The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It also states citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health. Nine of the 29 states have laws restricting religious conversions. Some human rights groups stated that these laws fostered hostility against minority communities. There were reports by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government. Some senior officials of the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory speeches against minority communities. Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef. According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution. As of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year. On June 22, two Uttar Pradesh police officers were charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries sustained while being questioned in police custody. In a separate incident, a court in Jharkhand sentenced 11 individuals, including a local BJP official, to life in prison for beating to death a Muslim, whom his killers believed to be trading in beef. On July 17, the Supreme Court said violence in the name of “cow vigilantism” was unacceptable and the onus of preventing such incidents lay with the states. Attacks on religious minorities included allegations of involvement by law enforcement personnel. On January 10, Jammu and Kashmir police arrested eight men, including four police personnel, in connection with the kidnapping, gang rape, and killing of an 8-year-old girl. The men allegedly kidnapped the victim, took her to a nearby temple, and raped and killed her in an effort to drive her nomadic Muslim community out of the area. In September Uttar Pradesh authorities suspended three police officers after videos surfaced of them abusing a Hindu woman in Meerut for reportedly consorting with a Muslim man. The central and state governments and members of political parties took steps that affected Muslim practices and institutions. The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize. According to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data presented in the lower house of parliament on February 6, communal incidents increased by 9 percent from 2015 to 2017, with 822 incidents resulting in 111 deaths and 2,384 injuries in 2017. Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of “cow vigilante” attacks, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation. On July 21, a group attacked and killed Rakbar Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer from Haryana, while he was transporting two cows at night. In December an estimated 300 persons, angered by reports of cows being slaughtered in the area, set fire to the police station in Chigrawati and killed a police officer. An 18-year-old protester was also killed in the violence. A mob assaulted two Muslim men, killing one, in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna District on May 17, alleging they were slaughtering a bull. Police arrested four assailants and filed a complaint alleging cow slaughter against the injured survivor. On January 20, a Christian pastor was found dead at his residence in Tamil Nadu. Members of his congregation alleged he had been murdered, and that he had been a victim of frequent past harassment by Hindu fundamentalist organizations. According to the NGO Persecution Relief’s 2017 Annual Report released in January, there were 736 incidents of persecution against Christians in 2017 compared to 348 in 2016. Tradition and social custom continued to deny entry to women and members of Dalit communities (former untouchables) into many places of worship. In December the Shiv Sena Party published an editorial calling for government to curb the growth of the country’s Muslim population through such measures as compulsory family planning for Muslims. On September 28, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on females aged 10 to 50 years from entering the Hindu Sabarimala temple in Kerala, a move that, according to media, sparked political controversy across the country.
Senior U.S. government officials underscored the importance of respecting religious freedom and promoting tolerance throughout the year with the ruling and opposition parties, civil society and religious freedom activists, and religious leaders belonging to various faith communities. In March a U.S. expert discussed racial and ethnic tolerance with audiences in Chennai and Mumbai. In June the Ambassador and the visiting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations stressed the importance of religious freedom during interactions with multiple religious leaders in Delhi. In almost every visit the Ambassador made in India, he engaged with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths. In August the Department of State Senior Bureau Official for South and Central Asian Affairs visited India and convened a roundtable with senior leaders representing a number of faith groups to exchange views on religious freedom and tolerance. In December the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities met with government officials, religious minority groups, and civil society representatives in Delhi and Lucknow to discuss the challenges faced by religious minorities in India.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Throughout the year representatives from the embassy and consulates general met government officials to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, incidents of cow vigilantism, the status of religious freedom in the country, and religiously motivated violence. In almost every visit the Ambassador made in India, he engaged with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths.
U.S. representatives also engaged with civil society and religious leaders on anticonversion laws, the growing politicization of the bureaucracy, the frequent local veneration of individuals who commit acts of violence against religious minorities, Islamic divorce, and the challenge of protecting personal religious laws in accordance with the constitution, the minority status of universities, and beef bans.
In May the Ambassador hosted an iftar with leaders from the Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, and Jewish communities, journalists, and multiple political parties, at which he stressed the shared commitment of the two countries to religious diversity and the importance of empathy for other faiths. In June the visiting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations joined the Ambassador on a tour of multiple religious sites in Old Delhi, highlighting the country’s rich tradition of spiritual pluralism, and met with Muslim, Jain, Hindu, Christian, and Sikh leaders. In July the Ambassador traveled to Ladakh and met with Buddhist leaders, a religious minority in the region, and highlighted via social media the religious diversity of India and Ladakh’s religion and culture. In August the senior official of the Department of State Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs convened a roundtable with senior leaders from Muslim and Christian communities and discussed increased violence against religious minorities. In December the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities met with government officials, religious minority groups, and civil society representatives in Delhi and Lucknow to discuss the challenges faced by religious minorities in India.
