paid.  On April 1, unknown gang members kidnapped Seventh-day Adventist clergyman Audalus Estime and three congregants while they were performing music streamed live on Facebook, YouTube, and local radio from a stage in the Gilead Adventist Church in Diquini 63.  They were held until April 5, when unknown individuals paid a ransom for an undisclosed amount.  On April 11, 400 Mawozo gang members kidnapped 10 Catholic clergy, including a French priest and nun, in Croix-des-Bouquets.  Gang members released three of the hostages on April 23 and the others on April 30.  Media reports did not mention whether ransoms were paid.  The Catholic Church postponed numerous church services during the week following the kidnapping (April 11-20) and, after 10 days without progress on the release of the clergy, the Church expanded its protest to a three-day cessation of all activities in all Catholic institutions (April 21-23).  The three-day cessation of activity included the full closure of churches, schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, and Catholic-owned businesses; essential workers at Catholic hospitals and clinics were exempt from the stoppage.  On October 3, 400 Mawozo gang members kidnapped a Haitian-American pastor and two congregants of the Jesus Center Protestant church in Delmas 29 and held them until October 26, when unknown individuals paid a ransom for an unconfirmed amount.  On October 9, unknown gang members kidnapped Pastor Eliodor Devariste of the Free Methodist Church of Parc Chretien in Delmas 28 and held him until October 11, when unknown individuals paid a ransom on his behalf.  The Protestant community led protests as five more persons, some confirmed to be Protestant congregants from local churches, were kidnapped the same week from the same Delmas neighborhood.  It was unclear how long these individuals were held or if ransoms were paid on their behalf.

On October 16, 400 Mawozo gang members kidnapped 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian (including five children) from the Amish Mennonite missionary group Christian Aid Ministries (CAM) in Croix-des-Bouquets.  The gang released two missionaries on November 21 for medical reasons and another three missionaries on December 5 after, according to the Haitian National Police, individuals unaffiliated with CAM paid a ransom.  The remaining 12 missionaries escaped on December 16; conflicting reports later emerged in the media as to whether individuals unaffiliated to CAM had also paid ransoms on behalf of these victims prior to their escape.

Vodou leaders cited historical injustices and stated that there was still stigmatization against their religion.  They said that some individuals in the Protestant community constituted a considerable concern to them and possibly a threat to their religious freedom.  One Vodou leader said, “Some Protestant pastors preach that Vodou is an evil superstition, and they could ask their followers to attack us if we decide to organize marches.  Our students who attend Protestant schools are forced to deny their identity.”  Another Vodou leader said, “In the past, stigmatization was mostly from the Catholics, who led campaigns against us, but now it mostly comes from Protestant pastors.”

In October, National Council for Haitian Muslims President Landy Mathurin stated, “All Haitians are at risk of violence, not Muslims in particular.”  He continued to say that Muslims did not face any stigmatization and were generally well respected in the country, with Muslim women feeling comfortable wearing the hijab in public.  He said that many young persons tolerated and respected Islam because of some famous Haitian singers and musicians who converted to the faith.

Religions for Peace (RFP), an interfaith organization that included leaders from the Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Episcopalian, and Vodouist communities on its coordinating committee, led many efforts to pursue collaborative religious advocacy.  Throughout the year, RFP issued several open letters calling for peace, solidarity, and respect for human dignity, notably in response to rising violence and kidnappings, the July 7 assassination of President Moise, and an earthquake on August 14.  RFP also acted from September 2019 until April 2021 as the chief facilitator of a peace dialogue that aimed to broker a solution to the Moise-era political and insecurity crisis.  RFP stated in October that it was exploring how a representative from the Muslim community could join the organization as a full council member.  Although formal talks with the Muslim community had not begun by year’s end, Imam Abou Jahman of the Allahou Akbar Spiritual Center in Carrefour-Feuilles often cosigned RFP’s open letters.  Unaffiliated with RFP, Pastor Jean Bilda, President of the Council of Evangelical Churches of Haiti, said his group enjoyed and promoted “harmonious” cooperation with the government, leaders of other religions, and other Protestants.

Honduras

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim community representatives said they continued to receive derogatory messages on social media from members of the evangelical Protestant community, such as “stop infesting our country with false doctrines.”

The FIH reported one of its member churches received negative messages on social media after a pastor died in September of COVID-19.  The messages stated the pastor’s death was a punishment from God because the pastor had made public statements discouraging individuals from getting vaccinated.

Seventh-day Adventists reported the continued refusal of certain private institutions, including places of employment and schools, to permit them to observe Saturday as their Sabbath.  They cited several factories in the department of Cortes and the Catholic University of Honduras in La Ceiba.

Hong Kong

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In June, an unknown group hung banners around each of the seven Catholic churches that were planning to hold a memorial Mass for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.  The banners contained photographs of Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of the CCP, with the word “devil,” as well as slogans, including “A Cult Has Invaded the Faith” and “Incitement in the Name of Worship.”

Media reported that on May 17, Pope Francis named Reverend Stephen Chow Sau-Yan as the new Bishop of Hong Kong.  Chow, head of Hong Kong’s Jesuit order, replaced Cardinal John Tong, who had served as interim bishop since 2019.  According to one senior cleric, “The security law has made the job a lot more tricky and the pressure is intense.”  The Holy See and the PRC do not have formal diplomatic relations, but the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement reportedly gives both Chinese authorities and the Holy See a role in the process of appointing bishops in mainland China.  According to Reuters, Vatican officials said the agreement did not apply to Hong Kong; however, some senior clergy stated the PRC was seeking to extend its control over the Diocese of Hong Kong.  The Vatican-affiliated outlet AsiaNews stated Chow was a “balanced” choice between prodemocracy and pro-Beijing camps.  On May 18, Chow told media, “Religious freedom is our basic right.  We want to really talk to the government not to forget that.  It is important to allow religious freedom, matters of faith – not just Catholic – but any religion should be free.”

Observers reported Christian churches in Hong Kong continued to provide underground churches in mainland China with spiritual and monetary support, including Bibles and Christian literature and visits from church members.  Some Hong Kong churches reported that they were able to conduct cross-border online services, while others, including the Catholic Church, reported PRC authorities prohibited individuals in mainland China from attending their online services.

Hungary

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January, the independent online news outlet 444.hu published a documentary about the crimes committed by a group of Hungarian Arrow Cross Party members against Jewish inhabitants of Budapest’s twelfth district during World War II, and about the controversial turul statue erected in the district in 2005.  While the statue officially commemorates civilian victims of the Allied bombing and the Soviet siege of Budapest in 1944-45, experts have stated that the turul bird (a large, mythical bird of prey) was a well-known symbol of right-wing extremist groups during the interwar period and that the statue continued to serve as a gathering place for such groups.  Historians said in 2019 that the names carved into the statue contain at least 22 Arrow Cross gang members who massacred Jews in Budapest, including current Fidesz district mayor Zoltan Pokorni’s grandfather.  In a press conference on February 1, Pokorni, who in 2020 had ordered that his grandfather’s name be removed from the statue, rejected historians’ suggestion that the memorial be turned into one for fallen World War I soldiers.  He proposed that the statue remain but that it should include “a very detailed guide” to the turul symbol.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Hungary said they had negative feeling toward Jews.  Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (34 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (39 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (28 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (30 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (27 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (16 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (31 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (39 percent).

The Foundation reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, the most recent data available, compared with 35 in the previous year.  These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.

In July, Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler presented the results of a 2019-2020 survey prepared by Median independent public opinion pollster and commissioned by Mazsihisz.  Heisler stated that while the number of physical attacks and vandalism cases was low compared with Western Europe, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and antisemitism in public life increased between 2019 and 2020, and the Mi Hazank Party, widely described as extreme right, was among the most common perpetrators of antisemitic incidents and hate speech.  According to the survey, there were 70 antisemitic incidents in 2020, up from 53 in the previous year.  Citing 2019 data, head of the Median public opinion pollster Endre Hann said that 36 percent of Hungary’s adult population could be characterized by some degree of antisemitism, including antisemitic prejudice and attitudes toward Jews.

Muslim organizations stated they did not collect statistical data because, according to one member, they lacked the capacity to do so.  However, OMH reported that while physical assaults were rare, verbal insults and hateful emails and phone calls were frequent, in particular against persons wearing headscarves or who had darker skin and spoke a foreign language.  For instance, according to OMH, individuals often referred to Muslims as “terrorists” and told them to “get out of here.”

OMH also reported a higher number of online insults on social media during the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  According to OMH, the majority of the population regarded Muslims with suspicion.

As in previous years, domestic and international extreme-right and neo-Nazi groups marked the anniversary of the breakout attempt by Hungarian and German troops on February 11, 1945, during the Soviet Red Army’s siege of Budapest.  Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, approximately 100 persons took part in an organized reenactment hike along the route of the attempted siege-breakers in Budapest.  The Hungarian chapter of the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor organized the event.  Ahead of the event, one of its organizers published an opinion piece in the government-aligned media outlet Magyar Nemzet entitled “Glory to the Heroes.”  In the article, the author compared Hungarian and German soldiers who attempted the breakout to the great heroes of Hungarian history.

In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.”  In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.

In July, TEV reported that swastikas were painted on a company’s building in Szeged and on the pavement in Szolnok.  Also in July, a private property in Leanyfalu displayed a picture of Hitler with the text “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.”  Police initiated an investigation.  In 2020, an SS flag was hung from the facade of the same house.  Police first dismissed that case, but the prosecutor’s office reopened it as involving public use of a totalitarian symbol.  In June, a passerby told two Jewish teenagers in Budapest to “go to Auschwitz,” and in May, a guard at a drugstore in Budapest was fired for calling a customer a “filthy Jew.”

According to press reports, a team of international volunteers was working to restore the neglected Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, with an area of 77 hectares (190 acres) and containing approximately 300,000 graves.  At midyear, the volunteers had reportedly cleaned up 20 percent of the cemetery.

In October, the Christian-Jewish Council, an informal platform for discussion among Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist Churches and Jewish groups, held a conference on the role of families in religion, with the participation of members of Christian and Jewish groups.

During a visit to the country in September, Pope Francis met with representatives of Christian churches and Jewish communities and said that antisemitism is a “fuse which must not be allowed to burn.”

Iceland

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jewish community leaders noted a slight increase in antisemitic rhetoric on social media during violence between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas in May.  One incident involving a verbal confrontation, in which a man yelled at a person wearing a Star of David, occurred in the same time period.

Muslim community leaders voiced concerns about the ability to access physician-performed circumcisions.  They said they had received reports of doctors being reluctant to perform circumcisions except for medical reasons.  The Icelandic Medical Association Code of Ethics states, “A physician is free to follow his conscience and conviction” and may refuse to perform a medical act “which he considers unreasonable or unnecessary.”

Religious groups reported generally good relations with the government and society at large.  Some religious leaders expressed frustration with increased secularism and low levels of religiosity in society.

A Gallup Iceland poll conducted in February and released on February 20 found 32 percent of the public expressed trust in the ELC, compared with 31 percent in 2020, 34 percent in 2019, 33 percent in 2018, 41 percent in 2009, and 61 percent in 1999.

The Forum for Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation, whose membership consists of registered religious and life-stance groups – including the ELC as well as other Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist groups – met virtually three times.  Public health concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic prevented in-person forum meetings for most of the year.  Although the interfaith forum allowed unregistered groups to apply to join it, none had done so by year’s end.

The Islamic Foundation of Iceland organized community information and integration programs for Muslim migrants with representatives from local government and legal offices on such issues as voting and women’s rights.  The foundation also provided translation assistance to asylum seekers.

India

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 17, a Hindu group in the Mewat region of Haryana stopped the car in which Muslim Asif Khan was riding, verbally abused Khan and the other passengers, yelled “kill Muslims,” forced Khan to chant Hindu prayers and killed him when he tried to escape, according to media reporting.  Police opened an investigation but made no arrests by the year’s end.

On June 20, media reported that a Hindu mob killed four Muslim men in the Khowai District of Tripura on suspicion of being cattle thieves.  According to media, the men were killed when they were intercepted at Maharanijur transporting five cows in a truck.  Police arrested three persons in connection with the killing and two others for spreading communal hatred on social media.  There were no further developments in this case reported by year’s end.

On June 21, Muslim Aijaz Dar was beaten to death in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  He was returning home after buying a buffalo when suspected cow vigilantes attacked him with stones and sticks, according to media reports.  Police arrested five suspects, but there were no further developments reported by year’s end.

According to media reports, on September 28, Muslim Arbaaz Aftab Mullah was decapitated in Khanapur village in the Belgavi District of Karnataka due to his relationship with a Hindu woman.  Police arrested 10 individuals, including members of the Hindu organization Sri Rama Sene, described as radical, the woman’s parents, and the man hired to kill Mullah.  There were no further developments by year’s end.

On April 3, police in Mangaluru, Karnataka arrested four Hindu activists and members of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal who were accused of stabbing to death a Muslim man traveling with a Hindu woman.  The woman who filed the police complaint against the assailants stated the victim was her friend for many years and was accompanying her on a bus to a job interview when he was killed.  She said the assailants stopped the bus, then attacked her and the other victim.  After police made the arrests, local Bajrang Dal members reportedly defended the attack claiming that they wanted to save the woman from “falling prey to love jihad.”  One local Bajrang Dal leader told media, “Our responsibility is to rescue girls from our community.”

According to EFI, a group of Hindus killed Pastor Alok Rajhans in the Balangir District of Odisha on May 20.  Police opened a case and arrested two suspects, but they were released shortly thereafter, according to Irish NGO Church in Chains.

On May 20, according to ICC, a group of Hindu nationalists attacked the family of Pastor Ramesh Bumbariya at his home in the Bansawra District in Rajasthan, killing the pastor’s father and beating the pastor and other family members when they refused to renounce their Christian faith.  The police arrested seven persons for the killing and the investigation continued at year’s end, according to Church in Chains.

Terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiyaaba and Hizbul Mujahideen killed several civilians and migrant laborers belonging to the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in the Muslim-majority Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir during the year.  In October, 11 civilians including two schoolteachers – Supinder Kour and Deepak Chand – were killed in targeted attacks.  Kour, a Sikh, and Chand, a Hindu, were killed on October 7 after terrorists forcefully entered their school in Srinagar and identified them as belonging to minority communities.  On October 5, local businessman Makhan Lal Bindroo, a member of the Hindu Pandit caste, was fatally shot at his pharmaceutical shop.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds to depart Jammu and Kashmir.

On October 15, Sikh farm laborer Lakhbir Singh was killed, and his mutilated body tied to a barricade.  In several videos released on social media, Nihang Sikhs claimed responsibility for the killing, saying Singh insulted the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book.  Police arrested four members of the Nihang Sikh community and charged them with murder.

On December 19, an unidentified man was reportedly beaten to death by a group of Sikhs at a gurudwara (temple) in Kapurthala, Punjab, on suspicion that he had insulted the Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag.  Police and Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi stated that there was no evidence that the victim had committed sacrilege.  Police arrested gurudwara caretaker Amarjit Singh on charges of murder.

On September 23, two Muslim men in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, were beaten for carrying meat in their vehicle.  According to media reports, members of a cow-vigilante group attacked the two and posted video of the assault on social media.  The attackers claimed the Muslim men were carrying beef in violation of the state’s anti-cow slaughter law and the state government’s order banning the sale and transport of any meat in Mathura.  Police arrested the victims under the anti-cow slaughter law and violation of the meat ban order.  None of the attackers were arrested.  A Mathura council member said the two lacked the permit and refrigerator required to transport perishable goods such as meat.  He also said the two men had been jailed.  There was no further information available on the case by year’s end.

In September, the BBC reported views from freelance journalists and political opposition members that the number of attacks against the country’s Muslim community had increased in recent years as well as their views that the government often declined to condemn such attacks.

According to UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year, from 279 in 2020.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruptions of Christmas celebrations, and vandalism.  A joint report entitled Christians under Attack in India, drafted by NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and the UCF, noted that more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians were reported to the UCF hotline during the year.  The report stated that 333 of 486 incidents were recorded in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka States.  The report stated that only 34 FIRs were filed against the perpetrators through the year.  At the end of the year, 19 cases were pending against Christians in nine states under the conversion restriction laws, although no Christian had been convicted in the country for illegal religious conversion during the year, according to the report.

In a December New York Times article, Hindu nationalist Dilip Chouhan, who was recorded on video breaking into a church in Madhya Pradesh with a gun strapped to his back, said that senior police officials told him authorities would not pursue charges against him.  Instead, several local pastors were arrested on charges of illegal conversions.  Chouhan said his organization has more than 5000 members.  BJP youth leader Gaurave Tiwari said opposing forced conversion was an important issue for the party.  In Chhattisgarh State, BJP youth conducted several anti-Christian marches.  In September, a group of young BJP workers from the same chapter entered a Chhattisgarh police station, hurled shoes at two pastors and beat them up, reportedly in front of police officers.  Rahul Rao, an office holder in the BJP youth cell, was charged with assault by police and released on bail.  The article also quoted a leaked letter from a top police official in Chhattisgarh ordering police to “keep a constant vigil on the activities of Christian missionaries.”  Media reported the Chhattisgarh government transferred the senior police official from the station hours after the incident.  The investigation continued at the end of the year.

On September 18, media reported police arrested Christian pastor Ravi Gupta from Bihar’s Supaul District was arrested for converting 30 Hindu families to Christianity in his native village.  Members of Vishna Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the RSS, detained Gupta and handed him over to police.  There were no further developments on this case reported by year’s end.

On September 21, according to media reports, a village council in Mangapat Sirsai in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand ostracized three tribal families who converted to Christianity.  In the presence of local police officials, the council reportedly asked the families to convert back to the local tribal Sarna religion and subsequently barred them from free movement inside the village when they refused to do so.  According to the district president, the council took the action to counter the influence of Christian missionaries, whom he said had been quite active in the area, luring tribe members with land and money to convert them.

On June 30, approximately 20 members of the Hindu organization Bajrang Dal allegedly attacked Pastor Hemant Meher in the Jajpur District of Odisha, according to a July 10 report from ICC.  The report said the group filmed the incident and beat the pastor before handing him over to the police and saying he had been forcibly converting people to Christianity.  According to ICC, police released Meher without charge, urging him to file a complaint against his assailants.  ICC said Bajarang Dal members attacked Meher again on July 1, forcing him to flee the area.

In April, media reported that a Muslim man posed as a Hindu to marry a Hindu woman in the Fatehabad District of Haryana.  The man allegedly revealed his religious identity seven years into the marriage and attempted to forcibly convert her to Islam.  When his wife refused, he forced her and their child out of their home.  She pressed the local police to take action.  Initially they took no action, but later, according to media reports, police opened an investigation and promised to take action against the police personnel who refused to register her original complaint.  There was no further action reported on this case by year’s end.

The Union of Catholic Asian News service and major international media reported that on January 26, approximately 100 Hindu activists attacked a prayer service at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, a Catholic media center in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, accusing the center of conducting religious conversions.  The pastor told media the assailants beat worshippers and yelled at them.  He said when police arrived, they only jailed the pastors and other church elders for violating Madhya Pradesh’s new law outlawing conversions.  The pastor said he and eight other church leaders were jailed for two months before being released, and still faced charges.  According to national media, police pressed trespassing charges against 15 persons and opened investigations into the incident.  Their cases were pending in court at year’s end.

On January 5, according to media sources, members of the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Uttar Pradesh.  The pastor told media the group beat them and forced them to chant Hindu prayers, threatening to kill them if they did not.  The Hindus turned the pastor and four others over to police, who charged them with forced conversion, based on the comments of one of the Hindus.  Police also seized copies of the Bible and musical equipment, according to media reports.  On January 6, the pastor and eight others filed a police report.  There were no further developments reported on the case during the year.

On January 6, a Christian group in Uttar Pradesh filed a complaint against members of VHP for disrupting a prayer meeting.  The Christians said 20 VHP members, including one police officer, entered their meeting uninvited, beat some worshippers, and damaged the facility.  Police charged five of the Christians with illegal conversion, according to media reports, but there were no further developments on this case reported by year’s end.

Media reported that on August 29 a group of more than 100 individuals targeted a Christian pastor for alleged religious conversion in Polmi village in Kabirdham District of Chhattisgarh.  The reports stated that the group physically abused the pastor and vandalized his residence during a prayer service.  Police opened an investigation into the incident.

On October 3, according to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, there were 13 instances of violence and threats committed by Hindus against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh states, and in New Delhi.  Drawing on reporting from EFI, Agenzia Fides said these incidents included disrupting worship services and prayer meetings and beating worshippers; police arresting pastors for forced conversion, based on complaints filed by Hindus; and Hindu groups vandalizing Christian places of worship.

In October, Giani Harpreet Singh, leader of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a Sikh religious organization, and head priest of the Sikh community, said that Christian missionaries were “running a campaign for forced conversions in border areas of Punjab.”

NGO Sabrang reported that in Uttarakhand on October 3, 200 local members of Hindu organizations Bajarang Dal, VHP, and the youth wing of the BJP disrupted a worship service in Roorkee, shouting Hindu slogans, beating worshippers, and ransacking their meeting room.  According to media, police charged the assailants with rioting, vandalism, trespassing, and deliberately injuring others.

In September, Vellappally Natesan, a prominent Hindu Ezhava leader and patron of the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena political organization in Kerala, stated it was not the Muslim community but Christians who were at the forefront of conversions and “love jihad” in the country.

According to media, Hindu nationalist groups disrupted nine Christmas prayer meetings, six in Uttar Pradesh, two in Haryana, and one in Assam, vandalizing church property in some of the incidents.  In Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the regional general secretary of Bajrang Dal told the media that Christian missionaries used the season to “allure children by making Santa Claus distribute gifts to them and attract them towards Christianity.”

The investigation continued into the September 2020 killing of Hindu woman Priya Soni.  Soni was beheaded reportedly for refusing to convert to Islam after marrying Muslim Ajaz Ahmed in a civil ceremony, in Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh.  Police arrested Ahmed and Shoaib Akhtar, also a Muslim, for the crime and they remained in custody at year’s end.

In June, the Sikh minority community in Jammu and Kashmir protested over allegations of the forced conversion of two Sikh women, who subsequently married Muslim men.  A Sikh delegation met national Home Minister Amit Shah and requested passage of a conversion restriction law “similar to the one in Uttar Pradesh” in Jammu and Kashmir.

On August 6, according to The Christian Post, a Sikh family in Punjab attacked a Christian woman, her sister, and mother for their beliefs.  The report said that the attackers choked one victim unconscious.  Police opened an investigation, but there were no further developments by the end of the year.

On October 6, Sikh leaders in Punjab started a campaign in rural areas to counter the potential conversion of lower income Sikhs to Christianity.  The head priest of the Punjab Sikh community said, “Christian missionaries have been running a campaign in the border belt for forced conversions over the past few years.  Innocent people are being cheated or lured to convert.  We have received many such reports.”  He also called forced conversions [to Christianity] “a dangerous attack on the Sikh religion.”

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Freedom House downgraded the country from free to partly free due to “rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population” and crackdowns on dissent.

A Pew Research study “Religion in India:  Tolerance and Segregation,” released in July and based on interviews conducted in 2019 and 2020, found that 84 percent of those surveyed across different faiths said that “respecting all religions was very important to truly being Indian”; 80 percent said that “respecting other religions was very important to their religious identity”; and 91 percent said they were “very free to practice their own religion.”  These numbers ranged from highs of 93 percent of Buddhists and 91 percent of Hindus, and lows of 82 percent of Sikhs and 85 percent of Jains saying they are very free to practice their religion, with Christians and Muslims at 89 percent.  The survey also showed, however, that 83 percent of all respondents believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  The study’s overview stated that Indians’ commitment to tolerance was accompanied by a strong preference for keeping religious communities segregated, which was true even for religious minority communities.  Large majorities of those surveyed said they did not have much in common with members of other religious groups, and large majorities in the six major religious groups said their close friends came mainly or entirely from their own religious community.  Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64 percent) said it was very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian.  According to the report, Hindus who strongly link Hindu and Indian identities were more likely to also support religious segregation.

In its report covering the year, Christian NGO Open Doors said that overall violence against Christians and pressure against Christians “in all spheres of life” remained “very high.”  The NGO said the persecution of Christians had intensified as Hindu nationalists “aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence.”  This led to the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including the use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred.

On December 17-19, during a gathering in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, several Hindu leaders and activists called publicly for violence against religious minorities.  Yati Narasinghanand, characterized as a Hindu extremist, announced a reward of 10 million rupees ($135,000) for any Hindu leader who would lead a militant movement against Islam and Christianity.  Narasinghanand also called upon Hindus to “take up weapons” against Muslims and wage a war against “Islamic jihad” for the protection of Hindus.  Another Hindu religious leader, Sadhvi Annapurna, called for creation of a nation exclusively for Hindus and for raising an army against Muslims.  Uttarakhand police subsequently booked seven persons including Narasinghanand and Annapurna, on multiple charges under the criminal code, including promoting enmity between religious groups, deliberately intending to outrage religious feeling by insulting religious groups, and acting prejudicial to social harmony.  The spokesperson for the Uttarakhand government and director general of police condemned the statements and said that police would “take required action” against those responsible.  On December 26, a group of attorneys, including a former judge on the Patna High Court, wrote the Supreme Court urging action in the case, and stating that the speeches made at the event in Haridwar were not merely hate speeches but “an open call for the murder of an entire community” which not only posed “a grave threat to the unity of the country, but also endangered the lives of millions of Muslim citizens.”

According to media reports, on October 1, Hindu nationalists held a rally in the Surguja District of Chhattisgarh to protest a perceived spike in forced conversion of Hindus to Christianity in the area.  Media reported that World Hindu Congress leader Swami Parmatmanand attended the protest and called for those who engage in forced conversions to be beheaded.  Police took no action against him, according to the Chhattisgarh-based Christian community.

On August 8, a video was widely circulated on social media of a group shouting threats to kill Muslims and demanding that Muslims convert to Hinduism to remain in the country.  The incident took place during a demonstration near parliament in New Delhi in which the crowd was protesting colonial-era laws still in force, according to media reports.  MP Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim, stated in parliament that “genocidal slogans” were used against Muslims during the incident.  Media reported that several prominent Hindu activists took part.  Police officials told the media they were viewing video to identify suspects and had filed an FIR against “unknown persons” for shouting the threats.

On June 29, Hindu religious leader Mahamandaleshwar Yatindra Nath Giri in New Delhi stated that parliament should adopt a new constitution banning madrassahs, declaring religious conversion a crime, and punishing couples that have more than two children.

On October 15, Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui said persons who insulted the Quran should be “beheaded.”  Siddiqui’s comments were aired in a video shown by media.

Media and one NGO reported that on October 20, Hindu groups affiliated with the RSS, Hindu Jagran Manch, and the VHP attacked and vandalized at least six mosques and more than a dozen shops and houses belonging to Muslim communities across Tripura State, reportedly in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival there.  The NGO Centre for Study of Society and Secularism reported that attackers damaged 11 mosques, six shops, and two homes.  The NGO also said that the authorities took stronger action against the journalists and activists who were reporting the violations than on the rioters themselves.  The government rejected this claim and stated that action was taken against journalists for their “inflammatory social media posts” about the event.  Tripura police registered a case against Ranu Das, a leader from the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (the youth wing of the BJP) who allegedly threw stones at a mosque and burned Muslim properties, for provocation to cause riot, intent to hurt religious feelings, and causing public enmity.  The suspect fled and had not been arrested by year’s end.

According to media reports, on October 2, unidentified individuals vandalized a Hindu temple in the Anantnag District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Police opened an investigation into the incident.

EFI said that on January 20, members of the Bajrang Dal demolished the boundary wall of a church in the Mahabubabad District of Telangana, saying the church building was too close to a Hindu temple.

According to Pastor Upajukta Singh, in June Hindu villagers destroyed the homes of eight Christian families, expelling them from Ratagaya village.  The victims filed a police complaint.

In May, Hindu Jatav Dalit community villagers of the Muslim-majority Noorpur village in Aligarh District of Uttar Pradesh stated to media that Muslims were harassing them and discriminating against them.  The villagers also said Muslims stopped a marriage procession from passing in front of a mosque in the village.

Indonesia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 11, four Christian farmers in Poso Regency, Central Sulawesi, were killed by the East Indonesia Mujahedeen, designated by the Indonesian government as a terrorist group.  The same group was accused of killing four residents of Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, in November 2020.  According to the Voice of America, local police said the attackers were motivated by “terrorism and robbery.”  A spokesperson for President Widodo condemned the incident, promising that the terrorists responsible for the attack would be caught.  On September 18, security forces killed the group’s leader Ali Kalora in a firefight.  At year’s end, security forces continued operations seeking to apprehend the remaining members of the group.

On March 28, two suicide bombers, later identified as a married couple, attacked the Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, South Sulawesi Province, killing both assailants and injuring 20 bystanders.  Police said the wounded included four guards and several churchgoers.  The attack occurred during a Palm Sunday Mass.  Police identified the two bombers as members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an organization designed by the Indonesian government as terrorist, that was previously responsible for the 2018 bombings of three churches in Surabaya, East Java.  In a televised address, President Widodo called for calm and said “the state guarantees the safety of religious people to worship without fear.”  Religious Affairs Minister Qoumas publicly called on police to improve security at houses of worship.  In May, press reported that police had arrested 53 individuals in connection with the bombing.

On May 28, police arrested 11 suspected JAD members in Merauke, Papua, for an alleged plot to kill Catholic Archbishop of Merauke Petrus Canisius Mandagi and planning attacks at several Christian churches in easternmost Papua Province.  Police told press that the suspected members were affiliated with those responsible for the March bombing in Makassar.

Shia and Ahmadi Muslims reported feeling under constant threat from “intolerant groups.”  Anti-Shia and anti-Ahmadi rhetoric was common in online media outlets and on social media.

Individuals affiliated at the local level with the MUI used rhetoric considered intolerant by religious minorities, including fatwas declaring Shia and Ahmadis as deviant sects.  The national MUI did not address or repudiate local MUI officials who called for such fatwas.  In August, the National MUI Conference released a recommendation that the MORA should always consult with MUI prior to making decisions related to Ahmadi, Shia, and Baha’i issues.  In March, the local MUI for Pandeglang Regency, Banten Province, declared the Hakekok Balatasutak, a local religious group, as deviant and stated that its members needed counseling to be brought back to the correct religious path.  Following the destruction of an Ahmadi mosque in Sintang Regency, West Kalimantan, in September, the local MUI signed an agreement with the local FKUB to “embrace” the local Ahmadi community to ensure they returned to the correct teachings of Islam.

On August 12, Muhammad Roin, chair of the Wast Java chapter of the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council, stated that “Shi’ism” was not part of Islam and was a deviant sect.  He called on the local government and police in West Java to stop any Shia plans to commemorate Ashura.

According to the Setara Institute’s annual report on freedom of religion in the country, nonstate actors conducted 185 actions infringing on freedom of religion in 2020, up from 168 actions in 2019.  These actions included 62 cases of intolerance, 32 cases of reporting blasphemy, 17 cases of refusing the creation of a house of worship, and eight cases of forbidding worship.

On June 3, hundreds of Nahdlatul Ulama members in Banyuwangi Regency, East Java, demonstrated against the construction of a Muhammadiyah-affiliated mosque in their community.  Soon afterwards, the local heads of Nahdlatual Ulama and Muhammadiyah met and publicly stated they were able to resolve the dispute.  Several points from the Nahdlatul Ulama-Muhammadiyah meeting included agreement that Muhammadiyah complete administrative requirements for mosque construction and that both parties encourage communication between their followers at the local level.

On September 20, the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board issued a letter to all institutions affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama to cease collaborative programs and projects with the two international organizations, the American Jewish Committee and the Institute for Global Engagement, as well as the Leimena Institute, a Christian think tank based in the country.  No reasons were given in the letter for the decision.  Activists reported their view that the letter undermined religious freedom and was spearheaded by certain factions in NU that viewed the actions of these minority religious organizations as “disruptive” to the country’s social fabric.  As of the end of the year, the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board had not publicly provided a reason for why it issued the letter.

A conspiracy theory blaming Jews for the COVID-19 pandemic spread widely online, leading Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD to state that the COVID-19 pandemic was not the result of a Jewish conspiracy.  Mahfud stated that even some academics and professors had reiterated this conspiracy theory and that he wanted to stop its spread since it distracted from efforts to combat the pandemic.

Christian news sites reported that approximately 12 elementary school children, ages nine to 12, vandalized a Christian cemetery in Solo (Surakarta), Central Java Province, on June 21.  According to local authorities, the children attended a school near the cemetery.

On June 10, residents of Ponorogo Regency, East Java, rejected a plan to convert a house into a church in their neighborhood.  Media reported that one of the local leaders had rejected the plan because the house owner had not asked for permission from majority Muslim local community before pursuing the plan.  Yohanes Kasmin, who led the congregation asking for the conversion, said the dispute was a result of a misunderstanding and that since its creation the congregation had never had a permanent place of worship.

