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Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Organization for Rastafarians in Unity (ORU) stated that police harassment of Rastafarians and the mandatory cutting of dreadlocks while in prison continued. The ORU said the government also continued to prohibit their use of marijuana for religious rituals. Following a meeting on October 12 with the ORU, the government said it would allow Rastafarians to use public buildings to celebrate religious holidays and perform marriages. The government also said it would allow unvaccinated children to attend school after it first created a formal process to allow for the exemption.

According to the ORU, Rastafarians continued to face societal discrimination, including when seeking employment. Rastafarian sources said some businesses prohibited the wearing of dreadlocks, which they said were an important component of their faith.

Embassy officials met with government officials, including the minister responsible for ecclesiastical affairs, to discuss the government’s commitment to religious diversity, including issues pertaining to the Rastafarian community. Embassy officials also spoke with three leaders of the Rastafarian community.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 52,700 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 17 percent of the population is Anglican; 16 percent Methodist; 11 percent Pentecostal; 7 percent Church of God; 6 percent Roman Catholic; 5 percent each Baptist, Moravian, Seventh-day Adventist, and Wesleyan Holiness; 4 percent other; and 2 percent each Brethren, evangelical Christian, and Hindu. An additional 1 percent each is Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, and Rastafarian, and less than 1 percent each is Bahai, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army. Nine percent claimed no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. 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, but students who do not want to attend are exempt from all religious activities.

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

The law does not prohibit the wearing of dreadlocks; however, businesses may restrict the wearing of dreadlocks for 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

The government met with Rastafarian groups on October 12 to address their concerns regarding discrimination. According to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security and Ecclesiastical Affairs, whose team led the dialogue with the Rastafarian community, the government agreed to allow Rastafarians to use public buildings to celebrate religious holidays and perform marriages.

ORU representatives said prison officials continued to require Rastafarian prisoners to cut their dreadlocks. Prison officials told ORU representatives that Rastafarians were not required to cut their hair unless their hair posed a health issue such as lice. The prison did not provide different diets based on religious restrictions. Only prisoners with health restrictions received dietary accommodations.

ORU representatives stated Rastafarians continued to face police harassment, particularly for the use of marijuana for religious purposes. Rastafarian representatives continued to state that marijuana, banned by law, was integral to their religious rituals.

The ORU said public and private school officials continued to refuse to enroll Rastafarian children because, in accordance with their faith, Rastafarian parents did not vaccinate their children. The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of all children before enrolling in school. In the October 12 meeting with Rastafarian groups, however, the government agreed to allow unvaccinated children to attend school, stating it would develop a formal process to allow for the exemption. Some children of the Rastafarian community were home schooled, but statistics were not available.

According to the ORU, the government charged Rastafarian groups wishing to celebrate Kwanzaa in government-run community centers 400 East Caribbean dollars ($150) but offered the centers to Christian groups for tree lighting ceremonies with no charge. In response to pressure from Rastafarian groups, the government announced in October it would allow Rastafarians to utilize community centers free of charge, similar to other religious groups.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the ORU, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, particularly in seeking private sector employment. The ORU said many hotels prohibited their staff from wearing dreadlocks; hotel management told them that, while no law prohibited the wearing of dreadlocks, hygiene regulations sometimes prohibited dreadlocks at the workplace.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged government officials on the government’s commitment to religious diversity, including the minister responsible for ecclesiastical affairs in the Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security, and Ecclesiastical Affairs. Embassy representatives discussed the impact of government policies and societal attitudes towards Rastafarians with a leader of the Rastafarian community and with the head of the Christian Council.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion as well as the right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of one’s choice. Starting in January the government officially recognized marriages conducted under Rastafarian rites. Rastafarians said they continued to be reluctant to use marijuana for religious purposes because the government prohibited it and imposed fines for any use. The police stated that the number of Rastafarians arrested for possession of small quantities of marijuana significantly declined during the year. Rastafarians stated they continued to face discrimination in the school system because the Ministry of Education required vaccinations for all children attending school. Government officials and Rastafarian community members said some Rastafarian families decided to vaccinate their children or to homeschool.

According to the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community said individuals occasionally harassed them when they wore head coverings and clothing identifying 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 raised the Rastafarian community’s general perception that police and education officials discriminated against them with government officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government. Embassy officials also discussed with representatives from the ministry what Rastafarians said was government discrimination against them, including requiring immunizations for children to enter school and the government’s nonrecognition of Rastafarian traditional doctors. Embassy officials met jointly with government officials and leaders of the Rastafarian community to discuss cases of discrimination and the importance of freedom of religious expression. The embassy employed social media to spread messages about religious freedom and tolerance in the Eastern Caribbean, including for the November 16 International Day for Tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 165,000 (July 2017 estimate). The 2010 Population and Housing Census, the latest available, reports Roman Catholics account for 61.1 percent of the population; Seventh-day Adventists, 10.4 percent; Pentecostals, 8.8 percent; evangelical Christians, 7.2 percent; Baptists, 2.1 percent; and Rastafarians, 2 percent. Other groups, together constituting less than 2 percent of the population, include Anglicans, members of the Church of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, and Bahais. Nearly 6 percent of the population claims no religious affiliation. According to a televised interview on local media with the Islamic Association of St. Lucia, approximately 400 Muslims, mainly Sunni, live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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. An antiblasphemy law is not enforced.

The government requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government if their membership exceeds 250 individuals. To register, groups must provide contact information, organization establishment date and history, declaration of belief, number of members, location of meeting place, and income source. 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 all sponsor private schools, where they teach their respective religions 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

Officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government stated they engaged in constructive dialogue and outreach with the Rastafarian community. The ministry said it did not receive formal complaints from other religious groups.

In January the government approved the Rastafarian Nyahbinghi House to conduct marriages under Rastafarian rites, thereby legitimizing Rastafarian children under the law and granting them inheritance rights.

Rastafarians stated the government’s prohibition of marijuana and accompanying fines for its use made members of the Rastafarian community reluctant to use marijuana, thereby preventing them from carrying out some of their religious practices. The police stated that the number of Rastafarians arrested for possession of small quantities of marijuana significantly declined during the year, although the police did not provide specific numbers of arrests made. Rastafarians also stated that Ministry of Education regulations requiring the vaccination of schoolchildren to enter school was a problem 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.

The government regularly consulted with the Christian Council, comprising representatives of the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations, on issues of pending legislation or policies. It also consulted with members of the Rastafarian community on pending legislation and policies, including recognizing marriages and issues surrounding school attendance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Members of the Muslim community reported they were occasionally harassed in public spaces when they wore Muslim religious attire. Harassment included name calling and inappropriate questioning by members of the public.

The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean continued to hold interfaith meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

The national and local governments celebrated Indian and Hindu heritage during the annual October heritage month. During the commemoration, the national and local governments recognized the presence of the Indian/Hindu community on the island since the 19th century, attending celebrations and providing some financial support.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials raised with government officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government the Rastafarian community’s general perception that police and education officials discriminated against them.

Embassy officials engaged with religious group leaders and civil society, including with the leadership of the Rastafarian community, the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, the Catholic Church; gender-based nongovernmental organizations, and the Red Cross, on the importance of promoting freedom of religious expression and combating discrimination. The religious groups and civil society organizations said they were collaborating to further social dialogue and conduct outreach programs in the community that addressed freedom of religious expression, tolerance, and discrimination. The embassy employed social media such as Facebook to spread messages about the value of religious tolerance in the Eastern Caribbean, including for the November 16 International Day for Tolerance.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. The government prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious reasons. Rastafarians continued to state they disagreed with the government’s ban on marijuana, stating it was integral to their religious rituals. Vaccinations as a requirement 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 stated accommodations permitted dreadlocks at some workplaces, such as construction sites, with appropriate headgear, called a Tam or Rastacap.

Rastafarians stated they continued to face societal discrimination because of their religious practices, in particular their use of marijuana. Some Rastafarian activists stated, however, they believed Rastafarians were increasingly accepted in society, and society was becoming more tolerant of their way of life. They cited a perceived reduction in police harassment as proof of increased societal acceptance.

Embassy officials discussed the prohibition 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 met with representatives of religious communities, in particular Rastafarians and Muslim leaders. The embassy also used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102,000 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2012 government census, 82.3 percent of the population identifies as Christian, among them Pentecostals composing 27.6 percent, Anglicans 13.9 percent, Seventh-day Adventists 11.6 percent, Baptists 8.9 percent, Methodists 8.7 percent, and Roman Catholics 6.3 percent. Rastafarians account for 1.1 percent of the population. Those with no religious affiliation account for 7.5 percent of the population; those listed as “no religion stated” constitute 4.7 percent; and those listed as “other religion” constitute 4.3 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Muslims and Hindus, the latter primarily East Indian in origin. There is no organized Jewish community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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.

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.

An antiblasphemy law is not enforced.

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 remained in disagreement with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use, which they described as integral to their religious rituals. 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 (similar to an elongated ski cap); however, Rastafarians cited the continued prohibition of dreadlocks in certain work areas and in some, mostly private, schools. Vaccinations as a requirement for school enrollment continued to remain under discussion between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children. Rastafarians said they continued to face scrutiny from police and immigration officials due to their use of marijuana.

Some, mostly private faith-based schools, occasionally invited representatives from varied religious groups, especially Anglican and Catholic, to speak with students.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarian community leaders stated they continued to face societal discrimination because of their use of marijuana; however, they also said Rastafarians were increasingly accepted in society, and society was becoming more tolerant of their way of life.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised Rastafarian concerns about the prohibition of their dreadlocks with the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, and Youth, as well as with the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information. By year’s end, there was no further easing of restrictions on the use of dreadlocks without acceptable headgear in the workplace.

Embassy officials met with representatives of religious communities, in particular Rastafarian and Muslim leaders. The embassy also used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Samoa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion. In June parliament amended the constitution to define the country as a Christian nation. Previously Christianity was mentioned only once in the preamble of the constitution. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi stated the amendment does not affect the freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution. The media reported the amendment received largely positive reviews from the populace but negative reactions from the Muslim League of Samoa and an association of academics at the National University of Samoa.

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. Letters to the editor in the Samoa Observer objected to groups collecting large amounts of money for churches.

The U.S. embassy discussed religious freedom with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and maintained contact with various religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 200,000 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 national census, Congregational Christians constitute 32 percent of the population; Roman Catholics, 19 percent; members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 15 percent; Methodists, 14 percent; members of the Assemblies of God, 8 percent; and Seventh-day Adventists, 4 percent. Groups together constituting less than 8 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Congregational Church of Jesus, Church of the Nazarene, nondenominational Protestants, Baptists, Worship Centre, Peace Chapel, Samoa Evangelism, Elim Church, Bahais, Anglicans, and a small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, primarily in Apia. Less than 1 percent stated no religion or did not select a religion.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

Government Practices

In January during parliamentary debate on the constitutional amendment that would make the country an officially Christian state, several parliamentarians stated the constitution should be amended further to limit Samoa to “Christian denominations only.”

