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Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion. On August 24, President Emmanuel Macron signed a law providing authorities broader powers to monitor and close down religious organizations and groups they determined to be promoting ideas contrary to French values.  Religious groups, including Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Christian Orthodox leaders, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) publicly condemned the law before it was enacted, saying that it “risks undermining fundamental freedoms” such as freedom of worship and of association.  Although the law did not specifically mention Islam, critics said it targeted and stigmatized Muslims and that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  In January, the government praised Muslim leaders who reached an agreement on a “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” affirming the signatories’ adherence to national law and values.  Critics of the charter said it was crafted by the government and represented an unconstitutional intervention into religious affairs.  The government dissolved by decree several Muslim organizations it accused of “inciting hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and said that it had closed 672 Muslim establishments from February 2018 through October 2021, including 21 mosques since November 2020.  On April 14, the Court of Cassation – the country’s highest court of criminal and civil appeal – upheld lower court rulings that cannabis use by the killer of a 65-year-old Jewish woman in 2017 rendered him criminally irresponsible for her death, leading to protests and creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair.  After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 “health pass” would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.  President Macron and other government officials continued to condemn antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy security forces to protect religious and other sensitive sites.  In October, the Senate adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism; in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.

There were instances of religiously motivated crimes and other abuses against Christians, Jews, and Muslims, including physical assaults, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism and the killing in August of a priest in the Loire Region that generated a public outcry.  In the latter case, authorities judged the killer mentally unfit and placed him in a psychiatric hospital.  Authorities reported registering 1,659 antireligious acts during the year, a 12 percent drop compared with the same period in 2019, when 1,893 acts were reported.  (According to the Ministry of the Interior, statistics from 2020, when it recorded 1,386 antireligious acts, were not comparable because of the COVID-19 lockdown.)  While the total number of acts reported decreased from 2019, the number of anti-Muslim acts increased by 38 percent to 213, from 154 in 2019 (234 in 2020).  Anti-Christian acts decreased 19 percent to 857, from 1,052 in 2019 (813 in 2020), and antisemitic acts fell 14 percent to 589, from 687 in 2019 (339 in 2020).  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data that was collected in France between February and June 2020.  According to the survey, 7 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in France said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Officials from the U.S. embassy, consulates, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Interministerial Delegation to Fight Against Racism, Antisemitism and Anti-LGBT Hate (DILCRAH).  The Charge d’Affaires and embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance, including engaging Christian, Jewish, and Muslim representatives in Strasbourg, discussions of interfaith dialogue in Rennes, exchanges on antisemitism in Lyon, and raising Holocaust awareness in Marseille.  The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and religiously motivated hate crimes, such as projects bringing together youth of different faiths and a roundtable with religious leaders, and regularly used social media to convey messages highlighting issues pertaining to religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 68.1 million (midyear 2021).  ccording to a January 2020 report released by the government-appointed Observatory for Secularism, based on a poll conducted in cooperation with polling company Viavoice, approximately 47 percent of respondents identify as Catholic, 3 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 2 percent Buddhist, 1 percent Jewish, 1 percent Christian Orthodox, and 1 percent other religious groups; 34 percent said they have no religious affiliation and 8 percent preferred not to respond.  According to the observatory’s 2019 report, there are 140,000-150,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 150,000-300,000 Hindus.  In a poll on secularism released in February and conducted with Viavoice, 35 percent of respondents say they are believers, 30 percent nonbelievers or atheist, 14 percent agnostic, and 13 percent indifferent.  Most observers, including the observatory in its 2019 report, estimate the number of Muslims in the country at three to five million, or between 4 and 7 percent of the population.  According to Church of Scientology leaders, there are approximately 40,000 followers in the country.

A poll by the research firm French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) conducted August 24-25 found that 51 percent of respondents said they do not believe in God, and 49 percent said they do.  According to the IFOP poll, the highest percentage of believers (58 percent) was found among those 65 years and older and the lowest (45 percent) among those aged 35-49.  Other age groups were close to evenly split, with a slight majority of nonbelievers.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular republic and states it “shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law,” regardless of religion, and shall respect all beliefs.  The law provides for the separation of religion and state and guarantees the free exercise of religious worship except to maintain public order.

The law, as well as international and European covenants to which the country adheres, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion.  Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and imprisonment for one month.  Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.

Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group.  Additional penalties beyond those for the underlying crime for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000 to 75,000 euros ($51,000-$85,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries.  For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, defined as an allegation of fact that affects the honor of a person or body, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,000).  The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.

The law penalizes hate crimes and hate speech.  Provisions in the criminal code cover hate crimes.  They criminalize racist, antisemitic, or xenophobic acts, considering them as aggravating circumstances when an offense is committed on the basis of a victim’s membership or nonmembership, true or supposed, in a given ethnic group, nation, race, or religion.  When made in public, such as on the internet, hate speech is covered by a special law related to the rights of the press that criminalizes the publication or dissemination of racist remarks, including those directed against persons because of their membership in religious groups.  The law covers all means of public expression (speeches, exclamations, threats, writings, printed matter, drawings, engravings, paintings, symbols, images, etc.), and any media permitting wide dissemination to the public.  When not made in public, hate speech is covered by the criminal code and punishable by a 1,500 euro ($1,700) fine.

There is no national-level law prohibiting blasphemy, but Alsace-Moselle continues to retain part of an old German code, a remnant from past German annexation of the area, that declares “blasphemy” against Catholics a crime.  However, a Ministry of Justice decree states that the antiblasphemy provision may not be applied anywhere in the country.

Although the law does not require it, religious groups may apply for official recognition and tax-exempt status.  Religious groups may register under two categories:  associations of worship, which are exempt from taxes; and cultural associations, which normally are not exempt.  Associations in either category are subject to fiscal oversight by the state.  An association of worship may organize only religious activities.  Although not tax-exempt, a cultural association may engage in for-profit as well as nonprofit activity and receive government subsidies for its cultural and educational operations.  Religious groups normally register under both categories.  For example, Catholics perform religious activities through their associations of worship and operate schools through their cultural associations.

Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body, headed by a prefect, that represents the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status.  To qualify as an association of worship, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include liturgical services and practices, religious training, and the construction of buildings serving the religious group.  The association must also engage in public worship and respect public order.  Among excluded activities are those that are purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature.  To apply for tax-exempt status, the association must provide to the prefecture its estimated budget for the year, annual accounts for the previous three years or since the association’s creation, whichever is shorter, a written justification of eligibility for the status, and the number of members of the association.  In Paris, the association must have a minimum of 25 members.  Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide.  The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive.  If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status.  The Ministry of Interior has not provided recent information on the number of associations with tax-exempt status.  According to ministry data more than a decade old, there are 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations with tax-exempt status.

The number of cultural associations, many of which are not associated with religious groups, is in the thousands and changes frequently.  Cultural associations may be declared using an online form through the government’s public administration website.  Cultural associations, even if associated with religious groups, may operate without applying for government recognition, but receiving government recognition exempts them from taxes.  The Church of Scientology has the status of a secular and not a religious association.

The law states, “Detained persons have the right to freedom of opinion, conscience, and religion.  They may practice the religion of their choice…without other limits than those imposed by the security needs and good order of the institution.”

Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find that comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred, or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.”  The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court.  A place of worship that has been closed may remain closed beyond the six-month maximum if it does not replace its chief cleric and/or management.  Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,500).  A counterterrorism and intelligence law that parliament enacted on July 22 makes permanent some provisions of a 2017 law on internal security and counterterrorism that had been set to expire July 31.  The new law allows authorities to close facilities belonging to places of worship linked to acts of terrorism, rather than only the places of worship themselves, as was previously the case.

The law prohibits covering one’s face, including for religious reasons, in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters.  If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a niqab or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity.  According to the law, police officials may not remove it themselves.  If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity.  Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours.  Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course.  Individuals who coerce other persons to cover their face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,000) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison.  The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.  The law exempts use of face coverings mandated by the authorities, such as masks worn for COVID-19 prevention.

The law prohibits agents of the administration, public services, and companies or associations carrying out public services from demonstrating their religion through visible signs of religious affiliation, such as an Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, or Christian cross.  The prohibition applies during working hours even if the agents are not in their place of employment and at any time at the place of employment.

By law, the government may not directly finance religious groups to build new places of worship, except, as noted below, in Alsace-Lorraine and overseas departments and territories.  The government may, however, provide loan guarantees or lease property to groups at advantageous rates.  The law also exempts places of worship from property taxes.  The state owns and is responsible for the upkeep of most places of worship, primarily Catholic, built before 1905.  The government may fund cultural associations with a religious connection.

The Upholding Republican Values law – passed by parliament on July 23, ruled constitutional on August 13 by the Constitutional Court, and signed by President Macron on August 24 – includes measures expanding requirements of neutrality in expression and attire for public servants and private contractors of public services, methods to combat online hate speech, stricter restrictions on homeschooling, increased control of public associations, transparency of religious associations, and enhanced measures against polygamy, forced marriages, and “virginity certificates.”  The law requires audits of associations, including those that are religious in nature, that receive foreign funding of more than 153,000 euros ($173,500) per year.  The law imposes additional reporting requirements on local religious-based organizations.  It modifies a law on policing of religions to include punishing the incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence with up to five years in prison.  The law also increases the punishment for holding political meetings in places of worship and prohibits the organization of campaigning operations for political elections in places of worship.  In addition, a judge may forbid anyone convicted of provoking terrorism, discrimination, hate, or violence from entering places of worship.  The government may temporarily close places of worship if it finds any activities that incite hatred or violence.  The new law expanded the requirements for neutrality, impartiality, and principles of secularism, which previously applied only to government employees, to apply to private contractors for public services.  The law also implements a commemorative “secularism day,” to be recognized annually on December 9.  In addition, it requires municipalities and departments to inform local prefects three months before concluding a long-term lease with, or providing loans to, places of worship.

The Upholding Republican Values law includes provisions to combat hate speech, including the criminalization of disseminating personal information which could endanger the life of others.  Violators may be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($85,000) if the victim is a public official, a journalist, or a minor.  An expedited procedure allows authorities to remove content on mirror sites.

The law separating religion and state does not apply in three classes of territories.  Because Alsace-Lorraine (currently comprising the departments of Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, and la Moselle and known as Alsace-Moselle) was part of Germany when the law was enacted, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Jews there may choose to allocate a portion of their income tax to their religious group.  Pastors, priests, and rabbis of these four recognized faiths in Alsace-Moselle receive a salary from the Interior Ministry, and the country’s President, with the agreement of the Holy See, appoints the Catholic bishops of Metz and Strasbourg.  The Prime Minister appoints the Chief Rabbi and the presidents of the Jewish and Protestant consistories (the administrative governance bodies of these groups) in Alsace-Moselle, and the Interior Minister appoints ministers of three Christian Churches (Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine) in the region.  Local governments in the region may also provide financial support for constructing religious buildings.  The Overseas Department of French Guiana, which is governed under 19th century colonial laws, may provide subsidies to the Catholic Church.  Other overseas departments and overseas territories, which include island territories in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and several sub-Antarctic islands, may also provide funding for religious groups.  This provision also applies to the portion of Antarctica the government claims as an overseas territory.

Public schools are secular.  The law prohibits public school employees from wearing visible signs of religious affiliation and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Islamic headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses.  Public schools do not provide religious instruction except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories.  In Alsace-Moselle, religious education regarding one of the four recognized faiths (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine, and Judaism) is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may, with a written request from their parents, opt for a secular equivalent.  Religious education classes are taught by laypersons who are trained and nominated by the respective religious groups but are paid by the state.  Elsewhere in the country, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum.  Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool their children or send them to a private school.  Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools; however, private schools may permit the wearing of religious symbols on their premises.  Under the Upholding Republican Values law, beginning in September 2022, homeschooling will be allowed only for strictly defined reasons, including sickness, disability, intensive sport or artistic training, transient families, or those with geographic constraints.  Parents who wish to take their children out of school will be required to get an annual authorization from the local education authority.

By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations.  In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of their religious affiliation.  The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools.  According to the education code, religious instruction is allowed but optional in government-subsidized private schools.  Students are not required to attend religion classes, and other activities are available for students who opt out.

Missionaries from countries not exempt from visa requirements must obtain a three-month tourist visa before traveling to the country.  All missionaries from nonexempt countries wishing to remain longer than 90 days must obtain long-duration visas before entering the country.  Upon arrival, missionaries must provide a letter from their sponsoring religious group to apply to the local prefecture for a temporary residence card.

The country adheres to the nonbinding Terezin Declaration of 2009 – an agreement to remedy the economic wrongs experienced by Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution – and its guidelines and best practices of 2010.  The government has laws and mechanisms in place for property restitution and reparation, including for all three types of immovable property:  private, communal, and heirless.

The government’s Commission for the Compensation for Victims of Spoliation (CIVS or the “Drai Commission”) is a sovereign and independent administrative body under the authority of the Prime Minister.  CIVS recommends and examines reparations to individual victims of the Holocaust or their heirs not previously compensated for damages resulting from antisemitic legislation passed either by the Vichy government or by the occupying Germans.  On June 17, the CIVS announced that on its recommendation, Prime Minister Jean Castex had ordered the return to the descendants of Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville 12 works of art acquired by the French State in 1942.  At year’s end, the government was working on a draft law to effectively implement this decision.

The law criminalizes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, treating it as “a provocation to discrimination or hatred or violence towards a person or a group of persons because of their origin or belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a determined religion.”

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

Government Practices

On April 14, the Court of Cassation upheld the Paris Court of Appeals’ decision that Kobili Traore, the killer of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was unfit to stand trial because his cannabis consumption prior to the killing rendered him psychotic, despite the judges’ opinion that the attack was antisemitic in character.  The Court of Cassation’s decision closed the case.  According to media reports, Traore continued under psychiatric care where he had been assigned since killing Halimi in 2017 and would remain hospitalized until psychiatrists concluded he no longer represented a danger to himself or others.  Lawyers for Halimi’s relatives announced their intention to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.  On April 21, lawyers representing Halimi’s sister announced that she intended to file a criminal complaint against Traore in Israel.

On April 25, media reported that more than 20,000 persons demonstrated at Trocadero Square in Paris to “proclaim determination to continue the fight for Sarah’s memory.”  Similar protests were held in several other cities across the country.  French political leaders, including President Macron, criticized the court ruling and what he called the loopholes in law exposed by the case.  Macron also told daily newspaper Le Figaro that “Deciding to take narcotics and then ‘going mad’ should not, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility,” and said he wanted Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti to introduce a change in the law “as soon as possible.”  On July 22, the National Assembly established a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the affair, which was continuing its investigation at year’s end.

On March 15, following the resignation of M’hammed Henniche, the rector (administrator) of a mosque in Pantin, a Paris suburb, and the nomination of a new board of directors, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin called for the reopening of the mosque, made effective on April 9.  In October 2020, Darmanin had ordered a six-month closure of the mosque, following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson on freedom of expression.  The mosque’s imam Ibrahim Doucoure had posted on social media calls to retaliate against Paty for showing the cartoons.  The Montreuil Administrative Court had validated the government’s decision to close the mosque.

On October 26, Junior Minister for Citizenship Marlene Schiappa reported that, since the end of 2019, as part of a nationwide program to counter “Islamism and communitarianism,” the Ministry of Interior had conducted 23,996 assessments and closed 672 establishments of various kinds, including 22 mosques.  According to Schiappa, those establishments, which the government did not specifically identify, “were gathering places to organize Islamist separatism,” which President Macron had previously described as a “methodical organization” to create a “countersociety” in which Islamists impose their own rules and laws on isolated communities.

On October 13, Interior Minister Darmanin announced he had ordered authorities to close a mosque in Allonnes, in the Loire Region, following what he said was evidence the mosque preached radical Islamism.  According to the local prefecture, some of its 300 members were linked to radical Islamist movements that “legitimized the use of armed jihad” as well as “hate and discrimination.”  In early October, authorities froze the accounts of the two associations running the mosque.

On October 26, Interior Minister Darmanin reported that, following inspections of mosques conducted starting in November 2020, the government suspected 92 of the 2,500 mosques in the country of being radical and had closed 21 of them.  On December 12, Darmanin said 36 mosques were removed from the list of those suspected of Islamist separatism after complying with government requests, including dismissing “dangerous” imams and rejecting foreign funding.  Darmanin reiterated the mosques suspected of practicing radical Islam represented a very small minority.

In a December 27 decree, Darmanin announced the government administratively closed the mosque of Beauvais, north of Paris, for six months because of the anti-republican sermons of one of its imams.  Darmanin accused Imam Islem, born Eddy Lecocq, of dividing society by justifying jihad and using discriminatory language against LGBTQ+ persons and women in his sermons.  The mosque’s representative argued that Islem’s comments were taken out of context, calling the closure “unjustified” and the accusations against the imam false.  Some members of the Beauvais Muslim community expressed frustration to the press, saying that while the law should apply to this imam, it was unfair that “the whole community was being punished” for his actions.

Contrary to the previous year, Jehovah’s Witness officials did not report any cases in which authorities interfered with proselytizing during the year.

After President Macron’s announcement that a COVID-19 health pass would be required to enter public spaces beginning in August, some protesters wore the yellow Star of David or held signs comparing treatment of nonvaccinated persons to that of Jews during the Holocaust; others protested with antisemitic signs.

With the stated intent to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the government continued to impose measures limiting the distance between worshippers during religious services.  It required places of worship to ensure that there were at least two empty seats between persons unless they were members of the same household and that only one row of seats out of two was occupied.  Unlike with other gatherings, the government did not require a COVID-19 health pass to attend religious ceremonies.  The Prime Minister’s office told Le Figaro newspaper July 13 that places of worship enjoyed constitutional protections beyond those of other groups because of the fundamental value of the freedom of religion.

On August 24, President Macron signed into law the Upholding Republican Values bill, which the government used to continue closing organizations accused of separatism, including some places of worship.  On March 10, leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches in the country issued a public statement expressing their concern about the then draft bill.  Catholic Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, President of the Bishops Conference of France (CEF), Pastor Francois Clavairoly, President of the Protestant Federation of France, and Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, signed the statement.  The statement said that “by its internal logic … this bill risks undermining fundamental freedoms such as freedom of worship, association, teaching and even freedom of opinion.”  The three leaders added that “turning its back on the separation [of church and state], the state interferes in the qualification of what is religious” and that the law allowed the state to apply more constraints and controls on religious organizations when the Christian churches believed the procedures necessary to maintain public order already existed.  Muslim leaders, also speaking about the bill while in draft, said that, although it did not specifically mention the word Islam, many of its provisions clearly singled out Islam, targeting and stigmatizing Muslims.  They also pointed out that President Macron had initially proposed the law as a means to combat “Islamist separatism.”  NGOs expressed concern about the increased power of unelected prefects to close associations.  Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said the then draft would increase restrictions on French religious associations, “but in the end it will be beneficial and there will be less suspicion towards donations.”  France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia said the then draft law “reminds us of the importance of carrying the values of the republic everywhere, in all spaces, including religious spaces” and gives “legal tools to do what we could not do before.”

In a January 18 meeting with representatives of the CFCM, which until December was the government’s main dialogue partner among groups representing the Muslim community, President Macron praised the CFCM’s adoption of the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” the Elysee (Office of the Presidency) reported.  “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”  According to the CFCM, the agreement was reached during a January 16 meeting of the CFCM with Interior Minister Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members, who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.  Signatories to the charter included the CFCM, the Union of Mosques of France, Gathering of Muslims of France, Great Mosque of Paris (GMP), and the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies.  Signatories to the charter, composed of 10 articles, vowed to reject attempts to use Islam for political ends, refrain from distributing messages of violence, hate, terrorism, or racism, and educate youth against those who spread such messages; affirmed gender equality and the need to educate believers that certain cultural practices presumed to be Muslim are not part of Islam; and agreed to combat “superstitions and archaic practices” that endanger the lives of victims, recognize Muslims have the right to renounce Islam, and reject racism, antisemitism, and misogynistic acts.

Online news site Middle East Eye published an opinion piece in February that called the charter “the worst violation of the separation of Church and state in the history of the Fifth Republic,” and stating it was crafted by the government, particularly President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin, and not by Muslims.  On January 17, Tareq Oubrou, the Great Imam of Bordeaux, said he deplored that the CFCM produced the charter “under political pressure.”

On November 21, the GMP along with three Muslim federations announced they had set up a National Council of Imams (CNI) aimed at establishing a new certification system for imams in France.  The CFCM, which President Macron had instructed in 2020 to establish a new imam certification system to ensure Muslim clerics’ compliance with French republican values, denounced the initiative.  The CFCM president, Mohammed Moussaoui, accused the GMP, the Gathering of Muslims of France; the French Federation of Islamic Associations of Africa, Comoros, and the West Indies; and the Muslims of France (former Union of Islamic Organizations in France) of having “taken the organization of Muslim worship hostage.”

On July 23, the Ministry of the Interior and the Loire regional prefecture officially suspended Mmadi Ahamada, the imam of the Attakwa Mosque in Saint-Chamond, for discriminating against women.  In Eid al-Adha remarks, the imam said women should “stay home, not show off … and not be too complacent in your language,” nor give in to “corruption and vice.”  Interior Minister Darmanin tweeted that he would relentlessly counter those who violated the values of the republic, and said that at his instruction, the Saint-Chamond imam and another imam were fired for “unacceptable sermons.”  Darmanin also ordered the Loire prefect to evaluate the Saint-Chamond imam’s renewal of his residency permit.  According to media reports, the imam, a citizen of Comoros, could be deported if the permit were not renewed.

On July 15, the government announced the creation of a new Interministerial Committee on Secularism to replace the Observatory for Secularism – an independent public watchdog entity established in 2013 whose members were appointed by the government – that critics from the political right and left said did not crack down hard enough on radical Islam.  According to Minister for Citizenship Schiappa, who announced the new committee, it would function under the authority of the Prime Minister’s office and be responsible, as the observatory had been, for coordinating government efforts to protect state secularism, for instance by ensuring no public funding was allocated to nonsecular programs.  She stated the committee would also assume responsibility for secularism training for public employees, with the goal of providing such training to all five million employees by 2025.  Twelve ministers on the new committee were tasked with coordinating state secularism and tracking the implementation of the Upholding Republican Values law.  The committee was also tasked with placing a secularism specialist in each public administration by the end of the year to provide information and mediate on issues relating to religion.  It would oversee new powers given to prefects to take legal action against local governments if they implement policies that seem to contradict secularism, for example by allowing women-only sessions in public pools.  In her announcement, Minister Schiappa also said that, during the December 9 “Secularism Day,” the Ministry of the Interior would award a “Legality Prize” of 50,000 euros ($56,700) for promoting secularism.

According to media, on October 12, at the request of President Macron, Interior Minister Darmanin summoned CEF President Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort, after the Archbishop publicly stated that the secrecy of confession was “above the laws of the republic,” sparking outrage among groups of victims of sexual abuse by priests.  De Moulins-Beaufort made the comment after a Church-commissioned independent report revealed more than 200,000 cases of sexual abuse by priests over the previous seven decades.  After the meeting, Archbishop de Moulins-Beaufort cited “the determination of all bishops, and all Catholics, to make the protection of children an absolute priority, in close cooperation with the French authorities.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of 2018, the penitentiary system employed 720 Catholic, 361 Protestant, 231 Muslim, 191 Jehovah’s Witness, 74 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, and 18 Buddhist chaplains.  In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray.  Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.

In September, 55 foreign imams and two murshidates (Muslim religious female guides) began year-long assignments at mosques in the country.  On September 14, Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, announced on social media that his mosque held a welcoming seminar before sending the imams and murshidates to their respective places of assignment.  In accordance with a bilateral agreement with Algeria, the government hosted training sessions on secularism and French values for these imams and murshidates.

On September 29, as part of the government’s stated efforts to combat radicalization, Interior Minister Darmanin announced in a tweet the dissolution of the Nawa Center for Oriental Studies and Translation in the southwestern town of Pamiers for reportedly producing Islamist propaganda and legitimizing violence.  In its decree, the government cited Nawa publications that called for the “extermination of the Jews,” legitimized violence against LGBTQ+ individuals, and encouraged the punishment of “adulterous women.”  In a September 28 interview with Le Figaro, Darmanin said the government was in the process of closing six religious sites and banning another 10 local associations for ties to radical Islam.

In a September 24 ruling, the Council of State, the country’s highest court for public administration issues, approved the authorities’ December 2020 dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, an NGO with the stated aim of combating discrimination towards Muslims in the country and providing legal support to victims of discrimination.  The government had moved to close the collective in late 2020, following the killing of teacher Samuel Paty by an Islamist.

In a tweet published on October 20, Interior Minister Darmanin announced that, at his request based on the instructions of President Macron, the Council of Ministers had dissolved the Coordination against Racism and Islamophobia, an association created in 2008 and based near Lyon.  On its website, the association presented itself as “an initiative aiming at fighting against a continuously growing scourge:  Islamophobia.”  Darmanin said the association called for “hatred, violence, and discrimination,” and government spokesman Gabriel Attal added it also expressed antisemitism.

In May, President Macron’s ruling La Republique en Marche! (The Republic on the Move!) Party threatened to withdraw its support for a Muslim candidate running in June local elections after she wore a headscarf in a photograph on a campaign flyer.  Party chief Stanislas Guerini said wearing “ostentatious religious symbols” in photographs appearing in campaign materials was against the party’s values.

On November 2, the Council of Europe retracted visuals that said, “freedom is in [a] hijab,” from a campaign combating discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiment after the French government rejected the messaging.  One advertisement, published the previous week, showed a split image of two women, one wearing a hijab and the other not, alongside the slogan: “Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab.”  The split image “deeply shocked me,” Secretary of State for Youth Sarah El Hairy said in a November 2 television interview.  “It is the opposite of the values France is standing up for … which is why it was pulled today.”  The council suspended the entire promotional campaign on November 3.

On December 21, the Paris Administrative Court upheld the 2020 ruling by the Court of Montreuil overturning a 2019 municipal decree that had refused a permit for the Church of Scientology to renovate a building it had purchased in the municipality of Saint-Denis for the purpose of converting it into its headquarters and a training center.  The court ruled that the refusal was a “misuse of power” and ordered the city of Saint-Denis to reexamine the permit request within three months.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of the Armed Forces in March, the government regularly deployed 3,000 military personnel – a number that could rise to 10,000 at times of high threat – throughout the country to patrol vulnerable sites, including Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic sites and other places of worship.  Some Jewish leaders requested the government also station armed guards at Jewish places of worship; the government did not do so.

Interior Minister Darmanin called for strengthening security at places of worship ahead of major religious holidays because of the “persistent terrorist threat,” AFP reported on March 17.  Darmanin reportedly instructed prefects to pay particular attention to religious “gatherings and services that traditionally bring together large groups of people … and consequently constitute targets with strong symbolism.”  Darmanin also called for increasing counterterrorism patrols under the Ministry of the Armed Forces’ Operation Sentinel around vulnerable and symbolic religious sites.

In a September 1 memo to prefects during the Jewish month of Tishrei (September 7-October 6), which includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and several other Jewish holidays, Interior Minister Darmanin asked them to strengthen the security of Jewish places of worship and to ensure maximum police presence due to the “very high level of the terrorist threat.”  Counterterrorism patrols under Operation Sentinel could also be deployed around particularly vulnerable sites, according to the memo.  The MOI executed similar countermeasures at all Christian churches throughout the country on August 15 for the Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On January 4, according to judicial sources, two of 14 defendants that the Special Criminal Court found guilty in 2020 of supporting terrorists who conducted attacks against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 appealed their sentences.  The appeal was scheduled to be heard in September-October 2022.

On March 22, the city of Strasbourg approved 2.56 million euros ($2.90 million) in city funding for the construction of the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation-sponsored Eyyup Sultan Mosque.  In a March 23 Business FM television interview, Minister Darmanin stated that the city’s decision supported foreign interference in the country.  He criticized the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation for what he said was its affiliation with Turkey and for engaging in political Islam and refusing to sign the “Charter of Principles for the Islam of France,” a part of the government’s effort to fight Islamist separatism.  Darmanin asked the local prefect to contest the city’s decision before an administrative judge.  Mayor Jeanne Barseghian wrote in a letter to President Macron that she had set as conditions for final approval of the funding that mosque project leaders ensure transparency in their financing and subscribe to the values of the republic.  The prefect disputed that conditions were set and announced on April 7 that the city’s decision would be contested in administrative court.  Further information on the status of the project was unavailable at year’s end.

On January 27, the Paris Court of Appeals ruled that 67-year-old Hassan Diab, the main suspect in the 1980 deadly bombing of the rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris, would have to stand trial, and on May 19, the Court of Cassation upheld that decision.  Diab, a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, is suspected of having prepared and placed the bomb, which killed three Frenchmen and an Israeli journalist and injured 46 persons.  Diab returned to Canada in 2018 after three years in detention in France when judges determined the evidence was insufficient to warrant prosecution.  On December 22, Le Figaro reported that Diab’s trial would open in Paris in April 2023, but by year’s end, authorities had not issued an arrest warrant and Diab remained in Canada.

On April 14, the Paris Appeals Court validated the grounds for an investigation of a 1982 terrorist attack against an Israeli restaurant in Paris that left six dead and wounded 22 others.  The decision left open the possibility of a trial, judicial sources reported.  The court dismissed two challenges relating to a missing signature on a judicial detention document and an attempt to nullify a December 2020 decision to place the suspect under investigation.  In December 2020, Norwegian authorities extradited to France a suspect in the case, naturalized Norwegian Walid Abdulrahman Abou Zayed.  On December 23, judges decided to keep the suspect in pretrial detention.

On April 16, the Ministry of Education reported 547 infringements of the secularism law in schools between December 2020 and March 2021.  Middle schools accounted for 45 percent of incidents, while primary schools accounted for 33 percent and high schools for 22 percent; 32 percent of violations were in the form of religiously motivated insults or other verbal aggression, while 10 percent involved proselytism.  According to a report released on December 9 by the ministry, 614 infractions of secularism in schools were reported between September and mid-November in the country’s 60,000 schools, an increase of 12 percent compared to December 2020-March 2021.  Incidents cited included insults or other verbal abuse of a religious nature, the wearing of religious symbols, and refusal to take part in school activities.

In February, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer commissioned a report from former school inspector Jean-Pierre Obin on how teachers and headteachers might be better equipped to handle the issue of secularism in schools.  The report, published on June 14, described some confusion among pupils and teachers about the meaning of secularism, exacerbated by the case of teacher Samuel Paty, beheaded in 2020.  The report also highlighted how the historical roots of the country’s current laws were not always understood.  Following the report’s publication, according to Radio France International, Blanquer introduced training programs for teachers and principals on the place of religion in schools so that there would be a common understanding of what secularism entailed and what was and was not allowed.  On October 19, 1,000 teachers started the 120- to 150-hour training.

On October 15-16, schools commemorated the first anniversary of the killing of Samuel Paty with a series of ceremonies and screenings of documentaries on freedom of speech.  On October 16, Prime Minister Castex unveiled a memorial plaque honoring Paty at the entrance of the Education Ministry.  Macron also received Paty’s family at the Elysee Palace.

On February 20, 800 academics signed an open letter in Le Monde calling for Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal’s resignation for threatening “intellectual repression” by ordering, earlier that month, a “scientific investigation” of “Islamo-leftism” at universities.  In a February 21 response, Vidal stated the investigation would be carried out in a “scientific” and “rational” manner.  Several officials within the Macron administration, including President Macron, distanced themselves from Vidal’s proposal, affirming their commitment to academic independence.  Academics said it was a failed attempt to distract from the more important problem of growing student discontent and poverty caused by COVID-19.  Information on the status of the investigation was unavailable at year’s end.

On April 14, the Mayor of Albertville, Frederic Burnier-Framboret, announced he would appeal an April 6 Grenoble Administrative Tribunal decision obliging him to grant a building permit for the Islamic school supported by the Milli Gorus Islamic Confederation, linked to Turkey.  According to media reports, Burnier-Framboret’s appeal would rest on an amendment to the Upholding Republican Values law that allows prefects to oppose the opening of out-of-contract schools supported by a foreign state “hostile” to the republic.  On December 16, the Lyon Appeals Court approved the mayor’s decision not to grant a building permit for the Muslim school.

On October 5, the Senate passed a nonbinding draft resolution to adopt the IHRA nonlegally binding working definition of antisemitism.  The motion, which was sponsored by the Senate’s majority party, the Republicans, with the government’s support, was adopted by a show of hands by all political groups, with one exception, the Communist, Republican, and Citizen and Ecologist Group.  Recalling the National Assembly had passed a similar resolution in 2019, Minister Schiappa said she was “happy that the Senate is taking the same approach.”  Although the resolution was not legally binding, it would allow for better identification and characterization of antisemitism, she added.  In February, the Paris city council adopted the IHRA working definition, while in March, the Strasbourg city council rejected it.  Pierre Jakubowicz, a council member who supported the IHRA working definition, said he was dismayed by the latter decision, adding that Strasbourg had been “plagued” by antisemitic outrages during the year.

In March, following a final judgment in 2020 by the European Court of Human Rights that the country had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights when it convicted a group of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for incitement to discrimination for distributing leaflets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, the government paid a fine of 380 euros ($430) of pecuniary damage and 7,000 euros ($7,900) in nonpecuniary damage to each activist.

On May 19, Normandy’s public prosecutor opened a formal investigation of what the prosecutor said were racist and anti-Islamic social media posts by the then far-right National Rally candidate for President of the Regional Council, Nicolas Bay.  On May 5, Bay – a member of both the Normandy Regional Council and the European Union (EU) Parliament – posted a video calling the Evreux Mosque a hub of “delinquency and terrorism” and saying it was linked to the killing of Samuel Paty.  Evreux elected officials denounced the video as a call to violence against Muslims, and the Great Mosque of Paris called for charges against Bay for inciting “racial hatred.”  On Facebook, Bay responded that “identity politics and Islamism” were threats to the nation and that the Evreux minaret was not welcome in Normandy.

Various groups initiated multiple petitions seeking action against the government for failing, according to the petitions, to follow the rule of law in dealing with the country’s Muslim population.  For example, in January, a coalition of 36 civil society and religious organizations from 13 countries, including the Strasbourg-based European Initiative for Social Cohesion, wrote to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to request that it open formal infringement procedures against the government for “entrenching Islamophobia and structural discrimination against Muslims.”  The 28-page document stated that the country’s actions and policies in relation to Muslim communities violated international and European laws.

On March 8, 25 NGOs from 11 different countries signed a letter urging the EU to investigate the French government for “state-sponsored Islamophobia” and imposing what the letter described as the discriminatory Charter of Principles for the Islam of France.  According to the signatories, the letter responded to what they said were the government’s efforts to isolate Islamist extremists through the Upholding Republican Values law, which was then under consideration in the Senate.  The letter to the European Commission stated that the legislation was inherently discriminatory and that the charter censored free speech in violation of European law.

On May 6, the National Council of Evangelicals of France sent an official report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, criticizing the Upholding Republican Values law and stating it would restrict freedom of worship.

In an April 20 statement, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s General Rapporteur on combating racism and intolerance, Momodou Malcolm Jallow, expressed deep concern that the Upholding Republican Values law stigmatized Muslims and “will serve to further legitimize the marginalization of Muslim women and will contribute to establishing a climate of hate, intolerance, and ultimately violence against Muslims.”

In an October 4 meeting with prefects, Interior Minister Darmanin said the country had deported 72 radicalized foreign Islamists since October 2020 and 636 since 2018.  The 72 were part of a list of foreigners on the FSPRT (fichier des signalements pour la prevention de la radicalisation a caractere terroriste) – a list of individuals suspected of radicalization – under orders of deportation.  On September 28, Interior Minister Darmanin said he had called on regional prefects to refuse any residence permits for imams sent by a foreign government.  According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 300 imams, or 70 percent of all imams in the country, were trained in foreign countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria.  In 2020, President Macron announced he would gradually end the foreign imam program by 2024, creating instead a program for imams to be trained in France.

On January 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Education Ministry invited teachers to take part in special activities and reflect on the Holocaust with students.

On January 10, Interior Minister Darmanin, Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti, Education Minister Blanquer, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, and Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities Elisabeth Moreno attended a Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF)-organized memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where six years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other persons hostage.

On July 16, Prime Minister Castex, Junior Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity, an Equal Opportunities Moreno, and Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Genevieve Darrieussecq attended a ceremony at the Izieu Memorial Museum, the site where 44 Jewish children and their six educators were deported to Nazi extermination camps and later killed.  Prime Minister Castex issued a call to “fight everywhere and always against the unfulfilled temptations of barbarism.”

President Macron and government ministers continued to condemn antisemitism and declare support for Holocaust education on several occasions, including a February 19 visit to the Shoah Memorial; the March 19 commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; and the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration.  On April 25, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq laid a wreath at the Shoah Memorial and the Memorial of the Martyrs of the Deportation in central Paris.

On April 26, the country held private or virtual ceremonies (because of COVID-19 restrictions) commemorating the thousands of persons deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.  On July18, Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Darrieussecq held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the 1942 Velodrome d’Hiver roundup in which 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps.  At the ceremony, 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Joseph Schwartz expressed anger in a speech at seeing anti-COVID-19 vaccine activists comparing the government’s COVID-19 health pass with the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear during World War II.

On July 26, Interior Minister Darmanin participated in a tribute for Father Jacques Hamel, the Catholic priest killed in an attack at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in 2016, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.  In his remarks, Darmanin said, “The government of the republic commemorates its martyrs, and there is no doubt that Jacques Hamel is one of them,” adding that “Islamist barbarism [touched] all the symbols that make the West and France.”  President Macron and Prime Minister Castex also paid tribute to Father Hamel on social media on the same date, the anniversary of his death.

On October 18, Prime Minister Castex met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for celebrations to mark the centenary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See.  At a press conference after the meeting, Castex, in a reference to a report on the sexual abuse of French children by Catholic clergy, said the Church “will not revisit the dogma of the secrecy of the confession,” and emphasized the need to find “ways and means to reconcile this with criminal law, the rights of victims,” adding that “the separation of Church and state is in no way the separation of Church and law.”

On October 26, President Macron and Interior Minister Darmanin participated in the first Economy and Protestantism dinner organized by the Protestant Federation and the Charles Gide Circle, a Protestant association which advocates a “responsible economy.”  In his remarks, President Macron stated that the Upholding Republican Values law was important “because we cannot deny [that] … in the name of religions, strategies have been set up that want to separate the republic.”  Macron added that he did not mean that the republic and society must separate itself from religion but that every person must be free to believe or not believe.  He said he did not accept any speech separating an individual from these rules “on the basis of a religion, a philosophy or anything else.  That is the basis of this law.”

On October 26, President Macron, accompanied by Chief Rabbi of France Korsia inaugurated in the village of Medan the first museum dedicated to the “Dreyfus Affair,” which recalls the 1894-1906 period when antisemitism led to the wrongful conviction of Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus.

On October 28, Interior Minister Darmanin attended a ceremony marking the repair of the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union, where vandals desecrated 269 graves in 2015.  “There is no greater duty for the republic than the protection of our Jewish compatriots who have suffered so much,” Darmanin stated.

In June, declared presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Unbowed Party said that the killing by Mohammed Merah of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in Toulouse in 2012 was “planned in advance” to place blame on Muslims before elections.  CRIF President Francis Kalifat condemned Melenchon’s remarks, tweeting they were an obscene attack on the memory of the victims and that Melenchon was pandering to Islamo-leftist voters and conspiracy theories.

On July 16, President Macron became the first president to visit the sanctuary of Lourdes on the same day when, according to believers, in 1858 the 18th and last apparition of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous, also known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, took place in the cave of Massabielle, a Catholic holy place.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and other staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs engaged relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs and DILCRAH, on ways to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred and strengthen religious freedom.  Topics discussed included religious tolerance, antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.  Embassy officials closely monitored official government positions on antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.

Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly in person and virtually with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives, and NGOs such as Coexister, an organization that promotes interfaith dialogue, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Europe.  They also hosted meetings with representatives from CRIF, the Israelite Central Consistory of France, the CFCM, the Paris Great Mosque, and Catholic and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.

The embassy supported for a second year an interfaith program, “Kol Yoom,” with local NGO Institut Hozes.  The program conducted interfaith “boot camps” gathering Jewish and Muslim teenagers from different social backgrounds to create shared experiences to foster tolerance and mutual understanding.  The groups participated in workshops and community service activities and acted as a force of positive change in their communities.  The embassy facilitated an Escape Zoom, an online cooperative game to foster ties between Jewish and Muslim students aged 12-17.  In April, the Interfaith Tour documentary, Le Temps des Olives (the Olive Season), was screened online for the group, followed by a discussion of ways to build societal cohesion and fight against hate speech.  The documentary portrayed four youths of different faiths from Coexister who conducted an eight-month world tour in 18 countries, funded in part by the embassy, to interview activists, academics, politicians, and interfaith leaders and to research projects to build diverse, inclusive, and sustainable societies.