In April, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists joined with local Muslims in Blitar Regency, East Java, to help build a mosque.  Members of the community told the press that the Hindu-majority community had a long history of interfaith cooperation.

According to a May survey by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, a public opinion pollster, 88 percent of Indonesians were aware of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, and of those respondents, 65 percent agreed that the conflict was between Judaism and Islam, 14 percent disagreed, and 22 percent said they did not know.

Many of the largest and most influential religious groups and NGOs, including Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, officially endorsed and advocated for tolerance, pluralism, and the protection of minority groups on numerous occasions.  In July, the secretary general for the Supreme Council of Nahdlatul Ulama and the World Evangelical Alliance signed a statement of cooperation establishing a working relationship to promote intercultural solidarity and respect.

According to the “Who Cares about Free Speech” report by the Future of Free Speech, a collaborative project of NGOs and academic organizations, only 26 percent of citizens surveyed in February supported the freedom to express opinions offensive to religion, while the other 74 percent agreed that the government should be able to prevent people from saying things offensive to religion.

According to a September survey by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting, 16 percent of respondents indicated their support of a government that operated based on the teachings of Islam, while 77 percent stated the government should not be based on any single religion.

The MORA’s Religious Harmony Index for 2020 found a decrease in religious harmony from 2019 to 2020.  The index used a survey of 1,220 respondents in 34 provinces to measure harmony across three dimensions:  tolerance, equality, and solidarity.  The index was scored from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most harmonious.  The national score for 2020 was 67.46, down from 73.83 in 2019.  A MORA policy paper stated four likely reasons for this decrease:  increased prejudice directed at different groups, especially against adherents of aliran kepercayaan, Ahmadi and Shia Muslims, and atheists; a decrease in the tolerance subindex, with 38 percent of respondents saying they would be bothered if a house of worship belonging to another faith was built near them; a decrease in the equality subindex, with 36 percent of respondents stating they would not support someone from a different faith becoming president; and a decrease in the solidarity index, with 36 percent of respondents saying they would not support other faiths in hosting religious events or celebrations.  According to the survey, more than 50 percent of respondents reported never having direct contact with people from a different faith.

On December 20, the MORA announced results from the 2021 Religious Harmony Index, finding that overall religious harmony score had increased to 72.39.

Iran

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Yarsanis outside the country reported that widespread discrimination against Yarsanis continued.  They stated Yarsani children were socially ostracized in school and in shared community facilities.  Yarsani men continued to face employment discrimination.  According to reports, Shia preachers continued to encourage social discrimination against Yarsanis.

According to a media reporting, Yarsani graves were neither safe from attacks nor from disrespect, and Yarsani cemeteries and mausoleums were repeatedly damaged and destroyed in the city of Kermanshah and elsewhere in the country.

Violence and social stigma continued to target Baha’i individuals, according to Baha’is and those who advocated for their rights, and perpetrators reportedly continued to act with impunity.  There continued to be reports of non-Baha’is dismissing or refusing employment to Baha’is, sometimes in response to government pressure, according to BIC and other organizations monitoring the situation of Baha’is.  BIC continued to report instances of physical violence committed against Baha’is based on their faith.

Baha’is reported there were continued incidents of destruction or vandalism of their cemeteries.  IranWire reported that in September, HRANA released a video showing the partial destruction of a Baha’i cemetery in the village of Kata, Dena County, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province.  According to HRANA, the attack occurred on September 8.  In a manner that would have been difficult without machinery, much of the cemetery’s exterior wall and bathroom had been knocked to the ground and stone shrines were smashed.

In July, IranWire reported an Assyrian Christian nicknamed “Farough” suffered employment discrimination following a workplace injury at an industrial factory in 2016 in which he lost three fingers on his right hand.  Farough said that when he returned to the factory after his recovery, “They were supposed to do an expert examination and pay me blood money, but when I was paid, I realized that the amount I received was much lower based on the fact that I was a religious minority.”  Farough said a Muslim colleague with similar academic credentials was promoted and given a raise.  “I meanwhile have all the right conditions for employment and career advancement but, just because I am a Christian, I am deprived of any promotion.”

According to human rights NGOs, including CSW, Open Doors USA, and others, converts from Islam to Christianity faced ongoing societal pressure and rejection by family or community members.

Shia clerics and prayer leaders reportedly continued to denounce Sufism and the activities of Sufis in both sermons and public statements.

Sunni students reported that professors continued to routinely insult Sunni religious figures in class.

IranWire reported that according to a survey released by Iran Open Data in October, 48 percent of 2,000 adult respondents said they drank alcohol.  When asked about drinking frequency, 24 percent of respondents reported that they “sometimes” drank, while 9 percent said they drank “weekly,” and 6 percent said they drank “daily.”  Fifty-two percent of participants said they did not drink alcohol.

Iraq

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were continued reports of societal violence by sectarian armed groups across the country except in the IKR.  Although media and human rights organizations said security conditions in many parts of the country continued to improve, reports of societal violence, mainly by pro-Iran Shia militias, continued.  Members of non-Muslim minority groups reported abductions, threats, pressure, and harassment to force them to observe Islamic customs.  Many Shia religious and government leaders continued to urge PMF volunteers not to commit these abuses.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The KRG reported that ISIS forces killed one Kaka’i during the year and that there were several attacks and raids of villages in the territories whose control is disputed by the national government and the KRG.  Although Kaka’i human rights activists did not report any serious attacks by ISIS during the year, they said fear of future attacks and a feeling of general insecurity caused Kaka’i members to evacuate several towns in Diyala and Kirkuk Provinces.

Sources in the Yezidi community estimated the number of children born of Yezidi mothers and ISIS fathers ranged from several dozen to several hundred.  Yezidi leaders said societal stigma made it difficult to obtain accurate numbers.  According to Yezidi sources, Yezidi leaders had excommunicated some Yezidi women who had children born of sexual violence by Muslim men when the women were captives of ISIS.  Due to the position of Yezidi leaders and many in the community that children born of rape were neither welcomed nor recognized as Yezidis, also the case under Iraqi law, many female Yezidi survivors of ISIS said they were compelled to leave their children in orphanages in Syria or Iraq so they could rejoin their community.  According to Yezidi sources, these children were also under threat of honor and retribution killings.  Many Yezidis feared that the children would grow up radicalized due to the possibility of their exposure to radicalization in IDP camps or informal settlement areas and because they had experienced rejection.  Some of the women said they preferred to stay in the camps’ harsh environment with their children rather than leave them behind

On June 8, a delegation of primarily Sunni faculty from the University of Ninewa College of Law visited Yezidi IDPs living in the Shariya camp in Dohuk Province to observe conditions and provide moral support as a gesture of Sunni solidarity with the Yezidis after 400 tents burned down.  On June 14, the General Secretariat of the Imam Hussein Holy Shrine announced the dispatch of relief materials to Yezidi IDP families in Shariya camp, at the direction of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Sheikh Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalai.

Christians in the south and in PMF-controlled towns on the Ninewa Plain, as well as Sabean-Mandeans in Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Maysan Provinces, reported they continued to avoid celebrating their religious festivals when these observances coincided with Shia Islamic periods of mourning, such as Ashura.  There were continued reports that members of non-Muslim minority groups felt pressured by the Muslim majority to adhere to certain Islamic practices, such as wearing the hijab or fasting during Ramadan.  Non-Shia Muslims and non-Muslim women said they continued to feel societal pressure to wear hijabs and all-black clothing during Muharram, particularly during Ashura, to avoid harassment.  According to representatives of Christian NGOs, some Muslims continued to threaten women and girls, regardless of their religious affiliation, for refusing to wear the hijab, for dressing in Western-style clothing, or for not adhering to strict interpretations of Islamic norms governing public behavior.  Outside the IKR, numerous women, including Christians and Sabean-Mandeans, said they opted to wear the hijab after experiencing continual harassment.

On November 28, Maysan police reported an individual threw an improvised explosive device at a Christian family house in Maysan Province, Amara City, causing material losses but no casualties.  According to press reports, the family had a liquor license and sold alcohol from their house.  Maysan Province police issued a statement saying the reason for the attack was not to affect demographic change or based on ethnic grounds, but rather due to commercial rivalry.  On November 29, Namer Slewa the Christian owner of the house, told media that unlicensed but influential Muslim alcohol sellers planned the attack to run Slewa out of business.  According to Slewa, this was the third time the same business rivals had attacked him, adding that on one occasion, they injured his employees.

On October 19, Basher Shemoon, a Christian member of the Ninewa Plain elders’ council, reported that Shabak Shia had raised religious banners and pictures throughout the city of Bartella, including on the ancient Christian Church of the 40 Martyrs, blocking all the streets inside the city.  He said the actions were part of an effort to intimidate Christian residents during a Shia ceremony.

In October, head of the interreligious Masarat Foundation for Cultural and Media Development Saad Salloum said institutes training religious leaders and journalists had begun using a curriculum focused on understanding the country’s different religions as part of a three-year pilot program prior to the curriculum’s adoption for use in public schools.  Salloum said the Masarat Foundation was also establishing a news agency dedicated to diversity publications and that the foundation’s research on hate speech had revealed an overall reduction of such speech against minorities.  The foundation was created in 2020 with the goal of developing a special curriculum for understanding different religions in the country, to be taught through the Iraqi Institute for Religious Diversity.  Founded by religious leaders, academics, and civil society activists in 2019, the Iraqi Institute for Religious Diversity continued to develop curricula on Christianity, Yazidism, Sabean-Mandeanism, Judaism, the Baha’i Faith, Zoroastrianism, and Kaka’ism.

In a lecture posted on YouTube on April 10, Shia scholar Sheikh Saad al-Mudaris said, “Jews are pleased with Charles Darwin’s theory that mankind is descended from apes, since this removes their shame of being descendants of those whom Allah had turned into apes and pigs.”  He said Jews spread Darwinism around the world and that they used their money to force universities and institutes to spread the theory.

Ireland

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NGO Irish Network Against Racism recorded 334 incidents of hate speech involving race and religion in 2020, of which 69 targeted Muslims and 23 targeted Jews.  In one case, housemates subjected one Muslim man to theft, abuse, and harassment over a period of months.  The principal at one community college used explicitly anti-Muslim slurs against Muslim students.  The NGO recorded nine incidents of discrimination against Muslims in access to goods and services but did not give details.  It stated that most victims of religious discrimination and racist incidents did not report them to the police.

In October, researcher David Collier published a report on antisemitism in the country that documented antisemitic content posted online by members of the Dail and members of the public.  The author stated that most of this content occurred in the context of criticizing Israeli policies, but it also contained Holocaust denial and antisemitic tropes about Jews controlling world finance.  The report included numerous examples of politicians and members of the public sharing social media posts from other sources that contained Holocaust denial, “Zionist” conspiracy theories, and antisemitic tropes.  In his report, Collier stated, “It seems accurate to suggest that antisemitism is driving their [politicians’ and anti-Israel activists’] obsessive anti-Israel activity.”  Collier recommended that Ireland, which is a member of the IHRA, adopt IHRA’s non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism.

The WRC reported it received 30 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion or belief in 2020, compared with 36 in 2019.

On July 20, approximately 500 Muslims performed prayers to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park.  Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, organized the event, which, as in 2020, was held outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions, in cooperation with the Gaelic Athletic Association.  Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government, attended.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In September, authorities charged Muad Hib with murder for killing his mother and hiding her body in August, after she converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity.  Prosecutors stated that her conversion was the motive for the killing.

Amid tensions in Jerusalem and violence in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out during a one-week period in May in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country, including Lod, Acre, Jaffa, Haifa, and Ramle.  Incidents of violence included automobile vandalism; gunshots fired at a group of Jewish individuals, stone throwing by both Jewish and Arab protestors; arson attacks on synagogues; and desecration of Muslim gravestones.  Armed Jewish Israelis clashed with Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.  Responding to the violence, the government reassigned additional security personnel, including border police from the West Bank, to augment INP personnel.  The INP reported it made approximately 1,550 arrests, with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens.  Security officials said the arrested Jewish citizens were predominately “middle-aged nationalist extremists.”

On May 12 in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Lod, Jews shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in clashes between residents.  Later on May 12, Arab/Palestinian citizens in Lod stoned the car of Jewish resident Yigal Yehoshua who died on May 17 after being hit in the head with a thrown brick.  In the northern city of Acre on May 11, Arab/Palestinian citizens set fire to a hotel leading to the death of 84 year-old retiree Aby Har-Even on June 6.  On May 19, teenager Mohammed Mahamid Kiwan died after he was shot on May 18 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65.  His family said police were responsible.

According to the Lod Municipality, Arab/Palestinian citizens perpetrated five arson attacks against four synagogues in the city, and shattered windows of two additional synagogues.  Media reported that Jewish individuals threw stones at worshippers at the Lod Dahmash Mosque on May 12 during prayer time and shattered the windows of the mosque.  On May 13, unknown individuals desecrated an Islamic Cemetery in Lod, tried to set it on fire, and broke 10 of its gravestones.

In the aftermath of the civil unrest, the state filed indictments against 150 persons.  Some NGOs said most were against Arab/Palestinian citizens and expressed concern that the INP disproportionately targeted Arab/Palestinian citizens.  A significant number of demonstrations calling for calm and coexistence were held in multiple cities after the civil unrest.

On September 9, three minors attacked a worshipper and caused damage to a synagogue in Acre.  The police later arrested and released the suspects to house arrest.

In April, during the period leading up to the civil unrest, Palestinian youth in Jerusalem physically attacked ultra-Orthodox individuals and posted the attacks on the social media app TikTok.  The first video of a young Palestinian Jerusalemite slapping a Yeshiva student on the Jerusalem Light Rail was posted on the social network on April 15.  According to the government, the police opened 14 investigations and arrested 31 suspects for being involved in such attacks.  Four of the cases led to indictments, and one suspect was convicted and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, six months probation and a fine of 2,500 shekels ($810).  On July 1, police arrested Palestinian Jerusalemites for defiling graves in the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery while filming themselves on TikTok.

Racial and religiously motivated attacks by Jewish individuals and groups continued to take place during the year against individuals – particularly Arab/Palestinian citizens of the country and Palestinians of the West Bank and their property – with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests.  The attacks occurred against both Christian and Muslim targets.  The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where these attacks occurred and sponsored activities promoting tolerance in response to the attacks.  On March 12, Jewish individuals set cars on fire and sprayed graffiti with a Star of David and the writing: “enough with intermarriage” in the village of Ein Naqquba in the central part of the country.

According to Tag Meir, the assailants also poured gasoline on the home of two families, including on the window of the room of a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, and tried to set it on fire.  Tag Meir stated that “only a miracle” prevented a disaster similar to that of the 2015 Duma arson attack in the West Bank, which resulted in the death of a Palestinian couple and their infant child.  The INP opened an investigation on March 12.

On March 25, unknown individuals spray-painted the words “deport or kill” on a car in the predominantly Arab town of Kfar Qasim.  They also punctured the tires of dozens of cars and spray-painted Stars of David on them.  Police opened an investigation into the case.

On March 1, unknown assailants set fire to the entrance of the monastery of the Romanian Church in Jerusalem near the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim.  The local priest put out the fire quickly.  According to Church officials, this was the fourth act of vandalism in 2021 that targeted the same monastery.  Christian representatives said they believed religious Orthodox Jews were the probable assailants.  The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said the arson was “a sign of hatred for the Christian religion” among some Israelis.

On April 5, arson attacks took place against two synagogues in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan.  On May 8, according to media reports, police arrested an individual from Rosh HaAyn for committing the attacks.

Swastikas were painted on synagogues several times during the year.  On July 31, unknown individuals painted swastikas on the structures of two synagogues in Bnei Brak.  The individuals also left photos of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old who was stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2015, at the sites.  On August 26, individuals painted swastikas on the door of a Tel Aviv synagogue.

On November 6, ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Meir Mazuz said that Jews from the former Soviet Union and Reform Jews were nonbelievers who were destroying Judaism in the country.

Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.

During the year, ultra-Orthodox women attacked members of Women of the Wall during their monthly prayers at the Western Wall.  For example, on June 11, ultra-Orthodox protesters shredded and desecrated dozens of prayer books belonging to Women of the Wall.

On July 17, during the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting when Jews commemorate the destruction of the temples, activists of Liba Yehudit, a national-ultra-Orthodox NGO described by Haaretz as “ultra-extreme,” put up a makeshift partition in the middle of the egalitarian prayer area of the Western Wall Plaza, intended to divide those praying by gender, and yelled and cursed to disrupt those praying there for the holiday.  According to Haaretz, “hundreds of right-wing, Orthodox Jews, mostly teenagers” disrupted the reading of the Book of Lamentations by a female member of the Conservative movement, which organized the annual event.  Haaretz described Liba as “an extreme right-wing group, which has been trying to prevent the non-Orthodox from having access to a new and revamped prayer plaza at the southern end of the site.”

On July 18, on Tisha B’Av, Prime Minister Bennett tweeted thanks to the Public Security Minister and the Israel Police Inspector General for “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”  On November 19, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the government’s policy regarding the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which prohibits non-Islamic worship, had not changed and what Bennett actually meant was that both Jews and Muslims had “freedom of visitation rights.”

In March, during Passover, an unknown individual spread hametz outside of synagogues in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan.

According to missionary organizations, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative.  Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Messianic Jews.

On June 2, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police closed an investigation of a 2019 complaint regarding an attack on two Jehovah’s Witnesses members during door-to-door activity in Bat Yam.  The police stated there were no grounds for a further criminal investigation.  After the initial complaint was filed, police summoned one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and told her that the individual who had attacked her later submitted a complaint against her for making threats and trespassing in her efforts to convert him to Christianity.

According to media reports, members of the NGO Lehava used violence and incited violence against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of the country during the period of civil unrest in May.

Lehava continued to criticize or assault Arab men who were in relationships with Jewish women and to harass “mixed” couples.  On June 9, the police interrogated Lehava Director Ben-Zion Gopstein on suspicion of incitement to violence following posts in social media regarding intermarriage.  A trial against Gopstein for offenses of incitement to terrorism, violence, and racism, which began in 2020, was ongoing at year’s end.

The NGO Yad L’Achim continued to disrupt instances of cohabitation between Jewish women and Arab men and viewed itself as a “Jewish rescue corps” which recovers Jewish women from “hostile” Arab villages, according to Yad L’Achim’s website.

In October, the Jerusalem Post reported that police arrested several members of La Familia, often described in the press as an ultranationalist fan club for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, following the group’s violent attack on a fan who was cheering the team’s Muslim player.  In May, a court agreed to a request by the team, which disavowed La Familia, to ban three of the group’s leaders from attending the team’s games.

There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public areas of their neighborhoods harassing individuals who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as driving on Shabbat or wearing clothing that they perceived as immodest.  The harassment included verbal abuse, spitting, and throwing stones, and kicking cars driving on Shabbat.

Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the IDF, housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations.

On April 30, a deadly stampede occurred at Mt. Meron during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer, with an estimated 100,000 persons in attendance.  Press reports stated that 45 men and boys were killed, and approximately 150 were injured in the deadliest civil disaster in the country’s history.  Many commentators suggested the ultra-Orthodox community’s extensive autonomy in the country was a major contributing factor to the catastrophe, with ultra-Orthodox MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) calling for greater government control over the pilgrimage site.  On June 20, the government approved the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the event.

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many ultra-Orthodox denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site due to the ongoing halakhic (Jewish legal) debate about whether it is permissible or forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible.  Many among the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in visiting the site.  Groups such as the Temple Institute and Yaraeh continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there as well as the construction of the third Jewish temple on the site.  In some cases, Israeli police prevented individuals from praying and removed them; in other cases, reported by the Waqf, on social media, and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the activity.

According to local media, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration.  Some Jewish visitors publicly noted that the INP was more permissive to them in permitting silent prayer.

NGOs reported that some LGBTQI+ minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization by rabbis.  NGOs noted reports of mental illness among the LGBTQI+ minor community because of this treatment, leading some to attempt suicide.  Other NGOs noted that an increasing number of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTQI+ minors.

Several religious NGOs, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, conducted private, unrecognized religious services such as marriages and conversions, and issued unrecognized Kashrut certificates to provide an alternative to the Chief Rabbinate for Jews who could not or did not want to use the Rabbinate’s services.  According to the NGO Panim, 2,486 weddings took place outside of the rabbinate’s authority in 2019, compared with 2,610 in 2018.  These included unofficial Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and secular ceremonies.

According to Bar Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, thousands of Jewish women were trapped in various stages of informal or formal get refusals, especially in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities.  The Rackman Center stated that in some instances a woman’s husband made granting a get contingent on his wife conceding to extortionate demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody.  According to the Center for Women’s Justice, one in three Jewish women who divorced faced such demands.

NGOs, including Mavoi Satum and Itim, promoted the use of prenuptial agreements to prevent cases of aginut (in which a woman whose husband is unwilling or unable to grant her a get).  Such agreements provide financial incentives paid by a refusing spouse until the termination of the marriage.

Analysis by Natanel Fisher at the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College of Law and Science based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics found that approximately 85,000 married couples in Israel, constituting 7 percent of all married couples in the country, involved a Jewish and a non-Jewish partner.  In 90 percent of the cases, the non-Jewish partner was “without religious classification,” in most cases from the former Soviet Union, and while many of them consider themselves Jewish, the rabbinate did not recognize them as such.  The article stated that nearly 60 percent, or 52,000 out of 87,000 such couples involve a woman who is not Jewish, which means that their children would not be considered Jewish either.

A variety of NGOs continued to try to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities, including Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Givat Haviva, the Hagar and Hand-in-Hand integrated Jewish-Arab bilingual schools, Hiddush, Israeli Religious Action Center, Mosaica, Tag Meir, and Interfaith Encounter Association.  For example, the number of children studying at integrated Yad BeYad Jewish-Arab schools in the school year beginning in September was 2,000, up from 1,800 in the previous year.

Despite the labor law, some foreign domestic workers stated that some employers did not allow their domestic workers to take off their weekly day of worship.

In April, the news website Al-Monitor reported that approximately 20 families from the Gur Hasidic community had bought apartments in the southern city of Dimona.  In response, one resident wrote on social media, “It’s not suitable… An extreme group like this can only ruin it.”  Dimona’s mayor, in a radio interview, suggested that the Gur Hasidim should go elsewhere.

In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews conducted in July and published in September, the NGO Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents, the same result as the 2020 poll, identified as either “secular” (48 percent) or “traditional-not-religious” (17 percent), with positions regarding public policy on religion and state close to the positions of secular Israelis.  Of those surveyed, 81 percent supported freedom of religion and conscience, and 59 percent supported the separation of religion and state.  Sixty-one percent supported equal status for the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform traditions.  A large majority did not see the need for religious conversion approved by the Chief Rabbinate as a condition for the state to recognize the Judaism of new immigrants, with 35 percent considering conversion via the Chief Rabbinate necessary, compared with 34 percent in the previous year.  Thirty-five percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they identify as such, and 35 percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they undergo either an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform conversion.  Of those surveyed, 23 percent accepted the position of the ultra-Orthodox parties that yeshiva students should be exempted from military or civic service.

According to the Hiddush poll, 63 percent of the country’s adult Jewish population supported recognition by the state of freedom of choice in marriage, doing away with the rabbinate’s monopoly, and equally recognizing civil and non-Orthodox religious marriages.  According to the same survey, 51 percent of the public stated that had they been allowed a choice, they would not have married in an Orthodox ceremony, compared with 35 percent who expressed the same sentiment in 2009, 39 percent in 2013, and 47 percent in 2016.  Eighty-one percent supported freedom of religion and conscience while 59 percent supported separation of religion and state.  According to the poll, the majority (73 percent) did not observe Shabbat according to religious law.

In a report released December 22, the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics stated that 84 percent of the country’s Christian community said that they were satisfied with life in the country.  Also, according to the study, Arab Christian women had some of the highest education rates in the country.

Italy

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, the CDEC recorded 200 incidents of antisemitism, compared with 224 incidents in 2020 and 251 in 2019.  Of these, at least 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet.  Reports of antisemitic incidents published on CDEC’s website included discrimination, verbal harassment, particularly at soccer matches and other sporting events, online hate speech, and derogatory graffiti.  Internet and social media hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of antisemitic incidents according to the CDEC, which continued to operate an antisemitism hotline for victims of, and witnesses to, antisemitic incidents.  According to Milena Santerini, the National Coordinator for the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, the number of antisemitic incidents was vastly underreported.  Santerini also reported that Facebook had removed only a small percentage of posts containing antisemitic material.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that 158 cases of grave desecration and 47 attacks on places of worship occurred in the country in 2020, compared with 152 and 42 cases, respectively, in 2019.  The national police’s Observatory on Security against Acts of Discrimination (OSCAD) reported 448 crimes of discrimination in 2019, the most recent available data, of which 92 were based on religious affiliation and 216 on ethnicity, compared with 360 crimes of discrimination in 2018.  OSCAD defined crimes of discrimination as crimes motivated by ideological, cultural, religious, or ethnic prejudices.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 11 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Italy said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Thirteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (20 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (16 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (13 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (15 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (9 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (7 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (9 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (12 percent).

The private research center STATISTA reported that an estimated 15.6 percent of the population believed the Holocaust never happened.  In its Italy 2020 Report, the private Eurispes Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies reported nearly 16 percent of respondents believed the Holocaust was a myth, while 16 percent of respondents said the number of Holocaust victims had been “exaggerated.”  Of those sampled, 47.5 percent considered recent acts of antisemitism in the country to be a “dangerous resurgence of the phenomenon,” while 37.2 percent viewed the recent acts as “bravado carried out for provocation” or as a “joke.”

Press reported that on March 21 in Rome, a food delivery person stabbed a Jewish colleague several times after screaming, “Damn Jews, I [expletive] hate you.”  The victim, whose wounds required hospitalization, was the son of a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.  On April 7, authorities arrested the suspected assailant and recovered the knife used in the attack.

On August 31, a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa, beating him in the face with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are assassins!”  Media widely covered the case, and at year’s end according to the MOI, the assailant remained in the country.

In its periodic review of social media posts, Vox Diritti reported 5.2 percent of all monitored tweets (797,326) contained antisemitic messages during the year, compared with 8 percent of all tweets monitored in 2020 (104,347).  Many antisemitic tweets came from accounts based in Rome, Milan, and Florence.  The NGO said spikes in tweet traffic correlated with the national celebration of the Liberation from the Fascist regime and a series of attacks against synagogues in Germany.

Press later reported that on June 7, police announced an investigation of the Roman Aryan Order, which investigators and the judge presiding over the case considered to be a far-right criminal association using Nazi symbols.  Twelve members of the association in Cagliari, Cosenza, Frosinone, Latina, L’Aquila, Milan, Rome, and Sassari were accused of ethnically and religiously motivated hate crimes, based on their publication of numerous racist and discriminatory posts on social media.

According to media, on July 2, police arrested four self-characterized neo-Nazis in Milan on suspicion of having established a criminal association to commit hate crimes and violence based on the ethnicities and religions of the victims.  They had reportedly been planning an attack on a Muslim activist.

On September 16, police in Turin announced an operation to dismantle an association of four persons under investigation for incitement to commit crimes and discriminate on the grounds of race, ethnicity, and religion.  Investigators had found posts on social media containing antisemitic insults and promoting hate against foreigners.

On January 27, UCEI President Noemi Di Segni said, “Fascism is a poison orchard for the whole Italian society of which the bitterness and latency have not yet been understood.  We still do not have any knowledge of truth and extent.”  She added, “Knowing the roots of this Italian evil is necessary to understand those who today repeat mottos and wear its symbols.  Crimes and offenses against Italy, not only to its Jews then and today, constitute threats too often underestimated and dismissed.”

According to the most recent Pew Research Center study published in October 2019, 55 percent of Italians had negative opinions of Muslims and 15 percent had negative opinions of Jews.  Negative opinions of Muslims were prevalent among the least educated (57 percent) and elderly (66 percent).

Vox Diritti reported that during the year, 65 percent of all tweets mentioning Islam (165,297) contained negative messages against Muslims, compared with 59 percent (67,889) in 2020.  Most anti-Muslim tweets originated in northern regions.

According to press reports, on January 10, a highly organized group of individuals interrupted the online Zoom launch of a book about the Holocaust, shouting antisemitic epithets, including “Jews, we’ll burn you in ovens, the Nazis are back, we will burn you all, you must all die.”  The virtual action, which also included portraits of Hitler and swastikas, occurred during the presentation of a book entitled, “The Generation of the Desert” by Lia Tagliacozzo, a Jewish author born to Holocaust survivors.

In February, press reported that following Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre’s attempts to encourage other older adults to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, several antisemitic comments appeared in social media.  On October 15, during an anti-COVID-19 vaccination rally in Bologna, a self-described far-left organizer, Gian Marco Capitani, took the stage and stated that Segre “brings shame to her history …She should disappear.”  National press widely interpreted the words as antisemitic.  Numerous “no-vax” rallies featured demonstrators wearing Stars of David, equating the “persecution” they faced from the government to the persecution the Jews suffered under the Nazis.  Capitani later said he regretted his use of the word “disappear,” given Segre’s history.  Capitani said his comment that Segre brought shame to her history was in reference to Segre’s personal story as a Holocaust survivor and his view that she had a special responsibility to fight persecution because of her background.

On October 26, police announced an investigation into incidents in eight cities and the identification of an adult and seven minors suspected of having interrupted three online commemorations of Holocaust Remembrance Day, livestreamed on Zoom.  Authorities accused the individuals of cybercrimes, violence, and hate crimes for having disrupted the occasion, insulted Jews, and lauded Benito Mussolini.

As in previous years, press reported examples of antisemitic and anti-Christian vandalism, including depictions on walls of swastikas, antisemitic stereotypes, and praise for neo-Nazi groups.  These appeared in Rome, Milan, Busto Arsizio, and other cities.  On September 12, local press reported the presence of graffiti equating the Star of David with swastikas on multiple buildings in Pisa.  In May, members of the Lazio soccer club displayed an antisemitic banner in response to news that rival soccer club Roma had hired a Jewish Brazilian as its new team manager.  On June 24, authorities found graffiti stating “Lazio football supporter Stolperstein” in Rome.  A Stolperstein, or stumbling stone, is a concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and date of birth and death of each victim of Nazi extermination or persecution.

On December 19, in a church in the town of Fiumicino, unidentified individuals vandalized a Nativity scene.  They threw statues of a shepherd and a donkey on the ground and mutilated them, cutting off the shepherd’s hands and one of the donkey’s ears.  Local media reported that it was not the first time the church had been targeted; previously vandals stole a statue of the baby Jesus.  On December 28, authorities in the town of Montemurlo called police after unknown persons hung 10 Christmas tree ornaments with Hitler’s face on them on a Christmas decoration outside the town council’s office.  The mayor of Montemurlo called the incident “an extremely serious episode that offends the values on which the Italian Republic was born, as well as our democracy.”

In January, the Catholic Church marked the 32nd annual Day of Jewish and Christian Dialogue with a focus on the first verse of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes.

Jamaica

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media, three members of Montego Bay’s Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries were killed and one injured as part of a ritual human sacrifice at the church’s compound in October.  When JCF officers responded, an exchange of gunfire resulted in the death of an additional congregant.  Media also reported Pathways’ leader Kevin Smith later died on October 25, along with a JCF officer, in a car crash while being transported in a police convoy following his arrest for multiple counts of murder.  The incident led several prominent religious leaders and government officials to call for increased scrutiny of churches.  “It seems to me that the major church umbrella groups need to sit down and have a conversation among themselves, and then make recommendations to the government, so that not every person who wants to set up a church can so freely do,” said Mark Dawes, a pastor within the Missionary Church Association in Jamaica.  Catholic Archbishop of Kingston Kenneth Richards stated, “[I]t’s very difficult; this is where some of the complexity resides, because there’s the constitutional right to freedom of religion that has to be respected.”  Jamaica Council of Churches president Reverend Newton Dixon proposed the establishment of an “ethical charter” between and among churches and the government to protect people in religious spaces and prevent further violent incidents.  Deputy Prime Minister Chang told media that it would have been difficult to take action against Smith’s church beforehand, given constitutional protections, although he raised the possibility of increased regulations.  By year’s end, the government had not introduced any new regulation of church activities resulting from the incident.

Rastafarians continued to report wider societal acceptance, despite continued negative stereotyping and stigma associated with their wearing locs and smoking marijuana.  In April, Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport Olivia Grange attended celebrations of Groundation Day, a major holiday for Rastafarians.

Christian, Jewish, and Islamic groups continued to state that society was tolerant of religious diversity, cited their continued involvement, along with other faiths, in the Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship.  The interfaith council included representatives from the Rastafari Innity Council, Sanatan Dharma Mandir United Church, Unification Church, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, United Congregation of Israelites, Islamic Council, and Soka Gakkai International.  Other organizations sometimes participated in council events.  The council continued to coordinate public education events, such as offering virtual programming for Interfaith Awareness Day in April, and to publicize World Interfaith Harmony Week, celebrated annually during the first week of February.