In June parliament amended the constitution to define the country as a Christian state founded on the Trinity. Discussing the amendment, Prime Minister Tuilaepa stated the main reason Christianity was not included in the body of the constitution initially was because there were no religious wars in the country when the constitution was written. He added that religious wars were a common occurrence throughout the world and that it was the government’s duty to legislate accordingly to avoid religious tensions. Tuilaepa largely framed the justification for this amendment as protecting the country from religions that promote violence and “murderous rage.” While not naming any religion specifically, he followed up that comment by referring to terrorism and the Middle East.

The amendment received mixed feedback, but the media, including the Samoa Observer, reported largely positive reviews from the public, including statements praising the moral influence of Christian principles in the country’s heritage. The Muslim League of Samoa and an academic from the National University of Samoa criticized the amendment in the media, stating it could have negative consequences for religious freedom in the country.

Reportedly, matai councils, the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the grounds of “maintaining harmony within the village,” a duty that is 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 and/or banishment from the village.

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.

The government enforced an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools. There was no opt-out provision.

Public ceremonies typically began with a Christian prayer.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Prominent societal leaders repeatedly stated in public that the country was Christian. Public discussion of religious issues sometimes included negative references to non-Christian religions. In a March article giving opinions of a small group of “people on the street,” the Samoa Observer reported the majority said Muslims were dangerous.

As reported by media and in letters to the editor, there was a high level of religious observance and continued strong societal pressure at village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, in addition to support church leaders and projects financially. For example, the Samoa Observer reported in August that local citizens expressed concern that Chinese construction workers continued to conduct hard labor on Sundays, not respecting the Christian Sabbath. In some denominations, financial contributions often totaled more than 30 percent of family income. This issue gained periodic media attention, in outlets such as the Samoa Observer, as members of society occasionally spoke out about pressure on families to give large amounts of their income to churches. There was a continued increase throughout the year in public expression in print and social media citing church commitments, and in particular financial commitments, as one of the major sources of hardship for citizens in the country and abroad. Two letters to the editor in March in the Samoa Observer criticized the building of large churches while their members were mostly poor. Some individuals expressed concern that church leaders abused their privileged status among the congregation and village.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed government protection of religious freedom for all groups regardless of religious affiliation with high-level Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials.

The embassy maintained contact with various religious groups, including all major Christian denominations and members of the Bahai Faith.

San Marino

Executive Summary

The law prohibits religious discrimination, prevents restrictions on religious freedom, and includes provisions for prosecuting religious hate crimes. A new code of conduct for media professionals prohibits discrimination based on religion. Catholic religious instruction is offered in all public schools, but the law guarantees the right of nonparticipation without penalty. Taxpayers may designate 0.3 percent of their income tax be allocated to the Catholic Church or other religious groups registered as nonprofit organizations. Catholic symbols remained common in state buildings.

In March domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) organized a conference to promote religious, social, and cultural diversity, with financial and other support from the government. Participants included Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders.

During periodic visits, officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Florence continued to stress the importance of religious tolerance with government leaders and civil society representatives.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 33,500 (July 2017 estimate). The local government does not provide statistics on the size of religious groups, and there is no census data on religious group membership, but government officials continue to report the vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic. Other religious groups include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahais, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, and members of the Waldensian Church. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of Orthodox Church members, which had increased in recent years due to immigration from Eastern Europe, remains stable.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Constitutional law 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 religious grounds. Discrimination on the basis of religion can also constitute aggravating circumstances 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. Violation of the law’s provisions on hate crimes and hate speech against religious groups may result in imprisonment from three months to one year.

On July 31, the heads of state promulgated a new code of conduct for media professionals, which had been approved by parliament on June 9. The code forbids media professionals from generating and spreading information that may discriminate against someone on the basis of religion and numerous other factors. Anyone may report a case to the Authority for Information, 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 for crimes of discrimination based on religion.

The law allows taxpayers to allocate 0.3 percent of their income tax payments to the Catholic Church or to other religious or nonreligious groups or charities registered as nonprofit organizations. Religious organizations must be legally recognized by San Marino Court to receive this benefit. In order to obtain legal recognition, religious organizations are required to submit evidence of not-for-profit activities and annual reports. The court may periodically audit and inspect organizations, require them to submit additional documentation, and investigate any complaints from organization members or third parties. If a taxpayer allocates a portion of his or her income tax payment to a previously unregistered group, the tax authorities will contact the group to confirm its legitimacy and review its financial statements.

There are no private religious schools, and the law requires religious education in public schools. Only Catholic religious instruction is offered. The state-approved 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 also guarantees students the right to choose not to participate in religious instruction without penalty. Students (or the parents, if the student is under 18) must choose to opt out at the beginning of each school year.

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

Government Practices

As of 2015, the last year for which data was available, 130 nonprofit organizations, including the Catholic Church, a number of Catholic associations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and an Orthodox Christian association, received contributions from taxpayers in accordance with the law.

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 worshipers of any religion.

In April the government co-organized a Council of Europe conference on religious freedom in Strasbourg, where Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicola Renzi gave a speech emphasizing the importance of interreligious dialogue and respect for worship to ensure the religious freedom of migrants.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On March 16, NGOs, most of them Sammarinese, but also some internationally based, organized a conference promoting religious, social, and cultural diversity. Participants included the Archbishop of Bologna, the Head of the Orthodox Church in Italy, the Rabbi of Ferrara, and representatives of Muslim organizations in Italy. The government and the country’s heads of state provided financial and other support for the event.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During periodic visits, the U.S. Consul General in Florence and other representatives from the U.S. Consulate General in Florence reiterated the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

U.S. consulate general representatives continued to discuss the importance of religious tolerance with civil society representatives, including labor unions and the locally based U.S.-San Marino Association.

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.

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

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 I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 201,000 (July 2017 estimate). The Roman Catholic bishop’s office estimates more than 85 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, approximately 12 percent Protestant, and less than 2 percent Muslim. Protestant groups include Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Evangelic Assembly of Christ, Universal Church of Christ, and Thokoist Church. The number of Muslims has increased over the past 10 years due to an influx of migrants from Nigeria, Cameroon, and other African countries. Some Christians and Muslims also adhere to aspects of indigenous beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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 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 320,000 dobras ($16) 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.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. U.S. embassy staff in Gabon, in periodic visits to the country, engaged with government officials in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to encourage continued respect for religious freedom. Embassy officials met with religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic bishop, evangelical Protestant religious leaders, and an imam, to discuss the involvement of religious groups in social issues affecting their communities. Religious leaders affirmed the good relationships they shared, which contributed to respect among the population.

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 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 government published a new counterterrorism law in November that replaced the 2014 counterterrorism law and 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 deemed contrary to sharia, 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 July authorities executed four Shia individuals convicted on terrorism-related charges in connection with the 2011-12 Eastern Province violence and protests. Also in July the Supreme Court upheld death sentences on at least 15 individuals from the Eastern Province, presumed to be largely Shia, some of whom may have been minors at the time they committed offenses. At year’s end, at least 33 individuals, presumed to be largely Shia, were on death row for their roles in protests in the Qatif area of the Eastern Province in 2011 and 2012. Some human rights organizations stated the convictions and executions were motivated by sectarianism, while the government stated the individuals were investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced as a result of the security-related crimes they committed and in accordance with the law. In April a court sentenced Ahmad al-Shammari to death after he was convicted on charges related to apostasy for allegedly renouncing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad on social media. Beginning in September authorities detained dozens of persons, including prominent clerics, religious scholars, and academics, according to multiple media reports. Human rights groups said the detentions resulted from an investigation into the individuals’ purported connections to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or MB-inspired groups. Some human rights groups said authorities also arrested Shia clerics and activists who advocated for equal treatment of Shia Muslims. The government convicted and imprisoned individuals on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, black magic, and sorcery. The government sometimes harassed, detained, arrested, and occasionally deported some foreign residents who participated in private non-Islamic religious activities, citing prohibitions on gender mixing, noise disturbances, and immigration violations. Observers noted a pattern of prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims with respect to access to public services and equitable representation in government, educational and public sector employment opportunities, and judicial matters. 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, understood by some outside the country as the “religious police”) monitored social behavior in order to enforce laws and regulations protecting “public morals.” Some observers noted a decreased public presence of CPVPV officers in major cities, with the exception of Mecca and Medina. During the year the government undertook activities it stated were aimed at promoting “moderate” Islam as well as curbing radical ideology and intellectual extremism. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated during an investment conference in Riyadh in October that “we are returning to a centrist version of Islam, to a moderate version of Islam that is open to the world, to all faiths, and to all traditions and peoples,” according to press reports. In May authorities inaugurated the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (GCCEI)—known as “Etidal” (moderation) – which aims to promote moderation and “expose, combat and refute extremist ideology.” In April the government launched the Saudi Ideological Warfare Center (IWC) to confront the “roots of extremism and promote an accurate understanding of Islam.”

A pattern of societal prejudice and discrimination against Shia Muslims continued regarding access to private sector employment. Social media provided an outlet to discuss current events and religious issues, which sometimes included making disparaging remarks about members of religious groups.

Senior embassy and consulate 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, and other relevant ministries and agencies, senior embassy and consulate officials continued to raise and discuss reports of abuses and violations 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 December 22, 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 I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population at 28.6 million (July 2017 estimate), including more than eight million foreign residents. Between 85 and 90 percent of the approximately 20 million citizens are Sunni Muslims.

Shia Muslims constitute 10 to 15 percent of the citizen population. Approximately 80 percent of Shia are “Twelvers” (followers of Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi, whom they recognize as the Twelfth Imam) and are primarily located in the Eastern Province. Nakhawala, or “Medina Shia,” are also Twelvers and reside in small numbers in the western Hejaz region. Estimates place their numbers at approximately 1,000. Twelver Shia adhere to the Jafari School of jurisprudence. Most of the remaining Shia are Sulaimani Ismailis, also known as “Seveners” (those who branched off from the Twelvers to follow Isma’il ibn Jafar as the Seventh Imam). Seveners number an estimated 700,000 and reside primarily in Najran Province, where they constitute the majority of the province’s inhabitants. Another branch of Sevener Shia, the Bohra Ismailis, number approximately 2,000, half of whom are Saudi citizens of Yemeni or South Asian origin and half expatriates, primarily from South Asia. Pockets of Zaydis, members of another branch of Shia Islam, numbering approximately 20,000, reside primarily in the provinces of Jizan and Najran along the border with Yemen.

Foreign embassies indicate the foreign population in the country, including many undocumented migrants, is mostly Muslim. According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, of the country’s total population (including foreigners), there are approximately 25.5 million Muslims, 1.2 million Christians (including Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and Roman Catholics); 310,000 Hindus; 180,000 religiously unaffiliated (including atheists, agnostics, and individuals who did not identify with any particular religion); 90,000 Buddhists; 70,000 followers of folk religions; and 70,000 adherents of other religions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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 (traditions and practices based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad). 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, a crime which is legally punishable by death, although courts have not carried out a death sentence for apostasy in recent years.

