Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  On June 28, the Constitutional Court overturned its previous 2004 and 2011 rulings and found unconstitutional a provision of the law that calls for up to three years in prison for those who refuse to serve in the military without “justifiable” reasons, arguing that it failed to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  The ruling required the government to amend the law by December 31, 2019 to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  On November 1, the Supreme Court ruled “conscience or religious beliefs” a justifiable reason for refusing mandatory military service, while overturning a lower court ruling in which a Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 18 months in prison.  On November 30, press reported the government decided to release on parole 58 conscientious objectors who had been imprisoned prior to the Supreme Court ruling.  According to Watchtower International, a Jehovah’s Witnesses-affiliated nongovernmental organization (NGO), 57 conscientious objectors were released on parole and eight Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in prison as of December for conscientious objection to military service, down from 277 the previous year.  It also reported 938 pending such cases in the courts as of December including 89 cases in the Supreme Court and 37 cases under investigation.  The number of conscientious objectors on trial was the highest in 11 years, while the number of conscientious objectors in prison was the lowest in 11 years, according to the NGO.  In December the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) granted temporary one-year humanitarian permits to 412 of 500-plus Yemenis, most or all of whom were Muslim, who applied for asylum after entering Jeju Province on a visa-free program.  Yemenis were excluded from the visa-free program in June.

The influx of Yemeni asylum seekers to Jeju spurred protests against the country’s special visa-free entry program for Yemenis and certain other nationals.  The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) reported 21 cases alleging religious discrimination as of December.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged with senior government officials, NGO representatives, and religious leaders on issues related to religious freedom, including the imprisonment of conscientious objectors.  The Ambassador met with the President of the Constitutional Court to discuss the court’s ruling on conscientious objectors and the positive effect the ruling would have on the ability of religious minorities to express their religious beliefs and act according to their faith.  The Ambassador also met with leaders of the Anglican, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic communities to discuss and underscore the U.S. commitment to religious freedom.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution states that all citizens have freedom of religion, and that there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social, or cultural life because of religion.  Freedoms in the constitution may be restricted by law only when necessary for national security, law and order, or public welfare, and restrictions may not violate the “essential aspect” of the freedom.  The constitution states that religion and state shall be separate.

The law requires active military service for virtually all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 40, followed by reserve duty training.  The Ministry of National Defense reported that starting in October the length of compulsory military service would gradually shrink from 21-24 months to 18-22 months, depending on the branch of service.  The law currently does not allow for alternative service options for conscientious objectors, who are subject to a maximum three-year prison sentence for refusing to serve in the military.  Conscientious objectors sentenced to more than 18 months in prison are exempt from military service and reserve duty obligations and are not subject to additional sentences or fines.

Those who complete their military service obligation and subsequently become conscientious objectors are subject to fines for not participating in mandatory reserve duty exercises.  The reserve duty obligation lasts for eight years, and there are several reserve duty exercises per year.  The fines vary depending on jurisdiction but typically average 200,000 Korean won ($180) for the first conviction.  Fines increase by 100,000 to 300,000 won ($90 to $270) for each subsequent conviction.  The law puts a ceiling on fines at 2 million won ($1,800) per conviction.  Civilian courts have the option, in lieu of levying fines, to sentence individuals deemed to be habitual offenders to prison terms or suspended prison terms that range from one day to three years.

In June the Constitutional Court ruled that the government must provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors by December 31, 2019.  On November 1, the Supreme Court ruled that conscientious objection was a valid reason to refuse mandatory military service.  The rulings did not address the status of conscientious objectors already convicted and serving time in prison.  While the Constitutional Court has the authority to rule on the constitutionality of national laws, the Supreme Court decides how these laws would apply to individual cases.

According to regulation, a religious group that has property valued at over 300 million won ($269,000) may become a government recognized religious organization by making public internal regulations defining the group’s purpose and activities, meeting minutes of the group’s first gathering, and a list of executives and employees.

To obtain tax benefits, including exemption of acquisition or registration taxes when purchasing or selling property to be used for religious purposes, organizations must submit to their local government their registration as a religious and nonprofit corporate body, an application for local tax exemption, and a contract showing the acquisition or sale of property.  Individual religious leaders previously were eligible to receive tax benefits on earned yearly income.  A revision to the Income Tax Act, which took effect in January, eliminated tax exemptions on earned income for all clergy.  Education, food, transportation, and childcare expenses remain exempt from taxation for clergy.  Individual practitioners remain eligible for income tax benefits upon submitting receipts of donations made to religious organizations.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools.  Private schools are free to conduct religious activities.

The law provides government subsidies to historic cultural properties, including Buddhist temples, for their preservation and upkeep.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) Religious Affairs Division works with major religious groups on interfaith solidarity and interactions between religious organizations and the government.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to detain and imprison conscientious objectors to military service.  Most conscientious objectors refused military service for religious reasons, and most were sentenced to 18 months in prison.  While absolved of any military obligation after serving time in prison, conscientious objectors still had a criminal record that could affect future employment opportunities, including limitations on holding public office or working as a public servant.

On November 30, press reported that the government would release on parole 58 conscientious objectors who had been imprisoned.  Those individuals were eligible for parole because they had finished one-third of their sentence.  Watchtower International said that 57 conscientious objectors were released on parole and reported in December eight Jehovah’s Witnesses remained in prison for conscientious objection to military service.  The total number of such prisoners declined from 277 in the previous year.

As of June Watchtower International estimated that more than 19,350 conscientious objectors had been imprisoned since 1950.  The organization reported 938 cases pending in the courts, including 89 cases in the Supreme Court and 37 cases under investigation as of December.  Another 46 Jehovah’s Witnesses were under investigation for refusing to participate in reserve forces training.  The number of conscientious objectors on trial was at its highest in 11 years, while the number of conscientious objectors in prison was at its lowest in 11 years.

As of December the lower courts had issued 85 “not guilty” decisions in conscientious objection cases, in contrast to 44 in 2017, seven in 2016, and six in 2015.

On June 28, the Constitutional Court, after deliberating for nearly three years, ruled that a provision of the law on conscription was unconstitutional since it failed to provide for alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  In 2004 and again in 2011, the Constitutional Court had deemed the conscription law constitutional.  The new court ruling required the government to amend the law by December 31, 2019 to provide alternative service options for conscientious objectors.  The Ministry of National Defense began drafting a bill for conscientious objectors after the ruling.

On August 30, the Supreme Court heard several cases of conscientious objectors.  On November 1, it ruled that conscientious objection was a valid reason to refuse mandatory military service while overturning a lower-court ruling in which a Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

On November 22, Seoul Central District Court convicted Lee Jae-rock, the pastor of a megachurch, of raping eight women dozens of times and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.  He had told the women that he was carrying out “an order from God.”

In July police arrested Shin Ok-ju, head pastor of the Grace Road Church, as well as three other senior members, on charges of forced confinement and physical assault in conjunction with a 400-member Church-owned compound in Fiji.  Former members of the Church said they were instructed to beat each other in order to get rid of evil spirits and were not free to leave the compound.  The Church denied the accusations.  As of the end of the year, the investigation was ongoing.

Religious organizations continued to express concern that a new tax law, which went into effect in January, imposed income tax on specified benefits for religious leaders that were not actual income.  Organizations were also concerned about distinguishing taxation on religious activities from taxation on religious leaders as individuals.

Media sources reported the Seoul city government spent 200 million won ($179,000) to provide prayer rooms at popular tourist destinations in order to attract more Muslim tourists.

The MCST’s Religious Affairs Division supported various religious events, co-hosted by religious leaders, including the Korean Religious and Cultural Festival in November and North Jeolla Province’s World Religious and Cultural Festival in September.  During the year, the ministry spent a total of 5.7 billion won ($5.11 million), with 2.2 billion won ($1.97 million) for Buddhist events, 1.3 billion won ($1.17 million) for Confucian cultural activities, 872 million won ($782,000) for Cheondogyo events, 733 million won ($658,000) for Christian events, and 483 million won ($433,000) for Won Buddhist events.  According to the Korea Conference of Religions for Peace (KCRP), the MCST had little to no collaboration hosting events with the Jewish Community during the year.

Between January and May 552 Yemenis, most or all of whom were Muslim, arrived on a visa-free program to Jeju Province and then applied for asylum.  On June 1, the government enacted a ban on additional visa-free entry for Yemenis to Jeju and on travel to the mainland.  By December the MOJ granted temporary one-year humanitarian permits to 412 of the asylum-seeking Yemenis.  It rejected 56, of which 14 were dismissed because the applicants withdrew their appeals or violated immigration rules.  Two were granted asylum.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The government continued to ban the use of marijuana, including for religious activities, which affects some practitioners of the Rastafarian religion.  Civil society sources stated Rastafarians still faced some police harassment for the possession and use of marijuana, but on a legal, not religious, basis.  The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of children before enrolling in school, but it offered waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children.

According to media reports, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, particularly in seeking private sector employment.  Media also reported some businesses continued to place restrictions on dreadlocks in some instances when required by safety and hygiene regulations.

U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government and civil society on religious freedom issues, including government promotion of religious diversity and tolerance, equal treatment under the law, and the required vaccination of children entering the school system.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion.  It prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.

The Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security, and Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for registering religious groups.  Religious groups are not required to register, but doing so provides the government with a database of contacts through which it disseminates information on government policy for religious groups.  Registration also allows religious groups to act as charities and import religious items duty-free.

The constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain schools at the religious community’s own expense.  Public schools offer Christian religious instruction, daily prayers, and religious assemblies; students who do not want to attend are exempt from all religious activities.  Public schools require vaccinations for children to attend school.

The government prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.

The law does not prohibit the wearing of dreadlocks; however, businesses may restrict it for safety or hygiene reasons.  Occupational safety and health legislation requires all employees, including those with dreadlocks, to cover their hair when using dangerous equipment, handling food, or undertaking health-related activities.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Civil society and representatives of the Organization for Rastafarian Unity (ORU) stated that police sometimes stopped Rastafarians for marijuana use and possession but did not single out or harass them specifically because of their religion.

The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of all children before enrolling in school, but ORU sources said the government allowed waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children attending public schools.  Some children of the Rastafarian community were home schooled, but statistics were not available.

Prison officials allowed Rastafarian prisoners to keep their dreadlocks unless they posed health-related issues or used them to transport contraband.  The prison did not provide different diets based on prisoners’ religious dietary restrictions.

On August 21, media reported that the government met with Christian religious leaders to discuss programs to address societal issues including youth crime, gangs, and other antisocial behavior.  The same report noted the government regularly collaborated with Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian religious leaders as part of the government’s strategy to engage social partners in policy development.

The government allowed Rastafarian groups equal access to public venues for religious celebrations.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing.  Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines.  Rastafarians said they continued to face discrimination in the school system because the Ministry of Education required vaccinations for all children attending school; Rastafarians continued to oppose vaccination, which they stated was part of their religious beliefs.  Government officials and Rastafarian community members said some Rastafarian families decided to vaccinate their children or to homeschool.  They also reported national insurance plans did not cover traditional doctors used by the Rastafarian community.  Rastafarians said the number of targeted searches by police and immigration officers decreased during the year.  They also reported that officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue and outreach with the Rastafarian community.

According to the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community continued to experience occasional harassment when they wore head coverings and clothing that identified them as Muslim.  The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean continued to hold interfaith meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

U.S. embassy officials discussed respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for ecclesiastical affairs.  Embassy officials also met and discussed issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution states “a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of” freedom of conscience, including of thought and religion, and in the manifestation and propagation of religion or belief through practice, worship, teaching, and observance.  It protects individuals’ rights to change their religion and prohibits religious instruction without consent in schools, prisons, and military service.  A blasphemy law is not enforced.

The Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government is responsible for ecclesiastical affairs, implements the government’s policy on faith-based organizations, and meets regularly with religious groups to address their concerns.  The government requires religious groups to register with the ministry if their membership exceeds 250 individuals.  To register, groups must provide contact information, an organization’s establishment date and history, declaration of belief, number of members, location of meeting place, and income sources.  The government “incorporates” registered groups, which are eligible to receive associated benefits, while it treats unregistered groups as for-profit organizations for taxation purposes.  After the religious group registers with the ministry, it may apply for concessions, including duty-free import privileges and exemption from some labor requirements.

Ministry of Education regulations require the vaccination of all schoolchildren, regardless of religious beliefs, before they enter public or private school.  The public school curriculum includes religious studies; the Ministry of Education does not require students to participate in these classes.  The classes familiarize students with the core beliefs of world religions, rather than promoting the adoption of any particular faith.  The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction at their own expense.  The Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Anglican Churches each sponsor private schools, where they teach their respective religious beliefs to their students.  The government provides approximately 50 percent of the funding for these schools.  All students may attend private religious schools regardless of belief or nonbelief.

The government’s registration policy defines the process for missionary work and labor permits.  Immigration authorities grant work permits for individuals entering the country to conduct missionary work.  As long as an individual is law abiding, there are no restrictions on any category of foreign missionaries.

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

Government Practices

The Rastafarian community stated officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue with their community leaders and outreach with the broader Rastafarian community.  The primary dialogue topic was encouraging the government to legalize marijuana.

Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines.  Rastafarians said, however, the number of targeted searches by police and immigration officers decreased during the year.  They also stated Ministry of Education regulations requiring the vaccination of schoolchildren to enter school continued to represent a barrier because Rastafarians do not believe in vaccinating their children.  Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children so they could attend school; others chose to homeschool.  Rastafarians stated the lack of insurance coverage for traditional doctors some Rastafarians used continued to be a problem.

The government continued to consult with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies, as well as the Christian Council, comprising representatives of the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations, on issues relevant to their communities.  It also continued its informal meetings with members of the Rastafarian community on pending legislation and policies, including recognizing marriages and issues surrounding school attendance.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion.  Rastafarians continued to disagree with the government’s ban on marijuana, stating it was integral to their religious rituals.  They said, however, that draft legislation introduced in September allowing marijuana use for religious purposes, if passed, would positively affect their community.  The possibility of exemption from vaccinations currently required for school enrollment remained under discussion between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children.  Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information officials continued to permit dreadlocks at some workplaces, such as construction sites, provided they were covered with appropriate headgear when health and safety considerations required it.

Rastafarians said they still faced societal discrimination because of their religious practices, in particular their marijuana use.  Some Rastafarians stated, however, that they believed societal acceptance of and tolerance for Rastafarians continued to increase, noting the draft legislation on marijuana use and cultivation introduced in parliament as an example of a positive change in societal attitudes.

Embassy officials continued to raise the issue of Rastafarian dreadlocks with the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information and with the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, and Youth.  Embassy officials also met with individuals from the Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian communities to discuss governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities.  The embassy used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution affirms the country “is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God.”  A person has the right to freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion and freedom to change his or her religion or belief.  In addition, he or she has the freedom to practice his religion, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private.  An anti-blasphemy law exists, but it is not enforced.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish schools and provide religious instruction to those wishing to receive it.  Students in public schools receive nondenominational religious instruction based on Christianity.  Christian prayers are recited at school assemblies; attendance and participation are not mandatory.  Students wishing to opt out of Christian prayer or religious education classes are excused from participation.  By law, vaccinations are required for school enrollment in all schools receiving government funding.  Home schooling is also an option.

The law prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.

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

Government Practices

Rastafarian activists continued to state they disagreed with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use, which they described as integral to their religious rituals.  Legislation was introduced in September to permit marijuana use for religious activities.  The proposed legislation would decriminalize the use of marijuana in adherence to a religious practice by religious bodies to include, but not limited to, Rastafarians.  Reactions to the proposal ranged from support for marijuana use for religious purposes from the Rastafarian community and the current administration to concern expressed by members of the opposition party as well as other religious groups that the proposal was advanced too quickly through parliament.

The Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information said accommodations permitted dreadlocks for Rastafarians at some workplaces, including construction sites, with appropriate headgear called a Tam or Rastacap, which is similar to an elongated ski cap.  Rastafarians, however, cited the continued prohibition of dreadlocks in certain work areas and in some private schools.  According to Rastafarians, vaccinations as a requirement for school enrollment continued to remain an area of contention between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children.  Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children; others chose homeschooling.  Some Rastafarians said they still faced scrutiny from police and immigration officials due to their marijuana use.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion, and it defines the country as a Christian nation.  There was a dispute between the government and the largest church over a new tax on the income of ministers of religion.  In June, however, parliament adopted a law that amended the taxation of pastors to exempt income they receive as donations from funerals, weddings, and other traditional occasions.  Media reported, as of November, authorities charged eight pastors of the Christian Congregational Church for not filing their tax returns.  The minister of revenue subsequently charged additional pastors, making a total of at least 16 charged by the end of the year.  The cases of all the pastors were adjourned until February 2019.

There were continued reports that village leaders resisted attempts by new religious groups to establish themselves in village communities, forbade individuals to belong to churches outside their village, and did not permit individuals to abstain from participating in worship services.  There was reportedly strong societal pressure at the village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, and in some cases to give large proportions of household income to support church leaders and projects.  A national report on the prevalence of domestic violence cited church monetary obligations as a contributing factor to hardship and family violence.

The U.S. embassy maintained contact with various religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion.  This right may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” by law in the interests of national security or public order, health, or morals, or protecting the rights of others.  Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private citizens as well as government officials.  The preamble to the constitution describes the country as “an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions.”  In 2017, the parliament added the following clause to the first article of the constitution:  “Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

The government does not require religious groups to register, but groups have the option to register as a charitable trust with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor.  Registration is free, with a simple application.  Becoming a charitable trust entitles groups to receive tax exemptions and legal status.  Unregistered religious groups may not formally buy property or pay employees.  Religious groups may be established on community land or on land owned by their leader.

The constitution provides that no one may be forced to take religious instruction in a religion other than his or her own, and gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools.  The government enforces an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools.  There is no opt-out provision.

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

Government Practices

Reportedly, matai councils, the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the ground of “maintaining harmony within the village” – a duty prescribed in legislation.  Observers continued to report that in many villages throughout the country, leaders forbade individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship.  Villagers in violation of such rules faced fines, banishment from the village, or both.

Traditionally, villages have tended to have one primary Christian church.  Village chiefs often have chosen the religious denomination of their extended families.  Many larger villages have had multiple churches serving different denominations and coexisting peacefully.

Ten or more chaplains continued to be available to prisoners on a rotational basis, covering the majority of Christian denominations in the country.

An amended income tax law, passed in 2017 and including the taxing of ministers of religion, became effective January 1.  The Christian Congregational Church refused to abide by this law.  The government was reportedly seeking to collect unpaid taxes from personal bank accounts and assets of pastors.  In June, however, parliament adopted a new bill that amended the taxation of pastors to exempt income they receive as donations from funerals, weddings, and other traditional occasions; nonetheless, pastors continued to oppose the tax.  The Christian Congregational Church reportedly approved of the change.  Media reported, as of November, authorities charged eight pastors of the Christian Congregational Church for not filing their tax returns.  The minister of revenue subsequently charged additional pastors, making a total of at least 16 by the end of the year, and said, “We have given church ministers eleven months, and those who continue to defy the law will face the consequences.”  The cases of all the pastors were adjourned until February 2019.

According to media, the report of the National Inquiry into Domestic Violence released during the year placed some blame on churches for their lack of effort to curb such incidents.  According to press reports, in December at a forum to discuss the report, the chairman of the Samoan National Council of Churches said increasing domestic violence was a result of individuals violating God’s law and called for the government to work with the churches to formulate a national day of repentance.

Public ceremonies typically began with a Christian prayer.  The prime minister, while discussing family violence, said citizens should “demonstrate [their] dedication to the Fa’asamoa [the ways of Samoa] and Christian values upon which this country [was] founded.”

San Marino

Executive Summary

The law prohibits religious discrimination, prevents restrictions on religious freedom, and includes provisions for prosecuting religious hate crimes.  An agreement with the Holy See, ratified in September, confirmed Catholic religious instruction must be offered in all public schools, but the law guarantees the right of nonparticipation without penalty.  Catholic symbols remained common in government buildings.  In August at a Catholic-organized annual conference in Rimini, Italy, the foreign minister advocated dialogue and religious freedom while on a panel with the secretary general of the Muslim World League.

In June a local bank organized a conference on interreligious dialogue, and, in October the University of San Marino participated in an event to remember the introduction of anti-Semitic “racial laws” in Italy and San Marino in 1938.

During periodic visits, officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Florence, Italy, continued to stress the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits religious-based discrimination and restrictions on religious freedom, except for the protection of public order and general welfare.  The criminal code provides for possible prison terms of six months to three years for any discrimination, including that based on religion.  Discrimination on the basis of religion can also constitute an aggravating circumstance for other types of crime.  In these cases, the penalty may be increased.  The law includes provisions for prosecuting hate crimes and speech that defiles religious groups, with violators subject to imprisonment from three months to one year.

The law forbids media professionals from generating and spreading information that may discriminate against someone on the basis of religion, among other factors.  Anyone may report a case to the Authority for Information, a government body, which may take disciplinary action.  The authority may issue sanctions for a violation of the code, ranging from a warning to censure, suspension, and/or removal from the professional register.  These sanctions are in addition to the ones already provided in the criminal code.

The law allows taxpayers to allocate 0.3 percent of their income tax payments to the Catholic Church or to other religious or secular groups recognized as nonprofit organizations.  Religious organizations must be legally recognized in the country to receive this benefit.  To obtain legal recognition, religious organizations are required to submit evidence to the government of nonprofit activities and annual reports.  The government may periodically audit and inspect organizations, require them to submit additional documentation, and investigate any complaints from organization members or third parties.

There are no private religious schools, and the law requires religious education in public schools.  Only Catholic religious instruction is offered in public schools.  In September the country ratified a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that granted Catholic instruction equal status with other subjects taught in schools.  The agreement also stipulates the Catholic curriculum will be subject to a future agreement between the Ministry of Education and the Catholic Bishop of San Marino-Montefeltro.  The current state-approved Catholic curriculum includes comparisons between Christianity and other religions and between the Bible and other religious texts.  Teachers are selected by the church and may be religious or lay.  Religious instruction is funded by the government.  The law guarantees students the right to opt out of religious instruction without penalty.  Students (or the parents, if the student is younger than 18) must choose to opt out at the beginning of each school year.