LGBTQI+ individuals continued to report negative attitudes and discrimination from some religious groups, although media reports and surveys suggested an overall trend toward increasing acceptance.  Sex between men continued to be criminalized, with the support of some religious groups.  Media reports quoted one leader of a group of churches opposed to decriminalizing sex between men as saying, “We definitely don’t support the established organizations of support to homosexuality, and we are against all their proposals and their recommendations for legalization [and] anything that has to do with the advances of the practice of homosexuality in Jamaica.”

Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for extensive coverage and open dialogue on religious matters through radio and television shows, as well as in opinion pages and letters to the editor in newspapers, such as The Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer.  Topics included the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights with religion, the status of regulation of churches, and religion’s role in society.  The Gleaner also published a series of academic discussions on religion and culture that explored the history and practices of Yahweh, Sikhism, and Jainism, among others.

Japan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim communities continued to report societal religious tolerance of their faith.  Several media outlets, however, stated that local communities, particularly in the western part of the country, continued to be reluctant to have Islamic cemeteries in their neighborhoods, citing local residents’ concerns that the Muslim tradition of burying a body could contaminate soil and water (cremation is a widespread practice in the country).  Due to this concern, the Beppu Muslim Association faced opposition from some residents to its plan submitted to local authorities in 2019 for a permit to build an Islamic cemetery on land that it owns in Hiji Town, Oita Prefecture.  The association reportedly petitioned the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare to establish at least one public burial site in each prefecture or designate one section of existing public cemeteries for Islamic burials to remedy a shortage of burial sites for Muslims.  The ministry reportedly acknowledged in June that it recognized the issue and would seek advice from concerned municipalities.  According to press reports, the Hiji Town government organized talks between the residents and the Beppu Muslim Association on November 5 to find a solution.  In the talks, residents reportedly proposed another site owned by the town government as an alternative.  They reportedly assessed the alternative site would be unlikely to contaminate water because of its topography and the lack of contamination from a nearby monastery that also buries deceased individuals in the soil.  Hiji Mayor Honda Hirofumi publicly stated that making progress on the issue would be possible should residents and the Beppu Muslim Association agree on the alternative site.  A representative of the Beppu Muslim Association publicly said the alternative site would be acceptable as long as the residents concurred with the association’s use of the site.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games fired the director of the opening ceremonies, Kobayashi Kentaro, one day before the event when a video showing Kobayashi making a joke about the Holocaust in 1998 surfaced.  The committee called the conduct “unacceptable,” and Kobayashi issued an apology shortly thereafter.

Jordan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Converts from Islam to Christianity reported continued social ostracism, threats, and physical and verbal abuse, including beatings, insults, and intimidation, from family members, neighbors, and community or tribal members.  Some reported they worshipped in secret because of the social stigma they faced as converts, while others reported persistent threats of violence from family members protecting traditional honor.  According to international NGOs, female converts from Islam were particularly vulnerable to harassment and pressure to renounce their conversions.  Church leaders continued to report incidents of violence, pressure, and discrimination against religious converts and persons in interfaith romantic relationships; the latter continued to report ostracism and, in some cases, feuds among family members and violence toward those involved.  Some converts from Islam expressed interest in resettlement abroad due to discrimination and threats of violence.  Converts from Christianity to Islam also reported social stigma from their families and Christian society.  Christian women married to Muslim men were more often stigmatized.  Nonbelievers reported societal intolerance and discrimination.  Although an individual’s religion was no longer written on identification cards, one’s religion could often be surmised based on personal and family names.

Religious leaders reported continuing online hate speech, frequently through social media, directed towards religious minorities and those who advocated religious moderation.  One NGO reported increased online hate speech towards the Christian community in direct response to radio and internet broadcasts of local services to the local Christian community.  This NGO turned off comments on websites and blocked repeat offenders on its social media accounts in an effort to avoid hate speech.  Religious broadcasts were an alternative to regular in-person services, which were not allowed when the country was under periodic comprehensive lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  NGO sources said the negative responses were the reactions of Muslims to their first real exposure to Christianity.  NGOs disagreed on the prevalence of hate speech in local society.  One NGO worried about calls from the local community to criminalize hate speech in new laws or amendments, believing it would lead to selective application of the law.

Some religious leaders privately associated hate speech, intolerance, and extremism with poverty and lack of educational opportunities in the country.

Criticism online and in social media continued to target converts from Islam to other religions.  Religious minorities expressed concerns that some Muslim leaders preached intolerance.  Christians reported they self-segregated into Christian enclaves in Amman and its outskirts to escape social pressure and threats.  Although Christians clustered in specific neighborhoods and sought life abroad for safety and community support, Christian leaders stated it was difficult to categorize the desire to relocate solely based on religious identity; Christians relocated to the cities and moved abroad seeking economic opportunities as well.

Observers reported friction between Christian denominations on the CCL and evangelical churches not recognized by the government.  Leaders from some CCL-affiliated churches said there were “recruitment efforts” and “hidden agendas” against their members and Jordanian society writ large by evangelical churches, and that evangelical churches were disrupting interfaith harmony, creating rifts in local society and undermining the CCL’s relationship with the government and security services.  CCL leaders stated they worried that outsiders “causing trouble” would bring unwanted attention on the Christian community.  Members of the evangelical community said that some CCL leaders applied pressure on the government to not recognize evangelical churches in the country.

In an April Yarmouk TV broadcast, a University of Jordan professor, Ahmad Nofal, accused Jews of “ruling the world” and stated there was no differentiation between “Zionists” and “Jews.”  He also accused Zionists of purposefully harvesting organs and infecting Palestinians with diseases.  In November, Nofal asked on Yarmouk TV, “Do the Europeans love the Jews that much?…They want to dump them on us….Instead of doing what Hitler did – massacring and burning and whatever – they dump them on the Middle East.”

In April, Jordanian analyst Mohammed Faraj, on Lebanon’s Mayadeen TV, denounced a Holocaust memorial ceremony held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), saying that commemorating the Holocaust was a UAE attempt to cover up the real massacres perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.  He said it was a “Zionist strategic policy” to focus on only six million of the 42 million who were killed in World War II.

In May, former MP Saud Abu Mahfouz, in a video posted to YouTube, said that Jews are “bastards [who have] all the money of [Irving] Moskowitz, of Rothschild, and of Sheldon Adelson.”  With their “deeds [and] filth…[Jews] are provoking the Islamic identity.”

When criticizing Israeli government policies in November, Roya TV, a privately owned, Amman-based satellite channel, published a cartoon on social media that appeared to show Lord Balfour and a Jewish man wearing a kippah and holding the map of Israel and Palestinian territories in a police lineup.  Also in November, Roya posted a video with an exaggerated reenactment of an Orthodox Jew when discussing an energy-for-water deal between Jordan, the UAE, and Israel.  In December, the German broadcaster DW suspended a 10-year-old partnership with Roya over “the discovery of anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments and caricatures in social media disseminated” by Roya.  A senior DW executive apologized for overlooking “these disgusting images.”  In response, Roya’s CEO said that “criticism of illegal, inhuman, or racist actions by Israel as a state” should be distinguished from antisemitism.

A Christian boxer’s death sparked criticism online in April after some individuals sent their condolences to his family using the phrase, “May God have mercy on him.”  Some individuals criticized those offering condolences, claiming mercy should be reserved only for Muslims.

In July, the Religion News Service reported on a debate in the country over the possibility of opening up to Shia pilgrims, long discouraged from visiting the tombs of the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, most prominently Jafar, Muhammad’s cousin and the brother of Ali, the first leader of Shia Islam.  Zaid Nabulsi, a lawyer and prodemocracy advocate, first made the suggestion in a Facebook post, noting that most of the sites of interest to Shia pilgrims are in the impoverished southern part of the country.  Government officials said no change in policy was being considered.

The Catholic Center for Studies and the international Muslim Council of Elders, based in Abu Dhabi, organized a conference in Amman in September, “Media Against Hate.”  More than 100 Arab media professionals attended the meeting, which was sponsored by Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed.  Attendees discussed the use of legacy and social media in spreading and countering hate speech.  Religious leaders expressed skepticism regarding officially and unofficially organized interfaith conferences in the country, saying such conferences did not increase intercommunal harmony and were often a facade for the West.

In a poll published by RIIFS that included 400 Muslims, 83 Christians, and nine individuals identified as “other,” 83 percent of respondents agreed all worshippers should have equal rights to practice their religion regardless of cultural, social, and religious backgrounds, and any discrimination in this regard should be considered a human rights violation; 7 percent disagreed; and 10 percent were neutral.  In the same study, 74 percent said that religious rites were practiced freely in the country and that it had appropriate legislation allowing freedom of worship.

In a poll conducted by a Dubai-based public relations firm in June and involving a team of international experts, 57 percent of the country’s citizens between the ages of 18 and 24 agreed that religion was “the most important” factor to their personal identity, compared with 34 percent overall for youth polled in the 17 Arab states included in the survey.  Only one other state included in the survey had a larger percentage of respondents agreeing with this response.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Kazakhstan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Observers and members of minority Christian religious communities continued to express concerns regarding negative articles and broadcasts about minority religious groups that private and government-run media described as “nontraditional.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report the appearance of defamatory articles in private and government-run media outlets during the year.  The Church of Scientology also received negative media coverage.  In an August interview on antivaccine movements, editor-in-chief Pavel Bannikov of the news website Factcheck.kz said the Church was not very active in spreading antivaccine propaganda, but he equated Scientology with foreign disinformation campaigns because of the group’s campaign against elements of the country’s health code and, in particular, its opposition to psychiatric care.

NGOs continued to report individuals were wary of “nontraditional” religious groups, particularly those that proselytized or whose dress or grooming, including the use of Islamic headscarves and beards, suggested “nontraditional” beliefs.

According to the NGO Open Doors, Christians who converted from Islam continued to be persecuted by family, friends and their community.

The Association of Religious Organizations of Kazakhstan, which includes many of the Protestant groups deemed “nontraditional” by the government, represented those minority religious groups’ concerns to the government and provided a forum for consultations among those groups.

 

Kenya

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabaab again carried out attacks in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Lamu Counties in the northeastern part of the country, sometimes targeting non-Muslims because of their faith.  In January, the international Christian advocacy organization Open Doors noted what it described as a rise in violence against Christians, especially in the northeast where al-Shabaab was responsible for many threats and attacks.  In June, al-Shabaab terrorists attacked two buses traveling through Mandera County near the Kenyan border with Somalia, killing three individuals.  Media outlets reported the attackers were targeting non-Muslims.

According to NGO sources, some Muslims and their families believed they were threatened with violence or death, especially individuals who had converted from Islam to Christianity and those of Somali ethnic origin.

Some interreligious NGOs and faith leaders, citing extensive interfaith efforts to build peace between communities, promote peaceful elections, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, said relations between religious groups continued to improve.  For example, the national interfaith umbrella group the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) partnered with the governmental National Cohesion and Integration Commission to call on politicians to avoid inciting violence by adhering to an elections code of conduct in advance of the country’s general election in August 2022.  It also encouraged members of its religious communities to register to vote and educate themselves about the electoral process.  The interfaith Dialogue Reference Group, composed of prominent Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups, continued to hold national and county forums to promote national reconciliation.  The Dialogue Reference Group also regularly issued statements calling for national unity and urging the government to take necessary steps to conduct peaceful and credible elections.

IRCK also partnered with other NGOs such as the Kenya Community Support Centre (KECOSCE) to increase religious tolerance and reduce opportunities for radicalization related to religion, particularly in Nairobi and the coastal region.  KECOSCE and IRCK hosted interfaith dialogues and joint community activities to encourage peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding.  IRCK and religious leaders reported that close collaboration among different faiths continued to inform and improve the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Leaders collaborated on several initiatives at the national and county level to disseminate accurate information, protect public health, and address the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.

Kiribati

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

With approximately 1,000 inhabitants each, the population of two islands – Arorae and Tamana – continued their “one-church-only” tradition, which they stated was in deference to Protestant missionaries who came to the islands in the 1800s, according to government reports.  Residents of the two islands were largely Protestants, who represented 98 percent and 96 percent, respectively, according to the 2015 census.  While most residents of Arorae accepted the name change to Kiribati Uniting Church, most residents of Tamana joined the KPC.  A small number of Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Church of Jesus Christ, and Baha’i adherents were also present.  On these islands, residents of other religious groups worshipped only in their own homes.  Sources stated that villagers on Arorae discouraged religious groups outside the Kiribati Uniting Church from proselytizing or holding public meetings but permitted missionaries to visit members in their homes if they requested permission from local leaders first.

Kosovo

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In July, the Basic Court in Pristina sentenced Montenegrin national Risto Jovanovic to six months in prison for inciting intolerance by chanting nationalist slogans such as “Kill the Albanians!” during the June 28 observance of Vivovdan, which commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo between Serbs and Ottomans at Gazimestan, Pristina.  The court fined Jovanovic 6,700 euros ($7,600) in lieu of imprisonment and banned him from entering the country for five years.

The SOC again stated media reporting contributed to a climate of interethnic and interreligious intolerance during the year.  For example, in June, SOC officials complained about negative media reactions following SOC Bishop Teodosije Sibalic’s liturgy on the occasion of Orthodox Holy Ascension in the contested Christ the Savior Church.  During the service, Bishop Teodosije reportedly said, “By serving the liturgy today in this cathedral, we testify who we are, who we were, and who we should be in the future.  We testify that we will never give up our holy sites, that they belong to us, representing a pledge of our eternal life.”  The SOC said unknown persons wrote graffiti on the church’s doors reading “Jesus Hates Serbs” after the liturgy was completed.  The SOC said it did not report the vandalism to the police because the media widely reported the incident and police were present at the time.  A group of students subsequently staged a protest in front of the church, which they said was associated with the Slobodan Milosevic regime.  According to media, some Kosovo politicians and students criticized the bishop’s liturgy, and local NGO Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms called it an “insult” and a “provocation.”

The BIK again stated there were media reports and statements on social media that portrayed Muslims negatively but did not cite examples.

National police said they received reports of 87 incidents targeting religious sites during the year, compared with 57 incidents in 2020.  The incidents targeted 56 Muslim, 30 SOC, and one Roman Catholic property.  Police classified two cases as incitement of discord and intolerance but did not give details.  The BIK said incidents targeting mosques were likely financially motivated, citing, for example, a cash charity box in the Kacanik Mosque that was robbed several times during the year.  According to the BIK, the thefts negatively affected their humanitarian activities.  The SOC stated that some of the incidents involving its property in the country were religiously and ethnically motivated.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was sometimes difficult to categorize incidents as solely based on religious identity.

In March, the SOC said unknown individuals broke into its parsonage under construction in Vitomirice/Vitomirica and stole construction materials worth 4,000 euros ($4,500).  In May, the SOC said unknown individuals looted the Churches of Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and St. Dimitrije in the Strpce/Shterpce area.  Media reported that on June 28, unknown individuals took away an SOC flag that was flying at the entrance of Gracanica Monastery, and subsequently posted an image to social media of a masked person holding an Albanian flag and trampling the stolen SOC flag and setting it on fire.  Media reported that in July, unknown persons broke into the SOC Church of St. Peter and Paul in Strpce and wrote “Kosovo Liberation Army” on the wall.  The SOC said it reported these incidents to the police but were concerned about the ability or willingness of authorities to protect Serbian Orthodox Church facilities.

In April, local Kosovo-Serb civil society organizations and Kosovo-Serb political representatives criticized the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF), which had stated that the Visoki Decani Monastery was turned into a military base and Kosovo Albanians were held hostage there during the 1999 war and requested an investigation of the monastery’s Abbot, Father Sava Janjic, for “possible violations of the Law of War and Humanitarian Law.”  Sixteen civil society organizations in a joint statement strongly condemned CDHRF’s allegations, which, they said, were “groundless” and called on the government to clearly condemn the CDHRF position and provide all necessary protection to the monastery and Father Janjic.

The KPEC said the media disproportionately covered humanitarian aid from secular or non-Protestant sources but rarely reported on KPEC’s humanitarian work; representatives said the omission contributed to societal intolerance of Protestants and other minority religions.

According to an International Republican Institute (IRI) report entitled Antisemitic Discourse in the Western Balkans released during the year, antisemitic statements in media were rare.  Of 1,548 online media items studied between January 2019 and May 20, 2020, 70 (4.5 percent) contained what the IRI determined was antisemitic content.  Most media focused on Holocaust remembrance and the role ethnic Albanians played in saving Jews during World War II.  The IRI stated some “more conservative and radical Muslim communities accuse Israel of controlling the world, its security, financial and banking sectors, the health industry, etc.”

According to Imam Maliqi, Muslim women were reluctant to wear the hijab, fearing potential employment and societal discrimination.

The KPEC said the majority of people in the country respected Christians, including Protestants, but a small percentage of “radical” Muslims did not.  In addition, it said its members in rural areas, many of whom converted to Christianity from Islam, were hesitant to practice their religion openly due to fear of discrimination.

Following delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and disputes over privately-owned land expropriations, construction continued on a Turkish-government-funded Grand Mosque in Pristina.  Some citizens continued to oppose construction of the mosque, saying its design was based on an archaic Ottoman style rather than traditional Kosovo mosque architecture.  Some local imams continued to state existing downtown mosques fulfilled the needs of their constituency and that there was no demand for such a large mosque in the area.

Religious group leaders continued interfaith discussions on property rights, legislative priorities, and local community issues.  On December 30, the OSCE condemned the vandalism of the SOC cemetery in Gracanica/e Municipality, where unknown persons damaged seven tombstones.  Police initiated an investigation.

Kuwait

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Societal pressure continued against conversion from Islam, according to minority religious leaders and citizens.  Leaders and members of religious communities said they did not convert Muslims in the country.  Some citizens who converted outside the country said their families harassed them due to their conversion.

In January, Mohammed al-Momen, a television journalist and announcer, posted a video on Snapchat announcing that he was converting from Islam to Christianity.  Reactions on social media varied, with some users stating al-Momen had the right to choose his faith, others offering prayers for his return to Islam, others expressing concern about his mental state, and some saying he was an apostate risking damnation.

In February, singer Ibtisam Hamid, professionally known as Basma al-Kuwaiti but a noncitizen, posted a video to Instagram and Twitter in which she criticized Islam and stated that she had converted to Judaism.  She stated that the country’s royal family “rejects normalization [with Israel], freedom of religion, and freedom of opinion.”  Media reports stated she no longer lived in the country.  In an Israeli television interview, Hamid said she had received death threats after announcing her decision.  It was unclear where Hamid resided as of year’s end or where she was at the time of her social media posts.

The NGO MRGI reported Shia were often perceived as being lower on the social scale and marginalized in religious, economic, social, and political terms.

Hotels, stores, and other businesses continued to mark non-Islamic holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali.  During the Christmas season, Christmas trees and lights appeared in stores, malls, and homes.

News media continued to print information about religious holiday celebrations, including material on the religious significance of Christmas.

According to press and social media, antisemitic rhetoric generally originated from self-proclaimed Islamists or opinion writers.  There were reported cases of clerics and others making statements that perpetuated negative stereotypes of Jews.  Columnists often conflated Israeli government actions or views with those of Jews more broadly.

In January, prominent cleric Othman al-Khamis issued a statement condemning the construction of an interfaith center, the Abrahamic Family House, in the United Arab Emirates that would include a synagogue, church, and mosque.  Al-Khamis also uploaded to YouTube a video in which he called Jews “the brothers of apes and pigs, because they are essentially like them.”

Some Muslim clerics continued to express disapproval via social media of the celebration of non-Islamic holidays and called for more government action to restrict public expression of these holidays.  In December, officials at the country’s largest and best-known shopping center removed a Christmas tree display after receiving complaints that the display contradicted Islamic traditions.

The UAE research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 34 percent of Kuwaiti respondents said their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, which matched the regionwide result.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Laos

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to religious leaders, most disputes among religious communities occurred in villages and rural areas where the central government’s ability to enforce national laws was limited.

LEC leaders continued to say that growth in Church membership exacerbated tensions within some communities, particularly among villagers who were wary of minority religions.  According to one official, majority non-Christian neighbors often harassed new Christian members in these villages for abandoning their traditions, typically Buddhist or animist.

Religious leaders said that in some rural areas, there continued to be reports that villagers threatened to expel Christians from their villages if they did not renounce their faith.

According to local sources, villagers from Singsavang village, Athxayphone District, Savannakhet Province, threatened to force three Christian families from their homes in the village for refusing to renounce their faith, and due to these threats, some of the individuals reverted to Buddhism or animism.

In many villages, religious disputes continued to be referred to government-sanctioned village mediation units comprised of private citizens.  According to Christian group leaders, these units often encouraged Christians to compromise their beliefs by accommodating local Buddhist or animist community practices.  In dealing with local disputes regarding religious issues, MOHA and LFND officials said they first waited for local authorities to resolve an issue before getting involved.  MOHA and LFND officials continued to state their ministries did not have the resources to respond to every conflict.

According to Christian religious leaders, burial practices remained a contentious issue.  In some rural areas, Christians said they were not allowed to use public cemeteries, were not given land for separate cemeteries, and had to resort to burying the remains on farms or in backyards.  According to the LEC, Christians in Salakay Bang village buried three Christians in rice fields after they were unable to access public cemeteries in Phin District, Savannakhet Province.  A Christian leader said some churches continued to consider purchasing land for cemeteries so members would not have to use public cemeteries, and some Christian churches discussed purchasing land together to designate as Christian cemeteries.

Latvia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Riga Jewish Community executive director Gita Umanovska and Jews of Latvia Museum director Ilya Lensky said antisemitic hate speech that appeared during the year was mostly in the form of posts on social media and comments in news articles, although no one reported such incidents to the police.  Sources stated the level of online antisemitic hate speech appeared similar to that of previous years, based on anecdotal assessments.  In October, one online commenter wrote, “Not in vain, at all times and in all countries, Jews were beaten … here.  [Latvia] is a vivid example.”  In September, another online commenter wrote, “Jews have been [screwed] by state powers in all times.”

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European anti-Semitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 6 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Latvia said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Ten percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (25 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (27 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (16 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (16 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (33 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (19 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (22 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (34 percent).

Some hate speech characterized as racist or anti-Muslim appeared on social media and the internet during the year, mostly in individual posts and comments in news articles.  For example, in September, one site had the comment, “Those blacks and Muslims are lazy, interested in benefits, forming gangs and doing drugs.  It is their environment.  They are shameless, lazy, they hate white people, they are racists.”

On November 30, approximately 300 persons (about half the number in attendance pre-pandemic) lit thousands of candles at the Freedom Monument in Riga in memory of the approximately 30,000 Jews killed in the Rumbula Forest by the Nazis in 1941.  A separate Rumbula Forest memorial service on November 30 was well attended, including by President Levits, Prime Minister Kariņs, Foreign Minister Rinkevics, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks, members of the diplomatic corps, leaders in the Jewish community, and religious leaders.

Lebanon

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On August 1, Shia Hizballah supporters and members of the Sunni Arab tribes of Khaldeh clashed on August 1 during the funeral procession of Hizballah member Ali Chebli, who was killed the night before in an apparent vendetta shooting during a wedding.  Media reported that five individuals, including three Hizballah members, were killed.  The LAF subsequently intervened and warned that it would open fire on any gunman in the area.  The LAF had restored order in Khaldeh by August 2.

On January 27, Christian and Muslim religious leaders launched a joint appeal for the salvation of Lebanon in the face of an escalation of political, economic, social, and health crises.  They called on political leaders to “stop toying with the destiny of the nation,” in addition to “an immediate formation of a government of national resolve without any personal or sectarian calculations.”

On July 1, Christian religious leaders gathered with Pope Francis in the Vatican for a Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon.

On December 20, religious leaders representing the Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Sunni, Shia, and Druze communities met with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during his visit to the country.  In a joint statement with Guterres, the leaders confirmed their commitment to openness, tolerance, and coexistence, saying that these values are at the core of faith, especially during the country’s ongoing economic crisis.

The Jewish Community Council’s 2011 lawsuit against individuals who constructed buildings in the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli continued, pending additional court-ordered analysis of the site; it was unresolved by year’s end.  The council restored and cleaned the Sidon cemetery at the end of 2019 after a municipality permit was issued to the council following several years of administrative inaction after acts of vandalism damaged the cemetery in 2018 and in previous years.  During 2020, the council hired a custodian to maintain the cemetery.

The press reported that in a series of Sunday sermons, Maronite Patriarch Rai appeared to criticize Hizballah.  He stressed the need to maintain the country’s neutrality beyond the current policy of distancing the country from regional conflicts and the current sharing of political power among its religious groups.  Observers said they interpreted Rai’s comments as an implicit criticism of Hizballah’s support for Iran.  The Patriarch also called for the disarming of militias and state control of ports and weaponry.  Without mentioning them specifically, Rai singled out Shia parties’ insistence on retaining the finance ministry in any new government as being responsible for blocking government formation and for causing the country’s continuing political paralysis.  On April 1, in a leaked video circulated by local media, Rai criticized Hizballah, accusing the organization of harming the country by dragging it into regional conflicts.  In the video, Rai said, “I want to tell them…You want us to stay in a state of war that you decide?  Are you asking us before you go to war?”  The Shia Supreme Islamic Council, without naming Rai, said that comments by a “major religious leader” amounted to “sectarian incitement that stirs up bigotry and distorts the facts.”

At year’s end, approximately 70 percent of students, not including students from the refugee population, attended private schools, the majority of which were tied to religiously based organizations.  These included schools that the government subsidized.  The schools generally continued to accommodate students from other religious and minority groups.

According to NGOs, some refugee children and the children of foreign domestic workers faced obstacles to equal treatment under the law.  They reported discrimination that included bullying linked to race, skin color, religion, and nationality.  However, some of these children were able to attend public schools.

In an interview that aired on January 27 on OTV, Faris Bouez, a former foreign minister, said that the new Biden administration would not change U.S. policy, saying, “Ten of [Biden’s] aides, secretaries, and heads of intelligence agencies are Jews.  So nobody should delude himself that we won anything by the rise of Biden.  Israel holds American political life with an iron fist.  An iron fist!”  Bouez stated, “Back in his day, Benjamin Franklin delivered a speech in the U.S. Congress and warned America that the Jews ‘will make our children starve, they will eat our children, and we should prevent them from being [here],’” and he said that money, universities, and the media in the United States were under the complete control of Israel.

Lebanese researcher Rafic Nasrallah recounted an antisemitic story to explain the “truth” behind the August 2020 Port of Beirut explosion on a television program that aired on September 24.  The host of the show said that “nobody rules out the theory” that Israel bombed the port, but that the Lebanese people deserve to know the truth behind the events.  In response, Nasrallah recounted the story of a 19th century Christian priest who was supposedly kidnapped by Jews, saying his blood was used “for something.”  He said, “Whenever there are scandals related to these things, the truth is gone.”

In a January 29 interview on Mayadeen TV, Asad al-Sahmarani, a theology professor at Imam al-Ouzai University in Beirut, said that the “Abrahamic Family House,” an interfaith prayer complex for Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the UAE and sponsored by the government of Abu Dhabi, contradicted both Islam and Christianity.  He said that this project would end in the garbage bin of history and added that the New Testament describes Israelites as a “brood of vipers” and the Quran says that God turned Jews into apes and pigs.

The UAE research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported that 17 percent of Lebanese respondents said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, which was lower than the regionwide result of 34 percent.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Lesotho

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

CCL leaders conducted meetings with various faith-based organizations throughout the country, including non-Christian organizations.  The CCL cited increasing concern among religious leaders about crime in the country, which it said was fueled by anger from the lack of opportunity for youth, aggressive gang activity, and gender-based violence.  The CCL noted crime affected their members even if not specifically targeted at a religious group and said that churches should play a larger role in addressing these societal issues.

Some officials from government entities, including the National Security Service and Lesotho Defense Force, mentioned concerns regarding the growth and influence of Muslim communities throughout the country.

A National University of Lesotho lecturer said religious freedom was embedded in the country’s constitution but that religious groups had not explored it to the fullest.  He cited the lack of a forum representing all religious groups in the country as an example.

Liberia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Human rights organizations continued to note an increase in reports of harmful traditional practices, including accusations of witchcraft and ritualistic killings, as well as other violent practices – such as female genital mutilation – within traditional secret societies, such as the Sande Society.  Religious and human rights organizations also stressed the need to clearly define the boundaries between traditional beliefs and religion so that religion would not be used to justify harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.

Religious organizations stated that in some parts of the country, inhabitants held firm to traditional practices and did not welcome Christian evangelists.

On October 25, local media reported that on October 5, leaders of the secret Poro Society detained 11 members of the Saint Assembly Ministries International Church in Gbartala, Bong County.  According to Assistant MIA Joseph Jangar, residents there had expressed anger when members of the Church, who had traveled from Monrovia to Gbartala to proselytize, criticized the culture and traditions of the community as “demonic.”  Community leaders said villagers detained the Saint Assembly Ministries members in a nearby town in order to turn them over to the local authorities for violating traditional culture.  The MIA confirmed the release of all 11 Church members on October 7 following a sit-in protest by Church members at the ministry in Monrovia demanding their release.  The MIA said, however, that the Church members had been allegedly conscripted by force into the Poro Society before their release.

On March 16, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation School in Monrovia reportedly expelled six-year-old female student Catherine Karma, whom they accused of being a witch, on the grounds that she would initiate other students into witchcraft.  An unidentified source from the school told media that school administrators told the student’s parents to take her to pastors for what they termed “deliverance prayers,” after which the parents should provide a note from the church or pastor confirming that the child was free from witchcraft practices as a precondition of her being accepted back into the private school.  The parents called on the MOE, the MIA, children’s rights advocacy groups, and civil society groups to investigate the situation.  Humanists Liberia, with the support of the civil society organization Advocacy for Alleged Witches, issued a statement calling for “a swift, publicly written apology” to Catherine and her family.  The statement said, “We are also calling on the government to assist with counseling of Catherine and family and to take punitive action against the school to send a strong deterrence to others in the habit of falsely accusing their compatriots of witchcraft.  The issue of witchcraft is a long-standing dogma that has alienated many and stifled development.  It is time to tackle it head on!”

On July 31, in Jeadeapo Statutory District in Sinoe County, individuals subjected a man identified only as Wesseh to a traditional “sassywood” practice – trial by ordeal that includes violence to extract confessions from the accused – after he was accused of witchcraft in a video widely circulated on social media.  The practice was banned by the government in 2009.  Traditional witch doctors also accused Wesseh of causing the deaths of two persons and the disappearance of a teenager.  The national police investigated the matter and said the trial by ordeal against Wesseh, if proven, could lead to charges against the perpetrators ranging from aggravated assault to attempted murder.  At year’s end, however, authorities had filed no charges and made no arrests in the case.  Some Sinoe County residents said they were concerned about what they said was mob justice being carried out by some traditionalists in the area and appealed to the head of the National Traditional Council of Liberia as well as to the MIA for urgent intervention.

During an October 25 meeting, the NMCL said traditional leaders in Bong County forcibly initiated two men belonging to the Mandingo ethnic group into the Poro Society in October.

The Baha’i Spiritual Assembly said that in March, local community members in Grand Gedeh County accused 12 Baha’is of witchcraft.  The men were stripped naked and forced to undergo “cleansing,” despite the assembly appealing to the MIA’s local office to intervene.  Local leaders levied fines against the 12 men, reportedly resulting in some of them selling their goods and property to pay the fines.  Baha’i community members said the forced “cleansing” process went totally against their teaching.

In October, the IRCL helped resolve a conflict with ethnoreligious aspects in Palala, Bong County.  The incident involved the death of a 15-year-old boy from the predominantly Christian Kpelle ethnic group who was an apprentice in a motor vehicle repair shop owned and operated by a male guardian from the predominantly Muslim Mandingo ethnic group.  An IRCL investigation concluded that the boy likely died from internal injuries sustained in an accidental explosion of a car’s airbag.  In addition, the town chief set up a 15-person jury comprised of local Muslims, Christians, medical workers, and town elders to investigate the incident; the jury also concluded the death was accidental.  However, suspicion surrounding the death remained, as bruises from possible beatings were seen on the body of the deceased, according to witness accounts to the IRCL investigators and the media.  A member of the IRCL said that statements from some Mandingo community members that Mandingos had died at the hands of Kpelle guardians in the past raised suspicions about the incident.  Kpelle community members then threatened to burn down mosques in the area, which prompted a counterthreat by members of the Mandingo ethnic group to burn down Kpelle churches.  According to the IRCL member, the IRCL eased tensions by meeting with the victim’s family and his guardian, in coordination with the police, and stressing the need to remain calm.

According to its chairman, the IRCL also mitigated tensions with the National Imam Council of Liberia (NICOL), headed by Chief Imam Krayee, after he called for the IRCL to be dissolved during his Eid al-Adha message to the Muslim community and a national radio broadcast in July.  The IRCL said that after a conflict mitigation discussion with Krayee, NICOL promised to join with the IRCL to enhance interreligious dialogue in the country.