Blasphemy against Islam is a crime that may also legally be punished by death but courts have not sentenced individuals to death for blasphemy in recent years. Punishments for blasphemy can 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 government published a new counterterrorism law in November that replaced the 2014 counterterrorism law “with immediate effect” and ordered the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to draft implementation regulations within 180 days. The new 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. The implementation regulations for the 2014 counterterrorism law criminalized “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 Attorney General 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, two of Islam’s holiest sites. The government prohibits non-Muslims from entering Mecca or 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. Since 1986 under King Fahad, 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.

Since 2016 Saudi-based clerics traveling abroad for proselytization activities must first obtain the permission of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA). The stated purpose of the regulation is to limit the ability of religious scholars with what the government regards as questionable credentials to travel, 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 enforce moral standards consistent with the government’s policy and in coordination with law enforcement authorities. 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 reports to the king through the Council of Ministers, and the Ministry of Interior (MOI) oversees its operations on the king’s behalf. A 2016 decree limits its activities to providing counseling and reporting individuals suspected of violating the law to the police.

The purview of the CPVPV includes combating public socializing 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 judicial system is based on laws derived from the Quran and the Sunna, fatwas (legal opinions or interpretations) issued by the 21-person Council of Senior Scholars (CSS, or ulema) 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 most members serving for life.

Judges are not bound to adhere to the legal principle of precedent and, in the absence of a formal, written uniform criminal code, rulings and sentences can diverge widely. Appeals may be made to the appellate and supreme courts. Government universities provide training in all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, with a focus on the Hanbali School.

The calculation of 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 only 50 percent of the compensation a Muslim male would receive; all other non-Muslims are entitled to 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.

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

Summary Paragraph: On July 11, authorities executed four Shia individuals on terrorism-related charges and in the same month the Supreme Court upheld the convictions and death sentences of at least 15 other individuals, presumed to be Shia, for involvement in the 2011-12 Eastern Province violence and protests. Human rights organizations reported their convictions were based on confessions extracted through prolonged solitary confinement and torture while the government stated they were investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced fairly and in accordance with the law. Between May and the end of the year, security forces reportedly killed multiple individuals and displaced residents when they confronted armed groups and nonviolent resistance to the government’s decision to demolish the predominantly Shia al-Musawara neighborhood of Awamiya in Qatif Governorate; 12 security officers were killed in the course of the security operation. The government imprisoned individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, black magic, and sorcery. Authorities reportedly detained and imprisoned prominent clerics, religious scholars, and academics, including Shia clerics and activists, according to multiple media reports. Many foreign residents worshiped privately within their homes or in other gatherings, but authorities raided some private Shia and non-Muslim religious meetings and arrested, detained, or deported participants. The government continued to censor and block content in the media, including social media and on the internet. It continued to employ religious police to enforce “public morals.” Authorities continued to engage in instances of prejudicial treatment and discrimination against Shia Muslims with respect to access to public services, equitable representation in government, educational and public sector employment opportunities (including in the military and other security services), and judicial matters.

On July 11, authorities executed four Shia individuals – Amjad al-Moaibad, Yusuf al-Mushaikhas, Zaher al-Basri, and Mahdi al-Sayegh – on terrorism-related charges connected to the 2011-12 Eastern Province violence and protests. The government characterized that unrest as terrorism, while one nongovernmental organization (NGO) attributed the unrest to the Shia perception of economic neglect and political marginalization by the government. Human rights organizations stated their convictions were based on confessions extracted through prolonged solitary confinement and torture, while some third-party observers questioned the impartiality of the judiciary, citing sectarianism.

Up to 33 individuals, presumed to be largely 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 Islamic hijri 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. Some Shia and international human rights groups questioned the competence, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary.

In January the government began demolition operations in the predominately Shia, 400-year old neighborhood of al-Musawara in Awamiya, Qatif Governorate, which were met by nonviolent protests, according to press reports. Beginning in May, security forces reportedly killed more than 15 persons and displaced thousands of residents in the course of security operations there. The government stated the security action was a counterterrorism effort and reported that eight members of the police and four members of the special forces had been killed, according to press reports. The demolition and future redevelopment of al-Musawara had been announced in 2016.

Human rights organizations alleged that security forces used heavy-handed tactics against some civilians, and razed hundreds of buildings, including a historic Shia mosque. Authorities reportedly promised compensation for many al-Musawara residents who evacuated, according to media reports. Human Rights Watch reported that some residents who remained were restricted to their homes due to fear of a security response. NGOs also received reports alleging security forces fired on areas outside of Musawara, occupied a public school, closed clinics and pharmacies, and prevented access to other essential services. In April UN special rapporteur experts warned that demolitions would “erase” the neighborhood’s “unique regional heritage.” As of the end of the year, some residents whose houses were not destroyed had returned, according to press reports, while others accepted compensation and left the area.

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

In April a court sentenced Ahmad al-Shammari to death after he was convicted on charges related to apostasy, according to media reports. Shammari allegedly posted videos to social media accounts in which he renounced Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. At year’s end, the status of Shammari’s judicial appeal was unknown.

Beginning in September, authorities detained dozens of individuals, including prominent clerics Salman al-Awda, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Amri, and other religious scholars and academics, according to multiple media reports. The government announced arrests related to a “foreign spy cell” with links to the MB. Human rights groups said the detentions resulted from an investigation into the individuals’ purported connections to the MB or MB-inspired groups.

On January 15, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced an unnamed Yemeni expatriate to 21 years in prison followed by deportation for insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, and the movement of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab on his Facebook page, according to media reports. At year’s end, the disposition of the case was unknown.

On March 16, the SCC banned imam Awad al-Qarni from tweeting and ordered his Twitter account closed on charges related to spreading content that “could jeopardize public order and provoke public opinion,” according to the newspaper Arab News. Qarni has more than two million followers on Twitter, according to press reports. The SCC said the content “could affect the relationship of the people with the leadership, and the relationship of Saudi Arabia with other countries.” The court also fined him 100,000 Saudi riyals (SR) ($26,700). Qarni was said to be among the individuals detained beginning in September according to human rights organizations.

In May authorities arrested two women on allegations of practicing witchcraft, after a video that purported to show a woman trying to photocopy images of talismans circulated widely on social media, according to media reports.

On July 20, a criminal court convicted cleric Hassan Farhan al-Maliki on charges of extremism, fanaticism, and holding an impure (takfiri) ideology. Authorities reportedly arrested Maliki in 2015 after he made public statements suggesting a link between Wahhabism and ISIS. His supporters attributed the arrest to his condemnation of anti-Shia discrimination. The court’s initial sentence included a three-month prison sentence, a fine of 50,000 SR ($13,300), and closure of his Twitter account. Maliki was among the clerics reportedly detained in September.

On August 20, Riyadh police arrested a 15-year-old boy who appeared in a video clip that purported to show him abusing a copy of the Quran. According to media reports, he could face up to five years in prison under the anticybercrimes law for disrespect for religious values.

There was one report of government authorities calling for the prosecution of an individual for apostasy. Security officials detained several foreigners on charges of sorcery and witchcraft, according to local media reports. In August authorities referred cleric Ali Al-Rabieei for prosecution for allegedly tweeting sectarian and anti-Shia content, according to media reports.

By year’s end, the government had not carried out the remaining 950 lashes on Raif Badawi in accordance with a sentence based on his 2013 conviction for violating Islamic values, violating sharia, committing blasphemy, and mocking religious symbols on the internet. In 2015, authorities publicly lashed Badawi 50 times. 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. Badawi remained imprisoned at year’s end.

Authorities arrested more than 1,000 Eastern Province Shia since 2011 in connection with public protests demanding greater rights for Shia and violence, according to NGO reports. Shia groups that track arrests and convictions of Shia reported more than 300 persons remained in detention in prisons throughout the Eastern Province and others remained subject to travel bans. 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.

Human rights organizations and legal experts criticized both the old and new 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-Muslim religions. According to civil society sources and media reports, non-Muslims and many foreign and Saudi 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.

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.

Practices diverging from the 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, were forbidden.

While authorities indicated they considered members of the Ahmadiyya 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.

Authorities again permitted large-scale public commemorations of Ashura and other Shia holidays in Qatif, Eastern Province, where the population is majority Shia Muslim. 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. Processions and gatherings appeared to increase over previous years due to decreased political tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities. Outside of the Eastern Province, Saudi and expatriate Shia reported it was either difficult or not possible to engage in public commemorations or worship, fearing repercussions from authorities.

Certain Christian congregations were reportedly able to conduct large Christian worship services discreetly and regularly without substantial interference from the CPVPV or other government authorities.

The government reported 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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 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 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 employees of the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (also known as Saudi Aramco). 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, 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, and it prohibited parents from giving their children any of 50 listed names deemed blasphemous, non-Arabic, or non-Islamic, according to media reports.

The CPVPV continued to monitor social behavior and promote official standards of morality. Instances of CPVPV field officers who approached and harassed individuals reportedly continued to decrease 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 announced in April 2016. The government continued to distribute revised textbooks, although intolerant material remained in circulation, particularly at the high school level, including content justifying the execution of “sorcerers” and social exclusion of non-Muslims, as well as statements that Jews, Christians, Shia, and Sufis 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.

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 religious materials.

The government continued to exclude perspectives at variance with the prevailing Sunni interpretation of 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 which 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 anticyber crimes law. The government also reportedly located and shut down websites used to recruit jihadis or inspire violence. In September authorities announced they unblocked the calling features of certain private messenger apps, including Viber, Facetime, and Facebook Messenger. Some users reported that WhatsApp and Skype remained blocked.

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 new mosques 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 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 lived. According to a Human Rights Watch report issued in September “the Saudi judicial system…is controlled by the religious establishment and 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 15 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. There was only one Shia minister in the national government. 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. In the two major Shia population centers of Qatif and al-Ahsa, five of the 12 government-appointed municipal council members were Shia, and Shia held 16 of the 30 elected seats on these municipal councils. In predominantly Shia areas, there was some Shia representation in the ranks of the traffic police, municipal government, and public schools. A very small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.

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.

Some Sunni clerics continued to employ anti-Shia, anti-Christian, and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Sunni mosques during the year, according to media reports. 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. Despite these efforts by the government to tone down some of the more intolerant language in sermons, there were reports from local groups that some Sunni clerics, who received government stipends, used religiously intolerant language in their sermons. Cases of government-employed clerics using anti-Semitic language in their sermons were rare and occurred without authorization by government authorities. The law requires government-employed clerics to give all sermons delivered in mosques in the country. The sermons must first be vetted and cleared by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. 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 no clerics publicly espoused intolerant views warranting dismissal. Unauthorized imams, however, continued to employ intolerant views in their sermons.

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 officials 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.

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 course curriculum as heavily anti-Semitic, speaking of the “evil traits” of the Jewish people.

Observers noted the presence of some anti-Semitic texts at government-sponsored book fairs during the year.

The government’s stated policy was 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.