On May 18, the Charge d’Affaires and the Consul General in Marseille took part in a conference at the Camp des Milles Holocaust Memorial and educational site.  They discussed with other participants opportunities to raise Holocaust awareness and increase societal tolerance.

In September, embassy representatives met with Chemsedine Hafiz, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, to discuss religious freedom, anti-Muslim sentiment, societal tolerance, and interfaith dialogue.

In September, the Consul General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith roundtable with the Council of Europe, the Holy See’s Ambassador to the council, and religious leaders from across the region, including Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Jewish, and Muslim representatives from Alsace.  Participants discussed current challenges presented by social media platforms regarding intolerance and radicalization, and ideas on how to bring interfaith discussion to the international identity of Strasbourg, in partnership with the Council of Europe.

During the year, the Consul General in Marseille held a series of meetings with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues.  The Consul General met with the Regional Council of the Muslim Faith (CRCM) in the Midi Pyrenees Region and the CRCM spokesperson in Toulouse on February 18, where they discussed preventing violent extremism, the Upholding Republican Values law, and tolerance and acceptance towards Muslims in French and American society.  On March 2, she met with the CRIF Marseille president and discussed tolerance and acceptance towards Jews, and Jewish and Muslim cooperation and understanding in Marseille’s northern neighborhoods.  In April, she held a virtual iftar with the Muslim community of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region, with attendees from Marseille, Avignon, Nice, and Carpentras at which they discussed the Ramadan traditions of the North African diaspora in Southern France, countering violent extremism in prisons, the Upholding Republican Values law, and the importance of interfaith dialogue in increasing societal tolerance.  On May 25, she met with the Vaucluse Jewish community and the CRCM representative for Vaucluse, and visited the Carpentras Synagogue and the Carpentras Mosque.  At the synagogue, she and Jewish community representatives discussed how community members were working to preserve their Jewish traditions within their congregation.  In the mosque, she and Muslim community representatives discussed how Muslim leaders were helping newcomers integrate into the country, especially with material support for young families and with literacy education.

On October 2-4, an official from the consulate general in Marseille and representatives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum visited the Camp de Rivesaltes Memorial site in the Pyrenees Orientales Region and met with the memorial’s staff to explore opportunities for cooperation on Holocaust remembrance.  The camp was a transit point for deportees who were later sent to Nazi extermination camps.

APP Rennes officials met with Marc Brzustowski and Philippe Strol, respectively Vice President and President of the Rennes synagogue, on September 22 to discuss religious freedom, antisemitism, and opportunities for interfaith dialogue.  In October, APP Rennes officials discussed opportunities for interfaith dialogue with local government officials.

APP Lyon officials attended the investiture of the new Grand Rabbi of Lyon and the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region, Daniel Dahan, in October.  The Consul spoke with the Grand Rabbi and other Jewish leaders regarding their concerns about the growth of antisemitism in the region.

On November 11, the Second Gentleman of the United States visited the Shoah Memorial in Paris to pay homage to victims of the Holocaust while marking Franco-American resolve to combat contemporary antisemitism.  He lit a memorial candle in honor of the 76,000 Jews deported from the country under Vichy rule at the Wall of Names that lists the victims.

The embassy regularly amplified messages from the Secretary of State and Department of State on religious freedom on embassy social media platforms in French and in English.  For example, in May and July, it posted remarks by the Secretary on religious freedom as a human right.  The Charge d’Affaires also published messages related to religious holidays on his Twitter accounts to highlight the diversity of religions and high-level engagement on religious freedom issues.  These included posts on Yom Kippur, Easter, Ramadan, Naw Ruz, and Holi, among others.


Executive Summary

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 that citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health.  Ten of 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against so-called forced religious conversions for the purpose of marriage although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  In August, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand State filed a complaint against local police alleging that seven police officers sexually abused them during interrogation and used anti-Islamic slurs.  According to media, police took no action on the complaint by year’s end.  Police made several arrests during the year under laws that restrict religious conversion, and several state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation restricting religious conversion.  According to the United Christian Forum (UCF), a Christian rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), in the period between January and June, 29 Christians were arrested in three states on suspicion of forceful or fraudulent religious conversions under the laws restricting religious conversions in those states.  Some NGOs reported that the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities.  A faith-based NGO stated in its annual report that out of 112 complaints of violence filed by Christian victims from January to August, police filed official reports (First Information Report or FIR) in 25 cases.  There were no updates on these cases by the end of the year.  Police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism.  NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize 2020 amendments passed to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organizations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements.  The government continued to say the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.  According to media reports, FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs, including hundreds of faith-based organizations, lapsed after the government said the organizations did not apply for renewal in time.  In addition, during the year the government suspended FCRA licenses of 179 NGOs, including some that were faith-based.  The states of Assam and Karnataka enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle; 25 of 28 states now have similar restrictions.  The most recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, Crime in India for 2020, released in September, said that the violence in New Delhi in February 2020 following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) resulted from a “feeling of discrimination” among the Muslim community.  During the year, Delhi courts acquitted some of those arrested on charges related to the protests and convicted one Hindu participant.  Various courts criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the protests.  Politicians made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities.  For example, Madan Kaushik, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand State, told the media in October that “Our party line is clear that no [religious] conversion [from Hinduism] will be tolerated.”  In May, the Assam government removed theological content from the curriculum of more than 700 state-run madrassahs and state-run Sanskrit schools, which converted them into regular public schools.  Analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.

Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year.  These included incidents of “cow vigilantism” against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef.  According to the UCF, the number of violent attacks against Christians in the country rose to 486 during the year from 279 in 2020.  According to Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides, Hindus committed 13 instances of violence and threats against Christian communities in Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.  According to UCF, most of the incidents were reported in states ruled by the BJP and included attacks on pastors, disruption of worship services, and vandalism.  The NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and UCF released a joint report that noted more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians reported to UCF’s hotline during the year.  Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant laborers from Bihar, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.  As of December, alleged terrorists had killed 39 civilians including two schoolteachers from the Hindu and Sikh communities.  According to media reports, the killings caused widespread fear among Hindus and Sikhs in the Kashmir valley, leading hundreds of migrants to depart Jammu and Kashmir.  There were reports of vandalism against Muslim facilities during the year, including by Hindu nationalist groups damaging mosques, shops, and houses belonging to the Muslim community across Tripura State in October.  Media reports said these attacks occurred in retaliation for attacks on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the Durga Puja festival in that country.  A mob killed four Muslim men on June 20 in Tripura on suspicion of cattle smuggling.  On June 21, suspected cow vigilantes killed Muslim Aijaz Dar in Rajouri District of Jammu and Kashmir.  Cow vigilantes allegedly killed Babu Bheel, a member of a Rajasthan tribal community, on June 14.  Religious leaders, academics, and activists made inflammatory remarks about religious minorities.  During a Hindu religious gathering in Hardiwar, Uttarakhand State, December 17-19, Yati Narasinghanand Saraswati, described as a Hindu religious extremist, called upon Hindus to “take up weapons against Muslims” and “wage a war against Muslims.”  On December 21, police named Narasinghanand and seven others for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” in multiple FIRs; police arrested Narasinghanand a few weeks later, although he was subsequently released on bail.  The others had not been arrested by year’s end.  The Pew Research study on “Religion in India” released in July noted that most Indians valued religious tolerance but preferred living religiously segregated lives.  Eighty-nine percent of Muslims and Christians surveyed said they were “very free to practice their own religion” but 65 percent of Hindus and Muslims said they believed communal violence between religious groups was “a problem” for the country.  Freedom House downgraded the country’s ranking from “free” to “partly free” during the year in part due to policies described as advancing Hindu nationalist objectives.

During the year, U.S. embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, engaged with members of parliament, politicians from multiple political parties, religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations, and civil society members to discuss the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.  During engagements with political parties, civil society representatives, religious freedom activists, and leaders of various faith communities, U.S. government officials discussed the importance of religious freedom and pluralism; the value of interfaith dialogue, and the operating environment for faith-based NGOs.  Throughout the year, the Chargés d’Affaires met with religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths to discuss their perspectives and views on religious freedom issues.  In May, the embassy organized a virtual interfaith dialogue during Ramadan to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and interfaith harmony.  In July, the Secretary of State, during his visit to the country, addressed the importance of freedom of religion and belief in his opening remarks and held a roundtable with diverse faith leaders to discuss inclusive development.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.3 billion (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8 percent of the population, Muslims 14.2 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, and Sikhs 1.7 percent.  Groups that together constitute fewer than 2 percent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Baha’is.  In government statistics, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs officially identifies as Hindus more than 104 million members of Scheduled Tribes – indigenous groups historically outside the caste system who often practice indigenous religious beliefs – although an estimated 10 million of those listed as Scheduled Tribe members are Christians according to the 2011 census.

According to government estimates, there are large Muslim populations in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and the Union Territories of Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir.  In Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir, Muslims account for 95 percent and 68.3 percent of the population, respectively.  Slightly more than 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni, with the remainder mostly Shia.  According to media reports during the year, there are an estimated 150,000 Ahmadi Muslims in the country.  According to government estimates, Christian populations are distributed throughout the country but in greater concentrations in the northeast as well as in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa.  Three northeastern states have majority Christian populations:  Nagaland (90 percent), Mizoram (87 percent), and Meghalaya (70 percent).  Sikhs constitute 54 percent of the population of Punjab.  The Dalai Lama’s office states there are significant resettled Tibetan Buddhist communities in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttarakhand States, and Delhi.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and media reports, there are approximately 100,000 Tibetan Buddhists in the country.  According to media reports, approximately 40,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Burma live in the country.  UNHCR estimated it received 1,800 requests for refugee registration since August 2021 and projects it will receive 3,500-5,000 refugee registration requests by the end of 2022.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution mandates a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to profess, practice, and propagate religion freely, subject to considerations of public order, morality, and health.  It prohibits government discrimination based on religion, including for employment, as well as religiously based restrictions on access to public or private establishments.  The constitution states that religious groups have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage their own affairs in religious matters, and own, acquire, and administer property.  It prohibits the use of public funds to support any religion.  National and state laws make freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality, and health.”  The constitution stipulates that the state shall endeavor to create a uniform civil code applicable to members of all religions across the country.

Federal law empowers the government to ban religious organizations that provoke intercommunal tensions, are involved in terrorism or sedition, or violate laws governing foreign contributions.

Ten of the 28 states have laws restricting religious conversion:  Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.  Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh States prohibit religious conversion by “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” including marriage “with the intention of conversion” and require district authorities to be informed of any intended conversions one month in advance.  Himachal Pradesh and Odisha States maintain similar prohibitions against conversion through “force,” “inducement,” or “fraud,” which would include the provision of any gifts, promises of a better life, free education, and other standard charitable activities, and bar individuals from abetting such conversions.  Odisha State requires individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate at a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government.  The notification procedures state that police must ascertain if there are objections to the conversion.  Any person may object.  Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against “forced” religious conversions for the purpose of marriage (Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh), although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.  By year’s end, four other state governments announced plans to enact similar legislative measures:  Haryana, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Assam.  Since March, Madhya Pradesh has required prior permission from a district official to convert to a spouse’s faith in case of interfaith marriage, has permitted the annulment of a fraudulent marriage, and set the penalties for violators at a prison term of up to 10 years without bail and fines up to 100,000 rupees ($1,300).

Violators, including missionaries, are subject to fines and other penalties, such as prison sentences of up to three years in Chhattisgarh and up to four years in Madhya Pradesh if converts are minors, women, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.  on freedom of religion in April, Gujarat also imposes sentences of between three and 10 years in prison and fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($670) for forcible or fraudulent religious conversions through marriage.  In Himachal Pradesh, penalties include up to two years’ imprisonment, fines of 25,000 rupees ($340), or both.

The federal penal code criminalizes “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” and “acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony,” including acts causing injury or harm to religious groups and their members.  The penal code also prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”  Violations of any of these provisions are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both.  If the offense is committed at a place of worship, imprisonment may be for up to five years.

There are no requirements for registration of religious groups unless they receive foreign funding, in which case they must register under the FCRA.  Federal law requires NGOs, including religious organizations, registered under the FCRA to maintain audit reports on their accounts and a schedule of their activities and to provide these to state government officials upon request.

Organizations conducting “cultural, economic, educational, religious, or social programs” that receive foreign funding are required to obtain a license under the FCRA.  The central government may also require that licensed organizations obtain prior permission before accepting or transferring foreign funds.  The central government may reject a license application or a request to transfer funds if it judges the recipient to be acting against “harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities.”

NGOs, including religious organizations, may use 20 percent of their funding for administrative purposes and are prohibited from transferring foreign funds to any other organization or individual.

The constitution states that any legal reference to Hindus is to be construed to include followers of Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism, meaning they are subject to laws regarding Hindus, such as the Hindu Marriage Act.  Subsequent legislation continues to use the word Hindu as a category that includes Sikhs, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Jains, but it identifies the groups as separate religions whose followers are included under the legislation.

Federal law provides official minority status to six religious groups:  Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains, and Buddhists.  State governments may grant minority status under state law to religious groups that are minorities in a particular region.  Members of recognized minority groups are eligible for government assistance programs.  The constitution states that the government is responsible for protecting religious minorities and enabling them to preserve their culture and religious interests.

Personal status laws establish civil codes for members of certain religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance based on religion, faith, and culture.  Hindu, Christian, Parsi, Jewish, and Islamic personal status laws are legally recognized and judicially enforceable.  Personal status issues that are not defined for a community in a separate law are covered under Hindu personal status laws.  These laws, however, do not supersede national and state legislation or constitutional provisions.  The government grants autonomy to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Parsi community to define their customary practices.  If law boards or community leaders are not able to resolve disputes, cases are referred to the civil courts.

Interfaith couples and all couples marrying in a civil ceremony are generally required to provide public notice 30 days in advance – including addresses, photographs, and religious affiliation – for public comment, although this requirement varies across states.  Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, or Jains who marry outside their religions face the possibility of losing their property inheritance rights under those communities’ personal status laws.

The law recognizes the registration of Sikh marriages but does not include divorce provisions for Sikhs.  Other Sikh personal status matters fall under Hindu codes.  Under the law, any person, irrespective of religion, may seek a divorce in civil court.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in government schools; the law permits private religious schools.  The law permits some Muslim, Christian, Sindhi (Hindu refugees), Parsi, and Sikh educational institutions that receive government support to set quotas for students belonging to the religious minority in question.  For example, Aligarh Muslim University must admit at least 50 percent Muslims.  St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and St. Xavier’s in Mumbai must admit at least 50 percent Christians.

Twenty-five of the 28 states apply partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter.  Penalties vary among states and may vary based on whether the animal is a cow, calf, bull, or ox.  The ban mostly affects Muslims and members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that traditionally consume beef.  In most of the states where bovine slaughter is banned, penalties include imprisonment for six months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($13-$130).  Since August, when the Assam state government enacted new legislation, penalties have included minimum imprisonment of three years or a fine between 300,000 and 500,000 rupees ($4,000-$6,700) or both, without being eligible for bail prior to trial, for slaughtering, consuming, or transporting cattle.  Since February, the slaughter of all cattle, except for buffalo older than age 13, has been illegal in Karnataka, with violators subject to imprisonment of between three and seven years and penalties between 500,000 and 1,000,000 rupees ($6,700-$13,500).  Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir penalize cow slaughter with imprisonment of two to 10 years.  Gujarat state law mandates a minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for killing cows, selling beef, and illegally transporting cows or beef.

One state, Madhya Pradesh, imposes fines of 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($340-$670) and prison sentences of six months to three years for “cow vigilantism,” i.e., committing violence in the name of protecting cows.  This is the only law of its kind in the country.

The National Commission for Minorities, which includes representatives from the six designated religious minorities and the National Human Rights Commission, investigates allegations of religious discrimination.  The Ministry of Minority Affairs may also conduct investigations.  These agencies have no enforcement powers but conduct investigations based on written complaints of criminal or civil violations and submit findings to law enforcement agencies.  Eighteen of the country’s 28 states and the National Capital Territory of Delhi have state minorities commissions, which also investigate allegations of religious discrimination.

The constitution establishes the legal basis for preferential public benefit programs for Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities and members of the “Other Backward Classes,” a category for groups deemed to be socially and educationally disadvantaged.  The constitution specifies only Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists are eligible to be deemed members of a Scheduled Caste.  As a result, Christians and Muslims qualify for benefits if deemed to be members of “backward” classes due to their social and economic status.

The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain a missionary visa.

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

Government Practices

On September 26, a 14-year-old Christian boy in the Gaya District of Bihar died at a hospital in Patna after perpetrators threw acid on him, according to media reports.  The family members said police did not register a complaint despite threats to the family by Hindu groups and local individuals.  The boy’s father, Vakil Ravidas, had adopted Christianity with his family five years earlier and, according to family members, local community members threatened and warned them against attending church.  Police told media the boy died by self-immolation due to a familial dispute, a claim the victim’s family denied.  Media reported the family signed a consent letter declaring they did not want to pursue the matter with police or the courts.

According to media reports, two Muslim men from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand stated that during an interrogation on August 26 police used anti-Muslim slurs, forced them to strip naked at a city police station, and pressured them to have sexual intercourse with each other.  When they refused, they said they were “beaten and threatened to be sent to Afghanistan.”  Police released them the same day.  The men said they were called to the police station for questioning in connection with an alleged kidnapping case involving a Muslim man and a Hindu woman who had eloped.  They said seven police personnel, including the station officer in charge, sexually abused them.  The officer in charge denied the allegation.  On August 27, the two men — Mohammad Arzoo and Mohammad Aurangzeb — filed a complaint with Jamshedpur police that they were tortured by seven police personnel.  According to a media report, no action was taken against the accused police officers by year’s end.

The government did not release data on communal violence during the year.  Government data from 2020 reported a large increase in communal violence compared to 2019, largely due to the February 2020 violence and protests following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).  The CAA provides an expedited path to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh who had entered the country on or before December 31, 2014.  Similarly situated Muslims, Jews, members of other faiths, and atheists from these three countries were not included.  The government argued the law was necessary to provide protections for religious minorities from those countries.

The National Crimes Record Bureau reported 857 instances of communal violence in 2020 compared to 438 in 2019.  According to both media and the Crime in India for 2020 report, released in September, police arrested 1818 individuals throughout 2020 for the protests in Northeast Delhi.  The report said that 53 persons including two security personnel were killed in the protests, and 581 individuals, including 108 police personnel, were injured.  Of those killed, 35 were Muslim and 18 Hindu.  Of those arrested, 956 were Muslim and 868 Hindu.  By the end of the year, 1204 individuals remained in jail, 544 individuals had been released on bail, various courts in Delhi were processing 250 outstanding criminal complaints, and Delhi police were investigating an additional 350 criminal complaints related to the riots.  Those numbers continued to fluctuate due to the ongoing hearings.  The first conviction was a Hindu male in December for setting a Muslim resident’s house on fire as part of a mob.

The Crime in India for 2020 report said the riots resulted from the Muslim community’s “feeling of discrimination” due to the NRC and the CAA, and certain groups with “vested interests capitalized on this feeling and further aroused the sentiments of this community against the central government.”  The Assam State government published its NRC in 2018 to define citizenship, and any Assamese resident who did not appear on the list would need to go before the Foreigners’ Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, which would declare them a foreigner or citizen.  An estimated one-third of Assam’s 33 million residents are Muslim.  The Muslim community and media expressed concern that the NRC, a proposed list of all citizens being implemented only in the state of Assam, coupled with the national CAA, could result in Muslims being determined to be “illegal immigrants” and detained or deported.  None had been deported by the end of the year.

Opposition parties and civil society members continued to criticize the probe into the riot cases and accused Delhi police of targeting minorities, a charge Delhi police and the national Home Ministry (responsible for police oversight) denied.  In a press conference on September 13, several prominent civil society members and activists said Delhi police were responsible for “derailing” the probe and demanded release of individuals arrested for the rioting or protesting against the CAA.  Various courts also criticized the Delhi police for inadequate investigation of the riots, which Muslim academics, human rights activists, former police officers, and journalists said reflected police anti-Muslim bias, while deflecting the investigation away from those responsible.  A lower court in Delhi imposed a fine of 25,000 rupees ($340) on the Delhi police for “callous” investigation into the case of one man who said police shot him in the eye during the riots.  The judge said the police had “miserably failed” their duty in that case.  The Delhi High Court stayed the fine but upheld the lower court judge’s criticism of the riot investigation.  Critical court rulings led to the Delhi police setting up a Special Investigation Cell to monitor progress of the Delhi riots investigation.

During the year, Delhi courts released some of those arrested during the 2020 riots.  In July, for example, a court dropped charges against a Hindu man who was held for over a year in pretrial custody after being accused of joining a mob that burned and looted a shop the mob thought was Muslim-owned, according to media reports.

The case against activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid, a Muslim, who told a court in 2020 he had spent time in solitary confinement after being arrested during the riots, remained ongoing at year’s end and he remained in custody.  Media reported that during a bail hearing, Khalid’s lawyer argued the police officer who originally filed charges against his client had been influenced by the communal tension during the riots and the charges were fabricated.  In September, prominent civil society groups demanded Khalid’s release, describing him a “defender of human rights” and a “peace activist.”

By year’s end, the government had not enacted rules to implement the CAA, and the Supreme Court had not heard any of the more than 100 legal challenges to the act.

Christians and Muslims were charged during the year under laws restricting conversions, and some state governments announced plans to strengthen existing legislation or develop new legislation.

Media reported Madhya Pradesh police filed 21 cases against 47 individuals and arrested 15 Muslims and six Christians between March and June for violations of the state’s law restricting conversions.  In 15 of the 21 cases, rape and molestation charges were added.

On March 8, a law went into effect in Madhya Pradesh that increased the penalties for forced religious conversion through marriage or any other fraudulent means.  The law requires prior notice to a district official, to which any person may object, to convert to the spouse’s faith.  The law also permits the annulment of a fraudulent marriage and increases the penalty for violators from a two-year prison term with bail possible to a term of up to 10 years without bail and fines that can exceed 100,000 rupees ($1,300).  Legal expert Sanjay Hegde said the state laws against conversion let the mobs have the final say.  “If you are born in a religion, you can’t change your religion, without the State’s consent,” said Hegde.  “These laws try to control women, rather than marriage, and assume that the women don’t have any agency of their own,” Hegde added.

According to the Christian NGO International Christian Concern (ICC), on January 11, Azad Prem Singh, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Hindu nationalist group, sent a memorandum to the Jhabua District administrative head in Madhya Pradesh demanding a ban of all churches in tribal areas.  Singh said Christians were fraudulently mass converting individuals to Christianity.  “In the past 70 years, Christian missionaries have converted gullible indigenous people to Christianity and built churches specifically on protected tribal land,” Singh said.  “All the illegally built churches should be shut down immediately and action should be taken against all priests and pastors involved in the process.”  In the memorandum, Singh gave the local government 30 days to meet his demands and threatened to use violence if they were not met.  The state government did not agree to Singh’s demand to ban all churches in tribal areas.  The police continued to arrest Christians on charges of forced or induced conversion in the region, according to Christian community members.  On December 25, police arrested three persons, including a Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor, at Bicholi village in Jhabua District for allegedly luring tribal villagers into Christianity by offering free education and treatment in missionary-run schools and the hospital, media reported.  In September, the Christian community in Jhabua wrote to the district authorities and President Ram Nath Kovind complaining of attacks and false accusations by the various Hindu nationalist affiliates of the BJP and the Hindu nationalist organization RSS.

In Uttar Pradesh, between November 2020 and November 2021, police filed 148 cases against 359 persons for violating laws restricting conversion.  According to state police records, the police completed investigations in 113 cases and filed charges in 90, but media reported that no case had been decided by the courts in Uttar Pradesh by year’s end.  Media reported that 72 of the 359 had charges dropped against them for lack of evidence.  According to a faith-based NGO, between June and September, at least 71 Christian leaders were arrested in Uttar Pradesh after Hindu nationalists accused them of carrying out illegal conversions.

In June, the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested Muslim clerics Mohammad Umar Gautam and Mufti Qazi Jahagir Alam Qasmi for performing illegal conversions.  Police told media the two had been running a “huge conversion racket.”  The ATS later arrested eight more individuals whom police said were performing conversions at the Islamic Dawah Centre by offering “education, marriage, and jobs” to poor people.  According to media reports, eight of those arrested, including the two clerics, were charged in September with “illegal conversions” and “waging war against India.”

On October 7, the Uttar Pradesh ATS arrested a Muslim man in connection with his activities as a member of a WhatsApp group that encouraged individuals to convert to Islam.  ATS told media that the man had been involved in illegal conversion activities since 2016 and that he and others “spread religious hatred” by inducing people to convert to Islam.

On October 10, seven Protestant pastors in Mau District in Uttar Pradesh were taken into judicial custody pending a police investigation after being arrested on charges of unlawful religious conversions.

In March, Uttar Pradesh police detained two nuns and two postulants from the Sacred Heart convent of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala after Hindu activists riding with them on a passenger train said the nuns were forcibly converting the postulants to Christianity, according to media reports.  According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s (EFI) report covering January-June, police immediately arrested the four and took them to the local police station followed by a crowd of 150 “religious radicals.”  The police released the four after five hours of questioning and did not press charges.  In a statement, the Church said the four continued their journey with police protection.

In January, according to the EFI report, police in Malkangiri District of Odisha arrested Raja Kartami for violating the state’s conversion restriction laws following a complaint from his Hindu in-laws that he was forcing his wife to become a Christian.  As of year’s end, Kartami was in jail awaiting trial.

In August, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Khattar announced that the state would consider drafting legislation to stop forced religious conversions in response to incidents of “love jihad” (a derogatory term referring to Muslim men seeking to marry women from other faiths to convert them to Islam).  Such legislation had not been introduced by year’s end.

On September 21, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra announced that his government would propose legislation to prevent forced religious conversions in the state.  Following this announcement, a delegation of Karnataka-based Catholic bishops, led by Archbishop of Bengaluru Peter Machado, met with state Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to discuss the proposed legislation.  The delegation expressed concern, should the legislation become law, about the potential misuse of the law to falsely accuse the Christian community of engaging in forced conversions.  On December 23, the Karnataka State Legislative Assembly passed the “anti-unlawful conversion bill,” which would prohibit forced religious conversion in the state.  At year’s end, the bill was pending approval by the State Legislative Council.

In October, the Uttarakhand government stated it intended to amend existing law and empower police to register cases based on allegations of forced religious conversion.  The existing state law requires such allegations to be handled directly by the courts.  Madan Kaushik, the BJP’s president in Uttarakhand, told media in October that “Our party’s line is clear that no conversion will be tolerated.”  A civil rights attorney in the state expressed concern that such a change in the law could lead to abuse.  She said, “A citizen is somewhat protected if the court hears the complaint and proceeds with the matter.  However, if the state police are given the power to register FIRs [in forced conversion cases], there is no protection from misuse.”

In February, the Supreme Court declined to hear petitions from NGOs and activists challenging the constitutionality of the conversion restriction laws in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, deferring the challenges first to the respective state high courts.

On June 21, Gujarat police arrested a Muslim man for forcibly marrying a Hindu woman.  Police said the man was in violation of the state’s freedom of religion law, which had been amended in April to increase penalties for forced marriages.  According to media reports, after the victim’s mother filed a missing person complaint, Gujarat police opened an investigation and determined that the man, who was already married, kidnapped the woman and forced her to marry him.  Media also reported that the woman said the man raped her and threatened to harm her family if she did not marry.  The Muslim man was charged with kidnapping, rape, and criminal intimidation.  Investigation on the case continued at the end of the year.

On April 1, Gujarat government amended legislation enacted in 2003 on freedom of religion to explicitly prohibit the use of fraudulent marriage to convert partners of different religions.  The law’s preamble stated the amendment aimed to reduce the “emerging trend” of coerced religious conversion of women.  On August 19, the Gujarat High Court suspended seven provisions of the state’s amended freedom of religion law, stating an interfaith marriage by itself cannot be treated as a forceful or “unlawful conversion by deceit or allurement.”  On August 26, the state government asked that the suspension of those provisions be annulled; the High Court rejected the request.  On December 14, the Gujarat government challenged the stay in the Supreme Court; there was no ruling by the end of the year.

On October 13, the Gujarat High Court granted bail to all seven individuals arrested in the state’s first case under the amended freedom of religion law.  The case involved a Hindu woman who filed forced conversion charges against her Muslim husband, five of his Muslim family members, and the officiant at their wedding; all of whom were arrested on June 18.  On August 5, the woman filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court to retract her complaint, stating the police had “twisted” her complaint into a case of forced religious conversion, rape, and other charges.  According to the police report, her Muslim husband had claimed to be Christian before their wedding and, once they were married, the family pressured the wife to convert to Islam.  Police dropped the case after the woman retracted her complaint.

In September, media reported the MHA had suspended the FCRA licenses of six NGOs, including two Christian evangelical groups and one Islamic charity in Kerala, citing FCRA violations.  In December, the MHA stated that FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs had lapsed because they did not apply for renewal in time.  Media reported that hundreds of these NGOs were faith-based.  The MHA also stated that it had denied FCRA renewal to 179 NGOs during the year, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.  The MHA reversed the denial several weeks later.  The original MHA announcement of the action cited unnamed “adverse inputs” against the NGO.  Some media reports noted that the government decision came days after police filed a complaint against the director of a children’s home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Gujarat state for attempting to convert young girls to Christianity although the Ministry of Home Affairs did not attribute a linkage between the two events.

NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize the requirements of the FCRA as constraining civil society and religious organizations.  Opponents of the FCRA amendments called the requirements onerous and a barrier to organizations continuing to work in the country.  The government continued to say the FCRA law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

In a July virtual session hosted by the U.S.-based nonprofit Indian American Muslim Council on Religious Freedom in India, Amnesty International USA said the organization was forced to halt all operations in the country in 2020 because of the FCRA requirements.  The Amnesty representative said the FCRA requirements were one example of “the Indian government activating their overall governmental framework” to crush opportunities for upholding religious freedom.

In March, the MHA stated 22,678 NGOs had been granted registration under the FCRA during the last five years.  The government also reported the registrations of 2,742 NGOs had been revoked from 2018 to 2020 for noncompliance, the most recent data available.

In its annual report, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government adopted laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities, especially Muslims.  HRW also said some BJP leaders vilified Muslims and police failed to act against some BJP supporters who committed violence, a combination that emboldened some Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity.

On January 4, police officials in Karnataka’s Hassan District banned a Christian prayer service, according to media reports.  A senior police officer asked the worshippers, who included 50 individuals from 15 families, to show proof they were Christians; he later accused them of having been converted to Christianity and misrepresenting their religion by claiming they had been Christian from birth.  Police did not charge the families and warned the worshippers against conducting prayer gatherings without permission.

According to ICC, police shut down a house church in Dharmapuri, Telangana on February 28 following a complaint from a local Hindu group, which had also disrupted the church service there.  The NGO stated that the police invoked a 2007 Andhra Pradesh state law, later adopted by the state of Telangana, to close down the church because Dharmapuri is designated by the law as a “temple town.”  The pastor told ICC he had been leading worship in his home for five years without problems.  While the town of approximately 78,000 persons is overwhelmingly Hindu, there are more than 300 Christians and more than 2,000 Muslims living there.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest based in Nagercoil, south Tamil Nadu, for alleged hate speech against Hindu gods, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the state government in Tamil Nadu.  Ponnaiah was in custody for 16 days.  At year’s end, Ponnaiah was released on bail, awaiting trial.  If convicted, he could face a prison term up to five years.  Archbishop of Madurai Antony Pappusamy publicly criticized Ponnaiah for his statements.

On January 1, police in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqi and five associates after Eklavya Gaur, the son of state Member of Legislative Assembly Malini Gaur and the head of a local Hindu nationalist group, filed a police complaint stating he overheard the comedian and his associates using religiously offensive language during rehearsal.  On February 6, Indore prison authorities released Faruqi after the Supreme Court granted him bail.  The Madhya Pradesh High Court later granted bail to Faruqui’s five associates.

On January 14, Andhra Pradesh police arrested nondenominational Christian pastor Praveen Chakravarthi for “disturbing communal harmony” after one of his videos from 2013 circulated on social media.  In the video, in a conversation with the head of a U.S.-based NGO, Chakravarthi discussed his evangelism in the country.  After his arrest, Chakravarthi’s bank accounts were frozen.  He was later released on bail, and no further action was reported by the end of the year.

On August 19, Hyderabad police arrested Pastor Honey Johnson from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on the charge of making derogatory remarks against Hinduism and Hindu deities on his YouTube channel.  Members of his church held protests in Visakhapatnam demanding his release, and he was subsequently released on bail.

On July 20, the Supreme Court expressed concern about the Kerala government’s relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions during Eid al-Adha celebrations July 18-20.  In a ruling, the court said it could not block the state government’s actions after the fact, but it said, “The Kerala government failed to protect the fundamental rights of life and health of the people.”  The court said it would take action against the Kerala government if the loosened restrictions led to additional spread of COVID-19, but it took no further action on this issue by year’s end.  Earlier in July, the Supreme Court had cancelled the annual Hindu Kanwar Yatra festival in Uttar Pradesh due to a surge in COVID-19 cases there.  In April, activists had asked the government to cancel the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival for COVID-19 reasons, but the government declined to do so.  Also in April, the Supreme Court approved the petition of Muslim leaders to open the Nizzamuddin Mosque in New Delhi for Ramadan services.  Advocates for the mosque cited the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, which were permitted, as well as at the Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman in Karol Bagh, Delhi, which remained open despite COVID-19 restrictions, to support their request to reopen.

In June and July, residents of the predominantly Muslim Union Territory of Lakshadweep protested reforms proposed by Administrator Praful Khoda Patel in December 2020.  The reforms included banning cow slaughter and beef sales on the islands, removing beef and meat (except fish and eggs) from meals in schools, closing government-run dairy farms, permitting liquor sales, imposing a law allowing preventive detention, and disqualifying residents with more than two children from running in local elections.  Media reported the local residents considered the proposed reforms as anti-Muslim, and primarily affected Muslim families.  Protesters said Patel had been trying to transform the island culturally and demographically.  The Lakshadweep administration said the reforms were necessary to develop Lakshadweep as a global tourist destination like the Maldives.

NGOs, including faith-based organizations, continued to criticize the requirements of the FCRA as constraining civil society and religious organizations.  According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 5,789 NGOs lost their FCRA licenses because they did not file for their renewal.  Some opposition political parties and faith-based NGOs described the regulations as “onerous” and difficult to comply with, making registration and renewal difficult.  The government continued to say the FCRA law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

In October, media reported Hindu protesters in Haryana said Muslims had been using public property to conduct daily prayers for four weeks without authorization from local authorities.  The Muslim worshippers, who numbered 200 according to the media, had been praying outside in an area not designated for prayer.  The protestors said they would continue to “protest peacefully” until the police took action.  Haryana Chief Minister Khattar stated prayer in public spaces would be prohibited.  Muslim groups representing the worshippers stated they were offering prayers at places designated by Haryana government officials.  On December 16, Muslim former MP Mohammed Adeeb filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking action against Haryana government officials for not following directions to allow Muslims to offer prayers at designated public spaces.  The Supreme Court had not ruled on the matter at year’s end.

The government closed the 600-year-old Jamia Mosque, which serves the largest Muslim congregation in Jammu and Kashmir, for 45 of the 52 Fridays during the year.  According to media reports, the chief imam of Jamia Mosque remained in home detention during closure of the mosque.  Some other mosques in the region closed by the government in August 2019 when it abrogated Article 370 (state status) in Jammu and Kashmir were allowed to reopen during the year.  Since 2019, the government has continued to close mosques in the area periodically, sometimes for long intervals.

In May, authorities in Uttar Pradesh bulldozed a 100-year-old mosque in Barabanki on the grounds that it was an illegal structure.  The destruction followed a March 15 order from the state government to cease worship in the mosque so it could be demolished.  The government also said it blocked traffic.  Muslim leaders said the destruction violated a court order suspending destruction of all “illegal” structures until the end of May and said they would take the case to the Supreme Court.  The government then tried to block access to the mosque by building a wall, which according to media led to public protests in which activist Syed Farooq Ahmad stated at least 30 persons were arrested and others were beaten.  Two days after authorities demolished the mosque, the Sunni Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court demanding the government reconstruct the mosque.  The court had not ruled on the matter at the end of the year.

On September 6, opposition legislative assembly members from the BJP in Jharkhand protested the state government decision to offer a room in the state assembly building for Muslims to pray.  Media reported that BJP legislators loudly disrupted the assembly session that day with Hindu chants and instruments, calling for the prayer room decision to be rescinded or a separate Hindu prayer room also be designated in the building.  In a media interview, BJP national vice-president Raghubar Das said that the [Muslim] members of the state assembly from the Jharkhand government “openly support the Taliban.  A separate Namaz Hallim [Muslim prayer room] in the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly is a result of this ideology.  Otherwise, any person who believes in Indian democracy would not do such an act.”

In January, two residents of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court challenging the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court’s September 2020 acquittal of all 32 persons, including BJP politicians, charged in the 1992 demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.

In May, the Assam government implemented the 2020 Assam Repealing Bill, which abolished the 1995 Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization) Act and 2018 Assam Madrassa Education (Provincialization of Services of Employees and Re-Organization of Madrassa Educational Institutions) Act.  Implementation of the act resulted in removal of the theological content from the curriculum at 700 state-run madrassahs and converted them into regular public schools.  Theological content was also removed from the state-run Sanskrit schools, but analysts indicated that madrassahs were impacted in greater numbers.  Privately-run madrassahs and Sanskrit schools were not impacted by the state government measure.

On October 19, 2020, the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh ruled that the state’s Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act “was being misused against innocent persons” and granted bail to a Muslim arrested under the act.  Uttar Pradesh police had filed charges in 1,716 cases of cow slaughter and made more than 4,000 arrests under the act as of August.  According to Uttar Pradesh State government data, the National Security Act (NSA) was also invoked in some cow slaughter cases; observers said this was to make the charges more serious.  Persons detained under the NSA could be held up to 12 months without formal charges.  A media investigation revealed that between January 2018 and December 2020, the Allahabad High Court had annulled detention orders and freed those arrested under the NSA in 94 of 120 cases it heard under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act in Uttar Pradesh.

Assam (in August) and Karnataka (in February) enacted legislation imposing strict penalties for killing cattle, bringing the total states with similar restrictions to 25 (of 28).  Opposition members of the Assam legislative assembly, including from Muslim parties, protested that state’s new legislation.  Faith-based organizations said the law could negatively affect the large Christian and tribal populations in the state that consumed beef.  Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stated the law would promote harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the state, while some opposition party members said that it could stoke religious tensions, adversely affect livelihoods, and be detrimental to trade and food habits in the region.  Media reported that the new law in Karnataka would give police in the state the power to search and seize property based only on suspicion of violation of the law.

In September, the Gau Sewa Commission, a Punjabi organization dedicated to the preservation and welfare of cows, submitted a petition to the Governor of Punjab demanding the death penalty be instituted for cow slaughter.

In October, the Madras High Court ruled that displays of a Christian cross and other religious symbols and practices could not be cited as reasons to revoke Scheduled Caste (SC) community certificates, which are used by members of designated lower castes in the Hindu hierarchy to obtain government benefits.  The ruling was in response to an appeal by a Hindu medical doctor whose SC community certificate was revoked in 2013 because she married a Christian and the couple raised their children in the Christian faith.  The court ordered the restoration of her SC community certificate in October.

In February, Pratap Simha, a BJP MP, called for denying benefits of government affirmative action programs to individuals who converted to Christianity.  The MP made the remarks while attending a District Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee meeting on February 24.  The Bengaluru-based Christian Political Leaders Forum protested the remarks.

On April 6, the Gujarat High Court blocked the arrest of a Parsi man accused by a Hindu neighbor of selling land to a Muslim in 2020 in violation of the Gujarat Disturbed Areas Act, which mandates that buyers and sellers of different religions obtain permission for property transactions in specific neighborhoods.  The Hindu neighbor also said that the buyer concealed his religion and forged documents to evade provisions of the act.  There was no update by the end of the year.

In September, the government of the Muslim-majority Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir launched a program to address the grievances of migrants from the region, a majority of whom were Hindu.  Under this program, migrants who were forcibly displaced from the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s could reclaim their properties in Kashmir.  According to civil society reports, members of the Hindu Pandit caste may have sold land under duress and the central government measure was a means to address the displacement in the 1990s.  In March, the national government informed the parliament that 44,167 Kashmiri migrant families, including 39,782 Hindu families, had registered with a government-appointed Relief Office, and 3,800 Kashmiri migrants had returned to the Kashmir Valley in the last six years to take up government jobs under a special program announced by the Prime Minister in 2015 for infrastructure development and economic prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir.  According to media reports, mostly Hindus applied for those jobs.  Since the state status of Jammu and Kashmir was revoked in August 2019, 520 migrants had returned and another 2000 migrant candidates were likely to return during the year and in 2022, the government stated.