In October, the IRCL stated that it planned to modify its constitution to permit groups that were excluded, such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Baha’i Faith, to become members.  By year’s end, however, the IRCL took no action on this issue.  The existing constitution of the IRCL granted membership only to what it defined as historically mainline traditional Muslim and Christian organizations.  The IRCL said it would encourage these groups and others to join; several had expressed interest in joining but were not aware of the IRCL’s constitutional limitations.

Christian, Muslim, and interfaith organizations promoted tolerance, dialogue, and conflict resolution through training sessions, workshops, and community meetings.  In addition, the LCC held several workshops and outreach events on social issues with government agencies and international partners.

In January, the LCC condemned what it said had been the government’s unsuccessful attempt, during December 2020 midterm senatorial elections and a national referendum, to pass eight constitutional amendments that would have reduced the terms of office of the President, Senate, and House of Representatives; amended the constitution to change the date of general elections; and decreased the time the Elections Commission had to investigate complaints.

On August 4, in what the LCC said was an effort to revive discussion of the recommendations in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, the LCC held a one-day meeting with stakeholders to discuss the findings of the LCC’s 2021 perception survey on the report.  According to LCC Secretary General Christopher Toe, the survey engaged 2,000 persons in five counties:  Bong, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Montserrado, and Nimba.  Without providing details on methodology, the LCC said the survey showed that more than half of those surveyed agreed that warlords and leaders of fighting factions during the country’s two civil wars (1989-2003) should be punished under the law, while nearly three-fourths agreed 58 of the worst offenders should be prosecuted by a domestic court for the commission of high crimes.

Libya

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Arab Organization for Human Rights – Libya (AOHRL) continued to report a restrictive social environment for religious freedom throughout the country.  This included intense social and economic pressure on former Muslims to return to Islam.  NGOs stated Salafist interpretations of sharia continued to contribute to this restrictive environment.  Religious minorities again said converts to other religions, as well as atheists, agnostics, and other nonreligious persons, faced threats of violence or dismissal from employment and hostility from their families and communities because of their beliefs or lack of belief.

Christian NGOs such as Middle East Concern, Open Doors and The Voice of the Martyrs said Christians who converted from Islam practiced their faith in semi-secrecy and faced violence and intense pressure from their families and communities to renounce their faith.  Christians said they felt pressure to refrain from missionary activities as a result of security threats and social pressure from the local community, as well as because of legal prohibitions against conversion and missionary activity.  Christians who had not converted from Islam said they often felt uncomfortable wearing outward displays of their religion, such as crosses or rosaries, for fear that it could lead to harassment.  Church leaders stated that many migrant parishioners were afraid to attend church following an October crackdown on migrants.  One church leader said 15 of his parishioners were detained in the crackdown, including some in close proximity to the church, and their fate was unknown.

Small Christian communities continued to exist in Tripoli, where Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches operated for foreigners.  Christian communities were also present in Misrata, al-Baida, Benghazi, Tubruq, Sebha, Ghat, Ubari, and Murzuq, among other cities.  In some cases, Catholic communities continued to worship in places other than church buildings, including in Benghazi, where ISIS destroyed church properties in 2015.  The Catholic cathedral in Benghazi, damaged in fighting in 2013-15, remained inaccessible.

In April, the World Organization of the Jews of Libya and the press reported that unknown persons were carrying out construction work on an abandoned synagogue in Tripoli without permission from members of the Libyan Jewish diaspora.  The work was continuing as of December.  According to a representative of the World Organization of the Jews of Libya, “Since there is now no Jew living in Tripoli, … the synagogue is being turned into an Islamic religious center without permission.”  The representative said the organization “calls for this transformation to be stopped immediately and to leave the Tripoli synagogue intact with the hope that one day it will be restored.”

 

Harassment of, and incitement against, the Ibadi Muslim minority by Salafist groups continued, according to multiple observers.  In October, Salafist Sheikh Tariq Dorman publicly stated that Ibadism was based on a rejection of Islam and on spreading chaos.

In GNU-controlled areas, religious scholars formed organizations, issued fatwas, and provided advice to followers.  The fatwas did not have legal weight but conveyed considerable social pressure, according to tribal and religious leaders.  The GNU did not exercise administrative control of mosques or supervision of clerics.

In October, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ghariani, whom the Muslim Brotherhood and others regard as the country’s Grand Mufti, issued a fatwa instructing Muslims not to cooperate with an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) microfinance project and falsely accused the ICRC of “facilitating” the work of missionaries.

Liechtenstein

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There was one prayer room in the country, which was operated by the Turkish-Islamic Community of Liechtenstein in leased space in Triesen.  The Islamic Community of Liechtenstein used a prayer room in Sevelen, in neighboring Switzerland.  Members of the Islamic Community told media that the Muslim associations wanted to open a second prayer room and an Islamic burial site, but they were unable to obtain land and proper permits due in part to the reluctance of private property owners.

According to the MFA, religious groups in every municipality opened their chapels to other denominations and faiths upon request, including to Orthodox and Islamic groups.  For example, the Catholic church in Schaan continued to make its facilities available to the Christian Orthodox community to hold an Orthodox Easter Sunday service.  According to the MFA, there was no centralized information on whether and how select religious groups allowed other faiths to use their places of worship.

According to the Liechtenstein Institute, Muslims continued to face discrimination in society, particularly Muslim women in the labor force who wore a headscarf, especially in academia.  One Muslim woman reported that her landlord wanted to terminate the lease immediately upon discovering that she wore a headscarf.  The institute said societal discrimination persisted due to prejudices associating Muslims with ISIS or Islamic extremism.

Lithuania

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Anonymous antisemitic and anti-Muslim comments on the internet were common throughout the year.

Anonymous online commentators continued to express negative views of Muslim refugees.  For example, one post on the news website Delfi.lt read, “They [Muslim refugees] need to be chased back; these are criminals.  They are not going to work or follow culture, traditions, or the law.”  When media site editors became aware of such comments, they removed them without maintaining a log, making the comments difficult to track routinely.

On September 9, workers taking care of the Jewish cemetery in Kaunas reported that grave sites had been vandalized, including at least three graves that had been dug up allegedly by thieves searching for valuables.  Police started an investigation, which remained open at the end of the year.

In August, vandals damaged a sign listing information about a site in Kretinga where Jews were killed during the Holocaust.  Police started a pretrial investigation, which remained open at year’s end.

On September 8, JCL representatives reported that a swastika had been drawn on a sign marking the Jewish cemetery at Snipiskes.  Authorities did not investigate.

Luxembourg

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious communities reported there were fewer incidents of physical harassment due to COVID-19 restrictions, with most instances of harassment occurring online.

According to RIAL, most of the antisemitic incidents that occurred during the year involved violence, although the group did not cite specifics.  There were also instances of antisemitic posts on social media.  According to RIAL, there were two incidents in which social media users, using antisemitic tropes, compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust.  On March 28, a Facebook user replied to an article published by Essentiel, a daily newspaper with an online version, that had discussed the Israeli military intervention in the Gaza Strip on March 27.  The individual on Facebook wrote, “Honestly, when I see what they [Israel] do to those poor people (Palestinians)… Hitler was not so wrong.”  On February 14, RIAL reported that a Facebook user wrote, “The only terrorists in this region [the Middle East] is Israel; what is happening there is nothing other than [what happened] here 80 years ago.  Palestinians are slaughtered by them [the Israelis] by the hundreds.”  RIAL stated, “Information about hundreds of murdered Palestinians is considered disinformation.”  In its latest annual report, RIAL registered 64 antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 47 in 2019, and 26 in 2018.

OIL reported a 10-year-old Muslim girl in primary school was falsely accused of radicalism by a classmate.  When police investigated the case, the accuser admitted to fabricating the story.  The parents of the falsely accused girl did not file charges, but the girl suffered emotional distress, according to OIL.

According to OIL, on March 15, a motorist with Luxembourg license plates insulted a Muslim mother and her daughter at a toll booth in France near the Luxembourg border.

The six-member interfaith Council of Religious Groups that Signed an Agreement with the State (Conseil des Cultes Conventionnes) met three times but did not disclose information about its deliberations.  Cardinal Hollerich and Grand Rabbi Alain Nacache continued to serve as president and vice president of the council.  The New Apostolic Church and the Baha’i Faith continued to participate as permanently invited guests without voting rights.

On March 4, the LSRS held an online conference entitled “Islam and Human Rights:  Rethinking Universalism and Justice in a Fragmented World.”  On May 5, the LSRS hosted an online conference entitled “The Bible in World Literature,” in which Sylvie Parizet, a lecturer at Paris Nanterre University, participated.

Macau

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In May, a video went viral on social media showing more than 100 primary school students from the Catholic Pui Ching Middle School singing “We Are the Successors of Communism” in front of the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the site of a former Catholic Church, as part of events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.  The event sparked discussion online among Macau residents about whether religious schools could preserve their religious values and implement their educational mission while conforming to government ideology.  Some educators stated they believed that politics should not be brought onto campus, and that patriotism did not equate to loving the Communist Party.

The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, continued to recognize the Pope as its head.  The Vatican appointed the bishop for the diocese.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run many educational institutions.

Falun Gong practitioners reported they continued to be able to discuss their beliefs openly with Macau residents.

Madagascar

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Leaders of the Muslim Malagasy Association continued to say some members of the public associated them with Islamists and extremists.  Other Muslim leaders, however, reported generally good relations between members of their community and other faiths across the country.  In November, a Muslim leader said there was fear within the Muslim community that the COVID-19 vaccine was a conspiracy on the part of the mainstream population to harm Muslims living in Madagascar.

Adherents of some evangelical Protestant churches, especially those celebrating their Sabbath on Saturdays, again stated that they were sometimes denied access to employment and believed it was due to their religious affiliation.

During the year, leaders of evangelical churches stated that some female members of their churches were victims of violence committed by their husbands because they did not agree with their wives’ religious beliefs.  The leaders said they believed such problems would continue until there is wider sensitization to and acceptance of evangelical beliefs.

Malawi

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media reports, there were a number of conflicts related to school dress codes, established locally, restricting female students from wearing the hijab.  The issue most often arose in the case of religious schools that received government funding turning students away, which civil society groups and legal scholars stated was in violation of national policy.  On June 2, Muslim and Christian leaders signed an MOU as a part of a joint technical team convened to resolve ongoing disputes about locally imposed restrictions on wearing hijabs.  The MOU allowed the wearing of the hijab in the same colors as the school uniform as an optional part of school dress codes.  They submitted the MOU to the MOE for review on June 17.

According to the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority, of the 83 licensed radio and/or television broadcasters in the country, 14 are Christian-affiliated while three are Muslim-affiliated and the remainder have no religious affiliation.

Malaysia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

As in years past, local human rights organizations and religious leaders said society continued to become less tolerant of religious diversity.  In February, SUHAKAM Commissioner Berma said that it was increasingly common to see social media users mocking the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus.

In June, the Islamic Center at the government-run Universiti Teknologi Malaysia cancelled for “undisclosed reasons” a virtual talk by renowned Malay-Muslim classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim on how multicultural performing arts should transcend race.  Ramli said there were religious motivations underlying the cancellation.

In June, two Hindu groups went to court to compel police to detain and investigate Muslim preacher Muhammad Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu for allegedly uploading to social media in 2019 a sermon that the groups found insulting.  The two groups said police had been negligent in failing to detain and fully investigate Zamri, despite having received nearly 800 reports regarding the preacher’s alleged offenses.  The groups sought a declaration stating that Zamri was “a threat to the security and peace of the multi-ethnic and multi-faith country of Malaysia.”  In September, Zamri’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case.

In October, individuals lodged more than 5,000 reports with the police against Islamic preacher Syakir Nasoha, who made disparaging remarks about non-Muslims in a video posted to TikTok October 1.  In the one-minute clip, Nasoha said, “At the end of time, disciples of non-Muslim religions will be scrambling together to kill Muslims.”  Local NGO Global Human Rights Federation President S. Shashi Kumar said, “This is a deliberate attack on non-Muslims,” and he called on police to arrest Nasoha.  He also asked that National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique immediately introduce a National Harmony and Reconciliation bill in parliament to help address racial discrimination and sectarianism in the country.  In December, 60 multiracial civil society groups presented a memorandum to police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur questioning the delay in arresting Nasoha and stating police had taken no action.

In March, police investigated Puteri Mujahidah Wan Asshima Kamaruddin for a video she uploaded on Facebook threatening to “destroy the Christian community” in response to the High Court’s ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” in religious publications.  In the video, which went viral, Mujahidah said, “We don’t want to share the word ‘Allah’ with people from other religions,” and she referred to non-Muslims as “heathens.”

Religious converts, particularly those converting from Islam, sometimes faced severe stigmatization.  In many cases, converts reportedly concealed newly adopted beliefs and practices from Muslims, including friends and relatives.

Religious identities continued to affect secular aspects of life.  Muslim women who did not wear headscarves or conform to religious notions of modesty were often subject to shaming in public and on social media.

Religious groups hosted virtual interfaith dialogues and intercultural celebrations throughout the year.  In May, the NGO Komuniti Muslim Universal hosted a webinar on “The Future of Freedom of Religion & Belief in Malaysia Post General Election 15” to foster collaboration between parliamentarians and faith and civil society leaders in strengthening the protection of freedom of religion and belief in the country.

Maldives

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

NGOs continued to state that persistent online and in-person threats against individuals perceived to be insufficiently Muslim effectively foreclosed the possibility of meaningful discussion on religious issues in the country.  NGOs reported that the government continued to fail to take action against online death threats and attacks against those perceived to be critical of Islam.  NGOs also reported fear of retribution and a lack of confidence that authorities would take action prevented persons from filing complaints of online harassment with authorities.

NGOs continued to report instances of individuals deemed “secularists” or “apostates” receiving death threats and being cyberbullied.

MPS continued to report a lack of cybercrime legislation posed obstacles to investigation of online hate speech perpetrated by anonymous accounts and on social media channels.

NGOs reported continued community pressure on women to wear hijabs and verbal harassment of women who chose not to do so.

NGO and journalist sources stated the media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment for being labeled “anti-Islamic.”  In August, the NGO Maldives Journalists Association published a threat perception survey of journalists in which 37 percent of the 70 local journalists who participated in the survey reported “being labelled ‘irreligious’ and threatened by radicalized or violent extremist individuals or groups online.”  Respondents to the survey also reported an increase in anonymous social media accounts believed to be linked to government officials or religious groups considered to extremist that harassed journalists.

Mali

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Caritas, the Cadre for Action, Monitoring, Mediation, and Negotiation of Religious Denominations and Civil Society, which was formed as a mediation and negotiation network in 2020 in response to violent antigovernment protests, strengthened its ability during the year to operate effectively.  The organization, composed of Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and civil society leaders, issued a joint statement on May 24 urging the transition government to work towards stability and peace following the consolidation of military power.  The network routinely called for peaceful elections.

Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern regarding the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist, which the missionaries said could affect their ability to continue working in the country over the long term.  Representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ said that their ability to travel throughout the country had grown severely limited due to reports of terrorist attacks.  Caritas representatives reported that terrorist and other armed groups targeted persons throughout the country regardless of religious affiliation.  They said, however, that priests in terrorist-controlled Minta in the region of Mopti remained able to carry out their normal functions without interference or threat.  Protestant leaders noted the case of a Christian teacher who fled his home after being threatened by terrorists and members of armed groups in Mandiakoy village in Segou Region.

Caritas leaders expressed concern about the terrorist groups taking control of the subdistricts of Koro, Bankass, Bandiagara, and Douentza following agreements signed with the local population.  These agreements afford decision-making and territorial authority to terrorist and other armed groups in exchange for not attacking the local population and allowing their freedom of movement throughout the territory.  These leaders said they feared that terrorists would impose Islamic practices on those populations in the future.  Caritas cited a ban on alcohol and pork in some parts of the region of Mopti as signs of the growing influence of Islam in these parts of the country, and which they viewed as a threat to the Christian community.  MINUSMA HRPD and Caritas reported that terrorist and other armed groups imposed Islamic practices such as forcing women to wear veils and collecting zakat (religious taxes) to pay for local services in the north and central regions.

Ousmane Bocoum continued spreading messages of tolerance.  He held conferences with religious leaders and women as a way of countering what were termed radical ideologies most prevalent in the center of the country in an effort to bring peace to his community.  With MINUSMA’s support, Bocoum organized an awareness-building campaign for women religious leaders in Mopti on preventing violent extremism.  In November, Bocoum concluded training on preventing violent extremism and radicalization for religious leaders, community workers, and radio announcers, also in Mopti.

While media reporting highlighted religious leaders’ increasingly important role in politics, media reports also noted that religious activism was not a new phenomenon and, in many cases, they saw this activism as a sign of the country’s tolerance for a plurality of religions.

According to a member of the UJMA, local Shia often faced discrimination from followers of different schools of Islam that perceive Shia practices to be incorrect.

Members of religious groups commonly attended the religious ceremonies of other religious groups, especially baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

Malta

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Marshall Islands

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community representatives said that disparaging remarks on their social media platforms and occasional harassing telephone calls to their places of worship, including some encouraging them to leave the country, stemmed from the misunderstandings of some that linked Islam to terrorism.  They also reported difficulty finding interpreters for some events and that some in the broader community seemed to have a general fear of their mosque.  In addition, Marshallese female Muslims wearing hijabs reported being confronted and criticized at community functions and accused of relinquishing their culture and identity.  Ahmadi leaders said they continued their efforts to dispel preconceptions and present Islam as a religion of peace by distributing flyers and Islamic books to the community and participating in various community service events.

Protestant parishioners reported feeling pressured to give substantial amounts of income to their church or face the threat of severe penalties from church leaders, such as being demoted within the hierarchy of the church or excommunicated, which would have significant impact on social standing.  There were reports of devout church members giving so much of their income to the church to meet the requirements and stay in good standing with the church that their families would occasionally go without basic food essentials.  For instance, local residents said that during December Christmas celebrations, a local church changed Christmas Day to align with farmers’ copra (dried coconut kernels, from which oil is obtained) subsidy payment dates so the church could pressure the farmer parishioners to donate more into the church coffers.

Mauritania

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On April 21, many on social media criticized and threatened four persons who participated in a video program called Al-Matrush (a local expression meaning “the intrusive”).  During the program, a young woman challenged existing religious norms and talked openly about premarital sex, what women should look for in a partner, and why it was wrong to objectify women.  Many in the public called for the four participants to be arrested and tried under the country’s sharia-based criminal code.  Authorities detained the four participants on April 24, but the prosecutor decided not to file charges, and the four were released on April 27.  Program organizers halted production in response to police warnings and societal pressure and the program had not restarted by the end of the year.

Mauritius

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Council of Religions, a local organization composed of representatives from 18 religious groups, said that, overall, religious communities coexisted peacefully.  However, police said there continued to be low level tensions between Hindus and Muslims.  On January 20, a passenger on a motorcycle shot and killed a prominent Hindu figure, Manan Fakhoo.  Police said they suspected the killers targeted Fakhoo because he had participated in the beating of a man who had converted to Islam from Hinduism and later posted a video on social media disparaging Hinduism.  Police arrested eight persons connected to the shooting and multiple persons connected to the beating.  Both investigations were underway at year’s end.

A court case against two Muslim men accused of vandalizing a Hindu temple remained pending since 2015.  There were no developments in a separate case from 2015 that involved five Hindu men who had responded to the vandalism of the temple by vandalizing a mosque in the south of the island.

The Council of Religions traditionally hosted regular interfaith religious ceremonies and celebrations to foster mutual understanding and enhance interfaith collaboration among faith communities, but COVID-19 restrictions again forced the cancellation of most events.  The council held some online events during the year, but its activity was limited.

Mexico

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religious leaders were often involved in political and social activism, thus often being exposed to generalized violence, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being based on religious identity.  The CMC identified the country as the most violent country for Catholic priests in Latin America for the13th consecutive year, stating that more than two dozen priests were killed over the past decade and emphasizing the situation reflected the high levels of generalized violence in the country.  According to some NGOs and media reports, organized crime groups continued to single out some Catholic priests and other religious leaders and subject them to killings, extortion attempts, death threats, kidnappings, and intimidation, reportedly due to their perceived access to financial resources or their work helping migrants.  Federal government officials and Catholic Church authorities continued to state that these incidents were not a result of religious beliefs, but rather were incidents related to the overall security situation and crime.  According to NGO sources, criminal elements attacked Catholic priests and other religious figures to create fear in the community and a culture of silence, which allowed their acts, such as drug and weapons trafficking, to continue unhindered.  CSW characterized such incidents of religious intolerance in indigenous communities as “serious,” which is defined as the attempt by a majority religious group to impose its beliefs on a minority religious group.

Multiple NGOs said religious leaders of varied denominations and religions were threatened or attacked, and some kidnapped or killed, throughout the year, including the reported killings of at least three Catholic priests and one catechist.  According to the CMC, in March, unidentified individuals kidnapped and killed Father Gumersindo Cortes Gonzalez in Celaya, Guanajuato.  Authorities reported the kidnappers had also tortured him.  In June, in Durango, crossfire between alleged members of the New Generation Jalisco Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel killed Father Juan Antonio Orozco Alvarado, according to CMC and media reports.  In July, in Simojovel, Chiapas, an unidentified motorcyclist shot and killed Tzotzil Catholic catechist and human rights activist Simon Pedro Perez Lopez.  In August, police in Zacatepec, Morelos, found Father Jose Guadalupe Popoca Soto dead.  Popoca died during a robbery, according to authorities.  According to press reporting, the August 2020 targeted home invasion that killed Teresa Martinez Alarcon, a leader of the Protestant group New Order in Chihuahua, remained unsolved and those responsible acted with “total impunity.”  Members of New Order condemned the killing and called on the government to stop the violence and protect the community.

According to media, on November 12, two unidentified gunmen robbed 70 Church of Jesus Christ missionaries in Torreon, Coahuila during a conference.  Sam Penrod, spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ, said in a news release, “The robbers intimidated the 13 sisters and 57 elders, and a few were hit or kicked…The mission president and his wife were also assaulted and threatened with a knife.”  After the incident, the Church of Jesus Christ evacuated its missionaries from Torreon.  On November 20, authorities apprehended two alleged gunmen responsible for the crime.  On March 14, a gunman shot a friar in the atrium of the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, Guadalajara.  Authorities arrested the suspected assailant.

According to media reports in November, Father Alfredo Gallegos, a parish priest in Michoacan, called from the pulpit for parishioners to arm themselves to defend against violent gangs.  Father Gilberto Vergara, another parish priest in Michoacan, said he preferred a more nuanced approach, stating, “This thing about civilians taking up arms never ends well.”

According to the CMC, unidentified individuals burglarized, vandalized, and committed acts of violence against churches, with a weekly average of more than 20, compared with 27 in 2020, Catholic churches affected throughout the year.  The CMC reported a spike of incidents across the Diocese of Cuernavaca involving extortions and assaults.  The Bishop of Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos, also reported what he said was a wave of attacks, robberies, and looting of churches.

According to media, on March 7 in Oaxaca City, demonstrators marching for International Women’s Day vandalized the San Cosme and San Damian Churches, public structures, and businesses.  Also on March 7, a group of women’s rights protesters removed pews from San Felipe Neri Church in Mexico City and attempted to set them on fire.  An Open Doors 2021 report on Mexico linked violence against Christians to persons believing Christians are opposed to women’s rights.

According to media reports, on December 11, 19, and 25, three robberies of nonreligious items occurred in two churches in the Diocese of Ciudad Juarez.

In September, The Yucatan Times reported threats and insults against Alejandro Rabinovich, president of the Jewish community in Merida, Yucatan.  Beginning in April, Rabinovich started receiving threats, including a series of telephone messages such as, “You and your piece of [expletive]… Jewish family, we don’t want you here, we want all the Jews pieces of [expletive]…, Zionists get out of here.”  In September, unidentified individuals painted Nazi symbols and the message “Get out Jews…” on the front wall of his home.  Rabinovich filed a criminal complaint with the state attorney general’s office.

Jewish community representatives assessed online antisemitic messages, symbols, and language from January through September 10, finding Twitter accounted for 97 percent of the antisemitic content, YouTube 1 percent, news sources 1 percent, and blogs 0.5 percent.  Antisemitic tweets typically referenced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly in May after the two sides exchanged rocket attacks.  Other less common derogatory language featured Holocaust denial, pro-Hitler statements, and questioning Israel’s right to exist.

According to CSW, on September 6, community members of the Huejutla de los Reyes municipality threatened to cut off essential services and expel two families belonging to the First Baptist Church if they continued to hold religious services and did not pay the rest of a community-imposed January 2020 fine for holding religious ceremonies in their homes.  Hidalgo State authorities said the threatened individuals remained in the community, with access to essential services, and were able to practice their religion, noting the case fell under the community’s uses and customs laws.  Hidalgo officials reported working with the two families and the communities in an attempt to reach an agreement.

The Catholic Aid to the Church in Need 2021 report assessed that violence against religious leaders in the country appeared not to be religiously motivated, but rather that leaders suffered violence in connection with their work assisting victims.  Open Doors’ 2021 assessment reported criminal groups targeted Christians for being outspoken against violence.  According to CSW, in indigenous communities, religious majorities continued to punish and/or expel community members who left a community’s dominant religious group.

From November 21-28, more than one thousand Catholics from Latin America and the Caribbean held the first ever virtual and partly in-person, regionwide, ecclesiastical assembly in Mexico City.  Participants discussed the Catholic Church’s priorities for the next 10 years, such as enhancing youth and women’s leadership opportunities and advocating for victims of social injustice.

Micronesia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Ahmadi Muslim community that had previously been established at a community center in Pohnpei State was inactive during the year due to the community organizers being off-island due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.  Ahmadi Muslims reported that the closure of the center was not due to any mistreatment of their community.  The community moved from Kosrae to Pohnpei in 2017.

The Interdenominational Council in Pohnpei stated it encouraged unity among religious groups by addressing local social problems such as drug abuse and suicide and by assisting the government’s task force with anti-human-trafficking efforts, as well as by promoting cooperation among religious communities.  Council officials noted that the council met annually with other religious groups in the country to promote unity and cooperation, for example, by implementing measures to assure social distancing at church services.  The council was inactive for most of the year as a result of key members being unable to return to the country due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but it restarted monthly meetings in November.

Moldova

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The JCM reported instances of antisemitic hate speech and instigation to discrimination and violence against the Jewish community, especially on the internet.  Several online articles related to the Jewish community received discriminatory comments, which are not prohibited on online platforms.  For example, in response to an article about the last Jewish citizen evacuated from Afghanistan, anonymous authors posted comments such as “as always, there is no Holocaust for them,” or “plus, minus one (Jewish citizen), not a great loss.”  The news portal did not take any action to remove the antisemitic comments.

Unlike in previous years, most other religious minorities, including the Muslim community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Pentecostal and Baptist Churches, did not report religiously motivated incidents against their members.  These groups attributed the absence of incidents to continued COVID-19 restrictions that shifted attention away from religious minorities, as well as what they said was a higher level of societal acceptance of minority religious groups.

According to the BOC, MOC priests, local authorities, and MOC followers continued to harass and clash verbally with members and clergy of the church in Dereneu village, which in 2017 switched from the MOC to the BOC.

In Razeni village, Ialoveni Region, a family conflict between a BOC priest and a church owner escalated into a conflict between the MOC and the BOC.  When a BOC priest died in 2020, his sister registered the BOC church at Razeni in which he had been serving as her private property, forcibly removed the new BOC priest, her nephew, from the church, and locked the building so no one could enter.  She then submitted a request to the MOC to delegate a priest and transfer the church from BOC to MOC authority.  BOC members and the BOC priest were later able to enter the church building.  The MOC sent a priest who, in August, together with a group of villagers, again forced the BOC priest out of the church and locked the building.  After multiple confrontations, which resulted in some minor property damage but no serious injuries, the BOC priest and a group of supporters were able to reenter the church in October and at year’s end were guarding it to prevent further attempts by the MOC priest and his adherents to reenter the building.

According to the JCM, individuals and groups again made insulting and antisemitic statements in some news portals’ online comments sections, including blaming the Jewish community for the spread of COVID-19.  The JCM said that the news portals did not take responsibility for editing individuals’ comments on their websites, and there remained no legal avenues to complain about discriminatory language online.

The JCM reported a case of harassment of a rabbi in a public park in Chisinau.  On July 7, as he was walking in the central park, the rabbi was approached by an unknown individual who said to him, “Too bad the Germans did not exterminate you all during the war.”  The rabbi was able to take a picture of the aggressor and made a short recording of the incident.  The JCM sent a complaint to the police, but in August the police refused to initiate a criminal investigation, citing a lack of evidence of a crime.

The Jewish community reported vandalism at the Jewish memorial in Cosauti.  Between July 29 and August 2, unknown individuals defaced and damaged a monument honoring the memory of more than 6,000 Jews killed in the Cosauti forest during the Holocaust.  The police opened an investigation but had not found the perpetrators by the end of the year.  The JCM reported no progress on a 2020 criminal investigation into the vandalism of tombs in the Jewish cemetery in Chisinau that year.

The JCM reported reconstruction of the Rabbi Tsirelson Synagogue and Yeshiva in Chisinau continued under a new permit issued by authorities in 2020 but which had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Islamic League leaders said that societal acceptance of Muslims had improved in general, and no cases of harassment or societal discrimination were reported during the year.

Monaco

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

As in previous years, the only private religious schools were Catholic.  Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish representatives again said there was no need to open a religious school.  These religious representatives reported that they did not request approval to open a religious school but believed the government would likely agree, if asked, to the request.

According to religious groups, building new places of worship was difficult due to high real estate prices.  There were no mosques in the country.

A Muslim community member stated the community did not request official recognition because most members did not practice their religion and it would be too expensive to build a place of worship.  Muslims worshiped at a mosque in Beausoleil, just across the border in France, and in private prayer rooms in their own residences.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses also worshiped in nearby locations in Menton, Beausoleil, and Nice in France.

Mongolia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders from a variety of faiths cited instances of negative popular sentiment toward “foreign” religious groups, a term they said was sometimes used to refer to non-Buddhist and non-Shamanist religious groups.  A January report of the NHRC contained a complaint filed with the NHRC on religious freedom in the prior year in which a citizen asserted that a Christian church conducted “forced proselytization.”

Religious groups engaged in joint humanitarian and charitable activities.  The Mongolian Muslim Societies Federation and the Church of Jesus Christ, for example, together implemented a humanitarian project in Bayan-Ulgii Province in October.  The 60-million-tugrik ($21,100) project delivered warm blankets, desks, and chairs to children in Bayan-Ulgii Province.  On Buddha Purneema Day on May 26, Dashichoiling Monastery and the Church of Jesus Christ together cleaned the central square of Ulaanbaatar to raise public awareness for religious tolerance.  Around 50 volunteers from the two groups took part and there was wide media reporting about the event.

Montenegro

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On November 20, authorities arrested Zorislav Lekovic after he carried a Chetnik flag down the main street in front of the mosque in Pljevlja and attacked Sabina Talovic, an activist of the Safe Women’s House, and Belisa Pojatic, executive director of the Vitomir Srbljanovic Art Gallery, who were trying to film him.  Authorities later sent Lekovic to the Special Hospital for Psychiatry in Kotor for treatment, after which the Basic State Prosecutor in Pljevja ordered his detention for 72 hours.

The Bosniak Party responded to the incident by saying that “The latest incident … in which Pljevlja resident Zorislav Lekovic provoked passers-by in front of the mosque, carrying a Chetnik flag, and then attacked two Bosniaks, is a continuation of the torture suffered by Pljevlja Muslims in the last year….When we all remember the antifascist struggle and when we thought that the fascist and Chetnik movements were forever defeated, unfortunately, something is happening that does not contribute to the multiethnicity of Pljevlja and Montenegro.”

The Bosniak Party stated that as of August 30, 2020 (the date of the previous year’s national parliamentary elections), Muslims in Pljevlja lived in constant fear of individuals who disturbed harmony, telling Muslims they were not welcomed in Pljevlja.  On November 27, Acting Supreme State Prosecutor Drazen Buric ordered the Bijelo Polje Higher State Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether Lekovic had committed the crime of inciting national, racial, and religious hatred.  The Bijelo Polje Higher State Prosecutor’s Office had not made a determination by year’s end.

On November 17, the Higher State Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica issued an order to police to collect information on online hate speech made by the director of the Piva Hydroelectric Power Plant, Radomir Radonjic.  Radonjic’s Facebook posts included language that was anti-Islamic as well as anti-Albanian and endorsed convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic.  In one post, Radonjic called ICM Reis Fejzic “Allah’s Montenegrin.”  Reis Fejzic responded in a tweet that he “couldn’t believe that there might come a time when state officials would celebrate criminals and call dissidents Shiptars [derogatory term for Albanians] and Ustashas [term for Croatian ultranationalist-fascist groups active from 1929-1945], Allah’s Montenegrins…”  The posts drew condemnation from members of both opposition and ruling parties.