In May the country hosted the Arab-Islamic-American summit in Riyadh, which focused on “promoting coexistence and constructive tolerance between different countries, religions, and cultures” and emphasized “the importance of renewing and rationalizing intellectual discourse to be consistent with moderate Islam, which calls for tolerance, love, mercy, and peace, stressing that the misconceptions about Islam must be addressed and clarified,” according to the Riyadh Declaration published after the event. In April the government launched the Saudi Ideological Warfare Center, headed by Dr. Mohammed al-Issa under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense, to confront the “roots of extremism and promote an accurate understanding of Islam.” According to social media postings by the center, the IWC aimed to promote a “message of moderation, tolerance, dialogue, and the appreciation of diversity, as well as moderation in Islam.” Also in April, the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue launched the Tabayan (clarification) program intended to confront the religio-ideological underpinnings of violent extremism by encouraging critical thinking at the country’s universities.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in October stated during an investment conference in Riyadh that “we are returning to a centrist version of Islam, to a moderate version of Islam that is open to the world, to all faiths, and to all traditions and peoples,” according to local press reports. There were several high-profile examples of outreach to other faiths. In November the Maronite Christian patriarch of Lebanon, Bechara Boutrous al-Rai, met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh in what Reuters described as the second such visit since 1975. Muslim World League Secretary General, Royal Court Advisor, and member of the ulemaMohammed al-Issa visited the Vatican in September to meet with the pope. He visited Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in November.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of so-called religious vigilantes and/or “volunteers” unaffiliated with the CPVPV harassing and assaulting citizens and foreigners.

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 like “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were commonly found in public discourse.

NGOs reported that Nakhawala Shia faced more discriminatory practices than did Twelvers in the Eastern Province. Discrimination in employment and education was based on the Nakhawala surname “al-Nakhly,” which roughly translates as “farmers” and identifies their minority status and group.

While discussion of sensitive topics on social media was frequent, according to Freedom House, “self-censorship [on social media] remained prevalent when discussing topics such as politics, religion, or the royal family.”

During the year a study by Human Rights Watch documented the use of social media by prominent clerics and others to demean Shia Muslims using derogatory terms or by attacking their beliefs and practices.

Anti-Semitic comments by journalists, academics, and clerics appeared in the media. For example, according to press reports, Mohammed al-Arefe, a religious leader based in Saudi Arabia with a large following on social media, delivered repeated anti-Semitic speeches, according to Politico.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Senior embassy and consulate 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 religious practices and beliefs. In discussions with the Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other relevant ministries and agencies during the year, senior embassy and consulate officials raised reports of abuses and violations of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detention, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards. They also discussed the importance of respect for the rights of minorities and their religious practices as well as the role of and impediments imposed by guardianship laws considered as Islamic. Senior embassy and consulate officials continued to query the legal status of detained or imprisoned individuals and discussed religious freedom concerns, such as religious assembly and importation of religious materials, with members of religious minorities, including Shia and citizens who no longer consider themselves Muslims, as well as with non-Muslim foreign residents.

At the May Arab-Islamic-American summit, President Trump joined with King Salman in inaugurating the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, known as Etidal (moderation), with the aim of promoting moderation and “exposing, combating, and refuting extremist ideology.”

Embassy and consulate officials sponsored nearly 30 individuals to participate in exchange programs in the United States focused on such topics as interfaith dialogue, countering radical ideologies, and the role of faith and religious organizations in providing social services.

Embassy and consulate officials continued to meet with members of religious minorities, including Shia Muslims and citizens who no longer considered themselves Muslims, as well as with non-Muslim foreign residents, to discuss religious freedom concerns.

Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been designated as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Most recently, on December 22, the Secretary of State re-designated Saudi Arabia as a CPC, and announced a waiver of the sanction that accompany designation as required in the important national interest of the United States pursuant to section 407 of the Act.

Senegal

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 campaign against forced child begging at some Islamic religious schools had limited success, according to observers. The government continued its programs to assist religious groups to maintain places of worship, to fund and facilitate participation in the Hajj, 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 at some traditional Islamic religious schools (known as daaras), including through forced begging, and urged the government to address the problem through more effective regulation and prosecution of offending teachers.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers met with 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 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 I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 14.7 million (July 2017 estimate). According to government statistics from 2014, 96.1 percent of the population is Muslim. Most Muslims are Sunni and belong to one of several Sufi brotherhoods, each of which incorporates unique practices, while a small number of Muslims are Shia (5,000 individuals, according to one unofficial 2011 estimate). Approximately 3.8 percent of the population is Christian. Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants, and groups combining Christian and indigenous beliefs. The remaining 0.1 percent exclusively adheres to indigenous religions or professes no religion.

The Christian minority is located in towns in the west and south. Members of indigenous religious groups live mainly in the east and south.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the interior ministry 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, and 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 organizations 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 proposed in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.

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

Government Practices

Until funding resources were no longer available in the middle of the year, the government continued its campaign, begun in 2016, to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging as practiced at some traditional Islamic schools. The campaign had met with limited success according to observers, many of whom criticized its efficacy, saying the campaign had focused strictly on removing child beggars from the streets rather than on addressing the conditions under which children were forced to beg, or prosecuting individuals who forced children to beg. Once funds for the campaign were depleted, the government suspended its implementation.

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 often competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them. President Macky Sall occasionally visited beneficiaries of these funds.

The government continued to encourage and assist Muslim participation in the Hajj, again providing imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens. There were no reliable estimates of the number of tickets the government provided. In addition to these free tickets, the government organized trips to the Hajj for approximately 1,500 of the 10,500 Senegalese who participated. The government also again provided assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. The Catholic Church reported the government provided 370 million CFA francs ($658,000) for Senegalese Catholic pilgrims who traveled to the Vatican in August and September, compared with 368 million CFA francs ($654,000) in 2016.

The government continued to permit up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools. Parents were able to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum. The possibility also remained for students to opt out of the curriculum. The Ministry of Education reported slightly more than a million students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.

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 with strong academic reputations. The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim. 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, while 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. There were no reports of the government revoking the registration of any association for operating outside the terms of its registration.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local and international NGOs continued to highlight abuses of students at some daaras, where young children sometimes resided. Some daaras reportedly continued to force children to beg. Local media and NGOs continued to document physical and sexual abuse of daara students. Civil society and children’s rights advocates reprised their appeals to the government to implement more effective regulation of Quranic schools and to prosecute teachers who committed serious violations against children.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to meet with government officials in Dakar and with local authorities in Saint Louis to discuss conditions faced by daara students as well as the government’s efforts to combat forced child begging. The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with civil society representatives and religious leaders in the central regions of Kaolack and Kaffrine and in the Casamance region to discuss these issues. As part of their continuing engagement with religious leaders, including leaders of the main Islamic brotherhoods, as well as with civil society, embassy officers emphasized the importance of maintaining religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.

During Ramadan the embassy hosted a series of iftars in Dakar and Ziguinchor, geared to different audiences, and focusing on diversity, religious tolerance and inclusion, and highlighting the need to engage in dialogue across religious lines. Attendees at the different events included local government officials, youth leaders, religious leaders, NGO representatives, and other members of civil society.

Serbia

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, as well as the right to change one’s religion. It states everyone shall have the freedom to worship individually or with others, in private or in public. It also states the freedom to express one’s religious beliefs may be restricted by law only as necessary to protect the lives and health of the people, to preserve public safety and order and the country’s democracy. The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion, guarantees equality for all religious groups, and prohibits incitement of religious hatred. The law grants special privileges and treatment to seven religious groups it defines as “traditional”; some other religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized these privileges as unconstitutional. Some minority religious groups also protested the registration process, which smaller religious groups said was difficult and costly to fulfill, rendering them without property rights, tax exemptions, and legal status. The government continued its restitution of religious properties confiscated since 1945, estimating it had returned 70 percent of the properties.

Reports and instances of discrimination primarily involved smaller and nontraditional groups. Media reported some public discrimination against Protestant groups around the October celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Articles critical of nontraditional religious groups continued to appear in the press and web portals, describing some religious groups as “sects.” Anti-Semitic literature was available in some bookstores, and the Jewish community reported incidents of anti-Semitic comments in online media. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault and two instances of vandalism against their property.

U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government representatives urged government officials from the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities and the Office for Human and Minority Rights to eliminate bias in the registration of religious groups. The embassy also urged the government to continue implementing restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property and closely monitored the development of a memorial at the World War II (WWII)-era Staro Sajmiste concentration camp site. Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of a wide range of religious groups to discuss the interaction between traditional and nontraditional religious groups, property restitution, and interfaith dialogue. The Ambassador hosted an interreligious luncheon on National Religious Freedom Day to discuss the status of interfaith cooperation and religious groups’ interactions with the government on religious freedom issues. In June he hosted an iftar, where he brought together members of two competing Islamic communities to encourage cooperation between the groups. A senior embassy officer hosted an interfaith dialogue in October to hear concerns of nontraditional religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 7.1 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, approximately 85 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian, 5 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Sunni Muslim, and 1 percent Protestant. The remaining 6 percent includes Jews, Buddhists, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, agnostics, atheists, other religious groups, and individuals without a declared religious affiliation. The vast majority of the population identifying as Orthodox Christian are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), a category not specifically listed in the census. Adherents of the Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Romanian Orthodox Churches may be included in the numbers of “Orthodox Christians” or in the “other Christian” category that is part of the remaining 6 percent, depending on how they self-identify.

Catholics are predominantly ethnic Hungarians and Croats residing in Vojvodina Province. Muslims include Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims) in the southwest Sandzak region, ethnic Albanians in the south, and Roma located throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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 the lives and health of the people, 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, 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 defined as “traditional” by the government. These are the SOC, Roman Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church, Reformed Christian Church, Evangelical Christian Church, Islamic community, and Jewish community. “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 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. Although the law generally prohibits the registration of multiple groups with the same name, both Islamic communities are officially registered with the government.

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 the right to receive value-added tax (VAT) refunds, to have their faith taught in public schools, and to provide chaplain services to military personnel.

There are 20 “nontraditional” religious groups registered with the government: the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 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, and, added during the year, the Slovak Union of Baptist Churches, Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia, and Charismatic Community of Faith 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. For example, 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. The law authorizes the government to provide social and health insurance and fund retirement plans only for religious clerics of registered groups. The law also grants property tax exemptions to all registered groups. Registered religious groups are exempt from paying administrative taxes and filing annual financial reports.

To obtain registration a group is required to submit the following: the names, identity numbers, copies of notarized identity documents, and signatures of at least 100 citizen members of the group; the group’s statutes and a summary of its religious teachings, ceremonies, religious goals, and basic activities; and information on 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.

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 expert and administrative matters pertaining to the cooperation of the state with churches and religious communities. These includes assistance to national minorities in protecting the religious traditions integral to their cultural and ethnic identity; cooperation between the state and Serbian Orthodox dioceses abroad; support for religious education; and support for and protection of the legal standing of churches and religious communities. The government’s 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. Legally registered endowments may apply for restitution. Religious communities that had property and endowments seized after WWII may apply for the restitution of their benefits.