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

Government Practices

As of 2017, the last year for which data were available, approximately 110 nonprofit organizations (down from 130 in the previous year) received contributions from taxpayers in accordance with the law.  The government did not indicate how many of these organizations were religious, but among them were the Catholic Church, a number of Catholic associations, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Catholic symbols remained common in government buildings.  Crucifixes continued to hang on courtroom and government office walls.  The government continued to maintain a public meditation and prayer site in the capital for use by worshippers of any religion.

In August Foreign Affairs Minister Nicola Renzi advocated dialogue and religious freedom at an annual event organized by an Italian Catholic movement in Rimini, Italy.  His conference panel included the secretary general of the Muslim World League.

Sao Tome and Principe

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and equality for all, irrespective of religious belief.  It grants religious groups autonomy and the right to teach their religion.  Religious groups must register with the government.

Religious leaders affirmed good relations among religious groups.

U.S. embassy staff based in Gabon, in periodic visits to the country, met with key government officials in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and religious leaders to encourage continued respect for religious freedom.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship.  It provides for equality of rights and obligations irrespective of religious belief or practice and for freedom of religious groups to teach their faith and to organize themselves and their worship activities.  According to the constitution, these rights are to be interpreted in harmony with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and may be restricted only in cases envisaged in the constitution or suspended during a state of emergency or siege declared according to the terms of the constitution and law.

Religious groups must register with the government.  If a religious group does not register, the group is subject to fines and possible expulsion if it is a foreign religious group.  To register, a group must send a letter requesting authorization to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.  Once the group obtains authorization, it must submit the following documents to a notary public:  the ministry’s approval letter; the group’s statutes; the minutes or report from a meeting attended by at least 500 representatives of the group and signed by its president and secretary; copies of the national identity cards of those who attended this meeting; a list of board members; and a certificate from the Registrar’s Office attesting that no existing organization has the same name.  After a payment of 1,000 dobras ($46) for notarial fees, an announcement is published in the government gazette, and the group may then operate fully as a registered group.  Once registered, a religious group does not need to register again.  Registered religious groups receive the same benefits, such as tax exemptions, as registered nonprofit organizations.

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

Government Practices

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

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

According to the 1992 Basic Law of Governance, the country’s official religion is Islam and the constitution is the Quran and Sunna (traditions and practices based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad).  The legal system is based largely on sharia as interpreted within the Hanbali School of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.  Freedom of religion is not provided under the law.  The government does not allow the public practice of any non-Muslim religion.  The law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  The law criminalizes “the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form,” “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam,” publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim.  In March UN experts said 15 Shia were convicted of spying for Iran and financing terrorism and were facing execution after legal processes that human rights organizations deemed lacking in fair trial guarantees and transparency.  In January the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib to seven years in prison after the Public Prosecution’s objection to his 2017 acquittal.  Some human rights organizations stated convictions of Shia on security charges, including several carrying the death penalty, stemming from 2017-18 clashes were motivated by sectarianism, while the government stated the individuals were investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced as a result of security-related crimes and in accordance with the law.  A December report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism expressed concern at the “systemic repression against the country’s Eastern Province, where the majority Shia population lives.”  Charges announced by the government during the year for prominent clerics, religious scholars, and academics, reportedly detained in September 2017, include alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or MB-affiliated groups.  The government continued to censor or block some religion-related content in the media, including social media and the internet.  The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV, commonly known outside the country as the “religious police”) monitored social behavior to encourage obedience to laws and regulations protecting “public morals.”  Many observers noted a continued decreased public presence of CPVPV officers in major cities, with the exception of Mecca and Medina, and fewer reports of CPVPV harassment.  On March 4, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met publicly with Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral.  On November 1, the crown prince met with U.S. evangelical Christian figures in Riyadh.

Instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur in private sector employment.  Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, which sometimes included making disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  In addition, terms such as “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were commonly found in public discourse.

Embassy, consulate general, and other U.S. government officials continued to press the government to respect religious freedom, eliminate discriminatory enforcement of laws against religious minorities, and promote respect and tolerance for minority Muslim and non-Muslim religious practices and beliefs.  In discussions with the Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA), and other relevant ministries and agencies, senior embassy and consulate officials continued to raise and discuss reports of abuses of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detentions, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards.  Embassy and consulate officials continued to query the legal status of detained and imprisoned individuals and discuss religious freedom concerns, such as religious assembly and importation of religious materials, with members of religious minorities, including Shia Muslims and citizens who no longer considered themselves Muslims, as well as with non-Muslim foreign residents.

Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  Most recently, on November 28, the Secretary of State redesignated Saudi Arabia as a CPC, and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the important national interest of the United States pursuant to section 407 of the Act.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The Basic Law of Governance establishes the country as a sovereign Arab Islamic state in which Islam is the official religion.  The Basic Law says sharia is the “foundation of the Kingdom” and states the country’s constitution is the Quran and the Sunna.  The Basic Law contains no legal recognition or protection of freedom of religion.  Conversion from Islam to another religion is grounds for the charge of apostasy, which is legally punishable by death, although courts have not carried out a death sentence for apostasy in recent years.

Blasphemy against Islam may also be legally punishable by death, but courts have not sentenced individuals to death for blasphemy in recent years.  Punishments for blasphemy may include lengthy prison sentences and lashings.  Criticism of Islam, including expression deemed offensive to Muslims, is forbidden on the grounds of preserving social stability.

The 2017 counterterrorism law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  By year’s end, authorities had not yet issued new implementation regulations, and the implementation regulations of the 2014 counterterrorism law remained in effect.  Those regulations criminalize “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.”  The right to access legal representation for those accused of violating the counterterrorism law is limited; according to the law, “the Public Prosecutor may, at the investigative stage, restrict this right whenever the interests of the investigation so require.”  There is no right to access government-held evidence.

The Basic Law states the duty of every citizen is to defend Islam, society, and the homeland.  Non-Muslims must convert to Islam before they are eligible to naturalize.  The law requires applicants for citizenship to attest to being Muslim and to obtain a certificate documenting their religious affiliation endorsed by a Muslim religious authority.  Children born to Muslim fathers are deemed Muslim by law.

The country is the home of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites.  The government prohibits non-Muslims from entering central Mecca or religious sites in Medina.  Muslims visit the cities on the annual Hajj pilgrimage and on the Umrah pilgrimage.  The government has stated that caring for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina is a sacred trust exercised on behalf of all Muslims.  The country’s sovereign employs the official title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” in reference to the two cities.  The government also establishes national quotas for foreigners and issues permits to Muslim residents (including its own nationals) to participate in the Hajj.

Clerics are vetted and employed by the MOIA.  Only government-employed clerics are permitted to deliver sermons, which must be vetted by MOIA in advance.

Since 2016 Saudi-based clerics traveling abroad for proselytization activities must first obtain the permission of MOIA.  The stated purpose of the regulation is to limit the ability of religious scholars to travel, particularly those the government regards as having questionable credentials, and to prevent the appearance of interference, or actual interference, by Saudi-based clerics in the domestic affairs of other states.

Public school students at all levels receive mandatory religious instruction based on Sunni Islam according to the Hanbali School of jurisprudence.  Private schools are not permitted to deviate from the official, government-approved religious curriculum.  Private international schools are required to teach Saudi students and Muslim students of other nationalities an Islamic studies course, while non-Muslim, non-Saudi students sometimes receive a course on Islamic civilization, or else “free time” in place of the curriculum designed for Saudi students; both courses amount to one hour of instruction per week.  Private international schools may also teach courses on other religions or civilizations.

The CPVPV is a semiautonomous government agency with authority to monitor social behavior and report violations of moral standards consistent with the government’s policy and in coordination with law enforcement authorities.  A 2016 decree limited the CPVPV’s activities to only providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to the police.  CPVPV field officers do not wear uniforms, but are required to wear identification badges and legally may only act in their official capacity when accompanied by regular police.  The CPVPV’s purview includes discouraging and reporting public and private contact between unrelated men and women (gender mixing); practicing or displaying emblems of non-Islamic faiths or failing to respect Islam; “immodest” dress, especially for women; displaying or selling media contrary to Islam, including pornography; producing, distributing, or consuming alcohol; venerating places or celebrating events inconsistent with approved Islamic practices; practicing “sorcery” or “black magic”; and committing, facilitating, or promoting acts, publications, or thoughts considered lewd or morally degenerate, including adultery, homosexuality, and gambling.  The CPVPV reports to the king through the Council of Ministers, and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) oversees its operations on the king’s behalf.

The judicial system is based on laws largely derived from the Quran and the Sunna, developed by fatwas issued by the 21-person Council of Senior Scholars (CSS) that reports to the king, and other royal laws and ordinances.  The Basic Law states governance is based on justice, shura (consultation), and equality according to sharia and further identifies the Quran and the Sunna as the sources for fatwas.  The law specifies a hierarchical organization and composition of the CSS, the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings (ifta), and the Office of the Mufti, together with their functions.  The Basic Law recognizes the CSS, supported by the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings, as the supreme authority on religious matters.  The CSS is headed by the grand mufti and is composed of Sunni religious scholars and jurists, 18 of whom are from the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, with one representative of each of the other Sunni schools (Malaki, Hanafi, and Shafi’i).  There are no Shia members.  Scholars are chosen at the king’s discretion and serve renewable four-year terms, with many serving for life.

The country’s legal architecture does not derive from a common law system, and judges are not bound by legal precedent.  In the absence of a comprehensive criminal code, rulings and sentences can diverge widely.  Criminal appeals may be made to the appellate and Supreme courts, although appellate decisions sometimes result in a harsher sentence than the original court decision.  Government universities provide training in all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, but with a focus on the Hanbali school.

In legal cases involving accidental death or injury, compensation differs according to the religious affiliation of the plaintiff.  In the event a court renders a judgment in favor of a plaintiff who is a Jewish or Christian male, the plaintiff is entitled to receive 50 percent of the compensation a Muslim male would receive; other non-Muslims may only receive one-sixteenth the amount a male Muslim would receive.

Judges have been observed to discount the testimony of Muslims whom they deemed deficient in their knowledge of Islam, and to favor the testimony of Muslims over the testimony of non-Muslims.  Under the government’s interpretation of the Quran, judges may place the value of a woman’s testimony at half that of a man’s in certain cases.

The Basic Law requires the state to protect human rights in accordance with sharia.  The Human Rights Commission (HRC), a government entity, is tasked with protecting, enhancing, and ensuring implementation of international human rights standards “in light of the provisions of sharia,” and regularly follows up on citizen complaints.  There are no formal requirements regarding the composition of the HRC; during the year, the commission had approximately 28 members from various parts of the country, including two Shia members.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

There were reports of prison authorities abusing Shia prisoners, including one incident leading to death.  Online media and NGOs reported in March that Ahmed Attia, a Shia activist deported to the country from Bahrain in January, reportedly suffered memory loss as a result of physical abuse while in detention in Dammam prison.  Shia Rights Watch (SRW) also reported the March 13 death of 61-year-old Haj Ali Jassim Nazia as a result of physical abuse in prison.

Some human rights organizations stated convictions of Shia on security charges, including several carrying the death penalty, stemming from 2017-18 clashes were motivated by sectarianism, while the government stated the individuals were investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced as a result of security-related crimes and in accordance with the law.  On March 15, UN experts said 15 individuals convicted of spying for Iran and financing terrorism were facing imminent execution after their sentences were referred to the Royal Court for ratification by the king.  The Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced the 15 individuals, all of whom were Shia, to death in December 2016 and further court rulings in July and December 2017 upheld the sentences.  Human rights organizations widely decried the legal process as not heeding international standards for fair trial guarantees and transparency.  At the end of the year, the government had not carried out the sentences.

International NGOs stated they were unable to obtain any information on the status of Ahmad al-Shammari, who had reportedly been sentenced to death for charges related to apostasy in April 2017, and was believed still to be incarcerated.  It was unknown whether any appeals in his case remained pending.

On January 4, the SCC sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed al-Habib to seven years in prison after the Public Prosecution’s objection to his 2017 acquittal.  The ruling overturned a previous verdict issued by the SCC in July 2017, acquitting al-Habib of the charges of inciting sedition and sectarianism, incitement against the rulers, and defaming religious scholars.  According to human rights groups, authorities detained al-Habib in response to his public statements urging the government to address anti-Shia sectarianism, including in the educational curriculum, and criticizing government clerics who had espoused anti-Shia views.

In August the public prosecutor announced charges against six Shia activists, including female activist Israa al-Ghomgham, from the Eastern Province arrested between September 2015 and April 2016 based on the Islamic law principle of ta’zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime and over the sentence.  The charges include “instigating riotous gatherings” in Qatif, “joining a terrorist organization linked to an enemy state,” “chanting anti-government slogans,” and “providing moral support for those rioting and instigating sectarian strife.”  According to HRW, the SCC in the Qatif region was the venue for the defendants’ trial.  There were no updates on the case at year’s end.

Up to 34 individuals, all believed to be Shia, faced the possibility of execution as they awaited implementation orders for death sentences already confirmed by the Supreme Court for their roles in protests in the Qatif area of the Eastern Province in 2011 and 2012, according to human rights organizations.  Up to nine of these persons – including Ali al-Nimr (the nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in 2016), Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher, Abdulkareem al-Hawaj, and Mujtaba al-Sweikat – may have been minors at the time they committed the acts for which they were convicted; however, the government disputed these claims, noting the courts and sharia system use the hijri (lunar/Islamic) calendar for age computations.  Human rights organizations said many of the convictions were based on confessions extracted through prolonged solitary confinement and torture.  Many of these individuals alleged authorities tortured them during pretrial detention and interrogation.  Local Shia activists and international human rights groups questioned the competence, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary, and noted that the underlying charges were inconsistent with international principles of freedom of assembly, expression, and association.

The government continued to imprison individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, black magic, and sorcery.

On June 7, police arrested Vishnu Dev Radhakrishnan, an Indian national and employee of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (also known as Saudi Aramco) for “cybercrime pertaining to blasphemy and spreading messages against the Kingdom through social media.”  Radhakrishnan allegedly sent messages on Twitter criticizing the Prophet Mohammed.  On September 13, a court sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment and a 150,000 riyal ($40,000) fine.

Raif Badawi remained in prison at the end of the year based on his 2013 conviction for violating Islamic values, violating sharia, committing blasphemy, and mocking religious symbols on the internet.  Originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, a court increased Badawi’s sentence on appeal to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 lashes.  By year’s end, the government had not carried out the remaining 950 lashes.

At year’s end, the status of Ahmad al-Shammari’s appeal of his death sentence following his 2017 conviction on charges related to apostasy was unknown.  According to media reports, Shammari allegedly posted videos to social media accounts in which he renounced Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

In September the SCC opened trials against some clerics, academics, and members of the media for alleged association with the MB.  The accused included prominent Muslim scholars Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari.  The three were arrested in September 2017.  The public prosecutor reportedly sought the death penalty against them.  The public prosecutor leveled 37 charges against al-Odah, the vast majority of which were connected to his alleged ties with the MB and Qatari government, and his public support for imprisoned dissidents.  In reviewing some of the specific charges, HRW noted, “The initial charges are mostly related to his alleged ties to the MB and other organizations supposedly connected to it.”  None referred to specific acts of violence or incitement to acts of violence, according to a HRW statement on September 12.  The 30 charges against al-Omari included “forming a youth organization to carry out the objectives of a terrorist group inside the Kingdom.”  The government continued to regard the MB as a terrorist organization.

Authorities are reported to have arrested cleric Abdelaziz al-Fawzan in July after he spoke out against the arrests of other religious leaders in the country, according to the website Middle Eastern Eye.  The Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account reported that Fawzan, a professor of comparative religious law at the Saudi Higher Institute of Justice, had been arrested over a tweet in which he had “expressed his opinion against the suppression of sheikhs and preachers.”

According to Reuters, the government detained influential religious scholar Safar al-Hawali and three of his sons in July, widening an apparent crackdown against clerics, intellectuals, and rights campaigners.  Al-Hawali, often linked to the MB, rose to prominence 25 years ago as a leader of the Sahwa [Awakening] movement, which agitated to bring democracy to the country and criticized the ruling family for corruption, social liberalization, and working with the West.  Authorities reportedly transferred al-Hawali to a hospital in September after his health deteriorated.

In August multiple media outlets reported that the government detained Saleh al-Talib, an imam and preacher at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, after he reportedly delivered a sermon on the duty in Islam to speak out against the spread of vice.

In September social media and activist websites reported on the suspension or detention of Mecca Grand Mosque imams.  Khalid bin Ali al-Ghamdi was reportedly suspended and ordered to refrain from preaching or engaging in Islamic da’wa (religious outreach).  No reason was announced for the suspension.  Sheikh Faisal bin Jameel al-Ghazawi was reportedly suspended from his position at the Mecca Grand Mosque.  Al-Ghazawi was reportedly also barred from all preaching and da’wa activities.  A third Mecca Grand Mosque imam, Sheikh Bandar Abdulaziz Balila, was reportedly detained by security forces for four days for unknown reasons.

In October the Public Prosecutor’s Office charged cleric Hassan Farhan al-Maliki with calling into question the fundamentals of Islam by casting doubt on prophetic Sunna and hadith (the record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), propagating deviant beliefs, holding an impure (takfiri) ideology, insulting the rulers and CSS and labelling them as extremists, glorifying the Khomeini-led revolution in Iran, and supporting Hizballah and ISIS, among other charges.  He remained in detention waiting a second trial at year’s end.

On July 2, authorities detained Zuhair Hussein Bu Saleh to implement a prior sentence of two months imprisonment and 60 lashes for practicing congregational prayers at his house due to the lack of Shia mosques in the Eastern Province, according to the international NGO European Saudi Organization for Human Rights.  Bu Saleh was previously arrested in 2015 for “calling for unauthorized gatherings,” and the government closed the prayer hall he supervised.

In August authorities referred cleric Ali Al-Rabieei for prosecution for allegedly tweeting sectarian and anti-Shia content, according to media reports.  Al-Rabieei subsequently apologized for this tweet and reportedly fled abroad.

In August the public prosecutor ordered the arrest of a man who appeared in a video carrying machine guns and threatening to kill Shia citizens in Najran, in the southern part of the country.

According to Shia groups that track arrests and convictions of Shia, more than 300 persons remained in detention in prisons throughout the Eastern Province and additional individuals remained subject to travel bans.  Authorities had arrested more than 1,000 Eastern Province Shia since 2011 in connection with public protests demanding greater rights for Shia, including acts of violence, according to NGO reports.  Most were held on charges involving nonviolent offenses, including participating in or publicizing protests on social media, inciting unrest in the country, and insulting the king.

SRW reported in April government forces raided a Shia prayer hall in Qatif, arresting three men.  According to SRW, the forces also surrounded multiple neighborhoods in Qatif, setting up checkpoints and restricting entry to and departure from the areas.  SRW also reported that authorities arrested a teenage female Shia activist, Nour Said Al-Musallam, for tweets critical of the government.

The UK newspaper The Independent reported that social media users who posted or shared satire attacking religion faced imprisonment for up to five years under strict new laws introduced in the country.  Those found guilty of distributing content online deemed to disrupt public order or disturb religious values would also be subject to a fine of three million riyals ($800,000), the country’s public prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Twitter:  “Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disturbs public order, religious values and public morals through social media will be considered a cybercrime.”

A December report by the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, issued after a visit to the country in April and May, stated “The special rapporteur is further concerned at the pattern of systematic repression in the country’s Eastern Province, where the majority Shi’a population resides.  The Special Rapporteur has received credible allegations that many individuals protesting against repression of the Shia have been detained.  Their cases are currently making their way through the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC).  Many of these individuals were reportedly peaceful protesters, simply asking for increased religious freedoms, equal rights for the Shi’a community and political reform.  Some have been convicted for the expression of their political views; some for coordinating protests through social media; and some even for providing first aid to protesters.  In this process, a number of individuals who were under the age of criminal responsibility at the time they committed the alleged offences have now been sentenced to death.  Others have already been executed.”

Human rights organizations and legal experts continued to criticize antiterrorism laws for using overly broad and vague language, making them susceptible to politicization and other abuse.

The government continued to prohibit the public practice of any non-Islamic religions.  According to civil society sources and media reports, non-Muslims and many foreign and local Muslims whose religious practices differed from the form of Sunni Islam promoted by the government could only practice their religion in private and remained vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, detention, and, for noncitizens, deportation.

The MOIA maintained active oversight of the country’s religious establishment and provided guidance on the substance of Friday sermons and restricted the inclusion of content in those sermons it considered sectarian or political, promoting hatred or racism, or including commentary on foreign policy.  Mosques continued to be the only legally permissible public places of worship.  The government continued to address ideology it deemed extremist by scrutinizing clerics and teachers closely and dismissing those found promoting views it deemed intolerant, extreme, or advocating violence abroad, including in Syria and Iraq.  The MOIA continued to use ministry inspectors, regional branch inspectors, field teams, citizen feedback, and the media to monitor and address any violations of the ministry’s instructions and regulations in mosques.  MOIA oversight of mosques in less populated areas was not always as strict as it was in urban areas.  In July the MOIA created a hotline for individuals to call in and report on statements by imams that observers considered objectionable.  In August Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh announced the ministry was developing a mobile phone app which would monitor sermons and allow mosque-goers to rate their preacher on a number of aspects of their work content and length.  According to a BBC report in August, the government was engaged in deliberations on the reform of religious teachings and in a debate on unifying the content of sermons to steer people away from “foreign, partisan, or Muslim Brotherhood” thought.

Practices diverging from the government’s official interpretation of Islam, such as public celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi (the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, remained forbidden.

While authorities indicated they considered members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to be Muslims, the group’s legal status remained unclear, and the mainly foreign resident Ahmadi Muslims reportedly hid their faith to avoid scrutiny, arrest, or deportation.

In March MOIA official Hashem bin Mohammed al-Barzanji referred to Shia as “rejectionists” in a tweet.