Speaker of Parliament Becic tweeted, “I strongly condemn the hate speech of the director of HPP Piva, Radomir Radonjic.  Any sinister nationalist views, no matter which side they come from, will never again defeat the spirit of civil and multiethnic Montenegro.”  Members of Parliament Slaven Radunovic of the Democratic Front and Dusko Markovic of the DPS, among others, also criticized Radonjic, who resigned from his position on November 19.

On November 10, in response to an unidentified woman distributing Bibles and evangelical Christian literature in Berane, local news site Berane Online published a story titled, “Ignore these people with a wide arc!” next to a photo of the woman, face obscured, beside her stand.  The article stated, “certain religious structures have appeared in Berane that give themselves the right to abuse the Name of the Lord in order to promote literature and teachings that are harmful to the human soul.”  It quoted extensively a local SOC priest who condemned the evangelical literature as belonging to a “sect,” and stated that the group’s members were “demons who are nothing but wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Private individuals posted critical comments or disparaging material on social media about both the SOC and the MOC, for example, calling the SOC war criminals or the MOC a construct of the state.  In April, an individual posted a vulgar cartoon online depicting SOC then-Bishop Joanikije with Minister of Education, Science, Culture, and Sport Bratic.  Police investigated but were unable to determine the author of the cartoon.

On April 15, a group vandalized the SOC youth theological boarding school in Cetinje.  The group approached the front of the school at approximately 2:00 am, shouting threats and breaking school windows and doors.  After they were unable to enter the premises, the group set containers in front of the school on fire before departing, promising to return.  The group also broke windows on a vehicle near the school.  On April 19, police arrested five individuals in connection with the incident, charging them with violent behavior and damaging and vandalizing a car.  The former school principal stated the attack was the result of a negative public campaign by political elements close to the former government against the SOC.

On February 11, unknown persons defaced the Hadzi-Ismail Mosque in Niksic with graffiti saying “Srebrenica”, “Turks,” and “Niksic will be Srebrenica.”  The Hadzi-Ismail Mosque is the only mosque serving Niksic’s Muslim community of approximately 1,500 persons.  Dzemo Redzematovic, the Imam of Podgorica and Niksic, told press on February 10 that “[t]his is not an incident, this is a trend that has been going on for a long time.  It started in Pljevlja, across Berane, now in Niksic.  The state authorities should have found all the perpetrators by now.”  The government, NGOs, and other religious groups condemned the vandalism.  There were no arrests or prosecutions of the vandals.

According to the SOC, on February 6, unidentified vandals stole the cross on the gate leading to Cetinje Monastery.  The SOC, in publicly calling for the cross’ return, stated that the vandalism had “dozens and hundreds of inspirers, who persistently falsely accuse the Church of all social problems and present it as the enemy of Montenegro.”  Police conducted a preliminary investigation but made no arrests.

The trial of Muslim politician Sanin Rascic in the Basic Court in Pljevlja, which began in December 2020, did not resume during the year.  The Basic State Prosecutor’s office in Pljevlja had charged Rascic with causing panic among citizens by making misleading statements about an alleged assault against him on the night of the August 30 parliamentary elections.  The prosecutor said an investigation found the assault was neither by those celebrating the election results nor motivated by ethnic hatred and cited what he said were discrepancies in Rascic’s account of the alleged assault.

In January, Chief Rabbi of Montenegro and Croatia, Luciano Mose Prelevic, told the NGO Balkan Investigative Reporting Network that “Antisemitism has never become or been part of the state ideology in Montenegro, so it has never taken root among citizens.”  In October, the Jewish community hosted the eighth annual Maher (“tomorrow” in Hebrew) Conference in the Adriatic Sea town of Budva, an initiative it said aims to strengthen Jewish communities in southeast and central Europe.

Morocco

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Representatives of minority religious groups said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families, social ridicule, employment discrimination, and potential violence against them by “extremists,” were the main reasons leading them to practice their faiths privately and away from the public eye.

According to the 2018-2019 AMDH report, societal harassment of Shia for manifesting Shia beliefs continued to occur in the press and at Friday sermons.  Shia sources reported they observed Ashura in private to avoid societal harassment.  Shia Muslims said that many avoided disclosing their religious affiliation in areas where their numbers were smaller.

There were reports from media, activists, community leaders, and Christian converts that Christian citizens faced social pressure from non-Christian family and friends to convert to Islam or renounce their Christian faith.  Some young Christian converts who still lived with their Muslim families reportedly did not reveal their faith because they believed they might be expelled from their homes unless they renounced Christianity.

Jewish citizens continued to state that they lived and attended services at synagogues in safety.  They said they were able to visit religious sites regularly and to hold annual commemorations.

On May 27, the Wali (Governor) of Tangier, Mohammed M’hidia, held a working session with Serge Berdugo, Secretary General of the Council of Jewish Communities in Morocco, and a delegation from one of the Council’s regional chapters, the Jewish Community Committee of Tangier, composed of Aron Abikzer, Vice President; and Sonia Zagury, in charge of Cultural Heritage.  Participants reviewed projects launched by the Jewish Community of Tangier as part of a national initiative, the Rehabilitation of Jewish Heritage, approved by King Mohammed VI.

In June, the Assayage Synagogue in Tangier announced plans for creation of the Jewish Museum of Tangier, to be located in the synagogue.  Establishment of the museum is in accordance with royal directives requiring preservation and safeguarding of the country’s Jewish heritage and includes government funding.

The Eias Hazan Synagogue remained open for worship and in active use as a national heritage site after being designated as such in 2020.

Members of the Baha’i Faith said they were open about their faith with family, friends, and neighbors.

Muslim citizen children and youths continued to study at private Christian and Jewish elementary and high schools, reportedly because these schools maintained a reputation for offering a high quality education.  According to school administrators, Muslim students constituted a significant portion of the students enrolled at Jewish schools in Casablanca.

The UAE research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 39 percent of Moroccan respondents said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, which was higher than the regionwide result of 34 percent.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

 

Mozambique

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Although ISIS-M fighters said they targeted Christians and Christian villages, reporters and local aid workers stated that in practice they made little distinction among their victims.  Media reports also indicated that ISIS-M targeted both Muslim and Christian communities.  They occupied entire communities and burned religious and government structures, including during a multiday attack on the town of Palma in March.  Regional forces deployed to Cabo Delgado in August 2021 conducted joint operations with government forces that resecured significant towns and roads by the end of the year with a marked decrease in violence, according to government officials.  The number of persons displaced by the conflict numbered nearly 800,000 by the end of the year, an approximately tenfold increase over 2020.

Prominent Muslim leaders continued to condemn the attacks in the northern part of the country, stating that the strict version of Islam preached by those allegedly responsible was not in line with the country’s traditional Islamic culture and practice.  For example, Provincial Delegate of the Islamic Council in Nampula Sheikh Abdulmagid Antonio told local media in June that religion should promote lasting and effective peace and that “no religion incites violence and intolerance.”

Civil society and religious organizations conducted outreach to promote religious tolerance during the year.  An interfaith group of leaders continued efforts to provide food to needy families during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Through an interfaith network established in November 2020, a coalition of religious groups from the northern provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, and Niassa, including the Islamic Council of Mozambique and the Catholic Church, continued coordinating assistance to support displaced civilian populations affected by the violence and to discuss resolution of the crisis.

During a May 7 interfaith gathering, religious leaders said that terrorism in Cabo Delgado was linked to politics of exclusion, poverty, injustice, and oppression, rather than religion.

Namibia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The nongovernmental Interfaith Council consisting of members of various Christian and Muslim groups, as well as representatives of the Jewish and Baha’i faiths, held regular meetings and advocated for the government to address the socioeconomic needs of their congregations with greater urgency.  The Interfaith Council also engaged with the government with the goal of using the council’s collective voice to strengthen the influence of religious groups.  For example, some Christian leaders were invited by the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication, and Social Welfare to review and validate the country’s draft national strategy on trafficking in persons, as a way to encourage religious groups to provide community support and offer shelter to trafficking victims.

Nauru

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Nepal

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGOs, Hindu priests and “high-caste” residents continued to discriminate against Dalits, as members of a “lower” caste.  On October 14, Bhim Bahadur Bishwakarma was beaten to death for trying to enter a temple that barred Dalits.  The attack took place during the Dashain holiday in the city of Bharatpur, Chitwan District, Bagmati Province.  According to media reports, individuals beat Bishwakarma with a pipe after he questioned neighbors about Dalits not being allowed to enter the temple.  Police arrested two persons and, after a December hearing, they remained in custody pending trial at year’s end.

A police investigation found that the August 2020 shooting of a Hindu priest on the premises of Hanuman Temple, located in Rautahat District, was the result of a financial dispute.  The World Hindu Council continued to state the case was religiously motivated.  At year’s end, two of seven accused individuals remained in police custody, one was released on bail, and four suspects remained at large.

Hindu nationalist groups including Vishwa Hindu Parishad Nepal, Bishwo Hindu Mahasangh, and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (the Nepalese arm of India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS) demonstrated against a draft provincial bill regulating madrassahs.  The protests occurred on September 25 in Birgunj, a city near the India border.  The groups compared the Muslim Chief Minister of Province Two to the Taliban and said the Nepali Muslim community was trying to make Nepal like Afghanistan.  Muslim leaders said they interpreted the rally as an attempt to incite violence and a continuation of efforts to reestablish the country as Hindu state.

Muslim civil society representatives said religious minorities and advocates for greater religious inclusion continued to be under threat and faced ongoing pressure from both government officials and members of the community to stop their advocacy.

Religious minority groups continued to state that some converts to other religions, including Hindus who had converted to Christianity, tried to conceal their faith from their families and local communities, mainly in areas outside Kathmandu, fearing discrimination.  Some Muslim leaders continued not to accept converts to Islam, saying it would violate the law according to their interpretation.  Instead, they recommended that individuals who sought to convert travel to India to do so.

Christian religious leaders stated their outreach efforts during the year focused largely on COVID-19 relief; they did not report large, public, anti-Christian disturbances in rural areas where Christianity is spreading.  They noted, however, that due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were very few public activities that could have triggered disturbances during the year.  Multiple Christian sources again said that inflammatory material appeared on social media, and several Catholic and Protestant sources also noted a rise in what they termed anti-Christian propaganda, misinformation, and discriminatory and divisive religious content on traditional media.  For example, on April 6, a press release purportedly from two prominent Christian organizations detailing a fictional strategy to divide Hindu practitioners of different castes into two separate religions became a trending social media topic.  Both organizations denounced the document as a fake that was designed to stir anti-Christian sentiment.  Local media again published reports of alleged harmful practices by religious minorities that were disputed by local authorities, witnesses, and other media.

Netherlands

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of violence, threats, discrimination, verbal abuse, and vandalism against Jews and Muslims.  Agencies collecting data on such incidents stated many occurrences went unreported or were reported to NGOs but not to police.  The data collected by agencies often differed because of varied reporting, collection, and analysis methods.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The editor-in-chief of a prominent daily, De Volkskrant, issued a statement in April in which he apologized for publishing a caricature depicting a Jewish political pollster and entrepreneur as a puppet master.  The editor said the image and trope “recall too many memories of antisemitic caricatures of the Nazi period and therefore should never have been published.”  The chairman of the Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands said the image was reminiscent of Volkischer Beobachter, a German Nazi party daily in the 1930s.

Media reported on June 1 that the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam removed a series of banners about Israel made by resident artists, including one that read, “from the river to the sea,” after protests by local Jews.  “This chant [phrase] isn’t about supporting a Palestinian state, but [is] all about expelling the Jews from Israel [from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea],” wrote the chair of CJO on Facebook.  The university said it was not aware of the “meanings of the phrase,” and that it deeply regretted allowing the banner’s display.

CIDI and CJO filed charges against the organizer of a military-themed fair on August 28 in the town of Houten that featured the selling of Nazi and Holocaust memorabilia, including a Star of David identity card.  CJO chair Nafthaniel called the incident “disgusting.”  The national coordinator for countering antisemitism told media he asked the Justice Minister to change the law so that fairs could not sell such items, but the law was not changed as of year’s end.

On September 11, media reported that a group of 10 youths taking part in a protest of COVID-19 restrictions in the city of Urk and dressed in clothing strongly reminiscent of Nazi uniforms made a mock arrest of another youth who appeared to be wearing a prisoner uniform displaying the Star of David.  Police arrested four of the youths, who were armed, for illegal firearms possession.  In a statement, the municipality of Urk said the youths were demonstrating against government COVID-19 restrictions but that their behavior was “highly objectionable,” “highly inappropriate,” and hurtful to many people.  According to media, the youths later apologized publicly.

An unknown assailant vandalized Amsterdam’s HaCarmel Kosher Restaurant February 26 by painting the slogan “Find Jew” in English on the restaurant’s front window.  CJO denounced the incident as “cowardly.”  This was the eighth incident targeting the restaurant since 2018 and the fourth time the same graffiti text was spray-pointed on the restaurant since its establishment in 2001.

In May, demonstrations related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict included reports of antisemitic incidents, according to CIDI.  In one case, a Jewish man said several boys greeted him with a Nazi salute.  During another demonstration, participants chanted, “O Jews, the army of Mohammed is coming again.”  Media also reported on May 16 that unknown individuals defaced a Jewish monument in the city of Cuijk with white paint and the text, “Free Palestine.”  The monument memorialized 13 Jews who were deported and killed during the Holocaust.  CIDI Director Hana Luden told media, “Jews in the Netherlands are Dutch Jews and they are not responsible for events elsewhere.”

In September, The Hague Court sentenced The Hague city council member Arnoud van Doorn to 120 hours of community service for sedition and incitement of violence against individuals based on three tweets he posted from 2018 and 2019.  His tweets encouraged the “destruction” of “Zionists” and “the enemies of Islam.”

Members of the Jewish community stated persons who were recognizable as Jewish because of their dress, for instance wearing a kippah or a Star of David necklace, were sometimes targets of confrontations.  In one incident, a man complained to a national railway representative about an individual on a train who called a group of Jewish men wearing kippahs, “Cancer Jews.”  The railway representative replied that it was not a good idea to walk around wearing such clothing.

The Jewish community again stated it was concerned about increasing antisemitism, noting an increase in online conspiracy theories, such as blaming a global elite, including the Jewish community, for using the COVID-19 pandemic to destroy Dutch society.

On April 2, mosques in Alkmaar, Culemborg, Deventer, Enschede, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam received diapers containing letters with the text, “An Easter gift for our whiners in society,” fragmented verses from the Quran, and a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed.  Researcher Roemer van Oordt of the NGO Muslim Discrimination Monitor said these cases reflected “a structural problem,” and stated that many mosques hesitated to report such incidents due to fear of negative reactions or previous poor experiences with law enforcement.  CJO chair Naftaniel told the media the situation was “unacceptable,” stated his support for the Muslim community, and called on the government to take the issue “seriously.”  In response to 10 complaints from different mosque boards, the Public Prosecution Service said the acts were not punishable under the law because insulting or criticizing a religion (as opposed to a group of individuals) was permitted under freedom of expression legislation.

On April 3, police arrested a man for arson after he set a mosque under construction on fire in the city of Gouda.  The secretary of the mosque, Fouad Khouakhi, told media the community was concerned.  Police reported the suspect was known to police and emergency services for “confused behavior.”  Farid Azarkan, leader of the Denk Political Movement party which is widely considered to be left-wing and pro-immigrant, asked on Twitter, “What can we do as a society to stop [such incidents against mosques]?”  The mosque was repaired using funds raised by the community.

The anti-Muslim organizations Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West and Netherlands in Resistance demonstrated on January 24 in the city of Eindhoven, despite the mayor refusing them a permit.  Police used force, including tear gas, to break up the crowd, which authorities estimated was in the hundreds.  Police also arrested several dozen people.

Municipal antidiscrimination boards recorded 82 incidents of antisemitic discrimination in 2020 (the latest data available), compared with 78 incidents recorded in 2019.  Most concerned aggression against Jews, including slurs or disputes between neighbors, soccer-related incidents, or vandalism.

Police recorded 517 antisemitic incidents reported to them in 2020 (the latest data available), constituting 8 percent of all discriminatory incidents registered by police.  There were 768 antisemitic incidents reported to police in 2019.  CIDI and the police said that one explanation for this decrease was that soccer games, sometimes marked by incidents of antisemitism, were played without spectators in 2020 due to COVID-19 protection measures.

The National Expertise Center for Discrimination, a section of the Public Prosecutor’s Office dealing exclusively with cases of discrimination, reported that it processed 157 new cases of discrimination in 2020 (compared with 123 new cases in 2019).  Nineteen percent of the new cases in 2020 were related to antisemitism, compared with 40 percent in 2019, while 11 percent involved anti-Muslim sentiment.  In 2019, three-quarters of antisemitic incidents reviewed by the Center for Discrimination and police related to antisemitic statements and chants by soccer fans, mostly concerning the Amsterdam-based soccer team Ajax, whose fans and players are nicknamed “Jews,” although the team has no relationship with the Jewish community.

CIDI reported 135 antisemitic incidents in 2020 (the latest data available), compared with 182 in 2019.  These included 26 incidents of direct confrontation between strangers, 29 incidents occurring during the course of daily life (such as at school, work, or among neighbors), 15 incidents of vandalism, 25 incidents of written statements, and 40 incidents directed against the Jewish community (as opposed to individuals).  The NGO attributed the decrease in incidents in 2020 to the lack of public gatherings, such as sports events, in which antisemitic incidents tend to occur, due to the pandemic.  The report did not include incidents of online hate speech but, according to CIDI, Jews were “portrayed as the cause and/or beneficiaries of the coronavirus with an alarming and growing frequency.”

In 2020 (the most recent data available), MiND Nederland, the government-sponsored, editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet, reported it received 40 complaints about Dutch-language antisemitic expressions on the internet, which constituted 5 percent of all reported discriminatory expressions it received that year but fewer than in the previous year (75 complaints; 11 percent).  The organization gave no explanation for the decrease.  CIDI did not report complaints of antisemitic content on the internet.  Instead, CIDI stated it would create separate surveys to show the nature, extent, and development of online antisemitism.

Authorities reported most antisemitic incidents occurred in the immediate living environment of those targeted, often involving insults from neighbors or antisemitic graffiti or written threats on walls, mailboxes, or personal property.  Approximately 76 percent of antisemitic incidents in 2020 tracked by police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (the most recent data available) involved slurs, including the use of the word “Jew” as an insult.  Police reported 17 incidents of vandalism involving swastikas or antisemitic texts sprayed on property and Jewish monuments in 2020, compared with 148 such incidents in 2019.  Police attributed the decrease to fewer people on the streets in 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns.  Police also reported 27 antisemitic incidents (5 percent) in 2020 involving a form of physical violence, such as pushing or shoving.  In several cases, violence was directed at public officials as they carried out their official duties.  Four of the threats and two of the violent incidents took place during demonstrations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in May.

The NIHR reported receiving 90 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020 (the most recent data available) compared with 109 in 2019.  These were mostly in the workplace, and the NIHR issued opinions in 21 cases.  In one case, the NIHR judged that a fitness center discriminated on the grounds of religion by not allowing a patron to wear her headscarf in the facility.  In another, the NIHR ruled that the bank Bunq B.V. discriminated on the basis of religion by not allowing religious organizations to open business accounts.

In February, CIDI repeated its recommendations for the government to combat antisemitism more effectively, namely:  improve education on the Holocaust and Judaism; help teachers recognize and combat antisemitism; require social media platforms to improve and effectively enforce their hate-speech policies; combat antisemitic bullying; improve knowledge about antisemitic crimes; train police and officials on antisemitism awareness; identify antisemitic incidents more clearly; accelerate reporting procedures for such incidents; encourage victims to report incidents; promote digital citizenship and media awareness to discourage online hate speech; hold individuals accountable for online hate speech; and promote effective measures for social media companies to prevent and combat antisemitism.  CIDI called for national soccer association KNVB to take measures to counter discrimination, including antisemitic chanting, during matches.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 2 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in The Netherlands said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Thirteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (11 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (11 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (5 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (11 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (6 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (11 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (5 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (11 percent).

In 2020 (the most recent data available), municipal antidiscrimination boards around the country registered 391 other (not antisemitic) religious discrimination incidents, of which the majority targeted Muslims, compared with 279 such incidents in 2019.  These included physical and verbal harassment and vandalism.  Multiple incidents concerned physical and verbal harassment of women on the street because they were wearing a headscarf, as well as incidents involving anti-Muslim stickers and posters.  For example, in one case, an individual said to a woman wearing a headscarf, “Take off your headscarf, dirty Muslim.”  A suspect arrested for painting swastikas on a mosque told the police, “I am for Hitler,” and “The Jews and the Arabs are [expletive] people.”

Using different methodology than that of the police, antidiscrimination boards registered a significantly higher number of anti-Muslim incidents in 2020 than in 2019 – 307 (79 percent of all incidents), compared with 192 in 2019 – half of which occurred in the labor market and workplace, often involving women who were discriminated against for wearing a headscarf.  For example, there were reports of clients or customers who expressed a preference to be served by non-Muslims over Muslims wearing a headscarf, and in one case (also reported by the NIHR), a Muslim woman was told that she would not be hired because of her headscarf.

MiND Nederland registered 39 inflammatory statements made against Muslims on the internet in 2020, compared with 64 in 2019.  The organization gave no explanation for the decrease.

Although authorities, the KNVB, soccer teams, and the Anne Frank Foundation had multiple agreements in place to discourage antisemitic behavior at soccer matches, participants reportedly did not always carry out the terms of the agreements.  For example, one agreement stipulated that if antisemitic chanting arose during a match, teams would ask fans to stop immediately and if they did not, they would suspend the match; however, matches were rarely suspended or paused.  On July 25, CIDI sent an open letter to the management of the Rotterdam-based Feyenoord soccer team, calling for action against antisemitic murals in Rotterdam against Steven Berghuis, who is not Jewish and who transferred from Feyenoord to the Ajax team.  Feyenoord publicly distanced itself from these murals, which featured Jewish caricatures and a Star of David.

Media reported on April 21 that fans of the Arnhem-based soccer team Vitesse chanted, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” at a rally before a match in Arnhem with the Ajax team.  The director of the Vitesse team condemned the chants.  Police examined film footage of the event to identify the fans involved.

In April, the Hague City Court fined a Sunni imam from the al-Madina Mosque 675 euros ($770) for insulting a religious group when he called those of other faiths “pigs” and said Ahmadi Muslims were “worse than animals” in 2017.  According to media reports, the judge viewed the imam’s statements as “unnecessarily offensive,” and ruled that the conviction did not infringe on the imam’s freedom of expression.

The Security Pact Against Discrimination – a movement established by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, and humanist organizations to combat antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and other forms of discrimination – organized online and in-person events, including “solidarity” visits to mosques by non-Muslims, to promote mutual solidarity.  The group’s membership included the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, the representative body of main Christian churches in the country, and several NGOs, including the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation, Humanist Alliance, Liberal Jewish Congregation of Amsterdam, National Council of Moroccans, and Platform to Stop Racism and Exclusion.

CIDI reported it continued to work with educators who conducted online classroom programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities, working with a network of teachers to improve education on the Holocaust with Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center.  CIDI organized online symposia and lectures.

NGOs such as OJCM and Belief in Living Together continued to promote interfaith dialogue among Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  For example, the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam continued its youth outreach project entitled “Get to Know Your Neighbors,” which explained Jewish practices to participating students.  The Yalla! Foundation promoted mutual solidarity to counter anti-Muslim sentiment and antisemitism through meetings, guest lectures, and social gatherings.

New Zealand

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The government-funded HRC received 45 inquiries or complaints of discrimination based on religious belief for July 2020-June 2021, compared with 53 for July 2019-June 2020.

In June, the NZJC reported that online antisemitic comments were increasing, but that antisemitic incidents overall remained rare.  According to the NZJC, in 2020 there were 33 antisemitic incidents recorded in the country, and in 2021 there were 43 incidents recorded by November, ranging from “targeted, private antisemitic abuse of Jewish students online to a man giving the Nazi salute outside a synagogue,” and these incidents did not include “public antisemitic social media posts from New Zealanders or on [local] forums, and the NZJC also noticed an increase of those.”  An NZJC survey found 70 members of New Zealand’s Jewish community had experienced antisemitic verbal insults and three had been physically attacked in the previous 12 months.  The survey also found that 44 per cent thought antisemitism was a serious issue in the country – up from 16 percent in 2008.

In March, authorities charged an individual with making threatening comments online aimed at mosques in Christchurch.  In April, authorities charged an individual with threatening to kill individuals attending a mosque in the city of Hastings.  In both cases, the specific court proceedings, trial details, and sentences remained subject to court suppression orders.  This restricted what information was made public “in order to protect the interests of justice and the integrity of the trial process,” according to official court policy.  In most cases suppression orders are used to protect the identity of minors involved in a case.

Nicaragua

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January, media reported that a woman stole the keys of the Santissima of the Calvario Church in Masaya, verbally harassed parish priest Alexander Ruiz, and threw soda in his face.  In May, the Diocese of Esteli reported that unidentified vandals had beheaded the statue of Monsignor Jose del Carmen Suazo, a well-known priest who died in 2015, on the road connecting the Shrine of Our Lady of Cacauli and Somoto.  In October, Catholic priest Father Bismarck Conde told local media that a thief broke into Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Masaya and stole money from it.

Niger

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The government stated that it continued to face a series of persistent and growing security threats from the group alternatively known as “the Islamic State in West Africa,” or “the Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” formerly known as Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, as well as from Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization active in the region.  Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked and killed hundreds of civilians and security forces, according to media.  Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued regular attacks in Diffa Region in the Lake Chad Basin, while ISIS-GS and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) increased attacks in the border areas with Mali and Burkina Faso.  Armed groups also reportedly conducted targeted campaigns of killing and threats against what they called “informants,” including local government officials, traditional leaders, and security forces.  ISIS-GS and JNIM affiliates in northern Tillaberi Region reportedly continued charging local villagers Islamic taxes (zakat), while members of terrorist organizations in western Tillaberi Region reportedly burned government-funded schools, telling villagers their children should not attend secular schools and forcing many villagers to flee their homes.

According to Africanews.com, terrorists killed five persons and seriously injured two others during an attack on the town of Fantio, in Tillaberi Region.  The attack occurred during an Eid al-Fitr celebration.

According to Catholic aid organization Aid to the Church in Need, a terrorist attack occurred in the towns of Fantio and Dolbel in Tillaberi Region in which the perpetrators set fire to a Catholic church and killed men who were trying to escape.

Christian groups active in the country included missions, associations, movements, and NGOs.  Many associations and missions provided humanitarian assistance as well as built schools and churches.  NGOs also provided services to communities, including water points and other humanitarian assistance.

The Interfaith Dialogue Organization, with both Muslim and Christian members, continued to meet in committees in all eight regions of the country and in local committees in 140 communes of the country.

According to representatives of both Christian and Muslim groups, there were generally good relations between Muslims and Christians; however, according to some religious leaders, a minority of Muslims rejected closer ties between Muslims and Christians as a corruption of the true faith and therefore resented an interreligious forum.  Public events generally begin with an Islamic prayer.  Some gatherings, however, began adding a Christian prayer to their opening blessing.

Nigeria

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to government services, NGOs, media, academic, and other observers, the level of insecurity driven by rising criminality worsened during the year.  Because issues of religion, ethnicity, land and resource competition, and criminality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely, or even primarily, based on religious identity.  Numerous fatal clashes continued to occur throughout the year in the North Central region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Muslim herders.  There were also incidents of violence involving predominantly Muslim herders and Christian or Muslim farmers in the North West region.  In addition, criminal groups continued to commit crimes of opportunity, including kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, and banditry in the North West, North Central, and South East regions.  According to security experts, the criminal activity in these regions increased in volume, geographic scope, and attendant violence during the year.  Media reported on at least six attacks by bandits or armed criminal gangs on religious sites, including mosques and churches.  Multiple academic and media sources said banditry and ideologically neutral criminality, rather than religious differences, were the primary drivers of violence in the North West region.  Christian organizations, however, said clergy were often targeted as victims of these crimes, because they were viewed as soft targets who often traveled conspicuously without security in the evenings, were typically unarmed, had access to money, and generated significant media attention.  While many churches, including the Catholic Church, formally refused to pay ransom, some communities raised money to ensure the return of their religious leaders.  Family members of kidnap victims also sometimes paid ransom.  According to data ACLED cited on its website, there were 3,699 civilian deaths from the violence during the year, compared with 2,455 in 2020.

In May, Mercy Corps released a report entitled, Fear of the Unknown:  Religion, Identity, and Conflict in Northern Nigeria, which reported on the religious attitudes of northerners it surveyed to gauge the perceived influence of religious actors, beliefs, and identities in violent conflict in the north.  The report, based on in-depth interviews of 165 persons and a survey of 750 persons in 15 communities in Kano and Kaduna States, concluded only some violence in the north had been interreligious in nature and that Muslims and Christians were both perpetrators and victims.  According to the report, “Since 2016, deaths from conflicts over religious issues have waned relative to the number of people killed by criminal violence and conflicts over land and cattle grazing.  While deaths from inter-religious violence increased in 2020, they still paled in comparison to those caused by crime and resource conflicts.  These trends were confirmed in interviews and surveys.  Equally important, interreligious violence has been perpetrated by, and on, both Muslims and Christians.”  The report stated, “Christians appear to have suffered more attacks on average, and likely as a result, they were more likely to report feeling victimized.  Yet a majority of Muslim and Christian respondents said that members of both faiths are responsible for violence in their area, as opposed to pinning blame solely on one side.”  The report stated that conflict data from multiple sources indicated that in the previous decade “only nine percent of attacks explicitly targeted or were carried out by religious groups, and only 10 percent of fatalities were ascribed to conflicts over a religious issue.”  The report found that the more religious persons were, the less likely they were to support or engage in violence.  It stated that, “rather than religious belief or animus, we find that intercommunal violence is largely driven by insecurity and a lack of trust between ethno-religious groups competing for political power and control over natural resources.”  While religion, according to the report, was usually not a direct cause of conflict, political and religious leaders, as well as the public, appealed to religious identity and solidarity to motivate persons to take action and to garner support to advance political, economic, or personal objectives.  In addition, the Mercy Corps report stated religious leaders were important in both fomenting violence, by politicizing and emphasizing religious identity, and preventing it, by resolving disputes and promoting peace.  The report also stated that “for a minority of northern residents… religious freedom remains a concern,” if indirectly, because fear of attacks created a fear of, or reluctance about, gathering in religious communities and “exacerbates tensions and mistrust between religious groups – the primary pathway to intercommunal conflict in the north [emphasis in the original].”

Numerous fatal intercommunal clashes continued throughout the year in the North Central region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Muslim herders.  According to the ICG, the causes of the North West turmoil were complex and interrelated, saying that “Environmental degradation and rapid population growth have aggravated resource competition between herders and farmers.  Disputes over land and water prompted both herders and farmers to form armed self-defense groups, fueling a cycle of retaliatory violence that has taken on a communal dimension.”  Several international and domestic experts stated that armed conflicts in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin had altered grazing routes and brought foreign transhumance (movement of livestock) groups in contact with new communities, sometimes leading to conflict because they were unaware of preexisting agreements between the local herding and farming groups.

Citing witnesses, media and NGOs such as CSW reported that on September 26-27, Muslim herdsmen killed at least 49 persons and abducted 27 in attacks on communities in three Local Government Areas in Kaduna State.  According to the reports, most of the victims were Christian.  In Kacecere village in southern Kaduna, eight persons were killed and six injured on 27 September; in Gabachuwa community in southern Kaduna, one person died, an unknown number were injured, and 27 members of Evangelical Church Winning All were abducted on 26 September; and 40 persons were killed and eight injured and 20 homes burned down in an attack on Madamai and Abun villages on 26 September.  A Catholic priest who witnessed the attack on Madamai and Abun described it as “well coordinated” and “a massacre against the natives.”

On June 2, Christian Post reported that Fulani herdsmen killed Pastor Leviticus Makpa and his three-year-old son in their home.

Morning Star News reported that individuals, which it described as “suspected Fulani herdsmen,” kidnapped and killed Reverend John Gbaakan Yaji, a Catholic priest of the Minna Diocese, on January 15, during a return journey from Benue State.  His brother, who was travelling with him, was also kidnapped, and his whereabouts were unknown.

On July 16, Religion News Service reported that bandits killed 33 persons and burned down four churches and hundreds of homes in Kaduna State.

On August 14, Christian ethnic Irigwes youths attacked a convoy of five buses carrying Muslims from Bauchi State to Ondo State as it passed north of the Plateau State capital, Jos, killing as many as 27 and injuring 14 people.  According to local media, the attack heightened existing communal tensions and led to further clashes elsewhere in Jos and neighboring communities.  Authorities subsequently arrested 20 suspects, but there was no further information on the status of the case at year’s end.