In accordance with the Teresina 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 that was 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 ($1.14 million) per year for a 25-year period, which began with an initial payment in March.

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 classes in one of the seven traditional religions or an alternative 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 from lists of qualified candidates supplied by each religious group. The commission is comprised of representatives of each traditional religious group, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities. Representatives of the Islamic Community of Serbia and the Islamic Community in Serbia participate in the work of 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.

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 rarely prosecuted physical assaults against their members or vandalism against their property as religiously motivated crimes, but rather as simple assault or property violations, which carried lesser penalties under the law than religiously motivated crimes, or else treated incidents as private disputes. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, prosecutors did not treat any crimes against their members as religiously motivated in either 2017 or 2016. The NGO Center9 also stated it was unaware of any prosecutions made under the statutes criminalizing religiously motivated crimes. Some observers stated they believed prosecutors intentionally filed lesser charges in these cases to minimize the appearance of religious intolerance.

The MOJ reported it approved three of six registration applications groups submitted during the year. The ministry rejected one application by the Nichiren Buddhist Community on the grounds that the paperwork filed was incomplete and explained to the group the additional information required. The community reapplied under the new name of Buddhist Religious Community; its revised application was under review at year’s end. The ministry said it rejected an application for registration by the First Mennonite Roma Church because the applicant explicitly stated it would not follow guidelines from the ministry to correct the application and provide additional documents. At year’s end, the ministry was still reviewing the original application of the sixth group, the Old Orthodox Catholic Church.

Minority religious groups, Center9, and other observers continued to state the law was inherently biased in differentiating between so-called traditional and nontraditional religious groups. They also stated the laws governing churches and religious communities were in conflict with constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and equal status among religious groups. For example, in addition to the benefits traditional religious groups received according to law, the government provided those groups with financial support for religious events and publication or printing of religious materials. Minority groups also cited an inequitable distribution of government scholarships, at all educational levels, among religious groups. They stated the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, which provided support to religious groups, had the additional mandate of protecting the Serbian national identity and cooperating with SOC eparchies (dioceses) abroad. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church, a traditional church, complained about what it said was preferential treatment of the SOC.

Critics, including Baptist and evangelical leaders, continued to urge the government to repeal the law categorizing religious groups as traditional or nontraditional.

Some NGOs and religious leaders also continued to advocate the removal of the prohibition on registering new religious groups with names similar to those of groups previously registered. One church voiced concern that this prohibition forced groups to add an additional nationalistic qualifier to their church names in order to differentiate new groups in the register – creating divisions along nationalist lines within religious groups. Examples of such naming conventions included the Slovak Baptist Union, the Slovak Lutheran Church, and the Hungarian Reformed Church. Other groups said removing the prohibition would allow for other Orthodox Churches to register. The government position was to defer recognition of other Orthodox Churches (Macedonian or Montenegrin) absent the existence of mutual agreements between those Churches and the domestic SOC, such as the agreement the SOC had with the Romanian Orthodox Church in Vojvodina Province.

Representatives from the Christian Baptist and Protestant Evangelical Churches continued to protest the legal requirement that groups register in order to obtain legal status. Representatives from Center9 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 evangelical leader reported that government institutions sometimes made it difficult for nontraditional groups to register, but that it seemed to depend on the competency of individual government staff. Multiple groups, including the Christian Baptist Church, Protestant Evangelical Church, Anglican Church, and Center9, reported that lack of registration did not directly impede any organization from worshiping, but it did impose other restrictions, including difficulties in applying for property restitution, opening bank accounts, purchasing or selling property, and publishing literature. Groups with a long history in the country were sometimes able to circumvent some of these restrictions by, for example, using historical documents to open bank accounts. They said, however, that the possibility of workarounds was situational and depended on local officials.

The Christian Baptist Church and the Protestant Evangelical Church, among others, refused to register under the existing law, citing their centuries-long history in the country and legal status under previous laws. At year’s end, their joint 2013 complaint to the European Court of Human Rights alleging the law violated the rights and freedoms safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights was still pending. Representatives from the two Churches reported they were not optimistic about a satisfactory ruling.

The Macedonian and Montenegrin Orthodox Churches, whose autocephaly the SOC continued not to recognize, remained unregistered. Government officials continued to state the canons of the Orthodox churches should govern issues among individual Orthodox churches and secular authorities should not try to resolve them. Communication between the SOC and the Macedonian Orthodox Church continued regarding the latter’s potential recognition, but no such communication existed between the SOC and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church.

The only chaplains providing religious services in the armed forces were clergy from the seven traditional religious groups.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported police were increasingly aware of their rights to distribute religious literature publicly. They also reported that courts overturned any citations police officers issued for such activity by their members.

Romanian Orthodox priests continued to hold services in the Romanian language in the eastern part of the country, where there was no formal recognition of the Romanian Orthodox Church, in accordance with the priests’ agreement with the local SOC bishop. The Romanian Orthodox Church reported the government continued to deny construction permits for new church buildings in the eastern part of the country, forcing the Romanian Orthodox Church to repurpose existing buildings for religious use. The government stated the issue should be resolved between the SOC and Romanian Orthodox Church, and it would not take action until the two groups reached agreement.

The government continued restitution of religious properties confiscated in 1945 or later, returning 5575 hectares of agricultural land, 776 hectares of forest, 32 hectares of construction land, 861 square feet of residential building property, and 14,047 square feet of business facilities to the SOC and Roman Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Evangelical Christian, Greek Catholic, Reformed Christian, and Slovak Evangelical Churches, as well as the Jewish community. Government officials estimated it had returned 70 percent of previously confiscated religious properties.

Despite their status as registered groups, both Islamic communities continued to report difficulties in their claims for communist-era property restitution. Both groups said each had filed claims for the same list of properties throughout Serbia, and the Restitution Agency confirmed it had not finalized any of the claims. Representatives of both Islamic communities, international observers, and local political leaders said the Restitution Agency was unwilling to resolve the cases because it would mean deciding on the “rightful” Islamic group, which the government was unwilling to do. Each group called on the government to resolve the standoff by acknowledging it as the official representative of the Islamic community.

There was a continuing debate on the role of Milan Nedic’s collaborationist National Salvation government during the Nazi occupation. The Belgrade Higher Court held additional hearings in a court case Nedic’s family brought before it seeking Nedic’s rehabilitation. In November 2016 the Association of Jewish Communities filed a request to participate in the rehabilitation case as an intervener (an outside party having a legal interest in the proceedings). The Belgrade Higher Court rejected the request in February, arguing that non-contested cases did not recognize the institution of an intervener. In early September the Appellate Court in Belgrade confirmed that decision.

In August the government transferred oversight of the commission charged with developing a memorial at Staro Sajmiste – the WWII-era concentration camp where thousands of Jews, Serbian political opponents, and Roma were killed – from the city of Belgrade to President Aleksandar Vucic. Commission leaders said they hoped the move would increase funding for the memorial and accelerate the pace of work. By year’s end, the new commission had not yet been formed, leaving the old commission to continue working in lame-duck status. In February the first draft law authorizing the Staro Sajmiste memorial drew criticism from international Jewish organizations and the country’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights for perpetuating “a decades-long revisionism of WWII in Serbia” and minimizing the “massive destruction of the Jewish community.” The draft’s language had emphasized Serb casualties at Staro Sajmiste and responsibility of the Nazi puppet government, the Independent State of Croatia, for the genocide that took place there. The commission rescinded the draft following the criticism and continued to revise it at year’s end.

In August Member of Parliament (MP) Vladimir Djukanovic of the Serbian Progressive Party wrote on Twitter that he had heckled Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out literature in front of a market, calling it his “good deed for the day.”

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.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The government did not keep records of religiously motivated violence, and reporting from individual religious organization was sparse. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of physical assault against members engaged in field ministry on April 14 and May 8. Both incidents involved an unknown assailant approaching a small group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and grabbing and/or pushing an individual to the ground. One incident involved damage to a mobile literature cart.

Translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from nationalist groups and publishers. Anti-Semitic literature, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, continued to be available in many bookshops, and anti-Semitism was present in online portals. Some youth groups and internet forums continued to promote anti-Semitic speech. Several anti-Semitic statements were posted in the online comment section of a January 27 Vecernje Novosti article describing a Holocaust seminar in Belgrade.

Articles critical of nontraditional religious groups continued to appear in online media. Several nontraditional religious leaders reported the media often labeled nontraditional religions as “sects,” which the leaders stated contributed to negative stereotyping.

In October during several events celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, media reported some MPs and other public officials had called Protestant groups “sects,” and openly disparaged Protestant organizations. An October 25 article in the right-leaning daily tabloid “Alo” reported on the negative reactions of several MPs to a national assembly-hosted interfaith celebration marking the Reformation anniversary. MPs Vladimir Djukanovic of the Serbian Progressive Party and Marijan Risticevic of the People’s Peasant Party criticized the event and declined to attend. On his Facebook profile, Djukanovic posted that he “received an invitation from a sect to the parliament address. To make things worse, the sect is organizing an event to mark the 500 anniversary of Reformation…Scandalous.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported two incidents of vandalism at the kingdom halls in Belgrade and Bor. On May 26, unidentified individuals jumped over the fences of the Belgrade kingdom hall and inflicted minor damage to landscaping and building exteriors. On April 4 in Bor, unidentified suspects threw eggs and balloons filled with paint at the facade of the kingdom hall and later that same day threw rocks on the roof, damaging tiles.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In an October meeting with the Directorate for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, U.S. embassy staff again urged the directorate to engage in interfaith initiatives and to eliminate both intentional and unintentional bias in the application of the law with regard to the registration of religious groups, especially nontraditional groups.

The embassy continued to work with the Restitution Agency and other members of government in the application of the heirless and unclaimed Jewish property law, encouraging the government to move forward with appointing an oversight committee as required by the law.

Embassy officials met individually with members of the SOC, two Islamic communities, Jewish community, Baptist community, evangelical community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormon Church to discuss interaction and cooperation among religious groups, property restitution, the ability to practice their faith freely, support from the government, and societal perceptions of the groups.

Embassy representatives continued to monitor progress on the establishment of a WWII memorial at the site of the Staro Sajmiste concentration camp and to encourage communication between opposing sides concerning the memorial. Embassy staff also urged representatives in President Vucic’s government to form the new commission, although the government had not done so by year’s end.

During a January lunch in honor of National Religious Freedom Day, the Ambassador and members of six religious communities – the SOC, two Islamic communities, Jewish community, Roman Catholic Church, and Reformed Christian Church – discussed the status of interfaith cooperation. They also discussed the groups’ struggles in working with the government, implementing religious education, and developing membership in the face of increasing secularism. The Ambassador hosted a June iftar, which brought together members of the two Islamic communities in an effort to develop additional cooperation between the groups. In October the embassy hosted a roundtable to commemorate International Religious Freedom Day and hear concerns from representatives of nontraditional religious groups, including the Association of Evangelical Students, Protestant Evangelical Church, Baptist Church in Belgrade, and Anglican Church.