Since 2016, authorities permitted large-scale public commemorations of Ashura and other Shia holidays in Qatif, Eastern Province, home to the largest Shia population in the country.  As a result of several 2015 ISIS-inspired or directed attacks on Shia gathering places in the Eastern Province, there was again a significant deployment of government security personnel in the Qatif area during the Ashura commemoration in September.  According to community members, processions and gatherings appeared to increase over previous years due to decreased political tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities.

According to members of the expatriate community, some Christian congregations were able to conduct large Christian worship services discreetly and regularly without substantial interference from the CPVPV or other government authorities.

The government stated that individuals who experienced infringements on their ability to worship privately could address their grievances to the MOI, HRC, the National Society for Human Rights (a quasi-governmental organization), and, when appropriate, the MFA.  Religious groups reported, however, that officials typically charged those arrested during private worship services with gender-mixing, playing music, or other infractions not explicitly related to religious observance.  There were again no known reports of individuals contacting these or other governmental agencies for redress when their ability to worship privately was infringed.

According to government policy, non-Muslims were prohibited from being buried in the country.  There was, however, at least one public, non-Islamic cemetery in Jeddah, although the government did not support it financially.  The only other known non-Muslim cemetery was private and only available to Saudi Aramco employees.  Diplomatic missions reported most non-Muslims opted to repatriate their deceased to their home countries whenever financially possible.

Authorities generally required Shia mosques to use the Sunni call to prayer, including in mixed neighborhoods of both Sunni and Shia residents.  In some predominantly Shia areas of al-Ahsa Governorate in the Eastern Province, authorities allowed Shia mosques to use the Shia call to prayer.  In smaller Shia villages where there was virtually no CPVPV presence, reports indicated it was common for Shia businesses to close for three prayer times (not five times per Sunnis practice), or not at all.

The government continued to set policy aimed at enforcing Islamic norms; for example, the government threatened to expel foreigners who did not refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan.  According to media reports, it prohibited parents from giving their children any of 50 listed names deemed blasphemous, non-Arabic, or non-Islamic.

The CPVPV continued to monitor social behavior and promote official standards of morality, although instances of CPVPV interactions with individuals reportedly decreased significantly in most urban areas, such as Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.

The government did not recognize certificates of educational attainment for graduates of some Shia religious centers of instruction or provide them employment benefits, which the government provided to graduates of Sunni religious training institutions.

The government continued a multi-year project, begun in 2007, to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods with the stated aim of removing content disparaging religions other than Islam.  The project continued as part of the government’s Vision 2030 development and reform plan announced in April 2016.  The government continued to distribute revised textbooks, although intolerant material remained in circulation, including older versions of textbooks, particularly at the high school level, that contained language disparaging Christians and Jews.  Content included statements justifying the execution of “sorcerers” and social exclusion of non-Muslims, as well as statements that Jews, Christians, Shia Muslims, and Sufi Muslims did not properly adhere to monotheism.  In September Human Rights Watch reported some school textbooks continued to employ biased, anti-Semitic, and anti-Shia language.  Some teachers reportedly continued to express intolerance of other faiths and of alternative viewpoints regarding Islam.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a report on textbooks in November, entitled “Teaching Hate and Violence:  Problematic Passages from Saudi State Textbooks for the 2018-19 School Year.”  The report found that school textbooks for the 2018-19 academic year contained “dozens of troubling passages that clearly propagate incitement to hatred or violence against Jews, Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, women, homosexual men, and anybody who mocks or converts away from Islam.”  In its press release announcing the report, the ADL stated “The Saudi curriculum is replete with intolerant passages about Jews and Judaism; some passages even urge violence against Jews.  Others retread classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and assert conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish and Israeli plots to attack the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.”

Some travelers entering the country reported they were able to import a Bible for personal use, but the government regularly exercised its ability to inspect and confiscate personal non-Islamic religious materials.

Some academic experts reported the government continued to exclude perspectives at variance with the Salafi tradition within Sunni Islam from its extensive government-owned religious media and broadcast programming.

The CPVPV, in coordination with the Information and Communication Technologies Authority, continued to block certain websites as part of a broader policy of censoring online content that reportedly contained “objectionable” content and “ill-informed” views of religion.  The CPVPV shut down or blocked Twitter accounts for users “committing religious and ethical violations,” and authorities arrested an undisclosed number of social media users in accordance with the anticybercrimes law.  The government also reportedly located and shut down websites used to recruit jihadis or inspire violence.  In 2017 authorities announced they unblocked the calling features of certain private messenger apps, including Viber, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger.  Some users reported that the calling features of WhatsApp and Skype still remained blocked, however.

The government financially supported approximately 70 percent of Sunni mosques, while the remaining 30 percent were at private residences or were built and endowed by private persons.  The construction of any new mosque required the permission of the MOIA, the local municipality, and the provincial government, which allocated space and issued building permits.  The MOIA supervised and financed the construction and maintenance of most Sunni mosques, including the hiring of clerical workers.

Shia Muslims managed their own mosques under the supervision of Shia scholars.  Most existing Shia mosques in the Eastern Province did not seek official operating licenses, as doing so would require asking the government to extend its explicit endorsement of these mosques, according to some NGO reports.  The government did not finance the construction or maintenance of Shia mosques.  Authorities prohibited Shia Muslims outside of the Eastern Province from building Shia-specific mosques.  Construction of Shia mosques required government approval, and Shia communities were required to receive permission from their neighbors to start construction on mosques.  Two Shia mosques in Dammam remained licensed by the government and served approximately 750,000 worshippers.  According to NGO reports, construction of Shia mosques was not approved outside Shia enclave areas.  There continued to be no licensed Shia mosques in major urban centers such as Jeddah, Riyadh, or al-Khobar.  Shia in those areas were therefore forced to hold prayers in private homes and community centers, where some Shia said they were subject to police harassment.  Expatriate Shia reported threats of arrest and deportation if they gathered privately in large groups to worship and were detected by authorities.

Following ISIS attacks against Shia mosques and gathering places in 2015, security services continued to provide protection for many Shia mosques and gathering places in the Eastern Province.  Additionally, media and other sources reported coordination between Shia volunteers and government security services to ensure security outside mosques and other gathering places during Friday sermons or other large public events.

Multiple reports from Shia groups cited discrimination in the judicial system as the catalyst for lengthy prison sentences handed down to Shia Muslims for engaging in political expression or organizing peaceful demonstrations.  The government permitted Shia judges in the Eastern Province to use the Ja’afari School of Islamic jurisprudence to adjudicate cases in family law, inheritance, and endowment management.  There were five Shia judges, all government-appointed, located in the Eastern Province cities of Qatif and al-Ahsa, where the majority of Twelver Shia live.  According to a Human Rights Watch report issued in September “the Saudi judicial system…often subjects Saudi Shia to discriminatory treatment or arbitrary criminalization of Shia religious practices.”

Reported instances of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued to occur with respect to educational and public sector employment opportunities.  Shia stated they experienced systemic government discrimination in hiring.  There was no formal policy concerning the hiring and promotion of Shia in the private sector, but some Shia stated that public universities and employers discriminated against them, occasionally by identifying an applicant for education or employment as Shia simply by inquiring about the applicant’s hometown.  Many Shia reportedly stated that openly identifying as Shia would negatively affect career advancement.

Although Shia constituted approximately 10 to 12 percent of the total citizen population and at least one-quarter of the Eastern Province’s population, representation of Shia Muslims in senior government positions continued to be well below their proportion of the population, including in national security-related positions in the Ministry of Defense, the National Guard, and the MOI.  In contrast with previous years, the 35-member cabinet contained one Shia minister.  There were no Shia governors, deputy governors, or ministry branch directors in the Eastern Province.  There were five Shia members of the 150-member Shura Council.  A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.

Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia were concentrated, had large proportions of Shia as members, including in the two major Shia population centers of Qatif and al-Ahsa, where five of the 12 government-appointed municipal council members were Shia, and Shia held 16 of the 30 elected seats on the municipal councils.  Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.  Shia were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard.  According to an article published in September by both Foreign Policy magazine and HRW, “Shiite students are generally kept out of military and security academies, and they rarely find jobs within the security force.”  In predominantly Shia areas, there was some Shia representation in the ranks of the traffic police, municipal government, and public schools.  Shiites are regularly denied access to justice, are arbitrarily arrested, and face discriminatory verdicts.  Scores of them have described the … religiously motivated charges they face in court, including the standard charges of “cursing God, the Prophet, or his companions.”

Shia were reportedly not represented in proportion to their percentage of the population in academic positions in primary, secondary, and higher education, and virtually all public school principals remained Sunni, while some teachers were Shia.  Along with Sunni students, Shia students received government scholarships to study in universities abroad under the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Program for Foreign Scholarship.

There were continued media reports however, that some Sunni clerics, who received government stipends, used anti-Semitic, religiously intolerant language in their sermons.  Cases of government-employed clerics using anti-Semitic language in their sermons, including some instances at Friday prayers in Mecca, were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities.  During the year, the ministry issued periodic circulars to clerics and imams in mosques directing them to include messages on the principles of justice, equality, and tolerance and to encourage rejection of bigotry and all forms of racial discrimination in their sermons.  According to the ministry, during the year, similar to the previous year, no clerics publicly espoused intolerant views warranting dismissal.  Unlicensed imams, however, continued to employ intolerant views in internet postings or unsanctioned sermons in areas without government monitoring.

The government’s stated policy remained for its diplomatic and consular missions abroad to inform foreign workers applying for visas that they had the right to worship privately and to possess personal religious materials.  The government also provided the names of offices where grievances could be filed.

The government required noncitizen legal residents to carry an identity card containing a religious designation of “Muslim” or “non-Muslim.”  Some residency cards, including some issued during the year, indicated other religious designations such as “Christian.”

The government did not formally permit most non-Muslim clergy to enter the country for the purpose of conducting religious services.  Entry restrictions made it difficult for non-Muslims to maintain regular contact with resident clergy, according to non-Muslim religious groups in neighboring countries.  This was reportedly particularly problematic for Catholic and Orthodox Christians, whose religious traditions require they receive sacraments from a priest on a regular basis.  Multiple press outlets reported that visiting Bishop Anba Morkos of Shoubra el-Kheima held the first Coptic Orthodox Mass in the country in December, in a private residence.

The country’s crown prince told The Atlantic in an April interview that he recognized the right of the Jewish people to have a nation-state of their own next to a Palestinian state.  According to the magazine, no Arab leader has ever acknowledged such a right.  In the interview, he also said that the Shia “are living normally” in the country.

According to NGO reports, Umm al-Qura University’s Department of Islamic Studies continued to teach a course on Judaism saying that Jews rely on three texts:  “The Torah, The Talmud, The Protocols of Zion.” (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anti-Semitic tract originally disseminated by the Czarist secret police alleging a Jewish plot aimed at world domination.)  In addition, the reports characterized the university’s course curriculum as heavily anti-Semitic, speaking of the “evil traits” of the Jewish people.

According to the ADL, state television hosted several   hour-long programs   during Ramadan featuring Saad al-Ateeq, a preacher who called   for God to “destroy  ” the Christians, Shia, Alawites, and Jews.  State television also featured Saleh al-Fawzan, who remained   a member of the CSS and was visited   in April by the crown prince, according to al-Arabiya.  The Economist previously reported that Fawzan claimed   ISIS was actually a creation of Jews, Christians, and Shia.  According to Human Rights Watch, he characterized Shia Muslims as “the brothers of Satan.”  According to the ADL, the government gave the honor   of delivering the Eid al-Fitr sermon in June at the Grand Mosque in Mecca to Saleh bin Humaid, who holds a seat   on the CSS.  Bin Humaid previously claimed   it was in Jews’ “nature” to “plot against the peoples of the world.”

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, anti-Semitic books including Mein Kampf were offered for sale at the Riyadh Book Fair.

During the year, some Qatari nationals reported being unable to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage due to logistical obstacles stemming from the border closures and restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt on Qatar in 2017.  The government offered Qatari pilgrims internet registration and visa issuance on arrival in Jeddah.  Qatari nationals were purportedly also able to register for Hajj through third country governments.

Al-Monitor, a website covering news from the Middle East, reported in November that the government halted visa issuances to people who held temporary passports and no national identification.  This prevented Palestinians living in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere from traveling to perform religious rites, particularly the Hajj and Umrah.

In April, in the first visit to the country by a senior Catholic official, Chairman of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh to discuss the role of followers of religions and cultures in renouncing violence, extremism, and terrorism and achieving worldwide security and stability.  On March 4, the crown prince met publicly with Coptic Pope Tawadros II in Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral.

On November 1, the crown prince met with U.S. evangelical Christian figures in Riyadh.  Following the meeting, the group met with the government-sponsored Muslim World League’s (MWL) Secretary-General Mohammed al-Issa to discuss ways both parties could counter extremism and exchanged ideas on possible initiatives and programs to increase mutual respect at the grass roots level.  Al-Issa stated the meeting was an exchange to advance understanding and the message of a “moderate and tolerant Islam.”  On January 28, al-Issa wrote a public letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, calling the Holocaust “an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”  In October MWL representatives discussed religious cooperation with several non-Muslim religious community leaders including a prominent U.S. Jewish leader at the MWL-sponsored Cultural Rapprochement Between the US and the Muslim World conference in New York.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free practice of religious beliefs and self-governance by religious groups without government interference.  By law, all faith-based organizations must register with the government to acquire legal status as an association.  The government restarted a lapsed campaign to combat forced child begging, which often takes place at some Islamic religious schools.  The government also continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj and Roman Catholic pilgrimages, to permit four hours of voluntary religious education at public and private schools, and to fund schools operated by religious groups.  The government continued to monitor religious groups to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.

Local and international NGOs continued their efforts to focus attention on the abuse of children, including forced child begging, at some traditional Islamic religious schools (known locally as daaras); the organizations continued to urge the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met regularly with senior government officials to discuss conditions faced by students at daaras as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging.  The Ambassador and embassy officers also discussed these issues with religious leaders and civil society representatives in Dakar and across the country.  In meetings with civil society and religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, embassy officers continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained, as well as self-governance by religious groups free from state interference.  The constitution prohibits political parties from identifying with a specific religion.  It states religious discrimination is punishable by law.

Muslims may choose either the civil family code or sharia to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes.  Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.

By law, all faith-based organizations, including religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior to acquire legal status as an association.  To register, organizations must provide documentation showing they have been in existence for at least two years as an association.  Organizations must also provide a mission statement; bylaws; a list of goals, objectives, activities, or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding.  They must also pass a background check.  Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions.  There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.

The law requires associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender in order to operate.  This second registration requirement allows the government to monitor organizations operating in the field of social development and identify any interventions these organizations implement.  Foreign NGOs must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

By law, religious education may be offered in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.  The government permits up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools.  The government allows parents to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum.  Parents have the opportunity to allow their children to opt out of the curriculum.

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

Government Practices

In March the government restarted a 2016 campaign to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging, an abuse encountered at some Quranic schools or daaras.  The government worked closely with Muslim religious leaders to gain support for the campaign and for other initiatives, such as a draft law regulating traditional Islamic schools.

The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events.  There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance.  All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them.  President Macky Sall occasionally visited and supported beneficiaries of these funds.  For example, every year members of the Mouride religious brotherhood travel to the seat of the brotherhood in Touba for the annual Magal pilgrimage.  Under President Sall, the government constructed a new highway to connect Touba with the city of Thies to the west in order to ease travel for the pilgrimage.  Although the highway was not complete in time for the Magal pilgrimage in October, the president opened up the nearly complete highway, free of charge, for all Magal pilgrims.  The highway was subsequently completed and inaugurated by President Sall on December 20.

The government continued to assist Muslim participation in the Hajj and again provided imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens.  In addition, the government organized Hajj trips for approximately 2,000 additional individuals.  The government also continued to provide assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel.  The Catholic Church reported the government provided 380 million CFA francs ($668,000) for travel to the Vatican, compared with 370 million CFA francs ($651,000) in 2017.

The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards.  It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools, which in general maintained strong academic reputations.  The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim.  The Ministry of Education reported approximately 50 percent of primary school students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.  The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups.  Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups.


Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, as well as the right to change one’s religion, forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for all religious groups, and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  Some religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the government for granting special privileges to seven religious groups it defined as “traditional” and protested difficulties in the registration process, without which religious groups lacked property rights, tax exemptions, and legal status.  Four religious groups applied for registration or had applications pending during the year, and the government approved two of them, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin and the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia.  In March the government appointed a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with overseeing the proper implementation of the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, enabling the board to commence work.  During the year, the government restituted to religious groups 1,151.4 hectares (2,845 acres) of land and 1,618 square meters (17,416 square feet) of office and residential space confiscated since 1945.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault and two instances of verbal death threats against their members and said prosecutors failed to respond adequately to the incidents.  Protestants said persons frequently branded their religious groups as “sects,” which has a very strong negative connotation in the Serbian language.  One Protestant group said its members sometimes hid their religious affiliation for fear of discrimination.  Many smaller or nontraditional religious groups reported low-level public bias or discrimination against their members without citing specific examples.  A Baptist group said religious documentaries critical of Protestant groups occasionally played on conservative television stations but did not cite specific examples.  Anti-Semitic literature was available in some bookstores, and the Jewish community reported one incident of pro-Nazi graffiti at a public park in Belgrade.

U.S. embassy officials urged the government to continue implementing restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property and closely monitored plans for a memorial at the World War II (WWII)-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp site.  The Ambassador met with the head of the Restitution Agency to express support for the agency’s work in restituting WWII-era Jewish heirless and unclaimed property.  Embassy staff met with local and national officials in efforts to assist these restitution efforts and advocated the appointment of a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with oversight of the Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property law.  Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of a wide range of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom and tolerance, cooperation with the government, interaction between traditional and nontraditional religious groups, and property restitution.  In May the embassy hosted an iftar that brought together representatives of the two different Islamic communities, which rarely met, to encourage the groups to work together and overcome long-standing divisions.  An embassy officer visited a series of religious sites in Belgrade in January and February, spotlighting U.S. support for religious tolerance via the embassy’s social media outlets.  In December the embassy hosted an interfaith discussion and networking event for 20 religious leaders and others.  One speaker said it was the first occasion in almost 20 years that brought together such a wide cross-section of the religious community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution guarantees the freedom of belief and religion as well as the right to change one’s religion.  It states everyone shall have the freedom to worship and practice religion individually or with others, in private or in public, and no one shall be obliged to declare one’s religion.  The constitution states the freedom to express one’s religion or beliefs may be restricted by law only as necessary to protect life or health, the morals of democratic society, freedoms and rights guaranteed by the constitution, or public safety and order or prevent incitement of religious, national, or racial hatred.  The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for religious groups, and calls for separation of religion and state.  It states churches and religious communities shall be free to organize their internal structure, perform religious rites in public, and establish and manage religious schools and social and charity institutions in accordance with the law.  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination or incitement of religious hatred, calls upon the government to promote religious diversity and tolerance, and states religious refugees have a right to asylum, the procedures for which shall be established in law.

The law bans incitement of discrimination, hatred, or violence against an individual or group on religious grounds and carries penalties ranging from one to 10 years in prison, depending on the type of offense.

The law grants special treatment to seven religious groups the government defines as “traditional.”  These are the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church, Evangelical Christian Church, Islamic community, and Jewish community.  The law considers Islam in general a traditional religion, and the Islamic community is divided between the Islamic Community of Serbia (emphasis added), with its seat in Belgrade, and the Islamic Community in Serbia (emphasis added), with its seat in Novi Pazar.  Both Islamic communities are officially registered with the government and can conduct most normal business.  Neither group, however, has absolute authority over matters regarding the Islamic community as a whole.  “Church” is a term reserved for Christian religious groups, while the term “religious community” refers to non-Christian groups and to some Christian entities.

The seven traditional religious groups recognized by law are automatically registered in the Register of Churches and Religious Communities.  In addition to these groups, the government grants traditional status, solely in Vojvodina Province, to the Diocese of Dacia Felix of the Romanian Orthodox Church, with its seat in Romania and administrative seat in Vrsac in Vojvodina.

The law also grants the seven traditional religious groups, but not other registered religious groups, the right to receive value-added tax (VAT) refunds and to provide chaplain services to military personnel.

There are 22 “nontraditional” religious groups registered with the government:  the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , Evangelical Church in Serbia, Church of Christ’s Love, Spiritual Church of Christ, Union of Christian Baptist Churches in Serbia, Nazarene Christian Religious Community (associated with the Apostolic Christian Church [Nazarene]), Church of God in Serbia, Protestant Christian Community in Serbia, Church of Christ Brethren in Serbia, Free Belgrade Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Zion Sacrament Church, Union of Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, Protestant Evangelical Church Spiritual Center, Evangelical Church of Christ, Slovak Union of Baptist Churches, Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia, Charismatic Community of Faith in Serbia, and, added during the year, the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin and the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia.  Several of these organizations are umbrella groups that oversee many individual churches, sometimes of slightly differing affiliations.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but it treats unregistered religious organizations as informal groups that do not receive any of the legal benefits registered religious groups receive.  Only registered religious groups may build new places of worship, own property, apply for property restitution, or receive state funding for their activities.  Registration is also required for opening bank accounts and hiring staff.  Registered clerics of registered groups are entitled to government support for social and health insurance and a retirement plan.  According to government sources, 17 registered groups use these benefits.  The law also exempts registered groups from property and administrative taxes and from filing annual financial reports.

To obtain registration, a group must submit the following:  the names, identity numbers, copies of notarized identity documents, and signatures of at least 100 citizen members; its statutes and a summary of its religious teachings, ceremonies, religious goals, and basic activities; and information on its sources of funding.  The law prohibits registration if an applicant group’s name includes part of the name of an existing registered group.  The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) maintains the Register of Churches and Religious Communities and responds to registration applications.  If the MOJ rejects a registration application, the religious group may appeal the decision in court.

According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court may ban a religious community for activities infringing on the right to life or health, the rights of the child, the right to personal and family integrity, public safety, and order, or if it incites religious, national, or racial intolerance.  It also states the Constitutional Court may ban an association that incites religious hatred.

The MOJ’s Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities manages all matters pertaining to the cooperation of the state with churches and religious communities.  These include assistance to national minorities in protecting the religious traditions integral to their cultural and ethnic identity, cooperation between the state and SOC dioceses abroad, support for religious education, and support for and protection of the legal standing of churches and religious communities.  The government’s independent Office for Human and Minority Rights, which addresses policy and monitors the status of minorities, also oversees some religious issues.