According to media reports, armed bandits killed 10 worshippers at a mosque in Yasore, Katsina State on the evening of October 5.

Also in October, bandits attacked a village in Kaduna, killing 17 and kidnapping 18 as they exited the mosque from early morning prayers.  Police killed one suspected perpetrator.

On May 24, the newspaper Christian Post reported that bandits shot and killed eight Christians and burned down a church and several homes in Kaduna State.

On September 29, NGO International Christian Concern reported that Reverend Yohanna Shuaibu, the chair of CAN in Kano State, died from wounds he suffered during a mob attack.  The mob, which also burned down the pastor’s church, school, and home, reportedly believed that Shuaibu had played a role in converting to Christianity from Islam a man who had recently killed his sister-in-law.  According to CAN and media reports, authorities arrested and charged six persons in connection with the killing.

According to ICG, on October 25, gunmen killed at least 18 worshippers and reportedly abducted 11 during early morning prayers at a mosque in Mashegu Local Government Area in Niger State.  ICG reported that on December 8 at a mosque in the same area, an armed group killed between nine and 16 persons and injured 12 others during early morning prayers.

On October 31, according to press reports and the ICG, suspected bandits occupied the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Kakau Daji in Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna State during Sunday services, killing two parishioners, wounding several, and kidnapping 65.  The abductors reportedly demanded 99 million naira ($244,000) for the kidnapped parishioners, whom they released on December 4.

There were numerous attacks against schools in which armed groups kidnapped schoolchildren for ransom, which religious leaders stated impacted the broader activities of their religious communities.  According to analysts, these kidnappings generally had a financial motive.

For example, in July, armed kidnappers abducted more than 120 students from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State.  The kidnappers demanded 500,000 naira ($1,200) ransom for each student.  Subsequently, some students were either released or escaped from the kidnappers.  In May, according to press reports, armed kidnappers abducted 136 students from an Islamic school in the town of Tegina in Niger state, killing one person and demanding an unspecified ransom.  In August, the school’s principal told Reuters the kidnappers had called him and said six of the kidnapped students had died of illness.

On November 29, authorities in Zamfara State announced that the state’s Christian community had received a letter from a group of bandits threatening “ferocious attacks” unless all churches in the state were permanently closed.  In response, CAN directed its constituent churches to hold services only during daylight hours as an interim measure from December to end of February, while calling on the Buhari administration to ensure the protection of Christians in Zamfara and their religious freedom.  Media reported some Zamfara Christians were contemplating relocating to other parts of the country.  Police authorities in Zamfara said they created a special squad to patrol and protect Christian worshippers, especially on Sundays, and had deployed plain-clothes personnel for intelligence gathering to find those behind the letter.

CSW stated in November that Christian families in states that have implemented sharia continued to face abuses, including the abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage of underage girls and reported it was assisting seven families whose underage daughters were abducted by members of their local communities.  In three cases, the local authorities in Rogo in Kano State were reportedly collecting dowries on behalf of prospective suitors and offering them marriage “at no cost” by January 2022.  Local media reported three Muslim men abducted and forcibly converted to Islam three Christian girls from Nariya village in Garko Local Government Area, Kano State.  The girls were in Hisbah protective custody at year’s end, while the Kano State chapter of CAN took the matter to the Kano State High Court for the girls’ return to their families.

On August 23, CAN President Ayokunle decried the violence and the government’s lack of adequate response by saying, “Stopping killing of the innocent by the criminals cannot be done by merely issuing press statements and holding periodical meetings with the security chiefs by the president.  Until the government shows the political will by arresting and bringing the culprits to book, the shedding of innocent blood will not cease.  We charge the Federal Government to fix the security challenges or throw in the towel.”  On December 9, the Sultan of Sokoto cautioned assembled religious leaders about the reach of their influence at the quarterly NIREC meeting, stating, “We have to be careful in the way we handle, say and do things as religious leaders.  We are not political leaders.  Therefore, we have to be wary of what we say, where and how we say such things, because our followers will definitely believe in what we say.  They will believe and feel that it is from the Holy Koran or the Holy Bible.  We cannot go on telling things to people without thinking that they will believe.  We cannot go on saying things that we know we don’t have full knowledge of.”

In June, local media reported Tiv and Jukun communities, both of which are Christian, clashed over land and water resources, often razing churches in Benue and Taraba States.  After a pastor and his wife were killed in predominantly Jukun Tunga village, Taraba State, the predominantly Tiv neighboring village of Maigoge was attacked and its church burned.

The Enugu State government completed the rebuilding of two mosques that were destroyed during protests in 2020 in the state, and the mosques reopened.

A Pew Research Center study from 2018 found that more than 80 percent of self-identified Christians in the country said they attended worship services at least once per week.  According to both Christian and Muslim religious organizations such as CAN and the Society for the Support of Islam, Nigerians attended prayers and services regularly, even in areas of conflict.

North Korea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Due to the country’s inaccessibility, little was known about the day-to-day life of individuals practicing religion.  Travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated this inaccessibility.

The 2014 COI report concluded government messaging regarding the purported evils of Christianity led to negative views of Christianity among ordinary citizens.

Defector accounts indicated religious practitioners often concealed their activities from neighbors, coworkers, and other members of society due to fear they would be reported to authorities.  According to ODUSA, due to the constant indoctrination permeating the country, Christians were seen as hostile elements in society, and family members and neighbors were expected to report suspicious activities to the authorities, including through the network of neighborhood informers.  It stated, “[C]hildren are encouraged to tell their teachers about any sign of faith in their parents’ home.  A Christian is never safe.”

ODUSA reported that many Bibles, devotionals, Christian books, and songbooks to which individuals had access dated from the 1920s through the end of World War II.  These were kept hidden and passed among believers.  One man said persons remained careful even within their own families when teaching Christian beliefs for fear of being reported.  According to the NGO, “Meeting other Christians in order to worship is almost impossible, and if some believers dare to, it has to be done in utmost secrecy.”

While some NGOs and academics estimated that up to several hundred thousand Christians practiced their faith in secret, others questioned the existence of any large-scale underground churches or concluded it was impossible to estimate accurately the number of underground religious believers.  Individual underground congregations were reportedly very small and typically confined to private homes.  Korea Future reported that in one case, an individual formed an underground church with a family to meet for prayer.  Each founding member had been deported back to the country from China and received funding from donations outside the country.  The number of members was unclear but was at least 16 in 2019.  Most were women, and all had been introduced to Christianity in China.  In the “government training” video released by VOM in September 2019, the narrator said Cha Deoksun and other believers met in the woods.  Some defectors and NGOs said unapproved religious materials were available and that secret religious meetings occurred, spurred by cross-border contact with individuals and groups in China.  NKDB stated that of the 147 interviewees who had defected in 2019, three, or 2.0 percent (1.2 percent in 2018), had practiced religion in secret, and nine, or 6.1 percent (1.8 percent in 2018), had witnessed others secretly practicing religion.  NKDB also stated that 7.6 percent of defectors in 2019 said they had “seen a Bible” before fleeing the country.  The report concluded from these data that although the government continued to severely restrict religion, exposure to religion appeared to be gradually increasing.

While COVID-19 restrictions prevented individuals from attending weddings and funerals, KINU reported that in prior years, religious ceremonies accompanying these events were almost unknown.

According to Korea Future, persons who practiced Shamanism were often subject to arrest.  The government hung posters and issued directives warning citizens against engaging in “superstitious acts.”  These directives were posted in apartment blocks.  Korea Future stated that both ordinary citizens and officials illicitly practiced Shamanism.  Investigators documented many persons engaging both publicly and privately in Shamanistic practices, including traditional rituals, fortune telling, physiognomy (reading the fate of an individual based on facial features), exorcism, use of talismans, use of birth charts, and tarot cards.  One source told RFA it was common for individuals to consult fortune tellers before planning weddings, making business deals, handling health matters, or considering other important decisions.  One source told Asia Press that government officials also consulted fortune tellers about their health and careers.  NGOs reported authorities continued to take measures against the practice of Shamanism.  According to the source, however, fortune tellers who faced punishment were those “who [made] a lot of wrong predictions” and therefore did not receive the protection of officials.  The source said, “The good fortune tellers are paid by officials and therefore do not get caught.”  One defector who escaped in 2019 told Korea Future investigators, “People who practice Shamanism will be sentenced to a maximum of five years in a reeducation camp if the penalty is harsh.  They used to be sentenced to a labor training camp for three or six months, but the sentence has been made stricter.”

According to the UN special rapporteur’s October report, the KCF again did not participate in the annual “inter-Korean prayer for Korean Peninsula peace and reunification” held every year ahead of National Liberation Day on August 15, stating that “a joint prayer between the two Koreas would be meaningless at this point.”  2020 was the first year since 1989, according to the rapporteur, that the KCF did not join the National Council of Churches of the Republic of Korea in issuing this joint inter-Korean prayer.  The rapporteur said he had been in communication with “relevant actors” to seek their views on how freedom of religion in the DPRK could contribute to peace on the Korean peninsula and that the Korea Peace Prayer Pastors living in the inter-Korean border area had shared their ideas on promoting peace.

North Macedonia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

OAO officials continued to say their clergy and their family members were often targets of insults in media and victims of physical attacks by individuals considered close to the MOC-OA.  In August, personnel at a cemetery in Skopje refused to allow Bishop David of the OAO to officiate at a funeral despite the family’s insistence.

In May, protesters in support of a Palestinian state gathered at the Holocaust Museum.  A large number of the protesters chanted antisemitic slurs.  The Jewish community reported no violent acts against them but said that during the escalation of the conflict in Gaza, some of its members complained their children had been bullied for their Jewish identity – especially those attending international schools alongside the children of diplomats and businessmen from the Arab world.  There was an increase in antisemitic social media posts during the conflict.

Holocaust Museum representatives said in September they noticed an increase in antisemitic posts on social media and the use of the yellow Star of David in anti-vaccination disinformation, which blamed COVID-19 on “Bolsheviks, Satanists, and Jews.”

In September, former imam Skender Buzaku, who announced he was running to become leader of the IRC, reported receiving threats via text messages from unknown persons telling him he would never become leader and would instead be imprisoned and killed.  According to Buzaku, the messages also called on him to immediately withdraw the embezzlement charges he had filed in 2019 against former head of the IRC Sulejman Rexhepi and current head of the IRC Fetahu or else he (Buzaku) would be “liquidated.”  Buzaku reported the case to police officials dealing with violent crime.  Police had taken no action on the case by year’s end.  The IRC expelled Buzaku in 2015 for his role in the temporary takeover of the IRC headquarters in Skopje by his armed followers.

On October 15, the IRC condemned what it said was the mockery of Islamic religious rites for political purposes by Shuto Orizari mayoral candidate Tefik Mahmut, a member of opposition party Levica.  Mahmut organized a mock Islamic call to prayer on the street in front of a government building in Skopje on October 14.  The IRC called Levica’s gathering a “primitive act.”

The Bektashi (Tetovo) Community continued to dispute the IRC’s claims to full ownership of the Harabati Baba Teqe complex, which the Bektashi (Tetovo) used as its headquarters.  The Bektashi (Tetovo) Community also opposed the IRC’s plans to renovate the complex, with Turkish assistance.  Bektashi (Tetovo) Community representatives continued to express concern that the renovation would be conducted without their consent and that it would displace them from the compound entirely, in addition to destroying valuable heritage.  The Bektashi (Tetovo) Community remained unable to assert a claim of ownership to the compound because the group remained unregistered.

Media reported several incidents of theft from Orthodox monasteries, and the MOC-OA reported 18 acts of theft or vandalism of Orthodox sites during the year, including one in a majority-Muslim area.  The MOC-OA did not attribute the thefts and vandalism to religious motives.

On May 11, unknown individuals vandalized for the second time in less than 12 months the tombs of Mehmet Pashe Deralla and Ali Vishko, prominent Albanian Bektashi leaders, at the Harabati Baba Teqe shrine in Tetovo.

The Helsinki Committee in the country registered 30 incidents of hate speech with a religious component during the year, compared with 38 in 2020.  The IRC added that incidents were generally limited to false items on social media and news portals.

The Holocaust Fund, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), continued to work with the Ministry of Education and Science on a project to train educators to teach secondary school students about the Holocaust and Jewish history.  The fund held three online and two in-person seminars during the year.

On September 28, the Holocaust Memorial Center opened an exhibition adapted for persons with hearing and visual impairments.  The center, opened in 2020, continued to commemorate the country’s Jewish population and those sent to the Treblinka death camp during World War II.  To the extent COVID-19 restrictions permitted, the center conducted Holocaust education programs in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science.

Norway

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Holocaust Center and the Center against Racism reported religiously motivated hate speech, particularly online, remained active.  The NRM, SIAN, Vigrid, and online news sites Document.no and Resett.no were among the most active organizations, according to the Center against Racism.

Police and NGOs also stated that a small number of individuals continued to participate actively in online chat rooms, message boards, and forums such as 4chan, 8chan, and EndChan, which regularly featured antisemitic and/or anti-Muslim content.  Police used tip lines to monitor online hate speech.  Norwegian Police listed awareness campaigns directed at the public and within the police as success factors for increased reporting of hate crimes by possible victims.

The Holocaust Center stated anti-Muslim organizations such as SIAN, Human Rights Service, and Document.no remained active during the year, including by posting articles online or in print media.  The Holocaust Center stated the groups were relatively small but maintained a strong and well organized presence on the internet.  In many instances, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views were closely linked.  SIAN held a number of rallies in different cities that received widespread media attention and that also included larger groups of counterprotesters.

In response to the significant increase in reported hate crimes nationally between 2016 and 2019, Bergen, the country’s second largest city, in September launched its own action plan to combat hate crimes against Muslims.  Hate crime statistics from 2019 showed that all religiously motivated hate crimes reported in Bergen targeted the Muslim population.  The chair of the Board of the Bergen Mosque told public broadcaster NRK in September that the mosque regularly received letters containing hateful messages, including statements such as “Islamic fascism is just as merciless as Nazism” and “Islam is right-wing extremism at its worst.”  The chair also said female members of the mosque had been spat on and pushed, and had their hijabs forcibly removed.  In December, an elderly white Norwegian male was caught on video harassing a young Muslim woman in Bergen who said she intended to report the incident to police.  City officials condemned the incident.

In September, the government announced that the NGO Human Rights Service would not receive funding in the 2022 national budget.  Although the NGO describes itself as critical of Islam, the Center against Racism described the organization as Islamophobic.  It had received funding from the national budget since 2002.

The Ministry of Culture and Equality reported that hate speech, racism, and harassment increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as restrictions increased time and activity on digital platforms in the absence of physical meeting places.

The Holocaust Center continued to conduct programs on the Holocaust and to combat antisemitism, with financial support from the government.  The center developed instructional materials on the tolerance of religious diversity and distributed them to high schools nationwide.  It published numerous articles documenting antisemitism and the persecution of religious minorities throughout the world, including how far-right media used professional media to convey “uncivil” news with an antisemitic message.  The center operated a website that provided a comprehensive overview of antisemitism and served as a foundation for the center’s educational efforts.  It also screened materials used in public schools for antisemitic content.  In addition, the center continued to operate a museum and library supported by its research organization and to offer a wide range of educational materials, programs, exhibitions, and publications.  The center organized a memorial ceremony at the Oslo monument to the victims of the Holocaust, in collaboration with the DMT.

The Holocaust Center continued to play a significant role in supporting the government’s action plan against antisemitism by developing educational materials and online platforms for the Ministry of Education and Research and monitoring both antisemitic and anti-Muslim attitudes throughout society.  It conducted research on Jewish life in the country, antisemitism in Scandinavia, religious extremism and radicalization, and hate crimes, both on its own initiative and on behalf of parliament and government ministries.

The STL continued to foster interfaith dialogue by holding joint meetings with all its member communities, including virtual events when COVID-19 restrictions barred most public gatherings.  Its mandate was to promote the equal treatment of religious and life stance communities and respect and understanding among all individuals and faith and life stance communities through dialogue.  It received support from the government, as well as financial and in-kind contributions from its member organizations.

Oman

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Although not prohibited by law, according to some non-Muslim religious leaders, conversion from Islam was viewed extremely negatively within the Muslim community.

The interfaith al-Amana Center, which was founded and is supported by the Reformed Church in America, a Protestant denomination, continued to sponsor programs to promote interreligious dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims.  During the year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it hosted virtual programs in conjunction with MERA to introduce Islam to Protestant seminary students from different denominations.  The center also worked closely with MERA to promote interfaith dialogue.

One Arabic-language newspaper, Al Watan, featured multiple cartoons critical of the Israeli government in which a man representing stereotypical anti-Semitic tropes of Jews symbolized the state of Israel.

The UAE research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 20 percent of Omani respondents said their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, which was lower than the regionwide result of 34 percent.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

An initiative, Fak Kurba (Redeeming Anguish), by the Omani Lawyers Association’s (OLA), focused on the release of prisoners jailed for noncriminal offenses, including unpaid debts.  An OLA official said Fak Kurba’s supporters were motivated by Islamic humanitarian principles, and the group conducted fundraising during Ramadan to free prisoners by Eid al-Fitr.

Pakistan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals assaulted and killed Christians, Ahmadis, Sikhs, Sunnis, Shia, and Hindus in attacks sources believed to be religiously motivated.  The attackers’ relationship to organized terrorist groups was often unknown.

In an incident that drew significant international outcry, a mob of several hundred Muslim workers from a sportswear factory in Sialkot, Punjab attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan and Christian manager of the factory on December 3.  Media reported that the mob beat, stoned, and kicked him to death, then dragged his corpse to the street and set it on fire.  In widely seen videos on social media, Kumara was seen pleading for his life before he was killed.  Witnesses reported that while the mob’s actions were fueled by accusations of blasphemy, the incident began because of personal animosity between some factory employees and Kumara.  The aggrieved factory workers allegedly incited the mob by accusing him of desecrating posters that contained written Islamic prayers.  Police were called during the incident, but the small number who responded were far outnumbered by the crowd and media reported that police did not intervene.  Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan told reporters a case would be submitted to an anti-terrorism court as soon as possible to bring the killers to justice.  Prime Minister Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry.  Media reported that police arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack.  There were no further developments on this case before year’s end.

On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in his clinic in Peshawar.  Ahmadiyya community members stated Qadir was killed because of his faith.  According to media reports, local residents overpowered the assailant at the scene and handed him over to the police, who opened an investigation.  At year’s end, he remained in detention and his trial was underway in a court in Peshawar.

On September 2, four unidentified assailants shot and killed a British-Pakistani man retired from the Pakistani army, Maqsood Ahmad, who was an Ahmadiyya community member in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.  Family members said he was shot as he was irrigating his farmland in Dharowal.  The police launched a murder investigation, but as of year’s end, the victim’s killers had not been found.

On September 30, unknown attackers gunned down a Sikh man, Satnam Singh, in Peshawar.  The police said the attackers escaped from the scene but lodged a case against the “unknown assailants.”  ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured when assailants opened fire on a passenger vehicle traveling from Gilgit to Naltar.  The vehicle was traveling through a Shia-majority area.  Police said the attack on the passenger van was retaliation for an earlier incident when Shia youth passing through Naltar Bala were ambushed and killed 18 months prior.

On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab.  It was the third sectarian strike in the area to occur in two months, including an attack on August 6 against a Shia worship site.

On March 24, media reported an unknown man attacked and killed Taqi Shah, a religious scholar from the Shia community in Jhang, Punjab over blasphemy allegations.  The scholar had faced similar blasphemy charges in 2019.  In March, police arrested a suspect, who subsequently confessed to killing Shah.  There was no further information available on this case at year’s end.

On January 3, ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for killing 11 coal miners belonging to the Hazara Shia community in Mach, Balochistan.  Members of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta staged a protest against the government’s failure to protect the community in Balochistan.  Human rights organizations criticized the Prime Minister for saying the Hazara protestors were “blackmailing” him by demanding he visit them in Balochistan to ensure justice for the victims.  On January 6, Prime Minister Khan released a statement on social media against sectarian violence, stating the government was “taking steps to prevent such attacks in the future,” and traveled to Machh on January 9 to meet with families who lost loved ones in the attack.

The Hindu community in Sindh and Balochistan remained vulnerable to targeted killings and kidnappings for ransom.  On May 31, unidentified assailants killed Ashok Kumar, a Hindu trader in Khuzdar, Balochistan after he reportedly refused to pay extortion money to criminals.  This was the second Hindu trader since July 2020 to have been killed in Wadh for the same reason.  Following the killing of Ashok Kumar, Baloch social media users urged the government to take steps to ensure security of religious minorities in Balochistan.  In June, unidentified individuals distributed intimidating pamphlets outside of shops owned by Hindu traders in Khuzdar telling them not to allow female customers into their shops, or face consequences.

On February 25, unknown assailants killed Mahesh Kumar, a Hindu youth, and set his corpse on fire in Jacobabad, Sindh.  The Hindu community protested and demanded police arrest the suspects.  They reported police were slow to respond to the killing, while media failed to give appropriate coverage to the incident.

Civil society organizations and media said that armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government, including the TTP, and the once-banned anti-Shia group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, continued to perpetrate violence and other abuses against religious minorities.  Groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS, also committed violent acts.  Among the targets of these attacks were Shia Muslims, particularly the predominantly Shia Hazara community.

According to the SATP, there were five sectarian attacks by armed groups during 2021, compared with 10 sectarian attacks reported in 2020.  Data on sectarian attacks varied because no standardized definition existed of what constituted a sectarian attack among reporting organizations.  According to journalists, when reporting on attacks with a suspected sectarian motive, media often refrained from reporting the victim’s sectarian identity in an effort to avoid stoking tension among sectarian groups.

Sunni Muslim citizens levied multiple charges of blasphemy against members of the Shia community throughout the year.  On August 19, police fired teargas shells and live rounds into the air in Hyderabad, Sindh to disperse a mob protesting because they believed a Shia man had committed blasphemy.  The community pressured police to file a blasphemy case against the man.  In another instance, on May 6, a group of Sunni religious leaders filed a blasphemy case against Shia scholar Allama Amjad Jauhari in Karachi for remarks they said insulted the companions of the Prophet Mohammed.  The complainants said that Jauhari used derogatory language during one of his sermons at a Shia gathering; they requested the police take action against him.  The next day police opened an investigation into Jauhari for alleged blasphemy.  The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

In its 2022 World Watch List report, which covered events in 2021, the international NGO Open Doors said that “Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of life” in the country.  The report highlighted allegations that COVID-19 assistance was leveraged to try and get Christians to convert to Islam, that blasphemy laws continued to be used to target Christians with false allegations, and that Christian women and girls were targeted for kidnapping, forced marriage, and conversion to Islam.

Civil society activists and media reported young Christian and Hindu women being abducted and raped by Muslim men.  Victims said their attackers singled them out as vulnerable due to their religious minority identity.  According to the NGOs Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS) and the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice, there were also reports of religious minority women being physically attacked by men.

Christian activists stated young women from their communities were also vulnerable to forced conversions.  According to online Christian media sources, in June, a 30-year-old man was accused of kidnapping, forcibly converting to Islam, and forcibly marrying a Christian girl in Gujranwala District, Punjab.  The media reports stated that while the girl’s parents told police and the courts that she was 13 years old, the girl herself told the court that she was 19.  According to the police, two of the suspects were taken into custody, but the girl later appeared before a local court where she said that she left her house, converted to Islam, and married her husband willingly.  Consequently, the court allowed the girl to go with her husband and ordered the police to drop the case.  The girl’s father protested, stating his daughter was a minor, and that the court should not have accepted her statement declaring she willingly converted and married.  On July 1, the Lahore High Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, allowing the girl to remain with her husband.

In September, media reported that a Muslim man kidnapped, raped, and attempted to kill an eight-year-old Christian girl by hitting her with a stone, and leaving her unconscious on the ground.  Police later arrested the accused under anti-rape and domestic violence laws.  There was no additional information available on this case at year’s end.

Members of civil society reported that converts from Islam lived in varying degrees of secrecy for fear of violent retribution from family members or society at large.

Representatives of the Kalash, an indigenous group in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, continued to report their youth were under pressure from Muslim schoolteachers and others to convert from their traditional beliefs.

Throughout the year, Islamic organizations with various political affiliations held conferences and rallies to support the doctrine of Khatm-e-Nabuwat.  English and local-language media often covered the events that featured anti-Ahmadiyya rhetoric which Ahmadiyya community representatives said could incite violence against Ahmadis.  In addition to the large JUI-F conference and rallies, the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami held a large event in September in Peshawar; both parties criticized the national government for failing to enforce Islamic law.  The TLP, banned under the National Counterterrorism Authority’s Schedule-I list until it was removed in November, also held smaller rallies.

On September 8, Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm Nabuwwat, a Muslim missionary organization, organized a conference at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore where speakers urged the government to “check un-Islamic and unconstitutional” activities of Ahmadis, ban them from proselytizing, and remove them from key official posts.

On October 8, JUI-F held Khatm-e-Nabuwat conferences in Multan where speakers, including JUI-F party chief Moulana Fazl ur Rehman, vowed to stop Ahmadis’ entry into high government posts.

Members of religious minority communities continued to report cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, and illegal confinement due to their faith.  In September, media reported a group of Muslim landlords physically abused and held hostage a family from a Hindu community in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab for obtaining water from a mosque tap and therefore “violating the sanctity” of the place of worship.  According to media reports, Alam Ram Bheel, a farm worker, and his family were fetching drinking water after work when a group of local landlords and accomplices beat them and held them until Muslim neighbors negotiated their release.

On July 26, a video went viral showing a Muslim man forcing a Hindu laborer to mock Hindu deities in Mithi, Sindh.  In the video, the individual was seen swearing at the Hindu man and forcing him to say “Allahu Akbar.”  Police arrested the Muslim man and registered a blasphemy case against him on behalf of the state.  The Hindu man and his family pardoned the Muslim man, and the case was dropped.  The Muslim man publicly apologized for his act.  Religious minority activists criticized this case, stating that persons charged with blasphemy were rarely pardoned.

In September, several religious groups from the Deobandi and Barelvi schools of Sunni Islam organized a series of rallies in Karachi to denounce Shia “defamation” of revered Sunni religious figures.

Ahmadis continued to report widespread societal harassment and discrimination against community members, including physical attacks, destruction of homes and personal property, and threats intended to force Ahmadis to abandon their jobs or towns.

There were also media reports of attacks on religious minorities’ holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols.  On August 17, police in Lahore arrested a member of the TLP for vandalizing a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh warrior who ruled over Punjab in the 19th century; the statute had been vandalized numerous times since its unveiling in 2019.  In a video of the incident posted on social media, the TLP member shouted party slogans while pulling the statue apart, and onlookers immediately detained him.  Both the Lahore police and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar called for the individual to be prosecuted.  Following the TLP member’s arrest, a magisterial court in Lahore granted him bail, and his case was pending at year’s end.

During a January 5 Supreme Court hearing, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officials reported the suspension of more than 90 police officers from duty and more than 109 arrests related to a December 2020 incident in which a group of villagers destroyed a historic Hindu temple.  The court directed a local cleric responsible for inciting the protestors and those who assisted him to contribute money to assist in the temple’s restoration.  The temple was rebuilt and on November 8, Supreme Court Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed inaugurated it during the Hindu community’s Diwali celebration.

On July 24, a Muslim cleric in the village of Bhong, Punjab, filed blasphemy charges against an eight-year-old Hindu boy, claiming the boy had involuntarily urinated in a local mosque.  In response, on August 4, hundreds of protestors vandalized a local Hindu temple, partially burning the building, destroying Hindu idols, and blocking a nearby highway for three hours.  On August 7, Chief Justice Ahmed directed the Punjab police to arrest all involved in vandalizing and looting the temple.  Police arrested 95 individuals, later freeing 10 while holding 85 in custody to face trial in anti-terrorism courts.  The 85 were in custody at year’s end.

In May, a group of 200 Muslims attacked a Catholic church and 15 houses belonging to Christians in the village of Chak 5 in Punjab Province after a Muslim man accused boys cleaning the church of throwing dust on him.  At least eight Christian community members suffered serious injury.

Christian religious freedom activists continued to report widespread discrimination against Christians in private employment.  They said Christians continued to have difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labor, with some advertisements for menial jobs specifying they were open only to Christian applicants.

Observers reported that English-language media continued to cover issues facing religious minorities in an objective manner, but vernacular print and broadcast media outlets continued to publish and broadcast anti-Ahmadi rhetoric.  Ahmadiyya Muslim community representatives stated that the Urdu-language press frequently printed hate speech in news stories and editorials, some of which could be considered as inciting anti-Ahmadi violence.  Inflammatory anti-Ahmadi rhetoric continued to exist on social media and was at times spread by senior members of mainstream political parties.  Community members stated clerics routinely delivered anti-Ahmadi sermons in mosques.

On September 7, all daily Urdu newspapers again published reports and articles to mark the 1974 amendment to the constitution which declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims.  Leading Urdu newspapers also published editorials and articles paying homage to the politicians and clerics who helped enact the amendment.

Human rights and religious freedom activists and members of minority religious groups continued to report that they exercised caution and, occasionally, self-censorship when speaking in favor of religious tolerance because of a societal climate of intolerance and fear.  Some activists reported receiving death threats because of their work.

Palau

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Panama

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Interreligious Institute of Panama, an interfaith committee made up of representatives of Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, and other Protestant churches, Salvation Army, Colon Islamic Congregation, the Baha’i Faith, Kol Shearith Jewish Congregation, and the Buddhist Soka Gakkai Congregation, continued to meet virtually several times during the year.  It met in person for the first time in July.  The institute’s objectives included providing a coordination mechanism for interfaith activities and promoting mutual respect and appreciation among the various religious groups, as well as sharing best practices for helping their congregations continue to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Evangelical Christian leader Pastor Alvarez, evangelical churches continued to decline to join the institute, preferring their own assembly, a large nationwide group that includes all evangelical churches.

On November 3, to celebrate independence from Colombia, and again on November 28 to celebrate independence from Spain, leaders of the Interreligious Institute of Panama prayed together during a Roman Catholic Mass at the National Cathedral.

On November 26, during the official presentation of the “Bicentennial Pact,” only members of Roman Catholic clergy led opening prayers.  All of these events occurred with governmental officials and members of the diplomatic corps in attendance.

Papua New Guinea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Civil society representatives and religious leaders said gender-based violence, including the killing of women and their daughters accused of sorcery, was increasing, and that many of those responsible were not prosecuted because they had highly placed connections in the police or with political figures.  Sources stated that sorcery practices had roots in the country’s pre-Christian history, and since those days, such practices have been “detected” by traditional “seers.”

Media reported the Catholic Diocese of Wabag included in its 2021-2025 pastoral plan instructions to pastors to raise awareness and aid victims of violence related to accusations of sorcery.  The diocese reported there were 11 women and three girls under its care during the year.  According to the diocese, during the year, two women accused of sorcery died as a result of being beaten and tortured.  In late December, a video went viral on social media showing the severe physical abuse of seven women accused of practicing sorcery – five in Kagua-Erave District, Southern Highlands Province, where three died from injuries, and two in Pogera, Enga Province.  In response, national leaders called for measures to protect women.

Media reported that in April in the Catholic Diocese of Alotau, seven Catholic priests were assaulted and robbed in their home by members of a local organized gang.  Sources said the attackers may have targeted the priests to gain attention from the government to the stated grievances of the gang – more employment opportunities and services for villages controlled by it.  One priest was hospitalized and recovered months later.  Media reported the thieves stole laptops, mobile phones, cash, and other valuables, including a new outboard motor, solar panels, a projector, and a television.  The Bishop of Alotau told media the attack “was of such magnitude, involving many persons, we could almost conclude it was premeditated.”  Police investigated but took no action as of year’s end.

As in previous year, religious leaders, through the Church-State Partnership Program, discussed working together to address social issues that affected congregation members, such as education, health, gender equality, fragmentation of family values, and sorcery-related violence.

Paraguay

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Observers, including those from nongovernmental organizations, political pundits, leaders of different religious groups, and the press, stated the Roman Catholic Church continued to maintain an influential role within society that other religious groups lacked.  According to media reports, because Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, both citizens and the government valued the opinion of the Church on political matters.

In a May interview with the daily newspaper Ultima Hora, former senator Hugo Estigarribia said of the Catholic Church’s influence on politicians, “The Catholic Church in our country saves you or sinks you – it’s that simple,” and continued that what the Catholic Church thinks and the pressure it exerts are fundamental to the country’s politics.  Church representatives often commented publicly on congressional legislation, sometimes impacting the shaping of public policy.  For example, Church leaders made public statements on the importance of social justice as Congress debated land reform legislation.  The leaders also made public statements regarding the renegotiation of the Itaipu treaty with Brazil, stressing that the country needed negotiators who were ethical, moral, and who enjoyed the people’s trust.