Seychelles

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. The government bars religious groups from owning radio or television stations; however, it continued to grant larger religious groups programming time on state radio, subject in most cases to advance review and approval. Smaller religious groups did not have access to dedicated broadcast time. Christian religious leaders continued to criticize the government’s decision to decriminalize sodomy on the grounds that it violated Christian beliefs. 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, with members appointed to various boards.

SIFCO commented publicly on national issues, which included an appeal in June to youth to keep away from drugs and applauded the establishment of a ministry responsible for family affairs. SIFCO called on the new minister to help the country return to old family values.

The U.S. embassy in Mauritius monitored religious freedom through regular monitoring of religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 94,000 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2010 census, approximately 76 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Other religious groups include Anglicans (6 percent), Hindus (2.4 percent), and Muslims (1.6 percent). Smaller religious groups include Bahais and Christian groups such as Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Church, Nazarites, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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 to protect public order, safety, morality, or health; the rights of others; or other reasons listed 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, religious groups must also register with the finance ministry. The government recognizes the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, Islam, and the Bahai 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 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 country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Religious leaders from the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, Seventh- day Adventists, and other smaller evangelical Christian churches continued to criticize the 2016 decriminalization of sodomy, including taking strong exception to the government-owned Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) for transmitting a live debate about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersexual individuals.

The Office of the Vice President held the portfolio for religious affairs. The government continued to prohibit live broadcasts of all religious programming, with the exception of radio broadcasts, lasting up to 90 minutes each, of Catholic masses and Anglican worship services on alternate Sundays on the SBC. 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, Bahai, 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. A private radio station did not feature religious programs.

Most state schools continued to operate on land leased by the Catholic Church. Catholic instruction was part of the curriculum, although not compulsory. Non-Catholic students reportedly were often relegated to the back of the classroom during religious instruction and were not offered alternative activities.

The government continued to offer financial assistance to religious groups from the state budget in the form of grants for repairs of places of worship. All religious groups could apply for grants.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

SIFCO, composed of Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Bahai, and other religious groups present in the country, continued its presence at national official events. For example, SIFCO provided interfaith prayers or blessings at the National Day event celebrating the country’s independence. SIFCO commented publicly on national issues and actions taken by the National Assembly and the president, including the decriminalization of sodomy, drugs, HIV/AIDS, the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, as well as other reconciliation efforts. SIFCO applauded the establishment of a ministry responsible for family affairs, and called on the new minister to help the country return to old family values. President Danny Faure met with members of SIFCO regularly, and the Office of the Vice President consulted SIFCO on issues of national interest.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy in Mauritius promoted religious freedom through regular monitoring of the religious community.

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. National laws prohibit religious discrimination and allow 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 it is necessary to obtain tax and other benefits. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) temporarily suspended operations of Christ Revival Evangelistic Ministries, pending completion of an investigation into alleged hate speech by its pastor. Police detained the church’s founder and said the action was for his own safety.

Religious leaders continued to express concern that what they termed “aggressive proselytization” and polemical statements during the past few years, often by foreign-inspired Christian and Muslim fundamentalist groups, were possible threats to the country’s religious harmony.” The Inter-Religious Council (IRC), composed of Christian and Muslim leaders, coordinated with their respective religious groups nationwide, visiting administrative districts to discuss and promote religious harmony.

The U.S. embassy promoted religious freedom through dialogue with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the IRC and the Council of Imams.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.2 million (July 2017 estimate). Members of the IRC state the country is approximately 60 percent Muslim (primarily Sunni), 30 percent Christian, and 10 percent animist. Many individuals regularly blend Christian and Muslim practices with animism in their private and public worship. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2010 estimates, there are small communities of Bahais, Hindus, Jews, atheists, animists, and practitioners of voodoo and sorcery. Ahmadi Muslims state their community has 560,000 members, representing 9 percent of the population. Christians include Anglicans, other Protestants, Roman Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox Christians, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Evangelical Christians are a growing minority, drawing members primarily from other Christian groups. Rastafarian leaders report their community has approximately 20,000 members. Many individuals practice both Islam and Christianity.

Tribes living in the Northern Province, such as the Fullah, Themne, Loko, Madingo, and Susu, are predominantly Sunni Muslim. The majority of the Mende, Kono, Kissi, and Sherbro of the South and East Provinces are Christian. Krios live in the western part of Freetown, and are mainly Christian. The city’s eastern neighborhoods are mostly Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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 MSWGCA 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 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; it 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

The government continued to enforce the law prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana (cannabis). Rastafarians reported this prohibition restricted their ability to use cannabis as a core component of their religious practices. According to an elder of the Rastafarian community, there were 15 incidents of police harassment during the year, often tied to the latter’s use of cannabis. The alleged harassment included beatings and confiscation of property found on their persons. They also stated the government continued to refuse to recognize Rastafarian titles to land the community used to construct and operate its temples.

As of December the Rastafarian community reported the authorities had not held nine police officers accountable for reportedly damaging a temple near Freetown in May 2016. The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) reported that, in response to complaints from residents, the officers went to the temple to apprehend several adolescents who had been smoking marijuana and entered the temple to escape the police.

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, including radio stations operated by Shia and Sunni groups engaging in polemical exchanges against each other’s religious beliefs. 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 that preached a fundamentalist form of Islam. The ONS identified radical Islam as a national security issue and inserted a section on religious radicalization in its counterterrorism strategy.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders and others expressed concerns that what they termed as aggressive proselytization and polemical statements during the past few years, often by foreign-inspired Christian and Muslim fundamentalist groups, constituted a possible threat to the country’s religious harmony. Their activities included Muslim groups broadcasting messages denying the divinity of Christ and calling on Muslims not to wish people a “Merry Christmas,” transmitting prayer calls at high volume from mosques located near churches, as well as churches playing Christian revivalist music near mosques at high volumes during Ramadan. Muslim groups also threatened to burn churches built on the sites of former mosques, and mutually derogatory statements were made on Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya radio stations. The IRC, SLP, and ONS identified certain fundamentalist Christian groups, some from Nigeria, and the Tabligh movement as major players in fomenting religious discord by seeking to alienate adherents of Christianity and Islam from each other. On September 26, police detained a Nigerian evangelical pastor accused of hate speech “for his own safety” after a video of his sermon went viral on social media. In it he claimed Islam’s symbol was the sword and therefore the religion was innately violent; he also said there were no Muslims in Sierra Leone, only Christians and animists. Against the backdrop of public outrage, police extended protection to his churches due to rumors that some Muslims were threatening to burn down his six churches across the country. In a letter addressed to the pastor, the MSWGCA suspended all church activities pending completion of an investigation into alleged hate speech by the pastor. Subsequently the pastor made a public apology, charges were not filed, and his churches were allowed to reopen.

Most churches and mosques were registered with the Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship, or United Council of Imams. The IRC coordinated with Christian and Muslim religious groups throughout the year, including through visits to each administrative district in the country, to discuss and promote religious harmony. The IRC’s membership included only groups deemed to be Christian or Muslim. Rastafarians and animists were excluded. The Sunni-dominated Muslim leadership on the IRC reportedly sought to exclude Ahmadi Muslims, given Sunni views that the Ahmadiyya are heretical. According to the IRC, Pentecostal churches continued to refuse to join the IRC because they rejected collaboration with Muslims.

With government backing, the IRC drafted a code of conduct for guiding interreligious relations and proposed it as an addendum to the IRC’s constitution. It includes provisions that all new mosques and churches are to be located at specific distances from each other to avoid Muslim community complaints that certain churches played loud music during Ramadan services in mosques. The code of conduct also seeks to expand IRC membership to include denominations such as Pentecostal groups. Parliament did not review this addendum prior to closing its session on December 7.

Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims remained common, and many families had both Christian and Muslim members living in the same household. Many individuals celebrated religious holidays of other religious groups, regardless of denomination, both at home and in houses of worship.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Throughout the year, U.S. embassy officials met with religious leaders, including Catholic, Anglican, and Muslim clerics, and with faith-based NGOs, including the IRC, Council of Churches, and Council of Imams, to discuss religious tolerance and harmony. Topics discussed included the use of high volume amplification of Christian music and Muslim prayers and the concern that the high number of unemployed and uneducated youth could be particularly vulnerable to Tabligh ideology. In July the Ambassador and embassy staff attended a prayer ceremony where the Ambassador spoke of U.S. support and respect for religious tolerance.

Singapore

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, including on religious grounds, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 12 conscientious objectors remained detained at year’s end. In April an Indian imam who uttered an Arabic prayer during which he asked for “help against Jews and Christians” was fined and deported for acts “prejudicial to the maintenance of religious harmony and likely to disturb public tranquility.” Three foreign Islamic preachers were banned from entering the country in October and November, and two foreign Christian speakers were banned from preaching in September because the government reportedly viewed their teaching as damaging to social harmony. The government changed a voluntary program into a mandatory requirement that all Muslim religious teachers and centers of learning register with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). Parliament discussed the existing prohibition on wearing the hijab for certain civil servants, but the prohibition remained. In September former Parliamentary Speaker Halimah Yacob, who wears the hijab, became president. The post was reserved in this presidential cycle for eligible Malays, who are mostly Muslim. The government made multiple high-level affirmations of the importance of religious harmony, launched an initiative to foster understanding of different religious practices, and created a fund and documentary to explore religious differences and prejudices.

Journalists wrote articles throughout the year encouraging their readers not to view Muslims with suspicion and telling Muslims they should not feel responsible for the actions of radicalized Muslims.

The U.S. embassy engaged with senior government officials, including President Halimah Yacob, at a June iftar during which the Charge d’Affaires gave a speech about religious tolerance in a pluralistic society. The embassy hosted a variety of events and programs with religious groups, including an interfaith youth forum to facilitate discussion on ways to combat religious discrimination in the religious leaders’ home communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.9 million (July 2017 estimate). The local government estimates a total population of 5.6 million, with 3.9 million of this total citizens or permanent residents, of which 81.5 percent state a religious affiliation. Approximately 33.2 percent of the population of citizens and permanent residents are Buddhist, 18.8 percent Christian, 14 percent Muslim (predominantly Sunni), 10 percent Taoist, and 5 percent Hindu. Groups together constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jains, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).

According to a 2017 report by the Department of Statistics, 74.3 percent of the resident population is ethnic Chinese, 13.4 percent ethnic Malay, 9.0 percent ethnic Indian, and 3.2 percent other, including Eurasians. Nearly all ethnic Malays are Muslim. According to a 2016 national survey, among ethnic Indians, 59.9 percent are Hindu, 21.3 percent are Muslim, and 12.1 percent are Christian. The ethnic Chinese population includes Buddhists (42.3 percent), Christians (20.9 percent), and Taoists (12.9 percent).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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 that every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs and it does not prohibit restrictions in employment by a religious institution.

The government maintains a decades-long ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church. The government banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972 on the grounds the Church 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 their literature, which is banned. 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 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 discretionary, 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, 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 Sunni 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 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 exemption. 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 are allowed access to chaplains of various faiths.