The law recognizes restitution claims for religious property confiscated in 1945 or later for registered religious groups only.  The law permits individual claims for properties lost by Holocaust victims during WWII, but religious groups may not claim property confiscated prior to 1945.  Registered religious groups that had property and endowments seized after WWII may apply for their restitution.

In accordance with the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust-era assets, the law provides for the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust, allowing the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, while still permitting future claimants to come forward.  The law defines “heirless property” as any property not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution.  The Jewish community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the community and the property was confiscated during the Holocaust.  The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community of 950,000 euros ($1.09 million) per year for a 25-year period, which began with an initial payment in 2017.  The law requires the appointment of a supervisory board with representatives from the country’s Jewish community, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and a government-appointed chairperson to oversee implementation of the restitution law’s provisions and use of the state payment.  The board is primarily responsible for auditing use of the annual financial payments from the government to the Jewish Federation.  The government appointed a chair for the board in March after more than a year without an established supervisory body.

The constitution states parents and legal guardians shall have the right to ensure the religious education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.  The law provides for religious education in public schools, but only for the seven traditional groups.  Students in primary and secondary schools must attend either religious or civic education class.  Parents choose which option is appropriate for their child.  The curriculum taught in the religion classes varies regionally, reflecting the number of adherents of a given religion in a specific community.  Typically, five interested students is the minimum needed to offer instruction in a particular religion.  In areas where individual schools do not meet the minimum number, the Ministry of Education attempts to combine students into regional classes for religious instruction.  The Commission for Religious Education appoints religious education instructors in schools throughout the country from lists of qualified candidates supplied by each religious group.  The commission comprises representatives from each traditional religious group, the Ministries of Education and of Science and Technological Development, and the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities.  Representatives of the Islamic Community in Serbia have not participated in the work of the commission.  Instead, they have submitted their list of religious teachers directly to the education ministry for approval.  According to the Islamic Community in Serbia, appointment of their religious teachers in schools throughout the Sandzak region has depended on local authorities rather than the education ministry.  The Islamic Community of Serbia participates in the commission.

The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection based on religious beliefs.  It states no person shall be obliged to perform military or any other service involving the use of weapons if this is inconsistent with his or her religion or beliefs, but that a conscientious objector may be called upon to fulfill military duty not involving carrying weapons.  By law, all men must register for military service when they turn 18, but there is currently no mandatory military service.

The constitution allows any court with legal jurisdiction to prevent the dissemination of information advocating religious hatred, discrimination, hostility, or violence.

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

Government Practices

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, public prosecutors provided unsatisfactory levels of follow-up on the two cases of physical assault and two cases of death threats against their members during the year, although they reported that police generally took appropriate action.

The MOJ reported it approved two registration applications from religious groups during the year, one for the LOGOS Christian Community in Serbia that applied during the year, and one for the Buddhist Religious Community Nichiren Daishonin that applied in 2017.  The approval of Nichiren Daishonin’s application marked the first time the government approved the registration of a non-Christian religious group.  The government rejected three other applications:  one submitted during the year by Christian Community Golgotha because the government said the application was incomplete, and two submitted in 2017, by the Old Orthodox Catholic Church in Serbia and the Diocese of Raska and Prizren in Exile of the Serbian Orthodox Church.  The government was still reviewing two other applications submitted during the year, by Christian Center – Good News, and Theravada Buddhist Community in Serbia.

Minority religious groups continued to state the law was inherently biased in differentiating between traditional and nontraditional religious groups and in conflict with constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and equality among religious groups.  One religious community stated the government was not transparent with the application process to apply for benefits and grants the government provided to religious groups.  Director of the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities Mileta Radojevic said the directorate focused its expenditures on the traditional groups because they represented the vast majority of the population.  He also stated there was no open call for project proposals to fund; rather, the directorate distributed information on the availability of funds directly to specific religious groups.  One Protestant Church in the city of Nis reported it faced difficulty navigating the process to apply for pension and health-care benefits for its clergy, stating central government officials gave it a list of additional requirements to prove its valid status as a Church, despite belonging to a registered umbrella organization.  The Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities stated it provided scholarships only for members of religious groups with a formal, university-level religious institution within the country.  Prospective clergy from smaller denominations who relied on seminaries outside the country were ineligible for such scholarships.

The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches remained unregistered.  The government recognizes only one Orthodox Church in Serbia and thus defers to the SOC for approval of any other Orthodox Church to operate in the country.  The SOC continued not to recognize the autocephaly of the Macedonian or Montenegrin Orthodox Church, and government officials stated that secular authorities should not try to resolve issues among individual Orthodox Churches.  The registered Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC) Diocese of Dacia Felix operated in the Banat region of Vojvodina Province in an agreement with the SOC.  Government and SOC officials criticized the activities of ROC priests outside Vojvodina Province in the eastern part of the country, where the ROC remained unregistered, who continued to hold services in the Romanian language and to repurpose buildings for religious use.

Representatives from the First Baptist Church of Belgrade continued to protest the legal requirement that groups register in order to obtain legal status by refusing to apply for registration, citing its long-held legal standing in the country under previous legal frameworks.  Representatives from the Church of Christ said the requirement to submit legal documents and the signatures of 100 citizens was costly, time consuming, and often impossible to fulfill for many smaller churches and those whose members were primarily noncitizens.

One Tibetan Buddhist group stated the registration requirement to submit religious texts for review was difficult for Buddhist groups to comply with, given the breadth of texts used in their practice.  The same group said, prior to the government’s approval of Nichiren Daishonin’s application, that the government had not registered any Buddhist groups under the religion law during several years of attempts by various groups to do so.

Multiple groups, including the First Baptist Church of Belgrade, Protestant Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, Church of Christ, and one Tibetan Buddhist group, continued to state that lack of registration did not directly prevent a religious organization from worshiping.  They said, however, it did impose restrictions, including inability to apply for property restitution, open bank accounts, purchase or sell property, obtain visas for religious travel, and publish literature.  The First Baptist Church of Belgrade reported that lack of legal recognition became more onerous over time, as it impeded a variety of activities.

At year’s end, a 2013 complaint by the Christian Baptist Church and the Protestant Evangelical Church, both of which had declined to apply for registration under the law, to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging the law violated the rights and freedoms safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights, remained pending.

In March the government appointed a chairperson to the supervisory board charged with overseeing the proper implementation of the law on heirless and unclaimed property confiscated during the Holocaust.  The appointment effectively established the board, which immediately began auditing the use of funds by the Jewish community and compliance with the law’s general provisions.

At least one religious researcher and an evangelical group said the religious education system in public schools discriminated against nontraditional groups.  These same observers noted the separate religious classes inhibited interreligious dialogue, religious tolerance, and basic understanding of other groups.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that, unlike in previous years, they did not encounter legal difficulties in publicly distributing religious literature or conducting door-to-door ministry activities.

The government continued restitution of religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later, returning 1,073 hectares (2,651 acres) of agricultural land, 78 hectares (193 acres) of forest, 0.4 hectare (one acre) of construction land, 185 square meters (1,991 square feet) of residential building property, and 1,433 square meters (15,425 square feet) of business facilities to the SOC, Roman Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Evangelical Christian, Greek Catholic, and Reformed Christian Churches and the Islamic Community.  The government estimated it had returned 56 percent of previously confiscated properties since the beginning of implementation of the law on religious restitution in 2006, 76 percent of confiscated land and 36 percent of confiscated buildings.

In accordance with the law on Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed property, the government continued to return heirless and unclaimed property taken during WWII to the Jewish community and to individuals.  This law governs personal property taken from members of the Jewish community during the Holocaust, primarily consisting of nonreligious residential and business property and agricultural land.  The government began processing claims under the law in 2016 and reported it had returned a total of 7,180 square meters (77,285 square feet) of buildings and 625.24 hectares (1,545 acres) of land, of which 625.19 hectares (4,724 acres) was agricultural land and 442 square meters (4,758 square feet) was unfinished construction land.

In November the Restitution Agency returned a building located in the southwest city of Novi Pazar to the Islamic Community in Serbia.  This was the first restitution claim returned to either Islamic community.  Previously, representatives of both communities, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers, and local political leaders speculated the Restitution Agency had been unwilling to resolve the claims because the government did not want to decide which was the “rightful” Islamic group.  The two Islamic communities said they had each submitted claims on the same set of properties.  The Restitution Agency stated it had been processing the claims from both communities and confirmed the Novi Pazar property was the first returned to either Islamic group.  In explaining the lack of progress on other claims, the agency said that, in general, the claims were poorly substantiated and required extra resources to process.  The agency said it had already rejected three requests from the Islamic Community of Serbia because of insufficient evidence the community had owned the property prior to appropriation.

Following the July death of Hatidza Mehmedovic, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica, an advocacy group representing survivors of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war, Member of Parliament and Serbian Radical Party member Vjerica Radeta posted a tweet mocking the woman’s loss of her husband and two sons in the 1995 killings of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.  Radeta’s tweet called the group “businesswomen of Srebrenica” and asked, “Who will bury her?  Her husband or sons?”  The tweet sparked outrage among some media and officials – including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Construction, Transportation, and Infrastructure Zorana Mihajlovic; and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications Rasim Ljajic.  Members of the Serbian Radical Party defended the tweet, which Radeta quickly removed.

On July 11, the Belgrade Higher Court ruled against the petition to rehabilitate WWII-era Prime Minister Milan Nedic, who headed the Nazi-collaborationist government in 1941-44, during which 90 percent of the country’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust.  The court ruled that the presumption that “Milan Nedic was arrested without any court or administrative decision and was a victim of persecution for political or ideological reasons” was groundless.

A commission dedicated to development of a memorial at the location of the WWII-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp met monthly from January through September.  The commission also continued work on, but did not complete, a 2017 draft law authorizing the memorial, undertaking new rounds of edits and reviews in consultation with community members and various government ministries.  The government did not transfer responsibility for the commission from the city of Belgrade to the Office of the President as it announced it would do in 2017, leaving the commission with unclear guidance.  The commission held no meetings in the last three months of the year; commission head Bishop Jovan Culibrk of the SOC said that, without a clear government mandate or an approved law, the commission could make little progress.

The national television service, Radio Television of Serbia, continued to broadcast a daily 10-minute Religious Calendar program about major holidays celebrated by monotheistic religions.

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


Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds as well as laws establishing any religion.  It provides for freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religion.  Through the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act, the government continues to bar religious groups from owning and operating radio or television stations; however, it continued to grant larger religious groups programming time on state-funded radio, subject in most cases to advance review, editing, and approval.  Smaller religious groups did not have access to dedicated broadcast time.  Although the constitution prohibits compulsory religious education, non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction did not have access to alternative activities during those classes.  The government regularly consulted with an interfaith grouping, the Seychelles Interfaith Council (SIFCO), on national issues such as prison reform.  Members of SIFCO were appointed to various government boards.

SIFCO hosted an interfaith forum in February as part of its activities to mark World Interfaith Harmony Week.  The forum included presentations by representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Baha’i faiths.  Following the forum, SIFCO officials commented on the challenges to interfaith harmony and the progress made compared with the past.

The U.S. embassy in Mauritius monitored religious freedom in Seychelles and regularly engaged with government officials and civil society to promote freedom of religious expression.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds and forbids any laws establishing any religion or imposing any religious observance.  The constitution permits limitations on freedom of religion only “as prescribed by a law and necessary in a democratic society” in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health, as well as to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons.  It provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the right of individuals to change religion or belief and to manifest and propagate their religion in worship, teaching, practice, and observance, alone or in community with others, in public or private.  These rights may be subject to limitations stated in the constitution.  The constitution stipulates individuals shall not be required to take a religious oath counter to their religious beliefs or profess any religion as a prerequisite for public office.

The law requires registration for all religious groups as either corporations or associations.  To apply through the Registrar of Associations, a group must submit its name, location, rules, and list of assets; the name, occupation, and addresses of officers and at least seven members; and the resolution appointing its officers.  A minimum of seven members is required to register an association.  To receive tax benefits, notably tax exemptions on the importation of goods, and corporate social responsibility assistance, religious groups must also register with the Finance Ministry.  The government recognizes the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, Islamic groups, and the Baha’i local spiritual assembly through individual acts of incorporation.

Although no penalties are prescribed for unregistered groups, only those registered as corporate bodies or associations have legal status and the right, for example, to petition the government for broadcast time for religious programming or permission to provide spiritual counsel in prisons.

The constitution prohibits compulsory religious education or participation in religious ceremonies in state schools but permits religious groups to provide religious instruction.  Religious instruction is provided by the Catholic and Anglican Churches and offered during school hours.  There are no faith-based schools.

The law prohibits religious groups from obtaining radio or television licenses.  The government provides broadcast time to religious groups on the national radio broadcasting service.  Access is granted based on the size of each group’s membership.  Religious groups may publish newspapers.  The Catholic Church publishes a monthly magazine, titled L’Echo des Iles.

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

Government Practices

The Office of the Vice President held the portfolio for religious affairs.  The government permitted live broadcasts of religious programming on important religious occasions such as Christmas, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) provided transmission time for radio broadcasts, lasting up to 90 minutes each, of Catholic masses and Anglican worship services on alternate Sundays.  The SBC continued to review and approve all other religious programing to ensure hate speech was not broadcast, but there were no incidents reported.  Other religious programming consisted of 15-minute prerecorded prayer broadcasts, permitted to Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, and Anglican groups every two weeks.  Smaller religious groups continued to protest the government policy that did not grant them their own dedicated radio broadcast time.  Private radio stations did not feature religious programs.

SIFCO, composed of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, and other religious groups present in the country, commented publicly on national issues and actions taken by the National Assembly and the president, including the setting up of regional councils, as part of local governance reform and nomination of councilors by the two main political parties.  SIFCO urged the government to consider the right of every citizen to participate in local or regional government in order to promote national unity and peace.  President Danny Faure continued to meet with members of SIFCO regularly, and the Office of the Vice President consulted SIFCO on issues of national interest.

Although the constitution prohibits compulsory religious education, non-Catholic students in public schools providing Catholic instruction did not have access to alternative activities during those classes.

In November various religious groups signed an agreement with the prison authorities to carry out spiritual and religious activities in prisons.  At the signing ceremony, Superintendent of Prisons Raymond St. Ange said that religion and spirituality needed to be the bedrock of rehabilitation, providing a firm footing for all the efforts undertaken by the prison service.

In April the Anglican Church renovated and reopened a church at Anse Kerlan on the island of Praslin funded by the Anglican diocese with a contribution from the government.

Sierra Leone

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, which includes freedom of thought and religion, subject to the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, and health, and to the protection of other persons’ rights and freedoms.  The law prohibits religious discrimination and allows all persons to observe their own religious practices and to change religions without interference from the government or members of other religious groups.  Government registration is not mandatory for religious groups, but necessary to obtain tax and other benefits.  On January 8, the constitutionally mandated political parties monitor, the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), ordered the Citizens Democratic Party (CDP) leader, Musa Tarawally, to remove his campaign posters and billboards stating, “Allah is One” as his election campaign slogan across the country.

Religious leaders expressed concern that the CDP leader’s Islamic preaching at political rallies and campaign posters constituted a possible threat to the country’s religious harmony.

The U.S. embassy promoted religious freedom through dialogue with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Inter-Religious Council (IRC) and the Council of Imams.  The ambassador during Ramadan hosted an interfaith dinner with religious leaders.  The embassy sponsored the participation of a chief imam of a mosque in Freetown in an exchange program in the United States emphasizing interfaith dialogue and religious freedom.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides that no person shall be hindered in exercising freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in a community, in public or in private, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.  These rights may be subject to limitations in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights and freedoms of other persons.  Although the country does not have an explicit law regarding hate speech, the Public Order Act describes as seditious libel spoken or written words that “encourage or promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different tribes or nationalities or between persons of different religious faith in Sierra Leone.”

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs is responsible for religious matters.  Religious groups seeking recognition by the ministry must complete registration forms and provide police clearance attesting that they do not have a criminal record, proof of funding, and annual work plans to receive tax concessions.  There is no penalty for organizations that choose not to file for recognition, but registration is required in order to obtain tax exemptions and waiver benefits.

The constitution provides that “except with his own consent” (or if a minor the consent of the parent or guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony, or observance relates to a religion other than the person’s own.  The mandatory course, Religious and Moral Education, provides an introduction to Christianity, Islam, African traditional beliefs, and other religious traditions around the world, as well as teachings about morals and ethics, and is required in all public schools through high school, without the choice to opt out.  Instruction in a specific religion is permissible only in schools organized by religious groups.

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

Government Practices

On January 8, the country has constitutionally mandated political parties monitor, the PPRC, ordered CDP leader Musa Tarawally to remove his campaign posters and billboards stating, “Allah is One” as its election campaign slogan across the country.  The PPRC cited the constitutional prohibition against political parties using any motto that has exclusive or significant connotation to members of any particular tribal or ethnic group or religious faith.  The president of the IRC, which includes Muslim groups, publicly supported the action of the PPRC, stating, “People must not use the name of Allah to gain cheap popularity in politics” and “Religion is religion and politics is politics.”  According to the PPRC, this was the first time since independence in 1961 that a party positioned itself as an Islamic party using Quranic verses as its campaign slogan.

The government continued to enforce a law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana.  Rastafarians continued to state they viewed this prohibition as an infringement on their religious freedom to access cannabis, as it is a core component of their religious practices.  One Rastafarian high priest was arrested in August, his marijuana was seized, and he was detained at a correctional facility for five days.  Another community member was apprehended by police in September for possession of cannabis and was released on bail.

The Office of National Security (ONS) held several meetings with the IRC and the Council of Imams as part of its counterterrorism strategy but did not organize a formal event, reportedly due to lack of funding.  The ONS continued to express concerns regarding the possible emergence of what it referred to as Muslim extremism.  The ONS also reported concerns by Christian and Muslim leaders and civil society groups relating to susceptible unemployed and uneducated youth from the Muslim community joining the Tabligh movement, a revivalist Sunni Muslim movement originating in India preaching a fundamentalist form of Islam.


Executive Summary

The constitution, laws, and policies provide for religious freedom, subject to restrictions relating to public order, public health, and morality.  The government continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).  The government restricted speech or actions it perceived as detrimental to “religious harmony.”  There is no legal provision for conscientious objection to military service, including on religious grounds, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported nine conscientious objectors remained detained as of December.  A court convicted three Hindus in February on charges related to actions during the 2015 Thaipusam religious procession, including insulting a Muslim police officer’s religion.  The government continued to ban all religious processions on foot, except for those of three Hindu festivals, including Thaipusam, and retained limitations on the use of music in these processions.  In September the authorities introduced changes to the process for religious groups to acquire sites.  The government said these changes aimed to reduce the cost of leases and increase the number of sites available.  The government made multiple high-level affirmations of the importance of religious harmony and respect for religious differences.  Government organizations initiated regional interfaith programs and funded community-led interfaith initiatives.

A visiting foreign preacher’s reportedly anti-Muslim comments at a Christian evangelical conference in March attracted public condemnation.  The church responsible for inviting the individual initially filed a police complaint against reports on the preacher’s comments, but a church pastor later offered a public apology to the Muslim community and said that his church would be more vigilant in its selection of foreign speakers.  The Mufti of Singapore accepted the pastor’s apology.  There were numerous community-led initiatives to promote religious tolerance and build interfaith understanding.

The U.S. embassy engaged with senior government officials and religious leaders at a May iftar, during which the Charge d’Affaires gave a speech embracing religious diversity.  The Charge hosted a round table on religious freedom with young religious leaders, and met with the Imam of Ba’alwie Mosque.  Embassy representatives engaged with a variety of groups to support religious freedom including the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), the government’s Islamic Religious Council (MUIS), the Singapore Muslim Women’s Association (PPIS), and representatives from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, humanist, Jewish, Shia Muslim, Sikh, Sunni Muslim, and Taoist groups.  The embassy used social media to highlight its religious outreach and demonstrate appreciation of and respect for the country’s religious diversity.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution states every person has a constitutional right to profess, practice, or propagate his or her religious belief as long as such activities do not breach any other laws relating to public order, public health, or morality.  The constitution also prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion in the administration of any law or in the appointment to or employment in any office under a public authority.  It states every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs and it does not prohibit restrictions on employment by a religious institution.  The constitution states no person shall be required to receive instruction or take part in any ceremony or act of worship other than his or her own.

The government maintains a decades-long ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church.  The government banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972 on the grounds it nation was prejudicial to public welfare and order because it objected to national service, reciting the national pledge, or singing the national anthem.  A 1996 decision by the Singapore Appeals Court upheld the rights of individual members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to profess, practice, and propagate their religious beliefs.  The government does not arrest Jehovah’s Witnesses for attending or holding meetings in private homes; however, it does not allow them to hold public meetings or publish or import their literature.  The government banned the Unification Church in 1982 on grounds it was a “cult” that could have detrimental effects on society.

The Presidential Council for Religious Harmony reports on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony and considers cases referred by the minister for home affairs or by parliament.  The president appoints the council’s members on the advice of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.  The law requires two-thirds of Council for Religious Harmony members to be representatives of the major religions in the country, which according to law are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

The law authorizes the minister of home affairs to issue a restraining order against any person in a position of authority within a religious group if the minister ascertains the person causes feelings of enmity or hostility between different religious groups, promotes political causes, carries out subversive activities, or excites disaffection against the government under the guise of practicing religion.  Restraining orders are at the discretion of the minister, depending on the situation, and prevent a person in a position of authority within a religious group from making or participating in additional statements.  Failure to comply can result in criminal action.  Any restraining order issued must be referred to the Council for Religious Harmony, which recommends to the president that the order be confirmed, cancelled, or amended.  Restraining orders lapse after 90 days, unless confirmed by the president.  The minister must review a confirmed restraining order at least once every 12 months and may revoke such an order at any time.  The law prohibits judicial review of such restraining orders.  In addition, under the penal code, “wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person” or knowingly promoting “disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill will between different religious or racial groups” can result in detention and or imprisonment.