Catholic Church leaders also spoke publicly against the government’s COVID-19 policies, calling for a return to in-person classes at schools and criticizing potential plans for vaccine requirements at public gatherings.  President Abdo Benitez met with Church leaders during the March antigovernment demonstrations to seek their advice on how to address protesters’ grievances and avoid impeachment.  ICCAN representatives complained the Roman Catholic Church was actively working to damage its legitimacy.  In its September “Pastoral Guidance” to followers, the Roman Catholic Church said ICCAN was “a sect that usurps the Catholic name and liturgy,” and warned that any sacraments received at ICCAN churches would not be considered valid at Roman Catholic ones.

On May 14, the Roman Catholic Church hosted its annual service to honor the country’s independence.  President Benitez, Vice President Hugo Velazquez, Supreme Court President Cesar Diesel, Attorney General Sandra Quinonez, and other members of the government attended.  During the service, Archbishop of Asuncion Edmundo Valenzuela criticized the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and called for an end to corruption that could jeopardize efforts to confront the virus.  He also warned against teaching “gender ideology” to children and adolescents based on the Church’s concern that such content encouraged tolerance of abortion and LGBTQI+ lifestyles.

Roman Catholic Church representatives once again offered in-person services celebrating the December 8 Virgen de Caacupe holiday, a local variant of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Organizers required pilgrims to wear masks and remain physically distanced from one another.  They also required attendees to be fully vaccinated, although there was no system in place to verify anyone’s vaccination status.  Bishop of Caacupe Ricardo Valenzuela used the opportunity to criticize what he termed the government’s weak COVID-19 response and continued prevalence of government corruption and impunity, particularly in the judiciary.

The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs stated in August that an unknown number of evangelical Christian leaders associated with three different churches raped and impregnated 10 adolescent girls from the Yvy Pyte indigenous community in Amambay Department earlier in the year.  The VMW reported none of the three churches involved were officially registered with the government.  At year’s end, the Public Ministry was investigating the case.

The VMW reported that 68 foreign missionaries registered or reregistered during the year, compared with 106 in 2020.  Most missionaries were members of the Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches.  The Church of Jesus Christ reported its foreign missionaries had begun returning to the country after departing in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Church representatives stated they hoped to have a total of 360 foreign missionaries in country by the end of the year.

A Jewish community leader pressed the government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.

A representative from the Church of Jesus Christ reported the Church had a close relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, with which it cooperated on humanitarian assistance and other development projects, including providing sources of drinking water to underserved communities in the Chaco region.

Christian and Jewish groups did not host any official interreligious events during the year.

Peru

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Interreligious Council continued its stated goal of promoting just and harmonious societies within a framework of respect, tolerance, and dialogue between different faith traditions.  In July, the council hosted an interreligious gathering of gratitude for the country on its bicentennial.  Religious groups, including members of the council, participated in the event.  Then president Sagasti, then prime minister Violeta Bermudez, and then foreign minister Allan Wagner participated in the event.  In his speech, Sagasti emphasized the important demonstration of unity and tolerance, as exemplified by the religious groups participating in the event.

In the context of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-26) during November, the Interreligious Council organized virtual interreligious prayer sessions “for Mother Earth” and for a harmonious relationship between humans and the environment.  Throughout the year, the council promoted the vaccination campaign against COVID-19, starting in February and continuing through year’s end.  On December 5, the Interreligious Council organized a migration-themed joint Hannukah-Christmas event with the participation of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and CIREMI representatives.

Religious groups and interfaith organizations continued to coordinate with the government, civil society, and international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance, regardless of their religious affiliation, to more than 1.5 million displaced Venezuelans who entered the country since 2017.  The Catholic Church and various evangelical Protestant churches in Tumbes continued to work with the government, International Organization for Migration, and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide temporary housing to Venezuelan migrants at the northern border.

Philippines

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media reports, a group of unknown gunmen killed Catholic priest Rene Bayang Regalado on January 24 in Malaybalay, Bukidnon Province.  The national police chief of the province, Colonel Roel Lami-Ing, said the motive for the killing may have been retaliation for the priest’s activism against illegal logging and advocacy for farmers’ rights, or connected to allegations of rape made against him in 2020.  At year’s end, police had not taken any suspects into custody.

Violent incidents, particularly in rural areas in the south of the country where Muslims comprise the majority of the population, were frequently associated with interclan rido (feud) violence.  Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, incidents were difficult to classify as solely based on religious identity.  In April, the town of Talitay, Maguindanao declared a state of calamity due to armed conflicts related to feuds that displaced 3,500 individuals.

Social media comments denigrating the beliefs or practices of Muslims continued to appear during the year.

During the March launch of the Task Force Bantay Bangsamoro, an NGO consisting of various human rights groups and Muslim organizations to promote the rights of the Moro people, Anak Mindanao party-list Representative Amihilda Sangcopan stated that Muslims continued to face discrimination and human rights violations in the country.  Task force member Muhamad Ali Macalbas of the Moro Human Rights Defender Network said that young Moro professionals experienced discrimination in the workplace and that some job interviews had been cut short when potential employers learned the applicants were Muslim.  Sangcopan further noted that the task force was created to guarantee that the rights and dignities of the Muslims were respected and observed.  She reported a rising incidence of enforced or involuntary disappearances among Muslims, particularly in Metro Manila.  The NCMF and other sources stated, however, that they were unaware of a rising incidence of these disappearances.

On February 22, United Catholic News reported that unknown individuals vandalized several Catholic churches in Lamitan City, Basilan Province.  The vandalism included removing the heads from statues and damaging other religious items.  Bishop of Basilan Leo Dalmao stated the damage likely occurred in order to “sow fear and confusion” among Catholics and Muslims in the Mindanao region.”

Poland

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2020, the most recent period for which data were available, prosecutors investigated 346 religiously motivated incidents, compared with 370 in 2019.  The report cited investigations into 147 antisemitic, 111 anti-Muslim, and 88 anti-Roman Catholic incidents.  During 2019, there were investigations into 182 antisemitic, 112 anti-Muslim, and 76 anti-Roman Catholic incidents.  The Never Again Association and religious groups stated government tracking of religiously motivated incidents was not comprehensive or systematic.

There were several physical attacks against Roman Catholic priests and incidents involving the disruption of religious services in Catholic churches around the country.  There were also cases of desecration of Roman Catholic and Jewish religious sites, such as churches, monuments, and cemeteries.

On September 15, a man entered a Catholic church in Szczecin, broke a wooden cross hanging on the wall, and physically attacked the priest who tried to stop him from causing further damage.  The priest was taken to the hospital with a broken jaw.  Prosecutors charged the man with physical assault, public insult, and making illegal threats against the priest, and subsequently placed him in pretrial detention for three months.

On January 12, police detained three men who painted neo-Nazi symbols on the outer wall of the Jewish cemetery in Oswiecim.  On January 13, the local prosecutor’s office charged two of the men with public promotion of fascism, and the third with destruction of a monument (the cemetery wall is registered as a provincial monument).  The men expressed regret for their actions and participated in an “educational program” organized by the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim.  Together with volunteers from the Auschwitz Jewish Center and International Youth Meeting Center, the men also repainted the cemetery wall and cleaned up the town’s Great Synagogue Memorial Park.  Their trial started on June 11 and was ongoing at year’s end.

On February 17, unknown individuals cut the hands off a statue of the Virgin Mary standing in front of a Catholic church in Czestochowa.

On February 26, police arrested a woman on charges of setting fire to a Catholic church in Lublin.  She was charged with deliberately setting a fire that could pose a threat to the life and health of persons and property.  She was placed in pretrial detention for two months.

On March 17, a woman disrupted a Mass in St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow by taking off her clothes and spitting on the priest.

On March 19, a man holding an axe entered the property of a Catholic parish in Otwock and threatened to kill the local priest and a woman who tried to intervene.  Police identified the individual and charged him with making criminal threats.

On May 3, a man entered a Catholic church in Duszniki-Zdroj during Mass and pointed a fake gun at the priest.

On May 11, the Poznan-Old Town regional court began the trial of a man on charges of public incitement to murder a priest, hatred on the grounds of religious differences, and insulting followers of the Catholic Church.  While participating in a Mr. Gay Poland event in Poznan in 2019, the man had simulated cutting the throat of an effigy of Archbishop of Krakow Marek Jedraszewski, who had previously criticized “LGBT ideology.”  The case was pending before the court at year’s end.

On June 16, an unknown person entered a church in Konin, smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary, and attempted to damage a painting of Jesus.

Also on June 16, five 12-year-old boys damaged 63 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in Wroclaw.  Police identified the boys, who claimed their older friends had encouraged them to damage the tombstones and that the stones were to be used for “building a base.”  Police handed the case over to family court.

On June 22, unknown persons vandalized two figures of the Virgin Mary outside a Catholic church in Szczecin.

On June 26, three teenagers vandalized 67 tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in the town of Bielsko-Biala.  Authorities found some tombstones broken and others tipped over.  On June 28, police identified the perpetrators and handed the case over to the family court.

On June 30, the Wroclaw District Court sentenced a man who stabbed a priest in front of a church in Wroclaw in 2019 to a 12-year prison term for attempted murder.

Also on June 30, members of the Catholic nationalist group All-Polish Youth deposited a pile of rubble with a note reading, “This is your property” outside the Israeli embassy in Warsaw to protest Israel’s criticism of legislation limiting restitution and compensation claims for private property confiscated during World War II and the Communist era.  The board of the Warsaw Jewish Community condemned the actions and appealed to the President and other representatives of the government to do so, saying the actions “offend the memory of millions of Jews, Polish citizens who were killed during World War II.”  The board also expressed hope prosecutors and police would investigate the incident and punish the organizers and the perpetrators.

On September 24, the Koszalin regional court began a trial of four women’s rights activists indicted for maliciously disrupting religious services during protests in October 2020 against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling the same month that restricted access to abortion.  During the incident, four persons had entered a Catholic church in the city of Koszalin while services were proceeding, stood in front of the altar, and displayed posters proclaiming a woman’s right to an abortion.

On October 5, authorities found antisemitic graffiti on nine wooden barracks at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.  The graffiti included statements in English and German and two references to Old Testament sayings frequently used by antisemites.  Police were still looking for the perpetrators at year’s end.  Beata Szydlo, a member of the European Parliament and of the Law and Justice party and a former Prime Minister, wrote on her Twitter account, “This incident requires a strong reaction from the Polish services, especially since this is probably an intentional, external provocation.  Those responsible for the profanation @MuseumAuschwitz must be caught and punished.”

On October 18, a man used an electric saw to cut down a wooden cross that had been standing in the center of the city of Zielona Gora for decades.  He recorded the event and posted it on the internet.  On October 19, police located the perpetrator and charged him with offending religious feelings.

In April, the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office discontinued an investigation into a speech delivered by Jacek Miedlar, a former Catholic priest, in 2019 during a nationalist demonstration.  During the event, Miedlar and participants shouted, “Jewish communists worse than the Nazis,” “Down with the Jewish occupation,” and “This is Poland, not Polin.” (Polin is the Hebrew word for Poland and has a special connotation as a Jewish homeland.)  In the justification for discontinuing the investigation, prosecutors said that the general intention of Miedlar’s speech, in which he referred to “Jewish communists” and “Jewish executioners,” was to “strengthen patriotic attitudes.”  The prosecutors said that Miedlar’s use of the words “ungrateful Jew” and “executioner” to assess the attitude of a particular person of Jewish nationality did not constitute hate speech, but rather were expressions of legally permitted criticism.

On October 20, the Wroclaw regional court sentenced Miedlar to 10 months of community service for public incitement to hatred against Jews for a speech he made in 2018 in which he attributed to people “of Jewish nationality” “actions to legalize pedophilia” and “actions against Polish citizens.”  Miedlar also questioned the scale of losses and harm suffered by Jews during World War II.  In a separate case, on September 13, the same court sentenced Miedlar to one year of community service for incitement to hatred against Ukrainians and Jews for a 2017 speech in which he condemned “Jews intoxicated with Talmudic hatred,” spoke of a “Jewish Marxist horde,” and said that “synagogues only stand on Polish soil as a result of our lack of prudence.”  Both verdicts are subject to appeal.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 19 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Poland said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Thirty-one percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (39 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (32 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (33 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (36 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (36 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (30 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (31 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (38 percent).

According to a poll of public opinion on the Roman Catholic Church conducted by the Warsaw-based Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) in September, 45 percent of residents had a favorable opinion of the Church, an increase of two percentage points since March, while 41 percent had a negative view, a drop of six points from six months earlier.

According to a public opinion poll conducted by CBOS in February, 38 percent of respondents held a positive attitude towards Jews (compared with 30 percent the previous year).  In a separate poll conducted by CBOS from September to November 2020, 19 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “War is a terrible thing, but it is good that as a result of it there are not as many Jews in Poland as there used to be.”

The Institute for Catholic Church Statistics reported that in 2019, the most recent year for which data were available, 37 percent of residents attended Sunday Mass regularly, compared to a post-Communist high of 50 percent in 1990.

According to Never Again and the Open Republic Association, there was a growing antisemitic narrative appearing in the public sphere.  The Never Again Association reported antisemitic content in online messaging, as well as on what were considered to be nationalist and far-right YouTube channels and internet media websites.  For example, on February 4, former priest Jacek Miedlar said on wRealu, a YouTube channel generally viewed as right-wing, “Jewish institutions try by all means to block the truth.  In my latest book…I clearly indicate that this practice of clinging to a lie, producing lies without any [hesitation], is almost a genetic principle of Jewish communities.”  On June 28, prominent publicist Rafal Ziemkiewicz wrote on his Twitter account, “The Germans smelted soap from the Shoah victims, and modern Jews learned how to smelt gold from them.  From the legal point of view, what the ‘Holocaust Industry’ is doing is so-called complicity after the fact.”

On July 2, publicist Rafal Otoka-Frackiewicz stated on his YouTube channel, “Jews are still furious with Poland for introducing regulations that theoretically prevent them from extorting from Poland the property of people who have nothing to do with Israel.”

On November 11, several hundred persons participated in a nationalist march on Independence Day in the city of Kalisz, during which some participants burned a book symbolizing the Statute of Kalisz, a 13th-century document that regulated the legal status of Jews in Poland and granted them special protections.  March participants also chanted “Death to Jews” and “No to Polin, yes to Poland.”  On November 14, President Duda wrote on his Twitter account, “I strongly condemn all acts of anti-Semitism.  The barbarism perpetrated by a group of hooligans in Kalisz contradicts the values on which the Republic of Poland is based.  And in view of the situation on the border [the ongoing Belarus-Poland border crisis] and propaganda campaigns against Poland, it is even an act of treason.”  Also on November 14, the spokesperson for the District Prosecutor’s Office in Ostrow Wielkopolski announced prosecutors had opened an investigation into the incident.  On November 15, Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration Mariusz Kaminski announced police had detained three men for organizing the demonstration.  They were charged with public incitement to hatred, public insult on national grounds, and public incitement to commit crimes against other persons based on their national and religious identity.

At an antivaccine protest that took place in Glogow on July 19, participants blamed Jews for being responsible for the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the website Notes from Poland.  Protesters chanted, “Jews are behind the pandemic,” and, “They rule the world.”  Police arrested three protesters.

In December, television station IPN broadcast a program celebrating Feliks Koneczny, the author of several anti-Jewish tracts in the 1930s and 40s.  In his writings, Koneczny cast the country as a Latin/Roman Catholic society engaged in an eternal and mortal struggle against “Jewish civilization.”

On January 17, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the 24th Annual Day of Judaism, which featured a series of religious and cultural events, mostly organized online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The principal events took place in Warsaw and included a joint prayer at the Jewish cemetery conducted by Bishop Romuald Kaminski and Chief Rabbi Schudrich, a special religious service, a concert of Jewish music, and a panel discussion.  In addition, other Catholic dioceses organized various online events around the country, including in Krakow, Szczecin, and Lodz.

On January 26, the Catholic Church celebrated the 21st Annual Day of Islam, with the stated purpose of promoting peace among religious groups.  The Church hosted an online event titled “Christians and Muslims jointly protecting places of worship” that included discussions, readings from the Bible and Quran, and prayers.

On February 22, representatives of various religious communities announced the creation of the “Community of Conscience – Coalition for Mutual Respect.”  The coalition included 12 persons from Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches, as well as Jewish and Muslim leaders.  In their official declaration, the members of the group explained their goal would be to counteract hate speech and hate crimes and to encourage dialogue, understanding, mutual respect, and building the community, despite differences.

On March 25, the Polish Council of Christians and Jews named a Lutheran nun “A Person of Reconciliation” in recognition of her contribution to mutual understanding and reconciliation between Poles and Jews.  On October 3, the Polish Council of Christians and Jews gave awards to a Catholic theology researcher, a Lutheran female deacon, and a Pentecostal pastor for their contributions to the development of Polish-Jewish and Christian-Jewish dialogue and cooperation.  On October 3, the Council organized a joint Catholic and Jewish prayer to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Human Library projects, funded by European Economic Area grants and coordinated by NGOs Diversja Association and Lambda Warsaw, continued online and in several cities and towns around the country, including Gdansk, Jarocin, Torun, and Wroclaw.  The projects involved a diverse group of volunteers, including representatives of Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups, who told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books.  The stated intent of the project was to foster greater tolerance in general, including religious tolerance.

Portugal

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January, Helder Teixera, a contestant on the television reality show Big Brother, was removed for repeatedly and “jokingly” making Nazi salutes off-air in front of other contestants.  Other contestants asked Teixera to stop his actions, but he continued to mimic the Nazi salute.  The show’s producers later played for Teixera and the contestants a video of a Holocaust Jewish survivor talking about the persecution Jews and other minorities, including Roma and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community, faced during World War II.

Rodrigo Sousa Castro, a retired colonel who helped lead the country’s 1974 revolution, tweeted on February 7, “Jews, since they dominate global finance, bought and possess all the [COVID-19] vaccines they want.  It’s a kind of historical revenge.  And I won’t say anything more or the Zionist bulldogs will jump.”  In response, the Israeli ambassador to Portugal tweeted, “As a proud Zionist bulldog, I can promise that if Israel develops a cure for COVID-19, Colonel Sousa e Castro will have access to it if needed.”  Numerous public officials immediately criticized Sousa Castro, including representatives of the Lisbon and Porto Jewish communities, the Portuguese Association for Israel, and the Social Democratic Party, which introduced a draft resolution in parliament on February 9 that read, in part, “Portugal is seeing the propagation of antisemitic discourse with serious implications.”  To be an advocate of the 1974 revolution, it added, “means to honor its values.”  Sousa Castro later deleted the tweet, stating he had committed an error by making a “generalization” that was not correct and was “abusive,” adding, “Many will have the right to have been offended.”

On October 28, the managers of the Zaytouna Middle Eastern grocery store in Lisbon posted an image on their social media site of graffiti on the store’s windows depicting a patriarchal cross linked to Christian religious movements and a phrase that associates Islam with terrorism.  They said the vandalism represented “a threat to us and to our customers of different nationalities.”  The store, which opened in 2018, was “born from a friendship between Palestine and Portugal and a great desire to share cultures… making it what it is today:  a place of tolerance, diversity, and bonds.”  The managers said that since hate speech is a crime, they filed a complaint with authorities, adding that although this type of act was uncommon in the country, “It must be combatted and denounced.”

Qatar

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 18, the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq published a column by author Ahmad al-Mohannadi warning against what he said were attempts by Christian organizations to penetrate Muslim-majority Persian Gulf societies via animated Bible-based missionary cartoons that are dubbed in Gulf dialects.  He called for combating such attempts to save Muslim children from the expected impact of these videos.

In its 2021 World Watch List report, the Christian NGO Open Doors USA stated, “There are two general categories [of Christians in country]:  Christian foreigners, most of whom are migrant workers, and Christians who have converted from Islam.  Foreign workers who are Christian are much freer to worship.  Muslims who convert to Christianity face much more significant persecution.  Converts from both indigenous and migrant backgrounds bear the brunt of persecution, and Qatari converts face very high pressure from their families.”

The NGO Middle East Concern stated on its website, “Expatriate Christians enjoy considerable freedom in Qatar, provided that their activities are restricted to designated compounds and, in particular, that they avoid interaction with Muslims that could be construed as proselytism.”

During an outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in May that coincided with the end of Ramadan, Al-Araby al-Jadeed, a London-based newspaper owned by Fedaat Media and based in Doha, published antisemitic editorial cartoons.  One image showed “Israeli forces” shaped to resemble the COVID-19 virus in the courtyard of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, while another showed an Israeli soldier portrayed as some type of insect or monster dropping ordnance on buildings below, next to a sign saying, “escalation on the days of Eid.”

In September, press reported that the Ministry of Education said a private school in the country was facing legal action after it was found to be using an educational resource that included content contrary to Islam.  The ministry said a parent of a student at the school alerted it on September 14 to the problematic curriculum.  Government representatives visited the school and found it had not followed a ministry circular requiring schools to review new educational resources and submit them for ministry approval.

On July 20, a high profile Qatari social media figure who hosts a YouTube channel with more than 90,000 subscribers posted a video criticizing a Saudi government decision to allow a Saudi woman to compete against an Israeli in judo in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (which were postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19), adding, “The Saudis made ‘a mockery of Islam and Muslims.”  On August 26, he posted another video in which he stated Arab secularists dislike sharia punishments for certain offenses because they (secularists) are guilty of those offenses.

In his November 11 column in the newspaper Al-Sharq, Abdallah al-Amadi, former media advisor to the education minister, discussed at length a story in which God transformed the Jews into apes and pigs as punishment for violating their Sabbath.  According to a Doha-based business group, Khalid Thani al-Thani, a member of the country’s royal family, owns the newspaper

On its website, Middle East Concern stated, “Qatari nationals or other Muslims who choose to leave Islam are likely to face strong family and societal pressure.”

A paper published by WINEP in January, based on an opinion survey in late 2020, stated that the “majority of Qataris express at least a ‘somewhat’ negative view of MB [Muslim Brotherhood],” although approval for the group in country (36 percent) was higher than in any other Arab state.  Members of the small Shia community, whose members originated from Arab and Persian families who immigrated to the country in the twentieth century, reported that unlike previous generations, they faced no anti-Shia prejudice.  Some community members said they attributed the currently warm relations with the Sunni majority to the country’s widespread prosperity, the high degree of societal integration, and to enlightened national leadership.  Shia citizens included prominent wealthy members of the business community, among them the owner of one of the country’s larger conglomerates.  The Shia community maintained husseiniyas (Shia prayer halls), in addition to mosques overseen by the government.

In December, social media campaigns criticized hotels for displaying Christmas decorations in their lobbies.  Some Qatari citizens on social media condemned marking non-Islamic festivities and warned against the impacts of such displays on young generations.  Some social media influencers posted messages discouraging congratulating non-Muslims on Christmas.  Imams of a few mosques reportedly disseminated similar warnings in their Friday sermons.

Republic of the Congo

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the summer, the Interconfessional Platform for Dignity and Peace for the Great Lakes said it focused efforts on repairing what it described as the strained relationship between the government and the Catholic Church that developed in the period leading up to the presidential election in March.

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

The High Islamic Council reopened mosques for prayer in March after the council had closed them for more than a year due to COVID-19.

Romania

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to non-Orthodox religious groups, ROC priests continued to prevent them from burying their dead in ROC or public cemeteries, including access to the ROC cemetery in Sapanta that previously belonged to the Greek Catholic Church, or otherwise continued to restrict such burials by requiring they take place in isolated sections of a cemetery or follow Orthodox rituals.  In the town of Olari, Prahova County, the local government did not respond to requests by the Seventh-day Adventist Church to gain access to the cemetery.

Representatives of the Christian Evangelical Church said such cases included them as well, although local observers did not always provide details because they said they feared ROC reprisals.  ACUM stated that ROC priests often pressured the families of deceased Greek Catholics to bury their dead according to ROC rituals or tried to prevent Greek Catholic priests from performing the rite of Holy Unction for dying persons.  Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reported that in some cases, ROC priests disrupted Seventh-day Adventist funerals and that in the town of Olari, Prahova County, the local ROC priest incited hatred against religious minorities during church services.

According to Greek Catholics, some ROC archdioceses continued to distort the history of the Greek Catholic Church in their public messaging.  They said that on ROC websites of the ROC deaneries of Bistrita, Nasaud, and Beclean, in the northern part of the country, the ROC presented historical details about several formerly Greek Catholic churches that the Communist regime had transferred to the ROC without mentioning the churches and some of their previous priests or that their founders were Greek Catholic.

On March 18, the director of the Jewish State Theater, Maia Morgenstern, stated on social media that during a meeting with representatives of public theaters and cultural institutions, one of the participants used antisemitic slurs.  On March 27, Morgenstern received by email a letter that included antisemitic slurs and death threats against her children, as well as threats to set fire to the Jewish State Theater.  On March 29, police announced they had identified the writer of the threats, placed him under judicial supervision, and initiated a criminal investigation.

Material promoting antisemitic views and glorifying Legionnaires, as well as messages promoting Holocaust denial and relativism, continued to appear on the internet.  According to a study released by the Wiesel Institute in April, several articles published online claimed that Jews or the state of Israel were profiting from the COVID-19 health crisis and were manufacturing harmful vaccines.  According to the same study, most antisemitic hate speech on social media included Jewish conspiracy theories, including alleging plans to create a worldwide state controlled by Jews and led by the anti-Christ.

In January, the National Council for Combating Discrimination imposed a fine of 5,000 lei ($1,100) on one of the persons who in 2020 recorded a video of themselves placing a mask on a statue of Elie Wiesel in Bucharest and saying that he was responsible for spreading a virus that destroyed lives and had a catastrophic effect on the country’s history and society.  According to the council’s decision, that person’s acts constituted discrimination.

In March, media reported that unknown persons vandalized and painted messages on the walls of an ROC church located in Bucharest.  The prosecutor’s office attached to the Sector Three Court in Bucharest opened an investigation.

On September 12, media reported that unknown persons vandalized a memorial located in the city of Bistrita, in the northern part of the country, dedicated to Jews deported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.  According to the Jewish community, police started an investigation and closed it after they learned that the persons who were responsible for the vandalism were minors who lacked legal culpability.

As of November, a criminal investigation of antisemitic messages painted in 2020 on a fence of a relative of a mayoral candidate in Suceava County was pending before the prosecutor’s office attached to the Radauti court.  The messages included the candidate’s name, a swastika, and an antisemitic slur.

At year’s end, a criminal investigation concerning the 2020 vandalism of a monument dedicated to the approximately 7,500 Jews transported to concentration camps from Targu Mures was still pending before the prosecutor’s office attached to the Targu Mures court.

At year’s end, a lawsuit involving three suspects charged in 2019 with the desecration of a grave in a Jewish cemetery in Husi was pending before the Husi court.  In 2020, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Vaslui tribunal indicted three suspects for destroying dozens of headstones in the Jewish cemetery.  According to media reports, in June, several teenagers smashed multiple windows of the 19th century synagogue in Orastie, located in the western part of the country.  Orastie municipal authorities condemned the incident and notified law enforcement.  Police identified the suspects and started a criminal investigation for destruction of property.

The MCA continued to report that online shops sold items, books, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and other publications promoting antisemitic messages.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 14 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Romania said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Twenty-five percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (28 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (29 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (19 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (22 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (29 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (28 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (20 percent); and “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (31 percent).

Russia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In December, the Pervomaisky District Court of Krasnodar sentenced Zoya Malova, a member of the “Citizens of the USSR” movement, to six years in prison for attempting to organize a contract killing of the head of the Jewish Community of Krasnodar.  The case against her codefendant, Alexander Dudrenko, remained pending at year’s end.  The SOVA Center stated antisemitism is a part of the group’s ideology.

In August, a man assaulted 82-year-old Vladimir Tselin and shouted antisemitic threats at him.  The case was under investigation at year’s end.

In November, the Izamilovo District Court sentenced Father Sergy Romanov, a former member of the ROC hierarchy, to four years in prison on charges of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide.  He had been arrested in December 2020 on suspicion of encouraging minors to commit suicide in his sermon entitled “For Faith in Christ, Let Us Face Death” that was posted on YouTube.  In 2020, the Verkhnepyshminsky City Court had fined Romanov after he made antisemitic remarks in a sermon, and a diocesan court in the Sverdlovsk Region stripped him of his religious rank.

In October, interfaith representatives took part in the first session of the Interreligious Group for the Protection of Rights and Believers from Discrimination and Xenophobia of the Council for Interaction with Religious Associations.  The council is under the authority of the Russian president.

According to a December survey conducted by the Levada Center, 29 percent of respondents agreed that the ROC had too large an influence on state policies, an increase from 17 percent in 2016.

Also in December, 22 percent of respondents surveyed by the Levada Center professed a negative attitude towards Jews, compared with 34 percent in a survey by the same organization in 2010.

The SOVA Center reported several cases of antisemitic vandalism.  In March, vandals drew a swastika on the gates of the Lyceum of Information Technologies in Novosibirsk.

On April 20, Hitler’s birthday, press reported that unknown persons set on fire the Shamir Jewish Community Center in Moscow, damaging the building’s balcony.  The perpetrators also spray painted a swastika and the word “death” on the building.  Also in April, a vandal painted antisemitic statements on the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Pushkin.

According to the SOVA Center, authorities investigated antisemitic social media posts.  In September, the Leninsky District Court in Smolensk agreed to hear a case against an individual who posted texts calling for antisemitic violence.  Also in September, the Gusinoozyorsky City Court sentenced an individual to two and a half years in prison for posting statements advocating violence against Jews.  In October, the Taganrog City Court of Rostov Region gave Sergei Shurygin a suspended sentence for creating and leading an antisemitic movement on social media.  Shurygin was not incarcerated but had to report to the penitentiary once a month.

The SOVA Center reported seven cases of vandalism against religious sites in the first six months of the year:  two Orthodox, two Jewish, two pagan, and one Protestant.  In all of 2020, the SOVA Center reported 29 incidents of religiously motivated vandalism.

Vandals also targeted other religious institutions and symbols.  In May, vandals painted a swastika on the wall of a disused church in Bronnitsa.  On August 30, vandals painted offensive inscriptions on the pagan temple in Bitsevsky Park in Moscow.  In June, vandals poured urine on the site.

In July, the Jewish community of Perm received a permit for construction of a Jewish Community center.  The SOVA Center stated that for several years, a group had opposed construction of the center.

On August 18, vandals desecrated the cemetery near the Trinity Cathedral in Nevel, knocking down crosses and damaging 16 tombstones.  Police detained local residents.

In September, vandals painted offensive inscriptions on the walls of a chapel and spring in Bogdanovka.  They reportedly also poured diesel fuel into the church’s well and the chapel’s font.

In October, authorities in Arkhangelsk opened a case against an individual for posting texts “against Orthodox believers.”

In February, two persons shot an air gun at a grocery store containing a halal market in St. Petersburg.

Local residents opposed the construction of churches, mosques, and other places of worship in Nizhny Novgorod, Ulyanovsk, Stupino, Irkutsk.  For example, in St. Petersburg, local residents opposed the construction of the Exaltation of the Cross Church on Krestovsky Island.  According to the SOVA Center, those opposed often complained about the choice of construction sites and the absence of public hearings.  In addition, the center stated public protests against the construction of mosques “often raise xenophobic arguments.”  In Stupino, for example, after buildings formerly used by the military were transferred to the Muslim community for the creation of an Islamic center; opponents distributed leaflets claiming the center could have a negative impact on interethnic conflicts and could lead to the introduction of “sharia norms.”  Some members of the city council supported opponents of the construction.  In Kazan, townspeople opposed the site chosen for construction of a mosque; debate was continuing at year’s end.

Rwanda

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders said numerous religious groups and associations contributed to greater religious understanding and tolerance by participating in interfaith activities and collaborating on public awareness campaigns and community development projects.  During the year, the Rwanda Interfaith Council, an organization comprising umbrella organizations representing all major faith communities, including Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, and Protestants, convened interfaith communities and coordinated their cooperation with one another and with the government on topics such as COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

Observers said religious organizations played a crucial role in meeting the humanitarian needs of poor and vulnerable citizens most affected by COVID-19.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The St. Kitts and Nevis Christian Council, which includes the Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, and Catholic Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association, including the Church of God and Pentecostal Assemblies, continued to promote joint activities that particularly encouraged tolerance for religious diversity in schools.  The president of the Evangelical Association reported interfaith dialogue between his association and the Christian Council continued on other topics, although the dialogue was less frequent due to COVID-19 restrictions.  The small Jewish community on the island of Nevis reported it had excellent relations with the Christian churches on the island and felt welcomed and supported, including being invited by Christians to share in holiday celebrations.

Saint Lucia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

An imam member of the Islamic Association said that individuals generally demonstrated respect for the Muslim community but reports of verbal street harassment continued to appear on social media.  One Rastafarian leader spoke positively of the “historic” impact on her community of the Prime Minister’s apology in parliament, describing the current status of Rastafarians as “unimaginable when I was growing up, when we were kept out of schools.”