The government may prohibit the importation of publications, including religious publications, under the law. A person in possession of a prohibited publication can 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 Social and Family 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 Social and Family 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 leased to religious organizations and must be available to rent out for other 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 of religious teachers and centers of learning with the MUIS, which includes minimum standards and a code of ethics, has been mandatory since January, although reports say the majority of teachers had previously registered on a voluntary basis. As of October, there are 193 registered Islamic centers of learning and more than 3,000 registered Islamic religious teachers.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools, although it is allowed in the country’s 57 government-subsidized religiously affiliated 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. The constitution states that no person shall be required to receive instruction or take part in any ceremony or act of worship other than his or her own. Religious instruction is allowed in private schools not aided by the government. At the primary level, the law allows seven designated private schools (six Sunni madrassahs and one Seventh-day Adventist school) to educate primary-age students, provided these schools continue to meet or exceed public school performance benchmarks in annual national exams. Other Muslim minority groups may operate part-time schools.

The law empowers the Ministry of Education to regulate schools, including prohibiting students from wearing anything not forming part of an official school uniform. The law prohibits the wearing of hijabs or headscarves in public schools. International, other private, and government-aided religious schools are not subject to the same restrictions. For example, in madrassahs, headscarves are part of the uniform. Headscarves are not banned at institutions of higher learning. All madrassahs are under the purview of the MUIS.

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 will be 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 the affairs of marriages where both parties are or were married as Muslims, including maintenance payments such as alimony and child support, disposition of property upon divorce, custody of minor children, and inheritance. According to legal experts in inheritance, a man will receive twice the share of a woman of the same relational level. 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. Additionally, under the law, certain criminal offenses apply only to those who profess Islam, including cohabitation outside of marriage and publicly expounding any doctrine relating to Islam in a manner contrary to Islamic law. Muslim men and women who cohabit with a member of the opposite sex (including non-Muslims) to whom they are not married are liable to a maximum fine of 500 SGD ($370) or maximum imprisonment of six months, or both. Instead of imprisonment, a women may be sentenced to a “place of safety established under any written law” for a period not to exceed 12 months. The punishment for teaching or publicly expounding any doctrine contrary to Muslim law is a maximum fine of 2,000 SGD ($1,500), maximum imprisonment of 12 months, or both.

The law does not recognize a right to conscientious objection. 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 that the parliament or the government refers.

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, 12 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, servicemen 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.

Government ministers and officials regularly cited religious harmony as an important policy goal. In April the government deported Imam Nalla Mohamed Abdul Jameel to India after he was convicted and fined 4,000 SGD ($3,000) for “committing acts known to be prejudicial to the maintenance of religious harmony and likely to disturb public tranquility.” The imam, who had worked in the country since 2010, was removed from speaking at the mosque after a video of him reciting an Arabic prayer from his home village in India asking for “help against Jews and Christians” surfaced on Facebook. The police initiated an investigation when a member of the public filed a complaint. In public meetings with various faith groups, including Christian and Jewish leaders and Minister of Home Affairs K. Shanmugam, Nalla apologized repeatedly, adding that he understood the charges against him were necessary to “preserve the sanctity of interfaith harmony.” In a separate case, two individuals investigated for uploading and commenting on the video were officially warned but not prosecuted for violating religious harmony laws.

The government said that all religions would be held equally responsible for maintaining religious harmony. In June the MUIS barred Singaporean “extremist” Islamic preacher Rasul Dahri from teaching in the country, and the Ministry of Information and Communications banned nine of his publications. In October the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) banned two foreign Islamic preachers, Ismail Menk (known as Mufti Menk) and Haslin bin Baharim, from entering the country on the grounds that their “exclusivist” and “divisive” preaching would damage social harmony. In November the ministry banned a third foreign Islamic preacher on the same grounds. In September the MHA declined applications to speak in Singapore for two foreign Christian preachers whom it said had previously made “denigrating and inflammatory comments” about Muslims and Buddhists. In September the National Council of Churches advised its member churches to exercise “careful discernment” before inviting preachers in order “to preserve the harmonious religious environment that currently exists.”

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told parliament in October, “Religion can be and has been a source of strength to our society, but we must also watch for exclusivist, intolerant practices because these can deepen fault lines and weaken our entire society.” Shanmugam said the law on religious harmony is expected to be tightened in 2018 to ensure that religious groups do not sponsor foreign speakers who promote ill will. Several Christian and Muslim groups spoke against amending the legislation, on the grounds that religious groups already practiced a culture of religious sensitivity and already self-selected speakers to avoid those promoting disharmony.

Although government policy prohibited the wearing of hijabs by certain public sector professionals, such as nurses and uniformed military officers and at some schools, 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 petition for a change in government policy, as did opposition Member of Parliament Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap in parliament in April. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong endorsed Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli’s response that such a “deeply emotive” matter should be resolved by government and community leaders working together quietly. The prime minister said on Facebook the best way to make progress on such sensitive issues “is quietly, outside the glare of publicity.”

The September presidential election was won by former parliamentary speaker Halimah Yacob, who is Muslim and wears the hijab. President Halimah’s portrait was displayed in all schools and government buildings. In 2016 the government passed legislation that resulted in the 2017 presidential election being reserved for eligible Malay, and effectively Muslim, candidates. The legislation, which generated some controversy in social media, states that the presidency should be reserved for a certain race if a person of that community has not occupied the office for five consecutive terms, effectively 30 years.

The government assisted religious groups in locating spaces for religious observance in government-built housing, where most citizens lived. 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 Ministry of Education’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.”

Missionaries, with the exception of members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and representatives of the Unification Church, were permitted to work and to publish and distribute religious texts. While the government did not formally prohibit proselytization, it continued to discourage its practice in speeches and through the application of laws regarding public speech and assembly as it deemed proselytizing might offend other religious groups and upset the balance of intergroup relations.

Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said in parliament in October that as fears over terrorism increased, local Muslims found it “unpleasant” being “under constant scrutiny” and that “for the Malay-Muslim community, this sense of being misunderstood is deeply felt.”

Associate Professor of Sociology Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir published an op-ed in March in which he said Islam was the most regulated religion in the country and described a “culture of fear” among Muslim clerics, whom he said sensed the Muslim community’s anger at the “disciplining of Islam” but who felt limited in their response because they feared overstepping the boundaries of state-endorsed Islam.

The government launched the “BRIDGE” initiative in March, which aimed to foster understanding of different religious practices and beliefs and to encourage discussions, as well as to support interfaith initiatives through the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY)’s Harmony Fund. For example, one such discussion was on how “religion is hijacked by extremists” and how teenagers self-radicalize.

Minister of State and chair of NGO OnePeople.sg, Janil Puthucheary, hosted a television documentary called Regardless of Religionwhich explored religious differences and prejudices. Puthucheary attended interfaith dialogues and religious events, including those held by minority religious groups such as the Jaafari Muslim Association, a Shia Muslim organization that opened a new religious center in August in Geylang.

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

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 other religions. Additionally, the Ministry of Home Affairs, encouraged by the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), encompassing the leaders of the 10 largest religious groups in the country, opened organized daily tours of the interactive Harmony in Diversity Gallery.

The government continued to support the operation of an “interracial and religious confidence circle” (IRCC) in each of the country’s 27 electoral constituencies. The IRCCs gave religious group leaders a forum for promoting religious harmony at the municipal level. Under the auspices of the MCCY, the IRCCs conducted local interreligious dialogues, counseling and trust-building workshops, community celebrations, and similar activities. Throughout the year, interfaith dialogues were held in different communities around the island.

The government continued to engage religious groups through the community engagement program (CEP), created to foster social cohesion and minimize ethnic or religious discord in the event of a terrorist attack or other civil emergency. The government trained community leaders involved in the CEP in emergency preparedness and techniques for promoting religious harmony. Throughout the year, the CEP continued to conduct outreach activities to strengthen intercommunal and interreligious bonds.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Journalist Elgin Toh and other journalists wrote articles throughout the year encouraging their readers not to view Muslims with suspicion and telling Muslims they should not feel responsible for the actions of radicalized Muslims.

According to an August op-ed in the Singapore Straits Times, a public Facebook group, Melayu Singapura Tolak Syiah (Singapore Malays Reject Shia) with 1,814 members, often demonizes Shia. Comments on YouTube and other social media referred to Shia as “deviant”, “apostates,” and by other negative terms.

In June vandals wrote the word “terrorist” on a cartoon image of a Muslim woman who wore a hijab on a temporary board fence surrounding a construction site. Numerous individuals subsequently posted comments online to support the Muslim community, and the Free Community Church hosted an iftar in addition to a talk on Islam by Muslim scholar Mohamed Imran Taib.

Shia and Sunni Muslims continued to cooperate and to share Sunni mosques, and held intrafaith iftars during Ramadan. The Sunni Ba’alwie Mosque hosted an iftar with Shia guests, and a Shia youth group hosted an interfaith iftar for 100 guests. Some Shia and Sunni Muslims stated that trust in the minority Shia community of approximately 5,000 persons (1 percent of the Muslim community) by the majority Sunnis declined as the influence of anti-Shia discourse in neighboring Malaysia increased. Shia continue to work with Muslim authorities to secure permission to open a second Shia mosque.

In April the Muslim community, with encouragement from the government, opened use of some facilities of its new Yusof Ishak Mosque to persons of all faiths. Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob and mosque chairman Ayub Johari said that the mosque would help spread an ethos of religious plurality.

In October a Hindu sanctum was consecrated at the multireligious Loyong Tua Pek Kong Temple, which also houses Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist deities, as well as a Muslim shrine. The deputy prime minister said the event was a good example of multireligious harmony.

The Buddhist Singapore Soka Association invited dignitaries from other religions to its Lotus Sutra Exhibition in October, during which it hosted a number of interfaith lectures, one of which was given by MUIS president Mohammad Alami Musa.

The IRO, which includes leaders of the 10 major religions in the country, has the stated objective of inculcating a spirit of friendship among the leaders and followers of various religious groups and promote mutual respect, assistance, and protection by conducting interreligious prayer services, seminars, and public talks throughout the year. The major religious groups have taken turns organizing the annual Harmony Games, an MCCY-supported sports event for youth of all faiths; the Muslim community organized the games during the year.

A number of people-to-people initiatives promoted religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue. These included a meeting organized by community group Explorations into Faith in April to discuss building inclusive interfaith public spaces; an ongoing dialogue entitled, “Religion and Atheism: A Conversation” in which atheists, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims discussed race and religion; and dinners during which groups of strangers discussed sensitive religious issues.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy’s June iftar was attended by then-Speaker of Parliament (and now President) Halimah Yacob, senior representatives from Malay Muslim organizations, representatives from many ethnic and religious groups, media representatives and government officials. The speech by the Charge d’Affaires advocated for religious tolerance and respect.

U.S. embassy representatives interacted with a variety of religious groups, including the IRO, the MUIS, and representatives from Sunni, Shia, and Christian groups, to reinforce the importance of religious freedom. The embassy utilized social media to highlight the Charge d’Affaires’ religious outreach and demonstrate appreciation of and respect for the country’s religious diversity.