On August 10, thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims observed the 71st anniversary of a 1950 petition still pending before the Supreme Court to maintain Scheduled Caste benefits such as quotas in government jobs and education.  The petition seeks to reverse a government order which limited such benefits to Hindu Dalits.  A Dalit Christian lawyer, Franklin Caesar Thomas, who has been arguing the case in the Supreme Court for 16 years, told media that Dalit Christians and Muslims continued to face caste discrimination because of their adopted faiths since they were not formally recognized as Scheduled Castes.  According to the National Council of Churches in India, approximately 70 percent of Christians in India belonged to Scheduled Castes before they converted.  A seven-member panel of Supreme Court judges formed in 2020 to hear the petition had not ruled on the matter by the end of the year.

In April, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (All India Trinamool Congress Party) made a public appeal to Muslims to vote for her party in West Bengal elections.  Such a direct appeal from a sitting government official to voters from a particular religious group is prohibited in the constitution.  The national Election Commission reprimanded her for violating the election code of conduct.

On December 24, Asaduddin Owaisi, an MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a predominantly Muslim political party, implied in remarks to parliament that Hindus would face consequences when Prime Minister Modi and Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, both BJP, left office.  Police filed a FIR against Owaisi for communal hate speech.  The leader later clarified that he was speaking in the context of past police “atrocities against innocent Muslims” in Uttar Pradesh and was not making a threat.

In February, ahead of elections in Assam, state Health, Education, and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (BJP) told media that his party did not need or want the votes of Bengali-origin Muslims because they were “openly challenging Assamese culture and language and the composite Indian culture.”

While addressing Church members on September 9, Catholic Bishop Mar Joseph Kalarangatt of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala said Muslims were using the practices of “love jihad and narcotics jihad” to “destroy” non-Muslims.  Kalarangatt said, “In a democratic country like ours, jihadis have realized that they cannot destroy other communities by using arms.  The jihadis are using other weapons which cannot be identified easily by others.  In the perspective of jihadis, non-Muslims have to be annihilated.  When the agenda is spreading religion and eradication of non-Muslims, the ways for attaining that agenda get manifested in different manners.  The love jihad and narcotic jihad are two such ways.”  According to media reports, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government would not take action against the bishop.

In February, the Maharashtra state government petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss pleas seeking a national-level CBI inquiry into the April 2020 killing of three Hindu monks by a crowd in Palghar.  The state government said it had already disciplined 18 police officials for their failure to control the crowd in that incident.  On January 16, a local court granted bail to 89 of the 201 arrested in the case.  The Supreme Court asked the Maharashtra government to submit a second charge sheet filed in the case by Maharashtra police but did not rule on the petition seeking a CBI investigation before year’s end.  In the 2020 incident, a mob pulled the three monks from a police vehicle and killed them, alleging that they were child kidnappers.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on September 12 publicly stated that earlier governments in Uttar Pradesh had favored Muslim constituents in benefits distribution.

In July, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, which is commonly considered to be the ideological parent to India’s ruling party BJP, publicly stated that Hindus and Muslims in India had the same DNA and should not be differentiated by religion.  “There can never be any dominance of either Hindus or Muslims (in the country); there can only be the dominance of Indians,” Bhagwat said, adding that members of the Muslim community should not be afraid that Islam is in danger in India.  He also said that killing non-Hindus for cow slaughter was an act against Hinduism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During the year, embassy and consulate officials met with government officials to discuss religious freedom and emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue.  Embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, also engaged with members of parliament and politicians across diverse political ideologies on the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.

Embassy and consulate officials met with leaders from religious minorities, NGOs, civil society members, academics, and interfaith leaders to discuss the perspectives about the status and experiences of religious minorities.

On October 1, the Consul General in Chennai joined Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan at the Sri Vishnu Mohan Foundation’s annual Peace and Reconciliation Conference.  Speaking to a gathering of religious and civil social leaders, government officials and academics, the Consul General emphasized the importance of respecting religious freedom and interfaith dialogue.

On May 7, the consulate general in Hyderabad hosted a virtual panel discussion during Ramadan that highlighted interfaith and cross-cultural experiences during the holiday period.

Throughout the year, the Chargés d’Affaires engaged with members of religious communities, including representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths.  In May, the Chargés d’Affaires organized a virtual interfaith dialogue during Ramadan in which he emphasized the importance of religious freedom.  Members of academia, media commentators on interfaith issues, NGO interfaith activists, and representatives of multiple faiths participated.

In July, the Secretary of State met with several leaders from the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Baha’i, and other faiths.  He highlighted the value of the country’s diversity and religious pluralism and the importance of protecting it.  The Secretary addressed the importance of freedom of religion and belief in his public opening remarks and listened to the views and concerns of the religious minority and civil society leaders.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state.  According to the Japan Uyghur Association (JUA), the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued to have police officials in the PRC intimidate JUA members residing in Japan by contacting them and implying threats to their families residing in the PRC.  According to the JUA, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country and did not deport any to the PRC during the year.  According to the Japanese Falun Dafa Association, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in April for the first time granted refugee status to a female Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country based on the PRC’s religious repression of Falun Gong practitioners.  In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Naha city government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by allowing a Confucian temple to use public land at no cost.  Citing religious freedom, the government refrained from issuing specific COVID-19 regulations for places of worship, although all COVID-19 infection control measures were voluntary and constitutionally prohibited from being enforced.  The MOJ reported that in 2020 (latest statistics available), its human rights division received 116 inquiries related to potential religious freedom violations, compared with 224 in 2019, and confirmed four cases, compared with seven in 2019, as highly likely to be religious freedom violations.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees continued to express concern regarding the government’s interpretation of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, which resulted in a low rate of approval of refugee applications.  According to available information, the ministry granted refugee status to two applicants based on a well-founded fear of persecution for religious reasons in 2020.  The government continued to grant special permits to stay on humanitarian grounds, or temporary stay permits, to most of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims who had entered the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma.

Muslim communities continued to report societal religious tolerance of their faith.  Several media outlets, however, reported that local communities, particularly in the western part of the country, remained reluctant to have Islamic cemeteries in their neighborhoods, as local residents were concerned that the Muslim tradition of burying a body could contaminate soil and water.

In meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with lawmakers, U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government to continue working with the United States to protect Muslims from the PRC and other countries otherwise restricting religious freedom.  The embassy used its social media platforms to highlight the importance of religious freedom.  In conversations and meetings with the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations (JAORO), as well as with leaders of religious groups and organizations representing religious minorities, embassy officials underscored the priority the United States places on respect for religious freedom, discussed issues faced by these communities, and advised some of them on outreach efforts with the government.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 124.7 million (midyear 2021).  A report by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA) indicates that membership in religious groups totaled 183 million as of December 31, 2019.  This number, substantially more than the country’s population, reflects many citizens’ affiliation with multiple religions.  For example, it is common for followers of Buddhism to participate in religious ceremonies and events of other religions, such as Shinto, and vice versa.  According to the ACA, the definition of follower and the method of counting followers vary with each religious organization.  Religious affiliation includes 88.9 million Shinto followers (48.6 percent), 84.8 million Buddhists (46.3 percent), 1.9 million Christians (1 percent), and 7.4 million adherents of other religious groups (4 percent).  The category of “other” and nonregistered religious groups includes Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, and Judaism.

Most immigrants and foreign workers practice religions other than Buddhism or Shinto, according to an NGO in close contact with foreign workers.  A scholar estimates that at the end of 2019, there were approximately 230,000 Muslims in the country, including up to 50,000 Japanese converts.  Most of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims in the country live in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, with some residing in Saitama, Chiba, and Tokyo, according to Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan (BRAJ) President Zaw Min Htut.  Ilham Mahmut, the JUA honorary chairman and World Uyghur Congress Representative for East Asia and the Pacific, said most of the nearly 2,000 Uyghur Muslims in the country reside in Tokyo or its surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa.  He states that of the nearly 2,000 Uyghur Muslims, approximately 700 are naturalized Japanese citizens.  The Jewish population is approximately 3,000 to 4,000, according to a long-term member of the Jewish community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and requires the state to refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.  It prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state.  It states that the people shall not abuse their rights and shall be responsible to use their rights for the public welfare.

The government does not require religious groups to register or apply for certification, but certified religious groups with corporate status do not have to pay income tax on donations and religious offerings used as part of their operational and maintenance expenses akin to nonprofit organizations.  The government requires religious groups applying for corporate status to prove they have a physical space for worship and that their primary purpose is disseminating religious teachings, conducting religious ceremonies, and educating and nurturing believers.  An applicant must present, in writing, a three-year record of activities as a religious organization, a list of members and religious teachers, the rules of the organization, information about the method of making decisions on managing assets, statements of income and expenses for the past three years, and a list of assets.  The law stipulates prefectural governors have jurisdiction over groups seeking corporate status in their respective prefecture, and that groups must apply for registration with prefectural governments.  Exceptions are granted for groups with offices in multiple prefectures, which they may register with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT).  After the MEXT Minister or a prefectural governor confirms an applicant meets the legal definition of a certified religious group with corporate status, the law requires the applicant to formulate administrative rules pertaining to its purpose, core personnel, and financial affairs.  Applicants become religious corporations only after the MEXT Minister or governor approves their application and the applicants subsequently register.

The law requires certified religious corporations to disclose their assets, income, and expenditures to the government.  The law also authorizes the government to investigate possible violations of regulations governing for-profit activities.  Authorities have the right to suspend a religious corporation’s for-profit activities for up to one year if the group violates the regulations.

The law stipulates that worship and religious rituals performed by inmates in penal institutions, alone or in a group, shall not be prohibited.  To support the law and the constitutional right to religious freedom, the MOJ offers inmates access to volunteer chaplains from various faiths in prisons.

The law states that schools established by the national and local governments must refrain from religious education or other activities in support of a specific religion.  Private schools are permitted to teach specific religions.  The law also states that an attitude of religious tolerance and general knowledge regarding religion and its position in social life should be valued in education.  Both public and private schools must develop curricula in line with MEXT standards.  These standards are based on the law, which states that schools should give careful consideration when teaching religion in general to junior high and high school students.

Labor law states a person may not be disqualified from union membership on the basis of religion.

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

Government Practices

The Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau deported a male Rohingya Muslim in March for illegal overstay.  He had previously applied for refugee status in Japan based on religious persecution in Burma, according to a copy of a document submitted to the Tokyo District Court in June and provided to the MOJ, the umbrella ministry of the Immigration Services Bureau.  According to the document, the man voluntarily abided by the deportation order by waiving his right to request reexamination.  He departed the country via commercial air at his own expense.  The deportee’s attorney requested in June that the immigration services bureau confirm the man’s safety in Burma, but the immigration services bureau did not respond to the inquiry, according to his attorney.  According to an associate of the deported individual, after being deported to Burma, he was detained by the Burmese military regime at an airport but was later released.  His attorney learned from a contact that as of October, he lived in Burma under the surveillance of the regime.  His attorney condemned the deportation, saying it posed a life-threatening risk to the deportee due to the changed civil society landscape precipitated by the February 1 Burmese military coup.

According to the JUA honorary chairman, the PRC continued its practice of using police officials in the PRC to intimidate JUA members residing in Japan.  He stated that PRC police officials contacted JUA members in Japan, implying risks to the safety of their families in the PRC and offering monetary assistance in exchange for providing information about the JUA’s activities and other cooperation.  He also said the PRC embassy in Tokyo restricted Uyghur Muslims in the country from renewing their passports by requiring renewal applicants to disclose their ethnicity.  According to the JUA honorary chairman, the Japanese government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country.  He said the government did not deport any Uyghur Muslims to the PRC during the year.  While he expressed continued concern regarding potential bias against Uyghur Muslims applying for refugee status at some government immigration centers, he said the government took measures to rectify past concerns.

According to the president of the Japanese Falun Dafa Association, the PRC embassy in Tokyo displayed propaganda on its website that disparaged the Falun Gong.  The president said a person of unidentified nationality vandalized an association signboard near the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau.  According to the president, the MOJ in April for the first time granted refugee status to a female Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country based on the PRC’s religious repression of Falun Gong practitioners.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Naha city government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by allowing a Confucian temple to use public land at no cost.  The city government exempted the temple from paying an annual rent of 5.75 million yen ($50,000) on the grounds that the temple served as a tourist attraction.  The court, however, ruled the public could conclude the municipal government was supporting a specific religion, which is a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and it ordered the city to charge the organization the full rent.

In July, an immigration facility in Nagoya apologized for giving a foreign male detainee a meal containing ingredients forbidden by his religion.  The facility stated it had issued an apology to the man and would make efforts to treat each detainee appropriately.

Citing religious freedom, the government refrained from issuing COVID-19 regulations specific to places of worship, which were requested to comply with the government’s general nonbinding infection-prevention measures, which were constitutionally prohibited from being enforced.

The JAORO said that the national government did not allow religious groups with corporate status to access some of the government’s welfare payment and subsidy for those businesses and individuals financially impacted by COVID-19.  The JAORO stated that the government interpreted the constitution’s provision on separation of religion and state in an excessively rigorous manner, saying the government’s denial of access for religious groups with corporate status was discriminatory.  The government stated, however, that the denial was due to the groups’ corporate status.

According to the JAORO, some local municipalities, including Minato and Suginami wards (cities) in Tokyo Prefecture, collaborated with religious groups with corporate status to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as using facilities of religious groups with corporate status as sites for mass vaccination organized by the municipalities.  In January, the ACA officially expressed a view that activities by religious groups with corporate status that contribute to society, including activities for countering disaster and assisting communities, could be interpreted as religious activities.  This was a change from the previous interpretation of such activities conducted by religious groups with corporate status as enterprises for public welfare by law.  The JAORO said the new interpretation helped expand the role of religious groups in society.

The MOJ’s Human Rights Bureau continued to operate its hotline for human rights inquiries available in six different foreign languages – English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.  In May, the MOJ reported that in 2020 (latest statistics available), its human rights division received 116 inquiries of cases of potential violations of religious freedom out of 10,668 suspected human rights violations overall, compared with 224 inquiries related to religious freedom violations in 2019.  It confirmed four cases (compared with seven in 2019) as highly likely to be religious freedom violations.  The MOJ assisted the potential victims in all four cases by mediating between the parties, calling on alleged human rights violators to rectify their behavior, or referring the complainants to competent authorities for legal advice.  These MOJ measures, however, were not legally binding.

According to the ACA, central and prefectural governments had certified 180,828 groups as religious groups with corporate status as of the end of 2019, the most recent statistics available.  The large number reflected local units of religious groups registering separately.  The government generally certified corporate status for religious groups when they met the requirements.

NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees continued to express concern regarding the government’s interpretation of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, which resulted in a low rate of approval of refugee applications.  Civil society and legal groups also expressed concern regarding what they stated were restrictive screening procedures that led applicants to voluntarily withdraw their applications and accept deportation, citing 3,936 individuals who applied for refugee status in 2020, down 62 percent from 10,375 applicants in 2019.  They specifically stated that the government’s interpretation of “well-founded fear of persecution” used when adjudicating refugee claims was overly restrictive.  The government granted refugee status to 47 applicants in 2020 (latest statistics available).  According to available information, the ministry granted refugee status to two applicants based on a well-founded fear of persecution for religious reasons in 2020.  In one case, the MOJ determined the applicant had a well-founded fear of being persecuted by his or her government for converting from one religion to another religion.

The government maintained its practice of granting special permits to stay in country on humanitarian grounds, or temporary stay permits, to most of the Rohingya Muslims who had entered the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma.  The majority of those individuals had resided in the country for more than 10 years – some for more than 20 years – and were allowed to be employed and required regular renewal of their status by regional immigration offices.  Of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims in the country, the government granted refugee status to five individuals in September in addition to the 18 Rohingya Muslims who already had refugee status, according to BRAJ President Zaw Min Htut.  The BRAJ president also said approximately 20 Rohingya Muslims had a pending application for refugee status and were not associated with any formal resettlement program, were prohibited from obtaining employment, and faced hardships, including lack of health care.  These applicants’ children were born in the country and therefore remained effectively stateless.

According to the JUA, the government has granted citizenship through naturalization to approximately 700 Uyghur Muslims, in addition to permits to remain in the country for the remaining 1300 Uyghur Muslims, most of whom came to the country from the PRC initially to study or work.  The government did not deport any Uyghur Muslims during the year.

Civil society groups also reported that it takes an average of three years for an applicant to be recognized as a refugee, and some cases involving multiple appeals have lasted 10 years.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with lawmakers, embassy officials encouraged the government to continue to work with the United States to protect Muslims originating from the PRC and from other countries that otherwise restrict religious freedoms.

The embassy continued to use its social media platforms in both Japanese and English to highlight the importance of religious freedom, including amplifying messages of the importance of religious freedom as a human right.

In conversations and meetings with the JAORO, as well as with leaders of religious groups and organizations representing religious minorities, including Rohingya and Uyghur Muslims and the Jewish and Falun Gong communities, embassy officials underscored the priority the United States places on respect for religious freedom, discussed issues faced by these communities, and advised some of them on their outreach efforts with the national government and local municipalities.


Executive Summary

The constitution states “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony.”  Federal and state governments have the power to mandate doctrine for Muslims and promote Sunni Islam above all other religious groups.  Other forms of Islam are illegal.  Sedition laws criminalize speech that “promotes ill will, hostility, or hatred on the grounds of religion.”  The government maintains a parallel legal system, with certain civil matters for Muslims covered by sharia.  The relationship between sharia and civil law remains unresolved in the legal system, with state governments having responsibility for sharia law.  Individuals diverging from the official interpretation of Islam continued to face adverse government action, including mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that taught and enforced government-approved Islamic practices.  Sources stated that there was selective persecution of non-Muslim faiths through legal and extralegal means.  The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) continued its public inquiry into the 2016 disappearance of a Christian pastor and his wife.  A government-appointed panel formed in 2019 to investigate SUHAKAM’s findings on the enforced disappearances of another Christian pastor and a social activist accused of spreading Shia teachings in 2016 did not release its findings on the grounds that the report is classified as “secret” under the Official Secrets Act.  In a case on same-sex sexual activity, the Federal Court (the country’s highest court) held that existing federal law preempted a Selangor State sharia law, although both laws restricted such activity.  The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) stated publicly it would monitor online activity of Malaysians amid concerns over the spread of false information and statements “that touch on the 3Rs – race, religion and royalty.”  The government continued to selectively prosecute persons for allegedly “insulting” Islam, such as in the case of transgender activist Nur Sajat, while it largely ignored criticisms of other faiths.  Reports continued of forced conversions, especially among indigenous populations.  Non-Sunni religious groups continued to report challenges in registering as nonprofit charitable organizations or building houses of worship, although some religious groups successfully registered as companies.  The High Court ruled that a regulation issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986 banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims was unlawful and unconstitutional.  The government appealed the ruling.  The Deputy Religious Affairs Minister said state governments were directed to take steps to ensure religions other than Islam would be further limited in propagating their beliefs to Muslims and announced his intent to introduce legislation to “control and restrict the development of non-Muslim religions.”  Federal and state governments sought to limit the ability for transgender individuals to worship in mosques.

Local human rights organizations and religious leaders again expressed concern that society was becoming less tolerant of religious diversity.  SUHAKAM Commissioner Madeline Berma said that it was increasingly common to see social media users mocking the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus.  Individuals lodged more than 5,000 reports to the police against Islamic preacher Syakir Nasoha, who made disparaging remarks about non-Muslims in a viral video, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said the police took no action.  Religious organizations held virtual interfaith events and webinars to discuss religious freedom throughout the year.

U.S. embassy officials regularly discussed with government officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Malaysian Police, and Prime Minister’s Department, among others, issues including constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, an increase in religious intolerance, respecting religious minorities, the unilateral conversion of children by one parent without the permission of the other, and the disappearances of the three Christians and a Muslim activist in 2016 and 2017.  The Ambassador visited a number of houses of worship to show the importance of respecting religious pluralism.  Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups, including minority groups and those whose activities were limited by the government, to discuss the restrictions they faced and strategies for engaging the government on issues of religious freedom.  The embassy enabled the participation of religious leaders and scholars in virtual conferences and webinars that promoted religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 33.5 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent census in 2010, 61.3 percent of the population practices Islam; 19.8 percent, Buddhism; 9.2 percent, Christianity; 6.3 percent, Hinduism; 1.3 percent, Confucianism, Taoism, or other traditional Chinese philosophies and religions; and less than 1 percent each other religious groups that include animists, Sikhs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Baha’is.  Almost all Muslims practice Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i school.  Ethnic Malays, defined in the federal constitution as Muslims from birth, account for approximately 55 percent of the population.  Rural areas – especially in the peninsular east coast of the country – are predominantly Muslim, while the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo have relatively higher numbers of non-Muslims.  Ethnic Chinese Malaysians are mainly Buddhist and live mostly in the West coast states, especially in Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Melaka, and Johor.  There is a very small Malaysian Thai Buddhist community living in the northern parts of Kedah and Kelantan states.  Two-thirds of the country’s Christian population inhabits the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The federal constitution states, “every person has the right to profess and practice his religion,” but it gives federal and state governments the power to control or restrict proselytization aimed at converting Muslims to another faith.  The constitution names Islam as the “religion of the Federation” and gives parliament powers to make provisions regulating Islamic religious affairs.  Federal law allows citizens and organizations to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.  Federal and state governments have the power to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”  The constitution identifies the traditional rulers, also known as sultans, as “Heads of Islam.”  Sultans are present in nine of the country’s 13 states and are the highest Islamic authority within their respective states.  In the remaining four states and the Federal Territories, the highest Islamic authority is the King, selected to a five-year term from among the nine sultans in an established rotation order.  Islamic law is administered by each state.  The office of mufti exists in every state to advise the sultan in all matters of Islamic law.  Sultans oversee sharia courts and appoint judges based on the recommendation of the respective state Islamic religious departments and councils, who manage the operations of the courts.  In states with no sultan and in the Federal Territories, the King assumes responsibility for this process.

Federal law has constitutional precedence over state law except in matters concerning Islamic law.  A constitutional amendment provides that civil courts have no jurisdiction with respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the sharia courts.  However, since 2018, the Federal Court, the country’s highest, has held it has jurisdiction over the procedures of the sharia administrative authority in cases involving conversion of minors and that such jurisdiction may not be abrogated by a constitutional amendment.

The Sharia Judiciary Department (JKSM) is the federal agency charged with coordinating the sharia courts.  The federal Department of Development of Islam (JAKIM) is the permanent secretariat of the federal Fatwa Committee, which consists of 14 muftis, one from each state and one representing the Federal Territories.  The Sharia and Civil Technical Committee within the Attorney General’s Chambers oversee the process of sharia lawmaking at the federal level.  A 1996 fatwa, supported by state laws, requires the country to follow only Sunni teachings of the Shafi’i school and prohibits Muslims from possessing, publishing, or distributing material contrary to those teachings.

Muslims who seek to convert to another religion must first obtain approval from a sharia court to declare them as “apostates.”  Sharia courts seldom grant such requests, especially for those born Muslim and ethnic Malays, and are reluctant to allow conversion for those who had previously converted to Islam.  Penalties for apostasy vary by state.  In the states of Perak, Melaka, Sabah, and Pahang, apostasy is a criminal offense punishable by a fine or prison term.  In Pahang, courts may impose up to six strokes of the cane.  The maximum penalty for apostasy in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu is death, but courts have never imposed this penalty, and its legality remains untested.  NGOs report that most converts from Islam prefer to do so privately, without legal approval.  Nationally, civil courts generally cede authority to sharia courts in cases concerning conversion from Islam.  In some states, sharia courts allow one parent to convert children to Islam without the consent of the second parent.  The law does not restrict the rights of non-Muslims to change their religious beliefs and affiliation.  A non-Muslim wishing to marry a Muslim must convert to Islam for the sharia court to officially recognize the marriage.

A minor (under the age of 18, according to federal law) generally may not convert to another faith without explicit parental permission; however, some states’ laws allow conversion to Islam without permission after age 15.  A 2018 decision of the Federal Court ruled against the unilateral conversion of children by a sharia court without the consent of both parents.  The judgment said civil courts had jurisdiction to exercise supervisory powers over administrative decisions of state Islamic authorities.

Sedition laws regulate and punish, among other acts, speech considered hostile to ethnic groups, which includes speech insulting a religion, enforced most often for such speech regarding Islam.  The penal code punishes “offences relating to religion” including “injuring or defiling a place of worship,” “disturbing a religious assembly,” “trespassing on burial places,” or “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious dealings of any person.”  Convictions for these offenses under sedition laws within the penal code may result in prison sentences of up to two years or a fine, the amount of which is not defined in the penal code, or imprisonment of up to 20 years if there is physical harm or damage to property.  The penal code also bars speech that “promotes ill will, hostility, or hatred on the grounds of religion,” with offenders facing imprisonment between two to five years.  NGOs report that prosecutions for blasphemy usually involve those who offend Islam, but an insult to any religion may be subject to prosecution.

Under sharia, which differs by state, individuals convicted of “deviant” religious activity face up to three years in prison, caning, or a 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) fine for “insulting” Islam.  According to some state laws, Muslims may be fined 1,000 ringgit ($240) if they do not attend “counseling” after being found guilty of wearing what authorities deem immodest clothing.  According to sharia in some states, individuals who sell food to fasting Muslims or Muslims who do not fast are also subject to a fine, a jail sentence, or both.

JAKIM and state Islamic authorities prepare all Friday sermons for congregations as well as oversee and approve the appointment of imams at mosques.  JAKIM and state Islamic officials must formally approve all teachers of Islam before they may preach or lecture on Islam in public.

There is no legal requirement for non-Muslim religious groups to register, but to become approved nonprofit charitable organizations, all groups must register with the government’s Registrar of Societies (ROS) by submitting paperwork showing the organization’s leadership, purpose, and rules, and by paying a small fee.  These organizations are legally required to submit annual reports to the ROS to remain registered.  The ROS may inspect registered organizations and investigate those suspected of being used for purposes “prejudicial to public peace, welfare, good order, or morality.”

Tax laws allow an exemption for registered religious groups for donations received and a tax deduction for individual donors.  Donors giving zakat (Islamic tithes) to Muslim religious organizations receive a tax rebate.  Donors to government-approved charitable organizations (including some non-Muslim religious groups) may receive a tax deduction on the contribution rather than a tax rebate.

Under sharia, caning is permitted in every state.  Offenses subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, include consensual same-sex sexual relations and prostitution.  Caning is also permitted for a wider variety of offenses under provisions in the federal penal code such as for rape, drug trafficking, illegal migration, bribery, and criminal breach of trust.

The law forbids proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims, with punishments varying from state to state, including imprisonment and caning.  The law allows Muslims to proselytize without restriction.

State governments have exclusive authority over allocation of land for, and the construction of, all places of worship as well as land allocation for all cemeteries.

All Islamic houses of worship – including mosques and prayer rooms – fall under the authority of JAKIM and corresponding state Islamic departments; officials at these departments must give permission for the construction of any mosque or prayer room.

Islamic religious instruction is compulsory for Muslim children in public schools; non-Muslim students are required to take nonreligious morals and ethics courses.  Private schools may offer a non-Islamic religious curriculum as an option for non-Muslims.

Sharia courts have jurisdiction over Muslims in matters of family law and religious observances.  Non-Muslims have no standing in sharia proceedings, leading to some cases where sharia court rulings have affected non-Muslims who have no ability to defend their position or appeal the court’s decision, most frequently in rulings affecting custody, divorce, inheritance, burial, and conversion in interfaith families.  The relationship between sharia and civil law remains largely unresolved in the legal system.  When civil and sharia jurisdictions intersect, civil courts largely defer to sharia courts, creating situations in which sharia judgments can affect non-Muslims.

Two states, Kelantan and Terengganu, have enacted hudood (Islamic penal law) for Muslims, although the federal government has never allowed the implementation of that code.  The states may not implement these laws without amendments to federal legislation and the agreement of the sultan.

The legal age of marriage is 16 for Muslim females and 18 for Muslim males, except in Selangor state, where Muslim and non-Muslim females must be 18.  Sharia courts may make exceptions for marriage before those ages with the permission of parents.  Non-Muslims must be 18 to marry but may marry as young as 16 with the approval of their state’s chief minister.

National identity cards specify religious affiliation, and the government uses them to determine which citizens are subject to sharia.  The cards identify Muslims in print on the face of the card; for members of other recognized religions, religious affiliation is encrypted in a smart chip within the identity card.  Married Muslims must carry a special photo identification of themselves and their spouse as proof of marriage.

Foreign missionaries and international students enrolling in religious courses must apply for entry with the Department of Immigration.  These classes of visas are issued to applicants on a year-to-year basis and a national body representing the respective faiths must endorse the applicant’s qualifications.

JAKIM coordinates the Hajj, endowment (waqf), tithes, and other Islamic activities.

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

Government Practices

SUHAKAM’s public inquiry continued into the disappearance in 2016 of Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth Sitepu.  SUHAKAM interviewed dozens of witnesses since the inquiry began in February 2020.  Philip Koh, a lawyer representing the family, criticized the Attorney General’s Chambers regarding what he stated was its lack of cooperation with the inquiry.  In November, Sitepu’s family issued a statement.  The family said, “Please return her remains to us.  People do not, and cannot, just vanish into thin air with no trace.”

The government did not release results from a government-appointed panel formed in June 2019 to investigate SUHAKAM’s determination that the Royal Malaysia Police intelligence unit, Special Branch, was responsible for the 2016/17 “enforced disappearance” of Shia Muslim social activist Amri Che Mat and Christian pastor Raymond Koh, and it made no progress in its investigation, according to SUHAKAM.  According to a lawyer for the two families, the government sent a reply affidavit in September stating it would not release the Special Task Force report, which was completed in 2019, because it was classified under the Official Secrets Act of 1972 and its release would undermine the “national interest.”

The wife of Pastor Raymond Koh, Susanna Liew, continued her legal action against the federal government and several senior officials for what she stated was failure to properly investigate her husband’s kidnapping in 2017, accusing them of negligence, misfeasance, and conspiracy to injure.  In May, a magistrate judge ordered court proceedings to continue in December 2022 against Lam Chang Nam for allegedly extorting 30,000 ringgit ($7,200) from Koh’s family by offering information on Koh’s whereabouts.  Prosecutors initially charged Lam with kidnapping Koh, although they later withdrew the charges.

Despite calls from the Kuala Lumpur High Court for police to locate Indira Gandhi’s former husband and their youngest child, whom he abducted in 2009, both remained missing as of the end of the year.  Gandhi, a Hindu, had earlier sued successfully to deny her former husband’s unilateral conversion of their three minor children to Islam.  In July, the High Court allowed Gandhi to file a suit against the police and the government for alleged inaction in executing a warrant to arrest her former husband for contempt and return her daughter.  At year’s end, the Inspector General of Police had not disclosed the daughter’s location nor announced any progress on the case.

In May, Member of Parliament Maria Chin Abdullah sought a High Court ruling to revoke an October 2019 Sharia High Court contempt order against her for her September 2019 press release stating that the sharia court discriminated against women.  The prosecution in the sharia case said Chin’s comments harmed the reputation of the court.  The High Court review remained pending at year’s end.

In February, the Federal Court held that a federal law preempted a similar Selangor State law outlawing same-sex sexual activity.  The ruling stemmed from an appeal of a Selangor State sharia court’s 2019 conviction of a man for “intercourse against the order of nature.”  The court found that existing federal legislation outlawing the same activity for the same reason preempted the state law, and on constitutional grounds ruled that the sharia court did not have jurisdiction.

Civil society activists said the government selectively prosecuted speech denigrating Islam and largely ignored criticisms of other faiths.  In January, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said it would monitor social media platforms for the spread of false information and statements that “touch on the 3Rs – race, religion and royalty.”

In April, Datuk Abdul Aziz Sheikh Ab Kadir, chairman of the Negeri Sembilan State Islamic Religious Council, which administers Islamic religious affairs in the state, said the word “Allah” was sacred and specifically for Muslims and could not be used by other religions.

In February, the Federal Court ruled on an appeal of a Selangor High Court decision and Court of Appeals dismissal of Rosliza Ibrahim’s legal bid for a declaration that she was Buddhist and not Muslim.  The Federal Court found that Rosliza, born to an unmarried Muslim man and Buddhist woman, had not inherited her Muslim father’s faith, as the Islamic Family Law Enactment 2003 in Selangor did not recognize his paternity due to his unmarried status.

In April, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for an internal investigation into public university lecturer Dr. Kamarul Zaman Yusoff, accusing him of stoking religious tensions in comments he made about a member of parliament.  Kamarul accused Democratic Action Party Member of Parliament Steven Sim of providing a motorcycle to one of his constituents, a Malay youth facing financial difficulties, and characterizing it as an attempt at “Christianization.”  He also warned Malay Muslims against accepting help from “Christian evangelists.”

Lawyers continued to call for the Ministry of Education to issue a directive forbidding religious conversion of students in school.  In January 2020, a Christian family in Sarawak State sued authorities over the conversion of their son, a minor, to Islam by a ustaz (religious teacher) in his school without the parents’ knowledge or consent.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

In January, SUHAKAM called for legal action after receiving complaints of indigenous children in Sarawak State being forced to observe Islamic rituals such as mandatory attendance of religious classes and wearing veils and traditional Islamic attire.  SUHAKAM attributed this largely to interfaith marriages in which one of the spouses no longer wished to practice Islam, often leading to their children being registered as Muslims, despite being raised as followers of other faiths.

JAKIM continued to implement federal guidelines on what constituted deviant Islamic behavior or belief.  State religious authorities generally followed these guidelines.  Those differing from the official interpretation of Islam continued to face adverse government action, including mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that taught and enforced government-approved Islamic practices.  The government forbade individuals to leave such centers until they completed the program, which varied in length but often lasted approximately six months.  These counseling programs continued to be designed to ensure detainees adopted the government’s official interpretation of Islam.  The Religious Affairs Ministry reported 14 state-level cases in the country involving “deviant” teachings or worship under sharia from January-September, compared with 33 cases in 2020.

In February, then-Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri urged authorities to take “necessary action” against a Hindu man who claimed in a video that he convinced his wife to leave Islam and embrace Hinduism.  Zulkifli said the law empowered states to formulate laws to control the spread of other religions to Muslims, including attempts to persuade, coax, or invite the latter to leave their religion either through preaching, marriage, or any other means.  Police investigated the man under the Sedition Act, Multimedia and Communications Act, and the penal code, and the case remained pending at year’s end.

NGO sources reported it remained difficult for Muslims attempting to convert and for non-Muslims mistakenly registered as Muslims to change the religious designation on their identification cards.  In November, Kelantan State enacted new sharia laws that included making it illegal to convert from Islam with punishments including a maximum prison term of three years, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit ($1,200), or six cane strokes.

In March, the High Court granted a woman’s bid to be declared a Buddhist and have her original name restored on a new identity card without the identification of “Islam.”  She woman said had been converted to Islam as a child by her father without her mother’s consent.

The government continued to prohibit Israeli citizens from entering the country without approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and it limited Malaysians’ ability to travel to Israel.

All foreign missionaries – both Muslim and non-Muslim – coming to the country to conduct religious talks were subjected to mandatory background checks for what the government termed national security reasons, to ensure these missionaries were free from “deviant” teachings.

In cases in which the government refused to register a religious group, the group could pursue registration as a private company.  Some religious groups reported registering as a company was generally relatively quick and provided a legal basis for conducting business, did not create limitations on the group’s religious activities, and allowed the organization to then conduct certain activities such as holding a bank account and owning property.  However, registering did not give the organization tax-exempt status or government funding.  Examples of religious groups that continued to be registered as companies included Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ.

The government continued to maintain restrictions on religious assembly and practices, denying certain religious groups the ability to register as charitable organizations.  Many churches and non-Islamic NGOs continued to find registration difficult, with the ROS denying or delaying many applications without explanation or for technical reasons.  Representatives of religious groups continued to say the ROS had no consistent policy or transparent criteria for determining whether to register religious groups.

State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers continued to have the authority to accompany police on raids of private premises and public establishments and to enforce sharia, including for violations such as indecent dress, distribution of banned publications, alcohol consumption, or khalwat (close proximity to a nonfamily member of the opposite sex).  In January, the Islamic Affairs and Religious Department in Kelantan State detained seven Muslim couples on suspicion of committing khalwat during a seasonal “antivice” operation in conjunction with the Lunar New Year celebration.  A government representative said the operation was intended to “track down those who took the opportunity of the long public holiday to commit immoral behavior.”  Four Muslim women were also issued summonses for wearing “sexy and tight clothing in public.”

In March, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said state governments had been directed to take steps to ensure that religions other than Islam would be further limited in propagating their beliefs to Muslims.  The Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department further posted on his official Facebook account that the constitution already empowered states and the federal territories to amend their laws to control and curb the propagation of non-Muslim religions.  His post stated, “This power is derived from Article 11(4) of the Constitution, which stipulates that everyone has the right to worship and practice their faith as they see fit but may not propagate or influence others into practicing their religion.”  He also stated the government would request states that already had legislation to control the propagation of non-Islamic religions to Muslims in place to further enhance their enforcement activities.

In September, Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Marzuk announced his intention to introduce legislation to “control and restrict the development of non-Muslim religions.”  In response, Hindu organizations reiterated that the constitution does not give the government the right to legislate any form of control or impose any restrictions on the beliefs and practice of non-Muslims and that the proposal was also against “Keluarga Malaysia” (the “Malaysia Family” concept promoted by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob).  The president of the Federation of Taoist Associations of Malaysia described Marzuk as “totally unfit to be a deputy in charge of religious affairs in a multiracial country.”  Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said religious matters were under the jurisdiction of the respective states and if the federal government adopted this type of legislation, “It won’t be legally binding.”  The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) welcomed the Law Minister’s assurance.

Officials at the federal and state levels continued to oversee Islamic religious activities, distribute all sermon texts for mosques to follow, use mosques to convey political messages, and limit public expression of religion deemed contrary to Sunni Islam.

Federal and state governments continued to forbid religious assembly and worship for groups considered to be “deviant” Muslim groups, including Shia, Ahmadiyya, and al-Arqam.  While Ahmadi Muslims in the country reported being able to maintain a worship center, government religious authorities did not allow them to hold Friday prayers, as these could only be performed in an officially registered mosque.

In July, Inspector General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said police were tracking down a group known as Perjalanan Mimpi Yang Terakhir (PMYT), believed to be spreading “deviant” teachings, including that the group’s leader, Sittah Annur, could communicate directly with Allah, the angels, and the Prophet Muhammad, and that PMYT was revealed to her to guide the people.  In September, police arrested Annur and detained her for investigation under the section of the penal code that covers causing disharmony, disunity, feelings of enmity, hatred, ill will, or prejudicing the maintenance of harmony or unity on the grounds of religion, as well as under the communications law covering improper use of network facilities or network services.  Police subsequently released her on bail.

In January, the High Court said it would decide in March whether 39 Ahmadi Muslims should be considered Muslim following an appeal by the Religious Affairs Department (JAIS) against a 2018 High Court decision stating that the sharia court had no jurisdiction over the Ahmadi community, since JAIS refused to recognize them as adherents of Islam.  The High Court did not announce a decision in March and there were no follow-up reports by year’s end.

In January, the Kedah State government cancelled the public holiday for the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.  Federal Human Resources Minister M Saravanan said the state government, led by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), should have consulted representatives of Indian descent in the federal parliament before making the decision.

In January, the Federal Court allowed the Selangor Islamic Religious Council to intervene in a hearing in which the NGO Sisters in Islam (SIS) asked the court to invalidate a Selangor State law that enabled sharia courts to review decisions made by state religious authorities.  In October, the court postponed a decision on the case.  In 2019, the High Court dismissed the NGO’s application to a civil court requesting review of a 2014 Selangor State fatwa that found the organization to be “deviant.”  SIS stated in the application that the fatwa infringed upon the constitutional rights of SIS and its members.  The fatwa said SIS deviated from the teachings of Islam because the group subscribed to the principles of liberalism and religious pluralism.  The fatwa did not define “liberalism” or “pluralism.”  The fatwa also ruled the NGO’s books and materials could be seized.  At year’s end, no action had been taken against SIS, which continued to function nationally.

Criminal cases remained pending against Abdul Kahar Ahmad and 16 followers for spreading the teachings of a “deviant sect” that had been banned in 1991.  In September 2020, JAIS arrested Kahar and 16 followers, although it subsequently released Kahar and three of them on bail, while the other 13 remained in custody.  Media reported Abdul Kahar “declared his repentance.”

In March the High Court ruled that a regulation issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1986 banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims was unlawful and unconstitutional.  The judge stated that Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians in East Malaysia had been using the word “Allah” in their religious practice for generations.  The government appealed the decision, and the state Religious Councils of Selangor, the Federal Territories, and Johor filed bids to be included in the appeal.  In September, the Johor State Religious Council withdrew its bid to be included in the appeal.  The case leading to the ruling related to a Sarawak Christian who had CDs with “Allah” printed on them seized by customs officials upon her return from Indonesia.  Leaders of the Bersatu, United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and PAS political parties called for the government to appeal the decision.