The Christian Council continued to hold interdenominational meetings.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarians again said they were increasingly accepted in society, and overall, the country’s citizens were becoming more tolerant of their way of life – especially regarding their traditional cultivation of cannabis.  Observers said there was widespread and increasing use of cannabis on the country’s main island, which they believed suggested broader societal acceptance of its use.  Rastafarians stated, however, they still faced discrimination in both private and public employment and in some private schools.

Samoa

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Community leaders reported that there was strong societal pressure at the village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities in addition to supporting church leaders and projects financially.  Social media posts suggested that financial contributions often totaled more than a third of family income.

Some local denominations continued to own and operate their own television stations, which were available to other religious groups and nonreligious organizations for broadcasting the organizations’ messages.  The CCCS’s TV2 station, for example, was used primarily by the former opposition to convey its messages in the lead-up to and following the opposition’s victory in the 2021 general elections.

San Marino

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Sao Tome and Principe

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Saudi Arabia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, but local residents said self-censorship was common, given the risk of official reprisals.  While discussion of sensitive topics on social media was frequent, self-censorship on social media was believed to be widespread when discussing topics such as religion or the royal family.  Online discussions included disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  Terms like “rejectionists” (referring to Shia who view as illegitimate the first three caliphs that Sunni Muslims recognize as the Prophet Muhammad’s legitimate successors) which Shia consider insulting, and images of donkeys, comparing them to Shia, were occasionally found in social media discourse.

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi made several unofficial visits to the country to conduct outreach and offer religious services to Jewish residents.  His social media posts depict him in traditional Orthodox clothing and show positive experiences with Saudis, whom he publicly described as “happy” to have a rabbi in the kingdom.  International media described local residents as stopping to take photographs with the rabbi and offering Hebrew greetings.

Community members reported that individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity almost always did so in secret, fearing the reactions of family members and the threat of criminal charges, up to and including execution.  The NGO Open Doors reported that women in particular feared loss of parental rights or being subjected to physical abuse as a result of converting from Islam.

On October 31, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) told the Saudi-owned al Arabiya English-language news channel that the first-ever Jewish dating website, JSG, which stands for “Jewish Singles in the Gulf,” launched in the Gulf.  The aim of the website is to help unmarried Jews living in the country and its neighboring countries meet each other.

The global consulting firm PSB Insights conducted a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 35 percent of Saudi Arabian respondents said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, consistent with 34 percent regionwide.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Senegal

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In April, the spokesperson for the local Christian community, Guy Martial Diagne, filed a police complaint against marabout (Quranic teacher) Serigne Bara Sene in Diohine in the western part of the country, accusing him of inflammatory preaching while also attempting to convert members of the predominately Catholic local community to Islam.  Media said Bara Sene was also inciting violence against Catholics in his sermons.  The national gendarmerie intervened in subsequent clashes between members of Sene’s mosque and village youth.  Officials summoned a local chief as an intermediary to end the conflict.  The issue was resolved after the cleric’s father apologized and requested that his son leave the village immediately, which he did.  Local faith-based leaders also requested calm.

The country’s religious leaders continued to place a high value on tolerance and peaceful coexistence among faith-based communities.  The Khalifa of Medina, Baye Cheikh Mahi Nass, reiterated this message in a November 20 speech, stating, “Senegal belongs to us.  It is the duty of everyone to preserve it by banning all forms of violence, wherever they come from, and by cultivating … tolerance, peace, and work well done, for the development of this country.”

Local and international NGOs continued to highlight abuses of talibes at some daaras, where young children residing to learn Quranic teachings were sometimes forced by school leaders to beg on the streets to collect funds for the daaras.  The problem of forced begging in daaras remained widespread, according to several NGOs.

Local media and NGOs continued to report cases of physical and sexual abuse of daara students by some marabouts.  For example, a 2021 study by the NGO ENACTafrica said that some marabouts severely beat children who failed to collect a daily quota of alms.  In some communities, religious, NGO, and local government leaders sought to combat the problem.  The government continued to support a program of removing children from the streets, placing them in shelters, or returning them to their parents.  Local women’s groups also assisted in the care of children within daaras to prevent child begging.

Serbia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media reported three separate antisemitic incidents in Novi Sad and in Belgrade.  In January, unknown individuals defaced a tourism campaign billboard displaying a photo of Novi Sad’s synagogue by crossing out a Star of David and spray-painting Nazi SS insignia and a neo-Nazi Celtic cross.  In May, unknown individuals placed posters with swastikas and the message “We are Everywhere” in downtown Belgrade.  After this incident, Jewish leaders, on behalf of the Jewish community, which is a recognized legal entity within the Serbian legal system, filed criminal charges with the Republic Public Prosecutor, requesting that the prosecutor find the perpetrators and hold them responsible for incitement of religious and racial hatred.  In June, unknown persons spray-painted an elementary school playground in Belgrade with antisemitic messages.  At year’s end, authorities had not identified suspects in any of these incidents.

The International Republican Institute report Antisemitic Discourse in the Western Balkans:  Collection of Case Studies stated that monitored news sources rarely manifested instances of antisemitism, but individual’s comments and social media postings did.  These most often consisted of conspiracy theories involving Jews, Zionists, and the state of Israel and/or language blaming Jews for wars, poverty, COVID-19, and using financial influence to control states.

On October 26, opponents of COVID-19 vaccines and the government’s COVID-19 protection measures protested in front of the apartment of epidemiologist Predrag Kon, a member of the government COVID-19 Crisis Team and of the Jewish community, calling him, among other things, Josef Mengele.  On November 4, unknown perpetrators spray-painted “Kon=Mengele” on the building where Kon lives.  Government officials condemned the incidents.

Jewish leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic fed online antisemitic stereotypes and statements.  Jewish community leaders stated antisemitic works, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, continued to be available for purchase via online sales platforms.  Self-defined patriotic groups continued to maintain several websites, and individuals hosted chat rooms that promoted antisemitic ideas and literature.  There were no reported prosecutions.

In October and early November, unknown perpetrators vandalized the tomb of the late Mufti Hamdija Jusufspahic, located in downtown Belgrade.  Belgrade Deputy Mayor Goran Vesic publicly apologized to Jusufspahic’s family and called on authorities to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable.  At year’s end, the perpetrators had not been identified.

On the evening of December 24, while Christmas Eve Mass was taking place inside St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Belgrade, unknown individuals vandalized the church by tipping over a stand holding prayer candles and spray-painting on the exterior of the church “Fascists” and “Ratko Mladic is a Hero” (a reference to the Bosnian Serb military commander convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia).  At year’s end, the perpetrators had not been identified.

Some traditional and online media, as well as other websites, continued to use the term “sect” for smaller Christian denominations and nontraditional groups, which carried a strong negative connotation of “secrecy and mystifying rituals” in the Serbian language, according to anthropologist of religion Aleksandra Djuric Milovanovic, a research fellow at the Institute of Balkan Studies of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.  Many smaller or nontraditional religious groups reported some public bias and discrimination against their members.  Several Protestant groups continued to state that they believed the general public still mistrusted and misunderstood Protestantism and that individuals sometimes referred to some Protestant denominations as “sects.”

Several smaller religious groups, including the Christ Evangelical Church, the Anglican Church, and the Theravada Buddhist Community, said interfaith education and dialogue were needed among the broader religious community, and not only among the seven traditional groups.  They also reported that formal interfaith dialogue was minimal and sporadic.  The same groups also reported good cooperation with local SOC officials.

On February 18, the SOC elected Metropolitan Porfirije Peric as its 46th Patriarch.  On February 24, Patriarch Porfirije publicly highlighted the importance of ecumenical dialogue in the country and the region and spoke of how “the Church has a task to bring together and build bridges, soften blades, and overcome polarization.”

On October 10, the Jewish Community of Belgrade elected Aron Fuks as its new president.  None of the opposing candidates who participated in the election disputed the results.  The acceptance of the results avoided a repeat of the 2019 contested election for leadership of the Jewish Community of Belgrade, which Jewish leaders said led to significant tension within the community.

Seychelles

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Sierra Leone

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to IRC president Charles, disputes continued between Christians and Muslims regarding worship practices.  Muslims complained about the volume of worship services at charismatic, evangelical Christian churches, especially during times of prayer and the month of Ramadan.  Christians took issue with the volume of public address systems during the Islamic call to prayer, especially in the early morning hours.  The IRC proposed implementing a code of conduct for religious organizations to prevent these issues from recurring.  In March, it circulated a draft code of conduct to religious organizations for review and input.  The draft proposed establishing a minimum distance of three miles between Christian and Muslim places of worship in order to maintain peace.  The former IRC president said Christian and Muslim places of worship tended to be situated close to each other, resulting in continued disputes.  The draft had not been finalized by year’s end.

The emir of the country’s Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Saeed-ur-Rahman, said some Islamic scholars continued to preach against the group, but that discrimination had lessened since the group joined the IRC.  He said the Office of National Security and the Ministry of Social Welfare formulated policies discouraging other religious leaders from discrimination, which the government publicized through press releases and radio and television engagements.  The emir said foreign individuals belonging to the Sunni Islam missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat were recruiting agents for the Taliban and traveled from village to village preaching against other Islamic groups.  He said he feared an increased Tabligh Jamaat presence in the country would jeopardize the country’s religious harmony.

Most churches and mosques were registered with the Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship, or the UCI.  The IRC continued to coordinate with Christian and Muslim religious groups throughout the year, including through visits to each administrative district in the country, to discuss and promote religious harmony.  The IRC included only groups it deemed to be Christian or Muslim, excluding animists.  The head of the Rastafarians said the IRC, which had previously rejected the Rastafarians’ application to become members in 2018, instructed the group to reapply for IRC membership and advised Rastafarian leadership that its application would be discussed at the next general assembly meeting in November 2023.  Other church groups, including Pentecostal churches, continued to refuse to join the IRC and stated they rejected collaboration with Muslims.  The IRC made no decision regarding possibly revising its constitution to include groups other than Christians and Muslims, such as members of the Baha’i Faith.  The president of the IRC also stated that religious groups seeking to be members of the IRC should be officially recognized by the government and have been established in the country for more than five years.

Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims remained common, and many families had both Christian and Muslim members living in the same household.  Many individuals celebrated religious holidays of other religious groups, regardless of denomination, both at home and in houses of worship.

Singapore

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Institute of Policy Studies released three reports during the year on the country’s data for the World Values Survey, for which it interviewed 2,000 persons between November 2019 and March 2020.  Approximately two-thirds of respondents considered religion important, a drop from 76 percent in the 2002 and 2012 editions of the survey.  While 80.1 percent believed in God, 18.2 percent said God was not important in their lives.  Only 2 percent of respondents said they did not want to live next to people of a different race, religion, or language.  However, respondents were split on whether they trusted people of another religion, with those trusting other religions decreasing from 58.9 percent in 2012 to 50.2 percent in the 2021 survey.  Christians, Muslims, and Hindus were the only groups in which more than 50 percent trusted other religions.

In a September study by the Institute of Policy Studies on national identity and pride, the country’s “religious diversity and freedom” was one of the strongest sources of national pride with 74.3 percent of respondents saying they were proud or very proud of it.

Following the detentions of several individuals by the government because of religiously motivated terror plots, numerous bodies such as the interfaith IRO, MUIS, the Religious Rehabilitation Group, the Hindu Endowments Board, Hindu Advisory Board, Sikh Advisory Board, the National Council of Churches, Singapore Buddhist Federation, and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association released statements expressing concern about the plots and assured their commitment to continue building strong ties and trust among religious communities in the country.  Following the detention of the 16-year-old Christian for his planned attack on the two mosques, Mufti Nazirudin reminded Muslims of the need for mutual understanding and asked them in his Friday prayer to respond with kindness.  The National Council of Churches sent an assurance to the Muslim community that this was a single individual and met with Mufti Nazirudin at one of the two mosques targeted in the planned attack to discuss the incident.  After the detention of the 20-year-old Muslim for his planned attack on the synagogue was announced, Jewish and Muslim leaders reaffirmed their good relationship during a joint visit to the synagogue.  Mufti Nazirudin said, “Peace and harmony was a blessing and gift” that should never be taken for granted nor compromised.  Leaders of the affected religions also exchanged letters in which they reinforced that these were individual cases that would not negatively impact their interfaith relations.

Religious groups and civil society organizations continued to promote both interfaith and intrafaith understanding.  Ahead of their respective festive holidays, leaders of the different religious groups commonly exchanged letters conveying the well wishes of their communities to the other community as they celebrated these holidays.  Throughout the year, the Center for Interfaith Understanding, chaired by a Muslim and a Taoist, hosted a range of webinars, including on such subjects as Christian-Muslim relations and interfaith dialogue.  Shia and Sunni Muslims continued to cooperate and to share Sunni mosques.

In February, OnePeople.sg hosted a three-day virtual Model United Nations with 200 youths to improve their understanding on issues of race and to take a stand against prejudice.  Religious leaders from the IRO participated and led a dialogue on “Hosting better interfaith conversations.”

The IRO, which included leaders of the 10 largest religious groups in the country, had the stated objective of inculcating a spirit of friendship among various religious groups by conducting interreligious prayer services, seminars, and public talks throughout the year.  In May, the IRO urged Singaporeans to support each other regardless of race, religion, language, and nationality, and to uphold values of peace and respect among different racial groups and religions.  The call came amid an increase in reports on racially and religiously motivated incidents.

In response to tightened COVID-19 restrictions in May, leaders of six faith-based organizations – Jamiyah Singapore, the Buddhist Lodge, the Taoist Federation, the Hindu Endowments Board, the Hindu Advisory Board, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese – released a joint statement urging Singaporeans to stand united and strengthen solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The statement reminded followers that “our common threat and enemy is the virus, not the people or countries or their religions.”

In June, MUIS, the National Council of Churches, the Taoist Federation, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, and the Hindu Endowments Board participated in a pilot project in which tech companies Facebook, Google, Twitter, and TikTok taught them how to use social media and the digital sphere to educate people on issues of race and religion to counter the threat of online radicalization.

In June, the NGO Humanity Matters organized an interfaith dialogue with speakers representing Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism following several racially and religiously motivated incidents.  The discussion highlighted the need for interactions between different faiths and that the faith of one individual should not take precedence over others.

Following the killing of a 13-year-old student at a high school in July and a COVID-19 wave in the same month, IRO leaders in July met and recited an interfaith prayer.  Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman called it a “reflection of our strength as a society, spiritually coming together.”

During the annual IRO Day in August, Deputy PM Heng Swee Keat said that religion was a force for good but that it had also been “cynically exploited for secular motivations.”  He said the country was not immune to such fault lines, as it was the world’s most religiously diverse country, according to the Pew Research Center.  Heng praised the IRO for strengthening relationships between religious communities whenever there was a religiously-linked negative incident against a community.

In August, OnePeople.sg and IRCCs discussed the role of mosques in Islam and in promoting interfaith engagement in the country through the Harmony Center during a virtual dialogue.

The interfaith organization Roses of Peace continued to cooperate with OnePeople.sg on a “Regardless of Race” webinar series.  The Interfaith Youth Circle organized virtual interfaith conversations each month to offer interfaith exchanges when in-person meetings were not possible.  Throughout the year, the local interfaith organization Being Community also promoted awareness of religious diversity and discrimination through its #LikeThatThenHow series, in which individuals shared personal experiences.  The Harmony Center continued to promote religious diversity through different social media campaigns on Facebook and TikTok.

Slovakia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A representative of the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia stated the Muslim community continued to encounter difficulties in countering negative public attitudes partly because of the social stigma associated with not having the same legal benefits accorded to registered religious groups.  Representatives of other unregistered religious groups also stated that the public tended to view their activities with mistrust and perceive them as “fringe cults” because of their lack of official government recognition as a religious community.

The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia again reported continued online hate speech toward Muslims and refugees, which it attributed mostly to the social controversy ensuing from the 2015 European migration crisis and inflammatory anti-Muslim public statements by local politicians.  In October, in response to an invitation to a public discussion on Muslim history in the country, the organization received several hateful social media comments and direct messages.  One of the comments called for ban on “pedophilic, unconstitutional Islam, mosques, and prayer rooms” and for putting all sympathizers and organizations cooperating with Muslims on trial, while another message read, “Tick tock you…scabs.”  Muslim community leaders said they continued to perceive increased anti-Muslim sentiment compared with 2015 and earlier, and leaders continued to maintain a low profile regarding their activities and prayer rooms to avoid inflaming public opinion.

Police reported six cases of defamation of race, nation, or religious belief and four cases of incitement of national, racial, and ethnic hatred during the year, compared with 13 cases of defamation and 11 cases of incitement of hatred in 2020.  Police provided no further details.  According to the NGO Human Rights League, foreigners, refugees, and Muslims very rarely report hate-motivated incidents to police or to civil society organizations.

According to a survey regarding hate crimes against refugees and migrants in the country conducted from April to August by the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia and published in an August report by the Human Rights League, more than 65 of respondents believed it was more likely they would become victims of hate-motivated incidents than before the 2015 migration crisis.  Almost 60 percent of the 127 predominantly Muslim respondents surveyed said they or their family members had been victims of a hate crime, discrimination, bullying, threats, or intimidation because of their national origin or faith.  Half of them stated these incidents happened often.  Almost 20 percent of the respondents said they had encountered hate-motivated incidents in the past month.  According to the survey, only 59 percent of the respondents said they felt safe in the country.

The Center for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture released a study in May that showed an increasingly negative public attitude toward migrants in the country, including Muslim migrants.  A majority of respondents believed foreigners contributed to higher crime rates (65 percent) and worsened safety (62 percent).  According to the study, a majority also held negative attitudes toward a “refugee from Syria” (68 percent) and a “Muslim family” (64 percent).  A majority (54 percent) stated foreigners could practice their faith but should do so in private only, while 28 percent said non-Christian religions should not be allowed in the country.  Almost 82 percent of respondents perceived Islam as different, suspicious, or dangerous, with 43 percent, citing the religion as “very dangerous,” believing it should be banned.”

A survey conducted in July by pollster Focus Agency for the Milan Simecka Foundation, a local NGO, found that more than 56 percent of respondents believed that no Muslims from other countries should be allowed to move to or live in the country, with more than 46 percent believing the same for Hindus, while approximately 20 percent considered it “very important” that foreigners who move to Slovakia come from a Christian background.  According to an October survey among youth ages 15-29 and commissioned by the Youth Council of Slovakia, 42 percent of respondents would not like to have a Muslim as their neighbor, while 13 percent would not like their neighbor to be a Jew.

Sociologists and Jewish community leaders said antisemitism was increasing, citing repeated references by public officials to antisemitic conspiracy theories, consistent electoral support for extremist parties, hate speech on social media, and polling trends that found a steadily growing share of the population would have a problem with a Jewish family moving into their neighborhood.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019 to January 2020.  According to the survey, 20 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Slovakia said they had negative feelings towards Jews, and 25 percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (29 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (34 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (22 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (28 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (19 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (19 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (26 percent).

In October, the Supreme Court confirmed a verdict of the Specialized Criminal Court, which in 2019 found Tibor Eliot Rostas, editor in chief of Zem a vek (Earth and Age) magazine, guilty of defamation of race and nation for his antisemitic article titled, “Wedge of Jews Among Slavs.”  The court upheld the original 4,000 euro ($4,500) penalty, which Rostas paid in December, thus avoiding a three-month prison sentence.  Both Rostas and the prosecutor had appealed originally in 2019.  In the article, published in 2017 in Earth and Age, which several international supermarket chains removed from shelves following an initiative by local experts that labeled it a “conspiracy magazine,” Rostas wrote about centuries-long efforts of Jews to drive wedges among Slavs and destroy their traditions, culture, and values, using selected antisemitic quotes of prominent political figures from the country’s history.

Organizations the media characterized as far right – including the civic organization Museum of the Slovak Armed Forces 1939-1945 – continued to publish material and issue statements praising the antisemitic, Nazi-allied Slovak state government.  In July, members of the Associations of Slovak Intelligence – Roots, an umbrella platform for several nationalist civic associations that regularly praises government officials associated with the World War II Slovak state, rebutted criticism of the wartime state.  The group, whose Facebook page features a photograph of the wartime state president Jozef Tiso, organized a commemorative cleaning of Alexander Mach’s grave.  The associations also honored Mach, a supporter of Nazi Germany – who served as an interior minister in the wartime Slovak state government and was a commander of the Hlinka Guard, a paramilitary organization of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party that was also directly involved in deportations of Jews from the country – as “one of the most important Slovak nationalists in modern history.”

Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church continued an effort revived in 2019 for the beatification of Jan Vojtassak, a Slovak bishop whom the communist regime imprisoned and tortured.  Several experts and historians highlighted Vojtassak’s collaboration with the World War II fascist Slovak state, his active involvement in the Aryanization of Jewish property, and his antisemitic views.  A previous case for Vojtassak’s beatification, which was stopped by the Vatican in 2003, also led to protests by several Israeli historians and the Slovak Jewish community.

In July, President Caputova officially opened a renovated Jewish cemetery in Namestovo after volunteers from the local Pamataj (Remember) civic association completed their work on its restoration, following a 2019 incident during which unknown persons knocked over 75 gravestones.  The restoration was partially financed by funds volunteers collected through a crowdsourcing campaign.

On September 13, Pope Francis met with representatives of the Jewish community at the site of the Holocaust memorial in Bratislava, along with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.  During the event, participants stressed the importance of continuing mutual dialogue of the two faiths in the country.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a local NGO, together with the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia, continued to organize a series of public debates and school lectures across the country with a variety of religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Augsburg Lutheran, and Roman Catholic communities to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.  A public discussion took place on September 22 in the city of Martin for students of the local evangelical high school with an evangelical priest, rabbi, and imam as speakers.

Slovenia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On October 26, the Slovenian-based NGO Peace Institute published a study on discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, nationality, skin color, and religion in the country, finding such discrimination was particularly prevalent in the areas of employment and access to housing and health.  The study, carried out between May and September, consisted of an online survey of 814 randomly selected participants and included 400 hypothetical scenarios and 16 expert interviews.  Forty-one percent of respondents who identified as religious minorities said they had experienced discrimination based on their faith, particularly at work, in public, or on the internet.  Orthodox Christians reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of religion in 60 percent of cases, Muslims 44 percent, and Catholics 20 percent.

Vice chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Igor Vojtic expressed concern regarding what he described as negative attitudes towards Jews, especially, he said, among left-leaning citizens.  He said these attitudes likely stemmed more from sympathy towards Palestinians and opposition to Israeli policies than from pure antisemitism.

On February 2, unknown individuals spray-painted two swastikas and the word “Corruption?” on the door of Zavod Iskreni, a Christian NGO.  The NGO, best known for promoting “family and Christian values” and organizing antiabortion rallies, had received publicity for receiving funding from the Labor Ministry to conduct COVID-19 mitigation activities.  Similar funding went to other NGOs.  Authorities investigated the matter but took no enforcement action.

Media reported that on August 1, Urban Purgar, editor in chief of the privately run National Press Agency and president of its backer, the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Values, posted on Twitter, “Hitler is [a] hero.”  Ales Zalar, a former justice minister, tweeted in response to Purgar that glorifying the Nazi dictator was a criminal act.  “It is on the state prosecution to make a move,” he said.  “The reaction of the state’s criminal apparatus must be immediate and strict.”  Several political parties also condemned Purgar’s tweet.  The opposition party Marjan Sarec List demanded that the government and relevant authorities launch appropriate proceedings against Purgar.  The police and State Prosecutor’s Office in Ljubljana initiated a criminal investigation that was proceeding at year’s end.

On January 25, unknown individuals threw a balloon filled with paint on one of the exterior frescoes of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Ljubljana, a designated cultural monument, causing several thousand euros in damage.  Police investigated the incident as a suspected violation of the criminal code for damaging an asset of special cultural or natural value, which could lead to a maximum eight-year prison sentence, but they had not apprehended the culprits as of year’s end.  On January 26, a fire was set in the vicinity of a Catholic pastoral center in Ljubljana-Rudnik parish.  The Church described the incident as “Christianophobic.”

In March, Tadej Strehovec, secretary general of the Slovene Bishop’s Conference, stated that the community maintained good cooperation with the country’s police, and he cited a police program that teaches bishops self-defense and how to implement security measures for religious properties.

In May, an unknown individual poured red liquid and scattered pieces of meat over three Islamic graves in a cemetery in Domzale.  Police investigated the incident as a crime of public incitement of hatred, violence, or intolerance.  The Muslim community condemned the incident, which remained under investigation at year’s end.

In June, Mufti Grabus said there were no serious restrictions on religious freedom in the country and expressed interest in seeing a madrassah established so that Muslims could be “better rooted” in the country.

The Orthodox community’s only church remained in Ljubljana.  Orthodox representatives in Koper and Celje continued to express interest in establishing additional churches.  The Orthodox community in Koper held services at a local Catholic church, in keeping with the Catholic Church’s practice of routinely granting access for local Orthodox communities to host events and religious ceremonies.

On November 9, the Jewish community reopened the Ljubljana Synagogue following a renovation that spanned several years.  President Pahor, Rabbi for Slovenia Ariel Haddad, Archbishop Zore, and Mufti Poric were among the attendees.  During the renovation, the only synagogue in the country had been located in Maribor.

Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant communities continued to report productive relations among members of different religious groups, including active interfaith dialogues at virtual and in-person workshops and conferences.

Solomon Islands

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There was severe civil unrest throughout Honiara from November 24-26 as an initially peaceful protest of individuals from the province of Malaita at the nation’s Parliament House turned into three days of looting, arson, and destruction.  Rioters burned down the Parliament’s “Leaf House,” most of Chinatown, and other buildings in Honiara including the Pacific Light Baptist Church.  The Central Bank of Solomon Islands estimated the destruction’s adverse impact on the economy at SBD 534 million ($67.71 million).  During the period of unrest, major news sources in the country ran articles stating that members of society sought moral leadership from the religious community.  Church leaders from SICA and Solomon Islands Full Gospel Association (SIFGA) submitted a letter to the Prime Minister and the Premiers of Malaita and Guadalcanal Provinces to call for dialogue.  Honiara-based Seventh-day Adventists called on Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, an Adventist elder, to seek wisdom from the Seventh-day Adventist Church amid the political crisis.  President of the Adventist Church Silent Tovosia appealed to all members to refrain from involvement in illegal acts.  Anglican Church of Melanesia Archbishop Leonard Dawea said, “Solomon Islands has failed again as a Christian nation following the violence and destruction which happened in Honiara.”

The five largest religious groups that comprise SICA continued to play a leading role in civic life, organizing joint religious activities and encouraging religious representation at national events and religious events organized around Solomon Islands independence celebrations.

Members of minority faith groups said that members of dominant religious groups ridiculed their beliefs, publicly shamed them, and spread rumors alleging violence to stoke fear within society.  Members of the Chinese community stated that some Christians criticized them, saying they were anti-Christian and faithless.

Somalia

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There reportedly continued to be strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions.

Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas and continued to be socially unacceptable in all, while individuals suspected of conversion and their families were reportedly subject to harassment from members of their local communities.

Christians and members of other non-Muslim religious groups continued to report an inability to practice their religion openly due to fear of societal harassment across most of the country.  The small Christian community continued to keep a low profile with regard to religious beliefs and practices.  Other non-Islamic groups likely also refrained from openly practicing their religion.

There continued to be no public places of worship for non-Muslims other than in the international airport compound.

The only Catholic church in Somaliland remained closed, and observers stated that its reopening would be controversial.  The church was briefly reopened in 2017 but was closed again by authorities, under public pressure.

Private schools continued to be the main source of primary education.  The majority offered religious instruction in Islam.  Quranic schools remained key sources of early education for most children.  The education system also includes Islamic institutes that run parallel to general primary education and general secondary education and that result in an Islamic education certificate.  Externally funded madrassahs throughout the country provided inexpensive basic education, and many taught Salafist ideology, especially in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, according to observers.

Although reliable data was hard to obtain, especially in the rural areas, the majority of young children appeared to be enrolled in Quranic schools, which fell under the authority of the Federal Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and were typically managed by community-level organizations.  According to government documents, parents remained the primary source of funding of all schooling in the country, but many Quranic schools received funding from external sources.  The Federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education stated it was beginning to develop a preprimary curriculum, but general implementation, and particularly acceptance by Quranic schools, was unclear.

South Africa

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In September, a famous mural in Cape Town of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was defaced with racial slurs.  The artist restored the mural in time for Tutu’s 90th birthday in October, and at year’s end, the matter remained under investigation by the city of Cape Town.

The SAJBD recorded 65 antisemitic incidents during the year.  Numerous individuals made antisemitic comments verbally, by mail, and across social media throughout the year.  The SAJBD reported, “The rhetoric both in online forums and at public gatherings was more threatening and inflammatory; there was a pronounced rise in instances of intimidation, ‘cancel culture’ tactics against those (usually but not always Jews) who stepped out of line, and the most widespread and sustained series of anti-Jewish boycott initiatives to have been attempted in the country for over half a century.”  More than half of the incidents occurred in May during and after hostilities erupted between Israel and Hamas.  A number of cases of threats, intimidation, and physical and verbal assault against Jewish South Africans were reported to the South African Police Services in May.

After a series of unprecedented violent attacks across various provinces on mosques and congregants in 2018 and the burning of a Durban mosque in February 2019, there were no published reports of anti-Muslim incidents during the year, unlike in previous years.  A press spokesperson for a political party said that she was unaware of any violence targeting Muslims or mosques in Western Cape Province during the year, unlike in previous years.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial scheduled for early 2022 on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities law.  The brothers, along with two others who were alleged to have links to ISIS, were arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria and at Jewish and Shia institutions in the country.  In October, the Supreme Court of Appeal again denied their request for bail.

South Korea

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to an Ipsos survey published in June, 78 percent of respondents perceived “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of societal tension among different religions.

In February, residents of the Buk-gu District in Daegu submitted a petition to the district office opposing the construction of a mosque near Kyungpook National University, and media reported some residents protested the construction with banners displaying racist comments and anti-Muslim slurs.  In the same month, the Buk-gu District Office issued an administrative order suspending construction of the mosque, pending resolution of residents’ complaints about the project.  The Daegu Muslim community, including approximately 150 Muslim graduate students at Kyungpook National University, began constructing the mosque in December 2020 after purchasing land and securing relevant building permits.  A resident stated the mosque was “encroaching” on their village, and a university professor told reporters the mosque’s placement in the university district – a neighborhood without a high concentration of migrant workers – contributed to the complaints.  The NHRCK stated the district office ordered suspension of construction of the building after receiving one-sided civil complaints that appeared to be based solely on its being an Islamic place of worship.  The Korean Muslim Federation said the district office did not provide any explanation or alternative solutions, calling it an instance of anti-Muslim persecution.  Although the Daegu District Court ruled in July that the suspension order was inappropriate, residents continued to position vehicles to block the entrance to construction vehicles and materials.  According to the student group, some residents also targeted students by releasing their personal information on social media and by placing anti-Muslim banners at their children’s schools.

In a December ruling, the Daegu District Court, citing two legal grounds, said the Buk-gu District Office’s February administrative order to suspend construction of the mosque was illegal.  First, the district office did not notify the building owners in advance or provide them with an opportunity to address the complaint.  Second, the suspension order was based solely on complaints from neighbors, which the court said was not a valid legal reason to interfere with the building owners’ rights.  At year’s end, the issue was unresolved and construction of the mosque remained suspended.

Critics of the government’s decision to evacuate and resettle 391 Afghan “persons of special merit” in August expressed their opposition on social media and via online petitions.  One online petition urging President Moon Jae-in “not to accept refugees” garnered more than 30,000 signatures, below the 200,000-signature threshold that would require the government to respond.  The person who uploaded the petition also stated online that the country already had enough “zealots,” and that the “introduction of Islam” by the 391 Afghans would “exacerbate the situation and expose the country to terrorism.”

Criticism continued on social media of Christian denominations that were at the center of COVID-19 outbreaks in the country with cluster infections in 2020-2021, but several religious leaders, including from groups belonging to the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace, stated the criticism was at a reduced level.  A University of Chicago article on the impact of the pandemic on Christianity in the country reported that some small shops and restaurants displayed signage temporarily refusing service to Christians.

During the year, the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace organized several programs to promote interfaith tolerance.  For example, in November, it held seminars to discuss delays in the Daegu mosque construction project and to raise awareness of Islam.

South Sudan

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On August 16, unidentified gunmen killed three persons, including two nuns, in an ambush on the Juba-Nimule road, which connects the capital to Uganda.  By year’s end, neither government forces nor opposition militias claimed responsibility for the deaths, with both parties accusing the other of culpability.  According to media reports, in April, unidentified gunmen broke into the home of the Italian-born Roman Catholic Bishop-designate of Rumbek, shot him in both legs, and fled.  He was subsequently transferred to Nairobi, Kenya for medical treatment.  At year’s end, the motives for the attacks remained unclear and the perpetrators unidentified.

The country’s religious institutions remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country, according to researchers and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Christian and Muslim religious leaders regularly communicated and coordinated activities, part