The constitution states Malays are “the indigenous people of Singapore” and requires the government to protect and promote their interests, including religious interests.  The MUIS, established under the Ministry for Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY), administers affairs for all Muslims in the country such as the construction and management of mosques, halal certification, fatwa issuances, preparation of Friday sermons, and the Hajj.  The MUIS includes representatives from the Sunni majority as well as Muslim minority groups, including Shia.  Use of MUIS sermons is not compulsory, but imams who use their own content are responsible for it and may be investigated if there are complaints.

The government appoints all members of the MUIS and the Hindu Endowments Board, and nominates four of the 11 members of the Sikh Advisory Board.  These statutory boards manage various aspects of their faith communities, ranging from managing properties and endowments to safeguarding customs and the general welfare of the community.

The law requires all associations of 10 or more persons, including religious groups, to register with the government.  Registration confers legal identity, which allows property ownership, the ability to hold public meetings, and the ability to conduct financial transactions.  Registered religious groups may apply to establish and maintain charitable and humanitarian institutions, which enable them to solicit and receive funding and tax benefits, such as income tax exemptions.  Registered societies are subject to potential deregistration by the government on a variety of grounds, such as having purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or good order.  Deregistration makes it impossible to maintain a legal identity as a religious group, with consequences related to owning property, conducting financial transactions, and holding public meetings.  A person who acts as a member of or attends a meeting of an unregistered society may be punished with a fine of up to 5,000 Singapore dollars (SGD) ($3,700), imprisonment of up to three years, or both.

Prisoners, including those in solitary confinement, are allowed access to chaplains of various faiths.

Citizens need a permit to speak at indoor public gatherings outside of the hearing or view of nonparticipants if the topic refers to race or religion.  Indoor, private events are not subject to the same restrictions.  Organizers of private events, however, must prevent inadvertent access by uninvited guests, or they could be cited for noncompliance with the rules regarding public gatherings.

By law, a publication is objectionable if it describes, depicts, expresses or deals with, among other things, matters of race or religion in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will, or hostility between racial or religious groups.  The government may prohibit the importation of publications, including religious publications, under the law.  For offenses involving the publication of objectionable material, an individual may be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 5,000 SGD ($3,700) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.  A person in possession of a prohibited publication may be fined up to 2,000 SGD ($1,500) and jailed for up to 12 months for a first conviction.  All written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, publishing arms of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, remain banned by the government.

The Ministry of National Development and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) establish the guidelines on land development and use of space for religious activities.  The URA regulates all land usage and decides where organizations may be located.  Religious buildings are primarily classified as places of worship.  A group seeking a new place of worship must apply to the URA for a permit.  The Ministry of National Development and the URA determine whether a religious institution meets the requirements as a place of worship, such as being located in an allotted zone and meeting the maximum plot ratio and building height.  URA guidelines regulate the use of commercially and industrially zoned space for religious activities and religious groups, and apply equally to all religious groups.  Commercial or industrial premises that host religious activities but are not zoned as places of worship must be approved by the URA.  They may not be owned by or exclusively leased to religious organizations or limited to religious use and must also be available to rent out for nonreligious events.  They may not display signage, advertisements, or posters of the religious use; be furnished to resemble a worship hall; or display any religious symbols, icons, or religious paraphernalia when the premises are not in use by the religious organization.  Use of the space for religious purposes must not cause parking, noise, or other problems.

Registration with the MUIS is compulsory for all religious teachers and centers of learning.  Registration requires adherence to minimum standards and a code of ethics, as well as fulfilment of certain training requirements.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools, although it is allowed in the country’s 57 government-subsidized religiously affiliated schools (mostly Christian but including three Buddhist schools).  Religious instruction in these schools is provided outside of regular curriculum time and must not include proselytization; students have a right to opt out and be given alternatives such as civics and moral education in lieu of religious instruction.  Religious instruction is allowed in private schools not aided by the government.  At the primary level, however, the law allows only seven designated private schools (six Sunni madrassahs and one Seventh-day Adventist school) to educate Singaporean citizen students; these schools must continue to meet or exceed public school performance benchmarks in annual national exams.  Other Muslim minority groups may operate part-time schools.  Public schools finish early on Fridays, which enables Muslim students to attend Friday prayers, or they allow Muslim students to leave early to attend prayers.  Secondary school students learn about the diversity of Singapore’s religious and cultural practices as a component of their character and citizenship education.

The law empowers the Ministry of Education (MOE) to regulate primary and secondary schools.  MOE rules prohibit students (but not teachers) in public schools from wearing anything not forming part of an official school uniform, including hijabs or headscarves.  Schools have discretion to grant a child dispensation from wearing the official uniform based on health but not religious requirements.  International and other private schools are not subject to the same restrictions.  For example, in madrassahs, which are all under the purview of the MUIS, headscarves are part of the uniform.  Headscarves are not banned at institutions of higher learning.

The law allows the Muslim community, irrespective of school of Islam or ethnicity, to have personal status issues governed by Islamic law, “as varied where applicable by Malay custom.”  Ordinarily the Shafi’i school of law is used, but there are provisions for use of “other accepted schools of Muslim law as may be appropriate.”  Under the law, a sharia court has nonexclusive jurisdiction over marriage issues where both parties are or were married as Muslims, including disposition of property upon divorce, custody of minor children, and inheritance.

The law permits a person involved in a sharia court divorce case to apply for permission to begin civil proceedings concerning division of property or custody of children.  Orders of the sharia court are enforced by the ordinary civil courts.  Appeals within the sharia system go to an appeal board, which is composed of three members of the MUIS, selected by the president of the MUIS from a panel of seven individuals nominated every two years by the president of the country.  The ruling of the appeal board is final and may not be appealed to any other court.  The law allows Muslim men to practice polygamy, but the Registry of Muslim Marriages may refuse requests to marry additional wives after soliciting the views of existing wives and reviewing the husband’s financial capability.

Under the law, certain criminal offenses apply only to those who profess Islam.  This includes publicly teaching or expounding any doctrine relating to Islam in a manner contrary to Islamic law, which carries a maximum fine of 2,000 SGD ($1,500), maximum imprisonment of 12 months, or both.  It is also a criminal offense for Muslims to cohabitate outside of marriage, but that law has not been enforced in decades.

Amendments to the Administration of Muslim Law Act that took effect on October 22 stipulate Muslim couples where one or both parties are under the age of 21 must complete a marriage preparation program and obtain parental or guardian consent before applying for marriage.  Each party to the marriage must be at least 18.

According to legal experts in inheritance, Islamic law governs Muslims regarding inheritance issues by default, but under certain circumstances civil law will take precedence when it is invoked.  Islamic law may result in a man receiving twice the share of a woman of the same relational level.  A man may also incur financial responsibilities for women under Islamic inheritance law.

The law does not recognize a right to conscientious objection to military service, including for religious reasons.  Male citizens or second-generation permanent residents are required to complete 24 months of uniformed national service upon reaching age 18, with no alternative provided to national service.

The Presidential Council for Minority Rights, an advisory body that is part of the legislative process, examines all legislation to ensure it does not disadvantage particular religious groups.  The council also considers and reports on matters concerning any religious group the parliament or the government refers to it.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The Jehovah’s Witnesses official website reported as of December nine Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained in the armed forces’ detention facility for refusing to complete national service on religious grounds.  Conscientious objectors were generally court martialed and sentenced to detention, typically for 12 to 39 months.  Although they remained technically liable for national service, men who had refused to serve on religious grounds were generally not called up for reservist duties.  They did not, however, receive any form of legal documentation that officially discharged them from reservist duties.

A court convicted three Hindus in February of disorderly behavior and insulting a Muslim police officer’s religion during the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in 2015.  The trio was charged with assaulting several policemen after the officers stopped a musical troupe from playing traditional Indian drums in the Thaipusam religious procession.  At that time, the government banned musical instruments from all religious processions on foot.  The men were fined from 8,000 SGD ($5,900) to 8,500 SGD ($6,200) and one was additionally sentenced to one year and one week’s imprisonment.  While he accepted his sentence, one convicted man attributed the group’s actions to the way authorities handled and spoke to them.

A group of Hindu participants in the Thaipusam foot procession in February said police officers and a representative from the Hindu Endowments Board had attempted to stop them from singing during the procession.  Police said although the government has permitted singing religious hymns since 2011, the group’s portable loudspeakers were not permissible.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam met with Hindu community leaders in March and addressed dissatisfaction over limitations on the use of live music at Thaipusam processions after police had permitted music at an event for St. Patrick’s Day.  The minister said that other than three exemptions granted for Hindu processions on foot, only secular processions on foot were permissible.  Authorities allowed the St. Patrick’s Day event to play live music because it was a secular event and religious elements, including attire, symbols, and music, were not allowed at the event, according to the minister.  The minister stated he welcomed community proposals to increase the number of live music points along the Thaipusam procession route beyond the three that the government allowed, and the Hindu Endowments Board stated it was committed to working with authorities to achieve this objective.  The minister’s comments followed online discussion by some individuals who questioned whether the government applied “double standards” on playing musical instruments to the two events.  One person wrote on Facebook that saying St. Patrick’s Day was not religious was “a huge injustice” to the Irish Catholic community.

Media reported that MUIS counseled a couple in August after they were said to have started a new religion known as the Yayi faith.  Yayi founder Paridah Jayos reportedly instructed her followers to treat her as a god and to ignore the tenets of Islam such as fasting during Ramadan and compulsory alms giving.  Some individuals questioned online why Jayos was counselled under Islamic law, rather than being treated as a practitioner of a new religion.

Home Affairs Minister Shanmugam stated in parliament in January and March that it was important that no foreign religious preacher who could “spread ill-will towards other religions, whether in Singapore or elsewhere,” be granted permission to speak in Singapore.  He said that the government would individually assess each foreigner’s request, based on his or her previous statements as well as his or her proposed talk.  The government website said at least two months were required for processing.  The Ministry of Home Affairs told media in April that foreign religious preachers could be issued an advisory to remind them of their legal obligations.

In January the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) banned a documentary, Radiance of Resistance, which was to be shown as part of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival.  The IMDA stated, “the skewed narrative of the film is inflammatory and has the potential to cause disharmony amongst the different races and religions in Singapore.”

Media reported that during a retreat in March for the Muslim religious counseling organization the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Shanmugam said, “younger self-radicalized individuals tend to rely heavily on the internet and social media for information, including religious teachings.”  Shanmugam expressed his support for RRG launching a youth awareness program for individuals aged 16 to 25 that aims to engage, educate, and provide Muslim youth with a better understanding of Islam.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced in parliament on March 8 the expansion of a project to combat religious extremism among Muslim youth.  He also stated the government would stand against Islamophobia.

Although government policy prohibited the wearing of hijabs by certain public sector professionals, such as nurses and uniformed military officers, many statutory boards within government agencies continued to allow Muslim staff to wear the hijab while the government continued to evolve its stance “gradually and carefully.”  Some in the Muslim community continued to quietly petition for a change in government policy.

The government assisted religious groups in locating spaces for religious observance in government-built housing, where most citizens lived.  In September the authorities introduced changes to the process for acquiring long-term leases on government-owned sites that were designated for exclusive use as “places of worship.”  The authorities said they aimed to reduce the cost and increase the availability of such leases, including for smaller religious organizations.  The changes allowed certain sites to be used for multistory developments by multiple religious organizations “belonging to the same religion,” increased the number of sites to be designated for exclusive religious use, and restricted commercial entities from bidding on them.  The government said religious groups would have to prove they had additional space needs, had adequate and sustainable local funding to finance the lease and development of the site, would not use foreign donations for the transactions, and would actively contribute to the community.  The government said at least two church and two Chinese temple sites would be made available each year for the next “few years.”  The government continued to enforce the maintenance of ethnic ratios in public housing and prevent the emergence of religious enclaves in concentrated geographic areas.

As part of the MOE’s National Education Program, the official primary and secondary public school curricula encouraged religious harmony and tolerance.  All schools celebrated the annual racial harmony day in July, which promoted understanding and acceptance of all religions within the country.  Children wore traditional clothing and celebrated the country’s racial and religious diversity.  Students were encouraged to recite the “Declaration of Religious Harmony.”

While the government did not formally prohibit proselytization, it continued to discourage its practice through the application of laws regarding public speech and assembly as it reportedly deemed proselytizing might offend other religious groups and upset the balance of intergroup relations.

The MUIS continued to operate the Harmony Center, which was set up to promote greater religious understanding.  The Harmony Center housed artifacts and information about Islam, as well as nine other major religions in Singapore.  It also organized interfaith programs, including dialogues with leaders from different religions.  In March the Harmony Center and the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue held a seminar entitled, “Religion, Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity.”

President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and government ministers regularly stressed the government’s commitment to the country as a multiracial and multi-religious society and cited religious harmony as an important policy goal.  In May the president called for the government to host an international high-level interfaith dialogue.  The president’s proposal, made during an interreligious iftar at An-Nahdhah Mosque, received support from local religious leaders and commentators.

Prime Minister Lee and four government ministers attended the consecration of the Hindu Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple in April.  Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said the event provided “an opportunity to reinforce the multi-racial, multi-religious nature of Singapore.”

Ministers gave speeches on strengthening religious pluralism.  At the IRO Day in March, MCCY Minister Grace Fu called on religious communities to continue strengthening religious harmony by fostering interreligious social mixing, discussions on faith, and community service projects.  (The IRO includes leaders of the 10 major religions in the country and has 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.)

Local government and government-affiliated organizations advocated for interreligious understanding and support for people of other religions.  The country’s five district mayors launched a national interfaith initiative called Common Senses for Common Spaces in February, which included activities such as community dialogues on Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

The government continued to support the operation of an “Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle” (IRCC) in each of the country’s 27 electoral constituencies.  Under the auspices of the MCCY, the IRCCs conducted local interreligious dialogues, counseling and trust-building workshops, community celebrations, and similar activities.

The government continued to engage religious groups through the community engagement program (CEP), and trained community leaders involved in the CEP in emergency preparedness and techniques for promoting religious harmony.

The government’s BRIDGE initiative, Broadening Religious/Racial Interaction through Dialogue and General Education, started in 2017 with funding of 3 million SGD ($2.2 million) for three years, continued to provide financial support for community-based initiatives that fostered understanding of different religious practices and beliefs.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith.  Religious groups faced increased registration requirements, including the need to present a petition with signatures of at least 50,000 adherents, up from 20,000 in 2017, which made it more difficult to attain official status.  Some groups utilized registration procedures for civic associations in order to perform economic and public functions.  Unregistered groups continued to report difficulties in ministering to their adherents and obtaining permits to build places of worship.  Members of parliament, from both the government coalition and opposition parties, continued to make anti-Muslim statements.  In January then Prime Minister Robert Fico stated that he rejected the creation of Muslim communities in the country.  The Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia (UZZNO) reported that anti-Semitic hate speech increased after then Prime Minister Fico indirectly accused a U.S. philanthropist of organizing antigovernment protests.  Some members of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) faced criminal prosecution for producing materials defaming minority religious beliefs and for Holocaust denial.  The president, speaker of parliament, and prime minister agreed in August with political, social, and religious communities the state would adopt a “zero-tolerance approach toward extremism” and fight the spread of hatred and insults over the internet.  In November parliament codified a new legal definition of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, which its sponsors said would facilitate criminal prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech.

The Muslim community continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media.  Muslim community members reported that a man verbally and physically assaulted an Iraqi woman wearing a headscarf in Bratislava due to her religious affiliation.  Christian groups and other organizations described in media as far right continued to organize gatherings and commemorations of the World War II fascist state and to praise its leaders, although without statements formally denying the Holocaust.  Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said the increased legal requirements for registration of religious groups, including Muslims, also continued to make it difficult to alter negative public attitudes that viewed unregistered small minority groups as “fringe cults.”

The Ambassador and other embassy officers discussed with government officials religious freedom and the treatment of minority religious groups, as well as measures to counter the increase in anti-Semitism and public expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment.  Embassy officials also met regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to discuss hate speech and the role of churches and religious groups in countering extremism and promoting tolerance.  The embassy awarded a grant to an NGO to develop a curriculum to foster religious tolerance through interfaith discussions in secondary schools.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and affiliation, as well as the right to change religious faith or to refrain from religious affiliation.  The constitution states the country is not bound to any particular faith and religious groups shall manage their affairs independently from the state, including in providing religious education and establishing clerical institutions.  The constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s faith privately or publicly, either alone or in association with others.  It states the exercise of religious rights may be restricted only by measures “necessary in a democratic society for the protection of public order, health, and morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The law prohibits establishing, supporting, and promoting groups dedicated to the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms as well as “demonstrating sympathy” with such groups.  These crimes are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Department of Church Affairs in the Ministry of Culture in order to employ spiritual leaders to perform officially recognized functions.  Clergy from unregistered religious groups do not officially have the right to perform weddings or to minister to their members in prisons or government hospitals.  Unregistered groups may not establish religious schools or receive government funding.

A 2017 legislative amendment increased the minimum number of adherents from 20,000 to 50,000 for organizations seeking official registration as religious groups.  The 50,000 individuals must be adults, either citizens or permanent residents, and must submit to the Ministry of Culture an “honest declaration” attesting to their membership, knowledge of the articles of faith and basic tenets of the religion, personal identity numbers and home addresses, and support for the group’s registration.  All groups registered before these requirements came into effect were grandfathered as officially recognized religions; no new religious groups have attained recognition since the amendment passed.  According to the law, only groups registered as churches may call themselves churches, but there is no other legal distinction between registered churches and other registered religious groups.

Registration confers the legal status necessary to perform economic functions such as opening a bank account or renting property and civil functions such as presiding at burial ceremonies.  The 18 registered churches and religious groups are:  the Apostolic Church, Baha’i Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Evangelical Methodist Church, Greek Catholic Church, Christian Congregations (Krestanske zbory), Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, and Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities.  Registered groups and churches receive annual state subsidies.  All but the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Greek Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, Reformed Christian Church, and Roman Catholic Church have fewer than 50,000 members, but they registered before this requirement came into effect.

The Department of Church Affairs of the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between religious groups and the state and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations.  The ministry may not legally intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups or direct their activities.

A group without the 50,000 adult adherents required to obtain status as an official religious group may seek registration as a civic association, which provides the legal status necessary to carry out activities such as maintaining a bank account or entering into a contract.  In doing so, however, the group may not call itself a church or identify itself officially as a religious group, since the law governing registration of citizen associations specifically excludes religious groups from obtaining this status.  To register a civic association, three citizens are required to provide their names and addresses and the name, goals, organizational structure, executive bodies, and budgetary rules of the group.

A concordat with the Holy See provides the legal framework for relations between the government and the domestic Catholic Church and the Holy See.  Two corollaries cover the operation of Catholic religious schools, the teaching of Catholic religious education as a subject, and Catholic priests serving as military chaplains.  A single agreement between the government and 11 of the 17 other registered religious groups provides similar status to those 11 groups.  The unanimous approval of the existing parties to the agreement is required for other religious groups to obtain similar benefits.

The law does not allow burial earlier than 48 hours following death, even for religious groups whose traditions mandate an earlier burial.

All public elementary school students must take a religion or ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences.  Schools have some leeway in drafting their own curricula for religion classes, but these must be consistent with the National Educational Program (an official Ministry of Education document).  Representatives of registered religious communities are involved in the preparation of the National Program.  Although the content of the religion classes in most schools is Catholicism, if there is a sufficient number of students, parents may ask a school to open a separate class focusing on the teachings of one of the other registered religious groups.  Alternatively, parents may request that teachings of different faiths be included in the curriculum of the Catholic religion classes.  Private and religious schools define their own content for religion courses.  In both public and private schools, religion class curricula do not mention unregistered groups or some of the smaller registered groups, and unregistered groups may not teach their faiths at schools.  Teachers from a registered religious group normally teach about the tenets of their own faith, although they may teach about other faiths as well.  The government pays the salaries of religion teachers in public schools.

The law criminalizes issuance, possession, and dissemination of extremist materials, including those defending, supporting, or instigating hatred, violence, or unlawful discrimination against a group of persons on the basis of their religion.  Such criminal activity is punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment.

The law requires public broadcasters to allocate airtime for registered religious groups but not for unregistered groups.

The law prohibits the defamation of a person’s or group’s belief as a criminal offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law prohibits Holocaust denial, including questioning, endorsing, or excusing the Holocaust.  Violators face sentences of up to three years in prison.  The law also prohibits denial of crimes committed by the prior fascist and communist regimes.

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

Government Practices

As of year’s end, the Supreme Court continued to evaluate a motion submitted in 2017 by the prosecutor general to dissolve the LSNS, which experts generally considered a far-right extremist party.  The motion said the LSNS was in violation of the constitution and other laws prohibiting support for groups and movements aimed at the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms and defamation of race, nation, or religious belief.

There continued to be no resolution to the registration application of the Christian Fellowship.  By year’s end, the Ministry of Culture had not concluded its consideration of additional expert opinions regarding whether it should reverse its 2007 rejection of the original application, which was based on expert opinion saying the group promoted hatred toward other religious groups.

Some members of registered Christian churches said stringent registration requirements limited religious freedom by preventing dissent within churches.  Dissenting members stymied in attempts to reform official theological positions might normally split off to form their own church, but the difficulty in registering a new religious group prevented such an action.

The government allocated approximately 42.5 million euros ($48.7 million) in annual state subsidies to the 18 registered religious groups.  The basis for each allocation was the number of clergy each group had, and a large portion of each group’s subsidy continued to be used for payment of the group’s clergy and operating costs as stipulated by law.  The Expert Commission on Financing of Religious Groups and Societies, an advisory body within the Ministry of Culture, continued discussions with representatives of registered religious groups about changes in the model to be used for their future funding and reportedly considered a model allocating funding on the basis of the number of adherents, rather than on the number of clergy.  Some members of religious groups said their groups’ reliance on direct government funding limited their independence and religious freedom, and they said religious groups self-censored potential criticism of the government on sensitive topics to avoid jeopardizing their finances.

Muslim community leaders stated prisons and detention facilities continued to prevent their spiritual representatives from gaining access to their adherents.  Muslim leaders had no legal basis to appeal to the government and request access because Islam is not an officially recognized religion.