The embassy supported a four-day Southeast Asian interfaith youth forum in April in collaboration with Critical Xchange, a local Muslim NGO. The forum brought together 10 young leaders for workshops, with a focus on collaborating to develop ideas for new interfaith initiatives that would tackle religious discrimination in their home communities. The interfaith forum was highlighted on the embassy’s Facebook page, and featured in Berita Harian, a local Malay language newspaper.

Slovak Republic

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and states the country is not bound to any particular faith. In March the requirement for registering a new religious group rose to 50,000 adherents from 20,000 following a parliamentary vote overturning a previous presidential veto of the new membership requirement. The 50,000-member requirement prevented some groups from attaining official status as religious groups. Some of these groups were able to utilize the registration procedures for civic associations to obtain the legal status to perform economic and public functions. Unregistered groups, especially Muslims, continued to report difficulties in ministering to their adherents and in obtaining permits to build places of worship. Members of parliament, especially from opposition parties, continued to make anti-Muslim statements. At several times during the year, police filed charges against members of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) for producing materials defaming minority religious beliefs and for Holocaust denial.

Muslim community members continued to report anti-Muslim hate speech on social media. Christian groups and other organizations described in the press 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. The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia (UZZNO) and the minister of culture criticized a video produced by the Matica Slovenska cultural heritage organization about the founding of the fascist World War II Slovak state for downplaying its crimes against Jews. According to human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the legal requirements for registration of religious groups continued to make it difficult for unregistered groups to alter negative public attitudes toward minority religious groups.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers met with government officials to continue discussions of the treatment of minority religious groups, including the new law requiring 50,000 members for a religious group to qualify for registration, as well as the increase in public expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment. Embassy officials continued to meet regularly with registered and unregistered religious organizations and NGOs to discuss hate speech directed against Muslims and the impact of the new membership requirement for registration of religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 5.4 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, the most recent available, Roman Catholics constitute 62 percent of the population, Augsburg Lutherans 5.9 percent, and Greek Catholics 3.8 percent; 13.4 percent did not state a religious affiliation. Other religious groups present in small numbers include the Reformed Christian Church, other Protestant groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Bahais, and Muslims. During the 2011 census, approximately 1,200 individuals self-identified as followers of Islam, while representatives of the Muslim community estimate the number to be approximately 5,000. According to the census, there are approximately 2,000 Jews.

Greek Catholics are generally ethnic Slovaks and Ruthenians, although some Ruthenians belong to the Orthodox Church. Most Orthodox Christians live in the eastern part of the country. Members of the Reformed Christian Church live primarily in the south, near the border with Hungary, where many ethnic Hungarians live. Other religious groups tend to be spread evenly throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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.

In January the parliament voted to override a presidential veto of legislation originally passed in 2016 to raise the registration requirement for new organizations seeking to register as religious groups to 50,000 adherents from the 20,000 previously required. The new 50,000 requirement entered into force in March. The 50,000 must be adults, either citizens or permanent residents, and must submit 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 to the Ministry of Culture. All groups registered before these requirements came into effect were grandfathered in as officially recognized religions; no new religious groups attained recognition since then. The law makes no distinction between churches and registered religious groups but recognizes as “churches” those registered groups calling themselves churches.

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, the Bahai Community, The Brotherhood Unity of Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Brotherhood Church, Czechoslovak Hussite Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 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, as 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 operating 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. In order to register a civic association, three citizens are required to provide their names and addresses and the name, goal 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. An agreement between the government and 11 of the 17 other registered religious groups provides similar status to those 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 an ethics class, depending on personal or parental preferences. Individual schools and teachers decide what material to teach in each religion class. Although the content of the courses in most schools is Catholicism, parents may ask a school to include teachings of different faiths. 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 tenants 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 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

Political parties, including the largest party represented in parliament, Direction – Social Democracy (Smer), stated they supported the new law increasing the number of members of religious groups required for registration. They also stated they had overridden the presidential veto due to explicit concern over Islam. In January Prime Minister Fico stated a “unified Muslim community” within the country’s territory would be a “constant source of security risk,” which justified a refusal to accept migrants under the European Commission’s refugee resettlement program.

Opposition parties continued to express anti-Muslim views. In a February print interview, Richard Sulik, the leader of Freedom and Solidarity, the second largest political party in parliament and the largest opposition party, stated Christianity was “better” than Islam; Islam was an “aggressive religion,” it was not compatible with Slovak culture, and “we are not all equal.”

In February LSNS Member of Parliament (MP) Milan Mazurek stated in parliament that Islam was “nothing other than the work of the devil” and claimed Islam allowed pedophilia, zoophilia, and necrophilia.

In April during a parliamentary debate on a proposed ban on mosques, Sme Rodina MP Milan Krajniak stated most European Muslims wanted to change the political system in Europe into “something totalitarian,” or an Islamic theocracy. He said practicing Muslims who visited mosques condoned terrorist attacks significantly more than nonpracticing Muslims. During the same parliamentary debate, LSNS Chairman and MP Marian Kotleba said the real problem was “Zionist” politicians, “many of them raised in synagogues,” who he said had brought the Muslims into the country.

During November regional elections, the LSNS won two of 416 seats in regional assemblies, and Kotleba lost his reelection campaign for the Banska Bystrica governorship. Kotleba and other LSNS candidates received more than 100,000 votes in total and retained 14 of 150 seats in the national parliament. In May prosecutors took steps to ban the party as a threat to the country’s democratic system. At year’s end, the Supreme Court was addressing the prosecutor general’s move to dissolve the LSNS for violation of the constitution and other laws.

There continued to be no resolution to the registration application of the Christian Fellowship as of the end of the year. The Ministry of Culture reportedly continued its consideration of additional expert opinions over 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.

The government again allocated approximately 40 million euros ($48 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. 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, with the stated aim of developing a new financing model based on the principles of “justice, transparency, solidarity, and independence.”

NGOs and unregistered religious groups reported they continued to have difficulties altering negative public attitudes towards smaller, unregistered religious organizations, because of the social stigma associated with not having the same legal benefits accorded to registered religions.

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 religion prevented such an action.

The Muslim community reported the lack of registration meant it continued to be unable to employ an imam formally. Muslim community leaders stated prisons and detention facilities continued to prevent their spiritual representatives from gaining access to their adherents. 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.

The Ministry of Culture’s cultural grant program continued to allocate money for the upkeep of religious monuments.

Jewish community leaders continued to criticize the Nation’s Memory Institute (UPN), a state-chartered institution, for reportedly downplaying the role of prominent World War II-era figures in supporting anti-Semitic policies.

In January LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik issued a statement on LSNS social media criticizing President Andrej Kiska for giving state awards to individuals of Jewish origin. Mizik’s statement said important Slovak historical figures had a negative perception of Jews, “because they impoverished the Slovak nation, and because of usury.” In April police charged Mizik with producing extremist materials and defamation of nation, race, and belief, in connection with the comments. Criminal proceedings were pending at year’s end.

In July police charged LSNS Chair Kotleba with supporting movements that promoted the suppression of rights and freedoms and spread religious hatred, after he made an 1,488 euro ($1,800) donation from the party in March to a family in need. Experts stated the amount was a symbolic representation of a 14-word white supremacist phrase and the numeric representation of a salute to Hitler.

In August police charged Marian Magat, who ran as an LSNS candidate in the 2016 parliamentary elections and was described by the press as a far-right radical, with Holocaust denial related to online content published between 2013 and 2016, which praised Adolf Hitler and downplayed the Holocaust. Criminal proceedings were pending at year’s end.

In September parliament rejected a liberal opposition amendment to reduce the minimum waiting period for burial following death, from 48 hours to 24 hours, specifically designed to accommodate the rights of the Jewish community.

In March President Kiska and Prime Minister Robert Fico participated in a commemoration at the Poprad train station of the 75th anniversary of the first transport of Slovak Jews to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In his speech, Prime Minister Fico said the World War II Slovak state had been a puppet of Hitler’s Germany and remained unworthy of admiration today because key representatives of the regime had helped facilitate the deportation of Slovak citizens, including women and children, to Nazi death camps.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

NGOs reported continued online hate speech towards Muslims and refugees. Muslim community leaders continued to report greater levels of fear in the community compared with previous years and said they continued to keep their prayer rooms low-key and not publicize the locations of the prayer rooms so as not to inflame public opinion.

In February the Institute of Leo XIII, a local NGO characterized in the press as conservative, distributed flyers and books to a number of churches that said Islam was a base religion filled with hate and Muhammad was the predecessor of the anti-Christ.

The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia again reported an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric by what it described as “extremist” groups. In July the foundation reported extensive negative online reaction to an iftar organized by the foundation for Muslim and non-Muslim religious and civic representatives. The foundation catalogued numerous social media posts threatening violence and death to individuals who attended the event.

Some Christian groups and other organizations characterized in the press as far-right continued to issue statements praising the World War II-era fascist government responsible for the deportation of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps, and they continued to organize gatherings where participants displayed symbols of the World War II fascist state. While there were no press reports of direct Holocaust denial by these groups, the organizers often included photographs showing World War II symbols in online posts promoting their events. On March 14, for example, the LSNS used such symbols in its online postings about an annual commemoration it organized for the founding of the World War II fascist state. A Catholic priest again participated in the commemoration along with LSNS members of parliament.

In April the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nitra and the Faculty of Roman Catholic Theology of Comenius University in Bratislava organized a seminar about the president of the fascist World War II Slovak state, Jozef Tiso, which focused on Tiso’s role as a Catholic priest and avoided discussion of his regime’s internment of Jews in concentration camps and their later deportation to Nazi death camps. The Jewish community criticized the seminar for praising Tiso and for inviting an individual associated with a far-right group to give a presentation.

In February UZZNO criticized a video produced by the Matica Slovenska cultural heritage organization about the founding of the fascist World War II Slovak state for what UZZNO described as downplaying and attempting to justify the crimes perpetrated by the Slovak state. Jewish organizations said the video implied Slovak Jews would have suffered the same fate even if the fascist Slovak state had not existed. Minister of Culture Marek Madaric also criticized the Matica Slovenska video for “trivializing” the responsibility of the fascist World War II Slovak state for the fate of Slovak Jews.

The Ecumenical Council of Churches continued to be the only association for interreligious dialogue.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to discuss the treatment of religious minority groups and the growth of anti-Muslim sentiment in meetings with government officials. After passage of the new law requiring 50,000 members for a religious group to qualify for registration, the embassy continued to express to government officials its concerns over the new requirement. The Ambassador again participated in the annual Holocaust observation ceremony in Bratislava.

Embassy officers continued to meet with registered and unregistered religious organizations and civil society groups to discuss hate speech directed against Muslims and the negative impact on religious minorities of the new membership requirement as well as of previously existing legal requirements for registration of religious groups. On November 21, the embassy hosted a roundtable lunch and interfaith discussion with representatives of various religious, governmental, and NGO groups. Attendees shared their views on religious freedom and tolerance, including the proper social role of churches and religious communities as advocates for human rights and against the rise of far-right extremism.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future