Embassy and consulate officers continued to meet with religious organizations, missionary communities, and NGOs of all religious backgrounds to discuss religious freedom, understand concerns related to an increase in attacks against religious minorities and the perceived diminishing space for religious freedom, and monitor cases involving reports of religious persecution and religiously motivated attacks. Embassy and consulate representatives met with the Imam of Jama Masjid, leaders of several mosques, Hindu priests, and Christian and Catholic leaders, as well as representatives of the India Islamic Cultural Center, the All India Imams’ Organization, the Parsi community, and Sikh leaders.
The embassy and consulates general hosted celebrations marking major religious holidays, including Ramadan, Holi, Eid al-Fitr, and Easter to bring together leaders from different religious groups and emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. In February Mumbai’s Mahim Dargah (a Muslim shrine) Trustee Suhail Khandwani hosted an interfaith dialogue for visiting U.S. mayors from Anaheim, California and Louisville, Kentucky. In March the Consul General in Chennai hosted a U.S. expert on interfaith relations. The expert discussed tolerance with graduate students at the Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership in Mumbai and more than 200 Muslim youth at a grade school for Muslim children displaced during 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and the right to worship according to one’s own beliefs but states citizens must accept restrictions established by law to protect the rights of others and to satisfy “just demands based upon considerations of morality, religious values, security, and public order in a democratic society.” In separate incidents, four persons received prison sentences ranging from 16 months to five years for violations of blasphemy laws. In Medan, a court sentenced an ethnic Chinese woman to 18 months in prison after she complained about the loudspeaker volume of a neighborhood mosque. In July the Constitutional Court dismissed a petition brought by members of the Ahmadi Muslim religious community to revoke the blasphemy law. In Aceh, authorities continued to carry out public canings for sharia violations, such as selling alcohol, gambling, and extramarital affairs. The governor issued a directive to end canings in public, over the strong objections of others in the government and society. The directive remained in effect, but no districts enforced it, due in part to the arrest and detention of the governor. Some local governments imposed local laws and regulations restricting religious freedom, such as local regulations banning Shia or Ahmadi Islamic practice. Ahmadi Muslims again reported incidents of forced conversion and discrimination. Media and human rights groups reported in December that Jakarta’s Prosecution Office launched a smartphone app called Smart Pakem allowing citizens to file heresy or blasphemy reports against groups with what the government considers unofficial or unorthodox religious practices. Religious groups outside the six government-recognized religions (Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Islam, the latter widely interpreted by the government and society to mean Sunni Islam), reported issues with identifying their religion on their national identification cards (KTPs), although a 2017 Constitutional Court ruling allows for such a listing. There were again instances in which local governments and police acceded to the demands of groups, such as the Islam Defender’s Front (FPI), Islamic Community Forum (FUI), Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), and the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), called “intolerant groups” in the media, to close houses of worship for permit violations or otherwise restrict the rights of minority religious groups. In September large protests erupted in Jambi, Sumatra, after officials there closed three Christian churches for not obtaining the appropriate permits. Both the central and local governments included elected and appointed officials from minority religious groups, and elected politicians from religious minorities served in majority Muslim districts. There was one Shia member of the national legislature.
In May a family of suicide bombers attacked three Christian churches in Surabaya within minutes of each other, killing 13 persons and injuring 40 others. In February a man with a machete attacked a Catholic congregation in Yogyakarta and injured four persons, including the church priest. Also in May a mob destroyed several houses and attempted to expel the Ahmadi community from a village in West Nusa Tenggara. In March an unknown group vandalized a Catholic church in Sumatra. Many prominent civil society representatives, including religious organizations from all faiths, worked to counter religious intolerance and promote pluralism and tolerance of minority religious groups.
The U.S. government advocated for religious freedom at the highest levels, with both government and civil society leaders, and spoke out publicly against discrimination and violence against minority religious communities. The Department of State Coordinator for Counterterrorism visited Jakarta in September and met with local religious leaders to discuss ways to combat violence against religious groups in the country. Embassy and consulate officials engaged government officials on specific issues, including actions against religious minorities; closures of places of worship and access for foreign religious organizations; convictions for blasphemy and defamation of religion; the importance of tolerance and rule of law; the application of sharia to non-Muslims; and religious identification requirements on national identification cards. The U.S.-Indonesia Council on Religion and Pluralism – endorsed by both governments and comprising religious and civil society leaders, academics, and experts from both countries – met with visiting U.S. government officials to discuss religious freedom issues. The embassy and consulates carried the message of respect for diversity and religious tolerance to tens of millions of people in the country through outreach efforts, including events, media interviews, social media initiatives, digital and public speaking engagements, youth exchanges, and educational programs.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, the Consulate General in Surabaya, and the Consulate in Medan regularly engaged with all levels of government on specific religious freedom issues, such as actions against religious minorities; closures of places of worship; convictions for blasphemy and defamation of religion; the undue influence of “intolerant groups” and the importance of the rule of law; the application of sharia to non-Muslims; religious registration requirements on KTPs; the importance of education and interfaith dialogue in promoting tolerance; the equal protection of all citizens regardless of their religion; and promotion of tolerance in international forums.