Members of the Muslim community also continued to report the lack of official registration made obtaining the necessary construction permits for prayer rooms and religious sites more difficult, although there was no law prohibiting unregistered groups from obtaining such permits.  Representatives of the community said local officials feared opposition from the wider public, which may view unregistered groups as “sects,” and would seek technical grounds, such as zoning regulations, to reject their applications.  There were no reported cases of revoked construction permits for unregistered religious communities.

The Ministry of Culture’s cultural grant program continued to allocate funding for the upkeep of religious monuments and cultural heritage sites owned by religious groups.  In 2017, the ministry allocated 3.2 million euros ($3.67 million) for these purposes.

The three highest constitutional officials – President Andrej Kiska, Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko, and Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini – agreed during an August meeting with political, social, and academic institutions and religious communities that the state would adopt a “zero-tolerance approach toward extremism” and would crack down on the spread of hatred and insults over the internet.  UZZNO representatives welcomed the meeting of the top constitutional officials and said they were satisfied with concrete proposals raised in the meeting to fight anti-Semitism.

Many political parties, including the largest party represented in parliament, Direction – Social Democracy (Smer), continued to express anti-Muslim views in their public statements.  In January then Prime Minister Fico stated that he rejected the creation of Muslim communities in the country.  On another occasion, Fico said that tourists came to Slovakia because they did not have to “fear explosions” and would not be “bothered” by Muslims, given the small Muslim population.

In a February public debate, Richard Sulik, the leader of Freedom and Solidarity, the second-largest political party in parliament and the largest opposition party, said he perceived Islam as a threat to Slovak society.  He stated Islam was an “incompatible ideology” for the European way of life.

During a parliamentary debate on legislation dealing with abortion, LSNS Member of Parliament (MP) Stanislav Mizik likened Muslims to barbarians and stated legislative changes would be necessary to prevent the country from becoming a “caliphate” in the future.

UZZNO representatives said the number of anti-Semitic comments and hate speech on the internet and social media increased following March statements by then Prime Minister Fico in which he indirectly accused a Jewish American philanthropist of staging a “coup” and destabilizing his government.  Fico suggested the philanthropist aided in the organization of large-scale antigovernment protests held across the country in reaction to the February killing of an investigative journalist and his fiancee, calling NGO protest organizers the philanthropist’s “children.”

Representatives of the LSNS party continued to make anti-Semitic statements and faced criminal prosecution for past statements.  Party members and supporters frequently glorified the Nazi-allied World War II-era fascist Slovak state and its leaders and downplayed the role of that regime in wartime atrocities.

In July the Special Prosecutor’s Office indicted LSNS leader and MP Marian Kotleba for his charitable donation of 1,488 euros ($1,700) to three families at a 2017 event marking the founding of the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state.  Experts stated the amount was a symbolic representation of a 14-word white supremacist phrase and the numeric representation of a salute to Hitler.

Also in July the Specialized Criminal Court acquitted LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik of extremism charges in a case concerning a January 2017 Facebook post which criticized President Kiska for giving state awards to people of Jewish origin and to defenders of “gypsies and Muslims.”  The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove it was actually Mizik who wrote the post and dismissed the charges.  The case remained pending as the Special Prosecutor’s Office appealed the verdict.

In August the LSNS party sponsored the release of a film called Rejected Testimonies, which historians said was revisionist, and planned to premiere the film on August 8 in the city of Poprad.  The premiere was canceled due to opposition by the Poprad city council, because the film was suspected of breaking laws on defamation of race and religious belief, or on support of groups and movements aimed at the suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms.  Experts considered the choice of date and place a reference to Nazi symbolism.  The documentary focuses on the positive memories of people who lived under the World War II-era Slovak state without mentioning the victims of that regime, particularly the 70,000 Slovak Jews deported by the regime and murdered in Nazi death camps.

In February LSNS MP Milan Mazurek verbally attacked an expert witness during Mazurek’s trial on extremism charges, saying the witness was “not impartial, since he is a Jew.”  In April the Specialized Criminal Court found Mazurek guilty and fined him 5,000 euros ($5,700).  Speaking to supporters after the verdict, LSNS leader Marian Kotleba stated the current “regime” was “completely equal to the Nazi regime in the thirties” for silencing critics through legal proceedings.

As of October criminal proceedings for Holocaust denial remained pending against Marian Magat, who ran as an LSNS candidate in the 2016 parliamentary elections and was described by the press as a far-right radical.

In November parliament passed an amendment proposed by Speaker of Parliament Danko (Slovak National Party) to codify a new definition of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, which had been developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  Danko stated the new definitions closed loopholes and would facilitate prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech.

During an official state visit to Israel in July, Danko stated it was “high time to start fighting against intolerance and Holocaust denial in Slovakia.”  Danko also said he would fight politically to show that the LSNS was a “bunch of crazies” who have “no business being in parliament.”

In commenting on LSNS-proposed legislation, the Episcopal Conference of Slovakia, which represents the Roman and Greek Catholic Churches, said it was regrettable there had been no progress in implementing stricter prolife legislation and said the fact a party without a “consistent approach to protecting human dignity” [LSNS] was putting forward such legislation was a reason for all religious politicians to “examine their conscience.”

In September Prime Minister Pellegrini and Culture Minister Lubica Lassakova commemorated Slovak Holocaust and Ethnic Violence Remembrance Day by opening a new exhibition wing at the Holocaust Museum in Sered, which was subsidized through a one million euro ($1.15 million) government grant.  Pellegrini said on the occasion the state had the responsibility to “create a place where the young generation could come to see the horrors people had to endure between 1941 and 1945.”  The prime minister warned against historical revisionism and downplaying the wartime suffering of persecuted groups.  Government representatives, including the deputy prime minister, also participated at wreath-laying ceremonies organized by the Jewish community in Sered and Bratislava.

In April the prime minister and the minister of culture met with representatives of the Roman Catholic, Augsburg Lutheran, Greek Catholic, and Reformed Christian Churches, as well as UZZNO, to discuss mutual efforts to combat social exclusion and possible changes to the state financial subsidy to religious groups.  Religious leaders publicly stated they were worried about increasing extremism and anti-Semitism in Slovak society.


Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs in public and private.  It declares all religious communities shall enjoy equal rights and prohibits incitement of religious hatred or intolerance.  Religious groups do not have to register with the government but must register to obtain status as legal entities with tax and other benefits.  In September the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and Ministry of Justice launched a project to establish the scope of Jewish heirless properties seized by the Nazis or their collaborators.  Muslims asked the government to expand their access to cemeteries and to provide pork-free meals in public institutions.  Muslim and Orthodox groups reported difficulties in providing services in hospitals, prisons, and the military.  In April the Constitutional Court upheld a law prohibiting the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.

Muslim groups reported obstacles in accessing halal food, spiritual care, and circumcising their male children.  These groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also reported anti-Muslim sentiment at public events, in news media, and online.  Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia Igor Vojtic expressed concern about what he described as a negative disposition towards Jews, especially among left-leaning citizens.  Anti-Muslim hate speech was prevalent, especially online.  Construction of the country’s first mosque continued after delays due to funding shortages.  Muslims held services elsewhere in the interim.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials responsible for upholding religious freedom, including the Ministry of Culture’s (MOC) Office for Religious Communities, to discuss issues such as interfaith dialogue, the prohibition of animal slaughter without prior stunning, and the status of circumcision of male children.  In April the Ambassador hosted representatives of the Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities to discuss issues such as legal restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision of boys.  The embassy amplified its engagement on religious freedom issues through social media.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right of individuals to express their beliefs in public and private.  It declares all religious communities shall have equal rights and provides for the separation of religion and state.  The constitution guarantees equal human rights and fundamental freedoms to all individuals irrespective of their religion; it also prohibits incitement of religious discrimination and inflammation of religious hatred and intolerance.  The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons.

The law states individuals have the right to freely select a religion; freedom of religious expression (or rejection of expression); to express – alone or in a group, privately or publicly – their religious beliefs freely in “church or other religious communities,” through education, religious ceremonies, or in other ways; and not to be forced to become a member or to remain a member of a religious group, nor to attend (or not attend) worship services or religious ceremonies.  The law guarantees the right to refuse to comply with legal duties and requirements that contradict an individual’s religious beliefs, provided such refusals do not limit the rights and freedoms of other persons.

The law requires churches and other religious communities to register with the government to obtain status as legal entities, but it does not restrict the religious activities of unregistered religious groups.  Unregistered religious groups are not permitted by law to purchase property in their name.  According to the law, the rights of religious groups include autonomy in selecting their legal form and constituency; freedom to define their internal organization and name and define the competencies of their employees; autonomy in defining the rights and obligations of their members; latitude to participate in interconfessional organizations within the country or abroad; authority to provide religious services to military, police, prisons, hospitals, and social care institutions (the state pays the salaries of chaplains providing services at these institutions); and freedom to construct buildings for religious purposes.  The law states religious groups have a responsibility to respect the constitution and the legal provisions on nondiscrimination.

As legal entities, registered religious groups are also eligible for rebates on value-added taxes and government cofinancing of social security contributions for their religious workers.

To register legally with the government, a religious group must submit an application to the MOC providing proof it has at least 10 adult members who are citizens or permanent residents; the name of the group in Latin letters, which must be clearly distinguishable from the names of other religious groups; the group’s address in the country; and a copy of its official seal to be used in legal transactions.  It must pay an administrative tax of 22.60 euros ($26).  The group must also provide the names of the group’s representatives in the country, a description of the foundations of the group’s religious beliefs, and a copy of its organizational act.  If a group wishes to apply for government cosponsorship of social security for clergy members, it must show it has at least 1,000 members for every clergy member.

There are 54 registered religious groups, including the Catholic Church, Evangelical Church, Jewish Community of Slovenia, Serbian Orthodox Church, and Islamic Community of Slovenia.

The government may only refuse the registration of a religious group if the group does not provide the required application materials in full or if the MOC determines the group is a “hate group” – an organization engaging in hate crimes as defined by the penal code.

By law, MOC’s Office for Religious Communities monitors and maintains records on registered religious communities and provides legal expertise and assistance to religious organizations.  The MOC establishes and manages the procedures for registration, issues documents related to the legal status of registered communities, distributes funds allocated in the government’s budget for religious activities, organizes discussions and gatherings of religious communities to address religious freedom concerns, and provides information to religious groups on the legal provisions and regulations related to their activities.

The government has an agreement with the Holy See covering relations with the Catholic Church.  Subsequent to that agreement, the government concluded similar agreements with several other groups.  None of the agreements offer rights or privileges beyond those accorded religious groups in the constitution.

In accordance with the law, citizens may apply for the return of property nationalized between 1945 and 1963.  The state may provide monetary compensation to former owners who cannot receive restitution in kind; for example, the state may authorize monetary compensation if government institutions are using the property for an official state purpose or public service such as education or healthcare.

According to the constitution, parents have the right to provide their children with a religious upbringing in accordance with the parents’ beliefs.  The government requires all public schools to include education on world religions in their curricula, with instruction provided by a school’s regular teachers.  The government allows churches and religious groups to provide religious instruction in their faiths in public schools and preschools on a voluntary basis outside of school hours.  The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools as part of the curriculum or during school hours but does not prescribe penalties for violations.  Private schools may offer religious classes during or after school hours.

The law mandates Holocaust education in schools.  This instruction focuses on the history of the Holocaust inside and outside of the country.  Schools use a booklet published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of the Holocaust education curriculum to create awareness of the history of Jews and anti-Semitism in Europe before World War II and of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.  The booklet emphasizes the responsibility of everyone to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

The constitution provides for an independent Office of the Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights to investigate and report on alleged human rights violations by the government.  The national assembly appoints the ombudsman and allocates the office’s budget, but otherwise the ombudsman operates independently of the government.  Individuals have the right to file complaints with the ombudsman to seek administrative relief regarding abuses of religious freedom committed by national or local authorities.  The ombudsman’s office may forward these complaints to the state prosecutor’s office, which may then issue indictments, call for further investigation, or submit the claims directly to a court, whereupon the complaints become formal.  The ombudsman also submits an annual human rights report to the national assembly and provides recommendations and expert advice to the government.

The Council of the Government of the Republic for Dialogue on Religious Freedom under the auspices of the MOC’s Office for Religious Communities is responsible for promoting transparency and explaining national and EU legislation pertinent to religious groups through workshops and other events, and encouraging dialogue on issues of concern among the country’s religious communities.  Its members include representatives of the minister of culture, director of the Office for Religious Communities, commissioner for the principle of equality, and representatives of the Catholic Church, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovenia, Islamic Community of Slovenia, Serbian Orthodox Church, and smaller religious communities.

The law allows for circumcision, but some hospitals believe it is illegal and do not offer the procedure.  The Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights has issued a nonlegally binding opinion that, based on the constitution and the law, “circumcision for nonmedical reasons is not permissible and constitutes unlawful interference with the child’s body, thereby violating his rights.”

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter.

The penal code’s definition of hate crimes includes publicly provoking religious hatred and diminishing the significance of the Holocaust.  Punishment for these offenses is imprisonment of up to two years, or, if the crime involves coercion or endangerment of security – defined as a serious threat to life and limb, desecration, or damage to property – imprisonment for up to five years.  If an official abusing the power of his or her position commits these offenses, he or she may be subject to imprisonment of up to five years.  Members of groups that engage in these activities in an organized and premeditated fashion – hate groups, according to the law – may also receive a punishment of up to five years in prison.

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

Government Practices

The government approved the registration of four new religious groups:  the Slovene Islamic Community of Grace, Community of Zandernatis, Monastery Awam Gesar, and Slovene Daoists Temple of Highest Harmony.  It did not reject any registration applications.

In July the WJRO and Ministry of Justice agreed to launch a joint research project to establish the scope of heirless properties in the country seized by the Nazis or their collaborators.  The research teams commenced research in September and planned to complete their study in 2019.  Restitution efforts for property seized during the Holocaust were complicated by the period (1945-63) covered by the law on property nationalization claims, which excluded, with some exceptions, property seized from Jewish families prior to 1945.

The Office for Religious Communities reported the Muslim community had requested the government to reserve special locations in cemeteries for Muslim graves and allow gravestones to face Mecca.  Only some cemeteries allowed this practice, and some Muslim families buried their dead outside of the country.  Muslims may establish their own cemeteries, but there were no reports they had done so.  The Muslim community also requested the government make pork-free meals readily available in hospitals, schools, prisons, and other public institutions.  The Office of Religious Institutions said it planned to convene a meeting in 2019 of the Council of the Government of the Republic for Dialogue on Religious Freedom to address food service practices in public institutions.

According to the Office for Religious Communities, an inability to provide spiritual care in the military, hospitals, and other public institutions remained a problem for some minority religious communities.  While many hospitals had Catholic chapels, members of other faiths had more limited opportunities to attend collective religious services while hospitalized.  The armed forces (SAF) employed full-time Catholic and Protestant clergy to provide religious services but no Muslim imams, Orthodox priests, or Jewish rabbis.  While Muslims and Orthodox Christians in the SAF had access to their local religious communities while serving domestically, such opportunities were not always available during deployments or training abroad.  Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country Obradovic attributed the SAF’s lack of Orthodox clergy to low numbers of qualified Orthodox priests in the country, rather than inadequate government support.  The Orthodox community said it was preparing two candidates for service as chaplains in the SAF by 2023.  The Ministry of Defense said the Muslim community had not made any requests for it to employ imams in the SAF.  The Jewish community did not have any rabbis in the country; a rabbi in Trieste in Italy was responsible for Slovenia.  Catholic officials said they requested the government employ an ordained bishop as a military ordinary in the SAF and expected this issue to be resolved in a future amendment to the agreement between the government and the Holy See.

According to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), in April Igor Vojtic, Vice Chair of the Jewish Community of Slovenia, said the community was unable to receive compensation for a synagogue in Murska Sobota the communist government demolished in 1954 or secure a building for a synagogue and cultural center in Ljubljana.  Ministry of Justice officials stated it had not received any restitution claims for the Murska Sobota synagogue and the property identified by the Jewish community in Ljubljana was prime real estate with no historic ties to that community.

In April the Constitutional Court upheld the law prohibiting the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.  The Slovene Muslim Community, not affiliated with the larger Islamic Community of Slovenia, had filed a case in 2014 alleging this law violated religious freedom.  The Islamic Community of Slovenia continued to provide certificates to companies producing meat from stunned animals, confirming the meat was halal.  The country permitted imports of halal meat products.  The Jewish community also raised concerns over the prohibition and reported it imported kosher meat from neighboring countries.  The government defended the law as necessary to comply with EU regulations to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals.

Continuing confusion over the legal status of circumcision resulted in many hospitals not offering the procedure.  As a result, some Muslims and Jews continued to have the procedure performed in Austria.

Mufti Nedzad Grabus of the Islamic Community of Slovenia criticized the government’s treatment of Muslims in June at the community’s prayer for Eid al-Fitr, stating Muslims are “always being pushed towards the margins of this society.”  Among other issues, Grabus mentioned the restrictions on ritual slaughter of animals and circumcision.  He also stated the government prioritized Christian holidays over those of other faiths.

In November Janez Jansa, leader of the opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which won a plurality of votes in June parliamentary elections, said in a speech in Helsinki that Europe faced an external threat from radical Islam.  SDS national assembly member Branko Grims said during an election campaign debate in May the EU’s future would not be dictated by the budget but rather by “illegal migrations, the process of Europe’s radical Islamization, questions of identity, preserving European culture, civilization.”

The Office for Religious Communities continued to hold workshops and other events for religious communities to address their questions and foster interfaith cooperation.  Events included hosting a state prosecutor to explain technical details of hate speech legislation and a discussion of the UN’s Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.

In July the government approved an agreement between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Culture Ministry to grant museum representatives access to, and allow the museum to reproduce, material in Slovenia’s archives.

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

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom, including the freedom to change religions, proselytize, and establish religious schools.  Laws “reasonably required” to achieve certain listed public goals may restrict these rights.  In 2017 parliament passed a motion to explore the possibility of amending the preamble of the constitution to declare Solomon Islands a Christian country.  As of the end of the year, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized a draft of the proposed change.  Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela maintained a program of visiting different churches throughout the country with the expressed intention of fostering fellowship beyond his own church and asking for prayers for the government.

The five largest religious groups that make up the Solomon Islands Christian Association organized joint religious activities and encouraged religious representation at national events.  Police began to monitor a religious movement known as the Kingdom Movement in January for reportedly encouraging its members to sell their land and monitored threats made toward its leader.

The U.S. government, through the Embassy in Papua New Guinea and its consular agency office in Solomon Islands, discussed religious tolerance with the government during the year, including a recommendation that the proposed change to the preamble of the constitution not discriminate against non-Christian religious organizations or activities.  Officials discussed with religious minorities whether groups believed they could freely exercise their religious beliefs and if they had concerns about the proposed change to the constitution.  Representatives from the embassy also met with religious leaders of larger groups and leaders of the Solomon Islands Christian Association.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and of religion.  This includes the freedom for individuals to change religion or belief and to worship, teach, practice, and observe one’s religion in public or in private, either alone or with others.  It also provides for the freedom to establish noncompulsory religious instruction.  These provisions may be restricted by laws “reasonably required” to protect the rights of others, for defense, or for public safety, order, morality, or health.

All religious groups must register with the government.  Religious groups are required to apply in writing to the Registrar of Companies for a certificate of registration.  Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations may register as charitable organizations.  For any group to register, the group must submit the required paperwork to the Registrar of Companies; the application fee of 1,250 Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) ($160) is waived for religious groups.  Documentation required for the application process includes a description of the group, a list of board members, and a constitution that states how the group is governed and how members are chosen.  The registrar issues a certificate when satisfied that the requirements have been met and that the nature, extent, objectives, and circumstances of the applicant are noncommercial.

The public school curriculum includes an hour of weekly religious instruction, the content of which is agreed upon by the member churches of the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA), an ecumenical nongovernmental organization comprising the county’s five largest churches.  Parents may have their children excused from religious education.  Government-subsidized church schools are required to align their nonreligious curricula with governmental criteria.  Non-Christian religious instruction is provided in the schools upon request.  Ministers or other representatives of the religion provide these classes.  Anyone found to be preventing religious instruction faces imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to SBD 500 ($64).

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

As of the end of the year, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized a draft of constitutional changes to implement a 2017 parliamentary motion directing the committee to explore the possibility of amending the preamble of the constitution to declare Solomon Islands a Christian country.  Committee representatives said the changes would recognize Christianity as the main religion of the country without limiting religious freedom.

Several new groups were registered during the year, and there were no reports of religious groups being denied registration.

The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The ministry characterized its role as maintaining a balance between constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom, free speech, and free expression and maintaining public order.  The ministry also again granted a small amount of funding to churches to carry out social programs.  The maximum amount of these grants was SBD 15,000 ($1,900).  Some churches also received funding from local members of parliament through their constituent development funds.  According to informal guidelines on how constituent development funds should be allocated, no more than SBD 250,000 ($32,200) per year per district could be given to religious groups.  Groups needed to apply directly to members of parliament to receive these funds.

Religious groups operated several schools and health services.  The government subsidized most of the schools administered by the Catholic Church, Anglican Church of Melanesia, United Church, South Seas Evangelical Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Subsidies were allocated proportionally based on the number of students at the schools and the size of the health centers.  There were no reports of discrimination among groups in receiving these subsidies.

Government oaths of office customarily continued to be taken on the Bible, but this was not a compulsory practice.

The prime minister recognized churches as important players in the country’s development and encouraged churches to continue collaborating with the government to deliver services to the people.  In October he met with the apostolic nuncio and emphasized the need for the government and churches to work together.  He visited churches on a monthly basis as part of his stated program to engage with religious communities other than his own and to ask for prayers for the government.


Executive Summary

The provisional federal constitution (PFC) provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion, makes Islam the state religion, prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  Most areas of the country beyond greater Mogadishu remained outside federal government control.  Federal Member State (FMS) administrations, including Puntland, Jubaland, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug, and self-declared independent Somaliland, governed their respective jurisdictions through local legislation but did not fully control them.  The constitutions of Somaliland and Puntland State declare Islam as the state religion, prohibit Muslims from converting to another religion, bar the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and require all laws to comply with the general principles of sharia.  In August Somaliland officials arrested a U.S. citizen employed by a Catholic relief organization in Burao, Somaliland and accused her of proselytizing.  The federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education unveiled a national curriculum framework, announced in 2017, and new legislation for public and private primary and secondary schools in an effort to develop a national curriculum.  These initiatives would require Arabic language and Islamic religion, taught in Arabic, as mandatory subjects.

The terrorist group al-Shabaab killed, maimed, or harassed persons suspected of converting from Islam or those who failed to adhere to the group’s religious edicts.  During the year, al-Shabaab was responsible for the killings of civilians, government officials, members of parliament, Somali national armed forces, police, and troops from contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christians” intent on invading and occupying the country.  According to Morning Star News reports, in March al-Shabaab forces continued to seek out 35 orphans of underground Christians living in Mogadishu.  In July the militant group attacked the Baar Sanguni military camp in the lower Juba region, killing four Somalia National Army (SNA) soldiers and resulting in the deaths of seven al-Shabaab militants.  In March al-Shabaab attacked the position of Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) troops serving in Bulamarer as a component of AMISOM, killing at least eight troops.  Al-Shabaab, which launched a primary and secondary curriculum in June 2017, continued during the year to threaten parents, teachers, and communities who failed to adhere to al-Shabaab’s precepts.

Strong societal pressure to adhere to Sunni Islamic traditions continued.  Conversion from Islam to another religion remained illegal in some areas and socially unacceptable in all.  Those suspected of conversion faced harassment by members of their community.

In December the U.S. government reestablished a permanent diplomatic presence in the country for the first time since 1991.  Travel by U.S. government officials to the country continued to increase from previous years, although trips remained limited to areas when security conditions permitted.  In late August and September embassy officials engaged with Somaliland authorities to secure the release of an American citizen arrested on charges of proselytizing.  U.S. government engagement to promote religious freedom focused on supporting efforts to bring stability, reestablish rule of law, and advocate for freedom of speech and assembly.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The PFC provides for the right of individuals to practice their religion but prohibits the propagation of any religion other than Islam.  It states all citizens, regardless of religion, have equal rights and duties before the law but establishes Islam as the state religion and requires laws to comply with sharia principles.  While the PFC does not explicitly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions, sharia forbids conversion from Islam.  No exemptions from application of sharia legal principles exist for non-Muslims.

The constitutions of Somaliland in the northwest and Puntland State in the northeast make Islam the state religion, prohibit Muslims from converting, prohibit the propagation of any religion other than Islam, and stipulate all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.

The Somaliland constitution states:  “Every person shall have the right to freedom of belief and shall not be compelled to adopt another belief.  Islamic Sharia does not accept that a Muslim can renounce his beliefs.”  The Puntland State constitution prohibits any law or culture that contravenes Islam and prohibits demonstrations contrary to Islam.  The constitution and other laws of Puntland State do not define contravention of Islam.

Other interim FMS administrations, including Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, and South West State, have constitutions identifying Islam as the official religion.  These constitutions stipulate all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia.  The Galmudug, Hirshabelle, and South West State interim administrations have not enacted laws directly addressing religious freedom.

The national penal code generally remains valid in all regions of the country.  It does not prohibit conversion from Islam to another religion, but it criminalizes blasphemy and “defamation of Islam,” which carry penalties of up to two years in prison.

Both the PFC and the Puntland State constitution require the president, but not other office holders, to be Muslim.  The Somaliland constitution requires, in addition to Somaliland’s president, the candidates for vice president and the House of Representatives to be Muslim.

The judiciary in most areas relies on xeer (traditional and customary law), sharia, and the penal code.  Each area individually regulates and enforces religious expression, often inconsistently.

The Somaliland constitution prohibits the formation of political parties based on a particular religious group, religious beliefs, or interpretation of religious doctrine, while the PFC and the constitutions of state administrations do not contain this prohibition.

The federal Ministry of Religious Affairs has legal authority to register religious groups.  Guidance on how to register or what is required is inconsistent.  The ministry has no ability to enforce such requirements outside of Mogadishu.

Somaliland has no mechanism to register religious organizations and no specific requirements to register Islamic groups.  The Puntland State government has no laws governing registration and no mechanism to register religious groups.  Other FMS administrations have no mechanism to register religious organizations.

In Puntland State, religious schools and formal places of worship must obtain permission to operate from the Puntland Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs.  In Somaliland, religious schools and formal places of worship must obtain permission to operate from the Somaliland Ministry of Religion.  Neither Puntland State nor Somaliland law delineates consequences for operating without permission.  The FMS administrations require formal places of worship and religious schools to obtain permission to operate from local authorities.

The federal Ministry of Education has the mandate to regulate religious instruction throughout the country.  The PFC and FMS authorities require Islamic instruction in all schools, public or private, except those operated by non-Muslims.  Private schools have more flexibility in determining their curriculum.  These schools must request approval of the federal Ministry of Education; however, requests are infrequent.  Non-Muslim students attending public schools may request an exemption from Islamic instruction, but according to federal and FMS authorities, there have been no such requests.

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

Government Practices

In August Somaliland officials arrested a U.S. citizen employed by a Catholic relief organization in Burao, Somaliland, and accused her of proselytizing.  Somaliland authorities eventually released her and she departed the country.

In April the South West State Ministry of Internal Security, transferred 11 children ages nine to 17 attending an al-Shabaab madrassa in Baidoa District to a rehabilitation center in the town of Baidoa.

Federal and FMS governments maintained bans on the propagation of religions other than Islam, and there was one report of enforcement in Somaliland.

The federal government reportedly continued not to strictly enforce the registration requirement for religious groups opening schools for lay or religious instruction.

The Puntland state government neither banned nor imposed financial penalties on any religious groups.

The federal Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education launched a new national curriculum framework, announced in 2017, and new legislation for public and private primary and secondary schools to implement the curriculum framework.  The initiative mandates Somali as the language of instruction for primary school, Islamic religious instruction at all levels, and Arabic-language Islamic religion courses at the secondary level.

The federal minister of endowments and religious affairs noted the ministry’s ambitious efforts to promote religious tolerance and messaging to counter al-Shabaab ideology but stated such efforts were underresourced.

Al-Shabaab continued to impose its own interpretation of Islamic practices and sharia on other Muslims and non-Muslims, including executions as a penalty for alleged apostasy.  Al-Shabaab forces targeted and killed federal government officials and their allies, calling them non-Muslims or apostates.  In July al-Shabaab attacked the Baar Sanguni military camp in the lower Juba region, resulting in the deaths of at least four SNA soldiers and seven al-Shabaab militants.

According to Morning Star News reports, an underground Christian pastor in charge of an orphanage for children of deceased Christian parents said in March that al-Shabaab was hunting the 35 children residing there.

Al-Shabaab extorted high and unpredictable zakat (an Islamic obligation to donate charity during Ramadan) and sadaqa (a voluntary charity contribution paid by Muslims) taxes in the regions it controlled, according to humanitarian groups.  In October al-Shabaab released a photo online purporting to show al-Shabaab main spokesperson Sheikh Ali Dheere and other members distributing zakat it had collected to residents of Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab continued its campaign to characterize the AMISOM peacekeeping forces as “Christians” intent on invading and occupying the country.  In March al-Shabaab attacked an AMISOM position staffed by UPDF troops in Bulamarer.  According to an SNA official, as many as 46 Ugandans were killed.  Ugandan President Museveni said al-Shabaab killed eight troops, while al-Shabaab claimed it killed 59 troops.

According to humanitarian groups, al-Shabaab continued threatening to execute anyone suspected of converting to Christianity.  In the areas it controlled, al-Shabaab continued to ban cinemas, television, music, the internet, and watching sporting events.  It prohibited the sale of khat (a popular stimulant plant), smoking, and other behavior it characterized as un-Islamic, such as shaving beards.  It also enforced a requirement that women wear full veils.

According to humanitarian groups, al-Shabaab continued to harass secular and faith-based humanitarian aid organizations, threatening the lives of their personnel and accusing them of seeking to convert individuals to Christianity.  In March al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device that exploded outside the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Mogadishu, killing one staff member.

In areas under its control, al-Shabaab continued to mandate schools teach a militant form of jihad emphasizing that students should wage war on those it deemed infidels, including in nearby countries, the federal government, and AMISOM.  In October Hiraan Online quoted al-Shabaab spokesperson Ali Dheere warning the country’s independent education networks that al-Shabaab would take strong action against them if they collaborated with the federal government.  Al-Shabaab continued its forced recruitment of children in areas under its control in southern and central regions, including the town of Aad, Mudug Region.  On July 10, five Aad residents died in clashes between the residents and al-Shabaab forces after al-Shabaab militants demanded the town hand over children to fight with the organization.  The Galmudug FMS Deputy Security Minister said, “They [al-Shabaab] want to take away their children and take them to their madrassahs.  The people have rejected this.”

A small faction of ISIS fighters based in Puntland State continued to carry out terrorist attacks with the objective of establishing an ISIS caliphate in Somalia.  The group’s estimated strength was approximately 200 combatants, but it had relative freedom of movement and recruited individuals from towns surrounding the Golis Mountains.  The nonresident apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, Giorgio Bertin, told Catholic News Service in February that ISIS had chosen the location because the faction could continue spreading its ideology without many obstacles.

South Africa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status.  In September Rastafarians welcomed a Constitutional Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  Throughout the year, religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns that two separate draft laws, one requiring religious groups to register with the government and the other criminalizing, defining, and punishing hate crimes and speech, could potentially infringe on religious freedom and freedom of speech.

On May 10, three men attacked the Imam Hussain Mosque, a Shia mosque, located in Durban, in what many stated they believed was a sectarian attack.  The assailants stabbed two worshippers, cut the throat of another, and set parts of the mosque on fire, leaving one dead.  In July police discovered five explosive devices around Durban.  Police affidavits stated the 11 men arrested in connection with the devices and the mosque attack had links to ISIS.  The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recorded 62 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, compared with 44 in 2017.  Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments throughout the year.

The U.S. consulates in Durban and Cape Town coordinated with several U.S. government agencies to offer workshops on social cohesion and peaceful religious coexistence to local audiences including government officials, law enforcement, NGOs, civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics, and representatives of refugee and immigrant communities.  U.S. government officials met with religious groups and NGOs, including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Jewish representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief, including the right to form, join, and maintain religious associations.  It prohibits religious discrimination and specifies freedom of expression does not extend to advocacy of hatred based on religion.  The constitution permits legislation recognizing systems of personal and family law to which persons professing a particular religion adhere.  It also allows religious observances in state or state-supported institutions, provided they are voluntary and conducted on an equitable basis.  These rights may be limited for reasons that are “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom” and takes account of “all relevant factors.”  Cases of discrimination against persons on the grounds of religion may be taken to Equality Courts, the South African Human Rights Commission, and the Constitutional Court.  The constitution also provides for the promotion and respect of languages used for religious purposes, including, but not limited to, Arabic, Hebrew, and Sanskrit.

The constitution allows for the presence and operation of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) with the mission of fostering the rights of communities to freely observe and practice their cultures, religions, and language.  The CRL is an independent national government institution whose chair is appointed by the president and whose commissioners include members of the clergy, scholars, and politicians, among others.

The law does not require religious groups to register; however, registered religious and other nonprofit groups may qualify as public benefit organizations, allowing them to open bank accounts and exempting them from paying income tax.  To register as a public benefit organization, groups must submit a nonprofit organization application, including their constitution, contact information, and list of officers and documentation stating they meet a number of prescribed requirements that largely ensure accounting and tax compliance, to the provincial social development office.  A group registers once with the local office but their status then applies nationwide.  Once registered, the group must submit annual reports on any changes to this information, important achievements and meetings, and financial information, as well as an accountant’s report.

The government allows but does not require religious education in public schools but prohibits advocating the tenets of a particular religion.

The law allows for marriages to be conducted under customary law; however, it applies only to “those customs and usages traditionally observed among the indigenous African people” and may be performed by all religious groups and their leaders.

The constitution grants detained persons visitation rights with their chosen religious counselor.

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

Government Practices

In September the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court, declared unconstitutional a ban on marijuana cultivation and personal consumption by adults in private homes.  The court upheld a lower court ruling from 2017.  Since 2002, the Rastafarians had called for the drug, colloquially known as dagga, to be declared lawful on religious grounds.  Jeremy Acton, the head of the Dagga Party of South Africa, brought the court case.

Several groups, including the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the nonprofit Christian organization Freedom of Religion South Africa (FORSA), and the International Institute for Religious Freedom, stated their continued opposition to a 2016 CRL legislative proposal requiring religious groups to register, stating it would restrict their religious freedom.  The proposal would require religious groups to register formally with the government and would create a peer review council, consisting of representatives from various religious groups, which would grant organizations and individual religious leaders’ permission to operate.  Accredited umbrella organizations for each religious group would recommend the licensing of institutions and individual members of the clergy.  Another recognized umbrella organization would then either approve or decline licensing the institutions.  The groups in opposition stated the proposal’s intent to regulate all religious organizations was unconstitutional and unnecessary because existing laws could be used to address governmental concerns of improper religious activities, such as feeding congregant’s snakes and dangerous substances.  In January the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs announced that every comment it had received from the religious community opposed the CRL proposal.  The committee recommended a national consultative conference, where a full discussion could take place on the issues in the CRL proposal.  The committee also suggested a code of ethics.  No member of the committee recommended that the CRL proposal be forwarded for adoption by parliament.

According to the media, the legislative proposal was prompted by the CRL’s 2016 investigation that revealed some independent church leaders instructed their congregations to eat live snakes, expose their faces to insect repellant, drink gasoline, and pay large sums of money to receive blessings and miracles.  The CRL also found that some religious organizations failed to adhere to tax rules and demonstrated a lack of financial transparency.  Opponents of the proposal stated the CRL based its investigation and subsequent report that justified the recommendation for legislation on generalizations about alleged abuses.  Opponents further stated that the supporting evidence upon which the CRL based its investigation consisted of an inadequate number of interviews with religious groups.  The Council for the Protection and Promotion of Religious Rights and Freedoms – established to oversee the process drawn up by religious and civil organizations that define religious freedoms, rights, and responsibilities of citizens – described the report’s proposals as “the fruit of a poisonous tree.”  The proposal remained with the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs at year’s end.

In May the Department of Justice introduced to parliament a hate crimes and hate speech bill that would criminalize any action or statement motivated by bias or hatred towards an individual based upon a number of categories, including his or her ethnic, national, religious, or sexual identity; health status; employment status or type; or physical ability.  The bill would provide law enforcement officials and courts increased authority to arrest, punish offenders, and would mandate prison sentences of up to three years for first-time offenses.  The Department of Justice invited public commentary on the draft bill in 2017 and received more than 77,000 responses from individuals, religious groups, and other organizations.  Opponents to the bill, including religious figures, media representatives, and civil society and NGOs, argued the bill’s definition of hate crimes and speech was too vague and could potentially restrict freedom of religion and speech.  FORSA expressed concern that the bill’s provisions were “over-broad and unconstitutional” and could punish churches and Christians who spoke out against homosexuality; sexual identity is among the categories covered in the legislation.  The Hate Crimes Working Group, a network of civil society groups, stated that existing laws adequately addressed hate speech and the bill, if passed, could have unintended consequences.  The draft legislation was expected to be debated in parliament in early 2019, according to media reports.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie continued to await trial on charges of contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities.  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 Jewish institutions in the country.  The case continued at year’s end.

In August the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town ordered the state to pass legislation that recognizes Islamic marriages.  The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) successfully argued that the failure of legislation to recognize Islamic marriages degraded Muslim women’s rights.  The Association of Muslim Women of South Africa and the United Ulama Council of South Africa opposed the WLC case, stating it violated freedom of religion by singling out Islam.  The court found that marriage was given “a seal of constitutional significance” and that the only reasonable way the state could fulfill its constitutional obligations would be by enacting legislation that recognized Islamic marriages.  The court gave the government 24 months to pass the legislation; otherwise, all marriages validly concluded under sharia would be dissolved according to the existing legislation.

In September several Muslim pupils at Jeppe Girls School in Johannesburg were charged with “misconduct for repeated dress code infringements” for wearing hijabs without formally asking permission.  The Gauteng Education Department launched an investigation into the matter.  School officials agreed in principle to amend the school’s code of conduct to allow for religious headwear.  The girls’ families retained counsel, who said that if the school attempted to hold a planned hearing on the “defiance and disregard” the school officials said the pupils had shown, they would sue for religious discrimination.

Some prominent individuals and politicians were quoted throughout the year making anti-Semitic statements.  Economic Freedom Fighters political party leader Julius Malema stated at a media briefing in August, “There’s a group of white right wingers who are being trained by Jews in Pretoria to be snipers.”

In February African National Congress Western Cape legislator Sharon Davids accused the Democratic Alliance party of fabricating the Cape Town water crisis in order to obtain desalination contract kickbacks from what she referred to as the “Jewish mafia.”

In February the Democratic Alliance party instructed deputy provincial chair nominee and Women’s Network provincial leader Shehana Kajee to apologize for a 2013 online post in which she called for the Muslim community to “go on the attack” against non-Muslims in the name of Islam.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

The transitional constitution stipulates separation of religion and state, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides religious groups freedom to worship and assemble, organize themselves, teach, own property, receive financial contributions, communicate and issue publications on religious matters, and establish charitable institutions.  Both government and opposition forces reportedly engaged in attacks on religious buildings and killings of religious workers.  On May 16, government forces attacked Emmanuel Christian College in Yei, killing at least 10 persons, five of them children.

On May 12, attackers killed a local pastor and his wife in a home invasion in Juba.  On July 23, a protest by a group of youths demanding employment turned violent in Maban, and the rioters attacked and destroyed the compounds of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those of several missionary groups.  The country’s religious institutions reportedly remained a crucial source of stability in an otherwise unstable country.  Religious leaders stated that a diverse network of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim domestic and international organizations provided shelter from the fighting.  Sources said that at times their generally outspoken attitude toward what they stated were the forces driving the conflict made them targets, similar to humanitarian workers.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy representatives promoted religious freedom through discussions and outreach with religious leaders and civil society organizations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The transitional constitution stipulates separation of religion and state.  It prohibits religious discrimination, even if the president declares a state of emergency.  It states that all religions are to be treated equally and that religion should not be used for divisive purposes.

The transitional constitution provides for the right of religious groups to worship or assemble freely in connection with any religion or belief, solicit and receive voluntary financial contributions, own property for religious purposes, and establish places of worship.  The transitional constitution also provides religious groups the freedom to write, issue, and disseminate religious publications; communicate with individuals and communities on matters of religion at both the national and international levels; teach religion in places “suitable” for this purpose; train, appoint, elect, or designate by succession their religious leaders; and observe religious holidays.

The government requires religious groups to register with the state government where they operate and the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs through the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (because most religious groups are also advocacy and humanitarian/development organizations).  Faith-based organizations are required to provide their constitution; a statement of faith documenting their doctrines, beliefs, objectives, and holy book; a list of executive members; and a registration fee of $3,500 (which is charged for all organizations, including faith-based ones).  This requirement, however, is not strictly enforced, and many churches operate without registration.  International faith-based organizations are required also to provide a copy of a previous registration with another government and a letter from the international organization commissioning its activities in the country.

The transitional constitution specifies the regulation of religious matters within each state is the executive and legislative responsibility of the state government.  It establishes the responsibility of government at all levels to protect monuments and places of religious importance from destruction or desecration.

The transitional constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain “appropriate” faith-based charitable or humanitarian institutions.

The transitional constitution guarantees every citizen access to education without discrimination based on religion.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

There were continued reports that in connection with the civil conflict, security forces, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition committed killings and other abuses of civilians, including religious aid workers and churchgoers.  On May 16, at least 10 persons were killed when government forces attacked Emmanuel Christian College in Yei; the motive for the attack remained unclear.

Both a Christian representative and a Muslim representative read prayers at most official events, with the government often providing translation from English to Arabic.

Several religious groups were represented in government positions.  President Kiir Mayardit, a Catholic, employed a high-level advisor on religious affairs, Sheikh Juma Saaed Ali, a leader of the Islamic community in the country.  Additional Muslim representation in government included at least one governor and 14 members of the 400-member Transitional National Legislative Assembly.  All principal religious groups were represented in the assembly.

Although not mandated by the government, religious education was generally included in public secondary school and university curricula.  Theoretically, students could attend either a Christian or an Islamic course, and those with no religious affiliation could choose between the two courses.  Because of resource constraints, however, some schools offered only one course.  Christian and Muslim private religious schools set their own religious curriculum without government interference.


Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and states the government shall consider the religious beliefs of society and form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths.  The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements:  Protestants, Muslims, and Jews.  Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits.  Various politicians and civil society actors continued to criticize compulsory religious education, which is under the control of regional governments.  The Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) 2017 annual report on religious freedom cited concerns regarding unequal treatment of religious groups, different financing of religious assistance, difficulties in opening places of worship, proselytizing, and providing spiritual services in public institutions, and the inability of the state to respond to religiously motivated incidents.  Between January and September the government granted citizenship to approximately 4,000 descendants of Jews expelled in 1492.  Muslims, Jews, and especially Buddhists reported problems with cemetery access.  Leaders of other religious groups said the state allowed citizens to allocate part of their taxes to the Catholic Church or its charities but not other religions.  The government continued outreach to Muslims to combat religious discrimination and promote integration.

There were incidents of assaults, threats, incitement to violence, other hate speech, and vandalism against Christians, Muslims and Jews.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 142 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, 20 more than in the same period in 2017.  Of the 142 cases, 65 percent were against Christians.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) documented 103 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2017, compared with 47 in 2016.  The NGO Citizens’ Platform against Islamophobia reported 546 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, of which hate speech on the internet accounted for 70 percent.  The MOJ reported 43 hospitals throughout the country denied treatment to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them in media.