In September, Perlis State issued a fatwa banning jokes that make fun of Islam or “can lead to immorality, sin and wickedness.”  In an edict released by Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the state fatwa committee said jokes were allowed in Islam, but not those made at the expense of the religion and that brought harm to others.

In September, the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia issued letters to two local broadcasters to stop displaying male and female undergarments on their home shopping networks, stating that the preservation of “manners, decency, and the sensitivities of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in Malaysia is of utmost importance.”

The government continued to ban books for promoting Shia beliefs, mysticism, and other beliefs the government determined “clearly deviated from the true teachings of Islam.”

Non-Muslim groups continued to report regular difficulties in obtaining permission from local authorities to build new places of worship, leading many groups to use buildings zoned for residential or commercial use for their religious services.

The Prime Minister’s office ordered government agencies, including the federal Department of National Unity and Integration, to encourage religious harmony and protect the rights of minority religious groups.  Many faith-based organizations, however, continued to state they believed that no entity had the power and influence of those that regulated Islamic affairs, and they cited the large footprint and budget for JAKIM compared to the more limited funding for the Department of National Unity and Integration.  The latter department’s annual budget was approximately 343 million ringgit ($82.16 million), while 1.5 billion ringgit ($359.28 million) was designated for the development of Islam under JAKIM.

During the year, JAKIM continued to fund a wide variety of Islamic education- and mosque-related projects, such as signing a memorandum of understanding with the Islamic Tourist Center to provide programs to attract Muslim tourists.  There were no funds in the government budget specifically allocated to non-Muslim religious groups, although some religious groups reported continuing to receive sporadic funding for temple and church buildings and other activities.  In June Malaysian Hindu Sangam President Moham Shan announced 2.45 million ringgit ($587,000) of federal funds were distributed to 1,145 registered Hindu temples throughout the country from December 2020 through May.

At public primary and secondary schools, student assemblies frequently commenced with the recitation of an Islamic prayer by a teacher or school leader, although this occurred less often than in past years, as most schools met virtually due to COVID-19 protocols.  Critics expressed concern over the religious overtones and symbols in schools.  Particularly in the country’s peninsula, community leaders and civil liberties groups said religion teachers in public schools pressured Muslim girls to wear the tudong (Islamic head covering) at school.  Some private schools required Muslim girls to wear veils covering their faces, except for their eyes.

Homeschooling remained legal, but some families continued to report difficulty in obtaining approval from the Ministry of Education.

The government continued its policy of not recognizing marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, and it considered children born of such unions to be illegitimate.

In September, the Perlis State fatwa committee declared that “men who appear like women,” such as transgender individuals, were forbidden from entering mosques while not in gender-conforming clothing and were prohibited from performing the Hajj or Umrah.  The statement accompanying the fatwa said the presence of such individuals would “disturb the worship environment of mosques.”  Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Marzuk said the government was looking into emulating Perlis State in banning transgender individuals from entering mosques in the federal territories because it was “appropriate to maintain the sanctity of mosques and avoid confusion among the community.”  Penang State Mufti Datuk Seri Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor said transgender individuals should change their appearance if they want to be in mosques or surau (smaller houses of worship) so that they “do not look out of place and avoid making other worshippers uncomfortable.”  Representatives from SIS said, “The fatwa and statement of the mufti not only contradict the federal constitution but in fact [are] not in accordance with inclusive Islamic traditions.”  Media quoted a transgender man as saying the fatwa “is such a cruel ruling especially to those who attend prayers at the mosques or even Friday prayers.  This goes against Islam’s nature of inclusivity and acceptance.’’

In January, the Selangor JAIS brought in transgender social media influencer Nur Sajat for questioning relating to a video posted online of her reciting Islamic prayers while dressed in women’s clothing in 2018.  JAIS officers allegedly beat and slapped her while in custody.  They subsequently charged her with “defamation of Islam,” punishable with a fine not exceeding 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) or imprisonment not exceeding three years, or both, and released her on bail.  Sajat did not appear for her court date on February 23, citing a medical condition.  JAIS then issued a warrant for her arrest without bail and sent JAIS officers looking for Sajat, with police support.  Nur Sajat then fled the country, saying she feared that the religious authorities would criminally prosecute her for practicing her faith.

Wan Norhayati Wan, known as “Ibu Yati,” stated that from March 3 through July 29, Selangor Islamic Religious Authorities detained her without charge, based on controversial comments she posted on social media about the “Arabization” of Malay culture.  She said that during this time, authorities repeatedly questioned her, deprived her of contact with her lawyer, and detained her in unsafe conditions, provided inadequate water, food, and access to medicine, and at times held her with possible COVID-19-positive detainees.  In July, the Selangor Sharia High Court charged Ibu Yati and two others with “expounding religious doctrines contrary to Islamic law” and spreading them through Facebook between December 2020 and February 2021.

In May, the High Court dismissed a libel and sedition lawsuit filed by Christians Maklin Masiau and Lawrence Jomiji Kinsil Maximilhian against PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang, who published an article in 2016 accusing Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities in states such as Sabah by paying them to convert to Christianity.  In dismissing the case, Judge Akhtar Tahir called the lawsuit “frivolous” and “an abuse of the court process,” and he ordered the plaintiffs to pay 50,000 ringgit ($12,000) each to cover Hadi’s legal costs.  The judge also said Hadi’s comments in 2016 concerned only Christian missionaries and not Christians in general and that the plaintiffs should instead be blamed for seditious tendencies because “they resurrected it [Awang’s article] to make it a new issue.”

In November, the High Court set March 2022 as the date for judicial review of Buddhist Ong Seng Teng’s 2020 complaint over the National Registration Department’s (NRD) refusal to issue a birth certificate for his son, born in November 2019.  The NRD cited the refusal as a religious issue because Ong’s wife (the boy’s mother) was born Muslim, and sharia courts had never granted her 2016 application to leave Islam and convert to Buddhism.  The NRD denied the family’s request to list the boy’s religion as “Buddhist” on his birth certificate because the mother’s religious status mandates the child be registered as a Muslim.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

As in years past, local human rights organizations and religious leaders said society continued to become less tolerant of religious diversity.  In February, SUHAKAM Commissioner Berma said that it was increasingly common to see social media users mocking the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus.

In June, the Islamic Center at the government-run Universiti Teknologi Malaysia cancelled for “undisclosed reasons” a virtual talk by renowned Malay-Muslim classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim on how multicultural performing arts should transcend race.  Ramli said there were religious motivations underlying the cancellation.

In June, two Hindu groups went to court to compel police to detain and investigate Muslim preacher Muhammad Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu for allegedly uploading to social media in 2019 a sermon that the groups found insulting.  The two groups said police had been negligent in failing to detain and fully investigate Zamri, despite having received nearly 800 reports regarding the preacher’s alleged offenses.  The groups sought a declaration stating that Zamri was “a threat to the security and peace of the multi-ethnic and multi-faith country of Malaysia.”  In September, Zamri’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case.

In October, individuals lodged more than 5,000 reports with the police against Islamic preacher Syakir Nasoha, who made disparaging remarks about non-Muslims in a video posted to TikTok October 1.  In the one-minute clip, Nasoha said, “At the end of time, disciples of non-Muslim religions will be scrambling together to kill Muslims.”  Local NGO Global Human Rights Federation President S. Shashi Kumar said, “This is a deliberate attack on non-Muslims,” and he called on police to arrest Nasoha.  He also asked that National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique immediately introduce a National Harmony and Reconciliation bill in parliament to help address racial discrimination and sectarianism in the country.  In December, 60 multiracial civil society groups presented a memorandum to police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur questioning the delay in arresting Nasoha and stating police had taken no action.

In March, police investigated Puteri Mujahidah Wan Asshima Kamaruddin for a video she uploaded on Facebook threatening to “destroy the Christian community” in response to the High Court’s ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” in religious publications.  In the video, which went viral, Mujahidah said, “We don’t want to share the word ‘Allah’ with people from other religions,” and she referred to non-Muslims as “heathens.”

Religious converts, particularly those converting from Islam, sometimes faced severe stigmatization.  In many cases, converts reportedly concealed newly adopted beliefs and practices from Muslims, including friends and relatives.

Religious identities continued to affect secular aspects of life.  Muslim women who did not wear headscarves or conform to religious notions of modesty were often subject to shaming in public and on social media.

Religious groups hosted virtual interfaith dialogues and intercultural celebrations throughout the year.  In May, the NGO Komuniti Muslim Universal hosted a webinar on “The Future of Freedom of Religion & Belief in Malaysia Post General Election 15” to foster collaboration between parliamentarians and faith and civil society leaders in strengthening the protection of freedom of religion and belief in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged with a wide variety of federal and state government officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Malaysian Police, and Prime Minister’s Department, as well as with other agencies, on religious freedom and tolerance issues throughout the year, including concerns about the denigration of religious minorities, the unilateral conversion of children by one parent without the permission of the other, and the continued disappearances of Amri Che Mat, Pastor Raymond Koh, Pastor Joshua Hilmy, and Ruth Sitepu.

Embassy officials met with members of Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslim groups, who described heavy government restrictions on their religious activities and continued societal discrimination.  The embassy also met with Sunni Muslims whose activities were limited by the government such as SIS, and with MCCBCHST to discuss strategies for engaging the government on issues of religious freedom.  The embassy enabled the participation of religious leaders and scholars in virtual conferences and webinars that promoted religious freedom and tolerance.

In March, the Ambassador met and raised religious freedom issues with the leadership of International Islamic University Malaysia and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, two of the most prominent Islamic universities in the country, as part of the embassy’s continuing to build relationships with influential Islamic thought leaders.

In April, the Ambassador toured several religious sites in Kuala Lumpur, including the National Mosque, Sin Sze Si Sze Ya Taoist Temple, the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple, the Sri Jayanti Buddhist Temple, and the Gurdwara Sahib Sentul, a Sikh temple, to highlight the importance of religious pluralism.  In November, he reiterated this message during visits to religious sites in Penang, including Masjid Kapitan Keling, St. George’s Anglican Church, and the Taoist Kong Hock Keong Temple.  The embassy drew on these visits in social media messaging to highlight its commitment to support mutual respect and understanding among the different religious groups in the country.

In April, the Ambassador launched Values 2021, an embassy-sponsored civic education program for students at Islamic madrassahs to learn about other cultures and their intersections with religious faith.  In partnership with University Sains Islam Malaysia and the Religious Affairs Ministry, the program worked to develop and train teachers and students on civic education principles.  More than 1200 teachers and students started the year-long initiative focusing on leadership, financial literacy, community service, and good governance.  Prior to the program launch, the Ambassador met virtually with the Minister for Religious Affairs, who expressed his gratitude for the partnership and conveyed a strong need to develop the next generation of leaders with programs based on “strong principles and moral standing.”

In April, the Ambassador and embassy officers collaborated with the leadership of Masjid Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, one of the oldest mosques in the country, to distribute food packets to people in need from the local community.  The mosque’s chief imam, Ustaz Yahya, met with the Ambassador, who highlighted the embassy’s support for religious tolerance and diversity as well as the embassy’s interest in giving back to the community.  The event was part of the embassy’s 2021 Ramadan outreach program to highlight multiculturalism and respect for diversity.  The event received wide media coverage, including on national television broadcaster Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), as well as local Islamic television and radio.  RTM’s Breakfast Grille, an English-language program, also interviewed two embassy officers during Ramadan to discuss their experience as a multiethnic, multireligious family.

In April, the Ambassador hosted an iftar that highlighted the embassy’s engagement with religious groups and institutions aimed at advancing mutual respect and understanding.  Prominent religious leaders, influencers, scholars, and civil society members attended the event, including the chief imam of the Masjid Jamek Mosque.

The embassy broadcast messages related to religious freedom on its social media platforms on International Religious Freedom Day and throughout the year.


Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam.  The constitution states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”  It also states, “A person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis) is a non-Muslim.”  According to NGOs, police failed to protect religious minorities and those accused of blasphemy.  The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranged up to the death penalty, although the government has never executed anyone for blasphemy.  According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a national nongovernmental organization (NGO), 84 persons were accused of blasphemy in 2021, a significant decrease from the 199 individuals accused in 2020.  Other NGOs also assessed 2021 had seen a decrease in blasphemy cases compared with the previous year, but they could not verify actual case numbers.  According to civil society reports, at least 16 of those charged with blasphemy during the year received death sentences.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that two of the blasphemy cases registered against Ahmadis during the year could result in the death penalty.  They reported that the cumulative number of Ahmadis charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 2019 was 61.  Ahmadiyya community leaders continued to report they were affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation and court judgments that denied them basic rights, including issuance of national identification cards, driver’s licenses, and passports.  Ahmadi Muslims also remained barred from representation on the National Commission for Minorities within the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments passed a series of laws targeting Ahmadi Muslim beliefs.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that police registered 49 cases against Ahmadi Muslims under these laws during the year.  Throughout the year, some government officials and politicians around the country engaged in anti-Ahmadi rhetoric and attended events that Ahmadi Muslims said incited violence against members of their community.  NGOs expressed concern that authorities often failed to intervene in instances of societal violence against religious minorities due to fear of retaliation, inadequate staff, or apathy.  NGOs reported perpetrators of societal violence and abuses against religious minorities often faced no legal consequences due to a lack of follow-through by law enforcement, bribes offered by the accused, and pressure on victims to drop cases.  The government took some measures to protect religious minorities, including establishing a special police unit in all provinces to protect religious minorities and their places of worship.  Police and security forces enhanced security measures during religious holidays in consultation with religious leaders.

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals and mobs targeted and killed Christians, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Shia Muslims in attacks believed to be motivated by religion or accusations of blasphemy.  On December 3, several hundred Muslim workers from a factory in Sialkot, Punjab, attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan Christian manager of the factory, for allegedly committing blasphemy by removing far-right extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party posters that included Islamic prayers.  Attackers beat, kicked, and stoned him to death and set his corpse on fire, according to media reports.  Prime Minister Imran Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry.  Media reported that authorities arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack.  On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured in a Shia-majority area when assailants opened fire on a passenger van traveling from Gilgit to Naltar.  On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  On September 2, unidentified assailants shot and killed Maqsood Ahmad, a dual British-Pakistani citizen and Ahmadi Muslim in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.  On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab.  It was the third sectarian attack in the area in two months.  Armed sectarian groups, including factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), continued to stage attacks targeting Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia ethnic Hazara community.  According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the number of sectarian attacks and killings by armed groups increased compared with 2020, reversing the overall decline in terrorist attacks reported in previous years.  Human rights activists reported numerous instances of societal violence related to allegations of blasphemy; of efforts by individuals to coerce religious minorities to convert to Islam; and of societal harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence directed at members of religious minority communities.  Sunni groups held large sectarian rallies in Peshawar and Karachi in September and October, with speakers warning religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadi Muslims, of dire consequences if anything they said was deemed blasphemous against the Prophet Mohammed’s companions.  NGOs expressed concern about what they stated was the increasing frequency of attempts to kidnap, forcibly convert, and forcibly marry young women and girls from religious minority communities, especially Hindus and Christians.  The Center for Social Justice recorded 41 cases of forced conversions through October 31.  There continued to be reports of attacks on Ahmadi, Hindu, and Christian holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols.  The government continued to implement its National Action Plan against terrorism, by countering sectarian hate speech and extremism and by conducting military and law enforcement operations against violent groups.  According to Ahmadi civil society organizations, however, the government failed to restrict advertisements or speeches inciting anti-Ahmadi violence, as provided for in the National Action Plan.  Civil society groups continued to express concerns about the safety of religious minorities.  Multiple civil society groups and faith community leaders stated the government had increased efforts to provide enhanced security at religious minority places of worship.

Senior Department of State officials, including the Deputy Secretary of State, the Charge d’Affaires, and Consuls General, as well as other embassy officers, met with government officials and senior advisors to the Prime Minister, and officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss religious freedom issues.  These included blasphemy law reform; laws concerning Ahmadi Muslims; the need to better protect all religious minorities; sectarian relations; and religious respect.  Embassy officers continued to engage civil society leaders, local religious leaders, religious minority group representatives, and legal experts to discuss ways to combat intolerance and promote interfaith cooperation to increase religious freedom.  Visiting U.S. government officials met with religious minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the federal cabinet to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of religious minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.  The embassy and consulates highlighted the principles of religious freedom and examples of interfaith dialogue in the United States on their social media platforms and organized several outreach events throughout the year.

On November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation in the national interests of the United States.  Pakistan was first designated as a CPC in 2018.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 238.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the results of the most recent national census conducted in 2017, 96 percent of the population is Sunni or Shia Muslim.  According to government figures, the remaining 4 percent includes Ahmadi Muslims; Hindus; Christians, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, among others; Parsis/Zoroastrians; Baha’is; Sikhs; Buddhists; Kalash; Kihals; and Jains.

Sources vary on the precise breakdown of the Muslim population between Sunni and Shia Muslims.  Sunnis are generally believed to be 80-85 percent of the Muslim population, and Shia Muslims, including ethnic Hazara, Ismaili, and Bohra (a branch of Ismaili), are generally believed to make up 15-20 percent.  Unofficial estimates vary widely with regard to the size of minority religious groups.  Religious community representatives estimate religious groups not identifying as Sunni, Shia, or Ahmadi Muslim constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population.

According to the 2017 census results, the population is 1.6 percent Hindu, 1.6 percent Christian, 0.2 percent Ahmadi Muslim, and 0.3 percent others, to include Baha’is, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.  Taking into account the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000 to 600,000.  Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community, located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals.  Several minority rights advocacy groups dispute the results of the 2017 census and say the numbers underrepresent their true population and their political influence, because minority seat allocation in the national and provincial parliaments is based on census figures.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework


The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.”  According to the constitution, every citizen has the right to freedom of speech, subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam,” as stipulated in the penal code.  According to the penal code, the punishments for persons convicted of blasphemy include the death penalty for “defiling the Prophet Mohammed,” life imprisonment for “defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,” and up to 10 years of imprisonment for “insulting another’s religious feelings.”  Speech or action intended to incite religious hatred is punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment.  Under the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for reviewing internet traffic and reporting blasphemous or offensive content to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority for possible removal or to the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) for possible criminal prosecution.

The constitution defines “Muslim” as a person who “believes in the unity and oneness of Almighty Allah, in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Mohammed… the last of the prophets, and does not believe in, or recognize as a prophet or religious reformer, any person who claimed or claims to be a prophet after Mohammed.”  It also states that “a person belonging to the Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or Parsi community, a person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), or a Baha’i, and a person belonging to any of the scheduled castes” is a “non-Muslim.”

According to the constitution and the penal code, Ahmadis may not call themselves Muslims or assert they are adherents of Islam.  The penal code bans them from “posing as Muslims,” using Islamic terms, carrying out Islamic customs, preaching or propagating their religious beliefs, proselytizing, or “insulting the religious feelings of Muslims.”  The punishment for violating these provisions is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine, the amount of which is at the discretion of the sentencing judge.

The penal code does not explicitly criminalize apostasy, but renouncing Islam is widely considered by clerics to be a form of blasphemy, which may carry the death penalty.

The government may use the antiterrorism courts, established as a parallel legal structure under the 1997 Antiterrorism Act, to try cases involving violent crimes, terrorist activities, and acts or speech deemed by the government to foment religious hatred, including blasphemy.

The constitution states no person shall be required to take part in any religious ceremony or attend religious worship relating to a religion other than the person’s own.

The constitution provides for “freedom to manage religious institutions.”  It states every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain its own institutions.  The constitution states no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax for the propagation or maintenance of a religion other than the person’s own.  The government collects a mandatory, automatic 2.5 percent zakat (tax) from Sunni Muslims who hold savings accounts in banks.  It distributes the funds through a government-run charity as stipends for poor families and students, payment for medical treatment, and support to Sunni mosques and madrassahs registered with the government.  Sunni Muslims who want to distribute zakat themselves may request an exemption, and Shia Muslims are exempted by filling out a declaration of faith form.  Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities run their own charity programs.

The constitution mandates that the government take steps to enable Muslims, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to promote the observance of Islamic moral standards.  It directs the state to endeavor to secure the proper organization of Islamic tithes, religious foundations, and places of worship.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony is responsible for organizing participation in the Hajj and other Islamic religious pilgrimages.  Authorities also consult the ministry on matters such as blasphemy and Islamic education.  The ministry’s budget covers assistance to indigent minorities, repair of minority places of worship, establishment of minority-run small development projects, celebration of minority religious festivals, and provision of scholarships for religious minority students.

The law prohibits publishing any criticism of Islam or its prophets or insults to others’ religious beliefs.  The law bans the sale of Ahmadiyya religious literature.

The provincial and federal governments have legal responsibility for certain minority religious properties abandoned during the 1947 partition of British India.

The constitution states that no person attending any educational institution shall be required to attend religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony relating to a religion other than the person’s own.  It also states that no religious denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of its denomination in an educational institution maintained by the denomination.

The constitution states the government shall make Islamic studies compulsory for all Muslim students in state-run schools.  Although students of other religious groups are not legally required to study Islam, schools do not always offer parallel studies in their own religious beliefs.  In some schools, however, non-Muslim students may study ethics.  Parents may send children to private schools, including religious schools, at the family’s expense.  In Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces, private schools are also required to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students.

By law, madrassahs are prohibited from teaching or encouraging sectarian or religious hatred or violence.  Wafaqs (independent academic boards) register seminaries, regulate curricula, and issue degrees.  The five wafaqs each represent major streams of Islamic thought in the country:  Barelvi, Deobandi, Shia, Ahle Hadith, and the Jamaat-i-Islami, which is considered ultraconservative.  The wafaqs operate through an umbrella group, Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan, to represent their interests to the government.  The government requires all madrassahs to register with the Ministry of Education in addition to registration with one of the five wafaqs.

The constitution states, “All existing laws shall be brought into conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah [Islam’s body of traditional social and legal custom and practice].”  It further states no law shall be enacted that is “repugnant” to Islam.  The constitution states this requirement shall not affect the “personal laws of non-Muslim citizens” or their status as citizens.  Some personal laws regulating marriage, divorce, and inheritance for minority communities date from prepartition British legislation.

The constitution establishes a Federal Shariat Court (FSC) composed of Muslim judges to examine and decide whether any law or provision is “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”  The constitution gives the FSC the power to examine a law of its own accord or at the request of the government or a private citizen.  The constitution requires the government to amend the law as directed by the court.  The constitution also grants the FSC “revisional jurisdiction” (the power to review of its own accord) over criminal cases in the lower courts relating to certain crimes under the Hudood Ordinance, including rape and those linked to Islamic morality, such as extramarital sex, alcohol use, and gambling.  The court may suspend or increase the sentence given by a criminal court in these cases.  The FSC’s review power applies whether the cases involve Muslims or non-Muslims.  Non-Muslims may not appear before the FSC.  If represented by a Muslim lawyer, however, non-Muslims may consult the FSC in other matters, such as questions of sharia or Islamic practice that affect them or violate their rights.  By law, decisions of the FSC may be appealed to the Supreme Court’s Shariat Appellate Bench.  A full bench of the Supreme Court may grant a further appeal.

The constitution establishes a Council of Islamic Ideology to make recommendations, at the request of the parliament and provincial assemblies, as to “the ways and means of enabling and encouraging Muslims to order their lives in accordance with the principles of Islam.”  The constitution further empowers the council to advise the legislative and executive branches when they choose to refer a question to the council as to whether a proposed law is or is not “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.”

There is no specific language in the law authorizing civil or common law marriage; religious authorities sign marriage certificates, which are registered with the local marriage registrar.  The provincial-level Sindh Hindu Marriage Act and the national-level Hindu Marriage Act (applying to federal territory and all other provinces) codify legal mechanisms to formally register and prove the legitimacy of Hindu marriages.  In addition to addressing a legal gap by providing documentation needed for identity registration, divorce, and inheritance, the Hindu Marriage Acts allow marriages to be voided when consent “was obtained by force, coercion, or by fraud.”  The acts allow for the termination of the marriage upon the conversion of one party to a religion other than Hinduism.  The Sindh provincial government has legislation allowing couples to seek divorce and granting Hindu women the right to remarry six months after a divorce or a spouse’s death.  The Sindh Hindu Marriage Act also applies to Sikh marriages.  The Punjab Sikh Anand Karaj Marriage Act allows local government officials in that province to register marriages between a Sikh man and Sikh woman solemnized by a Sikh Anand Karaj marriage registrar.

Some court judgments have considered the marriage of a non-Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man dissolved if she converts to Islam, although the marriage of a non-Muslim man who converts remains recognized.

The constitution directs the state to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities,” to secure the well-being of the people irrespective of creed, and to discourage sectarian prejudices.  It forbids discrimination against any religious community in the taxation of religious institutions.  The National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), an independent government-funded agency that reports to parliament, is required to receive petitions, conduct investigations, and request remediation of human rights abuses.  The NCHR is also mandated to monitor the government’s implementation of human rights laws and review and propose legislation.  It has quasi-judicial powers and may refer cases for prosecution but does not have arrest authority.  A constitutional amendment devolves responsibility for minorities’ affairs, including religious minorities, to the provinces.

According to the constitution, there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion in appointing individuals to government service, provided they are otherwise qualified.  There is a 5 percent minimum quota for hiring religious minorities (primarily Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Kalash, and Parsis but excluding Shia and Ahmadi Muslims) at the federal and provincial levels of government.

The constitution prohibits discriminatory admission based on religious affiliation to any governmental educational institution.  According to regulations, the only factors affecting admission to government schools are students’ grades and home provinces, although students must declare their religious affiliation on application forms.  This declaration is also required for private educational institutions, including universities.  Students who identify themselves as Muslims must declare in writing they believe Mohammed is the final prophet.  Non-Muslims are required to have the head of their local religious communities verify their religious affiliation.  There is no provision in the law for atheists.

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) designates religious affiliation on passports and requires religious information on national identity card and passport applications.  Those wishing to be listed as Muslims must swear they believe Mohammed is the final prophet and must denounce the Ahmadiyya movement’s founder as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim.  There is no option to state “no religion.”  National identity cards are required for all citizens upon reaching the age of 18.  Identification cards are used for voting, pension disbursement, social and financial inclusion programs, and other services.

The constitution requires the President and Prime Minister to be Muslim.  All senior officials, including members of parliament, must swear an oath to protect the country’s Islamic identity.  The law requires elected Muslim officials to swear an oath affirming their belief that the Prophet Mohammed is the final prophet of Islam.  This requirement prohibits Ahmadi Muslims from holding elected office, as they recognize a prophet subsequent to the Prophet Mohammed.

The constitution reserves seats for non-Muslim members in the national and provincial assemblies.  The 342-member National Assembly has 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims.  The 104-member Senate has four reserved seats for non-Muslims, one from each province.  In the provincial assemblies, there are three such reserved seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; eight in Punjab; nine in Sindh; and three in Balochistan.  Political parties elected by the general electorate choose the minority individuals who hold these seats; they are not elected directly by the minority constituencies they represent.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and maintains two reservations:  first, that ICCPR Article 3 regarding equal rights of men and women would be “applied as to be in conformity with Personal Law of the citizens and Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order, 1984 (Law of Evidence),” under which the in-court testimony of men in certain civil matters pertaining to contracts and financial obligations is given greater weight than that of women; and second, that ICCPR Article 25, on the equal right for citizens to take part in public service, would be subject to articles of the constitution mandating that the President and Prime Minister be Muslims.

Government Practices

According to NGOs, police failed to protect religious minorities and those accused of blasphemy, including a member of the Hindu religious minority, Dodo Bheel, who was physically abused and killed on June 30 by security guards at the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company where he worked.  Authorities arrested the two guards involved, who were not Hindu, on July 14 and charged them with murder.  Dodo Bheel’s family filed murder charges against the mining firm’s security contractor.  In August, a fact-finding mission led by the Ministry of Human Rights recommended charges against police in Sindh Province for mismanaging the case, according to media reports.  A Sindh High Court judge directed district authorities to produce a report on the incident and members of the ministry’s fact-finding mission said Dodo Bheel’s postmortem report showed 19 injuries inflicted with a blunt object.  The investigation also revealed that security guards kept some of his Hindu coworkers in illegal detention for 14 days and physically abused them prior to handing them over to police.  The police allegedly asked their families not to disclose what had happened to the injured men.  On July 1, members of the local Hindu community blocked the mine access road and carried Bheel’s body in protest.  Protests spread to other cities in Sindh after authorities arrested 150 members of the Hindu community on terrorism charges for protesting, although the protests were reportedly peaceful.  On November 22, media reported Bheel’s brother appeared in court to withdraw murder charges against the mining firm’s security company.  Media reported that his family sought to reach an out of court settlement with the mining company.  At year’s end, the government had brought no charges against police, despite the recommendations of the fact-finding mission.

The NGO Center for Social Justice (CSJ) reported authorities charged and imprisoned 84 individuals in 2021 for blasphemy, compared with the 199 CSJ reported in 2020, when NGOs reported an uptick in blasphemy cases lodged against Shia Muslims due to heightened Sunni-Shia tension.  Of these 84 individuals, Sunni and Shia Muslims made up 54 percent (CSJ did not include separate Sunni and Shia figures), Ahmadi Muslims 30 percent, Hindus 8 percent, and Christians 8 percent.  At least 16 persons accused of blasphemy around the country during the year received death sentences, but none were carried out.  The Ahmadiyya community reported that two of the blasphemy cases against Ahmadis in 2021 were registered under section 295-C of the penal code, which carries the death penalty.  They reported that the cumulative number of Ahmadis charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws since 2019 was 61.  Leaders from other NGOs agreed the actual number of blasphemy cases involving Ahmadis was likely higher, but uneven reporting and lack of media coverage in many areas made it difficult to identify an exact number.  The government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy.  According to civil society reports, 81 percent of cases registered during the year against individuals accused of blasphemy were in Punjab.

In January, media reported that the Anti-Terrorism Court in Islamabad sentenced three men to death for sharing “blasphemous content on social media,” and a fourth man to 10 year’s imprisonment in a case that began in 2017.  According to security officials, two of the men – Rana Nouman Rafaqat and Abdul Waheed – operated fake profiles and disseminated blasphemous material on social media, while a third man – Nasir Ahmad – uploaded blasphemous videos to a YouTube channel.  The fourth man – Professor Anwaar Ahmed – was charged with voicing blasphemous views during a lecture at the Islamabad Model College where he was an Urdu teacher.  Police took Ahmed into custody and fined him 100,000 rupees ($560), but the other three were in hiding at year’s end.

Other blasphemy cases continued without resolution.  Several individuals were accused of spreading blasphemous content through social media under PECA.  In November, a group of Ahmadi Muslim citizens charged under PECA and facing blasphemy charges in 2019 for publishing copies of the Quran appeared before the Lahore High Court.  The petition against them was filed by Muhammad Hassan Muawiyah, brother of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Affairs and the Middle East Tahir Ashrafi.  Muawiyah said that the Ahmadi community and non-Muslims were not authorized to publish copies of the Quran.  The judge ordered police authorities to submit a report stating why they had not implemented the 2019 verdict to ensure that only “authorized entities” published the Quran and acted against the accused and those publishing “unauthentic” copies of the Quran.  The hearing was postponed on November 30, the case remained ongoing at year’s end with the accused free on bail.

The trial of the killers of Tahir Naseem, a U.S. citizen Ahmadi Muslim killed in a courtroom in August 2020 while on trial for blasphemy, was ongoing before the Anti-Terrorism Court in Peshawar at year’s end.

On September 27, a court in Lahore fined and sentenced Ahmadi Salma Tanveer, a former school principal, to death for blasphemy under section 295-C of the penal code for distributing writings denying the “finality of the Prophet” in 2013.  The court said, “It is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused Salma Tanveer wrote and distributed the writings which are derogatory in respect of Holy Prophet Mohammed.”  Police registered a blasphemy case against Tanveer for allegedly using derogatory remarks against Islam, based on the complaint of Qari Iftikhar Ahmad Raza, a prayer leader of a local mosque.  Tanveer remained in prison in Lahore at year’s end, where she had been since 2013.

According to NGOs and media reports, individuals convicted and sentenced to death in well-publicized blasphemy cases dating as far back as 2014 – including Nadeem James; Taimoor Raza; Junaid Hafeez; Mubasher, Ghulam, and Ehsan Ahmed; and Stephen Masih – remained in prison awaiting action on their appeals.  In all these cases, judges repeatedly delayed hearings, adjourned hearings without hearing arguments, or sent appeals to other judicial benches.  Civil society and legal sources said judges were generally hesitant to decide blasphemy cases due to fear of violent retribution.

In February, the courts granted Ahmadi Muslim Ramzan Bibi bail on her charge of blasphemy, 10 months after her arrest.  In April 2020, Bibi donated money for a ceremony being held in a Sunni mosque in her village in Punjab, but the mosque returned the money because Ahmadis are barred by law from “engaging in Moslem practices” such as giving to mosques.  She asked a non-Ahmadi relative why the money was returned, but the conversation turned into a dispute resulting in a verbal and physical altercation.  Clerics of the village informed the District Police Officer that Bibi had committed blasphemy.  Police arrested and charged her under Section 295-C of the penal code, which carries the death penalty.  Her trial remained pending at year’s end.

In March, a prominent Sufi cleric from rural Sindh and his followers threatened the life of Sindhi fiction writer Amar Jaleel, accusing him of committing blasphemy during a 2017 literature festival after a video clip of Jaleel reading one of his short stories during that festival appeared on social media on March 28.  Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) political party figures led the public campaign against Jaleel, supported by right-wing newspaper Daily Ummat.  On April 3, Sufi cleric Pir Umar Jan Sarhandi called for Jaleel’s death and offered money to anyone who carried out an assassination.  Social media users demanded Sindh authorities arrest Sarhandi, but they took no action.  The Sindh government promised that provincial authorities would not file blasphemy charges against Jaleel.  National media reported, however, that the FIA launched an investigation of Jaleel using cybercrime laws at the request of the TLP.

On April 9, police filed blasphemy cases against two Christian nurses of the District Headquarters Hospital.  Protesting hospital employees alleged that the two committed blasphemy by removing a sticker with a sacred Islamic inscription from a cupboard in the hospital.  According to media reports, the police locked one of the nurses inside a police van to keep her safe from the protesters.  In a similar incident, on January 28, police filed a blasphemy case against another Christian nurse, Tabitha Gill, at a maternity hospital in Karachi for “defiling the Prophet Mohammed” after she reportedly said she would pray for someone in the hospital.  Coworkers at the hospital accused Gill of blasphemy after an argument and were seen slapping and beating her in a video that went viral on social media, but none of those seen in the video striking her were arrested or charged.  An initial police investigation cleared Gill of any wrongdoing, but authorities subsequently registered a blasphemy case against her when a mob gathered outside the local police station demanding that she be recharged under blasphemy laws.

On August 7, police arrested Qaiser Zada, a transgender person, and her two brothers on charges of desecrating the Quran in Havelian, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  Media reports say a witness saw Zada refuse sexual advances from a local Islamic scholar and was arrested along with her brothers after local residents accused them of burning a copy of the Quran.  According to media reports, the residents beat Zada before handing her over to police.  She and her brothers remained in custody at year’s end.

NGOs, legal observers, and religious minority representatives continued to raise concerns regarding the failure of lower courts to adhere to basic evidentiary standards in blasphemy cases.  They also raised concerns about the slow pace of adjudicating these cases, which led to some suspects remaining in detention for years as they waited for their initial trial or appeals, and some convicted persons spending years in prison before higher courts overturned their convictions and freed them for lack of evidence.  According to legal advocacy groups, some lower courts continued to conduct proceedings with spectators from groups supportive of harsh punishment for blasphemy, such as the TLP, who often threatened the defendants’ attorneys, family members, and supporters.  At other times, advocacy groups reported that for security reasons, blasphemy trials were held inside jails, resulting in a loss of transparency.  These observers said the general refusal of lower courts to hold timely hearings or acquit those accused of blasphemy persisted due to fear of reprisal and vigilantism.  Legal observers also reported judges and magistrates often delayed or continued trials indefinitely to avoid confrontation with, or violence from, groups provoking protests.

NGOs and legal observers continued to say that the law requiring a senior police official to investigate any blasphemy charge before a complaint may be filed contributed to an objective investigation and the dismissal of many blasphemy cases.  Some NGOs noted, however, that police did not uniformly follow this procedure.  In some cases, the court remanded the accused to police custody for 14 days before they had been charged formally so a senior officer might carry out an investigation.  In other cases, lower ranking police filed blasphemy charges without waiting for the required investigation by a senior police official.  NGOs and legal observers again stated police often did not file charges against individuals who made false blasphemy accusations.

During the year, courts overturned some blasphemy convictions upon appeal and acquitted others after the accused had spent years in prison.  On June 3, the Lahore High Court (LHC) acquitted and released a Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Masih, from Punjab’s Toba Tek Singh District.  Authorities arrested them in 2013 for sending text messages to the complainants that the complainants said were blasphemous.  In April 2014, a lower court had sentenced the couple to death and fined them 100,000 rupees ($560) each.

There were reported cases of government intervention and assistance from courts and law enforcement in situations of attempted kidnapping and forced conversion.  Enforcement action against alleged perpetrators was rare, however.  Multiple cases of forced marriage and conversion of Christian women and girls were reported in Punjab.  On February 16, a court in Faisalabad ordered the release of a 13-year-old Christian girl who, according to media reports, had been abducted at the age of 12, forcibly converted to Islam, and married against her will to a 45-year-old Muslim man in June 2020.  Police rescued her in December 2020 and later moved her to a government-run shelter.  A court in Faisalabad later allowed her to rejoin her family.  Media reported that police dropped the investigation of the three Muslim men accused of abducting her and keeping her in chains for five months in 2020.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported forced conversions of young women of minority faiths, often lower-caste Hindu girls from rural Sindh, continued to occur along with multiple cases of forced marriages, child marriages, and forced conversions.  In March, the Hindu community in Tangwani protested what they said was the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of a 13-year-old girl.  A video of the girl went viral on social media in which she was seen sitting among men, who were shooting videos and taking photographs of her with their mobile phones.  The girl’s father filed a case with local police and reported that her abductors and their influential supporters from a local mosque had set his house on fire after he refused to withdraw the case against them.  On March 16, police rescued the girl and presented her before a court, which ordered that she be placed in a shelter.  Police issued no charges on the arson allegation.

On July 26, a court in Badin, Sindh ordered police to reunite a young Hindu girl with her parents after her abduction, forced marriage, and forced conversion to Islam.  Police had earlier rescued the girl from the illegal custody of a Muslim man after she posted a video widely seen on social media in which she was crying and pleading to be reunited with her parents.  Following the court’s order, police arrested her purported husband, Qasim Khaskheli, and his two brothers, and charged them for their alleged aiding and abetting the rape, kidnapping, torture, and intimidation of the girl.  She also declared that she had not converted to Islam and stated false documents were prepared by her purported husband.  Police returned the girl to her parents in July and later released those arrested in the case.

Religious minorities and several organizations protested the government’s response to alleged cases of forced marriage and forced conversion, noting such incidents continue to happen regularly in all provinces.  On May 21, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Affairs and the Middle East Tahir Ashrafi stated that incidents of forced conversions and marriages had been rarely reported during the previous seven months.  Several NGOs tracking forced conversions criticized Ashrafi’s statement, noting that forced conversions and marriages remained prevalent and demanded the government do more to protect victims of forced marriage and conversion.

On October 13, a parliamentary committee to protect religious minorities from forced conversions rejected a draft bill proposing an anti-forced conversion law after the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony opposed it.  Lawmakers from religious minority communities protested the decision and requested the government review it.  During a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions, Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Noor-ul-Haq Qadri said the “environment is unfavorable” for formulating a law against forced conversions and warned that approval of the draft could disrupt peace in the country and “make minorities more vulnerable.”  Qadri also urged the Prime Minister to “take other steps” to stop the conversions but did not suggest what those steps should be.  Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said setting a minimum age for marriage in the forced conversion bill “goes against Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan.”

The Ministry of Interior maintained multitier schedules of religiously oriented groups it judged to be extremist or terrorist that were either banned or had their activities monitored and curtailed (Schedule 1) and individuals whose activities in the public sphere could also be curtailed, including during religious holidays such as Ashura (Schedule 4).  On August 11, the Sindh provincial government barred 309 “firebrand” speakers and religious scholars from leaving their home districts for 60 days to avoid violent disturbances during Shia commemorations in the month of Muharram, more than double the number barred in 2020.  These 309 individuals included both Shia and Sunni clerics who in the past had made controversial statements that the ministry said led to sectarian tensions.  The Rawalpindi district administration banned 39 Islamic Ulema religious figures belonging to different sects from entering the district during Muharram, stating this was in order to maintain peace and interfaith harmony during the commemorations and related processions held there during Muharram.

According to media reports and law enforcement sources, in the weeks leading up to and during Muharram, authorities at the federal level also restricted the movement and activities of clerics on the Ministry of Interior’s Schedule 4 listing to keep the peace.  Shia community representatives, however, accused authorities of bias by restricting their religious ceremonies and arresting community members.  In October, Shia leaders said Karachi police beat and harassed mourners participating in a religious procession during the Shia Chehlum holiday.

According to Ahmadiyya community leaders, authorities continued to target and harass Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, violations of “anti-Ahmadi laws,” and other crimes.  Ahmadiyya leaders stated the ambiguous wording of the legal provision forbidding Ahmadis from directly or indirectly identifying themselves as Muslims enabled officials to bring charges against members of the community for using the standard Islamic greeting or for naming their children Mohammed.  Ahmadi leaders said that during elections, their community members were more exposed to threats and physical intimidation, because authorities maintained the names of voters who registered as Ahmadi on separate voter lists.  Many Ahmadis therefore continued their longstanding practice of boycotting elections, according to the leaders.  Ahmadiyya community representatives continued to say that NADRA required Ahmadis to declare in an affidavit that they were non-Muslims to obtain a national identification card.

Ahmadiyya Muslim community representatives continued to state that Ahmadi families were unable to register their marriages with local administrative bodies, known as union councils, since those councils considered Ahmadis to be outside the authority of the Muslim Family Law of 1961.

On October 26, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution requiring a declaration that Mohammed was the final prophet of Islam, which runs counter to Ahmadi beliefs, be included on government documents to register an Islamic marriage with the state.

In June, according to reports from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, police who arrived at the scene of a fight between Sunnis and Ahmadis in Sheikupura District, Punjab, took no action to break it up.  The fight erupted when a group of Sunni Muslims attacked and blocked the funeral procession of an Ahmadi woman on its way to the cemetery.  The attackers, comprised of local villagers and led by clerics, opposed the woman’s burial, arguing the cemetery belonged to “Muslims” only.  According to bystanders, many suffered injuries in the fight.  Eventually, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community was able to bury the woman in that cemetery.

Community representatives reported Christians continued to face difficulties in registering marriages with Islamabad union councils because the councils claimed they had no authority to deal with unions recorded by Christian marriage registrars (usually church authorities).  Members of parliament, church leaders, and advocates continued to debate the text of a 2019 draft law to govern Christian marriages nationwide, because the existing regulation dated from 1872.  Members of parliament and officials of the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Law and Justice continued to consult with church leaders from prominent Christian denominations and with NGO representatives, but the denominations, church leaders, and NGO representatives had not agreed on elements of the draft law pertaining to divorce and interfaith marriage by year’s end.

Although the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act covers registration of Sikh marriages in that province, members of the Sikh community reportedly continued to seek a separate Sikh law so as not to be considered as Hindus for the purposes of the law.  In 2020, the Sindh provincial government began to implement the act, and NADRA began registering Hindu marriages in Sindh, according to Hindu community activists.  Some Hindu activists reported implementation of the law remained slow and officials who could solemnize Hindu marriages were not being registered with the government.

The government continued to prohibit citizens, regardless of religious affiliation, from traveling to Israel by marking Pakistani passports as “valid in all countries, except for Israel.”  Representatives of the Baha’i community said this policy particularly affected them because the Baha’i World Center – the spiritual and administrative center of the community – is in Haifa, Israel.  Christian advocates also called on the government to allow Christians to travel to Israel.

In March, hundreds of pilgrims clashed with police while trying to enter a shrine closed by the Sindh provincial government due to COVID-19 restrictions.  Police said the pilgrims broke open the main gate of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th-century mystic Sufi saint, located in the town of Sehwan, Sindh.  The crowds attacked police and threw stones, police officer Mohammad Mushtaq said.  Several police suffered minor injuries.  Investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

Some religious minority leaders continued to state the system of selecting minority parliamentarians through the internal deliberations of mainstream parties resulted in the appointment of party stalwarts or those who could afford to “buy the seats,” rather than legislators who genuinely represented minority communities.  Others said parliamentarians occupying reserved seats had little influence in their parties and in the National Assembly because they did not have a voting constituency.  Women from religious minority communities criticized political parties for only nominating men to seats reserved for religious minorities in all legislative bodies and demanded amendments to the Election Act to make mandatory the appointment of religious minority women to these seats.

The government continued to permit limited non-Muslim foreign missionary activity and to allow missionaries to preach as long as they did not preach against Islam and they acknowledged they were not Muslim.  According to the government’s immigration website, the Ministry of Interior could grant visas to foreign missionaries invited by organizations registered in the country.  The visas were valid for one year and allowed one reentry into the country per year, although it was understood by missionary sources that only “replacement” visas for those taking the place of departing missionaries were available for long-term missionaries seeking to enter the country for the first time.  The website further stated the government could grant extensions for two years with two reentries per year, excluding applicants from India.

The government continued its warnings against blasphemy and other illegal content on social media through periodic print advertisements and text messages sent by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).  The text messages stated, “Sharing of blasphemy, pornography, terrorism, and other unlawful content on social media and the internet is illegal.”  Users were advised to report such content to a government website for action under PECA 16 (the 2016 PECA act).

In June, the PTA reported that uploading of content related to blasphemy and hate speech continued on social networking sites.  A report prepared by the FIA’s cybercrime wing revealed that in 2020, the state blocked 111 accounts for containing blasphemous material, 47 for featuring hate speech, and nine for spreading sectarian hatred.  From January through June 2021, the FIA cybercrime wing and the PTA removed 110 accounts, blocked 86 accounts for containing blasphemous content, 15 for hate speech, and nine for uploading sectarian material.

In November, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) reprimanded an FIA official for failing to identify and arrest individuals who allegedly uploaded blasphemous content on social media.  The FIA informed the court it blocked some of those links, and the IHC directed it to strictly enforce regulations mandating the removal of blasphemous content.

In early January, the PTA asked social media platforms to take down the trailer of the movie, “Lady of Heaven” for sacrilegious content.  In late January, the PTA told the IHC that it blocked 452 links that month to the trailer of a movie on the video-streaming platform Netflix on grounds that it contained sacrilegious material.

On January 22, the PTA blocked a U.S.-based website, “,” administrated by members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community-USA, from being viewed in Pakistan on charges that the website propagated blasphemous content.

On June 28, the Sindh High Court ordered the nationwide suspension of access to the video-sharing social media platform TikTok until July 8.  The court issued the order in response to a petition filed by a citizen aggrieved by the “immorality and obscenity” spread by content on the platform.  On July 20, the PTA again blocked access to TikTok “due to the continuous presence of inappropriate content on the platform and its failure to take such content down.”  Reactions to the PTA’s measure were mixed, with many social media users praising the decision, but others expressing concerns that the government could similarly ban religious minorities.  In November, the PTA lifted the ban on TikTok and released a statement saying it “will continue to monitor the platform in order to ensure that unlawful content contrary to Pakistan’s law and societal values is not disseminated.”

In April, a lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party introduced a resolution in parliament calling for expulsion of the French Ambassador over the republication of caricatures depicting Islam in a French magazine in 2020, which PTI said were blasphemous.  On April 21, the Sindh Provincial Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to condemn the publication of these sketches in France and demanded a federal movement against practices which “harm religious harmony throughout the world.”  Lawmakers in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly passed a resolution on September 17 requiring official documents to include the Khatan-un-Nabiyeen, or “finality of the Prophet” along with the Prophet Mohammed’s name.

According to representatives of some minority religious groups, the government continued to allow most organized religious groups to establish places of worship and train members of the clergy.  The government also announced that a collaboration between the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), provincial governments, and Sikh and Hindu community members would renovate several Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras during the year.  As of September, the government’s Survey of Pakistan mapping agency had surveyed, geotagged, and digitized 93 percent of the properties to be renovated.

Media reported that in November, the Islamabad Capital Development Authority gave permission for construction to resume on a boundary wall at the site of the first Hindu temple to be built in the capital.  In 2020, Islamist political parties opposed to the project filed a petition in the IHC to stop construction, and vandals destroyed part of the wall.

On February 5, a judicial commission led by police and justice sector reform specialist Dr. Shoaib Suddle submitted a report to the Supreme Court attesting that the ETPB failed to maintain most of the ancient and holy sites of the country’s Hindu minority community.  According to the report, out of 365 Hindu temples, only 13 were being managed by the ETPB, leaving caretaking responsibilities of 65 temples with the Hindu community, with 287 left untended.  In January (latest figures available), out of a total of 1,830 temples and gurdwaras across the country, only 31 were operating.

On June 11, the Supreme Court blocked plans to demolish the historic 716-square-yard Dharam Shala, a Hindu community center in Karachi, and ordered the Karachi commissioner to take possession of its land to protect the center from demolition.  The court issued the verdict after Hindu community representatives told the court that the ETPB had leased the property to private individuals who started demolishing the Dharam Shala to construct a new building.

Although there continued to be no official restriction on the construction of Ahmadiyya places of worship, Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders stated local authorities regularly denied requisite construction permits, and forbid Ahmadis from calling them mosques.

Authorities provided enhanced security for Shia Muslim, Christian, and Hindu places of worship at various times throughout the year, including around particular religious holidays or in response to specific threats.  In July, a judicial commission on religious minorities established a special national police unit to protect religious minorities and their places of worship, a move welcomed by most religious minority communities.  In mid-November, police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province reported the government there had established a new special security unit to protect religious sites and religious minority communities throughout the province.  Ahmadiyya community representatives, however, noted their religious sites and cemeteries continued to lack police protection nationwide.  In April, Lahore police provided security to the Christian community for Easter celebrations.  The provincial government increased the number of police personnel and security forces near churches.  The district police also directed its response units and special forces teams to patrol throughout the city.  In August and September, the state provided increased security throughout the country for the Shia community’s Muharram processions.  Police authorities said 19,000 police and paramilitary force personnel deployed in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi to secure the processions.  Ahead of Christmas, police deployed officers to protect churches nationwide.  Police also deployed snipers and used closed-circuit television cameras and metal detectors to ensure the security of churches and Christmas markets.  In Sindh, police provided enhanced security at churches and Hindu temples, especially in Karachi, on the eves of festivals such as Christmas and Diwali.

In July, the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) demanded that the federal interior ministry prevent the Ahmadi community from sacrificing animals on Eid al-Adha.  In a letter written to the Chief Secretary of the government of Punjab, the LHCBA urged police to enforce blasphemy laws against Ahmadi community members taking part in religious rites during the holiday.  Anti-Ahmadi groups used extensive online social media campaigns urging other non-Muslims to deny Ahmadis’ right to sacrifice animals during Eid al-Adha.  The government reported no investigations or arrests.

The Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training held consultations with minority faith representatives during the year to review textbooks for derogatory material.

On August 16, Prime Minister Khan launched a new nationwide Single National Curriculum (SNC) for grades 1-5 that standardized primary school instruction across the country’s three types of educational institutions – private, public, and religious.  Religious minority groups criticized the SNC’s emphasis on Islamic teachings across educational subjects and argued it violated constitutional restrictions on “compulsory religious instruction” as well as the constitution’s 18th amendment, which delegates most authority for education to provincial governments.

In July, a judicial commission for the protection of religious minorities led by Dr. Suddle expressed concern to the Supreme Court that Islamic religious content was included in compulsory education courses under the SNC, including in Urdu and English language courses, thereby compelling religious minority students to receive Islamic religious instruction.  The commission recommended all Islamic content from the SNC be placed in Islamic studies textbooks, because that subject was compulsory only for Muslim students.  Islamist groups opposed this suggestion.

While the law requires schools to teach Islamic studies and the Quran to Muslim students, sources continued to report many non-Muslim students had to participate in these courses because their schools did not offer parallel courses in their own religious beliefs or ethics.  The government did not permit Ahmadi Muslims to teach Islamic studies in public schools.

Civil society groups continued to report that some madrassahs, particularly those that were unregistered, taught doctrine they considered to promote violent extremism and intolerance toward religious minorities.  These groups also noted the government sought to curb this practice through madrassah registration and curriculum reform.

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

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

As of year’s end, the National Commission for Minorities continued to function without legislative authority and without power to resolve problems.  In September, the commission requested the President approve a draft bill to empower it under a legal framework, and recommended the chairperson be a member of a religious minority group; the government took no action on the request by year’s end.  Religious freedom activists and civil society groups raised concerns regarding the limited powers of the commission and the decision to exclude Ahmadi Muslims from being represented on the commission when it was first formed.  Ahmadi Muslim leaders said they had never been approached about participating in the commission and would not join a body that required them to identify as non-Muslims.

Minority religious leaders said members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in admission to colleges and universities.  For example, Christians reported incidents of what they perceived as discrimination in which otherwise qualified Christian students were passed over for scholarships solely because they were Christian.  In another instance, a university admitted an Ahmadi Muslim student in Multan as part of a quota set aside for religious minorities.  The university later cancelled the student’s admission without disclosing the reason.  The Lahore High Court ordered the university to reverse its decision and uphold its original offer of admission to the Ahmadi student.  Ahmadi representatives said the wording of the government-required declaration students had to sign on their applications for admission to universities continued to prevent Ahmadis from declaring themselves as Muslims.  Students’ refusal to sign the statement automatically disqualified them from fulfilling admissions requirements.  The government said Ahmadis could qualify for admission if they did not claim to be Muslims.

In July, some students and religious groups protested the inclusion of a question related to the founder of the Ahmadiyya community in the test for doctorate admissions at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro.  The protestors threatened to file a blasphemy case against administrators of the university.  After negotiations, the university agreed to remove Ahmadi-related content from the admissions test.

Members of religious minorities, particularly lower-caste Hindus and Christians, reported cases of forceful evictions from their homes and villages by government officials assisting individuals desiring their land.  On September 20, Christians living in the Landi Kotal area of the Khyber tribal district held a press conference to protest government orders to demolish their houses located adjacent to the town.  They said local authorities ordered them to vacate their homes to expand a nearby jail.  The affected families reported their ancestors had lived in the area since 1914 and they had no other place to live.  On August 24, as part of an infrastructure project to improve the city’s stormwater drains, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) demolished a small church along a major stream and forcibly evicted some church members who lived nearby.  KMC and the Sindh government took the action in spite of activists protesting on-site a day earlier and organizing a nationwide online campaign against the demolition using the #SaveStJosephChurch hashtag.

Residents of some lower-class Muslim communities also complained of discrimination by upper-class Muslims.  On September 9, gravediggers unearthed the remains of 13 members of the Mallah community originally buried in Sann, Sindh and dumped them outside the graveyard.  They said that Syed Zafar Hyder Shah, an influential person from an upper caste family ordered them to remove the graves.  The incident sparked criticism from civil society representatives who termed the act “a notorious caste-based prejudice” that did not allow lower-caste individuals to be buried in the graveyard of Muslims.  Police filed an investigation into the case against Syed Zafar and those who assisted him but made no arrests by year’s end.

Most minority religious groups said they continued to face discrimination in government hiring.  The Punjab government, under pressure from a group of Sunni clerics, transferred two Ahmadi local government officials out of Chakwal District on September 3.  Dr. Waseem, a health department official, and Ayesha Kanwal, a shelter home official, were given three days to transfer and find work in other districts.  According to religious minority activists, provincial governments also often failed to meet quotas for hiring religious minorities into the civil service.  On September 28, the Supreme Court expressed concern regarding the government’s failure to implement a 5 percent job quota for religious minorities at both the provincial and federal levels.  In September, media reported that more than 30,000 government jobs reserved for minorities were vacant across the country.

Minority rights activists said most government employment advertisements for janitorial staff continued to list being non-Muslim as a requirement.  Minority rights activists criticized these advertisements as discriminatory and insulting.  For example, the Lahore Waste Management Company continued to employ mainly street sweepers who were Christians, which HRCP criticized as the result of employment advertisements continuing to specify that religious minorities should apply.  HRCP stated such advertisements infringed on human dignity and violated the constitutional guarantee of equality of all citizens.

In July, the Punjab Public Service Commission published an advertisement for 12 vacant positions in different departments.  The advertisement stated, “According to clause (5) of the Punjab Waqf Properties Ordinance 1979, no person may be appointed an officer unless he is a Muslim.”  Religious minority groups said the advertisement was discriminatory because it singled out Muslims as the only persons eligible to be appointed to positions of leadership at the commission.

Representatives of religious minorities said a “glass ceiling” continued to prevent their promotion to senior government positions, but one NGO also stated that due to insufficient higher education opportunities compared to the majority religious community, few religious minorities met the qualifications to apply for these positions.  There were no official obstacles to the advancement of minority religious group members in the military, and an NGO said a few Christian officers had become generals.  Ahmadiyya officers, however, rarely rose above the rank of colonel and were not assigned to senior positions.

On September 7, all daily Urdu-language newspapers again published reports and articles to mark the 1974 amendment to the constitution that declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim, and to pay homage to the politicians and clerics who helped enact the amendment.

Government officials and politicians attended and spoke at multiple Khatm-e-Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) conferences held in major cities and at religious sites around the country.  The groups that organized the conferences stated they were defending the teaching that Prophet Mohammed is the final prophet.  Both secular and Ahmadi critics said the conferences were venues for hate speech against Ahmadi Muslims.

On September 7, the Jamiat-Ulema-I-Islami-Fazl (JUI-F) party held a large Khatm-e-Nabuwat conference in Peshawar, with party leaders and national and provincial parliamentarians in attendance.  On October 14, Sufi Barelvi Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman hosted a larger conference in Peshawar that included political party leaders, national parliamentarians, and provincial lawmakers from multiple political parties.  At the conference, JUI-F national leader Fazl ur Rehman and other JUI-F members attacked Pakistan’s national leaders for what they said was un-Islamic legislation on issues such as protecting Ahmadis and preventing forced conversion, and they vowed to resist international pressure to abolish blasphemy laws.

Human rights advocates and Ahmadiyya Muslim community members reported authorities took no action to prevent attacks on Ahmadi mosques or punish assailants who demolished, damaged, forcibly occupied, or set fire to Ahmadi mosques.  In several instances, they said police participated in the attacks.  Local authorities did not allow the repair or unsealing of Ahmadi mosques damaged or demolished by rioters in previous years.

On January 15, police in Nankana, Punjab Province constructed a boundary wall abutting the minarets of an Ahmadi mosque, damaging them in the process.  Police then blocked access to part of the mosque, informing Ahmadi officials they were acting at the request of several local officials.  On January 26, in Toba Tek Sing, Punjab, two police officers, including the local commanding officer and several local citizens, broke multiple gravestones in an Ahmadiyya cemetery.  The group then moved to the mosque, where they ordered the Ahmadis present to remove the name of Allah from public display.  When the Ahmadis refused, one of the local citizens forcibly removed the plaques featuring Allah’s name.  On April 11, in Muzaffargarh District, Punjab, police officers and local citizens toppled the minarets of an Ahmadiyya mosque and removed Islamic scriptures from Ahmadi tombstones.  The same police officers arrested five Ahmadis at the mosque on blasphemy charges.  They were later released, but their cases remained pending at year’s end.  Also in April, the Ahmadiyya community noted that unknown assailants removed sacred religious words posted on the outside of nine Ahmadi homes in a district in Punjab.  On July 31, the Ahmadiyya community reported local police desecrated and demolished the minarets of an Ahmadi place of worship in a rural settlement near Faisalabad, Punjab.  It was the third such incident in the district; Ahmadi places of worship were also vandalized on June 17 and 24.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim community also reported the desecration of 15 Ahmadiyya places of worship and 100 graves during the year in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

In April, the Ahmadiyya community and witnesses at the scene reported a group of individuals aided by police destroyed the minarets and dome of an Ahmadi mosque located in Muzaffargarh District, Punjab because by law, members of the Ahmadiyya community may not call their houses of worship mosques or have identifying features of mosques on their houses of worship.  Police did not arrest members of the crowd for damaging the building, but instead arrested two Ahmadi men who were worshipers at the mosque.  The police did not register cases against the two men and released them shortly after.  There was no further information available on this case at year’s end.

Community leaders continued to state the government did not take adequate action to protect its poorest citizens, including religious minorities, such as Christian and Hindu Dalits, from bonded labor practices.  Hindu Dalits remained vulnerable to human rights violations and pressure by perpetrators to withdraw police cases.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Throughout the year, unidentified individuals assaulted and killed Christians, Ahmadis, Sikhs, Sunnis, Shia, and Hindus in attacks sources believed to be religiously motivated.  The attackers’ relationship to organized terrorist groups was often unknown.

In an incident that drew significant international outcry, a mob of several hundred Muslim workers from a sportswear factory in Sialkot, Punjab attacked Priantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan and Christian manager of the factory on December 3.  Media reported that the mob beat, stoned, and kicked him to death, then dragged his corpse to the street and set it on fire.  In widely seen videos on social media, Kumara was seen pleading for his life before he was killed.  Witnesses reported that while the mob’s actions were fueled by accusations of blasphemy, the incident began because of personal animosity between some factory employees and Kumara.  The aggrieved factory workers allegedly incited the mob by accusing him of desecrating posters that contained written Islamic prayers.  Police were called during the incident, but the small number who responded were far outnumbered by the crowd and media reported that police did not intervene.  Punjab Inspector General of Police Rao Sardar Ali Khan told reporters a case would be submitted to an anti-terrorism court as soon as possible to bring the killers to justice.  Prime Minister Khan said the attack was “horrific” and ordered a high-level inquiry.  Media reported that police arrested more than 100 individuals after the attack.  There were no further developments on this case before year’s end.

On February 11, a teenager shot and killed an Ahmadi homeopathic doctor, Abdul Qadir, in his clinic in Peshawar.  Ahmadiyya community members stated Qadir was killed because of his faith.  According to media reports, local residents overpowered the assailant at the scene and handed him over to the police, who opened an investigation.  At year’s end, he remained in detention and his trial was underway in a court in Peshawar.

On September 2, four unidentified assailants shot and killed a British-Pakistani man retired from the Pakistani army, Maqsood Ahmad, who was an Ahmadiyya community member in Nankana Sahib, Punjab.  Family members said he was shot as he was irrigating his farmland in Dharowal.  The police launched a murder investigation, but as of year’s end, the victim’s killers had not been found.

On September 30, unknown attackers gunned down a Sikh man, Satnam Singh, in Peshawar.  The police said the attackers escaped from the scene but lodged a case against the “unknown assailants.”  ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack.

On March 25, six Sunni Muslims died and seven were injured when assailants opened fire on a passenger vehicle traveling from Gilgit to Naltar.  The vehicle was traveling through a Shia-majority area.  Police said the attack on the passenger van was retaliation for an earlier incident when Shia youth passing through Naltar Bala were ambushed and killed 18 months prior.

On August 19, three persons died, and 59 others were injured in a grenade attack on a Shia procession in Bahawalnagar, Punjab.  It was the third sectarian strike in the area to occur in two months, including an attack on August 6 against a Shia worship site.

On March 24, media reported an unknown man attacked and killed Taqi Shah, a religious scholar from the Shia community in Jhang, Punjab over blasphemy allegations.  The scholar had faced similar blasphemy charges in 2019.  In March, police arrested a suspect, who subsequently confessed to killing Shah.  There was no further information available on this case at year’s end.

On January 3, ISIS-K militants claimed responsibility for killing 11 coal miners belonging to the Hazara Shia community in Mach, Balochistan.  Members of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta staged a protest against the government’s failure to protect the community in Balochistan.  Human rights organizations criticized the Prime Minister for saying the Hazara protestors were “blackmailing” him by demanding he visit them in Balochistan to ensure justice for the victims.  On January 6, Prime Minister Khan released a statement on social media against sectarian violence, stating the government was “taking steps to prevent such attacks in the future,” and traveled to Machh on January 9 to meet with families who lost loved ones in the attack.

The Hindu community in Sindh and Balochistan remained vulnerable to targeted killings and kidnappings for ransom.  On May 31, unidentified assailants killed Ashok Kumar, a Hindu trader in Khuzdar, Balochistan after he reportedly refused to pay extortion money to criminals.  This was the second Hindu trader since July 2020 to have been killed in Wadh for the same reason.  Following the killing of Ashok Kumar, Baloch social media users urged the government to take steps to ensure security of religious minorities in Balochistan.  In June, unidentified individuals distributed intimidating pamphlets outside of shops owned by Hindu traders in Khuzdar telling them not to allow female customers into their shops, or face consequences.

On February 25, unknown assailants killed Mahesh Kumar, a Hindu youth, and set his corpse on fire in Jacobabad, Sindh.  The Hindu community protested and demanded police arrest the suspects.  They reported police were slow to respond to the killing, while media failed to give appropriate coverage to the incident.

Civil society organizations and media said that armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government, including the TTP, and the once-banned anti-Shia group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, continued to perpetrate violence and other abuses against religious minorities.  Groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS, also committed violent acts.  Among the targets of these attacks were Shia Muslims, particularly the predominantly Shia Hazara community.

According to the SATP, there were five sectarian attacks by armed groups during 2021, compared with 10 sectarian attacks reported in 2020.  Data on sectarian attacks varied because no standardized definition existed of what constituted a sectarian attack among reporting organizations.  According to journalists, when reporting on attacks with a suspected sectarian motive, media often refrained from reporting the victim’s sectarian identity in an effort to avoid stoking tension among sectarian groups.

Sunni Muslim citizens levied multiple charges of blasphemy against members of the Shia community throughout the year.  On August 19, police fired teargas shells and live rounds into the air in Hyderabad, Sindh to disperse a mob protesting because they believed a Shia man had committed blasphemy.  The community pressured police to file a blasphemy case against the man.  In another instance, on May 6, a group of Sunni religious leaders filed a blasphemy case against Shia scholar Allama Amjad Jauhari in Karachi for remarks they said insulted the companions of the Prophet Mohammed.  The complainants said that Jauhari used derogatory language during one of his sermons at a Shia gathering; they requested the police take action against him.  The next day police opened an investigation into Jauhari for alleged blasphemy.  The investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

In its 2022 World Watch List report, which covered events in 2021, the international NGO Open Doors said that “Christians are considered second-class citizens and are discriminated against in every aspect of life” in the country.  The report highlighted allegations that COVID-19 assistance was leveraged to try and get Christians to convert to Islam, that blasphemy laws continued to be used to target Christians with false allegations, and that Christian women and girls were targeted for kidnapping, forced marriage, and conversion to Islam.

Civil society activists and media reported young Christian and Hindu women being abducted and raped by Muslim men.  Victims said their attackers singled them out as vulnerable due to their religious minority identity.  According to the NGOs Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS) and the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice, there were also reports of religious minority women being physically attacked by men.

Christian activists stated young women from their communities were also vulnerable to forced conversions.  According to online Christian media sources, in June, a 30-year-old man was accused of kidnapping, forcibly converting to Islam, and forcibly marrying a Christian girl in Gujranwala District, Punjab.  The media reports stated that while the girl’s parents told police and the courts that she was 13 years old, the girl herself told the court that she was 19.  According to the police, two of the suspects were taken into custody, but the girl later appeared before a local court where she said that she left her house, converted to Islam, and married her husband willingly.  Consequently, the court allowed the girl to go with her husband and ordered the police to drop the case.  The girl’s father protested, stating his daughter was a minor, and that the court should not have accepted her statement declaring she willingly converted and married.  On July 1, the Lahore High Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, allowing the girl to remain with her husband.

In September, media reported that a Muslim man kidnapped, raped, and attempted to kill an eight-year-old Christian girl by hitting her with a stone, and leaving her unconscious on the ground.  Police later arrested the accused under anti-rape and domestic violence laws.  There was no additional information available on this case at year’s end.

Members of civil society reported that converts from Islam lived in varying degrees of secrecy for fear of violent retribution from family members or society at large.

Representatives of the Kalash, an indigenous group in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, continued to report their youth were under pressure from Muslim schoolteachers and others to convert from their traditional beliefs.

Throughout the year, Islamic organizations with various political affiliations held conferences and rallies to support the doctrine of Khatm-e-Nabuwat.  English and local-language media often covered the events that featured anti-Ahmadiyya rhetoric which Ahmadiyya community representatives said could incite violence against Ahmadis.  In addition to the large JUI-F conference and rallies, the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami held a large event in September in Peshawar; both parties criticized the national government for failing to enforce Islamic law.  The TLP, banned under the National Counterterrorism Authority’s Schedule-I list until it was removed in November, also held smaller rallies.

On September 8, Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm Nabuwwat, a Muslim missionary organization, organized a conference at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore where speakers urged the government to “check un-Islamic and unconstitutional” activities of Ahmadis, ban them from proselytizing, and remove them from key official posts.

On October 8, JUI-F held Khatm-e-Nabuwat conferences in Multan where speakers, including JUI-F party chief Moulana Fazl ur Rehman, vowed to stop Ahmadis’ entry into high government posts.

Members of religious minority communities continued to report cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, and illegal confinement due to their faith.  In September, media reported a group of Muslim landlords physically abused and held hostage a family from a Hindu community in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab for obtaining water from a mosque tap and therefore “violating the sanctity” of the place of worship.  According to media reports, Alam Ram Bheel, a farm worker, and his family were fetching drinking water after work when a group of local landlords and accomplices beat them and held them until Muslim neighbors negotiated their release.

On July 26, a video went viral showing a Muslim man forcing a Hindu laborer to mock Hindu deities in Mithi, Sindh.  In the video, the individual was seen swearing at the Hindu man and forcing him to say “Allahu Akbar.”  Police arrested the Muslim man and registered a blasphemy case against him on behalf of the state.  The Hindu man and his family pardoned the Muslim man, and the case was dropped.  The Muslim man publicly apologized for his act.  Religious minority activists criticized this case, stating that persons charged with blasphemy were rarely pardoned.

In September, several religious groups from the Deobandi and Barelvi schools of Sunni Islam organized a series of rallies in Karachi to denounce Shia “defamation” of revered Sunni religious figures.

Ahmadis continued to report widespread societal harassment and discrimination against community members, including physical attacks, destruction of homes and personal property, and threats intended to force Ahmadis to abandon their jobs or towns.

There were also media reports of attacks on religious minorities’ holy places, cemeteries, and religious symbols.  On August 17, police in Lahore arrested a member of the TLP for vandalizing a statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh warrior who ruled over Punjab in the 19th century; the statute had been vandalized numerous times since its unveiling in 2019.  In a video of the incident posted on social media, the TLP member shouted party slogans while pulling the statue apart, and onlookers immediately detained him.  Both the Lahore police and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar called for the individual to be prosecuted.  Following the TLP member’s arrest, a magisterial court in Lahore granted him bail, and his case was pending at year’s end.

During a January 5 Supreme Court hearing, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officials reported the suspension of more than 90 police officers from duty and more than 109 arrests related to a December 2020 incident in which a group of villagers destroyed a historic Hindu temple.  The court directed a local cleric responsible for inciting the protestors and those who assisted him to contribute money to assist in the temple’s restoration.  The temple was rebuilt and on November 8, Supreme Court Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed inaugurated it during the Hindu community’s Diwali celebration.

On July 24, a Muslim cleric in the village of Bhong, Punjab, filed blasphemy charges against an eight-year-old Hindu boy, claiming the boy had involuntarily urinated in a local mosque.  In response, on August 4, hundreds of protestors vandalized a local Hindu temple, partially burning the building, destroying Hindu idols, and blocking a nearby highway for three hours.  On August 7, Chief Justice Ahmed directed the Punjab police to arrest all involved in vandalizing and looting the temple.  Police arrested 95 individuals, later freeing 10 while holding 85 in custody to face trial in anti-terrorism courts.  The 85 were in custody at year’s end.

In May, a group of 200 Muslims attacked a Catholic church and 15 houses belonging to Christians in the village of Chak 5 in Punjab Province after a Muslim man accused boys cleaning the church of throwing dust on him.  At least eight Christian community members suffered serious injury.

Christian religious freedom activists continued to report widespread discrimination against Christians in private employment.  They said Christians continued to have difficulty finding jobs other than those involving menial labor, with some advertisements for menial jobs specifying they were open only to Christian applicants.

Observers reported that English-language media continued to cover issues facing religious minorities in an objective manner, but vernacular print and broadcast media outlets continued to publish and broadcast anti-Ahmadi rhetoric.  Ahmadiyya Muslim community representatives stated that the Urdu-language press frequently printed hate speech in news stories and editorials, some of which could be considered as inciting anti-Ahmadi violence.  Inflammatory anti-Ahmadi rhetoric continued to exist on social media and was at times spread by senior members of mainstream political parties.  Community members stated clerics routinely delivered anti-Ahmadi sermons in mosques.

On September 7, all daily Urdu newspapers again published reports and articles to mark the 1974 amendment to the constitution which declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims.  Leading Urdu newspapers also published editorials and articles paying homage to the politicians and clerics who helped enact the amendment.

Human rights and religious freedom activists and members of minority religious groups continued to report that they exercised caution and, occasionally, self-censorship when speaking in favor of religious tolerance because of a societal climate of intolerance and fear.  Some activists reported receiving death threats because of their work.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires, consuls general, other embassy officers, and visiting congressional delegations and senior U.S. officials, including the Deputy Secretary of State, engaged government officials and senior advisors to the Prime Minister, including officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, and Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to discuss blasphemy law reform, laws concerning Ahmadi Muslims, the need to better protect members of religious minority communities, sectarian relations, and religious respect.

Embassy officers met with civil society leaders, experts, and journalists to collect information on religious freedom abuses not covered in the media, stress the need to protect the rights of religious minorities, and continue to support measures that decrease sectarian violence.  They also met with representatives of other embassies, leaders of religious communities, NGOs, and legal experts working on religious freedom issues to discuss ways to increase respect among religious groups and enhance dialogue.  The embassy and consulates highlighted the principles of religious freedom and examples of interfaith dialogue in the United States on their social media platforms throughout the year.  On July 5, the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, in collaboration with local interfaith leaders, convened U.S. and Pakistani faith leaders from the Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Baha’i, Christian, and transgender communities in Karachi.  In his opening remarks, the Consul General in Karachi expressed the U.S. commitment to support religious minority rights as a bulwark against intolerance and emphasized that religious freedom is integral to a vibrant democratic society.

The embassy and consulate general sponsored outreach activities such as speakers and workshops to promote peacebuilding among religious and community leaders.  The embassy and consulates general in Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar held several events to promote religious freedom.  On October 28, the consulate general in Lahore arranged a webinar featuring a prominent scholar from the International Islamic University in Islamabad to promote tolerance and religious harmony.  The consulate general also collaborated with Michigan State University to fund an exchange program for female Ulema religious scholars to deepen understanding and appreciation of diverse interfaith traditions.

An embassy-supported activity aimed at community resilience continued to implement small grants programs to engage diverse stakeholders including community and religious leaders, government officials, university administrators, youth, and women to identify and remove hateful materials and promote peace, tolerance, and acceptance among diverse communities in Karachi, northern Sindh, and southern Punjab.  The embassy supported multiple activities engaging provincial ministers from Punjab and legislators from Punjab and Sindh Provinces to promote tolerance and diversity and mitigate religious intolerance.  An embassy-supported project focused on increasing the individual capacity of religious leaders, elders, and youth from different religious backgrounds to promote interfaith peace and cohesion in their communities.  These efforts aimed to address religious divisions by enhancing mutual understanding, integration, and collaboration among communities representing different religious schools and religious groups.

On November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom and issued a waiver of the sanctions that accompany the designation in the national interests of the United States.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

According to the 1992 Basic Law of Governance, the country’s official religion is Islam and the constitution is the Quran and Sunna (traditions and practices based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad).  The legal system is based largely on sharia as interpreted by the Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.  Freedom of religion is not provided for under the law.  The law criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  The law bans “the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form,” “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam,” publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts, including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim.  In practice, there is limited tolerance of private, non-Islamic religious gatherings and public displays of non-Islamic religious symbols, but religious practitioners at variance with the government-promoted form of Sunni Islam remained vulnerable to detention, harassment, and, for noncitizens, deportation.  According to Shia community members, processions and gatherings continued due to decreased sectarian tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities, and Ashura commemorations were marked by improved relations between the Shia and other communities and public calls for mutual tolerance.  Shia activists stated, however, that authorities continued to target members of the Shia community while carrying out security operations and legal proceedings against them specifically because of their religious beliefs.  On June 15, authorities carried out a death sentence against Shia citizen Mustafa al-Darwish, initially arrested for involvement as a minor in antigovernment protests in 2012.  Government authorities stated al-Darwish received the sentence not for crimes he committed as a minor but rather for crimes that he committed subsequently as an adult.  As many as 41 individuals faced the possibility of execution, according to an October report by the Berlin-based European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR), which stated that an undetermined number were Shia.  On October 12, London-based human rights organization ALQST and Prisoners of Conscience, which monitors and documents arrests in human rights cases in the country, reported that religious leader Musa al-Qarni, a former professor of Islamic jurisprudence, died in prison after his health deteriorated while serving a 20-year prison sentence of which he completed 15 years.  On March 29, al-Watan newspaper reported that the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MOIA) fired 54 imams and preachers in Mecca Province because of ideological and administrative violations.  In a September review of Saudi textbooks used in the second semester of the 2020-21 and the first semester of the 2021-22 school years, the Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) reported that the trend of “significant improvement” in content dealing with religions other than Islam had continued from its last review of the Saudi curricula in late 2020.  The 2021 Riyadh International Book Fair, organized by the Ministry of Culture under the sponsorship of the King, allowed booksellers to exhibit and sell antisemitic publications.  The fair permitted the sale of books about atheism as well.

Some social media platforms carried disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  Terms such as “rejectionists,” which Shia considered insulting, were found in some social media discourse.  An Orthodox Jewish rabbi made several unofficial visits to the country to conduct outreach and offer religious services to Jewish residents.  His social media posts depicted him in traditional Orthodox clothing and showed positive experiences with Saudis.

In discussions with the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and other ministries and agencies, senior U.S. officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, continued to raise and discuss reports of abuses of religious freedom, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforcement of laws against religious minorities, promotion of respect and tolerance for minority Muslim and non-Muslim religious practices and beliefs, the country’s counterterrorism law, and due process standards.  Embassy officials engaged regularly with like-minded partners and with religious leaders and participated in interfaith discussions.

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.  On November 15, 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 total population at 34.8 million (midyear 2021).  In 2019, the UN estimated that approximately 38.3 percent of the country’s residents are foreigners.  Between 85 and 90 percent of the approximately 21 million Saudi citizens are Sunni Muslims.

Shia Muslims constitute 10 to 12 percent of the citizen population and an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the Eastern Province’s population.

According to Boston University’s 2020 World Religions Database, the population includes approximately 31.5 million Muslims, 2.1 million Christians, 708,000 Hindus, 242,000 atheists or agnostics, 114,000 Buddhists, and 67,00 Sikhs.

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, the religion of which is Islam.  The Basic Law defines the country’s constitution as the Quran and the Sunna and states the “decisions of judges shall not be subject to any authority other than the authority of the Islamic sharia.”  The Basic Law contains no legal recognition or protection of freedom of religion.  Conversion from Islam to another religion is grounds for the charge of apostasy, which is legally punishable by death, although courts have not carried out a death sentence for apostasy in recent years.

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.  The law deems children born to Muslim fathers as Muslim.

The judicial system is largely based on laws derived from the Quran and Sunna.  All judges are religiously trained, although they often also have specialized knowledge of nonreligious legal subjects.  In several areas, including commercial and financial matters and criminal law related to electronic and cybercrimes or terrorism, jurisprudence increasingly is based on international models rather than religious texts.  Law on religious matters, which often affects civil law, particularly on personal status issues, is developed by fatwas (official interpretations of religious law) issued by the 21-person Council of Senior Scholars (CSS) that reports to the King.  By law, these fatwas must be based on the Quran and Sunna.  The Basic Law also states that governance is based on justice, shura (consultation), and equality, according to sharia.

The law specifies a hierarchical organization and composition of the CSS, the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings, and the Office of the Mufti, together with their functions.  The Basic Law recognizes the CSS, supported by the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Rulings, as the supreme authority on religious matters.  The CSS is headed by the Grand Mufti and is composed of Sunni religious scholars and jurists, 18 of whom are from the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, with one representative of each of the other Sunni schools (Malaki, Hanafi, and Shafi’i).  There are no Shia members.  Scholars are chosen at the King’s discretion and serve renewable four-year terms, with many serving for life.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes, among other things, “calling for atheist thought in any form or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.”  It criminalizes “anyone who challenges, either directly or indirectly, the religion or justice of the King or Crown Prince.”  The law also bans publications that “contradict the provisions of Islamic law,” and other acts including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim.

According to the Basic Law of Governance, “The Judiciary is an independent authority.  The decisions of judges shall not be subject to any authority other than the authority of the Islamic sharia.  The courts shall apply rules of the Islamic sharia in cases that are brought before them, according to the Holy Quran and the Sunna, and according to laws which are decreed by the ruler in agreement with the Holy Quran and the Sunna.”  In the absence of a comprehensively codified criminal code, rulings and sentences can diverge widely.  Criminal appeals may be made to the appellate and supreme courts, where in some instances, appellate decisions have resulted in a harsher sentence than the original court decision.  Government universities provide training in all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, with a focus on the Hanbali school.

In legal cases involving accidental death or injury, compensation sometimes 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, a court may rule the plaintiff is entitled to receive 50 percent of the compensation that a Muslim male would receive.  In some circumstances, other non-Muslims may only receive one-sixteenth the amount that a Muslim male would receive.

The Basic Law requires the state to protect human rights in accordance with sharia.  The 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 26 members from various parts of the country, including four Shia members.

The law permits death as punishment for blasphemy against Islam.  Courts have not sentenced individuals to death for blasphemy since 1992.  Punishments for blasphemy may include lengthy prison sentences.  Criticism of Islam, including expression deemed offensive to Muslims, is forbidden on the grounds of preserving social stability.

In 2020, as the result of a Supreme Court decision, the government ended flogging as a ta’zir (discretionary) criminal sentence and replaced it with prison sentences or fines.  As a result, flogging may no longer be used against those convicted of blasphemy, public immodesty, sitting alone with a person of the opposite sex, and a range of other crimes.  However, judicial officials have stated that flogging still may be included in sentences for three hudood offenses (crimes that carry specific penalties under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law):  drunkenness, sexual conduct between unmarried persons, and false accusations of adultery.

In 2020, a royal decree abolished ta’zir death penalty sentences for those who committed crimes as minors.  The juvenile law sets the legal age of adulthood at 18, based on the Hijri (Islamic lunar) calendar.  Minor offenders, however, who are convicted of qisas, a category of crimes that includes various types of murder, or hudood offenses could still face the death penalty.  The royal decree also capped prison sentences for minors at 10 years.

The country is the location of Mecca and Medina, Islam’s two holiest sites.  The government prohibits non-Muslims from entering central Mecca or religious sites in Medina.  Muslims visit these cities on the annual Hajj pilgrimage and during Umrah pilgrimage throughout the rest of the year.  The government has stated that caring for the holy cities of Mecca and Medina is a sacred trust exercised on behalf of all Muslims.  The King employs the official title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” in reference to the two cities.  Citing reasons of public safety and logistics, the government establishes national quotas for foreigners and issues permits to Muslim residents (including its own nationals) to participate in the Hajj.  Saudi authorities continued to limit access to Mecca and Medina, including for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The MOIA vets, employs, and supervises Sunni Muslim clerics.  Those who preach at government-owned mosques are government employees who receive a monthly stipend.  The MOIA permits only government-employed clerics to deliver sermons and vets the sermons in advance.

The MOIA must approve clerics traveling abroad to proselytize and they operate under MOIA supervision.  The stated purpose of this regulation is to limit the ability of religious scholars to travel or to preach overseas and to prevent the actual or apparent interference by 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 must also follow 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 may receive a course on Islamic civilization or alternative coursework in place of the curriculum designed for Saudi students; courses entail one hour of instruction per week.  The government permits private international schools to teach courses on other religions or civilizations.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is a government agency charged with monitoring social behavior and reporting violations of moral standards to law enforcement authorities.  The CPVPV provides counseling and reports individuals suspected of violating the law to police.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) oversees CPVPV operations on the King’s behalf.  According to law, the CPVPV must “uphold its duties with kindness and gentleness as decreed by the examples of the Prophet Muhammad.”  CPVPV field officers do not wear uniforms, but they are required to wear identification badges.

A royal decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the Grand Mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

Social media users who post or share content considered to attack religion face imprisonment for up to five years under the Cyber Crimes Law.  Those found guilty of distributing content online deemed to disrupt public order, public morals, or religious values may also be subject to a fine up to three million riyals ($800,000).

The government requires 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, indicate other religious designations, such as “Christian.”

The law does not allow for political parties or similar associations.  The law does not protect the right of individuals to organize politically and specifically bans organizations with political wings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, as regional and local terrorist groups.

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

Government Practices

Because religion and politics are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.  NGOs and Shia activists said authorities committed a range of abuses against members of Shia communities.  While NGOs and Shia activists stated that the prosecution of Shia was often based on religious affiliation, observers said that members of other religious groups faced arrest and trial for similar offenses.

On February 7, according to NGOs, the government commuted the death sentences of Dawood al-Marhoon, Abdullah al-Zaher and Ali al-Nimr (nephew of Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia cleric executed by the government in 2016) to 10 years in prison.  On October 27 and November 16, authorities released Shia youths Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher following completion of their 10-year prison sentences.  Al-Nimr and al-Zaher, along with Dawood al-Marhoon, who remained imprisoned, were among a group of 13 Shia youth previously arrested as minors who faced possible execution, according to ESOHR.  The government reviewed their sentences as part of the implementation of a royal decree announced in 2020 abolishing ta’zir death sentences for crimes committed as minors.  In a March 3 statement, UN human rights experts welcomed the government’s decision to commute the death sentences given to the three men “for crimes allegedly committed when they were less than 18 years old.”  The statement also said the government should “quash” the convictions and release the three men.

The news website Middle East Eye reported that authorities arrested Ali al-Nimr’s father Mohammed Bakr al-Nimr on February 24 in his home in the Eastern Province town of Awamiyah.  The government released Mohammed al-Nimr on February 26.  The reason for his detention was not known.

On February 8, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), prosecutors amended charges against eight Shia detainees, seeking prison sentences rather than the death penalty for five of the eight – Ahmed Abdul Wahid al-Faraj, Ali Mohammed al-Bati, Mohammed Hussein al-Nimr, Ali Hassan al-Faraj, and Mohammed Issam al-Faraj – who were minors at the time of the alleged commission of the offenses.  The remaining defendants were Haidar al-Saffar, Hussein Saeed al-Subaiti, and Mujtaba Abu Kabus.  According to ESOHR, in October, the government dropped the request for the death penalty against the five younger prisoners, but all eight still face trial.  The men faced charges that included “seeking to destabilize the social fabric by participating in protests and funeral processions,” and “chanting slogans hostile to the regime.”  According to ESOHR, in late October, the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), which focuses on terrorism and national security cases, held a new hearing in the case of eight detainees, including the five minors.  The NGO stated the hearing was the first after a break of more than seven months.

On February 10, the SCC sentenced Shia activist Israa al-Ghomgham, detained in 2015 for participating in antigovernment protests, to eight years in prison and an eight-year travel ban, according to ALQST and Amnesty International.  The SCC also sentenced al-Ghomgham’s husband, Mousa al-Hashim, to 17 years.  The court sentenced four other Shia arrested along with them to prison, with sentences ranging from eight to 15 years:  Ahmed al-Matrood received a sentence of 15 years, Khaled al-Ghanim 13 years, Ali al-Ouwaisher 10 years, and Mujtaba al-Muzain eight years.

On August 24, SANAD Rights Organization, a London-based human rights NGO, reported that Shia prisoner Mustafa al-Khayat, convicted on charges involving demonstrations, disrupting security, and carrying weapons, awaited a death sentence upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

In February and March, authorities released three activists who had written about discrimination faced by Shia in the country, pending trial.  According to an April tweet by Prisoners of Conscience, the government also released one of the men’s wives, who – like her husband – had been held for two years.  In October, authorities found one of the men guilty under the Cyber Crimes Law and sentenced him to two years in jail, followed by a two-year travel ban.  The judge ruled that the defendant would be credited with two years of time served but that the travel ban would remain in effect.

As many as 41 Shia individuals faced the possibility of execution, according to an October report by ESOHR.  The report added that trials of 32 individuals, most of them Shia, on charges carrying potential death sentences were ongoing, with 10 of them facing preliminary death sentences.  As is the case for detainees of any religious group, international human rights NGOs said that many of the convictions were “based on confessions extracted through prolonged solitary confinement and torture” during pretrial detention and interrogation.  Local Shia activists and international human rights groups questioned the competence, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary and noted that the underlying charges were inconsistent with international principles of freedom of assembly, expression, and association.

On June 15, authorities carried out a ta’zir death sentence against Shia citizen Mustafa al-Darwish, initially arrested for involvement as a minor in antigovernment protests in 2012 and charged with membership in a terror cell and participation in an armed revolt.  Authorities stated that al-Darwish received the death penalty for crimes that he committed subsequently as an adult.  Reprieve, a London-based NGO opposed to the death penalty, said that Darwish’s execution “once again show[ed] that the Kingdom’s claim to have eliminated capital punishment for childhood crimes is not true.”  The NGO said that the government told the UN Human Rights Council in February that “anyone who commits a death-eligible crime as a child” will be subject to “a maximum sentence of 10 years in a juvenile institution.”  Reprieve also said that Darwish’s execution was contrary to a 2020 Royal Decree that abolished ta’zir death penalty sentences for those who committed crimes as minors and capped prison sentences for minors at 10 years.  On May 28, prior to al-Darwish’s execution, UN experts called on the government to halt the process leading to his eventual death, stating that authorities sentenced him for crimes when he was younger than the age of 18 and that the government did not provide due process and a fair trial.  Following al-Darwish’s execution, on July 7, the UN experts stated that they were “shocked” after the government did not address their May 28 concerns and that the government’s failure to provide details to his family about his execution inflicted “additional, unjustifiable, and useless pain” on his loved ones.

On August 3, authorities executed Shia Ahmed al-Janabi under a ta’zir sentence for armed rebellion and protesting against the state in Shia-majority Qatif.  On September 6, authorities carried out a ta’zir death sentence against Shia citizen Adnan al-Sharfa for joining a terrorist cell that aimed to “destabilize security in the country” and smuggling.

On July 1, ESOHR said at least four individuals accused of crimes committed as minors remained on death row, including Shia Jalal Hassan al-Labbad.  ESOHR reported on December 3 that Labbad was still at risk of execution.  Authorities sought the hudood penalty against Labbad in 2019 for hirabeh (unlawful warfare or insurgency) on a variety of charges, including participating in protests, some of which dated to when he was a minor.

In May, the NGOs Shia Rights Watch (SRW), Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), ALQST, and SANAD each reported that Shia Zaheer Ali Sharida al-Mohammed Ali died on May 8 in al-Hai’r Prison.  They blamed prison authorities’ medical negligence for Ali’s death and said he contracted COVID-19 in April.

In August, the SCC upheld a ta’zir death sentence issued on February 21 against Shia citizen Mohammed al-Shakhouri, according to ESOHR and UN experts.  Authorities arrested al-Shakhouri in 2017 and tried him in 2019 on charges of destabilizing the social fabric and national cohesion by calling for sit-ins and demonstrations and chanting antistate slogans.  The government also charged him with possession of arms, as well as photos and information of individuals classified as terrorists.  According to an August 27 letter by UN experts to the government, the appeals court upheld this verdict on August 2, and at year’s end the case was pending before the Supreme Court.

In the same August 27 letter to the government, the UN experts raised the case of Asaad Makki Shubbar, a Shia citizen, whom, according to the experts’ letter, authorities arrested in Asir Province in 2017 and held without trial for more than two years, subjecting him to “various types of torture and ill-treatment.”  According to the letter, interrogators reportedly used “sectarian terms denigrating minority Shia believers and insulted [Shubbar’s] religious beliefs.”  In 2019, the government charged him with several crimes under the counterterrorism law, including joining a group from Qatif in acts of sabotage, participating in demonstrations, chanting slogans, and calling for participation in demonstrations and sit-ins.  The SCC sentenced Shubbar to death in January and, in July, the Specialized Appeals Court upheld his sentence.  At year’s end, the case was pending before the Supreme Court.

On November 1, the Saudi Press Agency, citing MOI, reported that a ta’zir death sentence had been carried out against Makki Kazem al-Obeid in Damman.  The ministry statement said that al-Obeid participated in attacks against security forces and was “linked to people wanted for terrorism-related activities.”  The Committee for Human Rights in the Arabian Peninsula “condemned the Saudi regime’s execution” of al-Obeid and said that he was a “Shia prisoner of conscience.”

In February, media reported authorities arrested 65-year-old Aisha al-Muhajiri, reportedly because she continued to preach and teach the Quran at her home in Mecca.  Authorities also arrested two other women along with al-Muhajiri, one of whom, according to a news site, was 80 years old.

ALQST alleged in March 2021 that the health of imprisoned Shia cleric Mohammad al-Habib was deteriorating due to neglect.  He was closely associated with Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in 2016.

During the year, the SCC held several hearings in the case of cleric Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, described by HRW as a religious reformer, in detention since September 2017.  Earlier in 2017, a criminal court convicted and sentenced al-Maliki to three months on charges of extremism, fanaticism, and holding an impure (takfiri) ideology.  In December 2020, his son tweeted that the public prosecutor had sought the death penalty for al-Maliki on 14 charges, including calling into question the fundamentals of Islam by casting doubt on prophetic Sunna and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad reported by multiple sources, and thus deemed especially reliable).  According to HRW, the charges against him also included criticism of several early Islamic figures, insulting the country’s rulers and the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars, and describing them as extremist.

The SCC continued trials of some clerics, academics, and members of the media for alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government continued to regard as a terrorist organization, a view also expressed by the CSS, which stated the Muslim Brotherhood did not represent the true values of Islam.  The accused included prominent scholars of Islam Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari, who were arrested in 2017.  According to Saudi and international rights groups, the public prosecutor sought the death penalty against them.

Amnesty International reported in August that authorities tried al-Odah before the SCC in a secret session, where they charged him with 37 counts.  Amnesty International reported that since 2018, courts scheduled more than 10 hearings on his case, which were postponed for months at a time, with no clear explanation being provided to al-Odah or his family.  Al-Odah’s son stated in a July tweet that his father’s physical and mental condition had declined during four years of solitary confinement and that he had partially lost his sight and hearing due to medical negligence.  In July, his son said that authorities had denied al-Odah access to family telephone calls for almost a year.  According to HRW, authorities barred 18 members of al-Odah’s family from traveling abroad since his arrest.  In a report released in August, al-Odah’s son Salman told Amnesty International “No legal process or court was involved in the bans against my family, and no reason was given by any authority.  The bans are mainly to pressure me into silence, even when I’m overseas, and to further pressure my father in jail.”  In February, UN experts called for an explanation for the repeated postponements of his trial and asked for information regarding his “right to physical and mental health while detained.”

During the year, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the SCC issued verdicts in the trials of a number of clerics, religious leaders, and academics arrested in 2017 and charged for offenses related to free expression and their religious views and increased prison sentences previously issued against some of them, including Nasser al-Omar, Mohammed Mousa al-Shareef, Waleed al-Huwairini, Mohammed al-Bishr, Ali Badahdah, Yousef al-Ahmed, and Khalid al-Muhawish.  At the time of their arrests, the government said those arrested had ties to a “foreign spy cell” and the Muslim Brotherhood.  According to Prisoners of Conscience, the SCC sentenced them to between four and 10 years in prison.

On August 24, SANAD reported that the government continued to detain Sheikh Saad Matar al-Otaibi, a scholar in Islamic politics and public policy and popular preacher on national TV, whom authorities arrested in 2017.

On April 15, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the SCC commuted prison sentences against clerics Dr. Adel Bana’ma, Dr. Ibrahim al-Harthi, and Sheikh Ali Badahdah to four years from eight, five, and six years, respectively.  On August 16, Prisoners of Conscience tweeted and on August 24 SANAD confirmed that authorities released Sheikh Khaled al-Ajeemi, whom authorities arrested in 2017, due to failing health.  On November 24, Prisoners of Conscience tweeted that authorities extended al-Harthi’s sentence to eight years.

On June 24, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the SCC increased the prison sentence of religious leader Sheikh Yousef al-Ahmed from four to 13 years.  In December 2020, the SCC sentenced al-Ahmed to four years in prison and a four-year travel ban on charges that included visiting prisoners of conscience and appearing in a television show hosted by Fahd al-Sunaidi, who is also serving a four-year prison sentence.

In November, ALQST reported that authorities detained Abdulrahman al-Dowaish, son of missing preacher Sulaiman al-Dowaish, after he asked about the whereabouts of his father.  On November 10, Prisoners of Conscience tweeted authorities held a secret trial of Abdulrahman al-Dowaish, which took place without his family or legal representation being present.  Officials had previously arrested his brother, Abdulwahhab al-Dowaish, in August, according to ALQST.  The NGOs DAWN and MENA Rights Group reported that security personnel arrested Sulaiman al-Dowaish in 2016 after he posted several tweets summarizing a religious lecture he delivered that day during a trip to Mecca that warned about the dangers of individuals providing their sons with great privileges and responsibilities without proper oversight and accountability.  In March, ALQST reported that it obtained and confirmed information that high-ranking officials “brutally tortured” preacher Sulaiman al-Dowaish after his 2016 disappearance.  ALQST stated that the last reported sighting of al-Dowaish was in July 2018, and that nothing has been heard of him since then.

On September 1, ESOHR stated that from 2016 through the end of August 2021, the bodies of at least 88 persons executed or killed in Saudi security raids, including nine minors and three foreigners, were not returned for burial.

According to NGOs and Shia community members, prison officials held Shia inmates in some cases in separate wings of prisons, and they reportedly faced worse conditions than Sunnis.

According to ESOHR, authorities detained Shia cleric Mojtaba al-Nimr on June 6 at King Fahd Airport when he returned from a trip to the Shia holy city of Qom in Iran.  Mojtaba al-Nimr is a member of executed sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s family, although their exact relationship remained unclear.

Prisoners of Conscience reported that on September 14, authorities arrested Abdulrahman al-Mahmoud, a former professor of Islamic faith at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, on charges that were not made public.  There was no update on his case at the end of the year.

On October 12, ALQST and Prisoners of Conscience reported that religious leader Musa al-Qarni, a former professor of Islamic jurisprudence, died in prison after his health deteriorated while serving a 20-year prison sentence, of which he completed 15 years.  “Qarni was subjected to brutal torture, and the Saudi authorities deliberately harmed him by giving him unsuitable medication,” ALQST said on Twitter, adding that it “questions the causes of death & calls for an international investigation.”  Prisoners of Conscience tweeted that al-Qarni died after “extremist prisoners” had beaten him and that prison authorities had refused his request to be housed with other older prisoners.  In addition, the authorities waited three days to inform al-Qarni’s family of his death.  SANAD stated that authorities did not allow al-Qarni’s family to see his body before his funeral.  In November, Prisoners of Conscience reported that prison authorities had beaten and withheld medicines from another prisoner arrested with al-Qarni in 2007, Mukhtar al-Hashimi.

In July, the website Together for Justice reported there were no updates since 2020 regarding the arrest of Quran reciter Sheikh Abdullah Basfar, an associate professor of sharia and Islamic studies at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah and imam of the Mansour al-Shuaibi Mosque in the al-Salama neighborhood of Jeddah.  The site stated that until his detention was confirmed in September 2020, a month after his arrest, Basfar had not appeared before any court.  On December 8, Prisoners of Conscience reported that Basfar remained in detention.  At the time of Basfar’s arrest, observers noted that persons of any religious affiliation who expressed views not supported by the government did so at personal risk and that when clerics were arrested, it was often for expressing views counter to government policy.

In 2020, Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities had arrested Saud al-Fanisan, the former head of the Faculty of Sharia at Imam Mohammed ibn Saud Islamic University, on undisclosed charges earlier in the year.  In November, Prisoners of Conscience and SANAN both reported that the SCC had sentenced the 85-year-old al-Fanisan to two years’ imprisonment.

Several human rights NGOs signed a letter publicly calling on the government to return the remains of individuals executed in 2019 in connection with “terrorism crimes.”  At the time, HRW reported that at least 33 of the 37 citizens executed by the government were from the country’s Shia minority.  ESOHR reported that at the time authorities carried out the sentences, at least six of those executed were minors, a statement which the government denied.  Separately, in August, SANAD reported that authorities were refusing the family of executed Shia activist Yousef al-Mushaikhis access to his remains.  The government executed al-Mushaikhis in 2017, after arresting him in 2014.

According to an August 16 tweet sent by Prisoners of Conscience, the government sentenced three sons of prominent religious scholar Safar al-Hawali to four years in prison.  Authorities arrested the three men, along with their father, his brother, and another son on undisclosed charges in 2018.  In 2019, officials released the youngest son, after detaining him for seven months.  According to the website Middle East Monitor, authorities charged Safar al-Hawali, in his seventies and facing chronic health issues, although details of the charges remained unknown.  In an August 24 post, SANAD stated that a family member reported that one of the three brothers, Abdullah, had serious medical concerns, due in part to having only one kidney and to prison conditions.  In a separate post, SANAD noted that in addition to the sentences given to Safar al-Hawali’s three sons, authorities also sentenced his brother, Saadallah, and his office manager, Ismail Hassan, to three and a half year sentences.

The SCC sentenced well-known preacher Nasser al-Omar to 10 years in prison.  Authorities arrested al-Omar in 2018.  He was a professor at the Faculty of Fundamentals of Religion at Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, near Riyadh.  Like Safar al-Hawali, he was associated with the Sahwa (Islamic Awakening) movement.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, in an April 27 televised interview, cautioned against adherence to one particular school of Islamic jurisprudence or Islamic scholarship.  He said any Saudi with extremist views, even if that person had not yet committed a crime, “is a criminal and will face the full force of the law.”  In the same interview, the Crown Prince said no sharia punishment could be enforced without a clear Quranic stipulation or an explicit stipulation from the Sunna.  He also stated that only hadith were to be enforced.

The government continued to incarcerate individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy, violating Islamic values and moral standards, insulting Islam, and engaging in “black magic” and sorcery.

At year’s end, authorities continued to imprison Raif Badawi based on his 2013 conviction for violating Islamic values, violating sharia, committing blasphemy, and mocking religious symbols.  In a June 18 post on its website, the NGO Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans Frontiers, or RSF) stated that the government continued to hold Badawi in solitary confinement and limited his contact with the outside world to two phone calls per week with his wife and children, were living in Canada.  According to RSF, authorities monitored these calls, which were very short and sometimes suddenly disconnected.  Badawi had originally been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, but a court increased his sentence on appeal to a 10-year prison term and 1,000 lashes, as well as a one million riyal ($267,000) fine.  Badawi received 50 lashes in 2015; the government has not carried out the remaining 950 lashes.  The Supreme Court directed that flogging be ended in 2020.

According to media reports, authorities arrested Ahmad al-Shammari and sentenced him to death for apostasy in 2017 after he posted videos to social media in which he renounced Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.  He was believed to be incarcerated as of year’s end.  It was unknown whether any appeals in his case remained pending.

In June, media reported that the Saudi Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority said a customs officer at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam thwarted an attempt by an air traveler to smuggle suspected sorcery-related pieces into the kingdom.  Authorities referred the smuggler and the seized items for possible prosecution.

In March, a Christian convert faced two court cases as well as threats of violence against him and his family, according to media reports.  Authorities charged the man in court on March 11 with trying to convert Muslims after he allegedly discussed his own conversion to Christianity.  A second court case, on March 26, concerned financial assistance he gave his sister, also a convert to Christianity, for her and her children to flee the country.

On November 17, RSF called for the immediate release of Yemeni journalist Ali Aboluhom, who received a 15-year prison sentence for tweets that, according to Saudi authorities, promoted apostasy, atheism, and blasphemy.  According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the Criminal Court in Najran sentenced Aboluhom on October 26 to 10 years in prison after convicting him of apostasy and atheism, and another five years in prison for publishing his writings on social media networks that “would prejudice public order, religious values, and morals.”

On November 23, local media reported that Public Prosecutor Sheikh Saud al-Muajab issued an order to arrest a man who posted a video on his Twitter account that showed him making remarks insulting the Divine Essence.

On September 21, Prisoners of Conscience reported that the Supreme Court increased prison sentences issued by the SCC against three clerics and academics:  Sanhat al-Otaibi from four years to eight years, Ibrahim al-Nasser from three months to three years, and Omar al-Muqbil from six months to four years.  In August, the NGO Together for Justice reported that authorities arrested al-Nasser in 2017 but did not disclose charges.  Authorities arrested al-Muqbil in 2019 for criticizing concerts sponsored by the government’s General Entertainment Authority, calling them a threat to the country’s culture.

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

The government continued to prohibit the public practice of any non-Islamic religion.  According to civil society sources and media reports, non-Muslims and many foreign and local Muslims whose religious practices differed from the form of Sunni Islam promoted by the government could only practice their religion in private and remained vulnerable to detention, discrimination, harassment, and, for noncitizens, deportation.  Members of the expatriate Christian community said that congregations were able to conduct large Christian worship services discreetly and regularly without substantial interference from the CPVPV or other government authorities.  Members of other minority faith communities similarly reported less interference in private religious gatherings than public ones.

In mixed neighborhoods of Sunni and Shia residents, authorities generally required all mosques, including Shia mosques, to use the Sunni call to prayer.  In predominantly Shia areas such as Qatif, however, and in some Shia areas of al-Ahsa Governorate in the Eastern Province, authorities allowed Shia mosques to use the Twelver Shia variant of the call to prayer.

Authorities generally permitted Muslim detainees and prisoners to perform Islamic religious observances, such as prayers.

On May 23, the MOIA instructed mosques to set loudspeakers at only one-third of the maximum volume and limited the use of loudspeakers for the call for prayers and to signal for prayers to start.  The MOIA mandated that full prayers and sermons could not be broadcast via loudspeaker.  The MOIA said the changes were a response to complaints from the public, including from the elderly and parents whose children’s sleep was disrupted.  On May 28, the MOIA modified its decree to allow use of loudspeakers during Eid and Friday prayers.  On July 19, Prisoners of Conscience reported that authorities arrested academic and legal advisor Dr. Omar Abdullah al-Saadoun for an article criticizing the decision to restrict the use of loudspeakers.

On March 17, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that domestic pilgrims between the ages of 18 and 70 would be allowed to perform Umrah.  On April 8, an official source at the MOI said pilgrims who performed Umrah without a permit during the month of Ramadan would be fined 10,000 riyals ($2,700), along with a 1,000 riyal ($270) fine for anyone entering the Holy Mosque in Mecca without a permit.  On June 12, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that it would limit the 2021 Hajj to approximately 60,000 vaccinated pilgrims, all living in-country, who had to be free of chronic diseases and be between the ages of 18 and 65.  On August 7, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said the country would begin receiving Umrah pilgrimage requests from abroad for vaccinated pilgrims starting August 9 after nearly 18 months of barring overseas pilgrims due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Foreign Umrah pilgrims who took two approved doses of Covid-19 no longer needed to be institutionally quarantined upon arrival.  On September 7, the ministry announced it increased the number of Umrah pilgrims to 70,000 per day under a plan to gradually raise capacity to two million per month.  As of September 14, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah no longer required a quarantine or a negative COVID-19 test result prior to issuing a permit to perform prayers at the Holy Mosque in Medina.  On September 18, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that 10 million pilgrims performed Umrah since October 4, 2020, following the launch of its “safe Umrah” procedures and the gradual return of pilgrims to the two Holy Mosques.  On October 25, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah would no longer be required to wait for 14 days to book for the ritual.

On June 13, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah allowed women to attend without a male guardian as long as they performed the pilgrimage with other groups of women.  Some pilgrimage service providers announced they would not accept women without a guardian.  Some companies reportedly charged women more than men.

Authorities continued to permit public commemorations of Ashura and other Shia holidays in Qatif, home to the country’s largest Shia population.  According to community members, processions and gatherings continued due to decreased tensions and greater coordination between the Shia community and authorities.  They stated that the Shia Ashura commemoration was marked by improved sectarian relations and publicity for mutual tolerance.  In May, local media reported that the community in the Eastern Province observed the anniversary of the death of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (the first of the Twelve Imams) in Shia mosques and husseiniyas (prayer halls).  In Qatif, authorities eased restrictions imposed after civil unrest in 2011-2012 and took steps to encourage development and tourism to improve conditions for the town’s predominantly Shia residents.  Shia activists reported that security authorities closed some Shia mosques and husseiniyas in Qatif and al-Ahsa, summoned the individuals in charge, and fined them 60,000 riyals ($16,000) for violating COVID-19 precautionary measures.

The MOIA maintained active oversight of the country’s religious establishment and provided guidance to Sunni imams on the substance of Friday sermons.  The MOIA does not vet sermons in advance, but imams must choose from a list of Friday sermons on the MOIA website.  The ministry restricted the inclusion of content in those sermons considered sectarian, political, or extremist, promoting hatred or racism, or including commentary on foreign policy.  The MOIA may also issue circular notes directing all imams to dedicate their Friday sermons to certain topics, such as denouncing political Islam groups.  In this regard, MOIA supervisors may attend Friday sermons to ensure compliance with MOIA directives.  According to local observers, Shia clerics did not receive guidance on their sermons from MOIA and did not submit them for preapproval.  However, Shia clerics continued to exercise significant self-censorship in light of the government’s well-known views on the scope and substance of acceptable preaching.

On October 22, the website Arabi21 reported that MOIA Minister Abdul Latif al-Sheikh directed mosque preachers to dedicate the Friday sermon to warn against “Sururi” thought and the “terrorist al-Sururiya organization, which pursues secrecy to reach its goals, foremost of which is inciting people to revolt against the rulers, divide the Muslim community, sow division among them, and spread wars in their countries.”  Commentators have referred to Sururism as a movement that is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, representing a blend of the country’s Wahhabi movement and Salafi jihadism.

On December 6, the MOIA said in a tweet that Minister al-Sheikh directed imams to use Friday sermons on December 10 to warn against the Tablighi and Da’wah group, a transnational Islamic revivalist movement that originated in India and also known as al-Ahbab.  The minister directed that the sermon cover topics that included a declaration of “the misguidance, deviation and danger of this group, and that it is one of the gates of terrorism, even if they claim otherwise,” mentioning its prominent mistakes and its “danger to society,” and a statement that affiliation with partisan groups, “including (the Tablighi and Da’wah Group), is prohibited in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

There were media reports that some Sunni clerics who received government stipends used antisemitic, anti-Shia, and religiously intolerant language in their sermons.  The MOIA 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.  Unlicensed imams, however, continued to express discriminatory or intolerant views in internet postings and in unsanctioned sermons in areas of the country lacking government monitoring.

According to a January 3 report in the newspaper Okaz, the government fired seven imams and preachers in al-Bahah Province for failing to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, as instructed by the MOIA.  On March 29, al-Watan newspaper reported that the MOIA fired 54 imams and preachers in Mecca Province because of ideological and administrative violations.  In September, the Minister of Islamic Affairs said the MOIA had purged religious institutions of individuals who had adopted extremist ideologies.

The government continued to mandate that imams and muezzins of the two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina be “moderate” and “tolerant,” among other requirements, including holding a degree from a Saudi sharia college.

On April 15, former imam of the Holy Mosque in Mecca Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani tweeted that authorities dismissed him without reason as imam of a Riyadh mosque.  His dismissal came hours after he appeared in a video announcing that he contracted COVID-19, despite receiving two doses of the vaccine.

On April 25, the Mirat al-Jazeera news website reported that authorities demolished the Shia al-Ahd Mosque in Qatif, which authorities said was part of a road expansion project.  The website described the action as “part of an arbitrary and systematic sectarian campaign” aimed at the Shia community.

On June 27, according to ALQST, authorities released orator Mohammed Bou Jabara [Bojbara] on completion of a nine-month prison sentence.  Security forces arrested Bojbara in October 2020 with eight other young persons on charges related to his participation in Arbaeen ceremonies (the Shia mourning observance occurring 40 days after Ashura and the death of Imam Hussein).  The same day, authorities released Shia activist Nassima al-Sadah upon completion of a three-year sentence, although a three-year travel ban remained in effect following her release.

Practices diverging from the government’s official interpretation of Islam, such as public celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi (the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad) and visits to the tombs of renowned Muslims, remained prohibited.  Shia community members reported that authorities permitted Shia pilgrims to celebrate Eid al-Ghadir, a Shia-specific holiday, after the Hajj.

In a July 16 circular, Ajlan bin Abdul Aziz al-Ajlan, the head of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, announced that the country would allow shops to remain open during prayer times, explaining that the measure was intended to “improve the shopping experience and the level of services for shoppers and clients.”  Commenting on the decision, Ali Sameer Shihabi, a commentator on Middle East politics and economics with a focus on Saudi Arabia, tweeted that keeping shops open during prayer time was a “hugely symbolic and practical step to end the dominance of the religious class in daily life.”

On August 30, the Minister of Islamic Affairs instructed all mosques to remove books that called for extremism and partisanship and banned unlicensed preaching activities, including proselytizing non-Muslims without permission.  The minister also directed mosque officials to participate in “intellectual security” courses (aimed at countering extremist ideologies) held by MOIA or other state agencies.

On May 18, the CPVPV presidency tweeted a fatwa by CSS member Sheikh Fouzan al-Fouzan obligating citizens to report to government authorities anyone who criticized the government and religious scholars.

On January 1, CPVPV head Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sanad said in an interview with al Arabiya that the CPVPV fired hundreds of employees after reports confirmed that they embraced extremist ideologies.

Mosques continued to be the only legally permissible public places of worship, although husseiniyas existed in areas inhabited by Shia residents.  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.  The MOIA continued to use ministry inspectors, regional branch inspectors, field teams, citizen feedback, and the media to monitor and address any reported violations of the ministry’s instructions and regulations in mosques.  MOIA oversight of mosques in less populated areas was not always as strict as in urban areas.  MOIA maintained a hotline for individuals to report statements by imams that observers considered objectionable.  An MOIA mobile phone app called Masajed (mosques) allowed mosque-goers to monitor sermons and rate their preacher on a number of aspects of their work.

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

The government continued to enforce Islamic norms, such as prohibiting eating, drinking, or smoking in public during Ramadan.  On May 10, local media reported that the CPVPV in Riyadh Province intensified its field presence in markets and malls during the last 10 days of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

According to media reports, the government prohibited parents from giving their children any of 50 listed names deemed blasphemous, non-Arabic, or non-Islamic.

The government stated that individuals who experienced infringements on their ability to worship privately could address their grievances to the MOI, HRC, the National Society for Human Rights (a quasigovernmental organization), and, when appropriate, the MFA.

According to government policy, non-Muslims generally were prohibited from being buried in the country.  There were, however, public non-Islamic cemeteries in Jeddah and Riyadh that, according to officials, were used in cases where repatriation was not possible, such as when there were no claimants for a body, the family did not accept the body, or the deceased received the death penalty.  There also was a private, non-Islamic cemetery in Dhahran available only to Saudi Aramco employees.  Diplomatic missions reported most non-Muslims opted to repatriate their deceased to their home countries whenever financially possible.

The government continued a multiyear project, begun in 2007, to revise textbooks, curricula, and teaching methods with the stated aim of removing content disparaging religions other than Islam.  On February 15, an HRW statement said the country had taken important steps to purge its textbooks of hateful and intolerant language.

In a September review of Saudi textbooks used in the second semester of the 2020-21 and the first semester of the 2021-22 school years, IMPACT-se reported that the trend of “significant improvement” in content dealing with religions other than Islam had continued from its last review of the Saudi curricula in late 2020.  According to IMPACT-SE, officials either removed or altered 22 anti-Christian and antisemitic lessons and five lessons about “infidels” and polytheists.  The NGO reported that this removal included an entire textbook unit on the possible need for violent jihad to spread Islam and protect Muslim lands and praising it as an act of piety.  Specifically, IMPACT-se stated that officials altered several lessons that explicitly blamed “the Jews” as a collective for attacking Muslims and Muhammad, instead attributing responsibility to Arabian tribes and in some cases removing references altogether; in addition, they removed references to forbidding friendships with Jews and Christians, formerly referred to as “infidels, as they are enemies of God.”  The NGO also reported that authorities removed a series of ahistorical, harmful, and in some cases antisemitic assertions, such as Jewish connections to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount being fabricated by rabbis, and purported Jewish threats to the al-Aqsa Mosque.

In February, HRW noted separately that the country had taken important steps to purge its textbooks of hateful and intolerant language but said current texts continued to disparage practices associated with religious minorities.  HRW’s comprehensive review of Education Ministry-produced textbooks for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years found that they still stigmatized as un-Islamic and prohibited some practices associated with the Shia and Sufi Islamic traditions.

On January 27, the head of the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques inaugurated a Mediation and Moderation Academy in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, with the goals of fighting extremist thoughts and promoting mediation and moderation in all aspects of life, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

On March 16, the Ministry of Education announced the establishment of intellectual awareness units in all universities and education departments that were intended “to promote loyalty to religion,” “to spread the values of moderation, tolerance and coexistence, and to prevent extremist thought and address its effects.”

Some travelers entering the country reported they were able to import Bibles for personal use.  There were no reports that the government confiscated personal, non-Islamic religious materials.  Media reported the confiscation of sorcery-related items.

The government continued to block certain websites as part of a broader policy of censoring “objectionable” content, such as views of religion it considered extremist or misinformed.  The government shut down or blocked Twitter accounts for “religious and ethical violations,” and authorities arrested an undisclosed number of social media users under the Cyber Crimes Law.  The government also shut down websites it regarded as being used to recruit jihadis or inspire violence.

Members of the Shia community complained of discrimination based on their religion and had difficulty securing or being promoted in government positions.  They were significantly underrepresented in national security-related positions, including the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Guard.  In predominantly Shia areas, Shia representation was higher in the ranks of traffic police and employees of municipalities and public schools.  A small number of Shia occupied high-level positions in government-owned companies and government agencies.  Shia were also underrepresented in employment in primary, secondary, and higher education.

According to HRW, the government systematically discriminated against members of Muslim religious minorities, notably Shia, including in the justice system, education, and employment.

At year’s end, the 35-member cabinet contained one Shia minister, Mohammed bin Faisal Abu Saq, who assumed the position of Minister of State for Shura Affairs in 2014.  There were no Shia governors, deputy governors, ministry branch directors, or security commanders.  Although Shura Council members’ religious affiliations are not publicly announced, there were an estimated seven or eight Shia on the 150-member council.  Multiple municipal councils in the Eastern Province, where most Shia Saudis reside, had large proportions of Shia as members, to reflect the local population, including a majority in Qatif and 50 percent in al-Ahsa.  In both cities, five of the 12 government-appointed municipal council members were Shia, and Shia held 16 of the 30 elected seats on the municipal councils.

Shia reported the government did not recognize certificates of educational attainment for employment credit for graduates of Shia religious training centers and that the government did not apply the same standards to graduates of Sunni religious training institutions applying for government positions and religious jobs.

According to human rights groups, Shia Muslims were 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 were Sunni, although 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.

The government financially supported approximately 70 percent of Sunni mosques, with the remaining 30 percent located in private residences or built and endowed by private persons.  The construction of any new mosque required permission from 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 clerics.

The government did not finance the construction or maintenance of Shia mosques; Shia congregations self-funded construction, maintenance, and repairs.  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 endorse these mosques, according to some NGOs.  Authorities prohibited Shia Muslims outside of the Eastern Province from building Shia-specific mosques.  Two Shia mosques in Dammam licensed by the government served approximately 750,000 worshippers.  Construction of Shia mosques required government approval, and authorities required Shia communities to receive permission from their neighbors to start construction on mosques.  There were no licensed Shia mosques in Jeddah and Riyadh.  Shia in those areas were obliged to hold prayers in private homes and community centers, where, some Shia said, they were subject to police harassment.  Expatriate Shia resident in the country reported threats of arrest and deportation if they gathered privately in large groups to worship.

State security services continued to provide protection for many Shia mosques and gathering places in the Eastern Province.  Media and other sources additionally 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.

Reports from Shia community members 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.  Eastern Province Shia judges dealing with intra-Shia personal status and family laws operated specialized courts.  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 Qatif and al-Ahsa.  Community members reported Sunni judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia Muslims.

Observers stated that judges at times discounted the testimony of Muslims whom they deemed deficient in their knowledge of Islam and favored the testimony of Muslims over the testimony of non-Muslims.  In certain circumstances, the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man.

The government’s stated policy remained for its diplomatic and consular missions abroad to inform foreign workers applying for visas that they had the right to worship privately and to possess personal religious materials.  The government also provided the names of offices to which one should report violations of this policy.

In November, King Salman issued a royal approval to grant Saudi citizenship to Shia Islamic scholar and the Secretary General of the Arab Islamic Council in Lebanon Mohammed al-Husseini, along with 26 other Sunni religious scholars, academics, and physicians.  According to the press, the King offered citizenship “in recognition of their distinguished services and outstanding contributions.”

There is no religious worker visa category, but non-Muslim clergy were able to enter the country to minister to their communities.  Non-Muslim clergy also were able to bring religious items, including books, when traveling.

In May, local media reported that authorities removed the “Muslims only” phrase from traffic signs leading to the Holy Mosque in Medina, adding that the signs now read “Haram area,” in reference to Medina’s Haram, or sacred site.  Authorities did not comment on the decision, but media reports attributed it to the kingdom’s efforts to promote moderation.

The Crown Prince announced in February a series of judicial reforms intended to codify the law to increase transparency and predictability in judicial decision-making.

According to an October 5 posting on its website, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stated that the 2021 Riyadh International Book Fair, organized by the Ministry of Culture under the sponsorship of the King, allowed booksellers to exhibit more than two dozen well-known antisemitic books for sale, including numerous editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  According to the ADL, other antisemitic books permitted at the 2021 fair featured references to blood libel, Holocaust denial, Jewish-Masonic conspiracy theories, and portrayals of Jews as evil puppet masters and the killers of divine prophets.  The NGO also reported that there were two books demonizing the Baha’i Faith and Yezidism.  Other observers reported that the fair permitted the sale of publications about atheism.

According to the ADL, following violence in Jerusalem between Palestinians at the al-Aqsa Mosque and Israeli police, General President for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais delivered a May 11 sermon praying for God to “keep the al-Aqsa Mosque, God keep them from the attacker Zionists, the occupying, combatant brutes.”  He added, “We seek refuge in you from their butchery and seek protection in you from their evils and all the rest of the enemies of religion.”  The same day, Sheikh Salah al-Badir, an imam of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, delivered a sermon calling for God to “liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque from the usurper Jews and the traitorous occupying Zionists.”

On May 12, on Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, Sheikh Saleh bin Humaid, a member of the CSS, delivered a sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca calling on God to “grant victory to our brothers in Palestine over your enemy and their enemy.”  He called for God to “cleanse the al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the occupier Zionists.”  Saudi state television broadcast the sermon and promoted it on social media.  In an Eid sermon at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, al-Humaid urged God to “cleanse the al-Aqsa Mosque from the befoulment of Jews.  Oh God, it is incumbent upon you to deal with the usurper Jews and the aggressor Zionists.”

On May 13, separate Eid al-Adha sermons delivered at the Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina urged God to free the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem from “usurping Zionists” and “occupying Jews.”  On May 14, Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca Sheikh Mahir al-Muayqali likewise concluded his Friday sermon with a prayer to God to free al-Aqsa from “usurping, occupying Jews.”  On June 11, Chief of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais delivered a sermon in the Holy Mosque in Mecca in which he prayed to God to free al-Aqsa from the “usurping occupiers.”  On July 30, Sheikh Saleh bin Humaid, a royal advisor and a CSS member, delivered a sermon in the Holy Mosque in Mecca in which he prayed to God to “destroy the usurping, occupying Zionist Jews.”

On April 8, local media reported that Mohammed al-Issa, the Secretary General of the government-sponsored Muslim World League (MWL), sent a letter to Facebook and Twitter urging them to combat Islamophobia.  The letter was part of a campaign to denounce hate in social media platforms and curb anti-Muslim rhetoric.

On June 11, the MWL convened a Declaration of Peace in Afghanistan Conference, bringing together senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to discuss topics such as peace, tolerance, moderation, and reconciliation in Islam.

On August 4, the MWL sponsored talks in Mecca involving approximately 80 Iraqi Sunni and Shia representatives.  The two sides renewed calls for an end to sectarian violence and attacks on houses of worship, the release of innocent detainees, and the return of displaced persons to their homes.

On October 19, al-Issa and World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald Lauder met with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, urging him to advocate for religious freedom and an end to violence against houses of worship.  On October 4, the MWL and WJC made a joint statement before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, pledging an interfaith commitment to promote and to protect human rights for all.  It was the first time Jewish and Muslim representative groups presented a coordinated statement before a UN body.

On October 20, al-Issa met with students during a visit to Yeshiva University in New York, saying that religious communities “have a shared responsibility toward followers of different faiths to build bridges and improve relationships.”  In a March video address to an online conference organized by the U.S. Department of Defense, al-Issa said that there was now greater awareness in the Muslim world of the dangers posed by political Islam, led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In January, cleric and former director of the CPVPV in Mecca Ahmed al-Ghamdi created controversy when he tweeted that Muslims could pray for mercy for non-Muslims, explaining that there was no religious text prohibiting such prayer.

In January, a group of Israeli drivers traveled to Saudi Arabia to compete in the Dakar Rally race, despite a ban on Israeli travelers to the country.  On February 2, the English-language newspaper Arab News ran the first-ever op-ed in a Saudi newspaper authored by Israeli writers.  In March, local media reported that the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities arranged the shipment of 650 pounds of matzah and kosher food to all six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Saudi Arabia, for Passover.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Social media provided an outlet for citizens to discuss current events and religious issues, but local residents said self-censorship was common, given the risk of official reprisals.  While discussion of sensitive topics on social media was frequent, self-censorship on social media was believed to be widespread when discussing topics such as religion or the royal family.  Online discussions included disparaging remarks about members of various religious groups or “sects.”  Terms like “rejectionists” (referring to Shia who view as illegitimate the first three caliphs that Sunni Muslims recognize as the Prophet Muhammad’s legitimate successors) which Shia consider insulting, and images of donkeys, comparing them to Shia, were occasionally found in social media discourse.

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi made several unofficial visits to the country to conduct outreach and offer religious services to Jewish residents.  His social media posts depict him in traditional Orthodox clothing and show positive experiences with Saudis, whom he publicly described as “happy” to have a rabbi in the kingdom.  International media described local residents as stopping to take photographs with the rabbi and offering Hebrew greetings.

Community members reported that individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity almost always did so in secret, fearing the reactions of family members and the threat of criminal charges, up to and including execution.  The NGO Open Doors reported that women in particular feared loss of parental rights or being subjected to physical abuse as a result of converting from Islam.

On October 31, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) told the Saudi-owned al Arabiya English-language news channel that the first-ever Jewish dating website, JSG, which stands for “Jewish Singles in the Gulf,” launched in the Gulf.  The aim of the website is to help unmarried Jews living in the country and its neighboring countries meet each other.

The global consulting firm PSB Insights conducted a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and reported 35 percent of Saudi Arabian respondents said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, consistent with 34 percent regionwide.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires, as well as embassy and consulate officials, engaged Saudi leaders and officials at all levels on religious freedom and tolerance issues.  Embassy officers raised religious freedom principles and cases with the HRC, the National Society for Human Rights, members of the Shura Council, the National Committee for Interreligious and Multicultural Dialogue, the MFA, the MWL, the Ministry of Education, and other ministries and agencies during the year.  Senior U.S. officials pressed 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 meetings with government officials, senior embassy and consulate officials raised reports of abuses and restrictions 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.

Senior embassy and consulate officials continued to inquire about the legal status of detained or imprisoned individuals and discussed religious freedom concerns with members of religious minority communities, including Shia and citizens who no longer considered themselves Muslims, as well as with non-Muslim foreign residents.  Embassy officials attended or sought access to a number of trials related to religious freedom.  The embassy and Department of State officials also engaged Saudi officials regarding these detainees.

Embassy representatives also met with non-Islamic religious leaders to discuss their ability to gather and practice their faith.  Embassy officials engaged regularly with like-minded partners and with religious leaders and participate in interfaith discussions and express support for the principles of tolerance and interfaith comity.

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.  On November 15, 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.


Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right, individually or jointly with others, to adhere to any religion or to no religion, and to participate in religious customs and ceremonies.  The constitution states, “Religious associations shall be separate from the state and shall not interfere in state affairs.”  The law restricts Islamic prayer to specific locations, regulates the registration and location of mosques, and prohibits persons younger than 18 from participating in public religious activities.  The government’s Committee on Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations, and Ceremonies (CRA) maintains a broad mandate that includes approving registration of religious associations, construction of houses of worship, participation of children in religious education, and the dissemination of religious literature.  The government continued to detain and prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to serve in the military.  Starting January 20, a new law on military service permitted men to fulfill their military service obligation without serving on active duty by paying a fee and completing a one-month reserve training course, after which there was no commitment to be available for active duty.  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said this new provision was not acceptable according to their faith because the alternative arrangement required participation in the military (through training) and payment of a fee to the Ministry of Defense, and did not allow for an exemption based on religious beliefs.  On January 7, before the new law took effect, the Khujand Military Court sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Rustamjon Norov to three and a half years in prison for evading compulsory military service.  According to the international religious freedom nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18, this was the longest known sentence to date in the country given to a conscientious objector.  In accordance with a widespread prisoner amnesty, authorities released Norov from prison on September 21.  Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to seek registration, an effort begun in 2007, and some adherents stated they were harassed by authorities.  Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at those mosques.  Government officials continued to take measures to prevent individuals from joining or participating in religious organizations identified by authorities as extremist and banned, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.  According to NGOs, law enforcement agencies continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in, or of supporting, groups banned by the government, including groups that advocated for Islamic political goals and presented themselves as political opponents of the government.  In April, the Supreme Court sentenced 119 individuals who were arrested in 2020 for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood; their prison sentences ranged between five and 23 years.  In August, the Minister of Internal Affairs said that in the first half of the year, law enforcement officials arrested 143 individuals on suspicion of participation in banned movements and organizations, terrorist groups, and extremist organizations.  Authorities reportedly continued to discourage women from wearing hijabs.  On December 23, a new article was added to the Criminal Code that criminalized providing “unapproved religious education,” including through the internet.  In February, local officials in Mastchoh District destroyed the dome of a newly constructed mosque they said had not been approved by the CRA.

Individuals outside government continued to state they were reluctant to discuss issues such as societal respect for religious diversity, including abuses or discrimination based on religious belief, due to fear of government harassment.  Civil society representatives said discussion of religion in general, especially relations among different religious groups, remained a subject they avoided.

Throughout the year, the Ambassador and other U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government to adhere to its commitments to respect religious freedom.  The Ambassador discussed freedom of religion and belief and advocated for imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses during his interactions with the government.  Embassy officers raised concerns regarding the restrictions on participation of women and minors in religious services, restrictions on the religious education of youth, and the situation facing Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.  During the eighth U.S.-Tajikistan Annual Bilateral Consultations on July 1 in Washington, D.C., officials from the two countries discussed opportunities to advance religious freedom, and U. S. officials urged the government to ease religious restrictions and to free detained Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In 2016, the country was 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.  On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a CPC and announced a waiver of the required sanctions that accompany designation in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9 million (midyear 2021).  According to local academics, the country is more than 90 percent Muslim, of whom the majority adheres to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam.  Approximately 3-4 percent of Muslims are Ismaili Shia, the majority of whom reside in the Gorno-Badakhshon Autonomous Region (GBAO), located in the eastern part of the country.

The largest Christian group is Russian Orthodox.  There are smaller communities of evangelical Christians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, and nondenominational Protestants.  There also are smaller communities of Jews, Baha’is, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country a secular state and that “religious associations shall be separate from the state and shall not interfere in state affairs.”  According to the constitution, everyone has the right individually or jointly with others to profess any religion or no religion and to take part in religious customs and ceremonies.  Since October 2007, the government has banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses for carrying out religious activities contrary to the country’s laws, such as refusing obligatory military service.

The law prohibits the establishment and activities of religious associations promoting racism, nationalism, enmity, social and religious hatred, or calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order or for the organization of armed groups.  The constitution prohibits “propaganda and agitation” that encourages religious enmity.  In accordance with provisions of the constitution, no ideology of a political party, public or religious association, movement, or group may be recognized as a state ideology.

The law prohibits provoking religiously based hatred, enmity, or conflict as well as humiliating and harming the religious sentiments of other citizens.

The law defines extremism as the activities of individuals and organizations aimed at destabilization, subverting the constitutional order, or seizing power.  This definition includes inciting religious hatred.  In the case of noncriminal incitement of “social, racial, national, regional, or religious hatred,” the Code of Administrative Violations provides for five to 10 days’ administrative detention or a fine of 50 to 100 “fee units” (the value of which the government sets each year), equal to 3,000 to 6,000 somoni ($270 to $530).  The Criminal Code stipulates two to 12 years’ imprisonment for a crime committed on the same basis, depending on the details of the case.

The law prohibits individuals from joining or participating in what it considers to be extremist organizations.  The government maintains a list of “extremist organizations” that it says employ terrorist tactics in an effort to advance Islamist political goals, including the National Alliance of Tajikistan, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, the Islamic State of Iraq Syria (ISIS), Jabhat al-Nusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Salafist movement broadly.

The CRA is the government body primarily responsible for overseeing and implementing all provisions of the law pertaining to religion.  The Center for Islamic Studies, under the Executive Office of the President, helps formulate the government’s policy toward religion.

The law defines a religious association as any group composed of persons who join for religious purposes.  A religious association is a voluntary association of followers of one faith, with the purpose of holding joint worship and celebration of religious ceremonies, religious education, and spreading religious beliefs.  To register a religious association, a group of at least 10 persons older than 18 must obtain a certificate from local authorities confirming the adherents of their religious faith have lived in a particular local area for five years.  The group must then submit to the CRA proof of the Tajik citizenship of its founders, along with their home addresses and dates of birth.  The group must provide an account of its beliefs and religious practices and describe its attitudes related to education, family, and marriage.  The group must specify in its charter the activities it plans to undertake, and once registered as a religious association, must report annually on its activities or face deregistration.  According to the CRA, there are 4,058 religious associations registered in the country, 66 of which are non-Muslim, including the Russian Orthodox Church and the Baha’i Faith.

The government subdivides associations formed for “conducting joint religious worship” into religious organizations and religious communities, which also are defined by law.  To operate legally, both are required to register with the government, a process overseen by the CRA.

According to the law, a religious organization may provide religious education and spread religious faith.  Types of religious organizations include the Islamic Center of Tajikistan (the government-supported body that oversees religious institutions belonging to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, established in law as the Republican Religious Center), central Friday mosques, central prayer houses, religious education entities, churches, and synagogues.  Religious organizations are legal entities and function on the basis of charters, and they must strictly adhere to the limits of their charters.  They may be district, municipal, or national organizations.

According to the law, a religious community, unlike a religious organization, is not a legal entity.  Its members may gather to conduct other religious activities, which are not defined by law.  For example, individuals may gather for joint prayer, attend funeral prayers, and celebrate religious holidays.  Types of religious communities include Friday mosques, daily five-time prayer mosques, prayer houses, and other places of worship.  After registering with the CRA, a religious community must also function on the basis of its charter, which determines the nature and scope of its activities.

The law prescribes penalties for religious associations that engage in activities contrary to the purposes and objectives set out in their charters, and it assigns the CRA responsibility for issuing fines for such activities.  The law imposes fines for carrying out religious activities without state registration or reregistration; violating provisions on organizing and conducting religious activities; providing religious education without permission; performing prayers, religious rites, and ceremonies in undesignated places; and performing activities beyond the purposes and objectives defined by the charter of the religious association.  For first-time offenses, the government fines individuals 420 to 600 somoni ($37 to $53), heads of religious associations 1,200 to 1,800 somoni ($110 to $160), and registered religious associations, as legal entities, 6,000 to 12,000 somoni ($530 to $1,100).  For repeat offenses within one year of an initial fine, penalties are increased to 720 to 1,200 somoni ($64 to $110) for individuals, 2,400 to 3,000 somoni ($210 to $270) for heads of religious associations, and 18,000 to 24,000 somoni ($1,600 to $2,100) for registered religious associations.  If a religious association conducts activities without registering, local authorities may impose additional fines or close a place of worship.

The law allows restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion deemed necessary by the government to ensure the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protection of the foundations of constitutional order, security of the state, defense of the country, public morals, public health, and the territorial integrity of the country.  In addition, religious organizations annually must report general information about worship as well as organizational, educational, and outreach activities to the state.

The freedom of conscience law stipulates that no party, public or religious association, movement, or group may be recognized as representing state ideology.  The law also asserts that the state maintains control over religious education to prevent illegal training, propaganda, and the dissemination of extremist ideas, religious hatred, and hostility.

The same law broadly empowers the CRA to create regulations to implement state policies on religion, such as establishing specific guidelines for the performance of religious ceremonies.  In addition to approving the registration of religious associations, organizations, and communities, the CRA maintains a broad mandate that includes approving the construction of houses of worship, participation of children in religious education, and the dissemination of religious literature.

The CRA oversees activities of religious associations, such as the performance of religious rites, and the development and adoption of legal acts aimed at the implementation of a state policy on the freedom of conscience and religious associations.  Religious associations must submit information on sources of income, property lists, expenditures, numbers of employees, wages and taxes paid, and other information upon request by the CRA.

The freedom of conscience law recognizes the special status of Sunni Islam’s Hanafi school of jurisprudence with respect to the country’s culture and spiritual life.  This status, however, does not have any specific legal bearing.

The law restricts Islamic prayer to four locations:  mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines.  It regulates the registration, size, and location of mosques, limiting the number of mosques that may be registered within a given population area.  Outside the capital, the government allows “Friday mosques,” which conduct larger Friday prayers as well as prayers five times per day, to be located in districts with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 persons; it allows “five-time prayer mosques,” which conduct only daily prayers five times per day, in areas with populations of 100 to 1,000.  In the capital Dushanbe, authorities allow Friday mosques in areas with 30,000 to 50,000 persons, and five-time prayer mosques in areas with populations of 1,000 to 5,000.  The law allows one “central Friday mosque” per district or city and makes other mosques subordinate to it.

Mosques function according to their charters in buildings constructed by government-approved religious organizations, by individual citizens, or with the assistance of the general population.  The law states the selection of chief-khatibs (government-sanctioned prayer leaders at a central Friday mosque), imam-khatibs (government-sanctioned prayer leaders in a Friday mosque, who deliver a sermon at Friday noon prayers), and imams (government-sanctioned prayer leaders in five-time prayer mosques) shall take place in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs,” namely the CRA.  Local authorities decide on land allocation for the construction of mosques in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs.”  The CRA disseminates recommended talking points for Friday sermons drafted by the Islamic Center.  Individual imam-khatibs may modify or supplement the talking points, and, according to the CRA, there is no penalty for noncompliance.

The law on traditions and celebrations regulates private celebrations, including weddings, funeral services, and observations of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday; sets limits on the number of guests for these events; and governs ceremonial gift presentations and other rituals, with the goal of preventing what the government considers exorbitant expenditures on such events.  It also bans the traditional sacrifice of animals at ceremonies marking the seventh and 40th day after a death.  Traditional sacrifices are permissible during Ramadan and Eid al-Adha.  Separately, the freedom of conscience law states that group worship, religious traditions, and ceremonies must be carried out according to the procedures for holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and peaceful processions.  A June 2021 amendment to the law on traditions and celebrations gives the government authority to impose further restrictions on celebrations and ceremonies in the case of emergencies, including medical emergencies.

According to the law on traditions and celebrations, “Individuals and legal entities are obliged to protect the values of the national culture, including the state language and national dress.”  According to customary (i.e., not official) interpretation, “national dress” does not include the hijab, although it does include a traditional Tajik form of woman’s head covering known as a ruymol.  The Code of Administrative Violations (the Code) does not list the wearing of a beard, hijab, or other religious clothing as violations.

The freedom of conscience law allows registered religious organizations to produce, export, import, and distribute religious literature and materials containing religious content after receiving CRA approval.  Only registered religious associations and organizations are entitled to establish enterprises that produce literature and material with religious content.  Such literature and material must indicate the full name of the religious organization producing it.  The Code allows government authorities to levy fines for the production, export, import, sale, or distribution of religious literature without CRA permission.  According to the Code, violators are subject to confiscation of the given literature, as well as fines of 1,800 to 4,200 somoni ($160 to $370) for individuals, 3,000 to 9,000 somoni ($270 to $800) for government officials, and 6,000 to 18,000 somoni ($530 to $1,600) for legal entities, a category that includes all organizations.  According to the Code, producing literature or material containing religious content without identifying the name of the religious organization producing it entails fines of 3,000 to 6,000 somoni ($270 to $530) and confiscation of the material.

The parental responsibility law prohibits individuals younger than 18 from participating in “public religious activities,” including attending worship services at public places of worship.  Individuals younger than 18 may attend religious funerals and practice religion at home, under parental guidance.  The statute allows individuals younger than 18 to participate in religious activities that are part of specific educational programs in authorized religious institutions.

The law on parental responsibility allows minors between the ages of seven and 18, with written parental consent, to obtain religious instruction provided by a registered religious organization outside mandatory school hours.  According to the law, this may not duplicate religious instruction that is already part of a school curriculum; as part of high school curriculum, students must take general classes on the history of religions.

According to the CRA, parents may teach religion to their children at home provided they express a desire to learn.  While the freedom of conscience law allows parents to provide religious education to their children, it forbids religious associations from preaching or engaging in educational activity in private homes.  The same law also restricts citizens from going abroad for religious education or establishing ties with religious organizations abroad without CRA consent.  To be eligible to study religion abroad, students must complete a degree in religious studies domestically and receive written consent from the CRA.  The Code stipulates fines of 3,000 to 6,000 somoni ($270 to $530) for violating these restrictions.

While the Ministry of Education sets classroom and curriculum standards and issues licenses for religious organizations, the CRA is responsible for monitoring the organizations to ensure implementation of the law’s other provisions.  Central district mosques may operate madrassahs, which are open only to high school graduates, but there are currently no madrassahs operating in the country because in practice, no madrassah has been able to meet the Ministry of Education’s requirements relative to classrooms, qualified teachers, and curriculum.  Other mosques, if registered with and licensed by the government, may provide part-time religious instruction for younger students in accordance with their charters.

The law requires men to serve one year in the armed forces if they have a university degree, and two years if they have not graduated from a university.  Since January, men who want to fulfill their service commitment without serving the full one or two years on active duty may pay a fee and complete a one-month reserve training course.

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

Government Practices

On January 20, the Majlisi Namoyandagon (lower house of parliament) adopted the new Law on General Military Duty and Military Service, which allowed one-month reserve training instead of one- or two-year active-duty military commitments, upon payment of a fee.  In August, a Ministry of Defense official told media the number of participants in the program would be capped each year by regional and local military commissariats (draft commissions).  Applicants not selected in a given year would not be conscripted in that year but would be called up for an accelerated training program during the next conscription period according to a wait list.  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajiki language outlet Radio Ozodi reported that on July 30, President Emomali Rahmon signed into law regulations setting the fee to be paid to the Ministry of Defense in 2021 at 420 fee units, equal to 25,200 somoni ($2,200).  NGOs said the new law removed the text in the previous version that had allowed for alternative service only once the government specified what that service would be.  Previous governments never enacted legislation determining acceptable alternative service, which allowed the government to punish those seeking alternative civilian service.  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said the new law was not acceptable according to their faith because the alternative arrangement required participation in the military (through training), required payment of a fee to the Ministry of Defense, and did not allow for an exemption based on religious beliefs.

On January 7, before the new law on military service went into effect, the Khujand Military Court sentenced Rustamjon Norov, a Jehovah’s Witness, to three and a half years in prison for evading compulsory military service.  According to Forum 18, this was the longest known sentence to date in the country given to a conscientious objector.  A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said this lengthy sentence was meant to intimidate the group’s members and to demonstrate the firmness of the government’s position against the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to accept their military service obligation.  Authorities arrested Norov in November 2020, and prosecutors accused him of falsifying his medical history to evade military service, which he denied.  Norov offered to perform alternative civilian service.  On September 21, Norov was freed under the annual nationwide amnesty law signed by President Rahmon.

According to Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witness Shamil Khakimov continued to serve a four and a half-year sentence in a prison in Shughd Region that began in 2019 for “inciting religious hatred” after police found Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and a Tajik-language Bible in his home.  Khakimov’s sentence was reduced by a year under the September amnesty, following a prior reduction of his original seven and a half-year sentence.  Khakimov also faces a three-year ban on proselytizing once released from prison.  Khakimov’s relatives told Forum 18 that the 70-year old was in poor health, but that authorities denied requests, including from the UN Human Rights Committee, to transfer him to an outside hospital.  Authorities also did not act on Khakimov’s request for a presidential pardon during the year.  On May 17, Khakimov told his lawyer that the prison administration wanted him to admit his guilt in writing; Khakimov refused.  On June 30, the General Prosecutor’s Office (PGO) forwarded his case to the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, which supervises prisons in Sughd Region.  On July 1, the prison administration said Khakimov’s petition for pardon was inapplicable because he did not repent his “crimes” or renounce his “extremist” beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.  In July, the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office rejected Khakimov’s petition for pardon because he refused to admit guilt, although an admission of guilt is not a legal requirement for pardon, and Khakimov’s original offense (inciting religious hatred) had been removed from the Criminal Code in December 2020.  On August 5, the Supreme Court denied Khakimov’s appeal.

According to Radio Ozodi, on January 29, authorities released independent journalist Daler Sharifov from prison after he served his full one-year sentence.  Authorities charged him in 2020 with inciting religious hatred, based on articles and notes on human rights and religious freedom he wrote that a Shomansur district court determined contained extremist content and language that incited religious hatred.

According to NGOs, authorities continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in, or of supporting, banned extremist organizations.  There were 339 such arrests during the year, according to Minister of Internal Affairs Ramazon Rahimzoda.  At a press conference on August 4, he said that in the first half of the year, law enforcement authorities detained more than 140 persons on suspicion of participation in banned movements, organizations, and groups the government deemed to be terrorist and extremist.  Of those detained, 45 were reportedly proponents of Salafism; 33 were members of banned opposition organizations, including IRPT, “Group 24,” and the National Alliance of Tajikistan; three were Muslim Brotherhood members; two were members of Jamaat Ansarullah; 26 were ISIS members; three were al-Qaeda members; eight were members of Jamaat Tabligh; six were members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir; and 18 were members of the Islamic Party of Turkestan.

On January 14, citing the PGO, state news outlet Khovar reported that the Tursunzoda City Court sentenced local resident Abdullo Haitov to five and a half years in prison for supporting and promoting Salafism.  According to the PGO, Haitov studied Salafist teaching while working as a migrant laborer in Russia from 2010 to 2020.  The PGO said he became an active Salafist and used social media to recruit others.  Authorities had detained Haitov in February 2020 and charged him with extremism.

On February 12, Radio Ozodi said that the Ismoili Somoni District Court in Dushanbe sentenced Sirojiddin Abdurahmonov, a cleric widely considered to be the leader of the Salafist movement in the country, to five and a half years in prison for supporting Salafism.  He had been in custody since November 2020.  Abdurahmonov previously was arrested in 2009, sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of inciting religious hatred and released in 2013 under an amnesty.

In April, the Supreme Court issued a verdict in the high-profile case begun in July 2020 against a large group of individuals it said were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Independent news outlet Asia-Plus reported that the court sentenced 119 individuals, including Ismoil Qahhorov (from a prominent religious and political family) and two Egyptian citizens, to between five and 23 years in prison each.  Radio Ozodi reported that the court found the suspects guilty of terrorist financing, publicly calling for extremist activities, organizing an extremist community, and organizing activities of an extremist organization.  The court also fined two additional defendants for “failure to report a crime.”  According to Asia-Plus, the court identified Egyptian national Muhammad Bayumi, a professor at the Tajik National University, as the leader of the group and sentenced him to 23 years imprisonment.  The second Egyptian citizen, an Arabic professor at the same university, received seven years in prison.  The court sentenced Qahhorov to 15 years’ imprisonment.

On April 22, state news outlet Khovar reported that officials from the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) detained Abdulhaq Obidov, imam-khatib of a mosque in Shohmansur District of Dushanbe, along with four others on suspicion of membership in the banned Salafist movement.  On June 22, Radio Ozodi reported that Obidov and two of those detained with him had been released.  Some independent commentators said Obidov was arrested for making critical remarks, including of President Rahmon, at the funeral of prominent cleric Domullo Hikmatullo Tojikobodi.  Publicly criticizing the President is a criminal offense.

Radio Ozodi reported that the Dushanbe City Court in late May sentenced Saidhasan Saidqiyomiddin, the son of Islamic cleric and opposition figure Saidqiyomiddin Ghozi, to 11 years in prison on unspecified charges in a trial held behind closed doors.  Court representatives did not provide any details of the verdict, but Radio Ozodi reported that authorities accused him of extremism.

On June 2, Radio Ozodi reported that a court sentenced Mirzokul Hojimatov, also known as Mirzo Hojimuhammad, to five years’ imprisonment on charges of membership in a banned extremist organization.  He formerly served as deputy head of the Sughd regional branch of the IRPT but voluntarily left its ranks in 2015, according to his relatives.  Authorities reportedly arrested Hojimatov on May 22 after an investigation into an unspecified Facebook post by him.

On June 19, media reported GBAO authorities arrested prominent cleric Abdullobek Quvvatbekov, also known as Mavlavi Abdullo Yazgulomi, and his brother Izzatullo Quvvatbekov on June 18 at their home in Dushanbe and seized religious books and money.  Radio Ozodi stated on June 30 that authorities released Izzatullo but extended Abdullobek’s detention and transferred him to a pretrial detention center.  On September 17, Radio Ozodi reported that in September, the Khorugh city court sentenced Abdullobek to five years’ imprisonment for “calls to extremism through the internet.”  The exact date of the court ruling was not provided.  According to Radio Ozodi, the Khorugh City Court also sentenced two of Abdullobek’s students, Imomiddin Aliev and Nazriddin Shukurov, to four and a half years each on the same charges.  Quvvatbek Quvvatbekov, Abdullobek’s brother, told Radio Ozodi on September 17 that they would appeal the court ruling.

On July 1, the Bobojon Ghafurov District Court sentenced 18 individuals to prison, with sentences ranging from one to five and a half years, on charges of involvement in the Salafist movement.  The Sughd Department of Internal Affairs arrested the 18 individuals in February.  An unnamed lawyer told Asia-Plus news that Muhsin Kholmatov was sentenced to five and a half years for being the organizer of the group; 13 individuals received five-year sentences for extremism; another four received one-year sentences for failure to report or concealment of a crime.

On July 12, the Sughd Department of Internal Affairs reported that the Konibodom District Court sentenced five residents on charges of participating in the banned Salafist movement online, organizing illegal gatherings to promote ideas the government considered extremist, using literature with content considered extremist under the law, deliberately committing crimes against the constitutional order, and violating state security through their participation in the Salafist movement.  Damir Sobirov, previously charged with the same Salafist-related offenses, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, while Umar Ashurov, Sulton Ismoilov, Navruz Mavlonov, and Burkhon Tukhtaev were each sentenced to five years in prison.

On July 22, Radio Ozodi reported that a court in Kulob sentenced Mahmadsodik Saidov, imam-khatib at Nonvoyi Poyon Mosque in Kulob, to five years in prison for collaborating with the editor of banned website  Chair of the court Izatullo Tabarzoda told Radio Ozodi that Saidov repeatedly contacted the editor-in-chief of the website by mobile phone and sent him Friday sermons and information regarding the Kulob city leadership and the situation in the city.  According to Tabarzoda, the court also sentenced Kulob residents Abdughaffor Rajabov and Aslamkhon Karimov to five years in prison on charges of cooperation with banned organizations, including  Editor-in-chief of Muhammadikbol Sadriddin denied he and Saidov were in contact and stated he received the sermons from another source.  Forum 18 said in August that GKNB officers arrested Saidov in March after he refused to preach a CRA-provided sermon and preached his own sermon instead.

According to Radio Ozodi, on April 19, GKNB officers detained Asadullo Ismoilov, imam-khatib at a mosque in the Yakkachinor area of Dushanbe.  Radio Ozodi reported that authorities visited Ismoilov’s home and seized books and literature in April 20, and then released him from custody without charges on April 25.

Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council in August 2004 that prohibited women from praying at mosques.  Ismaili Shia women were permitted to attend Shia services in the GBAO and Dushanbe.

The CRA stated that during the year, it received one application for registration from a non-Islamic religious association, the synagogue in Dushanbe, which was approved.  Authorities later deregistered the synagogue at the request of the Jewish community due to the small number of congregants, according to the CRA.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to seek registration, an effort at which they had been unsuccessful since 2007, and some adherents stated they were harassed by authorities.

At a press conference on July 26, Center for Strategic Studies (a government think tank) Director Khurshed Ziyoi said law enforcement authorities had gained substantial experience in the fight against terrorism and extremism and that the number of citizens in the ranks of such organizations was declining.  However, according to Ziyoi, superstition, ignorance, and religious illiteracy in the country had become problems as dangerous as terrorism and extremism.  He said there were people in the country who, hiding behind Islam, spread a false conception of religion among the population.  He recalled an exchange with a bearded young man who said a mullah in his neighborhood told him that beardless men could not have children.  Ziyoi said such mullahs “create more problems than terrorists and extremists.”

NGOs reported continued government restrictions on imam-khatibs and imams, such as the central government selection and approval of sermon topics and the prohibition of some imam-khatibs from performing certain ceremonies.

In a November submission to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), the international NGO Human Rights Watch stated the government “severely curtails freedom of religion or belief, proscribing certain forms of dress, including the hijab for women and long beards for men.”  While there remained no legal prohibition against wearing a hijab or a beard, NGOs reported authorities continued to discourage “nontraditional or alien” clothing and long beards.

On July 30, Forum 18 reported that efforts to prevent women from wearing hijabs intensified beginning in March, focused on women wearing hijabs on the streets, in markets, and in other public places.  An unnamed source told Forum 18 that the source witnessed male police officers, along with female officials from an unknown state agency, stopping individual hijab-wearing women in the street in early July.  The source reported witnessing male and female officials “speaking to women very rudely and harassing them if they refused to take off their hijab.”  Women who insisted on wearing the hijab could not be employed in any state jobs or in private sector positions where they had to interact with the public, a human rights defender told Forum 18.

In a November 10 Facebook post, journalist Daler Imomali stated that authorities at the Hissor District passport office had refused to issue him new identification because he had a beard.  Imomali subsequently contacted the Central Passport Service, which told him, he stated, that there was an informal, unpublished order banning beards in ID documents.  In response to a press inquiry following Imomali’s allegations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated on November 11 that only citizens over 60 years of age had the right to obtain identity documents with a beard.

An anonymous woman told Forum 18 she was refused entry to a hospital by women stating they were from the government’s Committee for Women ad Family Affairs; they told the woman that wearing the hijab was against the country’s morals and traditions.  Hilolbi Qurbonzoda, chair of that committee, told Forum 18 in July that committee representatives were merely talking to women rather than giving them orders and that the country had its own national traditions and dress for women.  According to Forum 18, Qurbonzoda said the hijab was not banned, and women could “easily” continue wearing it.  In the same report, Forum 18 quoted unnamed sources that said in the past two years, the government did not appear to target bearded men as systemically as it targeted hijab-wearing women.

On February 10, CRA Chair Sulaymon Davlatzoda said during a press conference that the CRA continued to carefully monitor all literature of a religious nature to prevent the proliferation of extremist views.  According to Davlatzoda, any materials that contained public calls for abolition of the constitutional order or that supported terrorist activities would be deemed extremist.  Davlatzoda further said the CRA was responsible for tracking and preventing the distribution of publications produced by groups banned by the Supreme Court, including Jabhat al-Nusra, Hizb ut-Tahrir, ISIS, and Jamaat Ansarullah.

The government continued to mandate that anyone wishing to study religion abroad should receive government approval and should study at a government-approved religious institution.

On July 22, CRA chairman Davlatzoda said during a press conference that 3,916 citizens who had been illegally studying at religious educational institutions abroad had returned home to date, and 65 of them were pursuing their education in Tajikistan.  He said 83 individuals were continuing illegal studies in religious educational institutions abroad and that “outreach and explanatory efforts” were underway to repatriate them.

During the July 22 press conference, Davlatzoda said that according to information available to CRA, no mosques had been shut down in the country between January and July.  He further stated that mosques could be closed either pursuant to a court decision or a religious association’s decision that operation of a particular mosque was no longer necessary.  The last report of mosque closures came in February 2019, when media reported that 67 mosques had been closed in Bobojon Ghafurov District, and that 12 had been closed in Istaravshan District in 2018.  In those cases, the government cited poor sanitation and a lack of registration as reasons for the closures.

According to news site Khabarho, during a July 21 press conference, the public prosecutor of the Sughd Region, Furqat Khojazoda, expressed concerns about an increase in the number of cases of illegal religious education for youth in that region.  He said that in the previous six months, law enforcement had uncovered 36 cases of illegal religious education there.  All the offenders – teachers and parents of young people – were held accountable [likely fined], he said.  During a press conference to sum up developments during the year, Internal Affairs Minister Rahimzoda said that one of the main reasons for persons joining terrorist extremist groups was illegal religious education received in religious institutions abroad.  He expressed concern that there were still individuals receiving illegal religious education within the country as well.  He noted that during the year, the government uncovered 80 domestic cases of illegal religious education and took legal action [levied fines] against the teachers and parents involved.

On October 4, the official website of the Majlisi Namoyandagon stated that the Majlisi was considering government-proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that would criminalize providing “unapproved religious education,” including online, even if the educational material did not contain content deemed to be religiously extremist.  Previously, providing such illegal religious education was an administrative offense.  The amendments, which were incorporated into the Criminal Code on December 23, set the penalties at a fine of 51,200 to 76,800 somoni ($4,500 to $6,800) or imprisonment of up to three years.

Radio Ozodi reported in February that local officials in Mastchoh District destroyed the dome of a newly constructed mosque.  Turob Turobov, chair of the Mastchoh jamoat (a small, rural administrative unit), told Radio Ozodi that the CRA had not approved construction of the mosque and that the structure was supposed to be turned into a library, in accordance with a 2018 decision by the Mastchoh District chair.  Turobov also said there were already two mosques in the village.

In its 2019 review (the most recent) of the government’s adherence to its commitments under the ICCPR, which international observers stated remained accurate for 2021, the UNHRC said it remained concerned that “interference by the State in religious affairs, worship, and freedom of religion, and the ensuing restrictions… are incompatible with the Covenant.”  The UNHRC identified these restrictions as including:  (a) interference with the appointment of imams and the content of their sermons; (b) control over books and other religious materials; (c) the requirement of state permission for receiving religious education abroad; (d) the prohibition against entering a mosque for those younger than 18 years of age; (e) the regulations regarding the registration of religious organizations; (f) the regulations on wearing clothes during traditional or religious celebrations and the prohibition of certain attire in practice, such as the hijab; and (g) restrictions imposed on Christian religious minorities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A planned October visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to assess the government’s actions as they pertained to religious freedom did not take place.  Neither the UN nor the government publicly commented on why the trip did not occur, and as of year’s end no new date had been proposed.

According to a February 1 post on the official Facebook page of the GBAO government, teaching of the ethics and enlightenment course to Ismaili Muslims was suspended “temporarily” in schools throughout the region.  This subject had been taught in GBAO schools since the1990s.  Regional authorities said they based the suspension on the principle that public school curriculum should be broadly secular and not focused on any particular religious group; the growing number of non-Ismaili children in the region’s schools, especially in Khorugh; the lack of school hours and classrooms; and “other religious problems in the world today.”  According to GBAO authorities, the suspension provoked wide discussion among the local population and on social media.  Regional governmental leaders convened relevant government officials and members of the Council of Ismaili Education and the Institute of Humanities at the Academy of Sciences to discuss the future of this course.  Participants decided the subject should be excluded from the school curriculum and addressed at a more local level (in homes, other private buildings, and jamoatkhonas – Ismaili community centers that host both religious and cultural activities).  The classes had not resumed at year’s end.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Individuals outside government continued to state they were reluctant to discuss issues such as societal respect for religious diversity, including abuses or discrimination based on religious belief, due to fear of government harassment.  Civil society representatives said discussion of religion in general, especially relations among different religious groups, remained a subject they avoided.  Individuals said they were more comfortable discussing abuses of civil rights than discussing sectarian disagreements or restrictions on religious freedom.

According to members of religious minority groups, Muslims who converted to non-Muslim religions usually faced social disapproval from family and relatives.  In its annual report on the country, the NGO Open Doors said that converts from Islam remained at risk of retaliation from their families and friends, who viewed them as “traitors.”  Representatives of these minority groups, however, stated that in general, their communities had decent working relationships with majority Hanafi Sunni society.  On social media, while open hostility toward minority religious groups was still relatively limited, there was significant criticism of Ismaili Shia Muslims and Zoroastrians.  Traditional state and private media reportedly did not negatively portray or target minority religious groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings throughout the year with the Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister, CRA representatives, and other government officials, the Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to raise concerns regarding restrictions on minors’ and women’s participation in religious services, the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, and restrictions on the religious education of youth.  Embassy representatives raised the registration difficulties faced by non-Islamic religious organizations, the provisions in the freedom of conscience law, and the requirements for religious organizations to report certain activities to the government.  In March, the Ambassador discussed the state of religious freedom in the country in a call with the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

U.S. officials again emphasized with government representatives the importance of ameliorating restrictions on freedom of religion through national legislation as well as addressing alternatives to military service.  U.S. embassy officers again sought amnesty for conscientious objectors and prisoners of conscience, and the Ambassador advocated for imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses during his interactions with the government.

During the eighth U.S.-Tajikistan Annual Bilateral Consultations on July 1 in Washington, D.C., officials from the two countries discussed opportunities to promote religious freedom.  U.S. officials called for easing restrictions on religious literature; allowing children to attend religious services; registration of minority religious groups; and allowing Muslims who elect to do so to wear hijabs or beards.  They also urged the release of Jehovah’s Witnesses Shamil Khakimov and Rustamjon Norov.

Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues with civil society and NGO representatives and Christian religious leaders during the year.  Embassy officials continued to discuss with religious leaders how COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, including the closures of mosques and churches throughout the country at various times during the year, affected their communities.

Since 2016, Tajikistan has been designated a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 15, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a CPC and issued a waiver of the sanctions as required in the important national interest of the United States.


Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds.  The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to enable the practice of Islam, provide religious education, and manage religious institutions.  According to media, some members of the Uyghur Muslim community expressed fear that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was attempting to pressure the government to change its policy of not deporting members of the Uyghur diaspora community to the PRC.  According to media and public government statements, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country, did not deport any Uyghurs to the PRC during the year, and consistently denied plans to change this policy.  In July, media reported nine Kurdish Sunni imams were arrested, charged with terrorism related offenses and for preaching in Kurdish, and then released.  The lawyer representing the imams told media he believed his clients’ “freedom of religion and belief has been openly violated” because they could not preach in their chosen language.  In March, government media regulator Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined independent television broadcasters for “insulting society’s religious values,” which independent Turkish media stated was a common means of retaliation against media organizations critical of the government.  In March, the Constitutional Court upheld a regional court decision sentencing a journalist to seven months in prison for tweets “insulting religious values.”  Government officials continued to use antisemitic rhetoric in speeches.  In May, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Israelis were “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old.  They are only satisfied with sucking their blood.”  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  Media and nongovernmental organizations reported continued entry bans and deportations of non-Turkish citizen leaders of Protestant congregations.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy domestically, and the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed.  In January, an Armenian Christian parliamentarian condemned the demolition of a 17th-century Armenian church in Kutahya that had been protected under local law.  Construction of a new Syriac Orthodox church in Istanbul continued, according to the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Office.

According to media reports, isolated acts of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries continued.  In February, media reported that unidentified individuals vandalized the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Akhisar District of Izmir.  According to media, in March, police opened an investigation of a fire set at the gate of the historical Kasturya Synagogue, located in Ayvansaray District in Istanbul.  Media reported that three men videotaped themselves dancing atop the gates of Surp Tavakor Armenian Church, causing damage to the gate’s crucifix, in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District on July 11.  Government officials condemned the men’s actions; authorities subsequently detained and then released them.  In December, the three suspects were indicted and charged with “insulting religious values.”  Judicial proceedings continued through year’s end.  In September, media reported unidentified individuals vandalized Kurdish Alevi homes with graffiti that read, “Kurdish Alevi get out,” in the province of Mersin.  Antisemitic discourse and hate speech continued in social media and the print press; in August, some social media personalities and journalists linked the devastating wildfires spreading through the country to a foreign rabbi living in the country.  On June 18, media reported that representatives of the Jewish community filed a criminal complaint against the head of a health and social services business after he tweeted that those protesting at Bogazici University “are all dishonest… You are all a traitor.  You are all a Jew.”

On October 25, the U.S. President met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  According to the White House press release, they discussed the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right.  The Secretary of State also met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, tweeting afterwards, “We value our partnership with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey and the region.”  The U.S. Ambassador, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to emphasize to government officials the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  On May 18, the Department of State spokesperson issued a statement condemning President Erdogan’s antisemitic rhetoric.  U.S. officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups and make progress on property restitution.  Senior U.S. officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call on the government to allow the reopening of Halki Seminary and to permit the training of clergy members from all communities in the country.  In May, during a visit to Istanbul, the Deputy Secretary of State met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.  The Deputy Secretary also visited St. George’s Cathedral.  Embassy and consulate officials continued to hold meetings with a wide range of Islamic religious leaders and religious minority community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Baha’i, and Chaldean Catholic communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 82.5 million (midyear 2021).  According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 78 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni.  Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members are 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent public opinion surveys published in January 2019 by Turkish research and polling firm KONDA Research and Consultancy suggest approximately 3 percent of the population self-identifies as atheist and 2 percent as nonbelievers.

Leaders of Alevi foundations estimate Alevi Muslims comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population.  KONDA Research and Consultancy estimates the Alevi community at approximately 6 percent of the population, almost 5 million individuals.  The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population.

Non-Muslim religious groups are mostly concentrated in Istanbul and other large cities, as well as in the southeast.  Exact figures are not available; however, these groups self-report approximately 90,000 Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians (including migrants from Armenia), 25,000 Roman Catholics (including migrants from Africa and the Philippines), and 12,000-16,000 Jews.  There are also approximately 25,000 Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Syriacs), 15,000 Russian Orthodox Christians (mostly immigrants from Russia who hold residence permits), and 10,000 Baha’is.

Estimates of other groups include 7,000-10,000 members of Protestant and evangelical Christian denominations, 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians, fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians, and fewer than 1,000 Yezidis.  There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Maronite Christians.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) estimates its membership at 300 individuals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship.  It stipulates individuals may not be compelled to participate in religious ceremonies or disclose their religion and acts of worship may be conducted freely as long as they are not directed against the “integrity of the state.”  The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion.”  It also prohibits “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates Islamic matters.  According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable the belief, practices, and moral principles of Islam, with a primary focus on Sunni Islam; educate the public about religious issues; and administer mosques.  The Diyanet operates under the Office of the President, with its head appointed by the President and administered by a 16-person council elected by clerics and university theology faculties.  The Diyanet has five main departments, called high councils:  Religious Services, Hajj and Umrah Services, Education, Publications, and Public Relations.  While the law does not require that all members of the council be Sunni Muslim, in practice this has been the case.

Blasphemy is outlawed under the penal code, which provides punishment for “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs, and criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion.”  Insulting a religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

The penal code prohibits religious clergy from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties.  Violations are punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law.

Although registration with the government is not explicitly mandatory for religious groups to operate, registering a group is required to request legal recognition for places of worship.  Gaining legal recognition of a place of worship requires permission from the municipalities for the construction or designation of a new place of worship.  It is against the law to hold religious services at a location not recognized by the central government as a place of worship; the government may fine or close the venues of those violating the law.

Interfering with the service of a religious group is punishable by one to three years in prison; defacing religious property is punishable by three months to one year in prison; and destroying or demolishing religious property is punishable by one to four years in prison.  Because it is illegal to hold religious services in places not registered as places of worship, in practice, these legal proscriptions apply only to recognized religious groups.

The law prohibits Sufi and other religious-social orders (tarikats) and lodges (cemaats), although the government generally does not enforce these restrictions.

Military service is obligatory for males; there is no provision for conscientious objection.  A government policy allows individuals to pay a fee of 43,151 Turkish lira ($3,300) instead of performing full military service; however, they are required to complete a three-week basic training program.  Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and, if convicted, could be subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

The leadership and administrative structures of religious communities do not have a legal personality, leaving them unable to directly buy or hold title to property or press claims in court.  Communities rely on separate foundations or associations governed by individual boards to hold and administer assets and property.

A 1935 law prohibits the establishment of foundations based on the religion or ethnicity of members but grants exemptions to foundations existing before the enactment of the law.  Non-Muslim citizens direct these longstanding foundations; 167 continue to exist, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities.  In practice, a religious group formed after 1935 may successfully apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.  There are six Protestant foundations (four existing before the passage of the 1935 foundation law), 36 Protestant associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

The General Directorate of Foundations (GDF), under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, regulates the activities and affiliated properties of all foundations, and it assesses whether they are operating within the stated objectives of their organizational charter.  There are several categories of foundations, including religious community foundations existing prior to the 1935 law.

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to rule it is no longer operational and transfer its assets to the state.  Only a court order may close a foundation of any category, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close foundations by decree.

A foundation may earn income through companies and rent-earning properties, as well as from donations.  The process for establishing a foundation is lengthier and more expensive than that for establishing an association, but associations have fewer legal rights than foundations at the local level.

Several religious communities have formally registered corresponding associations.  Associations must be nonprofit and receive financial support only in the form of donations.  To register as an association, a group must apply to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members.  A group must also obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is a founding member; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of its residence permits.  If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change them to meet the legal requirements.  Under the law, the governorate may fine or otherwise punish association officials for actions deemed to violate the organization’s bylaws.  A court order may close an association, and the Ministry of Interior may temporarily close an association or foundation and apply to a court within 48 hours for a decision on closure.  Otherwise, the government may close associations and foundations by decree under a state of emergency.  The civil code requires associations not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.

By law, prisoners have the right to practice their religion while incarcerated; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship.  According to the law, prison authorities must allow visitation by clergy members of registered religions and allow them to offer books and other materials that are part of the prisoner’s faith as long as the prisoner is a member of a registered religion.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private schools at all levels starting with fourth grade, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which falls under the authority of the Office of the President.  Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through 12.  Only students who marked “Christian” or “Jewish” on their national identity cards may apply for an exemption from religion classes.  Atheists, agnostics, Alevis or other non-Sunni Muslims, Baha’is, Yezidis, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Confucians, Taoists, and Buddhists, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are rarely granted exemptions from the classes.  Middle and high school students may take additional Islamic religious courses as electives for two hours per week during regular school hours.

The government issues chip-enabled national identity cards that contain no visible section to identify religious affiliation.  The information on religious affiliation is recorded in the chip and remains visible to authorized public officials as “qualified personal data” and protected as private information.  Previously issued national identity cards, which continue in circulation, contain a space for religious identification with the option of leaving the space blank.  The new cards include the same options for religious identities as the older cards:  Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, “no religion,” or “other/unknown.”  Baha’i, Alevi, Yezidi, and other religious groups with known populations in the country were not options, requiring individuals of other religions or no religion to leave the category blank or to state “other/unknown.”

According to labor law, private and public sector employers may not discriminate against employees based on religion.  Employees may seek legal action against an employer through the Labor Court.  If an employee can prove a violation occurred, the employee may be entitled to compensation of up to four months of salary in addition to the reversal of the employment decision.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with one reservation regarding Article 27, which states individuals belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities “shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”  The reservation asserts the right “to interpret and apply the provisions of Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in accordance with the related provisions and rules of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey and the Treaty of Lausanne of 24 July 1923 and its Appendixes.”

Government Practices

On July 4, a court sentenced Syriac Orthodox priest Father Bilecen (also known as Father Aho) to 25 months in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization.”  According to the Province of Mardin Public Prosecutor, local gendarmerie arrested Aho and two other Syriacs in 2018 for providing bread and water to members of the U.S.- and Turkish-designated terror organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who visited the 1,500-year-old Mor Yakub Monastery in Mardin Province.  According to Aho, he provided food and water to the individuals in question because his religion “commanded” him to help others, stating he acted “out of my belief, not out of help to any organization.”  The case was pending appeal at year’s end.

On July 11, media reported nine Kurdish Sunni imams were arrested, charged with terrorism-related offenses, and then released seven days later.  Authorities detained the nine imams along with 19 others during a counterterrorism operation.  Media reported the charges for arrest also included preaching sermons in Kurdish.  The nine imams were reportedly asked why they had deviated from the mandatory Diyanet-approved Friday sermon (khutbah) and why they delivered the sermon in Kurdish.  While by law the Diyanet’s mandate is to govern and coordinate all matters of Islamic practices, teachings, and beliefs, the law does not forbid preaching in Kurdish.  The lawyer representing the imams told media that he believed his clients’ “freedom of religion and belief has been openly violated,” since they were not able to practice in their chosen language.  One of the imams told media, “God gave us this language.”  According to media, authorities released the imams under travel restrictions.  The case continued through the year’s end.

The country continued to host a large diaspora community of ethnic Uyghur Chinese Muslims.  The PRC continued to seek the forcible repatriation of some Uyghur Muslims from Turkey; however, local Uyghur community sources said they knew of no cases of deportations of Uyghurs to the PRC during the year.  During the year, members of the Uyghur community expressed concern regarding an extradition treaty the government signed with the PRC in December 2020.  By year’s end, lawmakers had not debated or ratified the treaty.  According to media and public government statements, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country, did not deport any Uyghurs to the PRC during the year, and consistently denied plans to change this policy.  According to media, Uyghur individuals whom police detained in counterterrorism security raids and subsequently released expressed fear that they were targeted because of PRC pressure on the country.  During Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s March visit to Ankara, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told media he “conveyed [their] sensitivity and thoughts on Uyghur Turks.”

In March, the Constitutional Court ruled a lower court had infringed on journalist Hakan Aygun’s rights following his arrest for a March 2020 social media post in which he used a religious pun to criticize a government Twitter campaign soliciting donations; authorities freed Aygun in May 2020.  The Constitutional Court awarded him compensation of 40,000 lira ($3,100) for his wrongful arrest.  His case with the local court that sentenced him to seven months and 15 days in prison for “insulting the religious values adopted by a section of the population” was pending appeal at year’s end.

Also in March, government media regulator RTUK fined independent television broadcasters Halk TV and TELE1 for “insulting society’s religious values,” which independent media stated was a common means of retaliation against media organizations critical of the government.  In another case, RTUK fined TELE1’s program “18 Dakika” (18 Minutes) for using the term “Islamic terrorism” on its program.

In March, the government announced its Human Rights Action Plan, to be implemented within two years and which included several reforms for religious minority communities, including provisions to hold General Directorate of Foundation elections.  Elections, however, were not held by year’s end, and the plan did not become law.  Representatives from religious groups reported no change in interactions with the government following the plan’s announcement.

The government continued to interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which refers broadly to “non-Muslim minorities,” as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups:  Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  The government continued not to recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Chief Rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court.  These three groups, along with other minority religious communities, had to rely on independent foundations they previously organized, overseen by separate governing boards, to hold and control individual religious properties.

According to a Seventh-day Adventist source, during the year, the government compensated at least one of six Seventh-day Adventist adherents for its refusal to allow the Seventh-day Adventists to establish a foundation.  The source said the compensation was in line with a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) 2010 ruling that found the government had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of assembly and association, when the government refused to allow the establishment of the foundation.  The court ruling required the government to pay six members of the congregation in Istanbul a total compensation of 8,724 euros ($9,900).

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition, and their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations.

In December, media reported Archbishop of Armenian Catholics in Turkey Levon Zekiyan led the first Mass in Surp Hovsep Armenian Catholic Church in Diyarbakir in nearly a century.  The building had been damaged during clashes between police and Kurdish demonstrators in the city in 2015.  Restored by the General Directorate of Foundations, the church will be used by Dicle University for 10 years as a cultural center under the condition that the Armenian Catholic community retain the right to use the church on demand.

In September, media reported the Assyrian community, with bureaucratic assistance from the GDF, reopened Mor Dimet Church in the southeast province of Mardin after 30 years of inactivity.  The church was abandoned in the height of tensions in the region in 1980s and early 1990s.

On August 15, for the first time in six years, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, whom the government continued not to recognize as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, presided over the Divine Liturgy at Sumela Monastery.  This was the second time the government granted the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate permission to hold its annual August 15 service at the fourth-century monastery since suspending services in 2015 for restoration.  During the liturgy, the Patriarch thanked President Erdogan and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism for allowing the ceremony to take place and for caring for the space.

According to media reports, in January, the private owner demolished the 17th century Church of Surp Toros in the eastern province of Kutahya.  Although the place of worship had been deconsecrated and abandoned since 1915, Garo Paylan, an Armenian Christian member of parliament for the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), condemned the act.  Although used as a film set and a wedding hall, the centuries-old former Armenian church had been classified as an “immovable requiring protection” by the Kutahya Regional Board of Cultural Heritage Protection.  Paylan stated authorities remained indifferent to the Armenian community’s calls for the church’s restoration or, at least, its use as a cultural center, and he referred to a statement by President Erdogan that there would be no interference with the belief or worship of anyone.

On August 10, Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy presented 12 recovered icons stolen from local historical churches to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in a ceremony held at the Canakkale Troy Museum in the northwestern part of the country.  The 12 artifacts, including depictions of Jesus, Christian saints, and a crucifix, were reportedly stolen from several historical churches on Bozcaada (Tenedos) Island in the Aegean Sea.  Ersoy said the items were recovered in a multinational antismuggling operation that seized more than 4,000 items before they left the country.  Ersoy emphasized the government’s determination to combat trafficking in antiquities and cultural artifacts.

In August, media reported the restoration of Surp Yerrortutyun Armenian Church (known in Turkish as Uc Horan) in Malatya was complete.  The building, which will serve as both a church and a cultural center, hosted its first Mass in decades on August 29.  The Malatya Metropolitan Municipality financed part of the restoration.

Multiple Protestant church representatives continued to report bureaucratic difficulties in registering places of worship.  According to the Protestant Church Association headquartered in Ankara, it did not attempt to register any church during the year, and it reported no progress on the fewer than 10 registration requests it had made in previous years.  Church representatives said they were obliged to continue meeting in unregistered locations for worship services because local officials did not approve registration applications and continued to impose zoning standards on churches, including minimum space requirements of at least 10,764 square feet, a requirement generally not imposed on mosques.  Officials did not apply this requirement to Sunni Muslim congregations, which they permitted to build worship facilities in malls, airports, and other smaller spaces.  Additionally, some Protestant churches reported local authorities did not allow them to display crosses on the exterior of their buildings.

The government continued in larger prisons to provide incarcerated Sunni Muslims with mesjids (small mosques) and Sunni preachers.  Alevis and non-Muslims did not have clerics from their own faiths serving in prisons; however, clergy of other religious groups were permitted to enter prisons with the permission of the public prosecutor to minister to their adherents as long as doing so was not considered a threat to a facility’s security.

The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and did not recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals that cemevis are places of worship.  In March 2018, the head of the Diyanet had said mosques were the appropriate places of worship for both Alevis and Sunnis.  On February 14, Istanbul Sariyer District municipal authorities, after eight years of deliberation, denied house of worship status to Imam Huseyin Cemevi in Sariyer District without providing a justification.

On June 18, media reported the country’s first museum dedicated to Alevi culture, ritual, and practices and affiliated with the provincial government opened in Tunceli, a Kurdish majority city located in the eastern part of the country.

On February 18, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ruled to stop a project of the Ministry of Environment and Tunceli Governorship to develop Munzur Springs, considered sacred by the Alevi community, in eastern Tunceli Province.  Alevi community members and human rights groups had strongly opposed the eight million lira ($617,000) project, which planned to develop the springs into a tourist recreation area.  Lawyers representing the community filed the lawsuit with the Council of State in August 2020.

The GDF continued its restoration of the Surp Giragos Armenian and Mar Petyun Chaldean Churches, both in Sur District, Diyarbakir.  During the year, the government again did not pay restitution and compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation of property damaged in fighting with the PKK.

During the year, the government did not return properties seized in previous decades; it last returned properties in 2018, specifically 56, to the Syriac community.  Representatives from various communities said they continued to pursue property returns through appropriate legal and government channels.  The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities, which had previously submitted applications for the return of properties, continued to report these unresolved claims were an issue for their communities.  Due to their legal status, recognized religious foundations remained eligible to receive compensation for their seized properties, but religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were not.

Many public buildings, including universities, continued to maintain small mosques.  In 2017, the Ministry of National Education issued a regulation requiring every new school to have an Islamic prayer room.  The government continued to deny Alevis the right to establish similar places of worship in government buildings that did not contain places of worship for non-Sunnis.  Alevi leaders reported the approximately 2,500 to 3,000 cemevis in the country were insufficient to meet demand.  The government continued to state that Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

News outlet T24 reported on April 16 that a middle school teacher in Amasya was under investigation for his answer regarding a question about the Prophet Muhammad.  According to the report, during a class on fighting addictions, a student asked the teacher’s opinion about the Prophet sleeping two hours during the day.  The teacher commented that such habits change over time and depend on many factors.  The student’s parents, after learning about the conversation, filed a complaint that resulted in an investigation over whether the teacher’s comments insulted religious values because they believed the teacher had indirectly questioned a behavior of the Prophet Muhammad.  The teachers’ union Egitim-Sen described the incident as an example of the pressures and intimidation teachers faced.  The case was ongoing at year’s end.

Religious communities, particularly Alevi Muslims, continued to raise concerns regarding several of the government’s education policies.  At year’s end, the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ECtHR ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom.  The ECtHR denied the government’s appeal of the ruling in 2015 and upheld the Alevi community’s legal claim that the government-mandated courses promoted Sunni Islam and were contrary to Alevi religious convictions.  Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2013 after the ECtHR decision, but Alevi groups stated the material was inadequate and, in some cases, incorrect, and that teachers often ignored it.  They continued to call on the government to implement the ECtHR decision.

Non-Sunni Muslims and nonpracticing Muslims said they continued to face difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and often had to choose from electives dealing with different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their new identification cards listed their religion as Muslim.  Reportedly, because only Christian and Jewish children could opt out of the religion course, teachers assumed all other students were Muslim and thus required to take the course.  The government said the compulsory instruction covered a range of world religions, but some religious groups, including Alevis and members of Christian denominations, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups, such as some educational texts referring to Alevi beliefs as mysticism.  In June 2019, the Istanbul 12th Regional Administrative Court accepted an Alevi parent’s appeal for his son’s exclusion from the compulsory religious course.  The case was still pending at year’s end.

The country’s education materials in mandatory religion classes were discriminatory against religions other than Islam, according to a March study within the “Project for Supporting Diversity and Freedom of Religion and Faith in Turkey’s Education System.”  The project was cosponsored by the Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and with support from the Dutch embassy.  The project aims to contribute to the harmonization of legislation and practice in Turkey in accordance with international human rights standards by producing information through human rights-based monitoring of the right to freedom of religion or belief in schools.  According to the study, the curriculum did not include teachings about non-monotheistic faiths and only referred to Christianity and Judaism briefly in the context of their followers in the Arab Peninsula before the emergence of Islam.  The report also stated that some of the expressions in the curriculum were so biased that they effectively disrespected other religions, noting a phrase that read, “The only religion accepted by God is Islam.”

The government continued to provide funding for public, private, and religious schools teaching Islam.  It did not do so for minority schools the government recognized under the Lausanne Treaty, except to pay the salaries for courses taught in Turkish, such as Turkish literature.  The minority religious communities funded all the schools’ other expenses through donations, including from church foundations and alumni.

Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations continued to operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education.  Children of undocumented Armenian migrants and Armenian refugees from Syria could also attend.  Because the government continued to classify legal migrant and refugee children as “visitors,” they were ineligible to receive diplomas from these schools.  The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups and teachable in the minority groups’ languages.

During the year, media reported that parents continued to protest the conversion of Ismail Tarman Middle School into an imam hatip school, a vocational religious school to train government-employed imams.  In 2020, the parents petitioned to stop the conversion of the school.  While the parents successfully argued that five imam hatip schools were already available in their district and four courts – two local administrative and two regional administrative courts – ruled in their favor to prevent the conversion, the Ministry of National Education did not adhere to the court decisions and the school continued to operate as an imam hatip school.

Several Alevi foundations again requested the end of a continuing program that takes school children ages six to 13 to local mosques for religious instruction during their two-week winter break.  The voluntary Ministry of National Education program, begun in 2018 for 50,000 children drawn from each of the 81 provinces, continued for a fourth year.

On September 21, media reported a religious studies teacher at Martyr Ali Ihsan Okatan Secondary School in Ankara’s Mamak District was under investigation for remarks he made in the classroom.  According to the reports, the teacher asked Alevi students to identify themselves, then asked, “Why don’t Alevis pray?  Why don’t Alevis fast?”  The reports also stated that he said, “We do not like Ali.”  Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Omer Celik said the case was being investigated.  On the floor of parliament, opposition party Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Istanbul Deputy Zeynel Ozen called for the teacher to be dismissed.  The National Ministry of Education issued a statement saying, “An investigation has been initiated by our ministry regarding the alleged incident between a religious culture and ethics teacher and some students in a district of Ankara.  The process is being followed closely.”  There were no further developments by year’s end.

According to press reports, in his October meeting with President Biden, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I raised the importance of the Turkish government allowing Halki Seminary to reopen as an independent institution to again enable the training of Greek Orthodox clergy in the country.  As of year’s end, there were no further developments concerning the plan to open an Islamic educational center on the same island (Halki) as the shuttered seminary.  A 1971 Constitutional Court ruling prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education and led to the Halki Seminary’s closure.  Amendments to the constitution in 1982 allowed for the establishment of private institutions of higher education but also placed significant restrictions on these institutions, and the Halki Seminary was not permitted to reopen and operate under its traditions and preferences.

The government continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clergy inside the country.  The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates remained unable to train clergy within the country.

Multiple reports continued to state Protestant communities could not train clergy in the country and therefore relied on foreign volunteers to serve in leadership capacities.  Local Protestant communities stated they aimed to develop indigenous Turkish leaders in their congregations because it was becoming increasingly difficult to rely on foreign volunteers.  Several Protestant clergy, including evangelical Christian pastors, conducted religious services while resident in the country on long-term tourist residence permits.

Protestant community sources also said some of the deportations and entry bans during the year targeted foreign citizen members of the community who had lived legally as long-term residents in the country for decades and who previously had not experienced any immigration difficulties.  According to community members, these immigration procedures also affected a local community’s ability to raise funds for local churches because foreign clergy members attracted individual donations and support from church communities in their countries of origin.  Some individuals with entry bans or resident permit denials requested review of their immigration status through the country’s legal system.  None of the cases reached conclusion by year’s end and could take several years to resolve due to the complexities of, and backlog in, the judicial system, according to media reports.

Monitoring organizations and media outlets, including Middle East Concern, International Christian Concern, World Watch Monitor, Mission Network News, and Voice of the Martyrs, continued to report entry bans, denial of residency permit extensions, and deportations for long-time residents affiliated with Protestant churches in the country.  In 2019, the Ministry of Interior’s Directorate for Migration Management announced that as of January 1, 2020, the government would deny extension requests to long-term residents for tourist purposes in the absence of another reason to request a residency permit (i.e., marriage, work, study).  Observers reported that at year’s end, there were 41 pending immigration court cases, including residency permit denials and entry bans, of which 20 were new cases.  Observers reported there were at least two dozen evangelical Christian residence permit court cases pending as of year’s end, including eight at the Constitutional Court level.  Recipients of bans and denials most frequently cited security codes that denoted “activities against national security” and “work permit activities against national security.”  While similar measures occurred in previous years, multiple groups said they perceived a stagnation in the number of removals and entry bans during the year.

In August, media associated with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) reported concerns about the situation of evangelical Christians in the country, including deportations and reentry bans.  In its March report to the UN Human Rights Committee, WEA said, “Since 2019, there has been a systematic campaign to label foreign Protestants as security threats.  None of the Christians denied permits or expelled has been convicted of committing any specific crimes.”

In February, media reported that a foreign pastor, along with the NGO Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), filed an application with the European Council on Human Rights accusing the government of religious persecution for the pastor’s 2018 deportation and subsequent reentry ban for publicly evangelizing in the streets of Istanbul.  According to media and ADF, the pastor was not allowed to reenter Turkey in 2018, where he had lived for 19 years.

The Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos reported in March that an Ankara administrative court ruled a 2013 government circular cancelling elections for boards of minority religious foundations was illegal, and the government appealed the ruling.  The last foundation board election was held in 2011.  During the year, members of religious communities continued to report they were still unable to hold elections for the governing boards of their foundations, which remained an impediment to managing their affairs.  They said when board members died, retired, or left the country, foundation boards had a more difficult time fulfilling their duties and ran the risk of eventually not functioning without new members.  Religious communities expressed concern that if boards reached the point of no longer functioning, the government could then declare the foundation defunct and transfer its properties and other assets to the state.

The government continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so.  The government’s position remained that the Ecumenical Patriarch was only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population.  The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch, and it continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 stopgap solution intended to widen the pool of candidates eligible to become the next patriarch.  The government continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens.

The decision by the Church of Jesus Christ to remove its volunteers and international staff from the country remained in effect throughout the year.  In 2018, the Church cited safety concerns as the reason for the removal.  According to local members, some followers stayed away from church because they feared retribution and discrimination.  Some said they had lost their jobs, including in the public sector, because of their faith, and they experienced difficulties in finding new employment.

The government paid partial compensation to the Alevi Cem Foundation in lira, based on the 2017 euro exchange rate, amounting to 39,010 euros ($47,900) after the ECtHR rejected the country’s appeal to reduce the 54,400-euro ($66,700) compensation it was obligated to pay the Alevi Cem Foundation in February 2019.  The Cem Foundation filed a court case to receive the remainder of compensation and interest.  The case continued at year’s end.  The Cem Foundation took the government to the ECtHR in 2010 for discrimination for not paying the electric bills of Alevi places of worship, a service provided for mosques.  The government appealed for a fee reduction to 23,300 euros ($28,600).  In November 2018, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled cemevis were places of worship and therefore should receive the same benefits as Sunni mosques, including being exempt from paying utility bills.  Alevi organizations continued to call on the government to comply with the ruling.

The Diyanet continued to regulate the operation of all registered mosques, and it paid the salaries of Sunni personnel.  The government did not pay the salaries of religious leaders, instructors, or other staff belonging to other religious groups.

On July 24, the first anniversary of the Hagia Sophia’s (known as Ayasofya in the country) reconversion from a museum to a mosque, Diyanet head Ali Erbas led prayer in the building.  Originally the principal church of the Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sophia became a mosque in 1453 and then a museum in 1935.  In July, UNESCO stated its “grave concern” about the reconversion, specifically how it might impact the “Outstanding Universal Value of the property.”  It also said it “deeply regrets the lack of dialogue and information” concerning the government’s change in the status of the Hagia Sophia and Kariye (also known as Chora) Museum.  UNESCO requested the government submit a report by February 2, 2022 “on the state of the conservation of the property.”  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in response that ministry officials were in contact with UNESCO since the very beginning of the process in an “open and undisrupted” manner.  The ministry said UNESCO’s concern was “biased,” and that the usage of the Hagia Sophia and the Kariye Museum was a matter for the country alone to decide.  The ministry emphasized that the country would protect the monuments’ “historical, cultural, and spiritual value.”

The opening of the Chora Museum as a mosque did not occur by the end of the year because of continuing restoration.  Announced to open in October 2020 as a mosque, the museum, famed for its mosaics and frescos depicting Christian imagery, was originally constructed and repeatedly renovated as the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Savior in the fifth century and then converted into the Kariye Mosque in 1511 before becoming a museum in 1945.

The government continued to permit annual and other commemorative religious worship services at religiously significant Christian sites previously converted to state museums, such as St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, St. Paul Church near Isparta, the Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk.

The trial of 13 individuals charged with conspiracy to commit a large-scale assault on an Izmit Protestant church and kill its pastor in 2013 continued through year’s end.  Reportedly, the delay in the trial was in part attributable to the alleged involvement of security forces in the assault.

On April 14, media reported the Suspicious Deaths and Victims Association’s findings that said 80 percent of those who died while conscripted in the military were either of Alevi or Kurdish origin.  The association’s chief, Riza Dogan, estimated that between 2000-2020, more than 3,000 conscripts had died.  The association is comprised of relatives of the deceased conscripts.

The government continued to provide land for the construction of Sunni mosques and to fund their construction through municipalities.  According to the Diyanet’s most recent published statistics, there were 89,445 Diyanet-operated mosques in the country in 2020, compared with 89,259 Diyanet-operated mosques in 2019.  Although Alevi groups were able to build some new cemevis, the government continued to decline to provide financial support for their construction and maintenance, with some instances of municipalities providing this support.

Construction of a new Syriac Orthodox church, Mor Efrem, in Istanbul was delayed, but work continued, with completion expected in spring 2022.  Once completed, it will be the first newly constructed church since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923.  The approximately 18,000-member Syriac Orthodox community in Istanbul continued to use churches of other communities, in addition to its one existing historic church, to hold services.

During the year, the government allocated 350,000 lira ($27,000) for religious minority publications, including newspapers, compared with no funding in 2020.

Jewish citizens again expressed concern about antisemitism and security threats.  According to members of the community, the government continued to coordinate with them on security issues.  They said the government measures were helpful and the government was responsive to requests for security.

On March 28, during a meeting in Diyarbakir with Islamic NGOs, Diyanet President Ali Erbas said, “Let’s protect our children from ideologies other than Islam and various organizations and structures that promote disbelieving, atheism, deism, and Zoroastrianism.”  The Atheism Association subsequently sued Erbas for putting the lives of nonbelievers in danger and “inciting hatred and enmity in the public.”  The case continued through year’s end.

During the year, President Erdogan and other government officials, including Diyanet officials, made public remarks toward religious minorities that these minorities considered insulting, including antisemitic remarks, in official rhetoric.  In May, President Erdogan stated that Israelis were “murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old.  They are only satisfied with sucking their blood.”  Also in May, Mufti Saban Soytekinoglu in the western province of Duzce said that most Greek immigrants from Thessaloniki were not Muslims but “secret Jews.”  He also accused Jews of having orchestrated 2013 Gezi Park protests against the proposed urban development plan for the park.

According to media reports, on February 9, Dr. Ahmet Seref Demirel, a medical doctor at the public Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine, was sentenced to eight months in prison for telling his Alevi patient during a medical exam that “All Alevis are terrorists.”  His sentence was in accordance with a penal code article on inciting public hatred.

In December, President Erdogan issued a statement wishing a Happy Hanukkah to the country’s Jewish citizens and said, “Our region has for thousands of years been a home to different cultures, all of which are very valuable.”  He emphasized that everyone should be able to “practice their beliefs and traditions freely without any discrimination, regardless of their religion, language, or ethnic origin.”  Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu issued a statement on social media wishing the Jewish residents of Istanbul a Happy Hanukkah.  Also in December, the Jewish community in Istanbul held its first outdoor menorah-lighting ceremony, at which Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva spoke to a crowd of nearly 200 persons, including government officials and district mayors.

On March 27 and September 6, President Erdogan sent messages to the Jewish community celebrating Passover and Rosh Hashanah.  The messages described unity as well as cultural and social diversity as one of the country’s most important assets and recognized the contributions of Jews “to develop, strengthen, and attain the goals” of the country.  In April, he released an Easter message stating, “Sharing our Christian citizens joy on Easter, I strongly believe that such features of ours as unity and solidarity, which form the basis of our nation, will forever be passed on from one generation to another.”

Renovations continued on the Etz Hayim Synagogue in Izmir, scheduled to reopen in early 2022 as both a synagogue and a museum.  According to Izmir Jewish community leaders, the synagogue, plus several other Jewish sites nearby, would form part of a “Jewish Museum” project, some of which still required reconstruction.  The project received funding from the municipal government and through international grants.

In May, President Erdogan hosted an iftar at the Presidential Palace during Ramadan with the leaders of the main minority religious groups, including Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Assyrian, Roman Catholic, and other minority religious groups, to discuss issues such as a potential new constitution and the process of returning properties of minority foundations.

On January 27, the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency launched the website, dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and the Rwanda, Cambodia, and Srebrenica genocides.  Government statements highlighted the country’s history of helping Jews escape Nazi persecution, its status as a cosponsor of the 2005 UN resolution designating January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and they noted the country’s resolute stance “against these hate-based phenomena and all kinds of discrimination,” including antisemitism.  In February, the government for the sixth consecutive year commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942.  The governor of Istanbul, Chief Rabbi Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were continued media reports of vandalism of places of worship and cemeteries, including a growing number of instances of vandalism of Christian cemeteries.  On July 12, media reported three men videotaped themselves dancing atop the gates of Surp Tavakor Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District on July 11, causing damage to the gate’s crucifix.  Police detained all three before releasing them.  In December, the three suspects were indicted and charged with “insulting religious values.”  President Erdogan condemned the incident, saying “We will monitor the case until the end.  It is not possible to tolerate such indecency, impertinence.”  Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu termed the act “disrespectful.”  Soylu and Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya called Armenian Patriarch Sahak Masalyan to express sympathy and assure him the perpetrators would be punished.

In January, authorities arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a 16-month prison term the individual who in May 2020 tore the cross from the gate of the Armenian Surp Krikor Lusaravic Church in Kuzguncuk District, Istanbul.

In April, International Christian Concern reported the looting, including removal of frescoes, of a Byzantine-era Greek Orthodox church in Samsun.

On January 24, media reported unidentified individuals vandalized five Alevi homes in Yalova with “Alevi” graffiti painted in red.  On August 27, media reported Alevi homes in Adana were marked with x’s.  On September 11, media reported unidentified individuals vandalized Kurdish Alevi Muslim homes in the province of Mersin, writing graffiti that read, “Kurdish Alevi get out.”

Some news outlets published conspiracy theories involving Jews.  In August, some social media personalities and journalists linked devastating wildfires spreading through the country to a foreign rabbi living in the country.  Media outlets also continued to blame the country’s economic difficulties and the genesis and spread of COVID-19 on Jews.

On June 18, media reported that representatives of the Jewish community had filed a criminal complaint against the head of a health and social services business after he tweeted that those protesting at Bogazici University “are all dishonest… You are all a traitor.  You are all a Jew.”  The case was pending at year’s end.

According to Jewish community representatives, confronting hateful discourse through print and social media was the most effective way to combat antisemitism.  They said antisemitic messages and hate speech in social and print media were pervasive and often went unquestioned.  They added that societal hostility toward Jews sometimes manifested in acts of vandalism directed at Jewish places of worship and cemeteries.  In February, media reported unidentified persons vandalized the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Akhisar District, Izmir.  According to media, in March, police opened an investigation on a fire set at the gate of the historical Kasturya Synagogue, located in the Ayvansaray District in Istanbul.  The Kasturya Synagogue was built in 1893 and demolished by unknown individuals in 1937 after Jews living in the neighborhood left the country.  Only the historical gate remained.  There were no developments in the investigation by year’s end.

According to media, in May, unidentified individuals hacked the website of Salom, the sole newspaper serving the Jewish community.  Authorities had not apprehended the hackers by year’s end.  According to media reports, the social media site Clash Report, which usually posts about armed conflict, said Jews were “overrepresented in the Biden cabinet.”

On January 28, media reported the Armenian Catholic Surp Krikor Lusavoric Church in Bursa Province was for sale by an unidentified private seller.  According to media, after the Armenian genocide in 1915, the church passed into private hands.  Spiritual leader of Armenian Catholics Levon Zekiyan told media his community “cannot afford to buy the church.”  By year’s end, the property had not been sold.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On October 25, the President met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at the White House.  According to the White House press release, they discussed the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right as well as efforts to confront climate change and steps to end the global COVID-19 pandemic.  The Secretary of State also met with the Patriarch, tweeting afterwards, “We value our partnership with the Orthodox Christian community worldwide and religious minorities in Turkey and the region.”

The Ambassador, other embassy and consulate general officials, and visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss religious freedom issues, including religious education.  They underscored the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and equal treatment under the law, and of condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at any religious groups.  They sought government representatives’ responses to specific claims of religious freedom concerns raised by local religious communities and explored how best to collaborate between the governments of the two countries to protect and respect religious freedom.

On May 18, the Department of State spokesperson issued a statement condemning President Erdogan’s antisemitic rhetoric for his comments criticizing Israel during the spring clashes Israel and Hamas.

U.S. government officials urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups and raised the issue of property restitution and restoration.  Embassy staff continued to press for the restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin.  Senior U.S. government officials continued to urge government officials to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki and allow all religious communities to train clergy in the country.  On July 29, the Department of State spokesperson stated, “Today marks 50 years since the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled that all institutions of higher education must either nationalize or close, resulting in the closure of the Theological School of Halki, a seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The Halki Seminary had operated for 127 years, and its closing deprived the Ecumenical Patriarchate of a training school for Orthodox clergy in Turkey, its home for 1,690 years.  Since Halki’s closure, those wishing to become Orthodox clergy have been forced to go abroad for their training.  The United States continues to urge the Turkish government to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and allow the reopening of the Halki Seminary.  Moreover, we call upon the government of Turkey to allow all religious groups to again train their clergy within the country.”

In May, during a visit to Istanbul, the Deputy Secretary of State met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and underscored the U.S. commitment to religious freedom.  The Deputy Secretary also visited St. George’s Cathedral.

During his October 25 meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Secretary of State reaffirmed that the reopening of the Halki Seminary remained a continued priority for the U.S. government.

Senior U.S. embassy, consulate general, and consulate officials regularly engaged virtually and to the extent possible in-person with a wide range of religious community leaders to hear and address their concerns, including religious foundation elections, education, and property, and to promote interreligious dialogue.  Officials from the embassy and consulates general engaged with members of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Armenian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, and Church of Jesus Christ religious groups, among others, throughout the country and throughout the year.

In August, high level embassy officials visited Hagia Sophia (known as Ayasofya Mosque) and found Orthodox Christian figurative art and iconography in the nave of the edifice remained covered, including outside of prayer times.  In November, embassy officials visited the Etz Hayim Synagogue in Izmir, where they talked with local Jewish community leaders about restoration progress on several historic synagogues.  In August, officials of the consulate general in Istanbul traveled to the city of Edirne, where they met with members of the local Baha’i community and visited Muslim, Jewish, and Bulgarian Orthodox historical sites.  In November, officials from the consulate general in Istanbul traveled to Bursa where they met with representatives of the Protestant and Jewish communities.  In conjunction with International Religious Freedom Day, embassy officials and officials from the consulate in Adana met with minority religious groups and majority Sunni faith leaders in Hatay on October 19, including representatives of the Arabic-speaking Patriarchate of Antioch Greek Orthodox foundation, the Roman Catholic Church, a Protestant (Korean Methodist-founded) congregation, and the Sunni Habibi Neccar Mosque.  They also visited the Turkish-Armenian village of Vakifli.  On October 20 in Iskenderun, officials from the consulate in Adana met with the head of the Hatay Jewish community and a Roman Catholic priest at the Cathedral of the Annunciation.  In all meetings, U.S. government officials emphasized the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.

The embassy and consulates general used Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to emphasize the importance of the inclusion of religious minorities, including messages under hashtags such as #DiniOzgurluk (religious freedom), on designated days that recognized and underscored the U.S. government commitment to religious freedom and human rights.