The U.S.-Indonesia Council on Religion and Pluralism, a civil-society-led entity endorsed by both governments, includes a diverse group of experts, academics, and religious and civil society leaders established to promote interfaith dialogue, pluralism, and tolerance. The Ambassador regularly engaged with members of the council to discuss ways to augment the council’s activity on issues affecting the country’s religious communities. The embassy facilitated the council’s engagement with visiting U.S. government officials.
In September the Department of State Coordinator for Counterterrorism met with council members to hear their approach to responding to religious extremist ideology in the country. He shared examples of international good practices and suggested areas of future collaboration, such as educator-religious leader collaboration in schools; strengthening law enforcement’s role in engaging communities they serve; and religious leader youth mentorship.
In August the Ambassador met with U.S. members of the council attending the World Peace Forum to discuss efforts to augment joint collaboration between the two countries to combat violent extremism, promote religious freedom, and increase people-to-people engagement on human rights.
In January the then Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs met with Islamic members of the council to discuss Indonesia’s stated intention to encourage moderate Islam overseas. Local council members discussed efforts to prevent the politicization of Islam, promote interfaith dialogue, and develop a united response to extremist narratives. The Acting Assistant Secretary underscored the importance of promoting tolerance and pluralism in the country and commended the work of the council on engaging communities of all faiths.
During Ramadan, the embassy and consulates implemented an outreach strategy throughout the country to highlight values such as religious tolerance. This included a diverse set of public diplomacy tools, ranging from the Ambassador’s appearance on two of the country’s highest-rated television shows and a series of buka puasas (iftars) with target audiences, to placement of articles featuring Muslim life in the United States in key newspapers and social media blitzes using embassy-produced Ramadan and Eid videos. An important objective was to promote interfaith tolerance within the country by highlighting the inclusion of Muslims within American life.
The embassy implemented several professional exchange programs designed to foster and encourage religious tolerance. These included sponsoring the visit to the United States of eight (seven Muslim and one Christian) academics to examine religious pluralism and acquire tools to develop curricula at their home institutions. The embassy also sponsored the visits of six educators, administrators, and NGO leaders to the United States to see how religious and secular schools, as well as faith-based and other civil society organizations, work together as a force for social harmony.
The embassy hosted a film festival in which it showed numerous movies throughout the year, several of which included themes of religious tolerance and diversity. The series was very well attended, and follow-on discussions hosted by embassy officials resulted in lively and forthright exchanges regarding religious and societal challenges facing Indonesia and the United States.
In September the Consul General in Surabaya hosted an interfaith event for Surabaya’s religious community during which the consulate general conveyed the importance of religious pluralism and diversity in developing resilient and prosperous societies. Key guests included members of Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist groups along with followers of traditional beliefs. During Ramadan, the Consulate General hosted a Halal bi-Halal (a national Muslim observance showing respect for elders after Eid al-Fitr) for youth leaders of religious groups, and participants discussed their aspirations in promoting pluralism.
In January the Consulate in Medan organized a meeting between Muslim scholars from different provinces in Sumatra and the Ambassador to provide updates on religious dynamics in Sumatra. U.S. officials expressed their support for diversity and encouraged the scholars to continue their leadership in maintaining religious peace and harmony in the country.