U.S. embassy and consulate officials met regularly with the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs and with religious leaders who participated in the governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation (the Foundation).  Topics discussed included anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anticlerical sentiment, the failure of some regional governments to comply with legal requirements to treat religious groups equally, concerns about societal discrimination against religious minorities, access to religious education and cemeteries for religious groups, and pensions for clergy.  In January the embassy hosted religious leaders for a discussion on religious freedom and equality in the country.  In June the Ambassador hosted an iftar focused on strengthening government engagement with, and inclusion of, the Muslim community.  In May the Consulate General in Barcelona organized an iftar where Muslim leaders and public officials discussed ways of promoting religious freedom and tolerance.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion and guarantees freedom of religion and worship for individuals and communities; it allows limits on expression if “necessary to maintain public order.”  According to the Foundation, reasons would include overcrowding in small facilities or public spaces.  The Foundation provides funding in support of activities and projects that promote cultural, educational, and social integration among religious denominations that have a cooperation agreement with the state.  The Foundation also promotes dialogue and rapprochement among religious groups and the normalization of religion in society.  A law restricts unauthorized public protest, but authorities have not used it or the constitutional limits on expression against religious groups.

The constitution states no one may be compelled to testify about his or her religion or beliefs.  The constitution also states, “No religion shall have a state character,” but “public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain appropriate cooperative relations with the Catholic Church and other denominations.”  The Catholic Church is the only religious group explicitly mentioned in the constitution.

The government does not require religious groups to register, but registering confers religious groups with certain legal benefits.  Groups registered in the MOJ’s Registry of Religious Entities have the right to autonomy; may buy, rent, and sell property; and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings.  Registration entails completing forms available on the MOJ’s website and providing notarized documentation of the foundational and operational statutes of the religious group, its legal representatives, territorial scope, religious purposes, and address.  Any persons or groups have the right to practice their religion whether or not registered as a religious entity.

Registration with the MOJ and notorio arraigo (“deeply rooted” or permanent) status allows groups to establish bilateral cooperation agreements with the state.  The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See, executed in part by the Episcopal Conference.  The government also has cooperation agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE.  These agreements are legally binding and provide the religious groups with certain tax exemptions, the ability to buy and sell property, open a house of worship, and conduct other legal business; grant civil validity to the weddings they perform; and permit them to place teachers in schools and chaplains in hospitals, the military, and prisons.  Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants.

The agreement with the Holy See covers legal, educational, cultural, and economic affairs; religious observance by members of the armed forces; and the military service of clergy and members of religious orders.  The later cooperative agreements with FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE cover the same issues.

Registered groups who wish to sign cooperative agreements with the state must acquire notorio arraigo status through the MOJ.  To achieve this status, groups must have an unspecified “relevant” number of followers; a presence in the country for at least 30 years; and a “level of diffusion” that the MOJ considers demonstrates a “social presence” but is not further defined.  Groups must also submit documentation demonstrating the group is religious in nature to the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs, which maintains the Register of Religious Entities.

The Episcopal Conference deals with the government on behalf of the entire Catholic community.  Per the state’s 1979 agreement with the Holy See, individual Catholic dioceses and parishes are not required to register with the government.  In addition to FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Federation of Buddhist Communities (FCBE), Church of Jesus Christ, and Orthodox Church are registered religions with notorio arraigo status.  New religious communities may register directly with the MOJ, or religious associations may register on their behalf.

If the MOJ considers an applicant for registration not to be a religious group, the group may be included in the Register of Associations maintained by the MOI.  Inclusion in the Register of Associations grants legal status but offers no other benefits.  Registration itself simply lists the association and its history in the government’s database.  Registration as an association is a precursor to requesting that the government deem the association to be of public benefit, which affords the same tax benefits as charities, including exemption from income tax and taxes on contributions.  For such a classification, the association must be registered for two years and maintain a net positive fiscal balance.

The government funds religious services within the prison system for Catholic and Muslim groups.  Examples of religious services include Sunday Catholic Mass, Catholic confession, and Friday Islamic prayer.  The cooperation agreements of FCJE and FEREDE with the government do not include this provision; these groups provide religious services in prisons but at their own expense.  Other religious groups registered as religious entities with the MOJ may provide services at their own expense during visiting hours upon the request of prisoners.

The Regions of Madrid and Catalonia have agreements with several religious groups that have accords with the national government.  These regional agreements permit activities such as providing religious assistance in hospitals and prisons under regional jurisdiction.  The central government funds these services for prisons and the military, and the regional governments fund hospital services.  According to the MOJ, these subnational agreements may not contradict the principles of the federal agreements, which take precedence.  The Catalan government has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, and CIE.  The Madrid Region has agreements with Catholics, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE.

The government guarantees religious workers of groups with cooperative agreements with the state access to refugee centers, known as foreign internment centers, so that these groups may provide direct assistance, at the groups’ expense, to their followers in the centers.  According to the MOJ, other religious practitioners may enter the internment centers upon request.

Military rules and prior signed agreements allow religious military funerals and chaplain services for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, should the family of the deceased request it.  Other religious groups may conduct religious funerals upon request.

The government recognizes marriages performed by all religious communities with notorio arraigo status.

Religious groups must apply to local governments for a license to open a place of worship, as with other establishments intended for public use.  Requirements for licenses vary from municipality to municipality.  The MOJ states documentation required is usually the same as for other business establishments seeking to open a venue for public use and includes information such as architectural plans and maximum capacity.  Religious groups must also inform the MOJ after opening new places of worship.

Local governments are obligated to consider requests for use of public land to open a place of worship.  If a municipality decides to deny such a request after weighing factors such as availability and value added to the community, the city council must explain its decision to the requesting party.

As outlined in agreements with religious groups, the government provides funding for salaries for teachers of Catholic and, when at least 10 students request it, Protestant and Islamic classes in public schools.  The Jewish community is also eligible for government funding for Jewish instructors but has declined it.  The courses are not mandatory.  Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes.  The development of curricula and the financing of teachers for religious education is the responsibility of the regional governments, with the exception of Andalusia, Aragon, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, and the two autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, which leave the curricula and financing of education to the national government in accordance with their individual regional statutes.

Autonomous regions generally have the authority to develop the requirements for religious education instructors and certify their credentials, although some choose to defer to the national government.  For example, prospective instructors must provide personal data, proof that the educational authority of the region where they are applying to work has never dismissed them, a degree as required by the region, and any other requirement as stipulated by the religious association to which they correspond.  The religious associations are required to provide a list of approved instructors to the government.  MOE-approved CIE guidelines stress “moderate Islam” in worship practices, with emphasis on plurality, understanding, religious tolerance, conflict resolution, and coexistence.  CIE also requires instructors to have a certificate of training in Islamic education.

Catholic clergy may include time spent on missions abroad in calculations for social security, and claim retirement pension credit for a maximum of 38.5 years of service.  Protestant clergy are eligible to receive social security benefits, including health insurance and a government-provided retirement pension with a maximum credit of 15 years of service, but pension eligibility requirements for these clergy are stricter than for Catholic clergy.  The law allows Protestant clergy to count towards retirement time worked prior to 1999, the date of a prior decree, only if these clergy adjusted their status in 1999, and does not allow Protestant clergy to claim retirement credit for time worked abroad.  Protestant clergy must also pay unfunded pension contributions in one lump sum rather than via monthly salary deductions, as Catholic clergy do.  Clergy from the Russian Orthodox Church, CIE, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also eligible for social security benefits.  The benefits for clergy from these groups depend on the specific terms of separate social security agreements that each of these groups negotiated with the state.

The penal code definition of hate crimes includes acts of “humiliation or disrespect” against victims because of their religion, with penalties of one to four years in prison.  Under the penal code, it is a crime to prevent or disrupt religious services and to offend, scorn or blaspheme religious beliefs, ceremonies, or practitioners.  Those who do not profess any religion or belief are also protected under the penal code.  By law, authorities may investigate and prosecute criminal offenses committed by neo-Nazi groups as “terrorist crimes.”  Genocide denial is a crime if it incites violent attitudes, such as aggressive, threatening behavior or language.

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

Government Practices

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the Church of Jesus Christ and the FCBE both said they were unable to conclude agreements with the government and therefore were excluded from the benefits available to the Catholic Church and the three other religious groups with such agreements.  The Church of Jesus Christ said it had been trying unsuccessfully for years to obtain an agreement, and the FCBE expressed regret that the state had for many years denied agreements to other religious groups with notorio arraigo status.

Some religious minorities, such as FEREDE, FCJE, and the Church of Jesus Christ, called for improved and equal access for religious groups providing spiritual services at public institutions, such as hospital, prisons, and the military.  FEREDE also sought government reimbursement for the cost of providing such services, in the same way the government did for the Catholic Church.  FEREDE welcomed the state’s decision to house Protestant chapels and ministers in some military bases, although it criticized the lengthy delays and lack of attention the issue received from the government.  FCJE, CIE, and FEREDE welcomed the decision to allow religious observance in prisons but also considered it necessary to standardize prisoners’ access to religious services so that it would be on a par with other basic services.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, several groups cited local government restrictions on their ability to proselytize or manifest their faith in public spaces.  FEREDE stated municipalities often imposed fines or other sanctions on members who distributed religious pamphlets or engaged in other religious activities in public areas, although the central government owned the land.  According to FEREDE, there was a growing tendency of local authorities to silence religious groups and expel them from the public space.  Jehovah’s Witnesses cited 37 municipalities where there were unresolved issues involving restrictions on the use of public spaces for religious activities.  The Church of Jesus Christ said its missionaries had occasionally encountered restrictions in posting placards in public or establishing booths at public fairs.

In September authorities detained and questioned actor Willy Toledo after he refused to appear in court to respond to allegations of offending religion for making insulting remarks in 2017 about God and the Virgin Mary.  In May and June Toledo had refused to answer questions before a judge about the charges, which were filed by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers, and said he would continue to “make mockery.”  The lawyers’ association reportedly broadened its complaint against Toledo to incitement to hatred after he said, “Ultra-Catholics should disappear from the face of the earth,” and, according to the association, justified crimes against Catholic clergy during the Spanish Civil War by stating on television, “The churches and priests must have done something to be burned.”

In March Member of Parliament Enric Bataller of the Compromis Party introduced a bill to remove from the penal code the crime of offending religion.  According to the draft bill, the existing provision of the code contradicted “the constitutional rights that guarantee freedom of expression and the nonconfessional character of the state.”

Several religious groups, especially Protestant ones, said burdensome and unequal regulations remained a principal obstacle to religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship.  For example, FEREDE Executive Secretary Mariano Blazquez cited a requirement in several municipalities that there be at least 500 meters (1640 feet) separating one place of worship from another, which disproportionately affected non-Catholic denominations due to the prevalence of Catholic churches.  Groups said other restrictions, such as requirements that religious centers maintain the same level of acoustic insulation as nightclubs, were excessively expensive and technically difficult to fulfill.

According to the MOJ, Protestant groups built 197 new places of worship in the country between December 2017 and December 2018, bringing the total to 4,238, or 58.5 percent of all non-Catholic places of worship.

Other religious groups cited similar concerns in the government’s report on religious freedom.  CIE stated municipal urban planning restricted the opening of places of worship in city centers, forcing them to move to city outskirts.  Jehovah’s Witnesses cited long delays of up to one year after approval of construction for a place of worship until authorities issued a permit to begin work.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, Muslim and Buddhist communities reported problems with accessing and establishing cemeteries.  FCBE said no Buddhist cemeteries or specific places to deposit remains according to Buddhist tradition existed in the country, and there was no interest on the part of municipalities to address the issue.  CIE expressed the need for a place of burial in each one of the Balearic and Canary Islands.  In addition, CIE reported only the autonomous communities of Andalucia and Valencia and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla allowed coffinless burials.  The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stated the country had 28 public cemeteries with specific plots for Muslims.

The Jewish community also cited a need to obtain more space in cemeteries, where it could carry out burials in accordance with Jewish customs.  Despite existing agreements between FCJE and Valencia and Alicante under which the cities were to provide Jewish cemeteries, the projects remained pending at year’s end.

In May pamphlets featuring People’s Party Leader in Catalonia and former Badalona Mayor Xavier Garcia Albiol, in which Garcia Albiol called for blocking the construction of an Islamic prayer room in the Artigues neighborhood of Badalona, circulated in the city.  Then-Badalona Mayor Dolors Sabater said her administration was considering charging Garcia Albiol with a hate crime but did not do so.

FCJE Director Carolina Aisen said implementation of the law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to gain citizenship continued to run smoothly.  According to Aisen, who said she met monthly with the MOJ to discuss progress, 4,000 Sephardi descendants obtained citizenship between January and September, and approximately 18,000 Sephardis had started the application process.  The bulk of applicants continued to come from Venezuela; others came from Israel, other countries in Latin America, and the United States.  The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as a requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law.  Aisen said the sharp rise in applications for citizenship was likely due to concerns the law would expire in 2019.

The FCJE estimated there were very few survivors of the Holocaust residing in the country and said this was why the government only considered restitution on a case-by-case basis.  The FCJE reported no restitution cases during the year.

The MOJ’s report on religious freedom cited complaints by several religious groups, including the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE, about obstacles to providing religious education and the integration of religious teachers in schools.  The Catholic Church said some autonomous communities failed to provide students or their parents sufficient information on the possibility of pursuing religious studies, or placed barriers to the teaching of such classes, in violation of the government’s accord with the Holy See.  FEREDE stated many localities did not offer Protestant classes, and parents often were unable even to request such classes.  After protracted efforts by the Protestant community, according to the report, the autonomous community of La Rioja began to offer religious classes for Protestants in schools, as did Huesca Province; however, the autonomous community of Valencia had not responded to the requests for such classes by more than 700 students.

Religious groups said there was also a continuing lack of information on classes or enrollment options for students.  CIE cited a similar lack of information and enrollment options for students and reported that only six autonomous communities and Ceuta and Melilla had Islamic studies educators, despite the existence of eligible instructors in every region.  In the Basque Country, there were reports some schools had called in parents to discourage them from seeking Islamic classes for their children.

There were no Jewish classes in public schools, and FCJE reported schools were usually unaware of Jewish holidays provided for in the accord between FCJE and the state.  The Church of Jesus Christ proposed the right of religious education in public schools be extended to all religious groups with notorio arraigo status, not just to groups with agreements with the state.

In February the Education Commission of the national parliament approved a nonbinding resolution introduced by members of the Valencia-based Compromis Party and Together We Can (Unidos Podemos), a coalition of left-wing political parties, calling on the government to eliminate religion from the public school curriculum.  The draft resolution, which parliament did not vote on, also called for the repeal of the government’s agreements with the Holy See and with other religious groups.

In June the Regional Parliament of Navarre approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the federal government to “denounce the accords between Spain and the Holy See,” with a view to establish a secular education system in public schools.

In July the Federation of Associations of Fathers and Mothers of Students in the Province of Castellon (FAMPA) said it was receiving complaints from parents of students in schools selected to teach Muslim students classes on Islam.  FAMPA head Silvia Centelles said the organization had always favored doing away with teaching religion in classes and that parents said they could not understand how education officials could be in favor of teaching “the Islamic religion in classes, a religion that denigrates women and relegates them to second-class status.”

In January the Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras), the country’s largest labor union, called for the elimination of religion from public schools and an education “free of the dogmatism of the Catholic Church.”  In February the teachers’ union of Castilla La Mancha called for a reduction in class hours dedicated to teaching religion to the minimum required by law until national norms were changed towards establishing secular public schools.  According to a statement by the union, religion as a subject matter was neither a science nor an art and did not merit inclusion in public schools; rather it served to spread Catholic doctrine and only distorted the normal functioning of students’ education, taking beliefs from the private to the public space, where they did not belong in a nonconfessional society.

Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued to expand in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two existing royal decrees.  The subject was included in fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and first-year contemporary world history class.  In 2017, the FCJE signed an agreement with the MOE to train teachers on the Holocaust, Judaism, and anti-Semitism.

In December the state-supported cultural center Centro Sefarad Israel organized a trip to Berlin for approximately 15 Spanish teachers to learn about the Wannsee Conference, the meeting at which Nazi officials planned the Holocaust.  The trip included lectures and a tour of a concentration camp.  Centro Sefarad Israel organized dozens of lectures and courses throughout Spain on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, bringing speakers from around the world to speak to groups of teachers and other instructors.

Despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling making government pension eligibility requirements for Protestant clergy the same as those for Catholic priests, no Protestant clergy had yet begun receiving a government pension because the ruling was not retroactive.  FEREDE asked the government to issue a royal decree to allow retired Protestant clergy to collect pensions from their time in service prior to 1999 and to allow survivor benefits for spouses and children of clergy.

The Catholic Church remained the only religious entity to which persons could voluntarily allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes.  Other religious groups were not listed on the tax form as potential recipients of funds.  Several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form so they could be eligible to receive the 0.7 percent allocation from taxpayers.  The tax designation yielded 267.8 million euros ($307 million) in donations to the Catholic Church during the year, according to news reports.

Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE stated they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government.  As an example, they cited their inability to make use of the same tax allocation financing system that the Catholic Church used.

Many religious groups, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, said that they relied on government funds, provided through the Foundation, to cover their administrative and infrastructure costs.  According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, CIE indicated its interest in changing the Foundation’s system of assigning funds that supported Islamic communities so that funds could be used to support several communities that stopped receiving other forms of assistance.  FCBE, which is not a participant in the Foundation, said that it did not receive any public funding and expressed its desire to receive such assistance in the future.  FEREDE proposed the government increase tax deductions for donations to religious groups so that these groups could better self-finance their operations.  Religious representative bodies, such as FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE received funding from the Foundation to cover administrative and infrastructure costs.  During the year FEREDE received 356,000 euros ($408,000), FCJE received 169,362 euros ($194,000), and CIE received 255,000 euros ($292,000).  The Foundation also provided 120,000 euros ($138,000) in small grants to dozens of local religious associations for educational and cultural projects aimed at promoting religious integration.

In May the regional government of Navarre became the first of the 17 autonomous communities to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, approving a nonbinding declaration calling on the central government to “support any initiative promoted by the international BDS campaign” and “suspend relations with Israel until that country stops its criminal and repressive policies against the Palestinian population.”  The measure did not stipulate any actions the Navarre government should take in support of BDS other than its appeal to the central government.

As of June approximately 100 local, municipal, or provincial governments had passed resolutions supporting the BDS movement, including Valencia, the country’s third largest city, although court rulings had voided more than a dozen of these resolutions after the attorney general for hate crimes began investigations in 2017 to determine possible criminal responsibility of municipalities that supported the BDS movement.  For example, in June the High Court in the province of Asturias found that the city of Castrillon’s policy of boycotting Israel was unconstitutional.  In August the municipalities of Sagunto and Villarrobledo reversed prior statements in support of BDS after the local NGO Action and Communication on the Middle East threatened a lawsuit.  The NGO Lawfare Project said that, as of June, its litigation fund had secured 58 court victories against BDS campaigns in the country.

In December the interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee, led by Minister of Justice Dolores Delgado, held plenary and standing committee sessions to review issues pertaining to religious freedom in the country.  The committee reviewed the status of religious freedom, noted issues of concern, and approved the MOJ’s 2017 report on religious freedom.  The committee comprised representatives from various government offices, academics, and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, CIE, Church of Jesus Christ, Federation of Buddhist Communities, and Orthodox Church.  The committee had seven working groups to address specific religious issues, including approval of the MOJ’s annual report on the status of religious freedom in the country.

The city of Barcelona continued to implement its “Plan of Action against Islamophobia.”  As part of the plan, the city’s Office for Nondiscrimination launched a communications campaign in partnership with Muslim communities to sensitize the population to anti-Muslim sentiment and its impact.  The city hall led training events on human rights and diversity, including religious tolerance, to municipal employees, as well as to more than 1,500 children.  The office also provided legal, social, and psychological assistance to victims of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In August the Foundation signed an agreement with the Madrid municipal police to protect the religious freedom of members of the police force by coordinating on research and development of new methodologies to manage a religiously diverse police force.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE and FJCE again called for greater neutrality on the part of the national and local governments in conducting official activities.  They cited the organization of Catholic state funerals and the participation of government officials in acts or ceremonies of a particular religious group as evidence of a lack of neutrality.

In May the Rioja Provincial Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution calling on the provincial government to give proof of institutional secularism as a “public reflection of real neutrality and respect for diverse religious beliefs.”  In particular, the resolution asked the government to ensure that public ceremonies in which members of the provincial executive branch participated were secular.

In May the Barcelona High Court upheld the 2017 conviction and six-month prison sentence of Barcelona bookstore owner Pedro Varela for intellectual property crimes for selling Mein Kampf without authorization.  Varela was released on two-year’s probation after serving one month of his sentence.  Authorities continued to investigate Varela on charges of selling books promoting religious hatred or discrimination, and his bookstore remained closed.

Movement Against Intolerance, a nonreligiously affiliated NGO that compiles instances of religiously motivated hate crimes, criticized government and religious leaders for not working together to combat all forms of religious intolerance.  Director Esteban Ibarra again stated authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to religiously motivated crimes more widely and that public prosecutors and police remained unprepared to combat religious intolerance.  Ibarra also pointed to a lack of preventive education in schools.  In addition, FEREDE proposed the government create a hotline for victims of religious persecution and hate crimes.

According to Ibarra, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment were on the rise, partly due to the actions of some members of political parties on the far left and right, such as Podemos and Vox.  Ibarra said that, although membership in ultra-right parties remained small, such parties had gradually expanded their online and public presence over the previous year, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press.  Ibarra stated the support for BDS policies among some members of parties like Podemos contributed to the further isolation of Israel and an increase in anti-Semitism.

During an appearance on Catalan public television, Bel Olid, a writer and activist affiliated with the far-left CUP (Catalan Popular Unity Candidacy) Party, encouraged participation in the March 8 International Women’s Day demonstrations by calling for the burning of the Episcopal Conference for being sexist and patriarchal.

The Foundation provided training on preventing anti-Islamic sentiment and other religious discrimination and organized an event with the Canada Foundation and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces on reducing violent religious extremism.  The Foundation hosted a seminar with members of the Baha’i Faith on preventing violent radicalization.

According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE asked the government to adjust its visa policies for foreign religious workers in recognition that spouses and minor children might accompany Protestant clergy.

The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information on registered minority religious groups to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship.  The MOJ stated the tool provided no personally identifiable information and complied with the information protection law.

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