The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religion. The law recognizes four religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. The constitution and other laws give Buddhism the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commit the government to protecting it while respecting the rights of religious minorities. According to representatives of religious minority communities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government officials at the local level continued to engage in systematic discrimination against religious minorities, especially Muslims and converts to “free” (nondenominational and evangelical) Christian groups. Local government officials and police reportedly responded minimally or not at all to numerous incidents of religiously motivated violence against Muslim and Christian minorities. There were some reports of government officials being complicit in physical attacks on and harassment of religious minorities and their places of worship. In March the government declared a 10-day nationwide state of emergency, restricted social media access, and arrested more than 100 persons in response to anti-Muslim riots in Kandy District in which mobs attacked Muslim civilians, shops, homes, and mosques, resulting in at least two deaths, 28 injured, and extensive property damage to Muslims’ houses, shops, and mosques. According to the media, in February the government deployed police after at least five persons were wounded and several shops and a mosque damaged in anti-Muslim riots in Ampara District. Evangelical and nondenominational Christian churches continued to state police harassed them and local government officials often sided with the religious majority in a given community. Activists reported that on April 29, a group of Buddhists and Hindus forcibly entered the Sunday service of the Apostolic Church in Padukka in Colombo and threatened congregants. Police demanded the Christians stop the worship service immediately. According to activists, on July 8, a group of villagers and Buddhist monks disrupted a Living Christian Assembly service in Sevanapitiya, Polonnaruwa, stating it was a Hindu-majority village. The police ordered the Christian group to stop holding services. At year’s end, the government had not formally registered any free Christian groups as religious organizations. Local police and government officials reportedly continued requiring places of worship to obtain approval to conduct religious activities, citing a 2011 government circular that was no longer in effect. Police and local officials continued to cite a 2008 government circular to prohibit the construction of or to close down Christian and Muslim places of worship, despite the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs (Ministry of Buddha Sasana) determining in May that the circular only applied to Buddhist facilities.
Attacks on religious minorities continued. As of October the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) documented 74 incidents of attacks on churches, intimidation of and violence against pastors and their congregations, and obstruction of worship services. According to civil society groups, social media campaigns targeting religious minorities fueled hatred and incited violence. Buddhist nationalist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS, Buddhist Power Force) continued to promote the supremacy of the ethnic Sinhalese Buddhist majority and denigrate religious and ethnic minorities, especially via social media during the Kandy riots in March. Civil society organizations continued efforts to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to engage in peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees that were created following the end of the civil war in 2010 between the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority (mainly Hindu with a significant Christian minority).
The U.S. embassy repeatedly urged political leaders to defend religious minorities and protect religious freedom for all, emphasizing the importance of religious minorities in the national reconciliation process. Embassy personnel met often with religious and civic leaders to foster interfaith dialogue. The U.S. government also funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith and interreligious cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building. In March the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities attended a conference led by the Religious Freedom Institute and engaged with the government and civil society leaders. He met with religious and community leaders and senior government officials to discuss religious freedom. The Ambassador publicly condemned the anti-Muslim violence in Kandy in March.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In regular meetings with the president, prime minister, and other senior government officials, the Ambassador emphasized the need for respect for and inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities as part of the post-conflict reconciliation process. During times of heightened religious and ethnic tensions, such as during the anti-Muslim riots in Kandy in March, the Ambassador urged political leaders to defuse the immediate crisis and called on citizens to disavow religious violence. Embassy officers also met regularly with cabinet ministers with religious portfolios to encourage them to build ties across religions. In response specifically to the Kandy riots, the Ambassador made a public statement condemning the violence and conveyed on social media his support for freedom of religion and protection from violence. In addition, the embassy engaged with leaders of the government to urge them to take effective steps to end the violence.
Department of State and embassy officials met with Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu civil society activists and victims of reported attacks across the country to gauge the climate for religious minorities. In addition, embassy and visiting Department of State officials met with religious groups, civil society organizations, and government officials to express concern about harassment of, attacks on, and government and societal discrimination against members of religious minority groups.
In March the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities attended a conference hosted by the Religious Freedom Institute and engaged with government and civil society leaders. He met with religious and community leaders and senior government officials to discuss the violence against Muslims and discriminatory laws targeting other minorities.
The embassy supported the work of civil society organizations to strengthen the capacity of religious and community leaders to lead peacebuilding activities through district-level interreligious reconciliation committees. The U.S. government also funded multiple foreign assistance programs designed to build on global best practices in interfaith cooperation, dialogue, and confidence building through the National Peace Council.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs. The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils. The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias. Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism. The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.
The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.” A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups. The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
In April U.S. embassy consular officials hosted members of the Jewish community to discuss religious funerals and ways in which the embassy could assist. Specific areas of concern included coroners refusing to work “out-of-hours” and intrusive post-mortems.
The embassy used social media channels to promote the recognition of International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, including tweets highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial, and the Secretary of State’s statement on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. Similarly, the embassy used social media to call attention to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial in honor of the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting at a North West London Jewish center. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.
In November the Department of State and the UK’s Department for International Development cohosted a dialogue titled “Protecting Vulnerable Religious Minorities in Conflict and Crisis Settings,” at Wilton Park, Surrey.
In early December the Ambassador invited a local rabbi to light the menorah in observance of Hanukkah at a ceremony in the embassy. Also in December embassy officials sponsored a speaker to address a gathering at the London Central Mosque. The theme of the event was “diversity in the workplace” and specifically focused on diversity of religion in the working environment.
The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast continued to regularly engage Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders to discuss challenges in their communities, including those pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance.