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Crimea

Executive Summary

In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded and occupied Crimea.  United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.

IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (BELOW)


In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea.  In March 2014, Russia announced Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation.  A UN General Assembly resolution declared continued international recognition of Crimea’s inclusion within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government continues not to recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and recognizes that Crimea continues to be part of Ukraine.  Occupation forces continue to impose the de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

In a joint 2014-2018 report for the UN Committee against Torture, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Regional Center for Human Rights, and Media Initiative for Human Rights reported religious activists were among victims of torture.  According to the report, despite the health problems of Arsen Dzhepparov and Uzeir Abdullayev, detained by the FSB on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, occupation authorities denied medical assistance to them.

The Russian government reported there were 831 religious communities registered in Crimea, compared with 812 in 2017, a number that dropped by over 1,000 since occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available.  According to religious activists, human rights groups, and media reports, Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses, UOC-KP members, and Muslim Crimean Tatars.  Occupation authorities continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detentions, especially if the authorities purportedly suspected the individuals of involvement in the Muslim political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is legal in Ukraine.

Due to the close links between religion and ethnicity, it was sometimes difficult for human rights groups to categorize incidents as solely based on religious identity.

According to Forum 18, an international religious freedom NGO, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” doubled in Crimea compared to the previous year.  There were 23 prosecutions for such activity, most of which ended in convictions with some type of monetary fine.

Greek Catholic leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation authorities.  The UGCC said it continued to have to operate under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church.  The UOC-KP reported continued seizures of its churches.  Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.

Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media also portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”

The U.S. government continued to condemn the intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and to call international attention to the religious abuses committed by Russian forces.  U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation.  Embassy officials, however, continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Crimean Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns over actions taken against their congregations by the occupation authorities, and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice their religious beliefs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Crimean peninsula consists of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and the City of Sevastopol.  According to the State Statistics Service of Ukraine 2014 estimates, the total population of the peninsula is 2,353,000.  There are no recent independent surveys with data on the religious affiliation of the population, but media outlets estimate the number of Crimean Tatars, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, at 300,000, or 13 percent of the population.

According to the information provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), the UOC-MP remains the largest Christian denomination.  Smaller Christian denominations include the UOC-KP, the Roman Catholic Church, UAOC, UGCC, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with Protestant groups, including Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Lutherans.  Adherents of the UOC-MP, Protestants, and Muslims are the largest religious groups in Sevastopol.

There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the Russian occupation began.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine.  In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, occupation authorities continue their de facto implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.

Government Practices

On December 22, the UN General Assembly issued a resolution condemning Russian occupation authorities for “the ongoing pressure exerted upon religious minority communities, including through frequent police raids, threats against and persecution of those belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, the Protestant Church, mosques and Muslim religious schools, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  The UN also condemned the “baseless prosecution of dozens of peaceful Muslims for allegedly belonging to Islamic organizations.”  Such prosecutions were primarily of Muslims occupation authorities claimed were members of the Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia, but legal in Ukraine.

In a joint 2014-2018 report for the UN Committee against Torture, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Regional Center for Human Rights, and Media Initiative for Human Rights reported religious activists were among victims of torture.  According to the report, despite the health problems of Arsen Dzhepparov and Uzeir Abdullayev, detained by the FSB on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, occupation authorities denied medical assistance to them.

Forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year.  The Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) said on December 13, Server Mustafayev was placed in a psychiatric institution for a month-long forced examination.

On June 30, the NGO Krymska Solidarnist quoted human rights attorney Emil Kurbedinov as saying the occupation authorities had subjected Muslim activist Neriman Memedeminov to forced psychiatric examination.

According to media, from June 26 to July 18, Muslim detainee Emir-Huseyn Kuku was on a hunger strike to show his solidarity with other political prisoners and to call attention to their treatment.  On August 26, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the Ukrainian government’s petition to require Russia to share information about Kuku’s state of health and the medical care provided to him.  According to a September 6 BBC News Ukraine report, the ECHR press service quoted the Russian government as saying that Kuku was receiving proper medical care and was not on a hunger strike at that time.

According to the CHRG, in December the number of Crimean Tatars charged in connection with their Hizb ut-Tahrir membership totaled 29, including Ruslan Zeytullayev, Rustem Vaitov, Nuri Primov and Ferat Sayfullayev, who were serving their prison sentences in Russia.  These four were arrested in Sevastopol in 2015 and charged with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Additionally, defendants in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Bekirov, Vadim Siruk, Muslim Aliyev, Emir Usein Kuku, Refat Alimov, and Arsen Dzhepparov) and the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Mamutov, Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov and Rustem Abiltarov) were in a detention center in Rostov while their trials continued.

Prisoners in the Bakhchisarai Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Ernes Ametov, Marlen Asanov, Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belialov, Timur Ibragimov, Server Zakiryayev, Server Mustafayev and Edem Smailov), Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Teymur Abdullayev, Rustem Ismailov, Ayder Saledinov, Uzeir Abdullayev, Emil Djemadenov), and Sevastopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case (Enver Seytosmanov), and activist of Krymska Solidarnist Nariman Memedeminov were held in pretrial detention in Simferopol.  Server Mustafayev, Edem Smailov and Nariman Memedeminov were held in pretrial detention in Simferopol.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on March 22, FSB officers detained blogger Nariman Memedeminov following a search at his home in Kholmovka village in Bakhchisarai District.  The NGO linked the arrest to his reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea.  On March 23, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol sanctioned his arrest on terrorist charges, citing his involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on December 24, Roman Plisko, judge of the North Caucasus District Court in Rostov, sentenced Enver Mamutov to 17 years in a maximum-security prison.  Ruslan Abiltarov, Remzi Memetov, and Zevri Abseitov each received nine-year maximum-security prison sentences.  They were arrested in Bakhchisarai in 2016 and charged with participation in Hizb ut-Tahrir.

According to the Krym Realii news website, on December 6-7, the Kyivsky District Court in Simferopol prolonged until March 9, 2019, the detentions of Seyran Saliyev, Memet Belyalov and Timur Ibragimov, Marlen Asanov, Server Zekiryayev, and Ernes Ametov for their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Bakhchisarai.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on December 3, Russia’s Rostov District Military Court extended until February 27, 2019, the detentions of Ayder Saledinov, Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Rustem Ismailov, whom the FSB had detained on suspicion of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Simferopol.

According to Krymska Solidarnist, on November 22, the Rostov District Military Court prolonged the detentions of Muslims Aliyev, Emir-Useyn Kuku, Vadym Siruk, Enver Bekirov, Arsen Dzhepparov and Refat Alimov until February 28, 2019.  The court cited their suspected involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir in Yalta.

According to an OHCHR quarterly report issued in September, since the beginning of the Russian occupation, at least 33 Crimean residents were arrested for alleged ties with radical Muslim groups.  OHCHR reported four of them were convicted in the absence of “any credible evidence that the defendants called for the use of force, violated public order, or engaged in any unlawful activity in Crimea.”

According to CHRG, on December 24, Inna Semenets, magistrate of the Evpatoriya Judicial District, fined the Karaite religious community for failing to place an identifying sign on the building of a religious organization.  In December the Crimean magistrates reviewed at least five cases pertaining to “illegal missionary activity.”  During the year, 30 of these cases were reviewed, and the magistrates imposed an administrative penalty, fines of 5,000-30,000 Russian rubles ($72-430) and a warning in at least 18 cases.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Forum 18, on November 14, the Russian FSB opened the first criminal case in occupied Crimea against a Jehovah’s Witness, Sergei Filatov, on extremism-related charges.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Filatov is a former head of their Sivash community in Dzhankoy.  Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that on November 16, 200 FSB officers raided Filatov’s home and the homes of seven other Jehovah’s Witnesses in the northern Crimean town of Dzhankoy.  During the raid, officers reportedly pinned 79-year-old Oleksandr Ursu to a wall, forced him to the ground, and handcuffed him.  Ursu spent his childhood years with his family in Soviet exile in Siberia.  Later the authorities rehabilitated him as a victim of Soviet political repression.  According to JW.org and Forum 18, two Jehovah’s Witness members were hospitalized for high blood pressure, and 22-year-old Zhanna Lungu suffered a miscarriage following the raid.

The investigation of Ervin Ibragimov’s 2016 kidnapping continued with no new information on his whereabouts at year’s end.  According to media sources, in March Simferopol’s Kyiv District Court dismissed a complaint by his family’s lawyer about lack of police response to attorney inquiries regarding the investigation of the case.  In May 2016, unidentified uniformed men kidnapped Ibragimov, a Muslim and member of the Bakhchisarai Mejlis and of the Coordinating Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, after stopping his car on the side of the road.

According to Forum 18, administrative court hearings under Russian law imposed on Crimea for “missionary activity” doubled in Crimea compared to the previous year.  There were 23 prosecutions for such activity, 19 of which ended with some type of punishment.  Many of those prosecuted had been sharing their faith on the street or holding worship at unapproved venues.  According to Forum 18, 12 Russian citizens were fined approximately 10 days’ average local wages.  Six Ukrainian citizens were given higher fines of up to nearly two months’ average local wages.  Forum 18 stated these six cases, in addition to the case of another Ukrainian who was prosecuted, appear to be the first use in Crimea of a Russian Administrative Code on “foreigners conducting missionary activity” that is “specifically aimed at non-Russians.”

According to Forum 18, occupation authorities brought an additional 17 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community.  The punishments generally involved fines of approximately 10 days’ wages, according to Forum 18.  Occupation authorities brought an additional 14 cases against individuals and religious communities for failing to use the full legal name of a registered religious community.

According to Forum 18, local authorities maintained a ban on the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under the 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.  Forum 18 reported on its website on November 28 that the trial of four alleged members of the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement on extremism-related charges was imminent at the Crimea “Supreme Court” in Simferopol.  The four men, all members of the Tatar minority, were arrested in October 2017.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, local authorities maintained a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under the 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

According to the Ministry of Justice of Russia, 831 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, including 69 in Sevastopol, as of year’s end.  These included the two largest religious organizations – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea (SAMC) – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

According to data collected by the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture in 2014 (the most recent year available), there were 2,083 religious organizations (a term including parishes, congregations, theological schools, monasteries, and other constituent parts of a church or religious group) in the ARC and 137 in Sevastopol.  The numbers included organizations both with and without legal entity status.  Muslim religious organizations constituted the largest number of religious organizations in the ARC, most of which were affiliated with the SAMC, Ukraine’s largest Muslim group.

The OHCHR report on the most recent number of registered religious communities indicated more than 1,000 religious communities recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered.  According to the OHCHR, stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation continued to prevent or discourage reregistration of many religious communities.

According to human rights groups, occupation authorities continued to restrict the rights of Crimean Tatars, who are predominantly Muslim, following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of the Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.”

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to require imams at Crimean Tatar mosques to inform them each time they transferred from one mosque to another.

The Roman Catholic Church reported it continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican.  Polish and Ukrainian Roman Catholic Church priests were permitted to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and then were required to remain out of Crimea for 90 days before returning.

According to the UGCC, it could still only operate as a part of the pastoral district of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to the UOC-KP, Russian occupation authorities continued to pressure the UOC-KP Crimean diocese in a bid to force the UOC-KP to leave the region.  Only five of the 15 UOC-KP churches located in Crimea prior to the Russian occupation remained functioning at the end of the year, compared with eight in 2017.

On June 3, the “Government of Sevastopol” returned to the Roman Catholic Church the vacant former Church of St. Clement.  According to the media, “Governor of Sevastopol” Dmitry Ovsyannikov called the decision a “restoration of historical justice.”

According to media sources, Russian authorities ordered the relocation of human remains from an ancient Muslim cemetery near Bakhchisaray due to road construction through the cemetery.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Following an October 17 mass shooting in a Kerch college, Russian media widely discussed a claim that the shooter’s mother was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses “sect.”

On July 18, local authorities in Kerch said they had identified a group of teenagers who during that month had destroyed 15 tombstones in a Muslim cemetery in Bagerovе.  Local government representatives said the suspects would face administrative penalties.

According to Krym Realii news website, on the night of June 18-19, unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi graffiti on a fence surrounding a mosque in Bilohirsk.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. government continued its efforts to focus international attention on the religious freedom-related abuses committed by Russian forces and occupation authorities in Crimea, especially on actions taken by those forces and authorities against Christians and Muslims.  U.S. government and embassy officials condemned the continuing intimidation of minority religious congregations, including Christians and Muslim Crimean Tatars.  On December 20, among the frequent public statements and tweets to amplify U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities, the Ambassador stated, “Tolerance, restraint, and understanding are decisive factors that provide an opportunity for people with different religious beliefs to live and flourish peacefully together.”

Although embassy and other U.S. government officials remained unable to visit Crimea following the Russian occupation, embassy officials continued to meet in other parts of Ukraine with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders.  The leaders discussed their concerns over actions taken against congregations by the occupation authorities and reassured the religious leaders of continued U.S. support for the right of all to practice their religious beliefs.  Embassy officials told religious leaders the United States would continue to support religious freedom in Crimea and press the occupation authorities to return confiscated property and release prisoners incarcerated for their religious or political beliefs.


IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (ABOVE)

Taiwan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief.  In October a parliamentary committee suspended consideration of a new law on “religious autonomy” after criticism it would put religions above the law.  Domestic service workers and caretakers are not covered under the labor standards law and are therefore not legally guaranteed a weekly rest day.  Due to this exclusion, many domestic workers are not able to attend religious services.  Authorities continued to state they viewed the domestic service workers’ inability to attend religious services as a religious freedom issue that is part of a broader labor issue.  Tibetan Buddhist monks reported they continued to be unable to obtain resident visas for religious work, which authorities said was due to general rules governing foreigners who use travel permits instead of passports.  A Muslim association objected to the relocation of remains from a Muslim cemetery in Kaohsiung, which Kaohsiung City authorities developed into a park.  The association said Kaohsiung City authorities did not follow Islamic practices during the relocation of the remains.  Kaohsiung City authorities stated they worked with the imam of the Kaohsiung Mosque and relocated the remains in accordance with Islamic tenets.  City authorities also stated the majority of the Muslim community agreed to the move.

A Tibetan Buddhist group said a local Buddhist organization, which reportedly was Chinese-funded and which stated Tibetans were not true Buddhists, had yet to publish an apology as directed by the Supreme Court.

Staff of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) regularly met with authorities as part of its efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  AIT representatives consulted with Taiwan authorities and lawmakers, including on the issues of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and labor rights, as they affect domestic service workers’ ability to attend religious services.  AIT representatives also met with religious leaders and representatives of faith-based social service organizations to promote religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates Taiwan’s total population at 23.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  Based on a comprehensive study conducted in 2005, the Religious Affairs Section of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) estimates 35 percent of the population considers itself Buddhist and 33 percent Taoist.  Although the MOI has not tracked population data on religious groups since the 2005 study, it states this estimate remains largely unchanged.  While the majority of religious adherents categorize themselves as either Buddhist or Taoist, many adherents consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist, and many others incorporate the religious practices of other faiths into their religious beliefs.

In addition to organized religious groups, many individuals also practice traditional Chinese folk religions, which include some aspects of shamanism, ancestor worship, and animism.  Researchers and academics estimate as much as 80 percent of the population believes in some form of traditional folk religion.  Such folk religions frequently overlap with an individual’s belief in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or other traditional Chinese religions.  Some practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism, and other traditional Chinese religions also practice Falun Gong, a self-described spiritual discipline.  According to the leadership of the Falun Gong Society of Taiwan, estimates of Falun Gong practitioners number in the hundreds of thousands.

Religious groups that total less than 5 percent of the population include I Kuan Tao, Tien Ti Chiao (Heaven Emperor Religion), Tien Te Chiao (Heaven Virtue Religion), Li-ism, Hsuan Yuan Chiao (Yellow Emperor Religion), Tian Li Chiao (Tenrikyo), Pre-cosmic Salvationism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, the Church of Scientology, the Baha’i Faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mahikari Religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and the Presbyterian, True Jesus, Baptist, Lutheran, Seventh-day Adventist, and Episcopal Churches.

According to recent statistics of the Ministry of Labor, the Council of Indigenous Peoples, and conversations with religious leaders, the majority of the indigenous population of 563,000 is Protestant or Roman Catholic.  There are an estimated 1,000 Jews, approximately half of whom are foreign residents.  An estimated 696,000 foreign workers, primarily from Southeast Asia, differ in religious adherence from the general population.  The largest single group of foreign workers is from Indonesia, with a population of approximately 262,000 persons, who are largely Muslim.  Workers from the Philippines – numbering approximately 153,000 persons – are predominately Roman Catholic.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise and equal treatment under the law of all religions, which “shall not be restricted by law” except as necessary for reasons of protecting the freedoms of others, imminent danger, social order, or public welfare.

Religious organizations may voluntarily obtain an establishment permit from the MOI.  The permit requires organizations to have real estate in at least seven administrative regions valued at 25 million new Taiwan dollars (NT$) ($817,000) or more and possess at least NT$5 million ($163,000) in cash.  Alternatively, the organization may register if it possesses cash in excess of NT$30 million ($981,000).  The organization may also apply for an establishment permit from local authorities to receive local benefits, which have lower requirements than the island-wide level.

More than 20 religious organizations have establishment permits from Taiwan authorities.  An organization may register with the courts once it obtains the establishment permit.  The organization must provide an organizational charter, list of assets, and other administrative documents to register.  Registered religious organizations operate on an income tax-free basis, receive case-by-case exemptions from building taxes, and must submit annual reports on their financial operations.  Nonregistered groups are not eligible for the tax advantages available to registered religious organizations.

Many individual places of worship choose not to register and instead operate as the personal property of their leaders.  The Falun Gong is registered as a sports organization and not as a religious organization.

Authorities permit religious organizations to operate private schools.  Authorities do not permit compulsory religious instruction in any Ministry of Education-accredited public or private elementary, middle, or high school.  High schools accredited by the ministry may provide elective courses in religious studies, provided such courses do not promote certain religious beliefs over others.

Because of its unique status, Taiwan is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it enacted a domestic law in 2009 to adhere voluntarily to the covenant.

Government Practices

In October a legislative committee suspended consideration of a new law on religious freedom.  According to press reports, under the draft bill, religious groups would have “religious autonomy,” which would have exempted them from oversight in a variety of areas ranging from land use and education to financial and personnel management.  It would have also banned courts from interfering with religious groups’ doctrines and personnel appointments.  Critics reportedly said passing the law could lead to corruption, environmental degradation, religious discrimination, and other human rights violations in the name of religion.  The Gender Equality Education Platform, established in June to raise public awareness of gender equality education, said the bill would allow religious groups to refuse to hire nonbelievers or those who do not conform to their doctrines, including lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons or women who have had abortions.  The bill’s sponsor withdrew the bill and many lawmakers withdrew their endorsements.

The labor law does not guarantee a day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which continued to limit their ability to attend religious services.  This problem continued to be particularly salient among the island’s 253,600 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominately from Indonesia and the Philippines, who include a number of Muslims and Catholics wanting to attend religious services on a certain day of the week.  Authorities viewed the domestic service workers’ inability to attend religious services as a religious freedom issue that is part of a broader labor issue.  Amendments to the labor law during the year did not address the issue of domestic service workers’ ability to attend religious services, and religious leaders said they were skeptical Taiwan would amend labor laws to resolve this issue in the near future.

The Chinese-Muslim Association objected to the relocation of remains from a Muslim cemetery in Kaohsiung, which Kaohsiung City authorities developed into a park.  The association said the Kaohsiung government in 2014 agreed the land could house both a cemetery and a park, but ultimately decided to move the cemetery.  According to the association, the Kaohsiung government also did not move the remains in accordance with Islamic tenets requiring that only Muslims may handle Muslim remains.  The association stated it was worried that the Kaohsiung government’s actions could set a precedent.  The Kaohsiung City government said it held two public hearings and actively communicated with the Muslim community in Kaohsiung and stated the majority agreed to the move.  The Kaohsiung government said it exhumed graves and moved the remains in accordance with Islamic tenets.  To prepare for the relocation, the heads of Kaohsiung City Government’s Civil Affairs Bureau and the Mortuary Services Office led a delegation to Malaysia in June 2017 to learn how to relocate properly Islamic cemeteries.  The Kaohsiung government said the imam of the Kaohsiung Mosque also helped with the relocation.

The Tibet Religious Foundation reported Tibetan Buddhist monks continued to be unable to obtain resident visas for religious work it said the authorities typically granted to other religious practitioners.  The monks had to fly to Thailand every two months to renew their visas.  The monks did not have passports and instead traveled using Indian Identity Certificates (ICs) issued to Tibetans who reside in India but do not have Indian citizenship and reportedly were valid for travel to all countries.  The foundation stated the authorities continued to deny resident visas in accordance with Taiwan’s visa regulations.  Taiwan authorities said they issued temporary religious visas to IC holders.  They said a comprehensive evaluation on a case-by-case basis, using rules established by multiple ministries, determined the validity period and the period of stay.  Authorities said they denied religious residence visas to IC holders based on general rules governing foreigners who use travel permits, which are not attributable to the religious purpose of the IC holders’ applications.

The Chinese-Muslim Association said authorities were making significant progress in improving rights for Muslims.  The number of halal-certified restaurants and hotels increased from 120 to 160 during the year.  Local authorities in Taoyuan, Taichung, Yunlin, Chiayi, and Yilan held Eid al-Fitr commemorations.  Authorities built new prayer rooms at train stations, libraries, and tourist destinations.

MOI and city- and county-level governments were responsible for accepting complaints from workers who believed government or individuals violated their rights and interests for religious reasons.  The MOI again said it did not receive any complaints of religious discrimination from workers.

Vice President Chen Chien-jen attended the canonization of Pope Paul VI and six other Catholic figures at St. Peter’s Basilica during a trip to the Vatican in October.  Chen said, “As a beacon of religious freedom and tolerance, Taiwan is committed to further strengthening ties with the Holy See via substantive cooperative initiatives spanning democracy, religious freedom, and human rights.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Tibet Religious Foundation reported harassment from a local Buddhist organization, the True Enlightenment Practitioners Association.  The foundation said the organization received funding from China and spread the message that “Tibetan Buddhism is not real Buddhism,” using publications and billboards.  The True Enlightenment Practitioners Association denied being Chinese-funded and said the association “has never criticized Tibetan Buddhism, other than its tenets, nor has it harassed them in any way.”  The foundation reported it had sued the True Enlightenment Practitioners Association for libel and the case reached the Supreme Court.  In November the court ordered the association to publish an apology as a settlement, but by year’s end it had not done so.  Taiwan authorities stated all cases involving the Tibet Religious Foundation had been closed, and the Supreme Court could not hear libel cases.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

AIT staff and a visiting Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary consulted with lawmakers, the Religious Affairs Section of the MOI Department of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Labor on the rights of Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and domestic service workers.  AIT raised the issues of harassment of Tibetan Buddhist monks by other Buddhist religious groups, denial of religious visas, and time off for domestic service workers to attend religious services.  AIT utilized social media channels to promote the value of religious freedom.

AIT representatives met with leaders of various religious faiths, including the Chinese Muslim Association and the Tibet Religious Foundation, to listen to their observations on religious freedom in Taiwan.  AIT representatives encouraged nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders, and faith-based social service organizations to continue advocacy for interfaith equity.

AIT utilized social media channels to promote the value of religious freedom, including posts that highlighted Religious Freedom Day and the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the United States in July.

Tajikistan

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 both that “[t]he citizen shall have the right to participate in the creation of political parties, including parties of democratic, religious and atheistic character” and, separately, that “[r]eligious organizations 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 under 18 from participating in public religious activities.  Amendments to the religion law, which came into effect in January, require religious organizations to report all activity to the state, require state approval for the appointments of all imams, and increase control over religious education within the country and on those traveling abroad for religious education.  The amendments allow restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion to ensure the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protection of foundations of the constitutional order, security of the state, defense of the country, public morals, public health, and the territorial integrity of the country.  The government Committee on Religion, Regulation of Traditions, Celebrations, and Ceremonies (CRA) maintains a very 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.  A Khujand city court sentenced Abdullo Saidulloev, former imam of Sari Sang mosque in Khujand to six years’ imprisonment for promulgating Salafi ideas.  Since 2016, authorities sentenced approximately 20 imams to prison in Sughd Region for membership in banned extremist organizations.  A Khujand city court sentenced Shukrullo Ahrorov, former imam of Ikhlos Mosque, to five years in prison for involvement in an extremist organization.  Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the government-supported Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at mosques.  Officials continued to prevent members of minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, from registering their organizations.  Both registered and unregistered religious organizations continued to be subject to police raids, surveillance, and forced closures.  On October 5, the State National Security Services (SNSS) detained a group of 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses, including minors, who were leaving a private home in Dushanbe after a religious service.  After holding 10 of the members for most of the day, the SNSS released them but threatened they soon would be charged and prosecuted.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported a separate incident on January 21, when authorities summoned a male Jehovah’s Witness to the police station in Khujand; the police had raided his home in 2017.  During the four-hour interrogation, Jehovah’s Witnesses sources stated that a police officer beat the individual so severely that he suffered a concussion and sought immediate medical treatment.  Authorities continued a pattern of harassing women wearing hijabs and men with beards, and government officials again issued statements discouraging women from wearing “nontraditional or alien” clothing, including religious dress.  According to the NGO Forum 18, on September 28, authorities set up a roadblock on the outskirts of the capital to stop cars carrying men with beards and women in hijabs.  Police forced the bearded men into a barber’s shop to have their beards shaved off and forced the women to take off their hijabs and wear shawls showing their necks.

A group pledging allegiance to ISIS claimed responsibility for the July killing of four foreign tourists, including two Americans, and the injuring of three others when the attackers drove a car into a group of cyclists.  Authorities said the leader of the attack was a member of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, which the government outlawed in 2015.  Members of the Christian community reported that cemeteries in southern Khatlon Region were desecrated, with fences, crosses, memorial plates, and tomb ornaments looted for the value of their metal.  Citizens generally remained reluctant to discuss societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief, and some individuals who converted from Islam reported they experienced social disapproval.

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff encouraged the government to adhere to its commitments to respect religious freedom.  Embassy officers also raised concerns about government restrictions on religious practices, including the participation of women and minors in religious services; rejection of attempts of minority religious organizations to register; restrictions on the religious education of youth; harassment of those wearing religious attire; and limitations on the publication or importation of religious literature.  Embassy officers met with religious leaders and civil society groups to address the same issues and discuss concerns over government restrictions on the ability of minority religious groups to practice their religion freely.

On November 28, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a Country of Particular Concern (“CPC”) under section 402(b) of the Act, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  The Secretary also 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 8.6 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to local academics, the population is more than 90 percent Muslim and the majority adheres to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam.  Approximately 4 percent of Muslims are Ismaili Shia, the majority of whom reside in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region located in the eastern part of the country.

Other religious minorities include Christians, Baha’is, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and Jews.  The largest Christian group is Russian Orthodox; there are also Baptists, Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Lutherans, and other Protestants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country a secular state and “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.

The establishment and activities of religious associations promoting racism, nationalism, enmity, social and religious hatred, or calling for the violent overthrow of constitutional order and organizing of armed groups is prohibited.  The constitution states, “The citizen shall have the right to participate in the creation of political parties, including parties of democratic, religious and atheistic character.”  The constitution prohibits “propaganda and agitation” encouraging 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.

The law defines any group of persons who join for religious purposes as a religious association.  The government subdivides associations formed for “conducting joint religious worship” into religious organizations and religious communities, which also are defined by law.  In order to operate legally, both are required to register with the government, a process overseen by the CRA.

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, as well as spreading religious beliefs.  In order to register a religious association, a group of at least 10 persons over the age of 18 must obtain a certificate from local authorities confirming adherents of their religious faith have lived in a local area for five years.  The group must then submit to the CRA proof of the citizenship of its founders, along with their home address and date of birth.  The group must provide an account of its beliefs and religious practices and describe its attitudes related to education, family, and marriage.  It must also provide documentation on the health of its adherents.  A religious association must provide information on its religious centers such as mosques, central prayer houses, religious educational institutions, churches, and synagogues.  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.

A religious community is a voluntary and independent association of citizens, formed for the purpose of holding joint worship and the satisfaction of other religious needs.  Types of religious communities include Friday mosques, five-time prayer mosques, prayer houses, and places of worship.  A religious community functions on the basis of a charter, after registering with the CRA without forming a legal entity.  The nature and scope of its activities are determined by the charter.  Religious communities are required to register both locally and nationally and must register “without the formation of a legal personality.”  A religious community must adhere to the “essence and limits of activity” set out in its charter.

A religious organization is a voluntary and independent association of citizens, formed for the purpose of holding joint worship, religious education, and spreading of religious faith.  Types of religious organizations include 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.  They can be a district, city, or national organization.

The law provides penalties for religious associations that engage in activities contrary to the purposes and objectives set out in their charter, and assigns responsibility to the CRA for handing down fines for such activities.  The law imposes fines for carrying out religious activities without state registration; violating its 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 350 to 500 somoni ($37 to $53), heads of religious associations 1,000 to 1,500 somoni ($110 to $160), and registered religious associations, as legal entities, 5,000 to 10,000 somoni ($530 to $1,100).  For the same offenses repeated within a year of applying first fines, fines are increased to 600 to 1,000 somoni ($64 to $110) for individuals, 2,000 to 2,500 somoni ($210 to $270) for heads of religious associations, and 15,000 to 20,000 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.

In late 2017 parliament amended the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, which entered into force in January.  According to these amendments, restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion are allowed only to ensure the rights and freedoms of others, public order, protection of foundations of the constitutional order, security of the state, defense of the country, public morals, public health, and the territorial integrity of the country.

The amended law states that freedom of conscience and worship may only be restricted for reasons such as ensuring the rights of others, maintaining public order, ensuring state security, defending the country, upholding public morality, promoting public health, and safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity.  The amendments also stipulate that no party, public or religious association, movement or group may be recognized as state ideology.  Religious activities that promote racism, nationalism, hostility, social and religious hatred, or calling for violent overthrow of the constitutional order or the organization of armed groups are prohibited.  The amended law also says that the state maintains control over the order of religious education in order to prevent illegal training, propaganda, and the dissemination of extremist ideas, religious hatred, and hostility.

The amendments broadly empower the CRA to create regulations to implement state policies on religion, such as establishing specific guidelines for the performance of religious ceremonies.  The CRA maintains a very 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 state controls activities of religious associations related to the performance of religious rites, and developing and adopting 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, lists of property, expenditures, numbers of employees and payments of wages, paid taxes, and other information upon request by an authorized state body for religious affairs.

The law recognizes the “special status” of Sunni Islam’s Hanafi school of jurisprudence with respect to the country’s culture and spiritual life.

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 restricts Islamic prayer to four locations:  mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines.  The law regulates the registration, size, and location of mosques, limiting the number of mosques which may be registered within a given population area.  The government allows “Friday” mosques, which conduct larger Friday prayers as well as prayers five times per day, in districts with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 persons; it allows “five-time” mosques, which conduct only daily prayers five times per day, in areas with populations of 100 to 1,000.  In Dushanbe, authorities allow Friday mosques in areas with 30,000 to 50,000 persons, and five-time 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 self-designed charters in buildings constructed by government-approved religious organizations or 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 (prayer leaders in a Friday mosque, who deliver a sermon at Friday noon prayers) and imams (prayer leaders in five-time mosques) shall take place in coordination with “the appropriate state body in charge of religious affairs.”  The CRA must approve the imam-khatibs and imams elected by the founders of each mosque.  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 regulates and formulates the content of Friday sermons.

The law regulates private celebrations, including weddings, funeral services, and celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.  The law limits the number of guests and controls ceremonial gift presentations and other rituals.  The law states mass worship, religious traditions, and ceremonies must be carried out according to the procedures for holding meetings, rallies, demonstrations, and peaceful processions prescribed elsewhere in the law.  The law bans the traditional sacrifice of animals at ceremonies marking the seventh and fortieth day after a death and celebrating the return of Hajj travelers.

According to the law, “Individuals and legal entities are obliged to protect the values of the national culture, including the state language, and national dress.”  According to customary interpretation, “national dress” does not include the wearing of the hijab.  The Code of Administrative Violations does not list the wearing of a beard, hijab, or other religious clothing as violations.

The law allows registered religious organizations to produce, export, import, and distribute religious literature and materials with religious content with the advanced consent of appropriate state authorities.  Only registered religious associations and organizations are entitled to establish enterprises to produce literature and material with religious content.  Such literature and material must indicate the full name of the religious organization producing it.  The law allows government authorities to levy fines for the production, export, import, sale, or distribution of religious literature without permission from the CRA.  According to the law, violators are subject to confiscation of the given literature, as well as fines of 1,500 to 3,500 somoni ($160 to $370) for individuals; 2,500 to 7,500 somoni ($270 to $800) for government officials; and 5,000 to 15,000 somoni ($530 to $1,600) for legal entities, a category including all organizations.

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

The law requires all institutions or groups wishing to provide religious instruction to obtain CRA permission, but in practice such permission is not granted.  Central district mosques may operate madrassahs, which are open only to high school graduates.  Other mosques, if registered with the government, may provide part-time religious instruction for younger students in accordance with their charter and if licensed by the government.

With written parental consent, the law allows minors between the ages of seven and 18 to obtain religious instruction provided by a registered religious organization outside of mandatory school hours.  According to the law, this may not duplicate religious instruction that is already part of a school curriculum.  The CRA is responsible for monitoring mosques throughout the country to ensure implementation of these provisions.

According to the CRA, parents may teach religion to their children at home provided they express a desire to learn.  The law forbids religious instruction at home to individuals outside the immediate family.  The law restricts sending citizens abroad for religious education and establishing ties with religious organizations abroad without CRA consent.  To be eligible to study religion abroad, students must complete a higher education degree domestically and be enrolled at a university accredited in the country in which it operates.  The law provides for fines of 2,500 to 5,000 somoni ($270 to $530) for violating these restrictions.

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

Government Practices

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on January 21, authorities summoned a male Jehovah’s Witness to the police station in Khujand; the police had raided his home in 2017.  During a four-hour interrogation, Jehovah’s Witnesses sources stated that a police officer beat the individual so severely that he suffered a concussion and sought immediate medical treatment.  A police officer followed him, pressured the hospital staff not to provide medical test results, and compelled the doctor to write a false statement denying the injuries.  On February 1, the chief of the Police Department and the chief of the Criminal Investigation Department summoned the victim and his wife for interrogation.  The police ordered the couple to write a statement declaring they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Fearing for their safety, the couple moved to another city.

According to April 22 media reports, the Khujand city court sentenced Abdullo Saidulloev, former imam-khatib of the Sari Sang five-time prayer mosque in Khujand, to six years’ imprisonment.  Authorities charged him with promulgating Salafi ideas.  He had studied in a Saudi Arabia madrassah from 2004 to 2006, and after returning started working in the clergy.  Police detained him in October 2017 after law enforcement seized 200 copies of banned literature from his home, which was described as extremist by the authorities.

Since 2016, the government sentenced approximately 20 imams to prison in Sughd Region for membership in banned extremist organizations.  Most received religious education abroad.  Local and international human rights organizations, however, said the government suppressed opposition figures under the aegis of combating terrorism and extremism.

On April 30, Radio Ozodi, part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported Khujand city court sentenced Shukrullo Ahrorov, former imam of Ikhlos Mosque, to five years in prison for involvement in Ikhvon-al-Muslimin, which the government banned in 2006 as an extremist organization.  The court ruling also stated that Ahrorov preached extremist ideas to worshipers at the mosque in 2015.  The court said law enforcement officers seized illegal religious literature from Ahrorov’s home.  Police charged Ahrorov with the article of the criminal code that covers participation in the activities of political parties, public associations, and religious or other organizations banned by the court.  Ahrorov’s relatives stated he might appeal.

In December police arrested Mukhtadi Abdulkodyrov shortly after he returned to the country after working for four years in Saudi Arabia.  Sources stated that police arrested him for his ties to Salafi Islam, which the Supreme Court banned from the country in 2009.  Prior to his return from Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry contacted him through social media promising to drop all charges against him if he agreed to abandon Salafism.  Abdulkodyrov agreed and wrote a “repentance letter” to the ministry, but still faced a possible eight-year prison sentence.

In September Belarusian border guards arrested Parviz Tursunov, a former soccer player, based on an extradition request from the government.  The government sought his extradition for being a member of a Salafi Muslim group.  He and his family crossed into Belarus from Ukraine in an attempt to reach Poland and apply for asylum.  In November Belarusian officials rejected the extradition request and released Tursunov back into Ukraine.  Tursunov remained in Ukrainian custody at the end of the year.

Bakhrom Kholmatov, former pastor of the Sunmin Sunbogym Protestant Church in Khujand, remained in prison and continued to refuse to undertake a second appeal of his sentence.  His wife stated that she had visited him and he appeared well, but said prison authorities would not allow her to visit for months at a time and they did not give him letters of encouragement written to him from Christians around the world.  After Forum 18 contacted prison authorities about the letters, they said that Kholmatov was now receiving them.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on October 5, the SNSS detained a group of 18 Jehovah’s Witnesses, including minors, who were leaving a private home in Dushanbe after a religious service.  The police released eight young women, but detained the rest of the group, comprised of both men and women, for questioning before releasing all 10 late in the day.  The SNSS reportedly threatened that they shortly would be charged and prosecuted.  On January 24 and 30, Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that police in a settlement near Khujand summoned and interrogated more than a dozen Jehovah’s Witnesses “for converting from Islam to Christianity.”  The police demanded that they renounce their faith.

On October 2, media reported that Daniil Islomov, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was sent to a military unit in Bokhtar city (formerly Qurghonteppa), after completing a six-month prison sentence for evading military conscription.  The government also denied Islomov an opportunity to perform alternative civilian service, although he was soon discharged from the army.  Stefan Steiner, a representative of the European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, told the media that authorities had effectively punished Islomov twice:  first with a prison sentence and second by forcing him to wear a military uniform.  In addition to his prison sentence, Islomov spent six months in pre-trial detention.  At year’s end, Islomov was in the process of filing a complaint with the UN Human Rights Council about his arrest and imprisonment.

In November an eight-year-old elementary school student and member of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the northern city of Konibodom was reported to school authorities for refusing to sing the national anthem or wear the school uniform tie which contained national symbols.  He was labeled a “traitor” and threatened with expulsion.  On November 28, after complaints from school officials, police reportedly took him to a local police station without parental notification and showed him a jail cell.  The city prosecutor’s office also threatened to take action against the boy’s mother for “raising him in an unacceptable way.”  Soon after the incident, Konibodom city police opened a criminal case against the mother, but did not explain what crime she allegedly committed.  On December 11, police presented her with a written summons for questioning, but she refused to comply with the summons.

On August 21, media reported that after Eid al-Adha prayers, police detained several young men with beards near a mosque in Obi Garm town.  There was no information on the identity of those detained.

In November police detained three residents of Ruknobod village in Panjakent District, including two teenagers, on charges of cooperating with extremist groups.  Residents of the village said these three individuals were arrested for clicking the “like” button on “extremist” social media posts.

Officials continued to prevent members of minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, from registering their groups as associations with the government.

Media reported that the government denied religious funerals for approximately 50 prisoners killed in a November Khujand prison camp riot.  The mother of one of the dead prisoners stated that authorities brought the body to a cemetery in Khujand and quickly buried it, forbidding family members to approach the coffin or perform religious rituals.  She said that police claimed the ritual had already been carried out in prison.

Government officials continued to take measures they stated would prevent individuals from joining or participating in what they considered extremist organizations and continued to arrest and detain individuals suspected of membership in or supporting such banned opposition groups.  Those groups included Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Jamaat Tabligh, Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU), Lashkar-e-Tayba, Tojikistoni Ozod, Sozmoni Tablighot, Salafi groups, Jamaat Ansarullah, and the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT).

On April 21, media reported on an April 11 public meeting in Dushanbe between General Sharif Nazarzoda, chief of the city’s Department of Internal Affairs and imam-khatibs of local mosques.  Nazarzoda warned the imam-khatibs to be vigilant about congregants’ behavior and pay attention to those worshipers who did not observe Hanafi belief or practices.  Nazarzoda also reproached the clergy for not cooperating sufficiently with law enforcement agencies in the fight against extremism.  Nazaroda reportedly reinforced his words by showing the photographs of 20 imam-khatibs in Sughd Region sentenced to long prison terms on charges of extremism.

At an August 2 press conference in Sughd, Suhrob Rustamzoda, head of the regional Department on Religious Affairs and Regulation of National Traditions, announced the dismissal of 16 imam-khatibs.  Rustamzoda stated they did not pass certification.  At the same time, he noted that the government preferred imams who were graduates of local universities.  Rustamzoda also noted that operations in all five madrassahs in Sughd Region remained suspended until the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) granted them permission to operate and they had rectified shortcomings in their documentation.  They have not been in operation since 2013.

On January 4, media reported that dozens of imams did not pass annual certification.  A commission including CRA representatives and the government-supported Ulema Council conducted examination of imam-khatibs.  The report did not specify the exact number of those dismissed.  According to the report, the government has been requiring such an annual certification for the last nine years.  Some imam-khatibs who did not pass the certification stated their dismissal was improper.  CRA stated that some imam-khatibs could not answer questions on basic rules of performing prayers in accordance with the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, and could not differentiate between theology and Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh).  At a July 25 press conference, head of the department on religious associations of the CRA Husein Shokirov said that 35 imam-khatibs did not pass certification and were dismissed from their duties at mosques.  Authorities suspended the imam-khatibs from their jobs because they could not answer the questions of the certification commission; all questions were sent to the clergy 20 days in advance of the certification, Shokirov said.

Hanafi Sunni mosques continued to enforce a religious edict issued by the Ulema Council prohibiting women from praying at mosques.

NGOs reported authorities put restrictions on imam-khatibs, such as centrally selecting and approving sermon topics, as well as prohibiting some imam-khatibs from performing certain ceremonies.

On August 30, media reported police officers stopped women wearing hijabs and men with beards in Dushanbe’s Shohmansur district.  Authorities demanded that the women remove their hijabs and men shave their beards.  According to Forum 18, on September 28, authorities set up a roadblock on the outskirts of the capital to stop cars carrying men with beards and women in hijabs.  Police forced the bearded men into a barbershop to have their beards shaved off and forced the women to take off their hijabs and wear shawls showing their necks.  Forum 18 also reports hijab-wearing women were consistently refused medical care and employment.  Tajik State Pedagogical University in Dushanbe announced on September 30 that female students wearing a traditional shawl covering the head could not attend lectures.

On March 2, Radio Ozodi reported that Fathullo Nazriev, imam-khatib from a five-time prayer mosque in Rasht District, sent an open letter to the country’s president in which he stated that police officers in Rasht Valley pressured him to sign a statement accusing Junaidullo Khudoyorov of being a member of an illegal Salafi group.  Khudoyorov previously criticized local authorities on social media and was arrested on January 22.

Media reported that the CRA dismissed an imam of a mosque in Panjakent for not knowing the national anthem.  Naqibkhon Qoriev, a resident of the Yori District of Panjakent who was imam of the mosque early in the year, went through certification procedures in Dushanbe in early June.  He told media on August 27 he was notified only then about the reason for his dismissal and that as a result, authorities appointed another clergyman in his place.  He stated he was flustered during the certification procedure and could not fully read a verse about rules of performing pilgrimage, but stated he knew the anthem and recited part of it.  Officials at the local Department of Religious Affairs confirmed that Qoriev was dismissed, stating he did not know the anthem and also had difficulties answering a question on rules for reading namaz (Islamic prayer).  Saidjon Shodiev, head of the Religious Affairs Department, said that Qoriev failed on two occasions to pass the certification procedures and he could again apply for certification and be reinstated in his position.

Multiple sources reported on the conversion of mosques into other facilities.  During a press conference on January 24, Chairman of Isfara city Dilshod Rasulzoda said that during 2017 the government closed down 45 mosques in Isfara due to poor sanitation.  According to the official, local residents devised a proposal to convert the mosques into social facilities, kindergartens, and medical clinics.  At a January 30 press conference, Chairman of Bobojon Ghafurov District Zarif Alizoda stated that authorities closed down 46 mosques operating without authorization in his district in 2017.  Ghafurov said the government was converting what he termed “illegal” mosques into social service centers, sewing workshops, crafts training centers, trading centers, and other types of public facilities.

During a July 25 press conference, CRA Chairman Sulaymon Davlatzoda stated that some previously closed mosques would be allowed to reopen.  According to Davlatzoda, an interdepartmental working group had been set up to review closure cases and facilitate the reopening of mosques.  “There are mahallas (neighborhoods) where two or three mosques are registered, and there are mahallas and settlements where there is not a single mosque or religious association.  The interdepartmental working group is studying all these issues, and on the results of the group’s work, appropriate decisions will be made,” stated Davlatzoda.  He also stated that when the parliament in late 2017 amended the religion law, “all religious associations had to be reregistered, but some failed to do so out of negligence… which led to the closure of some mosques.”

At a February 5 press conference, CRA officials stated that the government had converted 1,938 mosques that were functioning without authorization into cultural spaces, medical centers, kindergartens, teahouses, or residences for needy families.  Authorities often closed mosques for lack of appropriate documentation, because many mosques were not registered at relevant offices as religious organizations after they were built.  The government gave mosques a deadline to obtain proper documentation and those that failed to meet the deadline were shut down and public facilities set up at their location.  Another 231 mosques were given time to formalize all relevant documents.  According to CRA data, as of the end of 2017, 48 central Friday mosques, 326 Friday mosques, 3528 five-time prayer mosques, 67 non-Islamic religious associations, one Islamic center, and three prayer houses – a total of 3,973 religious associations, were registered in the country and all of them were functioning in accordance with the law and satisfying the religious needs of citizens.

Forum 18 stated the 2017 amendments to the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations allowed the state to restrict manifestations of freedom of religion based on a wide range of grounds not permitted under international human rights obligations, increased religious organizations’ requirements to report all activity to the state, required state approval for the appointments of all imams, and increased state control on both religious education at home, and on those traveling abroad for religious education.  Separately, representatives of a church group said the newly amended law transferred some authority from the Ministry of Justice to the CRA, which now had the right to register religious associations, control their activities, collect financial and other data, and adopt bills that could restrict (or expand) a religious association’s activity.

The government stated that it controlled religious education both domestically and of its citizens abroad in order to prevent “illegal education, propaganda and dissemination of extremist ideas, religious hatred, and enmity.”  There were reports of governmental action against students studying abroad.  At a February 5 press conference, CRA Chairman Davlatzoda said 3,694 citizens had been studying abroad at religious educational institutes.  According to the CRA, 3,377 people had returned to the country; 88 of them returned to their former places of education.  According to Davlatzoda, they went back abroad under the pretext of labor migration but in fact resumed religious studies.  Some were working again but were also studying “illegally” on the side.  Davlatzoda stated that 405 citizens were studying illegally at religious institutions in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan.  According to 2017 CRA data, 60 individuals returned home from foreign madrassahs, with some of them continuing education inside the country.

On May 12, during a meeting with civil society representatives, President Emomali Rahmon stated that more than 3,400 citizens who had studied religion outside the country without authorization had returned to the country.  He said parents and relatives should actively work to prevent their children from falling prey to destructive radical, terrorist, and extremist forces.  He also noted that one of the main reasons youth attended religious educational institutions abroad in violation of the law was because some parents did not want them to have a purely secular education.

NGOs reported authorities continued to enforce the ban on “nontraditional or alien” clothing.  On February 9, the Tajikistan Times published an op-ed by journalist Abdumudassir Ahmadov criticizing the decision of the National Library of Tajikistan to prevent the entrance of bearded men.  Ahmadov said that in the past he had argued about beards with the members of the banned IRPT and asked them not to make beards a religious issue.  He stated that now he was doing the same with state agencies to stop politicizing the issue of whether or not men wore beards.

On February 26, the Khovar state-run news agency reported that the Ministry of Culture (MOC) had proposed guidelines for national dress, which were awaiting government approval.  An official from the MOC told the media the reason for creating clothing guidelines was “to prevent the impact of foreign cultures” on national traditions.  Minister of Culture Shamsiddin Orumbekzoda told journalists during a February 7 press conference that the ministry would soon publish a book about the “ethics of wearing clothes.”  He said the book was a recommendation aimed at presenting national culture and national and historical values so that citizens adequately represented their country.  He noted the book would take into account norms of both national and European clothing and that throughout the world there were certain rules and “ethics of wearing clothes.”

On March 19, the Asia Plus news agency reported that the MOC issued recommendations on women’s clothing.  The ministry published a book with sketches of female models entitled “Instruction on recommended clothes for girls and women in the Republic of Tajikistan” with guidance on how to dress for work in state agencies, for national and state holidays such as Navruz and Mehrgon, as well as for brides at weddings and family celebrations.  It also described clothing not recommended for girls and women, which included forms of Islamic dress such as hijabs.

The government continued to restrict distribution of religious literature; reportedly scheduled a major exam on a date widely anticipated to be designated Eid al-Adha; limited the numbers of those allowed to go on the Hajj; and defined acceptable practices for children attending mosques and for funeral observances.  The government continued to close for one-day national holidays in observance on both Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.

On June 6, the Ulema Council refuted media reports stating that the MES had decided to hold exams on June 16, the Eid al Fitr holiday.  On the following day, June 7, the Ulema Council declared that Eid al Fitr would be June 15.

On August 27, Asia Plus news agency reported that authorities set new restrictions on acceptable dimensions for graves “to prevent pomposity and the material well-being of citizens.”  CRA representatives and local authorities are responsible for enforcing the decree.

On July 3, media reported that Imam of Nuri Islom Mosque in Khujand Ibodullo Kalonzoda proposed introducing Islam into the school curriculum strictly as an academic subject.  Speaking at a roundtable entitled “Countering Terrorism and Extremism – the Main Factor in creating a Democratic and Legal society” held in Guliston in July, Kalonzoda noted that offering such a subject in high schools would be a way to counteract “distorted perceptions” of Islam.

On July 3, the Radio Ozodi website reported that the court of Norak town fined cleric Abdukarim Saidov 350 somoni ($37) for providing illegal religious education.  Authorities charged him with organizing religious education for eight children between six and 16 years old beginning in June 2017.  The children’s parents had paid Saidov 300 to 500 somoni ($32 to $53) a month along with groceries as payment.  Saidov, a graduate of the Islamic Institute of Tajikistan, told the media he did not know it was illegal to organize religious lessons for children at home.

On July 8, Akhbor news agency reported that Khairullo Najmiddinov, Mahmadayub Junaidov, and Husein Rizoev, three imams from Tojikobod District, were fined 500 somoni ($53) each for establishing an illegal madrassah at home.  The government also fined the children’s parents.

On May 17, Radio Ozodi reported that imam-khatibs in mosques throughout the country were ordered to watch the play “Obu Otash” (“Water and Fire”) by writer and playwright Mansur Surush, which, according to proponents, promoted tolerance and mocked religious fanaticism.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A group pledging allegiance to ISIS claimed responsibility for the July killing of four foreign tourists, including two Americans, and the injuring of three others when the attackers drove a car into a group of cyclists.  Following the collision, the assailants attacked the victims with knives and firearms.  Authorities said the leader of the attack was a member of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, which the government had outlawed in 2015.

Individuals outside government continued to state that they were reluctant to discuss issues such as societal respect for religious diversity, including abuses or discrimination based on religious belief.  Civil society representatives said discussion of religion in general, especially relations between members of various religious groups, remained a subject they avoided.  People said they felt more comfortable discussing violations of civil rights than discussing sectarian disagreements or government curtailment of religious freedom.

Leaders of some minority religious groups stated their communities had positive relationships with the majority Hanafi Sunni population, whom they said did not hinder their worship services or cause concern for their congregations.  Other minority religious group leaders, especially from proselytizing religious groups, stated their members experienced social disapproval from friends and neighbors because they were no longer Muslims.  Members of the Baha’i Faith particularly noted they faced discrimination from many ordinary citizens.  They said there were some in the country that viewed the Baha’i Faith as incompatible with Tajik nationality.

Members of the Christian community reported on the desecration of cemeteries in the southern Khation Region, with fences, crosses, memorial plates, and tomb ornaments looted for the value of their metal.  According to local statistics, half of the 3,000 Christian graves in the region, which dated to the Soviet era, had been looted.  An Orthodox Church rector in Bokhtar said he had visited the city’s Christian cemetery and noted cattle grazing and children playing on the graves.  In Yavan, another Khation district, thieves looted items from 50 graves in the area’s two Christian cemeteries.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In August a visiting Department of State officer conducted an in-depth working visit to the country, meeting with independent analysts, religious leaders, and members of a wide array of faith communities, as well as government representatives from the CRA and the Center for Islamic Studies, to assess conditions on the ground and advocate for greater religious freedom.  In meetings with government officials, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy officers continued to raise concerns regarding the restrictions on minors and women participating in religious services, rejection of attempts by minority religious groups to register, restrictions on the religious education of youth, and limitations on the publication or import of religious literature, as well as the lack of due process in court cases involving religious belief.  Embassy officers also raised the issue of harassment of women and men for religious dress and grooming.

On June 8, the embassy held an iftar with religious community leaders, civil society representatives, and government officials responsible for policy on religious issues, including representatives from the CRA and the Center for Islamic Studies.  Topics of discussion included the state of religious freedom in the country, local religious traditions, and the impact of government policies.

On February 8, the embassy hosted a dinner for Religious Tolerance Day.  Representatives of various religious groups, including religious minorities, attended the event.  Participants discussed the state of religious freedom in the country and ways religious groups could further collaborate.

The Charge d’Affaires released an op-ed dedicated to Religious Freedom Day (January 16), which was published in all the local newspapers, including those printed in Tajik, Russian, and English.  The Charge candidly discussed the challenges related to religious freedom in the country and the role religious freedom plays in the stability of a country.

Since 2016, Tajikistan has been designated a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 28, the Secretary of State redesignated the country as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompanies designation as required in the important national interest of the United States.

Tanzania

Executive Summary

The constitutions of the union government and of the semiautonomous government in Zanzibar both prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religious choice.  Since independence, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents.  Sixty-one members of Uamsho, an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody without a trial since their arrest in 2013 under terrorism charges.  In May the Office of the Registrar of Societies, an entity within the Ministry of Home Affairs charged with overseeing religious organizations, released a letter ordering the leadership of the Catholic and Lutheran Churches to retract statements that condemned the government for increasing restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly, and alleged human rights abuses.  After a public outcry, the minister of home affairs denounced the letter and suspended the registrar.  The Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources destroyed a church being built on property owned by the Pentecostal Assemblies of God after the High Court of Zanzibar ruled the church was built on government property.  This followed a protracted court battle in which Zanzibar courts ruled the church was allowed on the property.

Vigilante killings of persons accused of practicing witchcraft continued to occur.  As of July, the government reported 117 witchcraft-related incidents.  There were some attacks on churches and mosques throughout the country, especially in rural regions.  Civil society groups continued to promote peaceful interactions and religious tolerance.

The embassy launched a three-month public diplomacy campaign in support of interfaith dialogue and sponsored the visit of an imam from the United States to discuss interfaith and religious freedom topics with government officials and civil society.  Embassy officers continued to advocate for religious tolerance in meetings with religious leaders in the country.  The Charge d’Affaires hosted iftars and interfaith roundtables with religious leaders to promote and highlight the country’s religious diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 55.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  A 2010 Pew Forum survey estimates approximately 61 percent of the population is Christian, 35 percent Muslim, and 4 percent other religious groups.  A separate 2010 Pew Forum Report estimates more than half of the population practices elements of African traditional religions in their daily lives.

On the mainland, large Muslim communities are concentrated in coastal areas, with some Muslim minorities located inland in urban areas.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Protestants (including Pentecostal Christian groups), Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Other groups include Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, animists, and those who did not express a religious preference.  Zanzibar’s 1.3 million residents are 99 percent Muslim, according to a U.S. government estimate, of whom two-thirds are Sunni, according to a 2012 Pew Forum report.  The remainder consists of several Shia groups, mostly of Asian descent.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitutions of the union government and Zanzibar both provide for equality regardless of religion, prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and stipulate freedom of conscience or faith and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change one’s faith.  The union government constitution allows these rights to be limited by law for purposes such as protecting the rights of others; promoting the national interest; and safeguarding defense, safety, peace, morality, and health.  The Zanzibar constitution allows the rights to be limited by law if such a limitation is “necessary and agreeable in the democratic system” and does not limit the “foundation” of the right or bring “more harm” to society.

The law prohibits religious groups from registering as political parties.  To register as a political party, an entity may not use religion as a basis to approve membership, nor may the promotion of religion be a policy of that entity.

The law prohibits any person from taking any action or making statements with the intent of insulting the religious beliefs of another person.  Anyone committing such an offense is liable to a year’s imprisonment.

On the mainland, secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases.  In family-related cases involving inheritance, marriage, divorce, and the adoption of minors, the law also recognizes customary practices, which could include religious practices.  In such cases, some Muslims choose to consult religious leaders in lieu of bringing a court case.

Zanzibar, while also subject to the union constitution, has its own president, court system, and legislature.  Muslims in Zanzibar have the option of bringing cases to a civil or qadi (Islamic court or judge) court for matters of divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other issues covered by Islamic law.  All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland.  Decisions of Zanzibar’s qadi courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs.  The President of Zanzibar appoints the chief qadi, who oversees the qadi courts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran.  There are no qadi courts on the mainland.

Religious groups must register with the Registrar of Societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar.  Registration is required by law on both the mainland and in Zanzibar, but the penalties for failing to comply with this requirement are not stated in the law.

To register, religious groups must provide the names of at least 10 members, a written constitution, resumes of their leaders, and a letter of recommendation from the district commissioner.  Such groups may then list individual congregations, which do not need separate registration.  Muslim groups registering on the mainland must provide a letter of approval from the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA).  Muslim groups registering in Zanzibar must provide a letter of approval from the mufti, the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community.  Christian groups in Zanzibar may register directly with the registrar general.

On the mainland, BAKWATA elects the mufti.  On Zanzibar, the President of Zanzibar appoints the mufti, who serves as a leader of the Muslim community and as a public servant assisting with local governmental affairs.  The Mufti of Zanzibar nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises all mosques on Zanzibar.  The mufti also approves religious lectures by visiting Islamic clergy and supervises the importation of Islamic literature from outside Zanzibar.

Public schools may teach religion, but it is not a part of the official national curriculum.  School administration or parent-teacher associations must approve such classes, which are taught on an occasional basis by parents or volunteers.  Public school registration forms must specify a child’s religious affiliation so administrators can assign students to the appropriate religion class if one is offered.  Students may also choose to opt out of religious studies.  Private schools may teach religion, although it is not required, and these schools generally follow the national educational curriculum unless they receive a waiver from the Ministry of Education for a separate curriculum.  In public schools, students are allowed to wear the hijab but not the niqab.

The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics.  Police reports must state religious affiliation if an individual will be required to provide sworn testimony.  Applications for medical care must specify religious affiliation so that any specific religious customs may be observed.  The law requires the government to record the religious affiliation of every prisoner and provide facilities for worship for prisoners.

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

Government Practices

Sixty-one members of Uamsho, an Islamist group advocating for Zanzibar’s full autonomy, remained in custody following their arrest in 2013 on terrorism charges.  The cases were not brought to trial during the year, and the investigation continued.  Those charged remained imprisoned on mainland Tanzania.  They were initially arrested and detained in Zanzibar, which has an independent court system.  In January 24 of the Uamsho members were separately sentenced to six months in prison for public indecency after they protested their detention and poor prison conditions by undressing before entering a court chamber.  This charge was separate from and in addition to their original terrorism charge.

In January unknown persons kidnapped five members of the Uamsho movement in Zanzibar and held them for seven days before releasing the captives.  One kidnapping victim alleged they were abducted by state police in retaliation for their support for families of the imprisoned Uamsho leaders.

In May the Ministry of Home Affairs sent a letter to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania and the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (which represents the Catholic bishops) threatening legal action after the churches issued statements that criticized the government’s perceived repression of basic freedoms.  The letter gave a 10-day ultimatum to denounce the criticism of the government.  The government letter was leaked on social media and went viral.  After strong public backlash against perceived government interference in religious affairs, the government disowned the letter and suspended the registrar of religious communities and societies, who had signed the letter.

In September the Department of Immigration deported seven Islamic clerics from Pakistan who had arrived two weeks earlier in Kilwa, a Muslim-majority region on the southeast coast.  Department officials stated the clerics did not have permission to enter the country from the head Mufti of BAKWATA, although a Kilwa legislator, Suleiman Bungara, said the clerics had a letter from BAKWATA.  The English-language daily newspaper The Citizen reported that Bungara’s efforts to resolve the issue with Minister of Home Affairs Kangi Lugola were unsuccessful and Bungara questioned whether BAKWATA or the Immigration Department had the authority to approve international religious visitors.

In August a court in Mwana Kwerekwe acquitted and freed a Pentecostal pastor in Zanzibar accused of abusing a Muslim girl in 2014, ending a protracted court case.  The court originally closed the case in 2015, with charges against the pastor twice dropped for lack of evidence.  Christian leaders in Zanzibar stated that the government later reopened the case as a pretext for jailing the pastor, and that Christians found it difficult to obtain a fair court hearing in Zanzibar.

In March the Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources confiscated and destroyed a church being built on property which the Pentecostal Assemblies of God stated it owned, but the High Court of Zanzibar ruled the church was built on government property.  After opponents to the construction demolished several temporary church structures between 2004 and 2007, the group had completed approximately half the construction of a stone building in 2009 when local Muslims filed suit, arguing the church was being built illegally.  A lower court ruling in 2011 in favor of the church had allowed the construction to move forward, although the court later decided the party who originally sold the property to the church was not the rightful owner.  According to Christian media, church leaders stated the court ruled due to religious bias and threatened the survival of the congregation on the island.

During the year, the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA) announced religious organizations would no longer receive automatic tax exemptions for charitable in-kind donations.  Religious groups must hereafter submit individual requests to the TRA to receive tax exemptions on donations.

The government used various public forums to emphasize that religious organizations should be self-funded and not rely on international donors.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Witchcraft-related killings continued in the country.  The Ministry of Home Affairs reported 117 incidents from January through June.  The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) reported 106 such killings in the same time period.  More than three-quarters of the victims were men.  Approximately the same number of witchcraft-related killings were reported in the same period in 2017.  The LHRC reported that 501 persons were killed due to mob violence spurred by witchcraft suspicion between January and June.  On March 23, according to the LHRC, an angry mob killed a woman of the Taba Village in Kilauwa District over suspicion of witchcraft.

In May a burglar broke into a Catholic church in Dar es Salaam and stole money and church equipment.  Police were investigating at year’s end.

Unknown assailants broke into a mosque in the Tabora Region and stole 720,000 Tanzanian shillings ($310) in June.  No motive was known, and an investigation was ongoing.  Observers stated that houses of worship were usually regarded as sacred regardless of religion and, as such, attacks on mosques and churches could be seen as religiously targeted.

In January courts in Bukoba issued a three-year prison sentence to three men found guilty of burning churches in 2015 in the Kagera Region in the northwest part of the country.  The men were already serving life sentences for other crimes related to burning churches.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During the year, the embassy supported interfaith dialogue through a three-month public diplomacy campaign aimed at underscoring the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in preventing violent extremism.

As part of this campaign, the embassy sponsored the visit of a U.S. imam for a one-week program in Dar es Salaam, Pemba, and Unguja (the main island in the Zanzibar archipelago) in August.  The imam engaged with the leadership and members of the Supreme Council of Muslims in Tanzania, the Inter-Religious Council for Peace in Tanzania, the Zanzibar and Pemba Association of Imams, former participants in U.S. government exchange programs, and secondary school students through a series of lectures on religious freedom, diversity, and expression.  In these meetings and discussions, the imam promoted interfaith cooperation in addressing community and social issues and shared experiences on how religious organizations and secular institutions can work together to teach tolerance in their communities.

On June 7 and 8, the Charge d’Affaires hosted iftars in Dar es Salaam and Arusha, bringing together influential civil society, interfaith, and media leaders to launch the interfaith dialogue campaign.  Media coverage of both events, including articles and photographs in leading English and Swahili newspapers, reached a potential readership of one million individuals.

During a July interfaith roundtable in the coastal town of Lindi, the Charge d’Affaires met with a local peacekeeping council comprised of eight Christian and Muslim religious leaders to discuss how to address the area’s economic and social challenges collectively from a position of religious solidarity.

The U.S. government continued programs with religious communities in Kagera, Arusha, Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar.  With this support, nongovernmental organizations worked with local government officials, youth, media, and religious groups to improve relationships between communities and address drivers of marginalization that contribute to religious tensions.

Thailand

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious belief and protects religious liberty.  The law officially recognizes five religious groups:  Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians.  The Ministry of Justice allows the practice of sharia as a special legal process, outside the national civil code, for Muslim residents of the “Deep South” for family law, including inheritance.  In September the Bangkok Criminal Court found nine Muslims from the Deep South guilty after they confessed in connection with what authorities said was a plan for bombings in Bangkok in 2016.  Defendants reportedly said they were tortured in prison before confessing, but the court found the accusations baseless.  As part of what the government said were broader immigration raids, authorities arrested and detained hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants, including persons from a number of vulnerable religious minority groups, some of whom had or were applying for asylum or refugee status from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The government stated these arrests were not motivated by religious affiliation and that members of a multitude of different religious groups were detained.  A nongovernmental organization (NGO) said the detainees included Christians and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan, who fled for religious reasons, and 181 Christian Montegnards from Vietnam, whom the NGO said had asylum or refugee status.  The NGO said the Montegnards were detained on August 28 and the adults were sent to an immigration detention facility, while approximately 50 children were sent to children’s shelters.  The Ministry of Education amended a 2008 regulation to stipulate that when attending schools located on Buddhist temple property, students must wear the uniform agreed to by the school and temple.  The Sangha Supreme Council issued an order prohibiting the use of temple land for political activities, rallies, meetings, or seminars for purposes that violate the law or impact national security, social order, or public morals.  Following the marriage of a 41-year-old Malaysian man to an 11-year-old Thai girl in the Deep South, the Central Islamic Council issued a regulation setting 17 years old as the minimum age for marriage.

Insurgency-related violence continued in the Malay Muslim-majority Deep South, where religious and ethnic identity are closely linked in a longstanding separatist conflict.  On August 1, a gunman reportedly shot and killed a Muslim teacher, Adul Sima, as he left prayers in a mosque in Pattani’s Mai Kaen District.  The Election Commission and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand signed a cooperation agreement to educate, train, empower, and develop the capacity of Catholic communities, networks, schools, and students on democracy-related issues.

Embassy and consulate general officials met with government ministries, religious leaders, academics, and elected officials to promote religious pluralism and reconciliation and discuss complex religious issues in society, including ethnic identity and politics.  The embassy and consulate general organized workshops on peace and facilitated the presentation of speakers from the United States on interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 68.6 million (July 2018 estimate).  The 2010 population census indicated 93 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and 5 percent Muslim.  NGOs, academics, and religious groups state that 85 to 95 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and 5 to 10 percent Muslim.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include animists, Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and Taoists.

Most Buddhists incorporate Hindu and animist practices into their worship.  The Buddhist clergy (sangha) consists of two main schools of Theravada Buddhism:  Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttika.  The former is older and more prevalent within the monastic community.

Islam is the dominant religion in four of the five southernmost provinces (Narathiwat, Yala, Satun, and Pattani) near the Malaysian border, commonly referred to as the Deep South.  The majority of Muslims in those provinces are ethnic Malay, but the Muslim population nationwide also includes descendants of immigrants from South Asia, China, Cambodia, and Indonesia, as well as ethnic Thai.  Statistics provided by the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) of the Ministry of Culture indicate that 99 percent of Muslims are Sunni.

The majority of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese practice either Mahayana or Theravada Buddhism.  Many ethnic Chinese, as well as members of the Mien hill tribe, also practice forms of Taoism.

The majority of Christians are ethnic Chinese, and more than half of the Christian community is Roman Catholic.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all persons are equal before the law regardless of religious belief and allows all persons to profess, observe, or practice any religion of their choice, as long as the exercise of these freedoms are not “harmful to the security of the State.”  The constitution empowers the state to patronize and protect Buddhism as well as other religions, but it also provides for special promotion of Theravada Buddhism through education, propagation of its principles, and the establishment of measures and mechanisms “to prevent the desecration of Buddhism in any form.”

A special order issued by the military government in 2016 guarantees the state’s promotion and protection of “all recognized religions” in the country but mandates all state agencies to monitor the “right teaching” of all religions to ensure they are not “distorted to upset social harmony.”  A law specifically prohibits the defamation or insult of Buddhism and Buddhist clergy.  Violators may face up to one year’s imprisonment, fines of up to 20,000 baht ($620), or both.  The penal code prohibits the insult or disturbance of religious places or services of all officially recognized religious groups.  Penalties range from imprisonment for one to seven years, a fine of 2,000 to 14,000 baht ($62 to $430), or both.

The law officially recognizes five religious groups:  Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians.  As a matter of policy, the government will not recognize any new religious groups outside the five umbrella groups.  While there is no official state religion, the constitution continues to require the king to be Buddhist and declares he is the “upholder of religions.”

Religious groups associated with one of the five officially recognized religions may register to receive state benefits that include access to state subsidies, exemption from property and income taxes, and preferential allocation of resident visas for the registered organization’s foreign officials.  Registration as a religious group is not mandatory, and religious groups may still operate without government interference whether or not they are officially registered or recognized.  Under the law, the RAD is responsible for registering religious groups, excluding Buddhist groups, which the National Buddhism Bureau, an independent state agency under direct supervision of the prime minister, oversees.

The RAD may register a new religious denomination within one of the five recognized religious groups only if it meets the following qualifications:  the national census indicates the group has at least 5,000 adherents, it possesses a uniquely recognizable theology, it is not politically active, and it obtains formal approval in a RAD-organized meeting of representatives from the concerned ministries and the five recognized umbrella religious groups.  To register with the RAD, a religious group’s leader also must submit documentation on its objectives and procedures, any relationship to a foreign country, a list of executive members and senior officials, and locations of administrative, religious, and teaching sites.

The constitution prohibits Buddhist priests, novices, monks, and other clergy from voting in an election or running for seats in the House of Representatives or Senate.  According to the National Buddhism Bureau, as of September there were more than 41,000 Buddhist temples in the country with approximately 335,000 clergy who are thus ineligible to vote or run for office.  Christian clergy are prohibited from voting in elections if they are in formal religious dress.  Except for the chularajmontri (grand mufti), imams are not regarded as priests or clergy and are thus allowed to vote in elections and assume political positions.

The Sangha Supreme Council serves as Thai Buddhism’s governing clerical body.  In July the National Legislative Assembly amended the law to give the king full authority to unilaterally appoint or remove members from the Sangha Supreme Council irrespective of the monk’s rank and without consent or consultation with the supreme patriarch.

In June the Ministry of Education amended a 2008 regulation, which permitted students to dress in accordance with their religious belief, to stipulate that when attending schools located on Buddhist temple property, students must wear the uniform agreed to by the school and temple.   

The law requires religious education for all students at both the primary and secondary levels; students may not opt out.  The curriculum must contain information about all of the five recognized umbrella religious groups.  Students who wish to pursue in-depth studies of a particular religion may study at private religious schools and may transfer credits to public schools.  Individual schools, working in conjunction with their local administrative boards, are authorized to arrange additional religious studies courses.  There are two private Christian universities open to the public with religious curricula.  There are 10 Catholic grade schools whose curriculum and registration the Ministry of Education oversees.  The Sangha Supreme Council and the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand create special curricula for Buddhist and Islamic studies required in public schools, respectively.

The Central Islamic Council of Thailand, whose members are Muslims appointed by royal proclamation, advises the Ministries of Education and Interior on Islamic issues.  The government provides funding for Islamic educational institutions, the construction of mosques, and participation in the Hajj.  There are several hundred primary and secondary Islamic schools throughout the country.  There are four options for students to obtain Islamic education in the Deep South:  government-subsidized schools offering Islamic education with the national curriculum; private Islamic schools that may offer non-Quranic subjects such as foreign languages (Arabic and English) but whose curriculum may not be approved by the government; traditional pondoks, or private Islamic day schools, offering Islamic education according to their own curriculum to students of all ages; and tadika, an after-school religious course for children in grades one through six, often held in a mosque.

The Ministry of Justice allows the practice of sharia as a special legal process, outside the national civil code, for Muslim residents of the Deep South for family law, including inheritance.  Provincial courts apply this law, and a sharia expert advises the judge.  The law officially lays out the administrative structure of Muslim communities in the Deep South, including the process of appointing the chularajmontri, whom the king appoints as the state advisor on Islamic affairs.

The RAD sets a quota for the number of foreign missionaries permitted to register and operate in the country:  1,357 Christian, six Muslim, 20 Hindu, and 41 Sikh.  Registration confers some benefits, such as longer visa validity.

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

Government Practices

Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of violence due to the Malay Muslim insurgency as being solely based on religious identity.

According to the NGO Deep South Watch, insurgency-related violence from January to August resulted in at least 146 deaths – among them 128 Muslims and 18 Buddhists.  Deep South Watch also reported 196 persons were injured during that period – 91 Muslims and 105 Buddhists.  For all of 2017, Deep South Watch reported 187 Muslims, 64 Buddhists, and 12 unidentified persons were killed in the insurgency.  Local NGOs reported insurgents often considered teachers, along with their military escorts, as affiliated with the state and hence legitimate targets.  According to Deep South Watch, a Muslim teacher was killed, a Buddhist teacher was injured, and six Muslim students were injured as of August.

In September the Bangkok Criminal Court found nine Muslims from the Deep South guilty of belonging to an underground criminal group and conspiracy and sentenced each to four years’ imprisonment.  One was also found guilty of illegal possession of explosive devices and given an additional two years.  Their original sentences were halved because they confessed.  Five defendants were acquitted.  According to a human rights group, at least seven of the defendants said they were tortured in prison, including being beating and being doused with water and left in cold rooms before confessing, but the court found the accusations baseless and without evidence.  The cases arose from arrests in 2016 in connection with what authorities said was a plan for bombings in Bangkok.

There were reports authorities continued to use the emergency decree and martial law provisions in effect in the Deep South since 2005 and 2004, respectively, that give military, police, and civilian authorities significant powers to restrict certain basic rights, including pretrial detention and searches without warrant.  Authorities delegated certain internal security powers to the armed forces, often resulting in accusations of unfair treatment.

In August online newspaper Prachatai reported an unidentified unit arrested five Malay Muslims, two of whom were activists campaigning for peace in the Deep South.  The arrestees’ relatives were not informed of the charges, but authorities told them the five were arrested under “a special law.”

According to human rights groups, a portion of the country’s refugee and asylum seeker population was fleeing religious persecution elsewhere.  According to UNHCR, many of them lived in the country without legal permission to stay and as a result, as with the entire refugee and asylum seeker population, they faced the possibility of arrest, detention, and deportation regardless of whether they had registered with the agency.  During the year, immigration authorities reported conducting a series of raids targeting any person living illegally in the country.  As part of those operations, thousands were arrested, including some UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers.  UNHCR reported that those detainees who were registered with them were released shortly after arrest.  The government said the raids did not target any specific religious group, and they arrested individuals with various religious affiliations.  Media coverage consistently highlighted that the arrests were part of the broader immigration crackdown and not motivated by religion.  The government and UNHCR stated the government did not deport any UNHCR-registered refugees or asylum seekers from these raids and allowed UNHCR access to these individuals.  In September the NGO International Christian Concern said more than 70 Pakistani Christians were confined to the Bangkok Immigration Center in what were described as “degrading, unclean, and overcrowded” conditions.  The same NGO said that on August 28, 181 mostly Christian Montegnards (or Degar) refugees from Vietnam were arrested and the adults were detained at the Bangkok facility, while more than 50 children were separated from their parents and sent to three shelters.

Human rights and migrant assistance groups reported difficulties among Muslim and South Asian migrants in obtaining legal status, especially after a new decree came into effect early in the year.  Muslim migrants from Burma, many of whom reportedly fled persecution, said they were unable to acquire the necessary documentation from Burma.  In April the Thai labor minister stated more than 250,000 migrants would have to leave the country.

Activists, including Human Rights Watch, expressed concerns about how the government might react to requests from China to extradite Chinese dissidents, including those associated with religious groups banned in China.  No members of banned religious groups were forcibly deported to China during the year.  Tourist police in March arrested seven Chinese nationals for distributing Falun Gong documents and fined them for overstaying their visas.

In what the government said was a move against corruption, in the spring it arrested six leading monks, including elderly monks on the Sangha Supreme Council, two senior abbots at Bangkok’s Golden Mount Temple, and Phra Buddha Issara, a monk who had previously urged the government to act against corrupt monks.  One press report described the act as an effort to assert the government’s authority over temples, while the prevailing view among close observers was that the arrests were politically motivated and designed to curry favor before the 2019 elections with voters who were concerned about reported corruption among monks.

In September police shut down a forum organized by foreign journalists to discuss whether senior military officers in Burma should face justice for alleged human rights abuses committed by their forces against Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities.  According to press reports, approximately one dozen police arrived ahead of the scheduled panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and ordered the panelists not to speak.

Since 1984 the government has not recognized any new religious groups.  Despite the lack of formal legal recognition or registration, civil society groups continued to report unregistered religious groups operated freely, and the government’s practice of not recognizing or registering new religious groups did not restrict their activities.  Although registration provided some benefits, such as visas with longer validity, religious groups reported that being unregistered was not a significant barrier to foreign missionary activity, and many unregistered missionaries worked in the country without government interference.

On October 10, a group of monks petitioned the Election Commission to amend the laws restricting monks’ political rights.

In February a group of female Buddhist monks submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission to follow up on a February 2017 petition to amend the law to recognize female monks.  No action had been taken as of September.  The Sangha Supreme Council continued to prohibit women from becoming monks; women wishing to join the monkhood usually travelled to Sri Lanka to be ordained.  Of the 360,000 Buddhist clergy in the country, 229 were women.  Since a gender equality law exempts cases involving “compliance with religious principles,” female monks (bhikkhunis) were excluded from gender equality protection by the government.  Officials continued to neither formally oppose nor support female ordination.  Officials allowed bhikkhunis to practice and establish monasteries and temples.  Without official recognition, however, monasteries led by women continued to be ineligible for any of the government benefits received by other sanctioned Buddhist temples, primarily tax exemptions, free medical care, and subsidies for building construction and running social welfare programs.  Unlike male monks (bhikkhus), bhikkhunis received no special government protection from public verbal and physical attacks that sometimes involved male monks opposing the ordination of female monks.

In August the Sangha Supreme Council issued an order prohibiting the use of temple land for political activities or rallies, meetings, or seminars for purposes that violate the law or impact national security, social order, or public morals.  The order also reiterated the prohibition against monks and novices participating in political activity.

The Central Islamic Council in August issued a regulation setting 17 years as the minimum age for marriage.  According to the law, the minimum legal age for marriage, regardless of religion, is 17.  The regulation followed in the wake of the May marriage of a 41-year-old Malaysian man to an 11-year-old Thai girl in the Deep South.  The girl was returned to her family in August.

The only government-certified Islamic university in the Deep South, Fatoni University, continued to teach special curricula for Muslim students, including instruction in Thai, English, Arabic, and Bahasa Malayu; a mandatory peace studies course; and the integration of religious principles into most course offerings.  As of September 30, approximately 3,300 students and 480 academic personnel were affiliated with the school.

In January the governor of Narathiwat Province in the Deep South mandated the addition of monarchy studies – a course focused on Thai history and the relationship between Thai kings and their subjects – to the curriculum taught at pondoks.

In May the Education Ministry selected 13 committee members to develop Buddhist-only teaching for schools.  At present, more instruction time is dedicated to teaching Buddhism than other religions.

The June Ministry of Education amendment on students wearing the uniform agreed to by the school and temple was the result of a controversy that arose in May, when the director of a public school located on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Pattani Province in the Deep South refused a request from a group of Muslim students’ parents to allow their children to wear a headscarf to school.  The school’s student body is 40 percent Muslim; however, the school dress code required students to wear a uniform, without accommodation for religious attire.  On October 29, the Songkhla Administrative Court, which had jurisdiction over Pattani Province, issued an injunction banning the school from penalizing students for wearing Islamic dress.

According to the association and faculty at a prominent university in the Deep South, scrutiny of Muslim professors and clerics continued to decline; however, the military continued to scrutinize Muslim teachers at private schools.

Duay Jai, a local human rights advocacy group in the Deep South, reported in February that a group of military officers went to a tadika in Pattani Province and demanded a list of students and photographs of teachers’ identity cards.  According to press reports, the government said the school committed financial fraud and funneled funds to a militant.  The school remained open as the investigation continued.  There were reports that security officials searched several Islamic schools on allegations of corruption and possible connection to insurgency funding.

Starting with the October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018 fiscal year, the government transferred the management of the approximately 410 million baht ($12.67 million) budget for non-Buddhist initiatives from the RAD to the Ministry of Interior (MOI).  Approximately 333 million baht ($10.29 million) of that allocation went to strategic planning for religious, art, and cultural development.  The budget included grants of approximately 18 million baht ($556,000) for the maintenance and restoration of non-Buddhist religious sites of the five officially recognized religious groups and 240,000 baht ($7,400) for the chularajmontri’s annual per diem.  The Muslim community reportedly said that it preferred the MOI to manage the budget as it was easier to navigate, and the MOI had more capacity to manage the budget.

The National Buddhism Bureau, funded separately from the RAD, received 4.9 billion baht ($151.47 million) in government funding, 1.9 billion baht ($58.73 million) of which went to empowerment and human capital development projects.  A total of 1.6 billion baht ($49.46 million) was allocated for personnel administration, 1.2 billion baht ($37.09 million) for education projects, including scripture and bookkeeping instruction for monks and novices, and 256 million baht ($7.91 million) for Deep South conflict resolution and development projects.

The government continued to recognize 39 elected Provincial Islamic Committees nationwide.  Their responsibilities included providing advice to provincial governors on Islamic issues; deciding on the establishment, relocation, merger, and dissolution of mosques; appointing persons to serve as imams; and issuing announcements and approvals of Islamic religious activities.  Committee members in the Deep South continued to report acting as advisers to government officials in dealing with the area’s ethnonationalist and religious tensions.

Religious groups continued to proselytize without reported interference.  Thai Buddhist monks working as missionaries were active, particularly in border areas among the country’s tribal populations, and received some public funding.  According to the National Buddhism Bureau, there were 5,426 Buddhist missionaries working nationwide.  Buddhist missionaries needed to pass training and educational programs at Maha Makut Buddhist University and Maha Chulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University before receiving appointments as missionaries by the Sangha Supreme Council.  Per government regulations, no foreign monks were permitted to serve as Buddhist missionaries within the country.

During the year, there were 11 registered foreign missionary groups with visas operating in the country:  six Christian, one Muslim, two Hindu, and two Sikh groups.  There were 1,357 registered foreign Christian missionaries.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), which is not an officially recognized Christian group, continued to exercise its special quota for 200 missionaries through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Security Council.  Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus had smaller numbers of missionaries in the country.  Many foreign missionaries entered the country using tourist visas and proselytized without the RAD’s authorization.  Non-Buddhist missionaries did not receive public funds or state subsidies.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Ethnic Malay insurgents continued to attack Buddhists and Muslims in the Deep South.  As in 2017, there were no reports of Muslims advocating violence against Buddhists.  According to human rights and civil society groups, more than a decade of continuing violence had decreased interaction between the Muslim and Buddhist communities.  The Duay Jai Group reported the prohibition on Islamic dress in certain schools, which was later overturned, further distanced the two populations. Some press reports indicated a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.  Deutsche Welle, a German news site, reported that Buddhists in Thailand and other places saw Buddhism under threat, and “fear ‘Islam and Muslims are trying to take over their country.’”  Both Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders, however, stated the majority of their communities continued to advocate for interfaith dialogue and cultural understanding.  As evidence, local media reported on a regional survey on extremism conducted by the Malaysia-based Merdeka Center for Opinion Research that found while respondents in nearby countries revealed high rates of intolerance toward persons of other faiths, Muslims and Buddhists in Thailand expressed favorable views of one another.

According to news reports, on August 1, a gunman shot and killed an Islamic teacher, Adul Sima, as he left prayers in a mosque in Pattani’s Mai Kaen District.  Authorities stated they believed his killing was related to the insurgency.

The Duay Jai Group, Look Rieng Group, Deep South Student Council, and Buddhist Network for Peace issued statements denouncing an August 11 shooting that killed a Buddhist mother and her 13-year-old daughter riding a motorcycle to a market in Narathiwat Province.  A Muslim man was arrested and confessed to the shooting.  Human Rights Watch and the Buddhist Network for Peace also issued statements condemning a series of landmine attacks in June and July targeting Buddhist farmers in Yala Province.

Buddhist activists continued to campaign to designate Buddhism as the country’s official religion.  In June a Buddhist movement in Bungkan Province staged a campaign to name Buddhism as the province’s official religion and to designate the province the Buddhism capital of Thailand.

In February the Election Commission and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand signed a cooperation agreement to educate, train, empower, and develop the capacity of Catholic communities, networks, schools, and students on democracy-related issues.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy and consulate general officials discussed religious freedom and steps for increasing interreligious harmony with senior government officials from the Ministry of Culture’s Religious Affairs Department and the National Office of Buddhism.

The Ambassador met with Supreme Patriarch and President of the Sangha Supreme Council Somdet Phra Maha Muneewong to share ideas on bringing together religious communities of different faiths to reduce conflict and misunderstanding, as well as a potential role for the United States in strengthening interfaith relations.  The Ambassador met separately with the chularajmontri to discuss Buddhist-Muslim relations and the role of the international community in helping to deepen religious tolerance.  Other embassy and consulate general officials discussed religious harmony with high-level Buddhist leaders.

Embassy and consulate officials regularly met Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders, academics, and elected officials as part of the embassy’s effort to promote tolerance and reconciliation and to discuss religious issues in society, including ethnic identity and politics.  In May the embassy organized a technology camp focused on advocacy and campaign management related to interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution.  In October the embassy organized an interreligious workshop on peace in Pattani Province with a prominent U.S. speaker on interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution.  The embassy sponsored the visits of a prominent religious freedom scholar to the United States as part of a program for leaders focused on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom.

The embassy organized programs in Yala Province focused on using person-to-person engagement to bridge conflict, including a discussion on religious pluralism and Muslims in America led by a former participant in a U.S. government exchange program.

The embassy and the consulate general in Chiang Mai regularly engaged with religious minority groups – Muslims, Christians, the Church of Jesus Christ, and Hindus – through events such as interfaith dialogues to promote respect for individual rights to worship and the importance of religious pluralism, using social media to amplify the importance of these and other meetings and programs advancing religious freedom and tolerance.

Muslim communities in the country, citing the U.S. government’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, declined invitations to participate in iftars hosted by the embassy and consulate general, breaking with previous practice.  The embassy and consulate general, however, continued to receive support from local Muslim communities to cohost events to promote religious tolerance.

Tibet

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET (BELOW) | XINJIANG | HONG KONG | MACAU


The United States recognizes the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be part of the People’s Republic of China.  The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.”  Central government regulations implemented February 1 stipulate religious activity “must not harm national security” and place new restrictions on religious schools, donations, and travel.  In the TAR and other Tibetan areas, authorities continued to engage in widespread interference in religious practices, especially in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries.  There were reports of forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, prolonged detention without trial, and arrests of individuals due to their religious practices.  Travel restrictions hindered traditional religious practices and pilgrimages.  Repression increased around politically sensitive events, religious anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama’s birthday, according to numerous sources.  Self-immolations leading to death in protest of government policies continued, and four individuals reportedly set themselves on fire and died during the year.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), reported in May torture, including sexual abuse of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, took place in a re-education camp in the TAR.  According to TCHRD, authorities also subjected inmates to collective punishment, food and sleep deprivation, prolonged wall standing and beatings.  According to local sources, during the year authorities continued an ongoing multi-year project to evict approximately 3,000 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying as many as 1,500 of their residences and subjecting many of them to “patriotic and legal re-education.”  Authorities often justified their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by saying the religious institutions engaged in separatist or pro-independence activities, and undermined the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  The government routinely denigrated the Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetan Buddhists revered as their most important spiritual leader, and forbade Tibetans from venerating him and other religious leaders associated with him.

Some Tibetans continued to encounter societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, and traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources.  Because expressions of Tibetan identity and religion were closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion.

The U.S. government repeatedly pressed Chinese authorities to respect religious freedom for all people and to allow Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government.  In July during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, the Vice President and Secretary of State met with Kusho Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner, to highlight continued U.S. government support for religious freedom in Tibet.  U.S. government officials expressed concerns to the Chinese government at senior levels about the severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights.  Embassy and other U.S. officials urged the Chinese government to re-examine the policies that threaten Tibet’s distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity, including the continuing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute.  U.S. officials underscored that decisions on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be made solely by faith leaders and also raised concerns about the continued disappearance of the Panchen Lama.  While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, four U.S. visits occurred.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to official data from China’s most recent census in November 2010, 2,716,400 Tibetans make up 90 percent of the TAR’s total population.  Han Chinese make up approximately 8 percent.  Other ethnicities comprise the remainder.  Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported.  Outside the TAR, official census data show Tibetans constitute 24.4 percent of the total population in Qinghai Province, 2.1 percent in Sichuan Province, 1.8 percent in Gansu Province, and 0.3 percent in Yunnan Province, although the percentage of Tibetans is much higher within jurisdictions of these provinces designated as autonomous for Tibetans.

Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, although a sizeable minority practices Bon, a pre-Buddhist indigenous religion; small minorities practice Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism.  Some scholars estimate there are as many as 400,000 Bon followers across the Tibetan Plateau who follow the Dalai Lama, and some of whom consider themselves Tibetan Buddhist.  Scholars also estimate there are up to 5,000 Tibetan Muslims and 700 Tibetan Catholics in the TAR.  Other residents of traditionally Tibetan areas include Han Chinese, many of whom practice Buddhism (including Tibetan Buddhism), Taoism, Confucianism, traditional folk religions, or profess atheism; Hui Muslims; and non-Tibetan Catholics and Protestants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.”  The constitution bans the state, public organizations, and individuals from compelling citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religion.  It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system.  The constitution states religious bodies and affairs are not to be “subject to any foreign control.”  Only religious groups belonging to one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant), however, are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

Regulations issued by the central government’s State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) codify its control over the selection of Tibetan religious leaders, including reincarnate lamas.  These regulations stipulate that, depending on the perceived geographic area of influence of the lama, relevant administrative entities may deny permission for a lama to be recognized as reincarnated and these entities must approve reincarnations.  The State Council has the right to deny the recognition of reincarnations of high lamas of “especially great influence.”  The regulations also state no foreign organization or individual may interfere in the selection of reincarnate lamas, and all reincarnate lamas must be reborn within China.  The government maintains a registry of officially recognized reincarnate lamas.

Within the TAR, regulations issued by SARA assert state control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, including religious venues, groups, and personnel.  Through local regulations issued under the framework of the national-level Management Regulation of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, governments of the TAR and other Tibetan areas control the registration of monasteries, nunneries, and other Tibetan Buddhist religious centers.  The regulations also give the government formal control over building and managing religious structures and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings.

The central government’s State Council revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs became effective on February 1.  The revisions require religious groups to register with the government, increase penalties by imposing fines on landlords for “providing facilities” for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions, including a new requirement for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.”  The revisions increase regulations for religious schools by submitting them to the same oversight as places of worship and impose new restrictions on religious groups conducting business or investments, including placing limits on the amount of donations they can receive and restricting the publication of religious material to guidelines determined by the State Publishing Administration.  Additionally, the revisions require that religious activity “must not harm national security.”  While existing regulations stipulate the obligations of religious groups to abide by the law and safeguard national unity, the new revisions specify steps to respond to “religious extremism,” leaving “extremism” undefined.  These steps include monitoring groups, individuals, and institutions, and recommending penalties such as suspending groups and canceling clergy credentials.  The new regulations also limit the online activities of religious groups, requiring such activities be approved by the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau.

A new policy, based on ideas discussed at the national-level Conference on Religion and Work in 2016 and introduced on August 31 in the TAR, requires Tibetan monks and nuns to undergo political training in state ideology.  The policy requires monks and nuns to demonstrate – in addition to competence in religious studies – “political reliability,” “moral integrity capable of impressing the public,” and willingness to “play an active role at critical moments.”

To establish places of worship, religious organizations must receive approval from the religious affairs department of the relevant local government both when the facility is proposed and again before any services are held at that location.  Religious organizations must submit dozens of documents in order to register during these approval processes, including detailed management plans of their religious activities, exhaustive financial records, and personal information on all staff members.  Religious communities not going through the formal registration process may not legally have a set facility or worship meeting space.  Therefore, each time they want to reserve a space for worship, such as by renting a hotel or an apartment, they need to seek a separate approval from government authorities for each service.  Worshipping in a space without pre-approval, either through the formal registration process or by seeking an approval for each service, is considered an illegal religious activity, which may be criminally or administratively punished.

The TAR government has the right to deny any individual’s application to take up religious orders.  The regulations also require monks and nuns to obtain permission from officials in both the originating and receiving counties before traveling to other prefectures or “county-level cities” within the TAR to “practice their religion,” engage in religious activities, study, or teach.  Tibetan autonomous prefectures outside the TAR have similar regulations.

At the central government level, the CCP Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group, the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), and SARA are responsible for developing and implementing religious management policies, which are carried out with support from the five “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Islamic, and Taoist).  At local levels, party leaders and branches of the UFWD, SARA, and the state-controlled Buddhist Association of China (BAC) are required to coordinate implementation of religious policies in monasteries, and many have stationed party officials and government officials, including public security agents, in monasteries in Tibetan areas.

CCP members, including Tibetans and retired officials, are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practices.  CCP members who belong to religious organizations are subject to various types of punishment, including expulsion from the CCP.

Government Practices

During the year, four Tibetans reportedly self-immolated as a means of protest against government policies, compared to six individuals in 2017.  Some experts attributed reports of the decreasing number of self-immolations to tighter control measures by authorities.  Sources said that during the year, authorities told family members not to discuss self-immolation cases.  The NGO Free Tibet reported since 2009 more than 150 Tibetans had set themselves on fire in protest against what they said was occupation and human rights abuses on Tibet’s religion and culture under Chinese rule.  According to media reports, 16-year-old Gendun Gyatso self-immolated in Ngaba (Chinese:  Aba) County, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) in Sichuan Province, on December 8 or 9 and died of his injuries.  Media said that on December 8, Drugkho (reportedly also known by his monastic name Choekyi Gyatso), a young Tibetan man, set himself on fire in Ngaba shouting, “long live the Dalai Lama.”  Some news reports stated he may have survived.  Reportedly, both Gendun and Drugkho were monks at Kirti Monastery.  According to the website Tibet Sun, on November 4 in Ngaba, Dopo, another Tibetan youth, died after carrying out a self-immolation, reportedly shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama.”  On March 7, Tsekho Tugchak (also spelled “Topchag”), a man in his forties, reportedly called out, “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet” as he self-immolated in Meruma Township, Ngaba County; the location of his remains was unknown.  Ngaba County had also been the site of numerous prior self-immolations by monks from the Kirti Monastery.

There were reports of the forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary arrest, and physical abuse of individuals on account of their religious beliefs or practices.

The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans, remained unknown since his 1995 forced disappearance by Chinese authorities.  Nyima was six years old at the time he and his parents were reportedly abducted.  Authorities did not provide information on his whereabouts, and stated previously that he was “living a normal life” and did “not wish to be disturbed.”  The Panchen Lama was considered by the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism the second-most-prominent leader after the Dalai Lama.

The TCHRD, an NGO run and staffed by Tibetans in exile, reported in May a Tibetan monk’s account of torture and sexual abuse in a re-education camp in the TAR.  According to TCHRD, the unnamed monk spent approximately four months in a re-education camp in Sog County of Naqchu (Chinese: Naqu) where he said all inmates, except for “two or three laypersons,” were monks and nuns.  The monk said detainees had to attend self-criticism sessions and participate in military drills; detention officers also beat older monks and nuns who were physically weak and did not understand Chinese.  The monk said, “Many nuns would lose consciousness during the [military] drills.  Sometimes officers would take unconscious nuns inside where I saw them fondle the nuns’ breasts and grope all over their body.”  He also stated some inmates “were singled out and beaten up so severely with electric batons that they would lose consciousness.  The officers would revive the unconscious inmates by splashing water on their faces.  This cycle of losing and reviving consciousness would go on for some time at the end of which the officers would use a black plastic pipe to beat and pour water on all parts of the body and then use electric batons to beat some more.  Soon black and blue marks would appear on the victim’s body and render him or her half-dead.”  TCHRD reported authorities subjected inmates to torture and collective punishment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, prolonged wall standing, and beatings.

According to The Tibet Post, Geshe Tsewang Namgyal, formerly a monk from Draggo Monastery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) County, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, reported that authorities tortured him while he was in prison, resulting in permanent injuries to his legs.  Authorities released Geshe Namgyal on January 24, after he completed his six-year prison term.  Officials arrested him in 2012 for participating in a peaceful protest against China’s policies in Tibet.

Limited access to information about prisoners made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of individuals imprisoned on account of their religious beliefs or affiliation, determine the charges brought against them, or assess the extent and severity of abuses they suffered.  The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China’s Political Prisoner Database included 4,037 records of Tibetan political prisoners, of whom 300 were known to be detained or imprisoned as of December 21.  Of these, 131 were reported to be current or former monks, nuns, or Tibetan Buddhist reincarnate teachers.  Of the 120 cases for which there was available information on sentencing, punishment ranged from two years’ to life imprisonment.  Observers, including commission staff, believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the lack of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult.  Authorities continued to hold an unknown number of persons in detention centers rather than prisons.

According to the NGO International Campaign for Tibet and other sources, on December 10, the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, police in Ngaba severely beat Sangay (also spelled “Sanggye”) Gyatso, a monk from Kirti Monastery, as he protested for freedom for Tibet.  Police detained him, and his whereabouts remained unknown at years end.

According to the NGO Canada Tibet Committee, in February local authorities detained Karma, a leader of Markor village in the TAR’s Naqchu Prefecture, for challenging an official order to sign a document permitting local authorities to conduct mining activities at Sebtra Zagyen mountain.  Local Tibetans consider Sebtra Zagyen a sacred location.  The Canada Tibet Committee also carried a report by TCHRD that in April officials detained and beat approximately 30 Tibetans, at least two of whom were monks, after information about Karma’s detention leaked to the Tibetan exile community.  According to local sources, Karma’s whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

In May TAR authorities detained Gangye, a Tibetan man from Sog County, for possessing religious books written by the Dalai Lama and CDs featuring the religious leader’s teachings, according to news portal Phayul.  His whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

According to local religious community sources, between September 5 and September 9, security forces separately detained three Tibetan monks from Meruma.  The monks were reportedly protesting against government policies, specifically the requirement for Tibetans to be at least 18 years old to become monks (historically children as young as toddlers began the process of study to become monks) and the government’s interference in monastic management.  On September 5, authorities detained Dorje Rabten of Kirti Monastery immediately following his protest.  On September 6, they also detained Tenzin Gelek after he protested against Dorje’s detention.  Similarly, on September 9, officials took Lobsang Dargy into custody following his protest against the detention of both Dorje and Tenzin.  Their whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

According to the Central Tibetan Administration, on January 28, authorities arrested and detained Lodoe Gyatso from Naqchu Prefecture of the TAR after he staged a peaceful protest in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.  Prior to the protest, Lodoe Gyatso published a video announcing his plans to organize a peaceful demonstration in support of the Tibetan people’s commitment to world peace and nonviolence under the guidance of the Dalai Lama.

Radio Free Asia reported that in September authorities detained Tibetan monks Nyida, Kelsang, Nesang, and Choeje of Gomang Monastery in Ngaba TAP, Sichuan Province, for publicly protesting against a government housing project near their monastery.  The four detainees were reportedly still in Khyungchu County’s custody.  A fifth monk was reportedly detained and released.

According to a February report by Radio Free Asia, at the end of 2017 authorities convicted Tashi Choeying, a Tibetan monk from Tawu (Chinese: Daofu) County of Kardze TAP in Sichuan Province, on an unknown charge and sentenced him to a six-year prison term.  Authorities had held Tashi, who had studied in India, incommunicado since November 2016.  Religious community sources said Tashi’s conviction may have been due to his communications with the media in India about self-immolation cases in Tawu.

In June Phayul reported local officials raided the residences of two Tibetans from Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, and arrested the men for possessing photos of the Dalai Lama.

RFA reported in June that authorities released Lobsang Tenzin, formerly a monk at Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, from prison three years before the end of his ten-year prison sentence.  He had been jailed in 2011 for allegedly supporting a self-immolation protest.

Authorities continued to exercise strict controls over religious practice and maintained intrusive surveillance of many monasteries and nunneries, including through permanent installation of CCP and public security officials and overt camera surveillance systems at religious sites and monasteries.

Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to station CCP officials in, and established police stations or security offices adjacent to or on the premises of, many monasteries.  For example, the TAR had more than 8,000 government employees working in 1,787 monasteries, according to local sources and Chinese government reporting in 2017.  Security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and political religious anniversaries.

According to many contacts in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, officials placed family members, relatives, and close friends of self-immolators on a security watch list to prevent them from meeting and communicating with international visitors and, in some cases, deprived them of public benefits.

Authorities met with family members of individuals who had self-immolated and instructed them not to talk about the cases to limit news of self-immolations and other protests from spreading within Tibetan communities and beyond.  There were also numerous reports of officials shutting down or restricting local access to the internet and cellular phone services for this purpose.  After a self-immolation in December, authorities reportedly instituted a “clampdown” on the area and blocked internet communication.

The government continued to control the approval process of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and supervision of their religious education.

According to local sources, while high-ranking religious leaders and local Tibetan Buddhists attempted to search for the reincarnation of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan religious leader who died in prison in 2015, security officials closely monitored their efforts and threatened them with imprisonment if the religious leaders continued their search.

The government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, whom it selected in 1995, was the Panchen Lama’s true reincarnation, and not Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom authorities had disappeared that same year.  According to numerous Tibetan Buddhist monks and scholars, UFWD and Religious Affairs Bureau officials frequently pressured monks and laypersons, including government officials, to attend religious study sessions presided over by Gyaltsen Norbu, and ordered every Tibetan family in Lhako (Shannan) city to send family members to an August teaching session to ensure hundreds of thousands of people paid him respect.  In 1995, authorities installed Gyaltsen Norbu in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse (Chinese: Xigaze), the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, and visited the monastery every summer since.

In addition, authorities closely supervised the education of many key young reincarnate lamas.  In a deviation from traditional custom, government officials, rather than religious leaders, continued to manage the selection of the reincarnate lamas’ religious and lay tutors in the TAR and some other Tibetan areas.  Religious leaders reported that, as part of authorities’ interference in reincarnate lamas’ and monks’ religious education, authorities were incentivizing these young men to voluntarily disrobe by emphasizing the attributes of secular life as compared to the more disciplined and austere religious life.  Religious leaders and scholars said these and other means of interference continued to cause them concern about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations.

According to media reports, as of December 2017, the government added seven additional “living buddhas” below the age of 16 to the 2017 list of more than 1,300 approved “living buddhas.”  Such individuals reportedly continued to undergo training on patriotism and the CCP’s socialist political system.  The BAC announced its database of 1,311 “living buddhas” that it deemed “authentic” was nearly complete.  Neither the Dalai Lama nor Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was on the list.

The government continued to place restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions.  According to local sources, at Larung Gar, Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province, site of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute, the government continued its program of evicting monks and nuns that began in 2016.  During the year, the government evicted approximately 2,000 monks and nuns from a population that was at least 20,000 in 2016 and demolished an estimated 900 residences, leaving the remaining population at approximately 5,000, according to Human Rights Watch and a local source.  Monks and nuns evicted from the institute returned to their hometowns where the source said they were unable to receive “quality religious education” free from government interference.  According to Chinese press reports, the government stated the demolition was to prevent fires and promote crowd control.  Rights groups said that if safety were the primary motivator for this government action, then other provisions, such as building additional housing that met fire safety codes, could be a way to resolve the issue instead of large-scale demolitions and expulsions.  Local sources stated the destruction was to clear the way for tourist infrastructure and to prevent nuns, monks, and laypersons from outside the area, particularly ethnic Han, from studying at the institute.  Reportedly, in hopes of saving the institute, Larung Gar’s monastic leadership continued to advise residents not to protest the demolitions.

In January Human Rights Watch described the Chinese government’s interference at Larung Gar as an “extreme control over religious practices,” “an immediate threat to the religious freedom of all Tibetans,” and “a long-term threat to all Chinese.”  The organization also noted “the scale of the Communist Party’s intervention at Larung Gar is unprecedented.”

According to local sources, during the year, authorities continued their program of destroying residences at another Buddhist complex at Yachen Gar, also in Kardze Prefecture.  During the year, authorities destroyed at least 700 residences and evicted approximately 1,000 monks and nuns from a 2016 estimated population of 10,000 religious practitioners in Yachen Gar.  At year’s end, a local source estimated the remaining population to be approximately 5,000.  Local sources reported that authorities prohibited monks and nuns from Yachen Gar, who returned to their hometowns in the TAR, from joining any other monastery or nunnery there or participating in any public religious practices.

According to reports, authorities continued “patriotic re-education” campaigns at many monasteries and nunneries across the Tibetan Plateau, forcing monks and nuns to participate in “legal education,” denounce the Dalai Lama, express allegiance to the government-recognized Panchen Lama, and study Mandarin as well as materials praising the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system.

In many areas, authorities reportedly forced monks and nuns under the age of 18 to leave their monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”  According to local sources, from 2017 on authorities removed nearly 1,000 minors from various monasteries in Kardze TAP, Sichuan Province.  According to other reports, authorities removed 600 minors from Litang Monastery (also known as the Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery in Litang, Sichuan Province.  Authorities removed 20 monks from Jowo Ganden Shedrub Palgyeling monastery in Kham and on July 10 authorities removed as many as 200 young monks from Dza Sershul monastery.

Sources also reported from March to July, in Kyewu Township, Sershul (Chinese: Shiqu) County, Kardze TAP, 77 minors were removed from monasteries.  To facilitate the removal of minors, authorities threatened the parents, other family members, and acquaintances, telling them they risked losing social benefits and government jobs if they did not comply with official orders.

In July media reported the government banned all underage students in the TAR from participating in religious activities during the summer holidays.  School officials required students to sign an agreement stating they would not participate in any form of religious activity during the summer.

The Education Affairs Committee, the Municipal People’s Government, and the Municipal Education Bureau of the TAR issued an order banning parents from taking their children to monasteries or allowing children to participate in religious events during the Saka Dawa festival in May, according to media reports.  Reportedly, authorities also encouraged parents not to participate in the festivities or go to monasteries.  The government also required schools to inform the education bureau of students who were absent during the month and taking part in the festival.

On August 31, government officials conducted a political training session for a select group of Tibetan monks and nuns in Lhasa from May 31 to June 2.  The training session aimed to strengthen participants’ political beliefs and prepare them to spread the ideology of the central government in their own monasteries and communities.  The government did not disclose the number of participants, but according to Human Rights Watch, a 2016 political training course for 250 Tibetan monks and nuns was reportedly the pilot program for this training session.

In December Global Times reported authorities in the TAR launched the opening session of a five-year training program for Tibetan Buddhism teaching staff, including local Tibetan Buddhists as well as monks and nuns.  As part of the program, which aims to better adapt Tibetan Buddhism to socialist society, participants are required to study national policies, history, culture, laws, regulations, modern knowledge, and religious studies.  A local CCP official reportedly said monks and nuns were “expected to firmly set up the concept that government power is higher than religious power, and that national laws are above religious rules.”  The launch of this program coincided with the launch of another training course specifically for government officials assigned to Tibetan temples.  Officials are required to take part in a three-year training course to manage temples and “better serve” monks and nuns in conducting religious affairs in accordance to laws and regulations.

The CCP continued to forbid its members from participating in religious activities of any kind, despite reports that many Tibetan government officials and CCP members held religious beliefs.  The TAR regional government punished CCP members who followed the Dalai Lama, secretly harbored religious beliefs, made pilgrimages to India, or sent their children to study with exiled Tibetans.

Government officials regularly denigrated the Dalai Lama publicly and accused the “Dalai clique” and other “outside forces” of instigating Tibetan protests, stating such acts were attempts to “split” China.  In April TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie continued to call for monks and nuns in the region to fight against the “Dalai clique and defend the unity of the motherland.”  In May Wu continued to instruct various party and government organs that they “must resolutely implement the central government’s principles and policies on the Dalai clique’s struggle, carry out in-depth anti-secession struggles, and ensure political security.”  Authorities in the TAR continued to prohibit registration of children’s names that included parts of the Dalai Lama’s name or names included on a list blessed by the Dalai Lama.

Multiple sources reported open veneration of the Dalai Lama, including the display of his photograph, remained prohibited in almost all areas.  Local officials, many of whom considered the images to be symbols of opposition to the CCP, removed pictures of the Dalai Lama from monasteries and private homes during visits by senior officials.  The government also banned pictures of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, whom the Dalai Lama and nearly all Tibetan Buddhists recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama.  Punishments in certain counties inside the TAR for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included expulsion from monasteries and criminal prosecution.

Although authorities permitted some traditional religious ceremonies and practices, they continued to maintain tight control over the activities of religious leaders and religious gatherings of laypersons, confining many such activities to officially designated places of worship, restricting or canceling religious festivals, and preventing monks from traveling to villages for politically sensitive events and religious ceremonies.  The government suppressed religious activities it viewed as vehicles for political dissent.  For example, local authorities again ordered many monasteries and laypersons not to celebrate or organize any public gatherings for celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s 83rd birthday in July, the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising, or the March 14, 2008, outbreak of unrest across the Tibetan Plateau.  TAR authorities banned monks and nuns from leaving their monasteries and nunneries during such times.  According to local sources, Sichuan and Gansu provincial authorities patrolled major monasteries in Tibetan areas and warned that those holding special events or celebrations would face severe consequences.  Local sources reported that in July religious affairs officials instructed senior monks at Draggo and Tawu Monasteries in Kardze TAP not to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday.  As a result, the monks did not organize any public celebrations.  Sources reported they feared repercussions from the government for defying orders, including fear of death.  Officials in Gansu Province met with senior monks from Labrang Monastery and Bora Monastery, and also instructed them not to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday publicly, according to sources.  Authorities warned the monks would face legal consequences for their actions, but did not specify what the consequences were.

Authorities deployed the military to monitor prayer festivals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas.  During Lunar New Year celebrations in February, multiple local sources reported the authorities, among other measures,  deployed military forces at prayer ceremonies at Drephung, Sera, and Gandan Monasteries in the TAR, Draggo and Tawu Monasteries in Sichuan Province, and Kirti and Kumbum (Chinese: Ta’er) Monasteries in Qinghai Province.  Authorities hosted a series of meetings in Lhasa instructing monks and nuns to comply with party policy and inspected “armed forces” and CCP officials at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.  In September the government banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival from occurring in Larung Gar, citing overcrowding and unfinished reconstruction.  The ban marked the third consecutive year the government did not allow the 21-year-old festival to take place.

The TAR government reportedly maintained tight control over the use of Tibetan Buddhist religious relics and declared them, religious buildings, and religious institutions to be state property.

Sources continued to report security personnel targeted individuals in religious attire, particularly those from Naqchu and Chamdo (Chinese: Changdu) Prefectures in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR, for arbitrary questioning on the streets of Lhasa and other cities and towns.  Many Tibetan monks and nuns reportedly chose to wear nonreligious attire to avoid such harassment when traveling outside their monasteries and around the country.

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many top Buddhist teachers remained in exile or died in India or elsewhere; some of those who returned from India were not allowed to teach or lead their institutions.  The heads of most major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – including the Dalai Lama, Karmapa, Sakya Trizin, and Khatok Getse Rinpoche, as well as Bon leader Kyabje Menr Trizin – all resided in exile.  The government also banned India-trained Tibetan monks, most of whom received their education from the Dalai Lama or those with ties to the leader, from teaching in Tibetan monasteries in China.  In May India Today reported Zhu Weiqun, the former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said it was necessary to tighten supervision so monks educated abroad by the “Dalai clique” did not use “local Buddhists to conduct separatist activities.”

Multiple sources also reported that during the past four years the Chinese government increasingly restricted Tibetan Buddhist monks from visiting Chinese cities to teach or to meet with international contacts.  Authorities also restricted Tibetans’ travel inside China, particularly for Tibetans residing outside the TAR who wished to visit the TAR, during sensitive periods, including Losar (Tibetan New Year), the Saga Dawa festival, and the anniversary of the March 10, 1959, Tibetan uprising.

During the year, many religious figures reported it was very difficult for them to enter the TAR to teach or study.  The government also restricted the number of monks who could accompany those who received permission to travel to the TAR.  Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns stated these restrictions have negatively impacted the quality of monastic education.  Many monks expelled from their TAR monasteries after the 2008 Lhasa riots and from Kirti Monastery after a series of self-immolations from 2009 to 2015 had not returned, some because of government prohibitions.

Many Tibetans, including monks, nuns, and laypersons, continued to encounter difficulties traveling to India for religious purposes.  In many cases, Public Security Bureau officials refused to approve their passport applications.  In other cases, prospective travelers were able to obtain passports only after paying bribes to local officials, or after promising not to travel to India or to criticize Chinese policies in Tibetan areas while overseas.  According to a Human Rights Watch annual report, several hundred Tibetans traveling on Chinese passports to attend a teaching session by the Dalai Lama in January were forced to return.  In December Chinese authorities refused to grant Tibetans new passports or confiscated issued passports in an attempt to block their travel to India and Nepal to attend the Dalai Lama’s teaching sessions.  As a result there was a large reduction in the number of China-based Tibetans attending the teaching compared to previous years.  Numerous Tibetans in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces waited for up to five years before receiving a passport, often without any explanation for the delay, according to local sources.  There were also instances of authorities confiscating and canceling previously issued passports as a way of preventing Tibetans from participating in religious events involving the Dalai Lama in India.  Restrictions also remained in place for monks and nuns living in exile, particularly those in India, which made it difficult or impossible for them to travel into Tibetan areas.

Authorities reportedly often hindered Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from delivering religious, educational, and medical services.

According to government policy, newly constructed government-subsidized housing units in many Tibetan areas were located near township and county government seats or along major roads.  These new housing units had no nearby monasteries where resettled villagers could worship, and the government prohibited construction of new temples without prior approval.  Traditionally, Tibetan villages were clustered around monasteries, which provided religious and other services to members of the community.  Many Tibetans continued to view such measures as CCP and government efforts to dilute religious belief and weaken the ties between monasteries and communities.

Authorities continued to justify interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by associating the monasteries with “separatism” and pro-independence activities, as reported in state media.  In August Wu Yingjie, the TAR Party Secretary instructed party members “to adhere to China’s Sinicization of religion, and independence and self-determination should be the guidance principles for those in the Tibetan Buddhism community.”  Wu said, “We will expose the reactionary nature of the 14th Dalai Lama and the ‘Dalai clique,’ as well as educate and guide the vast majority of the monks and nuns and religious followers to oppose separatism in order to safeguard the unity of the motherland and ethnic unity.”

In accordance with official guidelines for monastery management, the leadership of and membership in the various committees and working groups remained restricted to “politically reliable, patriotic, and devoted monks, nuns, and party and government officials.”  General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which monks traditionally managed, were instead overseen by Monastery Management Committees and Monastic Government Working Groups, both of which were composed primarily of government officials and CCP members, together with a few government-approved monks.  Since 2011, China has established such groups in all monasteries in the TAR and in many major monasteries in other Tibetan areas.  During the year, a local source said the CCP had appointed 100 percent of monastic management in Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province, including Kirti Monastery.  In January Human Rights Watch reported a 2017 official document said scores of CCP officials would be installed at every level and in each section of the monastic settlement at Larung Gar.  The officials “will hold nearly half of the positions on most committees and in most offices, and in most cases will occupy the top positions.”  According to the document, six “sub-area management units” that supervise the monks would each be headed by a CCP official rather than a monk.

Senior monks at some monasteries continued to report informal agreements with local officials whereby resident monks would not stage protests or commit self-immolation as long as the government adopted a hands-off approach to the management of their monasteries.

The TAR CCP committee and government required all monasteries to display prominently the Chinese flag and the portraits of five CCP chairmen from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping.

According to local sources, authorities continued to hinder Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from carrying out environmental protection activities, an important part of traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices, out of fear such activities could create a sense of pride among Tibetans, particularly children, and an awareness of their distinctness from Chinese culture.

In some cases, authorities continued to enforce special restrictions on Tibetans staying at hotels inside and outside the TAR.  Police regulations forbade some hotels and guesthouses in the TAR from accepting Tibetan guests, particularly monks and nuns, and required other hotels to notify police departments when Tibetan guests checked in, according to a Radio Free Asia report confirmed by several hotels.

On December 12, the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China issued a report on what it said was the “progress in human rights” over the previous 40 years.  The report said, “[r]eligious beliefs and normal religious activities are protected by law.  At the moment Tibet Autonomous Region has 1,778 venues for practicing Tibetan Buddhism, and some 46,000 resident monks and nuns.  Tibet now has 358 Living Buddhas, more than 60 of whom have been confirmed through historical conventions and traditional religious rituals.  By 2017 a total of 84 monks from Tibet had received senior academic titles in Lhasa and 168 in Beijing.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because expressions of Tibetan identity and religion are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religion.  Tibetans, particularly those who wore traditional and religious attire, regularly reported incidents in which they were denied hotel rooms, avoided by taxis, and discriminated against in employment opportunities or business transactions.

According to local sources, in November 13 monks from Kirti Monastery were in Chengdu for scheduled medical examinations, but they missed the appointment.  Taxi drivers were not willing to serve them because they were Tibetan monks.  Young Tibetan entrepreneurs in Chengdu reported Chinese companies often denied them employment opportunities once the employers identified them in person as ethnic Tibetans, despite prior offers of employment when discussions had taken place solely by phone.

Many Han Buddhists continued to demonstrate interest in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, according to local sources in such monasteries and nunneries.  Tibetan Buddhist monks frequently visited Chinese cities to provide religious instruction to Han Buddhists.  In addition, a growing number of Han Buddhists visited Tibetan monasteries, although officials sometimes imposed restrictions that made it difficult for Han Buddhists to conduct long-term study at many monasteries in Tibetan areas.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, Secretary of State, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Consul General and other officers in the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu, and officers at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing continued sustained and concerted efforts to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas.

In July, during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, the Vice President and Secretary of State highlighted the severe repression and discrimination Tibetan Buddhists face due to their beliefs.  They met with Kusho Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner, to highlight continued U.S. support for religious freedom in Tibet and also expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s longstanding efforts to suppress Tibetan Buddhists’ religious, linguistic, and cultural identities.  In his opening remarks at the ministerial, the Vice President said, “For nearly 70 years, the Tibetan people have been brutally repressed by the Chinese government.  Kusho was jailed and tortured after he spoke out against the Chinese rule in his homeland.  While he escaped China, his people’s fight to practice their religion and protect their culture goes on.  I say to Kusho, we are honored by your presence and we admire your courage and your stand for liberty.”

The Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues continued to coordinate U.S. government programs to preserve Tibet’s distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity as well as efforts to promote dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.  U.S. officials repeatedly raised Tibetan religious freedom issues with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels, such as the Chinese government’s refusal to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and the ongoing demolition campaign at the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute and Yachen Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute.  U.S. officials underscored only faith leaders can decide on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and also raised concerns about the continued disappearance of the Panchen Lama.  In addition to raising systemic issues, such as passport issuance to TibetansU.S. officials expressed concern and sought further information about individual cases and incidents of religious persecution and discrimination and sought increased access to the TAR for U.S. officials, journalists and tourists.

In November the Consul General in Chengdu met with Lhasa Party Secretary and Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the TAR’s People Congress Baima Wangdui.  U.S. officials emphasized the importance of upholding cultural and religious rights in Tibet, and expressed concern about the TAR government’s failure to protect the rights of local Tibetans to worship freely and assemble in public places.

U.S. officials regularly expressed concerns to the Chinese government at senior levels regarding severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights.

The Consul General called for the TAR government to respect the Tibetan people’s right to practice their religion freely in his engagement with Chinese officials.

U.S. officials maintained contact with a wide range of religious leaders and practitioners as well as NGOs in Tibetan areas to monitor the status of religious freedom, although travel and other restrictions made it difficult to visit and communicate with these individuals.  Although diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, U.S. officials did receive access during the year, with authorities granting two U.S. consular visits in April and October, and two embassy and Consulate General in Chengdu official visits in May and November.  U.S. officials emphasized to TAR officials during their November visit the importance of respecting religious freedom in Tibet.


IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET (ABOVE) | XINJIANG | HONG KONG | MACAU

Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship, and of religious instruction.  Religious organizations may register with the government under the regulations provided for nonprofit corporate bodies.  Muslim leadership reported discrimination against Muslims joining civil service positions.  Despite 2017 legislation approving recognition of religious minority documents, religious minority groups continued to report incidents in which civil servants rejected marriage or birth certificates issued by religious organizations other than the Catholic Church.  Non-Catholic groups reported tensions regarding unequal allocation of government funds.

One Protestant group filed a complaint with local courts after a local community denied land use to build a church.

The U.S. embassy engaged regularly with government officials, including the Office of the Prime Minister, on religious freedom issues including discrimination in public service, recognition of religious minority documentation, and budget allocation to different minority groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2015 census, 97.6 percent of the population is Catholic, 1.96 percent Protestant, and less than 1 percent Muslim.  Protestant denominations include the Assemblies of God, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Christian Vision Church.  There are also several small nondenominational Protestant congregations.  Many citizens also retain animistic beliefs and practices along with their monotheistic religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and specifies “religious denominations are separated from the State.”  It also prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs and guarantees both the right to conscientious objection and freedom to teach any religion.  The constitution protects freedom of religion in the event of a declaration of a state of siege or state of emergency.

There is no official state religion; however, the constitution commends the Catholic Church for its participation in the country’s liberation efforts.  A concordat between the government and the Holy See establishes a legal framework for cooperation, grants the Catholic Church autonomy in establishing and running schools, provides tax benefits, safeguards the Church’s historical and cultural heritage, and acknowledges the right of its foreign missionaries to serve in the country.

Religious organizations that simply conduct religious services do not need to register with the government and can obtain tax-exempt status from the Ministry of Finance.  Religious organizations seeking to open private schools or provide other community services must submit articles of association and other relevant documentation to register as nonprofit corporate bodies through the Ministry of Justice’s National Directorate for Registry and Notary Services (DNRN).  The law requires a separate registration with the Ministry of Interior for associations with primarily foreign members, including religious organizations, which must submit their articles of incorporation, proof they have the means to carry out their activities, and the name of a designated representative.  To receive a tax identification number, organizations must register first with the Ministry of Justice and then bring that registration to the Service for Registration and Verification of Businesses, the business registration agency.  The DNRN then issues a certificate and legally charters the organization.

The Ministry of Education classifies religious study as an optional elective subject in public schools.  Most schools in the country are public, although the Catholic Church also operates its own private schools.

The law states “foreigners cannot provide religious assistance to the defense and security forces, except in cases of absolute need and urgency.”  Foreign citizen missionaries and other religious figures are exempt from paying normal residence and visa fees.  Visa regulations are the same for all foreign religious workers, regardless of religious affiliation.

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

Government Practices

Muslim leadership reported discrimination against Muslims joining civil service positions based on their names, including with the National Police and the Defense Force, as well as medical positions in local hospitals.

Despite 2017 legislation approving recognition of religious minority documents, Muslim and Protestant religious minority leaders again reported notaries public rejecting marriage and birth certificates from religious organizations other than the Catholic Church as supporting documentation for registering for schools and other official acts.  The leaders stated this occurred on an ad hoc rather than systematic basis, and authorities resolved the incidents by addressing them with the notarial office director.  In addition, reportedly many religious minorities remained unaware of the 2017 legislation.  Registrations of births and marriages with the government continued to be available, but civil registration rates remained relatively low in comparison with registration for religious certificates.  Religious minority leaders met with the prime minister on November 6 and discussed recognition of non-Catholic certificates and proposed further changes to the 2017 legislation approving recognition of religious minority documents, among other issues.  Protestant and Muslim leaders said they would continue to engage the Offices of the President and Prime Minister to recognize non-Catholic certificates, as delineated in the 2017 law.

The Office of the Prime Minister provided a budget allocation to the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Timor-Leste and transferred $1.5 million of funds to each of the country’s three Catholic dioceses.  The terms of the concordat with the Holy See governed the allocations.  The direct budget allocations to the Catholic Church again caused some tension with non-Catholic religious groups, according to minority religious leaders.  Catholics and all other religious groups could apply, along with other organizations, for part of a $3.5 million government fund set aside for civil society organizations during the year.  According to an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, the fund supported the construction of a Protestant church and the construction of an orphanage in a mosque for the Muslim community.  According to a Muslim leader, this orphanage was the only Islamic project the Office of the Prime Minister supported during the year.

Several Catholic holidays were also national holidays, and Catholic religious leaders regularly presided over government ceremonies.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Leaders of the Catholic Church and long-standing Protestant and Muslim communities again reported good cooperation and relationships among religious groups.

According to a Brazilian Protestant missionary, converts from animism and Catholicism to Protestantism faced pressure, prejudice, discrimination, and “persecution” from family, friends, and society.  The head of a Catholic seminary in Dili described evangelicals as a “threat” to the Catholic Church but said poor persons would pray with and accept help from both Catholics and evangelicals.

A Protestant group filed a complaint with local courts after a local property owner refused to sell the group land upon hearing of their plans to build a Protestant church.

Many religious organizations, including the Catholic Church and some minority religious groups, received significant funding from foreign donors.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy engaged regularly with government officials, including the Office of the Prime Minister, on religious issues, such as discrimination in civil service hiring, recognition of religious minority documentation, and budget allocation to different minority groups.

The U.S. Ambassador met with a Catholic bishop and Muslim and Protestant community leaders and representatives to discuss the status of religious tolerance in local society.

Togo

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies the state is secular and protects the rights of all citizens to exercise their religious beliefs, consistent with the nation’s laws.  Religious groups other than Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims must register with the government.  After unknown assailants vandalized four mosques in July and August in Lome, the government denounced the attacks and called for solidarity with the Muslim community.  The government subsequently posted security forces to guard mosques throughout the country and promised to conduct investigations to find the perpetrators and prosecute them.  The government again did not approve any pending registration applications from religious groups, nor did it accept new applications; approximately 900 remained pending at year’s end.  The Ministry of Territorial Affairs (MTA) continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss pending draft legislation regarding religious freedom that would delineate procedures on registering religious associations and federations.

Leaders of different religious groups and civil society organizations condemned the July and August mosque attacks.  Noise caused by religious celebrations or competition for parishioners among churches caused occasional disputes among religious groups.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA reported approximately 50 complaints, almost all regarding noise in Lome, received during the year.  Members of different religious groups frequently attended each other’s ceremonies, and interfaith marriage remained common.

U.S. embassy officials met with the government officials and discussed the importance of finding the perpetrators of the mosque attacks.  Embassy officers also met with religious leaders throughout the year and discussed the latters’ efforts to reduce tensions in communities related to the political crisis during the year.  The embassy launched a program during the year to enhance social cohesion among youth of different religious backgrounds and to promote the use of peaceful methods to resolve disputes.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2009 estimate by the University of Lome, the most recent data available, the population is 43.7 percent Christian, 35.6 percent traditional animist, 14 percent Sunni Muslim, and 5 percent followers of other religions.  Roman Catholics are the largest Christian group at 28 percent of the total population, followed by Protestants at 10 percent, and other Christian denominations totaling 5.7 percent.  Protestant groups include Methodists, Lutherans, Assemblies of God, and Seventh-day Adventists.  Other Christians include members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The 5 percent representing “other religions” includes Nichiren Buddhists, followers of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’is, Hindus, and persons not affiliated with any religious group.  Many Christians and Muslims also engage in indigenous religious practices.

Christians live mainly in the south, while Muslims are predominately in the central and northern regions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states the country is a secular state and provides for equality before the law of all citizens, regardless of religion, respects all religious beliefs, and prohibits religious discrimination.  It also provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship; free exercise of religious belief; and the right of religious groups to organize themselves and carry out their activities consistent with the law, the rights of others, and public order.

The law requires all religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations, except for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims.  Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim holidays are observed as national holidays.  Official recognition as a religious association provides other groups the same rights as those afforded to Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects.  Registering is not obligatory, but registration entitles religious groups to receive government benefits, such as government-provided teachers for private schools and special assistance in case of natural disasters.

Organizations apply for registration with the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA.  A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names, and addresses of executive board members, its leaders’ religious credentials, a site use agreement and map for religious facilities, and description of its finances.  It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($260).  Criteria for recognition include authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order.  The Directorate of Religious Affairs issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration.  The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.

By law, religious groups must request permission to conduct large nighttime celebrations, particularly those likely to block city streets or involve loud ceremonies in residential areas.

The public school curriculum does not include religion classes.  There are many Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools, to which the government assigns its own paid employees as additional teachers and staff.  Other registered religious groups have the right to establish schools as long as they meet accreditation standards.

The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion.  The law forbids private religious radio stations from broadcasting political material.

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

Government Practices

Unknown assailants vandalized four mosques in July and August in different neighborhoods in Lome.  The minister of security immediately denounced the attacks and called on the public to help find the perpetrators.  The government subsequently posted security forces to guard mosques throughout the country and promised to conduct investigations to find the perpetrators and prosecute them in accordance with the country’s laws.  There were no further attacks after August; by year’s end, the authorities had not identified the attackers.

Similar to previous years, the MTA stated it did not approve any pending applications nor accept new applications for registration from religious groups because the government was still considering new legislation regarding religious freedom.  The government amended a previous draft religious freedom bill during the year and submitted it to the Council of Ministers for review.  The new bill details the processes for opening places of worship and regulates the hours of operation and levels of noise allowed during worship in neighborhoods.  The MTA continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss the draft legislation, with the last meeting held in August.  As of year’s end, there were approximately 900 applications pending at the MTA.

Although unregistered religious groups continued to be able to conduct religious activities while awaiting registration, the MTA reported that religious groups faced obstacles in obtaining building permits to construct new places of worship.  The ministry continued to state, however, this was not because they were religious groups but because applying for a building permit required at least a six-month waiting period for any applicant.  NGOs reported that officials routinely granted religious groups’ requests for permission to conduct nighttime celebrations.

The government invited only Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious leaders to government events and observed as national holidays only religious holidays of these groups.  The government invited the three groups to conduct worship at important national events, such as the independence celebration on April 27.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA, disputes continued to occur when new churches established themselves in neighborhoods, particularly those led by religious leaders from Nigeria.  Local residents continued to state some of these congregations worshiped too loudly and often late at night, using drums.  The MTA received approximately 50 complaints during the year, nearly all regarding noise in Lome, and the ministry stated it sought to resolve them.  Religious leaders noted that complaints reportedly often focused on evangelical Protestant congregations, led by charismatic leaders who presided over services employing musical instruments and loud praying.

Members of Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious groups continued to invite one another to their respective ceremonies.  Marriage between persons of different religious groups remained common.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials met with the MTA during the year to discuss religious tolerance, methods of countering extremist messaging, and the importance of finding the perpetrators of the mosque attacks.

The ambassador and other embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom and tolerance with Protestant leaders, Catholic bishops, Muslim leaders, traditional chiefs, and civil society organizations.

The U.S. embassy launched a program to promote social cohesion among youth of different religious backgrounds implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the Muslim majority city of Sokode in November.  The program aimed to teach participants to resolve differences peacefully.  It follows a CRS-initiated project that brought together 115 religious leaders from various backgrounds to participate in a series of social cohesion workshops in March.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The constitution grants freedom to practice, worship, and assemble for religious services.  The law does not require registration of religious groups.  A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers and tax exemptions.  The constitution requires the Sabbath, which the government defines as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits commercial transactions on Sunday, except as permitted by law.

The Tokaikolo Church won an appeal against former members over land lease and property ownership.

During periodic visits, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed the need to protect religious freedom and tolerance with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor; and the Tonga National Council of Churches, as well as with other institutions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 106,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to 2016 local census data, membership in major religious groups includes the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, 35 percent; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), 19 percent; Roman Catholic Church, 14 percent; Free Church of Tonga, 12 percent; and Church of Tonga, 7 percent.  (The latter two are local affiliates of the Methodist Church.)  Other Christian groups account for approximately 9 percent and include the Tokaikolo Church, Mo’ui Fo’ou ‘ia Kalaisi, Constitutional Church of Tonga, Seventh-day Adventists, Gospel Church, Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, other Pentecostal denominations, Anglicans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Reportedly, 60 individuals identified as Buddhist, while approximately 750 reported that they followed the Baha’i Faith.  Approximately 600 individuals reported no religious affiliation or did not answer the census question.  Approximately 900 individuals identified as belonging to other faiths, including Islam.  According to the government-run secretariat for the Forum of Church Leaders in Tonga, the fastest-growing religious group is the Church of Jesus Christ.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution allows freedom of religious practice, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly for religious services, provided these freedoms are not used “to commit evil and licentious acts” or “do what is contrary to the law and peace of the land.”  The constitution requires that the Sabbath be “kept holy,” and prohibits commercial transactions on the Sabbath, except according to law that provides some exceptions for the tourism industry.  The government views Sunday as the Sabbath.

The law does not require registration of religious groups.  Any group of individuals may gather together, worship, and practice their faith without informing the government or seeking its permission.  A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers, tax exemptions on nonbusiness income, importation of goods for religious purposes, fundraising, protection of a denomination’s name, and access to broadcasting on public channels.  Registration for religious groups requires an application to the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, accompanied by certified copies of the group’s rules and constitution, a declaration detailing any other trust in which the applicant holds assets, a witness’ signature, and a 115 pa’anga ($53) application fee.  It is a legal requirement that if a group elects to register with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, it must also register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as a nonprofit organization.  There are no additional requirements to register with Ministry of Revenue and Customs once a group is registered as a separate legal entity with Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor.

Religious groups may operate schools, and a number do so.  In public schools, the government allows religious groups to offer an hour-long program of religious education with students once per week but does not require schools to do so.  In public schools where religious education is provided, students are required to attend the program led by the representative of their respective denomination.  Students whose faith did not send a representative are required to take a study period during the hour devoted to religious education.

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

Government Practices

The government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), a 24-hour service, maintained policy guidelines regarding the broadcast of religious programming on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga.  The TBC guidelines stated that in view of “the character of the listening public,” those who preach on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga must confine their preaching “within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition.”  There were no reports, however, of the TBC denying any group’s request to broadcast on public channels.  The government permitted all Christian groups to participate in broadcasting one free hour of services on the radio each Sunday.  All churches were able to broadcast notices of their activities on six FM radio stations and three television stations, namely Television Tonga, Digi TV, and the Christian station Doulos Television Radio.

Foreign missionaries were active in the country and operated freely.

The government continued to enforce a ban that prohibits bakeries from operating on Sunday to comply with the constitution’s prohibition of commercial activity on the Sabbath.  By special permit, the government continued to allow hotels and resorts to operate on Sunday for tourists.  The Forum of Church Leaders continued to expresses concern about the exemption for hotels and resorts.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

An appeals court ruled in favor of the Tokaikolo Church in a dispute with former members over possession and lease of a church and associated land and buildings.  The former members started the independent Mo’ui Fo’ou Fellowship in 2016.

The Tonga National Council of Churches appointed a new Secretary General in July.

The Forum of Church Leaders, under its secretariat at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, met to discuss social issues in the country, such as suicide, crimes, drugs, healthy lifestyle, and teenage pregnancy.  The secretariat compiled and submitted reports to the cabinet.

The Scripture Union and Sisu koe Fetu’u Ngingila continued to provide Bible study and other activities for students of different faiths throughout the year.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Officials from the U.S. embassy in Fiji, which is accredited to the government of Tonga, met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor to discuss religious freedom and the ability of groups to formally register.  Embassy officials also met with the Tonga National Council of Churches and representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ and discussed the need to protect interfaith tolerance.

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and practice, including worship.  It prohibits discrimination based on religion.  Laws prohibit actions that incite religious hatred and violence.  In September the High Court repealed the law that had criminalized same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults.  Some religious organizations said they supported the change in law on human rights grounds; others stated it infringed on their religious freedom.  The government’s national security policy continued to limit the number of long-term foreign missionaries to 35 per registered religious group at any given time.

The government-funded Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), representing diverse denominations within Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and the Baha’i Faith, again advocated for the importance of religious tolerance.  The IRO focused its efforts on marches, press conferences, and statements regarding tolerance for religious diversity and related issues.

U.S. embassy representatives met with senior government officials from the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) Affairs (MFCA) to discuss the importance of the government’s equal protection of religion under the law.  In July embassy representatives met with the new IRO leadership to discuss interfaith cooperation and the value of religious tolerance.  Embassy representatives conducted outreach to religious group leaders, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Orisha, and Spiritual/Shouter Baptists, as part of its efforts to promote interfaith tolerance.  Embassy representatives delivered remarks underlining the value of religious plurality at a number of events.  In June the embassy hosted an iftar during which the Charge d’Affaires and the president of the largest Muslim association in the country delivered remarks highlighting the value of religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2011 census, 26.5 percent of the population is Protestant, including 12 percent Pentecostal or evangelical Christian, 5.7 percent Anglican, 4.1 percent Seventh-day Adventist, 2.5 percent Presbyterian or Congregational, 1.2 percent Baptist, 0.7 percent Methodist, and 0.3 percent Moravian.  An additional 21.6 percent is Roman Catholic, 18.2 percent Hindu, 5 percent Muslim, and 1.5 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Traditional Caribbean religious groups with African roots include the Spiritual/Shouter Baptists, who represent 5.7 percent of the population, and the Orisha, who incorporate elements of West African spiritualism and Christianity, at 0.9 percent.  According to the census, 2.2 percent of the population has no religious affiliation, 11.1 percent does not state a religious affiliation, and 7.5 percent lists their affiliation as “other,” which includes several small Christian groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as Baha’is, Rastafarians, Buddhists, and Jews.

The religious composition of the two islands varies distinctly.  On Trinidad, the island with 95 percent of the country’s total population, those of African descent make up 32 percent of the population and are predominantly Christian.  A small, primarily Sunni Muslim community is concentrated in and around Port of Spain, along the east-west corridor of northern Trinidad, and in certain areas of central and south Trinidad.  Those of East Indian descent constitute 37 percent of the population, approximately half of whom are Hindu, in addition to Muslims, Presbyterians, and Catholics.  The population of Tobago is 85 percent of African descent and predominantly Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance, including worship.  It recognizes the existence of basic fundamental human rights and freedoms and prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The law prohibits acts of sedition and seditious intent, which includes engendering or promoting feelings of ill will towards, hostility to, or contempt for any class of inhabitants, including on the basis of religion.

A fine of up to 1,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TT) ($150) may be levied for expressions of hatred directed specifically against a person’s religion, including any “riotous, violent, indecent, or disorderly behavior in any place of divine worship,” or attacks, ridicule, or vilification of another person’s religion in a manner likely to provoke a breach of the peace.  The country’s antiblasphemy law states, “Any person who is convicted of any act or an attempt to commit blasphemy, writing and publishing, or printing and publishing, any blasphemous libel… is liable to a fine and to imprisonment for two years”; however, the law is not enforced.

Judicial review, with the power of the court to modify or enforce orders, is available to those who claim to be victims of religious discrimination.  Claimants may also appeal a court’s decision.

To receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, perform marriages, or receive visas for foreign missionaries, religious groups must register with the government.  To register, groups must demonstrate they are nonprofit organizations, be in operation for at least one year, and submit a request for charitable status to the Ministry of Finance and the Economy.  The request must include a certificate or articles of incorporation, the constitution, and bylaws of the organization, and the most recently audited financial statements.  Religious groups have the same rights and obligations as most legal entities, regardless of their registration status.  They may, for example, own land and hire employees, and they are likewise liable for property taxes and government-mandated employee benefits.

Chaplains representing the different faiths present in the country may visit prisons to perform religious acts and minister to prisoners.

The government permits religious instruction in public schools, allocating time each week during which any religious group may provide an instructor at the parent’s request for an adherent in the school.  Attendance at these classes is voluntary, and the religious groups represented are diverse.  The law states public schools may not refuse admission to individuals based on religious beliefs, and no child is required to attend any religious observance or receive instruction in religious subjects as a condition of admission or continued attendance in a public school.  Immunization is required of all children entering school.  While parents may enroll their children in religiously affiliated private schools as an alternative to public education, the law does not permit homeschooling.  Private schools, also called “assisted schools,” receive a combination of government and private funding for their facilities.

The government subsidizes religiously affiliated public schools, including schools operated by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim groups.  The government allots primary school funding on a per-pupil basis, with the amount varying each year.  For secondary schools, the government allots funding based on budget requests submitted by each school.

A 2017 law raised the legal age of marriage to 18, amending previous marriage laws governing the marriage age for different religious groups.

Foreign missionaries must meet standard requirements for entry visas and must represent a registered religious group in the country.  Permits are valid for a maximum period of three years, at a cost of TT 500 ($74) per year.  Missionaries may not remain longer than three years per visit but may re-enter after a year’s absence.

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

Government Practices

On September 20, the High Court issued a ruling repealing the laws that had criminalized homosexual sex between consenting adults.  Religious organizations had mixed reactions to the ruling, with many fearing it infringed on their religious freedom, and a smaller number supporting the move on human rights grounds.  In response to the initial ruling in April, religious leaders, who stated they represented 90 percent of the country’s Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, asked the government in a news conference to uphold marriage to be defined as only occurring only between a man and a woman.  Convened by Catholic Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Jason Gordon, the religious leaders called on the government to amend the country’s Marriage Act to ensure that only a biological man and a biological woman could marry.  The leaders also called on the government not to amend the country’s equal opportunity act to accommodate LGBT individuals.  The act prohibits specific forms of discrimination but does not include gay men and lesbians as protected classes.  By year’s end, the government did not respond to their request.

Media reported in August that members of the governing political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), performed a skit at a party event during which an actor removed a yellow sari from an actress to reveal a PNM T-shirt underneath.  Hindus stated that the skit insulted their religion.  Party officials initially downplayed the allegations; however, Prime Minister Keith Rowley later apologized to the Hindu community after he learned of the skit’s religious significance.

The government provided budgetary support for IRO activities, an interfaith coordinating committee representing approximately 25 religious groups, including numerous denominations within Christianity, as well as Islam, Hinduism, and the Orisha and Baha’i faiths.  Leaders from five religious groups – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Orisha, and Baha’i – continued to deliver invocations at government-sponsored events, including the opening of parliament and the annual court term.  According to the new IRO president, Knolly Clarke, a senior clergyman of the Anglican Church, the government maintained its previous levels of engagement and financing of religious organizations during the year.

Members of the government and officials from both political parties continued to participate in ceremonies and holidays of various religious groups and emphasized religious tolerance and harmony in their remarks.  Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for Easter, Ramadan, and Diwali that underscored religious freedom, diversity, and unity.  In his Eid al-Fitr message, he said, “Let us also adopt the sense of community and brotherhood that characterized the season of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid.”  At public invocations organized or run by the government, however, Christian references to God and to Christian beliefs, without equal recognition of other religions, were common – including during President Paula Mae Weeks’ swearing-in ceremony in the summer.

The government continued to limit the number of long-term foreign missionaries to 35 per registered religious group.  Missionaries in excess of the 35 individuals could remain in the country a maximum of 30 days.  IRO members continued to state that the government equitably applied the law; however, some international religious groups continued to state more than 35 missionaries could remain in the country if they affiliated with more than one registered group, including nonprofit groups and charities.  The IRO’s former president, a Hindu, said the law continued to constrain Hindus, who had few missionaries but wanted them to stay longer than the three-year legal limit.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February the government arrested individuals who allegedly planned to carry out a terror plot to destabilize Carnival celebrations.  Following their arrests, a local imam, Sheraz Ali, made a video and gave press interviews stating he and other members of the mosque had cooperated with police during the search and police officers had acted very professionally.  The video was in response to reports that police had found guns and ammunition and had entered the mosque with dogs and caused damage.  Ali made a public appeal to focus on the facts of the investigation and to stop spreading false news.  Some local imams said the negative social media commentary regarding the incident had slandered their communities.

Media sources reported that when a Muslim woman arrived for her first day of work at Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, a school official told her to either to remove her hijab or leave.  She said the school later contacted her and apologized.

The IRO, with a founding mandate “to speak to the nation on matters of social, moral, and spiritual concern,” continued to advocate for matters of religious concern.  IRO efforts included marches and press conferences, as well as statements regarding religious tolerance and related issues.  In August the Universal Peace Federation for Trinidad and Tobago, together with members of the IRO, led a march for peace simultaneously with representatives of 120 nations who carried out their own peace walk in celebration of world peace.  In his first press release issued as the new IRO President, Knolly Clarke said, “We live in very trying times and the unity we share as religious heads of this culturally diverse society must impact on the example we set for harmony and togetherness in moving our country forward.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives met with senior government officials from the MFCA to discuss the importance of the government’s equal protection of religion under the law.

The embassy hosted a roundtable with IRO members to discuss interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO.

U.S. embassy officials engaged various religious groups to promote religious freedom and tolerance.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives met with leaders of various religious organizations and visited a number of religious sites.

The embassy continued to engage actively with the local Muslim community.  In June the embassy hosted an iftar during which the Charge d’Affaires and the president of the largest Muslim association in the country delivered remarks highlighting the value of religious freedom and tolerance.  The Charge d’Affaires thanked the community for working with the embassy on messaging campaigns to counter violent extremism, urging Muslim leaders to speak out as the recognized voices of the community.  He pledged to continue outreach to the community.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials also attended an iftar at the Santa Cruz Mosque.  A senior embassy official spoke at the annual meeting of the National Muslim Women’s Organization of Trinidad and Tobago; attended the funeral of a well-known member of the Muslim community; visited a mosque community in Tobago; and spoke at the annual event of the Madinah House, a shelter run by a board of Muslim women.

In July the embassy hosted a meeting with the newly appointed head of the IRO, Knolly Clarke, to discuss religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO.

In October the Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials visited the Swaha Divya Ashram in the central part of the island of Trinidad as part of the embassy’s outreach with religious minorities.

Embassy staff met regularly with Muslim religious and civil society leaders for discussions on topics including religious tolerance and countering violent extremism.  Embassy staff also continued working with religious groups, such as the National Muslim Women’s Organization and the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association, and delivered remarks on the importance of religious diversity at conventions of the Trinidad Muslim League and the Ahmadi Muslim Community.

The embassy utilized social media for outreach on the value of the freedom to worship according to one’s conscience.  Messages featured embassy-sponsored events and meetings in support of religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares the country’s religion to be Islam.  The constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.”  The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and obligates the state to disseminate the values of “moderation and tolerance.”  It prohibits the use of mosques and other houses of worship to advance political agendas or objectives and guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practice.  Laws require that associations and political parties respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles and prohibit them from encouraging violence, hatred, intolerance, or discrimination on the basis of religion.  Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that police used arrests, house searches, and travel restrictions to target Salafists and others, some of whom, according to the NGOs, were profiled as terrorists based on their appearance or religious beliefs.  According to an October report by Amnesty International (AI), the government imposed restrictions on both travel within the country and abroad “on the basis of perceived religious beliefs or practices …”  One Christian citizen said he was detained and later released by police after displaying books pertaining to Christian theology at a book fair.  The newly-elected mayor of Tunis suburb El Kram, citing constitutional provisions identifying Islam as the state religion, told media his municipality would not validate marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man, as required following the 2017 repeal of the 1973 ban on such marriages.  Then Minister of Local Affairs Riadh Mouakher said he would sanction the mayor if he failed to uphold the law.  Civil society groups reported anecdotal evidence this was not the only mayor to refuse to sign marriage contracts between Muslim women and non-Muslim men or between two Christian citizens.  In spite of continued appeals from the Baha’i community, the government did not recognize the Baha’i Faith or grant its association legal status.  In August the Baha’i community received information that a court had denied the community’s court case pertaining to its petition to be a registered association; the Baha’is planned to appeal the court’s decision.  Christian citizens stated the government did not fully recognize their rights, particularly as they pertain to the establishment of a legal entity or association that would grant them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery.  Unlike the Baha’is, however, the country’s local Christian community did not submit a formal request for an association or legal status.  On June 12, the presidentially-appointed Committee on Individual Freedoms and Equality recommended changes to the law that included inheritance equality between genders with the option to follow Islamic principles favoring male heirs; equality among men and women in marriage and parenting; cancellation of government circulars that continued to be used to justify closing cafes during Ramadan; and a prohibition on the degradation of another’s religion, including criminalization of “all contempt of others’ religions with the aim to incite violence and hatred.”  On November 28, President Beji Caid Essebsi submitted a draft law to parliament revising the 1956 Personal Status Code to allow inheritance equality, but leaving the option for families to follow Islamic principles favoring male heirs if they choose

The Association of Free Thinkers, which was established in 2017 to promote secularism in the country, organized a demonstration in late May in downtown Tunis demanding the right to drink and eat in public spaces during Ramadan periods of fasting.  The demonstration took place without incident.  Two men, however, had earlier attacked the president of the association, Hatem Limam, outside a Tunis bar in late February, and three individuals attacked Limam in his Tunis office on June 2.  On January 10, during country-wide protests of social conditions, attackers threw Molotov cocktails at two synagogues in Djerba in an apparent attempt to set fire to the buildings.  Police and the fire department responded to put out the fires before significant damage was done.  Christian converts from Islam said threats from members of their families and other persons reflected societal pressure against Muslims leaving the faith.  Some atheists reported facing societal pressure to conceal their atheism, including by participating in Islamic religious traditions.

The Ambassador and embassy officers met with government officials at the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA), the Presidency, and the Ministry of Relations with Constitutional Bodies, Civil Society, and Human Rights (MRCB) and encouraged continued tolerance of religious minorities.  Embassy officials also discussed the government’s efforts to control activities in mosques, threats to converts from Islam to other faiths, and the status of the Baha’i Faith in the country.  Embassy officers discussed religious diversity and dialogue with leaders of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Baha’i communities.  In May the Ambassador and other embassy officers participated in the Lag B’Omer Pilgrimage to the El-Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, where they discussed religious pluralism and the safety of the Jewish community with Jewish leaders and civil society.  Embassy officials attended a January seminar organized by the MRA in conjunction with Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss the importance of religious tolerance and coexistence to the country’s democracy and efforts to counter religiously-motivated violent extremism.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.5 million (July 2018 estimate), of which approximately 99 percent is Sunni Muslim.  Christians, Jews, Shia Muslims, Baha’is, and nonbelievers constitute less than 1 percent of the population.  There are approximately 7,000 Christians who are citizens, according to the Christian community, most of whom are Anglicans or other Protestants.  The MRA estimates there are approximately 30,000 Christians residing in the country, most of whom are foreigners, and of whom 80 percent are Roman Catholic.  Catholic officials estimate their church membership at fewer than 5,000, widely dispersed throughout the country.  The remaining Christian population is composed of Protestants, Russian Orthodox, French Reformists, Anglicans, Seventh-day Adventists, Greek Orthodox, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jewish community numbers approximately 1,400, according to the MRA.  One-third of the Jewish population lives in and around the capital and the remainder lives on the island of Djerba and in the neighboring town of Zarzis.  There is a small Baha’i community, but no reliable information on its numbers is available.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam is the country’s religion but the constitution also declares the country to be a “civil state.”  The constitution designates the government as the “guardian of religion” and requires the president to be Muslim.  The constitution guarantees freedom of belief, conscience, and exercise of religious practices.  The constitution also states that mosques and houses of worship should be free from “partisan instrumentalization.”  It obligates the state to disseminate the values of moderation and tolerance, protect holy sites, and prevent takfir (Muslim accusations of apostasy against other Muslims).  The law requires that all religious services be celebrated within houses of worship or other nonpublic settings.  These restrictions extend to public advertisement of religious services.  The constitution lists reasons for potential restrictions on the rights and freedoms it guarantees, including protecting the rights of others, requirements of national defense, and public order, morality, or health.

The penal code criminalizes speech likely “to cause harm to the public order or morality,” as well as acts undermining public morals in a way that “intentionally violates modesty.”

There is no legal prohibition of proselytism, but the law criminalizes forced conversions.

Religious groups may form and register associations under the law to establish a bank account and conduct financial activities such as charity work and receive favorable tax treatment, including tax-free donations from government-approved associations, provided the association does not purport to represent all believers of a religious group or use the name of a religious group.  To establish an association, a religious group must submit a registered letter to the Prime Minister’s Office stating the purposes of the association; copies of the national identity cards of its founders, who must be citizens; and two copies of the articles of association signed by the association’s founders or their representatives.  The articles of association must contain the official name of the association in Arabic and any foreign language, if appropriate; its address; a statement of its objectives; membership criteria; membership fees; and a statement of organizational structure, including identification of the decision-making body for the association.  The law requires that associations and political parties respect the rule of law and basic democratic principles.  The law prohibits associations from engaging in for-profit activities, providing material support to individual political candidates, or adopting bylaws or taking actions to incite violence or promote hatred, fanaticism, or discrimination on the basis of religion.  Once established, such an association may receive tax-exempt income from organizations, including foreign organizations that have a prior agreement with the government.

Once the association receives the return receipt from the Prime Minister’s Office, it has seven days to submit an announcement of the name, purpose, and objectives of the association to the government press.  The government press has 15 days to publish the announcement in the government gazette, which marks the association’s official registration.  In the event the government does not return a registered receipt within 30 days, an association may proceed to submit its documents for publication and obtain registration.  A foreign association may establish a branch in the country, but the government may also reject its registration request if the government finds the principles or objectives of the foreign association contravene the law.

Violations of the provisions of the law related to associations are punishable first by a warning of up to 30 days from the secretary general of the government, then by a court order suspending the association’s activities for up to 30 days if the violations persist.  If the association is still in violation of the law, the secretary general may then appeal to the court for dissolution of the association.  Under the law, associations have the right to appeal court decisions.

Registered associations have the right to organize meetings and demonstrations, to publish reports and leaflets, to own real estate, and to engage in “all types of civil activities.”

A 1964 modus vivendi with the Holy See grants official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church.  The concordat allows the Church to function in the country and provides state recognition of the Catholic Church, although it restricts religious activities and services to the physical confines of authorized churches and prohibits construction of new churches and the ringing of church bells.  A limited number of Catholic schools and charities may operate under the concordat, but their financial activities are conducted through registration as an association, and their affiliation with the Church is not publicized.

The law states the government oversees Islamic prayer services by subsidizing mosques, appointing imams, and paying their salaries.  The grand mufti, appointed by the president, is charged with declaring religious holidays, issuing certificates of conversion to Islam, attending to citizens’ inquiries, representing the country at international religious conferences, providing opinions on school curricula, and studying and writing about Islam.  The MRA suggests themes for Friday sermons but does not regulate their content.  The government may initiate administrative and legal procedures to remove imams whom authorities determine to be preaching “divisive” theology.

By law, new mosques may be constructed provided they are built in accordance with national urban planning regulations.  The MRA pays for construction of mosques, although private, and foreign donors also are able to contribute to construction costs.  Mosques become government property upon completion, after which the government must maintain them.

It is mandatory for students in public schools to attend courses on the principles of Islam approximately one hour per week.  Non-Muslim students generally attended these courses but could seek an exemption.  The curriculum for secondary school students also includes references to the history of Judaism and Christianity, according to the Ministry of Education.  Religious groups may operate private schools.

Provisions of law addressing marriage, divorce, and other personal status issues are largely based on principles of civil law, combined with elements of sharia.  Laws of inheritance are principally based on requirements in sharia, but there are some provisions that allow for exceptions as outlined in the Code of Personal Status.

The law does not list religion as a prohibited basis for political parties, but prohibits political parties from using religion to call for violence or discrimination.

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

Government Practices

According to an October report by Amnesty International (AI), “They Never Tell Me Why,” the government imposed restrictions on domestic travel or bans on travelling abroad for some of its citizens, due to security concerns.  According to the AI report, in some cases, “authorities appear to have targeted individuals … on the basis of their perceived religious beliefs or practices, physical appearance, such as having a beard and wearing religious clothing….”  The media also reported police and security forces harassed some women who wore the niqab.

The 1964 modus vivendi with the Holy See effectively limits the Catholic Church’s interactions with citizens, and Christian citizens said there was strong governmental and societal pressure not to advertise publicly about the Church’s activities or theology.  One Christian citizen reported police detained him for displaying books pertaining to Christian theology at a book fair.  He was released without charge, but authorities cited Article 1 of the constitution, which states that the country’s religion is Islam, as the justification for shutting down his book stall.

Fathi Laayouni, the mayor of Tunis suburb El Kram, sparked a debate when he told media on August 16 that his municipality would not validate marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man, as required following the September 2017 repeal of the 1973 ban on such marriages.  In justifying his position, Laayouni cited Articles 1 and 6 of the constitution stipulating that the state religion is Islam and that the government is the guardian of religion.  His statement received a strong rebuke from then Minister of Local Affairs Riadh Mouakher, who promised “sanctions” against Laayouni, adding the mayor had an obligation to uphold the law.  Civil society groups reported anecdotal evidence that Laayouni was not the only mayor to refuse performing marriage services between Muslims and non-Muslims.  Anecdotal evidence provided by members of the Christian community suggested that some mayors’ offices refused to marry two Christian citizens.

In August the Baha’i community received information through its lawyer that the First Instance Court of Tunis had denied the community’s court case pertaining to its petition to be a registered association.  As of December the court had not provided a written judgement outlining the legal grounds for its refusal; the Baha’is stated they planned to appeal the court’s decision.  Baha’is also stated it was not possible to establish houses of worship or conduct some religious activities while they lacked official recognition.  In early 2017, the Baha’i community submitted a formal request to the Ministry of Interior for permission for a dedicated cemetery.  Without a dedicated cemetery, Baha’is have had to hide their religious affiliation to use cemeteries reserved for adherents of other recognized faiths.  As of the end of the year, the ministry had not responded to the Baha’i community’s request.

Members of the Baha’i community said there was increased government interest in learning about the Baha’i Faith.  They expressed concern, however, about discrimination by individual security force personnel.  During the year they said that police officers in different cities interrogated members of the community about their religious practices and beliefs in the course of routine security checks.  Although the individuals were all released from police custody without charge, community members said they believed the individuals faced increased and undue scrutiny due to their faith.

The government publicly urged imams to disseminate messages of moderation and tolerance to counter what it said were threats of violent extremism.  Since 2015, the MRA has conducted regular training sessions for imams on how to disseminate these messages.  According to several local mosque committees in charge of mosque operations and chosen by congregation members, the government generally allowed the committees to manage the daily affairs of their mosques and choose their own imams, with the exception of imams for Friday prayers, who were selected exclusively by the MRA.  Regional MRA representatives within each governorate had to vet, approve, and appoint both the committees and the imams.  According to an official from the MRA, the government standardized and enforced mosque opening and closing times, except for certain mosques with cultural or historical significance and very small community mosques.  In the run-up to May 6 municipal council elections, in keeping with national law, the Ministry of Local Affairs issued a public statement stating it had reminded imams and other religious leaders not to make political statements inside of mosques prior to the elections.

Members of the Christian community reported the government allowed churches to operate freely and provided security for their services.  The government, however, restricted public religious services or processions outside the churches.  Christian citizens reported the government did not fully recognize their rights, particularly regarding the establishment of a legal entity or association that would grant them the ability to establish an Arabic-language church or a cemetery for Christian citizens.  The local Christian community did not submit a formal request for an association or legal status during the year.  There are existing Christian cemeteries for foreign members of the Christian community; Christian citizens, however, need permission from the government to be buried in a Christian cemetery.  Citizens reported they generally did not request this permission due what they said was a pattern of governmental nonresponse.  Church leaders stated that while there did not appear to be organized discrimination against Christians, there were also few protections.  If an individual police officer or administrative official treated a member of the Christian community poorly, church leaders said authorities were slow to investigate these abuses or to provide redress in cases of wrongdoing.

Jewish groups said they continued to worship freely, and the government continued to provide security for synagogues and partially subsidized restoration and maintenance costs.  Government employees maintained the Jewish cemetery in Tunis, but did not maintain those located in other cities, including Sousse and El Kef.

The Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities issued a statement on August 18, condemning the refusal by the management of El Mornaguia prison in Mornaguia, southwest of Tunis, to apply an authorization granted by an investigating judge for a Jewish prisoner to receive kosher meals.  According to members of the Jewish community, however, once the prison was made aware of the prisoner’s family’s request to bring kosher meals more frequently than the three days normally allowed by the prison to accept meals from family members, the prison accommodated this request.

Minister of Religious Affairs Ahmed Adhoum hosted two conferences on religious tolerance and coexistence, the first in Tabarka on January 30-February 1 and the second held in connection with the Lag B’Omer Pilgrimage in Djerba May 3-4.  During the conferences, Adhoum, the minister of tourism, and the minister of cultural affairs emphasized that peace and religious tolerance were essential to countering terrorism.  On May 31, then Minister for Human Rights, Constitutional Bodies, and Civil Society Mehdi Ben Gharbia hosted an interfaith iftar with the grand mufti, grand rabbi, and archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church.

On June 12, the presidentially-appointed Committee on Individual Freedoms and Equality published a report that presented a series of recommended changes to the country’s laws that would align them with the 2014 constitution and international human rights laws and treaties to which the country is a signatory.  The committee’s recommendations included decriminalization of homosexuality; allowing inheritance equality between genders; equality between men and women in marriage and parenting; cancellation of government circulars that continue to be used to justify closing cafes during Ramadan; and a prohibition on the degradation of another’s religion, including a criminalization of “all contempt of others’ religions with the aim to incite violence and hatred.”  In addition, the report stated that discrimination in all of its forms violated existing provisions of the constitution and international laws.  The report recommended changes to legislation to prohibit discrimination based on religion and belief.  Legislation based on the report’s recommendations was introduced in parliament in October and remained pending at the end of the year.

On August 13, in his annual Tunisian Women’s Day address, President Caid Essebsi announced plans to present a draft law to parliament revising the 1956 Personal Status Code to allow inheritance equality, but leaving the option for families to follow Islamic principles favoring male heirs if they chose.  During his speech, he said there was a moral and legal imperative to work for this change using an approach that is based on the country’s constitution, not religious texts.

During an April 9-19 visit, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed examined the extent to which the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and belief was being respected, protected, and promoted.  In his preliminary findings, he concluded the government had a strong commitment to equality and freedom of religion or belief but identified several legal provisions, legislative gaps, and deficits in the rule of law that could undermine the protection of religion or belief, such as the use of public morality laws to enforce religious tenets.

Authorities again provided a heightened level of security for the annual Lag B’Omer festival held at the El-Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba in May, including security cameras and personnel around the synagogue.

In accordance with government permits, the Jewish community operated private religious schools, and Jewish children were allowed to split their academic day between public schools and private religious schools or attend either type of school full-time.  The government-run Essouani School and the Houmt Souk Secondary School in Djerba remained the only public schools where Jewish and Muslim students studied together, primarily because of the small size and geographic concentration of the Jewish community.  At these schools, Muslim students attended Islamic education lessons on Saturdays while their Jewish classmates could choose to attend classes on religion at a Jewish school in Djerba.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On May 23, the Association of Free Thinkers, which was established in 2017 to promote secularism in the country, organized a demonstration in downtown Tunis demanding the right to drink and eat in public spaces during Ramadan periods of fasting.  The demonstration took place without incident.  In late February a member of the Free Thinkers reported on Facebook that two men stabbed and assaulted association president Hatem Limam in Tunis.  Limam reported to media a second attack on June 2 in which three individuals physically assaulted him after forcing their way into his office in.  Limam filed a complaint at the local police station following the second attack, and police arrested three men and charged one.  According to a March press report, the Free Thinker who reported the February attack stated members of the association had been previously attacked and that he had received death threats.  The Italian wire service ANSA reported on October 30 that some members of the Free Thinkers were threatened and attacked by Islamic extremists.   

On January 10, unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at two synagogues in Djerba in an apparent attempt to set fire to the buildings.  Police and the fire department responded before significant damage was done.  Members of the Jewish community said the perpetrators were known to them and the individuals were subsequently arrested.  They were released from prison after having served a sentence of several months.  Some Jewish community leaders in Djerba said they considered the attack to be the work of opportunists taking advantage of violent riots, including other arson attacks around the country, over economic conditions.  According to a report by the German network Deutsche Welle, others in the Jewish community attributed the attack to criminals acting on the orders of a radical extremist movement.  Some media reported that leading up to the Lag B’Omer pilgrimage, calls for inciting violence against Jews in Tunisia were published on social media networks.  One post reportedly included: “We must drive the Jews out of Tunisia and set fire to the synagogue in Djerba.”

Simon Slama, the only Jewish candidate for office in the May municipal elections, was on the electoral list for the Nahda Party in the Monastir Governorate, although he ultimately was not elected to the municipal council.  On September 7, the municipality of Sousse named three of its streets after Jewish citizens in order to honor their work within the city.  Social media commentators praised the city’s recognition of the contributions made by the country’s Jewish community.  On November 5, Prime Minister Yousef Chahed appointed Rene Trebelsi as Minister of Tourism during a partial government reshuffle, making him the third Jewish minister in the country’s history (after two others in 1955 and 1957).  Parliament confirmed the appointment on November 12.

According to media reports, some atheists reported receiving family and societal pressure to return to Islam or conceal their atheism, including, for instance, by fasting during Ramadan and abstaining from criticizing Islam.  Some converts to Christianity reported strong family and societal rejection, and some of them were reportedly beaten and forced to leave their homes on account of their beliefs.  Some members of the Christian community said that citizens who attended church services faced pressure from family members and others in their neighborhood not to attend.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to meet regularly with government officials, including in the MRA, the Presidency, and the MRCB to discuss issues concerning religious freedom.  Conversations also focused on government efforts to control activities in mosques, the difficulties facing citizens of the Baha’i Faith and Christian citizens, reports of anti-Semitic acts, legislative reform, and threats to converts from Islam to other faiths.  Embassy officials attended and spoke at the January conference hosted by the MRA on the subject of interfaith coexistence.  On May 1-4, a delegation from the embassy, including the Ambassador, participated in the Lag B’Omer Pilgrimage to the El-Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba.  During the visit, the delegation met with Jewish leaders and members of civil society and reaffirmed support for religious diversity and tolerance.

The embassy maintained frequent contact with leaders of religious groups throughout the country to discuss the impact of the security situation on religious groups and the freedom of religious minorities to worship without restrictions from the government or threats from the community.  Through a microscholarship program, the embassy engaged with youth in discussions on religious diversity and tolerance.  The embassy hosted a former participant of a U.S. exchange program to engage youth, women’s groups, and civil society representatives in discussions about her experience researching televangelism in the United States.  The embassy supported programs designed to highlight religious tolerance and to counter violent extremism, including informal youth-led conversation groups to discuss issues of religious tolerance and alternatives to violence; a program working with scout troops to learn how to recognize and combat signs of religious radicalization; and several research programs aimed at identifying and countering religious radicalization and violent extremism, especially in youth.

Turkey

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 promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam.  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim 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.  The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in November that cemevis are places of worship.  The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service.  Religious minorities reported bureaucratic and administrative impediments to religious freedom remained, including the prevention of governing board elections for religious foundations, which manage many activities of religious communities.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, and the Diyanet announced plans to construct an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.  Religious minorities reported experiencing difficulties resolving land and property disputes, operating or opening houses of worship, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools.  The legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated continued; some members of the churches said they still did not have access to many of their properties.  The government provided security support for religious minority communities, returned some previously expropriated properties, including 56 to the Syriac community, and paid for the renovation and restoration of some registered religious properties.  Following the July 2016 coup attempt, the government arrested more than 80,000 individuals with alleged ties to Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen – whom the government blamed for the attempted putsch – including U.S. citizen and Pastor Andrew Brunson.  In October a court in Izmir convicted Brunson of supporting a terrorist group but suspended his sentence, allowing him to depart the country.

Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.  ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country.  Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community.  Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to social media analysis.

The Charge d’Affaires, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to engage with government officials and emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  Embassy and consulate representatives and visiting U.S. government officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups, make progress on property restitution, and address specific cases of religious discrimination.  Embassy and consulate officials also met with a wide range of religious community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Alevi, and Syriac Orthodox 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 81.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni.  Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members represent 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent published surveys suggest approximately 2 percent of the population is atheist.

Alevi foundation leaders estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population; Pew Research Center reporting indicates five percent of Turkish Muslims state they are Alevis.  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 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.

Other groups include fewer than 1,000 Yezidis; 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses; 7,000 members of Protestant denominations; fewer than 3,000 Chaldean Christians; and up to 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians.  There also are small, undetermined numbers of Bulgarian Orthodox, Nestorian, Georgian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, and Maronite Christians.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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 prohibits exploitation or abuse of “religion or religious feelings, or things held sacred by religion” or “even partially basing” the order of the state on religious tenets.

The constitution establishes the Diyanet, through which the state coordinates religious matters.  According to the law, the Diyanet’s mandate is to enable and promote 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 Affairs, Education, Services, 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.

There is no separate blasphemy law; the penal code provides punishment for offenses related to “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs.  The penal code prohibits religious leaders such as imams, priests, and rabbis 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.

The law criminalizes “insulting values held sacred by a religion,” interfering with a religious group’s services, or defacing its property.  Insulting a religion is punishable by six months to one year in prison.

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.  Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and, if convicted, are subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

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

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.  These longstanding foundations belong to non-Muslim Turkish citizens; 167 of them continue to exist, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities.  A religious group may apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.

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 statute.  There are several categories of foundations, including those religious community foundations existing prior to the 1935 law.

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to find the foundation no longer operational and transfer all 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.  The state of emergency instituted in 2016 ended in July.

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.

Associations by definition must be nonprofit and may receive financial support only in the form of donations.  To register as an association, a group must submit an application to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members.  In addition to its bylaws, a group must obtain and submit permission from the Ministry of the Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is listed as a founding member; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of their residence permits.  If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change the bylaws 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.  Only a court order may close an association, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close associations by decree.  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 religions in prison; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship.  The government provides Sunni Muslims mesjids (small mosques) in larger prisons and provides Sunni preachers; Alevis and non-Muslims do not have clerics from their own faiths serving in prisons.  According to the law, prison authorities must allow religious groups to offer books and other materials that are a part of the prisoner’s faith.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private primary, middle, and high schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which as of July falls under the authority of the Office of the Presidency.  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, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are not exempt 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.

According to the 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.

New national identity cards, which the government began distributing at year’s end, contain no specific section to identify religious affiliation.  National identity cards issued in the past, which continue in circulation, contained a space for religious identification with the option of leaving the space blank.  These old cards included the following religious identities as options:  Muslim, Greek Orthodox, non-Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, No Religion, or Other.  Baha’i, Alevi, Yezidi, and other religious groups with known populations in the country were not options.

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

A state of emergency instituted after the July 2016 coup attempt ended in July, although parliament passed a law codifying many of the expanded powers shortly afterward.  The government continued to blame the coup attempt on Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen and his followers, whom it designated the “Fethullah Terror Organization.”  Since the coup attempt, police arrested more than 80,000 individuals for allegedly having ties to the Gulen movement, according to a statement by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in April.

The government also continued to detain foreign citizens in relation to the coup attempt, including U.S. citizen and Christian pastor Andrew Brunson.  On October 12, the Second Heavy Penal Court of Izmir convicted Brunson on charges of support for a terrorist group and sentenced him to just over three years.  Initially detained in October 2016, Brunson remained in detention until his release to house arrest on July 25 as his trial continued.  In July the public prosecutor broadened the investigation in the case to include Brunson’s wife and 65 additional individuals, including other U.S. citizens.  The indictment referenced “Christianization” activities related to his alleged crimes.  The court suspended his sentence to time served and lifted his travel ban, thereby allowing him to leave the country after nearly two years in custody.  Brunson immediately departed the country.  Brunson was one of several U.S. citizens detained under the state of emergency; the other cases did not involve religious figures.

The indictment of Brunson included The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the list of religious groups that allegedly participated in conspiracies against the state.  In April The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated that for safety reasons it would remove its volunteers and international staff from the country, a policy Church leadership said continued through the end of the year.

Alevi groups expressed concerns about detentions of their members, which the groups said were arbitrary.  In March authorities in Erzincan detained 16 members of the Alevi Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, including the vice chairman, on charges of providing support to a terrorist organization.  Local representatives of the association said they were detained because of their work to protect and promote the Alevi faith.  A court later ordered the arrest of eight of them, including the vice chair.  In August a court indicted all 16 individuals for “inciting hatred among the public” and “membership in a terrorist organization.”  In December 12 of the 17 defendants were convicted and sentenced to between two and six and one-half years in prison.

In July authorities denied the request of former Republican People’s Party (CHP) Member of Parliament, Eren Erdem, to see an Alevi cleric (dede) while in Silivri prison, where he remained detained at year’s end on terrorism charges.  Erdem’s lawyer said the decision was a violation of his client’s right to have weekly access to a cleric.  The next hearing was scheduled for January 2019.

The trial of 13 individuals charged with conspiracy to commit a large-scale assault on an Izmit Protestant church and assassinate its pastor in 2013 continued throughout the year.  In November a judge again postponed the next hearing until March 2019 pending the result of an investigation of two local security officials allegedly involved.

In July an Istanbul criminal court accepted an indictment from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office bringing charges of insulting religious values, sometimes referred to locally as “blasphemy charges,” against actress Berna Lacin for her post on Twitter about the alleged number of rapes in Medina.  The tweet was in response to calls by the Grand Union Party, families of victims, and some newspapers to reinstate capital punishment for child abuse crimes following a wave of molestation reports in media.  “If capital punishment was a solution, the city of Medina would not be breaking records in rape cases,” Lacin said in her post.  In the indictment, the prosecutor said Lacin insulted people’s religious values and went beyond what is permissible under the freedom of expression.  Following the first hearing in November, the court postponed the trial until February 2019.

In January the governor’s office in Adana, with the approval of the Interior Ministry, temporarily banned the activities of Furkan Foundation, a Sunni organization that describes itself as a social and religious civil society group.  Police arrested 45 members of the foundation, including its president, on charges that included founding a criminal organization and supporting terror.  In July authorities issued a decree permanently closing the foundation on national security grounds.  The case continued at year’s end.

In December, following a 2017 government regulation allowing female military personnel to wear headscarves, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, rejected a petition calling for the reinstatement of the ban.

In September the military implemented a one-time paid deferment option that closed November 3 under which individuals born before January 1, 1994 could pay a fee instead of performing full military service; however these individuals must complete 21 days of basic military training.

During the year, 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses faced prosecution as conscientious objectors to military service.  Jehovah’s Witnesses officials stated the government continued to subject conscientious objectors from their community “to unending call-ups for military duty, repeated fines, and threats of imprisonment.”

Some Protestants and other minority community members expressed concern that some indictments submitted by prosecutors and inquiries by police officials indicated certain religious public speech and activism, including proselytism, were regarded with suspicion.  Some of these groups said they subsequently decided to conduct fewer public engagements to avoid anticipated pressure from authorities.  Proselytization remained legal at year’s end.

In May some students and parents in Viransehir District of Urfa complained a school principal had threatened female students they would fail their classes unless they covered their hair.  The Ministry of Education started an investigation of the case, which continued at year’s end.

In February the broadcast sector regulatory body Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) fined TV8, a private station, more than one million Turkish lira (TL) ($189,000) for broadcasting a song performed during a talent show that contained lyrics referring to God as “Father.”  The report prepared by the council members said the lyrics were against the fundamentals of Muslim faith and claimed referring to God as “Father” was a Christian and Jewish tradition.

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 did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the patriarchates 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.  Members of religious communities said the inability to hold elections for foundation governing boards remained an impediment to managing their affairs.  In 2013, the government repealed regulations dealing with the election of foundation board members, which prohibited subsequent elections from taking place.  Without the ability to hold new elections, governing boards lose the capacity to manage the activities and properties of the community and run the risk of the foundations becoming inactive without newly elected leadership.

The government continued not to recognize the ecumenical patriarch 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, but continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 stopgap solution to widen the pool of candidates to become the next patriarch.  The Istanbul Governorate, which represents the central government in Istanbul, continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens, although coreligionists from outside the country in some cases had assumed informal leadership positions in these groups.

The Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to seek legal recognition, and their communities operated as conglomerations of individual religious foundations.  Because the patriarchates did not have legal personality, associated foundations controlled by individual boards held all the property of the religious communities, and the patriarchates had no legal authority to direct the use of any assets or otherwise govern their communities.

In February the Istanbul governor’s office denied a 2017 application by the elected trustee of the Armenian Patriarchate to hold a patriarchal election, stating the patriarchate had not met the required conditions for an election.  The governor’s office also said it considered all decisions by the trustee null and barred any election as long as the incumbent patriarch was alive.  Incumbent Patriarch Mesrob II remained unable to perform his duties since 2008, because of his medical condition, and an acting patriarch continued to fill the position.  In July President of the Spiritual Assembly of the Armenian Patriarchate Bishop Sahak Masalyan wrote a letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan requesting help in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles to holding the patriarchal election.  There was no response by the year’s end.

A majority of Protestant churches continued to report bureaucratic difficulties in registering as places of worship.  Consequently, they continued to be registered as church associations and had to meet in unregistered locations for worship services.  According to the Protestant community, there were six foundations (four existing before the passage of a foundation law in 1935), 36 associations, and more than 30 representative offices linked with these associations.

In May President Erdogan promised to grant legal status for Alevi cemevis as part of his election platform for the presidential elections, but he took no steps to do so after winning re-election on June 24.  At year’s end, the government still had not legally recognized cemevis as places of worship.

In November the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that cemevis are places of worship and therefore they should receive the same benefits as Sunni mosques, such as being exempt from paying utility bills.  In a similar case in 2015, the Supreme Court gave the same judgment.  Since then, Alevis have called on the government to comply with the ruling.  A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision in 2014 serves as the basis for court decisions in favor of recognition for individual cemevis.  Alevi representatives, however, said they remained concerned about the lack of a comprehensive solution and the fact the government had not implemented this ruling nationwide by year’s end.  Most municipalities continued to waive utility bills only for Sunni Muslim mosques.  Several municipalities led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), however, recognized cemevis and waived their utility bills.  In March the head of the Diyanet stated mosques were the places of worship for both Alevis and Sunnis.

According to Protestant groups, many local officials continued to impose zoning standards on churches, such as minimum space requirements, that they did not impose on mosques.  Local officials required Protestant groups to purchase 2,500 square meters of land (27,000 square feet) to construct churches, even for small congregations.  Officials did not apply this requirement to Sunni Muslim congregations, which they permitted to build mosques in malls, airports, and other smaller spaces.  The Protestant groups said they again had not applied for permits to build any new churches during the year, in part because of the zoning requirements.

By year’s end, the government had not addressed the May 2016 ECHR ruling that Turkey had violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Izmir and Mersin by refusing to provide them appropriate places of worship and thereby directly interfered with the community’s freedom of religion.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, five municipalities denied requests made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to obtain a religious facility location on municipal zoning maps throughout the year.  Thirty-four different municipalities had denied 96 requests in recent years.  Local governments did not permit zoning for any Kingdom Halls in the country.

Religious communities continued to challenge the government’s 2016 expropriation of their properties damaged in clashes between government security forces and the U.S. government-designated terrorist group Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).  The government expropriated those properties for its stated goal of “post-conflict reconstruction.  For the second straight year, the government had not returned or completed repairs on any of the properties in the historic and ancient Sur District of Diyarbakir Province, including the Kursunlu Mosque; Hasirli Mosque; Surp Giragos Armenian Church; Mar Petyun Chaldean Church; Protestant Church; and the Armenian Catholic Church.  Of these two Islamic and four Christian sites, the government began restoration of one of the Christian sites.  In September 2016, the GDF began restoring the expropriated Armenian Catholic Church; the restoration remained in progress at the end of the year, and the church was not accessible for public use.  The government said the Ministry of Culture would coordinate the restoration of some properties held by the government, and the GDF would restore properties it owned; however, no additional restorations occurred by the end of the year.  In April the Council of State, the top administrative court, issued an interim decision to suspend the expropriation of Surp Giragos Armenian Church.  The church remained closed and these cases continued at year’s end.  During the year, the government did not pay restitution and compensation to the religious groups for the expropriation of property damaged in fighting with the PKK.

In May the government returned 56 properties in Mardin to the Syriac community through an omnibus bill passed by parliament.  According to media reports, the properties were among 110 Syriac properties turned over to government entities in 2014 amid changes to the zoning plans that went into effect without the knowledge of the community.  Following the decision, the Mor Gabriel Foundation received the returned properties, and its chair, Kuryakos Ergun, explained to media outlets that while the decision brought joy to the community, there were still disputes over additional monasteries, churches, cemeteries, and their adjacent land.

The government did not return any additional properties it had seized in previous decades by year’s end.  From 2011, when the compensation law was passed, through 2013, when the period for submitting compensation applications expired, the GDF received 1,560 applications from religious minority foundations that sought compensation for seized properties.  Because the period for submitting new applications expired in 2013, no new applications were filed during the year.  In previous years, the GDF returned 333 properties and paid compensation for 21 additional properties.  The GDF had rejected the other applications pending from 2011; it said the applications did not meet the criteria as outlined in the 2011 compensation law.  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 say these unresolved claims, submitted from 2011 until 2013 were an issue for their communities.  Due to their legal status, recognized religious foundations were eligible to receive compensation for their seized properties, but religious institutions and communities without legally recognized foundations were not.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, for the fourth year the government’s religious television channel Diyanet TV broadcast a daily recitation of Quranic verses from the Hagia Sophia, which was secularized and transformed into a museum in 1935.  The Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church and cathedral of the Byzantine Empire from 537-1453, and a mosque from 1453-1931.  In June then head of the Diyanet Mehmet Gormez gave a special interview from the Hagia Sophia while the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast from its minarets.  In September the Constitutional Court rejected on procedural grounds an appeal from a private association to allow regular Muslim prayers to take place in the Hagia Sophia.

Religious communities, particularly Alevis, raised concerns about several of the government’s education policies.  At year’s end, the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ECHR ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom.  The ECHR 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 the community’s religious convictions.  Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECHR decision, but Alevi groups stated the material was inadequate and in some cases incorrect.

In December a group of students at a public high school in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District protested their school administration for being pressured by “Islamist students supported by school principals” to attend “religious conversations” in their spare time.  The school administration started an investigation of students who participated in the protests according to media reports.  Egitim-Is, an education sector union, criticized the school administration and contended the government handed secular schools over to religious groups.

Some secular individuals, Alevis, and others continued to criticize the Ministry of National Education’s extensive July 2017 revision of the school curriculum.  The criticisms focused on increased Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks and cuts to some material on reforms enacted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secularist founder of the Republic of Turkey.  The new curriculum included the Islamic concept of jihad in textbooks and omitted the theory of evolution, among other changes.  In September Alevi associations and foundations in Izmir protested compulsory religion classes and issued a press statement that criticized the education policies for ignoring Alevi citizens.

In January the Diyanet issued a memorandum to its local directorates for Sunni preachers to provide seminars for middle school students on “moral values,” including martyrdom.  With the approval of the governor’s office, five schools in Canakkale were included in the program.

The teachers’ union Egitim-Sen applied to the Council of State, which hears cases seeking to change administrative policies of the government, to end a “moral values” education protocol.  The council did not rule on the request by year’s end.  In December 2017, the Ministry of National Education signed a three-year protocol with the Islamist Hizmet Foundation to provide “moral values” education across the country during regular school hours.  Egitim-Sen stated that holding such programs during school hours would force students to attend and criticized the ministry for allegedly devolving its duties to an organization with links to an illegal religious group.  In January a group of parents in Izmir’s Buca District petitioned to obtain information on the courses provided by the foundation and said students were given Quran classes and not “moral values” education.  In response, the school canceled the classes the same month.

Some school textbooks continued to contain language critical of missionaries.  One recommended eighth-grade textbook entitled History of the Turkish Republic Reforms and Ataturkism listed missionary activities in a section titled “National Threats.”

In September the National Education Ministry issued a regulation allowing separate classrooms for girls and boys in multi-program high schools.  Egitim-Sen and secularist groups criticized the decision as undermining secular education in the country.  Officials from the Ministry of Education denied allegations the change was a step towards creating single gender classrooms in all schools.  Multi-program schools bring regular, technical, and vocational high schools together in less populated areas where the requirement for the minimum number of students for each program cannot be met.

Secular education proponents continued to criticize publicly the assignment of Diyanet employees to university dormitories as an example of greater religious influence on the education system.  In September 2017 the Diyanet announced a plan to expand and make permanent a pilot program launched in 2016 to assign Diyanet employees, including imams, to university dormitories operated by the government in every province.  The Diyanet stated the officials would provide “moral guidance” to address the “moral values” problems in the dorms, and provide the Diyanet’s provincial mufti with performance reviews every six months.

Non-Sunni 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 concerning different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as “Muslim.”  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 the Alevi beliefs as mysticism.

Members of other minority religious groups, including Protestants, also said they continued to have difficulty obtaining exemptions from religion classes.  Some sources said that because schools provided no alternative for students exempted from the compulsory religious instruction, those students stood out and as a result could face additional social stigma.

The government continued to provide funding for public, private, and religious schools teaching Islam.  It did not do so for minority schools 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 their other expenses through donations, including from church foundations and alumni.

The government continued to permit the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations 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 legally classify migrant and refugee children as “visitors,” however, they were ineligible to receive a diploma 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.  According to members of the Syriac Orthodox community, which has operated a preschool since 2014, the community was still unable to open additional schools due to financial reasons.  The government did not grant permission to other religious groups to operate schools.

The government continued to limit the number of students admitted to public secondary schools and assigned tens of thousands of students to state-run “imam hatip” religious schools based in part on their entrance exam scores, proximity, and other admissions factors.  The government continued to convert many nonreligious public schools to imam hatip schools, citing demand, and students and families reported this created a geographic hurdle for those who preferred to attend secular public schools.  Enrollment in the imam hatip schools increased to more than 1.3 million students, up from approximately one million in 2015.  Since the 2016 coup attempt, the government has closed at least 1,065 private schools, many affiliated with the Gulen movement or related groups, on antiterror grounds.  The government converted some of these private schools to imam hatip schools.

Many public buildings, including universities, maintained small mosques in which Muslims could pray.  In June 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.

In January the Ministry of National Education allowed distribution in schools of a book containing text from an Islamic association that insulted Jews and Alevis.  The book described Alevis as atheists and asked students “not to become like Jews.”

The government continued to provide training for Sunni Muslim clerics while restricting other religious groups from training clerics inside the country.  Because of the lack of monastic seminaries within the country, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Patriarchates remained unable to train clerics.  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I repeatedly called on the government to allow the Halki Seminary to re-open as an independent institution to enable training of Greek Orthodox clerics in the country.  A 1971 Constitutional Court ruling prohibited the operation of private institutions of higher education and led to the seminary’s closure.  According to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the continued closure interrupted a tradition of instruction dating back centuries to the historical roots of the school as a monastery.  In July the Diyanet announced plans to open an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.

The government continued not to authorize clerics of religious groups designated as non-Islamic to register and officiate at marriages on behalf of the state.  Imams received this authority in November 2017.  Some critics continued to state that the law ignored the needs of other religious groups by solely addressing the demands of some within the Sunni Muslim majority.

The Diyanet regulated the operation of all registered mosques.  It paid the salaries of 109,332 Sunni personnel at the end of 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with 112,725 in 2016.  The government did not pay the salaries of religious leaders, instructors, or other staff belonging to other religious groups.  In January 2016 the Ombudsman Institution responded to an appeal by the Boyacikoy Surp Yerits Mangants Armenian Church Foundation, issuing an advisory opinion that the Diyanet should pay priests’ salaries.  The chief ombudsman said he supported “eliminating unjust treatment by amending relevant regulations.”  By year’s end there still had been no action on this issue.

The government continued to provide land for the construction of Sunni mosques and fund their construction through municipalities.  According to the Diyanet’s most recent published statistics, early in the year, there were 88,021 mosques in the country.  Although Alevi groups were able to build new cemevis, the government continued to decline to provide financial support for their construction.

In April Diyanet President Ali Erbas described deism as heresy in an interview and said no Turkish citizen would follow such a “heretical and superstitious” philosophy.

In September a teacher in Arnavutkoy district of Istanbul said a meal prepared by an Alevi could not be eaten.  Upon complaints by Alevi students and associations, the Education Directorate dismissed the teacher the same month.

The government continued to permit annual and other commemorative religious worship services at religiously significant sites previously converted to state museums, such as St. Peter’s Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas’ Church near Demre, St. Paul Church near Isparta, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk.  The Ecumenical Patriarchate again cancelled an annual service at Sumela Monastery near Trabzon because of its continuing restoration and held the ceremony at an alternative site.  In September the acting Armenian patriarch led a Mass at the historic Armenian Ahtamar Church near Van.  The minister of tourism and culture also attended.  Authorities had canceled annual services starting in 2015 due to security concerns caused by clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK.

In July the assembly of the GDF passed a decision that allowed allocation of places of worship under GDF ownership to different religious minorities free of charge.  With the decision, previously expropriated churches and synagogues could be reopened for use by religious minorities.  Following passage of the resolution, Sacre Coeur, a Jesuit church built in 1910 in Istanbul, was allocated for use of the Syriac Catholic community.  Mar Yuhanna Church in Hatay, formerly a Syriac church that was no longer in use, was also allocated for use of the Greek Orthodox Church Foundation in Hatay.  The GDF renovated and reopened Mar Yuhanna in 2017.

Renovations concluded in May on a church in Bursa.  In April 2017, then Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak announced government funds would renovate the church.  The church remained open for religious services during the renovation.  Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Turkish Protestant congregations continued to share the building, owned by the GDF for more than 10 years.  In June a local court in Bursa approved the application by the Protestant community in Bursa to start a foundation.  In September the foundation applied to the GDF for long-term use of the church, which all denominations would continue to use.  At year’s end the government had not responded to its request.

Government funding for dailies and weeklies published by minority communities increased from 150,000 Turkish Lira (TL) ($28,400) in 2017 to TL 200,000 ($37,900) in 2018.

According to media reports, multiple government officials made anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in May, including drawing parallels between the Israeli government and Hitler.  In November President Erdogan referred to the head of Open Society Foundations George Soros as “the famous Hungarian Jew,” adding, “This is a man who was assigned to divide nations and shatter them.”  In August Muharrem Ince, CHP’s presidential candidate in the June elections, posted a tweet criticizing Erdogan and the ruling party, “You are the ones whose services have earned you the Jewish Courage Prize and who deem the award worthy of yourselves,” alluding to Erdogan’s 2005 receipt of the Courage to Care Award from the Anti-Defamation League.  Ince later apologized.

Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 25, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Ambassador Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the parliamentary foreign relations commission, attended.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a written statement commemorating the event.  In February the government again 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, MFA representatives, Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration.  Speakers at the commemoration emphasized the importance of not forgetting such tragedies to preventing future atrocities.

Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders again joined representatives from various municipalities in Istanbul for a public interfaith iftar in June and exchanged messages of coexistence and tolerance.

In January President Erdogan presided over the reopening ceremony of the Sveti Stefan Bulgarian Orthodox Church after a seven-year restoration with funding mainly from the Istanbul Municipality.  Then Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also attended the ceremony.

In April the governor of Batman District opened Mor Aho Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Gercus District for cultural site visits after two years of renovation.

In September President Erdogan sent a message to the Jewish community celebrating Rosh Hashanah and said “religious diversity is part of Turkey’s wealth.”  In December the Jewish community celebrated the conclusion of Hanukkah with a ceremony at a public park in Istanbul’s Nisantisi neighborhood in which members of the community, local officials, and members of the diplomatic community took turns lighting a menorah.  President Erdogan also released a statement noting the country had always attached great importance “to our citizens living together in peace without facing any discrimination…and to the freedom of religion and faith,” and wished the community peace on the holiday.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Alevis expressed concern about continued anonymous threats of violence and the arrest of members of an Alevi association on charges of supporting a terrorist organization.  ISIS and other actors continued to threaten Jews, Protestants, and Muslim groups in the country.  Some progovernment news commentators published stories and political cartoons seeking to associate the 2016 attempted coup plotters and the economic difficulties of the country with the Jewish community.

Members of the Jewish community continued to express concern about anti-Semitism and threats of violence throughout the country, although there were no incidents of violence reported during the year.  According to the community, the government continued to provide the community with extensive security against a possible attack by ISIS, based on previous threats and attacks.  Jewish community members said the government measures were helpful and that the government was responsive to requests for security.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric, especially on social media, peaked during periods of heightened tension in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  According to a 2018 report on hate speech by the civil-rights organization, Hrant Dink Foundation, there were 427 published instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric between January and April.  The foundation’s hate speech monitoring project consistently reported anti-Semitic statements and commentary in media during the year that attributed conspiratorial plots, negative characteristics, and “fascist beliefs” to Jews and other groups.

In January a columnist in daily Dirilis Postasi argued that the Middle East was a victim of “Jewish and Christian terror.”  In March a columnist in the progovernment Takvim daily claimed “crusader Christians and Zionist Jews” were in an alliance to undermine Turkey’s progress.  In June a columnist in a local newspaper in Ankara called for boycotting “all Jewish goods” to undermine the economy of Israel.

Several Christian places of worship experienced acts of vandalism and received threats.  In February a group of attackers threw a smoke bomb into the courtyard of Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon.  Police detained five individuals following the occurrence and released them after taking statements.  In March a man fired a gun at the same church.  Police took him into custody after he fled the scene.

In April local press quoting police sources reported that an individual suffering from mental disorders vandalized the Surp Takavor Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District.  Vandals dumped garbage in front of the church’s main gate and wrote “This country is ours.” on the walls.  The Kadikoy municipality issued a written statement condemning the occurrence and reported that the gate was cleaned by municipal workers.

In October representatives of the Turkish Orthodox Church, a small nationalist organization not recognized by any of the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches, filed an official complaint against Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and members of the Synod following their decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.  In its complaint, the Turkish Orthodox Church stated that the autocephaly decision “incited hatred and enmity among the public, abused their religious authority, involved activity against fundamental national interests, and provoked war against the country.”  The prosecutor office did not take action on the complaint at year’s end.

In July TV8 blurred the crucifix necklace of a U.S. singer when her picture appeared on the screen.  Many social media users and some newspapers criticized the channel for being disrespectful.

In July a columnist in the Turkiye daily stated in his column that non-Sunnis were heretics and they would burn in hell.  Also in July another columnist for the Star daily said non-Sunni scholars in theology faculties were “heretics” and should not be part of the faculty.

In June the Syriac Orthodox community reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic community to build a second church in Istanbul to accommodate its growing population.  The Syriac Orthodox community to date had only one church in Istanbul to serve an estimated local population of 17,000 to 20,000.  Because the land offered by the Istanbul municipality to the Syriac Church Foundation to build a second church previously belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, the Regional Board for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage required a written agreement between the two communities before the project could proceed.

Various nationalist Islamic groups continued to advocate for transforming some former Orthodox churches, including Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum, into mosques.  In May approximately 2,500 individuals gathered outside Hagia Sophia to participate in the morning prayer in celebration of the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul, an annual gathering organized by the Islamist Anatolian Youth Association.  After the prayer, the group called for reopening the museum as a mosque.  The campaigns intensified after the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, a 12th-century Byzantine church that had been operating as a museum for the previous 50 years, was converted into a mosque in 2013.

In June the Jewish community again hosted an iftar at the Grand Edirne Synagogue for hundreds of participants, including Muslims and Christians.  On June 6, then Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu attended a joint iftar dinner hosted by the religious minority communities in Istanbul.  Speakers at the iftar underlined Turkey’s history of coexistence and referred to pluralism as “richness.”

According to Turkish polling firm Konda, 40 percent of respondents in a poll conducted during the year accepted the idea of having a son or daughter-in-law of a different religion, compared with 30 percent in 2008.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Charge d’Affaires, other U.S. embassy and consulate officials, and other visiting U.S. officials regularly engaged with government officials throughout the year, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diyanet, and GDF.  They underscored the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and condemning hateful or discriminatory language directed at any religious groups.  Among other issues, they urged the government to implement reforms aimed at lifting restrictions on religious groups, raised the issue of property restitution and restoration, and discussed specific cases of religious discrimination.  Senior U.S. government officials continued to view the Hagia Sophia as a site of extraordinary significance and to support its preservation in a manner that respects its complex history.  They raised the issue with government officials and emphasized that the Hagia Sophia is a symbol of peaceful coexistence, meaningful dialogue, and respect among religions.  Senior U.S. officials and official visitors urged the rapid restitution of church properties expropriated in Diyarbakir and Mardin and expressed appreciation for those returned.

The President, Vice President, and the Secretary of State publicly called for the immediate release of Andrew Brunson on multiple occasions.  In August the U.S. government imposed Global Magnitsky sanctions on the ministers of interior and of justice for playing leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Brunson; those sanctions were lifted in November following Brunson’s release.  Senior U.S. government officials, the Charge d’Affaires, and embassy staff visited Brunson while in detention and under house arrest.

The Secretary of State and other senior U.S. government officials continued to urge government officials to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary in Halki.

In January the Charge d’Affaires attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Ankara University with senior government officials and the leadership of the country’s Jewish community, which was well received in local media.

Senior U.S. embassy and consulate officials regularly engaged with a wide range of religious community leaders to hear and address their concerns, visit their places of worship, and promote interreligious dialogue.  Officials from the embassy and consulates met with members of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Armenian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Protestant, Alevi, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Baha’i Faith communities, among others, throughout the country.  The embassy and consulates utilized Twitter and Facebook to emphasize the importance of inclusion of religious minorities, including messages under hashtags such as #DiniÖzgürlükGünü and #ReligiousFreedomDayIsEveryday on designated days for recognizing and underscoring U.S. commitment to religious freedom and human rights.

Turkmenistan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom of religion and for the right of individuals to choose their religion, express and disseminate their religious beliefs, and participate in religious observances and ceremonies.  The constitution maintains the separation of government and religion, stipulating religious organizations are prohibited from “interference” in state affairs.  The religion law requires all religious organizations, including those previously registered under an earlier version of the law, to register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to operate legally, a process also involving the concurrence of numerous government agencies.  The law states the MOJ will not register a religious organization if its goals or activities contradict the country’s constitution or if it is not recognized as a religion by the relevant state body under the grand mufti’s leadership.  The law also states that the government may dissolve a religious organization for activities violating the lawful interests of the country’s citizens or for harming their “health and morale.”  It prohibits all activity by unregistered religious groups.  According to the international religious freedom advocacy nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18, 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientious objectors were imprisoned for refusing military service.  Authorities arrested and detained individuals, including members of religious communities, in harsh conditions.  Forum 18 said there were more than 100 Muslim prisoners of conscience, most being held in the high-security Ovadan Depe Prison.  According to Forum 18, in July the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of five Muslim men who were sentenced in 2017 to 12 years’ prison labor for meeting to pray and study the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi.  The government did not register any new religious groups during the year.  The government does not offer civilian service alternatives for conscientious objectors, and in September rejected the UN Human Rights Council’s recommendation that it do so.  Local human rights activists stated Ministry of National Security (MNB) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) officers responsible for fighting organized crime and terrorism continued to monitor members of religious minorities, including Christian groups, through telephonic and undercover surveillance.  According to local religious communities and international advocacy groups, members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups continued to face harassment, raids, fines, seizure of literature, and house searches.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that authorities detained and questioned both adults and children regarding possessing religious material and participating in religious activities.  The government continued to appoint all senior Muslim clerics, to prevent the importation of religious literature, and to create difficulties for religious groups attempting to purchase or lease buildings or land for religious purposes.  Ethnic Turkmen who converted from Islam continued to say the government scrutinized them more closely than ethnic non-Turkmen converts.

Individuals deviating from so-called “traditional” religious beliefs and practices continued to report societal criticism, harassment, and occasional physical violence, including denunciation by family members, friends, and neighbors for converting to a different religion.  Members of registered Christian religious organizations continued to report ongoing hostility from acquaintances due to their religious affiliation.  Ethnic Turkmen who had converted from Islam received more societal scrutiny than ethnic non-Turkmen converts and continued to be ostracized at community events, especially in rural areas, according to representatives of religious minorities.

In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the U.S. Ambassador, embassy representatives, and visiting U.S. government officials continued to express concern about arrests and detention of members of religious communities, and harsh prison conditions.  U.S. officials, including the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, met with government officials and urged the government to improve its treatment of religious minorities, create civilian service alternatives to military service for conscientious objectors, clarify registration and reregistration procedures for religious organizations, and lift restrictions on the importation and distribution of religious literature.  In October the embassy held a roundtable with various religious organizations to discuss the status of their reregistration, limitations to the importation of religious literature, and restrictions to their religious rights.

Since 2014, Turkmenistan 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 28, 2018 the Secretary of State redesignated Turkmenistan as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to U.S. government estimates, the country is 89 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 9 percent Eastern Orthodox, and 2 percent other.  There are small communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shia Muslims, Baha’is, Roman Catholics, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and evangelical Christians, including Baptists and Pentecostals.

Most ethnic Russians and Armenians are Christian and generally are members of the Russian Orthodox Church or Armenian Apostolic Church.  Some ethnic Russians and Armenians are also members of smaller religious groups.

There are small pockets of Shia Muslims, made up of ethnic Iranians, Azeris, and Kurds, located along the border with Iran and in the western city of Turkmenbashy.

According to the Israeli embassy, 200-250 Jews live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and for the right of individuals to choose their religion, express and disseminate their religious beliefs, and participate in religious observances and ceremonies.  The constitution separates the roles of government and religion, stipulating religious organizations are prohibited from “interference” in state affairs or carrying out state functions.  The constitution states public education shall be secular in nature.  It provides for the equality of citizens before the law regardless of their religious preference.

The 2016 Law on Religious Organizations and Religious Freedom requires all religious organizations, including those that had registered previously, to register with the MOJ to operate legally within the country.  The law permits only the registration of “religious organizations,” which must have at least 50 resident members above the age of 18.  The law defines a religious organization as a voluntary association of citizens affiliated with a religion, organized to conduct religious services and other rites and ceremonies, as well as to provide religious education, and registered in accordance with the country’s legislation.

According to the law, the State Commission on Religious Organizations and Expert Evaluation of Religious Information Resources (SCROEERIR) is responsible for helping registered religious organizations work with government agencies, explaining the law to representatives of religious organizations, monitoring the activities of religious organizations to ensure they comply with the law, assisting with the translation and publication of religious literature, and promoting understanding and tolerance among different religious organizations.  The law states SCROEERIR must approve all individuals appointed as leaders of religious organizations, although the law does not specify the procedures for obtaining the consent of SCROERRIR.  SCROERRIR operates under the leadership of the grand mufti, who by law is appointed by the government, as are all other senior Muslim clerics.  The deputy chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers for education, health, religion, sports, tourism, science, new technologies, and innovation oversees SCROEERIR’s work.

To register, organizations must submit to SCROEERIR their contact information; proof of address; a statement requesting registration signed by the founders and board members of the organization; two copies of the organization’s charter; a registration fee of 200 manat ($57); and the names, addresses, and dates of birth of the organization’s founders.  Once SCROEERIR endorses an application for registration, it is submitted to the MOJ, which coordinates an interministerial approval process involving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), MNB, MVD, and other government offices.  According to government procedures, the MOJ may additionally request biographic information on all the members of an organization applying for registration.  The law states that leaders of registered religious organizations must be citizens who have received an “appropriate religious education,” but does not define that term.  Each branch of a registered religious organization must also register, and the registration process is the same as that which applies to the parent organization.

The tax code stipulates registered religious organizations are exempt from taxes.

The law states the MOJ will not register a religious organization if its goals or activities contradict the constitution or if SCROEERIR does not endorse its application.  The law does not specify the standards SCROEERIR uses to make that determination.  The law assigns the Office of the Prosecutor General to monitor the compliance of a religious organization with the constitution.  The law specifies a court may suspend the activities of a religious organization if it determines the organization to be in violation of the constitution.  The law also states that grounds for dissolution of a religious organization include activities “that violate the rights, freedoms, and lawful interests of citizens” or “harm their health and morale.”

The administrative code covering religious organizations delineates a schedule of fines for conducting activities not described in a religious organization’s charter.

Unregistered religious organizations and unregistered branches of registered religious organizations may not legally conduct religious activities; establish places of worship; gather for religious services, including in private residences; produce or disseminate religious materials; or proselytize.  Any such activity is punishable as an administrative offense by fines ranging from 100 to 1,000 manat ($29 to $290), with higher fines for religious leaders and lower fines for lay members.

The law states MOJ officials have the right to attend any religious event held by a registered religious organization and to question religious leaders about any aspect of their activities.

The administrative code stipulates penalties from 200 to 500 manat ($57 to $140) for officials who violate an individual’s right of freedom to worship or right to abstain from worship.

The criminal and administrative codes provide punishment for the harassment of members of registered religious organizations by private individuals.  According to the administrative code, obstructing the exercise of religious freedom is punishable by a fine up to 1,000 manat ($290) or detention for 15 days.  The criminal code states such an obstruction is punishable with a fine up to 6,500 manat ($1,900) or one year of “corrective labor,” which involves serving in a government-assigned position in a prison near one’s home or at a location away from one’s home.  If an obstruction involves a physical attack, the punishment may entail up to two years in prison.

The law allows registered religious organizations to create educational establishments to train clergy and other religious personnel after obtaining a license to do so.  The Cabinet of Ministers establishes the procedures for obtaining a license.  The law also states individuals teaching religious disciplines at religious educational establishments should have a theological education and carry out their activities with the permission of the central governing body of the religious organization and the approval of SCROEERIR.

Local governments have the right to monitor and “analyze” the “religious situation” within their jurisdiction, send proposals to SCROEERIR to “modernize” legislation on religious freedom, and coordinate religious ceremonies conducted outside of religious buildings.

In June the government amended the family code to ban polygamy, effective September 1.  Under the criminal code, polygamy carries penalties of up to two years of labor or fines of 8,800 to 13,200 manat ($2,500 to $3,800).

The law prohibits the publication of religious literature inciting “religious, national, ethnic, and/or racial hatred,” although it does not specify which agency makes this determination.  SCROEERIR must approve imported religious literature; only registered religious organizations may import literature.  Registered religious organizations may be fined for publishing or disseminating religious material without government approval.  The administrative code sets out a detailed schedule of fines, ranging from 200 to 2,000 manat ($57 to $570), for producing, importing, and disseminating unauthorized religious literature and other religious materials.

The law on religious freedom and religious organizations states religious customs, rituals, and ceremonies may be held on residential property, but the housing code states communal housing should not be used for activities other than habitation.

The law allows local governments, with the consent of SCROEERIR, to make decisions regarding the construction of religious buildings and structures within their jurisdiction.

Religious instruction is not part of the public school curriculum.  The law allows registered religious organizations to provide religious education to children for up to four hours per week with parental and SCROEERIR approval, although the law does not specify the requirements for obtaining SCROEERIR’s approval.  Persons who graduate from institutions of higher religious education, and who obtain approval from SCROEERIR, may provide religious education.  According to the law, citizens have a right to obtain religious education, although obtaining religious education in private settings such as residences is banned.  Persons offering religious education in private settings are subject to legal action.  The law prohibits unregistered religious groups or unregistered branches of registered religious organizations from providing religious education.  The administrative code sets out a detailed schedule of fines, ranging from 100 to 500 manat ($29 to $140), for providing unauthorized religious education to children.

The constitution states two years of military service are compulsory for men over the age of 18.  Per the provisions of the constitution and the law, the government does not offer civilian service alternatives for conscientious objectors.  Refusal to perform the compulsory two-year service in the armed forces is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison or two years of “corrective labor.”  In addition, the state withholds part of the salaries of prisoners sentenced to corrective labor in the amount designated by the court.  Salary deductions range between 5-20 percent.  The law states no one has the right for religious reasons to refuse duties established by the constitution and the law.

The constitution and law prohibit the establishment of political parties on the basis of religion, and the law prohibits the involvement of religious groups in politics.

The law does not address the activities of foreign missionaries and foreign religious organizations.  The administrative code, however, bans registered religious organizations from receiving assistance from foreign entities for prohibited activities, including missionary work.

The law requires religious groups to register all foreign assistance with the MOJ and provide interim and final reports on the use of funds.  The administrative code provides a detailed schedule of fines – up to 10,000 manat ($2,900) – for both unregistered and registered religious groups for accepting unapproved funds from foreign sources.

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

Government Practices

According to Forum 18, during the year, 10 Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientious objectors aged 18 to 24 were imprisoned for refusing military service.  According to Forum 18 and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the conscientious objectors were sent to the Seydi Prison in Turkmenabat Province.

According to Forum 18, on July 11, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of five Muslim men who were sentenced in 2017 to 12 years prison labor for meeting to pray and study the works of Turkish theologian Said Nursi.  Four of the five were reportedly held at the high-security Ovadan Depe Prison in the Karakum Desert, where, according to Forum 18, “prisoners have suffered torture and death from abuse or neglect.”  The fifth man, reportedly a former police officer or other official, was sent to a special labor camp for former law enforcement officials at Akdash near Turkmenbashi.  Forum 18 said authorities in various states in the region accused Muslims who meet to study Nursi’s works of being members of an “extremist” group named “Nurjylar” (from the Turkish word “Nurcular,” meaning “Nursi followers”); however, Muslims who study Nursi’s work denied any such group exists.

According to the Christian rights advocacy NGO Open Doors USA, in April authorities raided a house meeting of Christian converts.  They arrested everyone present, took them to the police station, and questioned them for several hours.  Police released them after questioning, but group members remained under strict police surveillance.

Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that because the group was not registered, officials “mistreat the Witnesses, raid their peaceful meetings, seize their religious publications, try to restrict any religious activity, and pressure them to renounce their faith.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses said authorities searched homes, seized religious literature, confiscated mobile phones they said contained religious material, and interrogated individuals at police stations.  Police also interrogated children of Jehovah’s Witnesses at their schools and forced them to sign statements about participating in religious events.  Courts fined individuals for possessing religious material.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in one case, authorities interrogated two female Witnesses, searched their apartment, seized a Bible and other religious literature, and then took them to the police station.  The officers accused one woman of being a spy, and threatened to jail her and send her child to an orphanage.  In another case, a court fined two students who had the JW Library application (which contained religious publications) installed on their mobile phones for storage and distribution of materials of religious extremism.

According to reports, prison conditions for individuals, including members of religious communities, were harsh, including overcrowding, lack of heat or air conditioning, poor food, lack of bathing facilities, and poor medical care.  Forum 18 reported the government continued to refuse to provide information on persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs.  Severe restrictions on communication with prisoners prevented Forum 18 from establishing their status, including whether they remained alive.

According to Forum 18, more than 100 Muslims from in and around Turkmenabad remained in prison, most of them held in the high-security Ovadan Depe Prison, accused of meeting to study and pray.  The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, an international NGO, reported in its online media outlet Chronicles of Turkmenistan that in September the country rejected the UN Human Rights Council’s recommendation, made in the Universal Periodic Review of the country in May, to end incommunicado detention of prisoners, including those held in Ovadan Depe.

On July 9, the Russia-based human rights NGO Memorial issued a statement citing “a trustworthy source” as saying that authorities allowed more than 30 relatives of inmates convicted on what Memorial said were “charges of so-called ‘Islamic extremism’” to visit their loved ones in Ovadan Depe Prison on June 28.  Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that Memorial said the government granted the visits after pressure from international human rights groups.

Forum 18 and the Russian online news agency Fergananews.com reported that in September the government formally rejected the UN Human Rights Council’s recommendation, made in the Universal Periodic Review of the country in May, to adopt alternatives to military service for conscientious objectors.

According to Open Doors USA, “It is very common for members of Protestant churches to be regarded as followers of an alien sect aiming to depose the government – reinforcing the government’s need to control and eradicate Christians.”

In April the official daily newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan reported the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe organized a two-day seminar in Ashgabat on combating the threats of extremism and radicalism.  Various ministries and agencies took part in the seminar.  Participants highlighted what they termed the country’s unique experience with preventing youth radicalization.

RFE/RL reported that in July a deputy foreign minister met with foreign ministers from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyz Republic.  The government agreed to increase cooperation against what it termed international terrorism and religious extremism, but did not take any follow up action as of year’s end.

The government did not register any new religious organizations during the year, as compared with reregistering five in 2017.  Several religious groups stated they had submitted applications, which the MOJ returned citing administrative errors.  By year’s end, the government had not provided any new information regarding the registration process for religious organizations, and the registration process remained unclear.  According to the NGO International Christian Concern, in January six evangelical Christian churches submitted a letter to the president asking to be allowed to register as official religious communities.  In the letter, the churches requested permission to open a Christian bookstore and to obtain their own building, which the six groups could collectively share for services.  As of year’s end the government had not acted on the request.

In October the government reported there were 131 registered religious organizations operating in the country.  Of the 131, 107 were Muslim (102 Sunni and five Shia); 13 Russian Orthodox; and 11 categorized as other religious groups, including Baha’is, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Local human rights activists stated MNB and MVD officers responsible for fighting organized crime and terrorism continued to monitor members of religious minorities, including Christian groups, through telephonic and undercover surveillance.  The activists said the attitudes of senior government officials toward religion reflected Soviet-era practices, despite legal provisions protecting freedom of religion.  According to the Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List Country Report, which covered 2018, “The police, secret services and local authorities monitor religious activities, raid nonregistered churches and infiltrate church services.”  Open Doors USA said Russian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches “may also experience Sunday services being monitored.”

Turkmen who converted from Islam continued to say the government scrutinized them more closely than ethnic non-Turkmen converts.

Unregistered groups stated their members were subject to arrest for “unlawful assembly” in addition to fines stipulated by law.  Members of these groups said they continued to practice discreetly, mostly in private homes, and could do so as long as neighbors did not file complaints with local authorities.  According to Open Doors USA, in areas where churches have not been registered police repeatedly raided, threatened, arrested, and fined Christians.  According to International Christian Concern, some evangelical Christian church groups met secretly in cafes and restaurants.

Local religious groups continued to report that security services regularly interviewed members of religious organizations and demanded they provide information on their communities’ activities.

Representatives of registered Christian groups said some government officials continued to require them to obtain approval to carry out routine religious activities, such as weekly services, as well as social and charitable activities, including summer camps for children.  Multiple groups said the government denied them permission to conduct study groups and seminars, even when it permitted them to hold weekly services.

In July the government announced it would sponsor Hajj travel for 153 pilgrims, a decrease from previous years and the lowest number since 2009.  In 2017, Forum 18 reported those allowed to join the government-sponsored Hajj group needed approval from several state agencies, including police and the MNB.  Joining the government-sponsored group cost approximately 7,000 manat ($2,000), according to Forum 18.  The government reported 2,100 persons were self-funded but did not report how many individuals applied for the pilgrimage.  As in previous years, the government allowed self-funded pilgrims to make their own arrangements to participate in the Hajj.

Religious groups reported the government continued to prevent them from importing religious literature and from subscribing to foreign religious publications.  Although by law registered religious groups were allowed to import religious literature, they said the government’s complex customs procedures made it extremely difficult.  The Quran remained unavailable in state bookstores in Ashgabat, although many individuals kept a Soviet-era copy in Arabic or Russian in their homes.  Few translations were available in the Turkmen language.  The government continued to refuse to authorize distribution of a Turkmen-language translation of the Bible printed in Russia.

Members of various religious groups reported the government and state-affiliated enterprises continued to interfere in the purchase or long-term rental of land and buildings for worship or meeting purposes.  Registered religious groups reported continued difficulty in renting space for holiday celebrations from private landlords, which they attributed to landlords’ concerns about potential government disapproval.

In September a new mosque opened in Ashgabat’s Parahat 7/3 district.  This was the first mosque built in Ashgabat in the last 14 years.  Mosques were under construction in Tejen and in Turkmenabat at year’s end.

Theology faculty in the Turkmen State University history department in Ashgabat continued to be the only university-level faculty members allowed to provide Islamic higher education.  The MNB reportedly continued to vet student candidates for admission to this program.  It was not possible to study theological subjects other than state-approved Islamic theology.  Women remained banned from the program.

According to members of the Protestant community, clergy in Protestant organizations continued to receive their religious education abroad or via distance learning.

The government continued its practice of approving the appointment of all senior Muslim clerics.  The Russian Orthodox Church and other religious groups continued to be financed independently; the government was not involved in appointing their leadership, but the senior Russian Orthodox priest was required to be a Turkmen citizen.

According to Forum 18, the MVD and security services continued to place many religious believers on a “travel blacklist.”  Officials subjected persons permitted to travel abroad to close scrutiny upon departure and re-entry into the country.

According to an article published by the Alternative News of Turkmenistan website habartm.org, officials at the Ashgabat airport questioned returning travelers from Turkey, particularly if they had Turkish residence permits.  Authorities questioned women wearing the hijab.  According to the article, in January one woman said authorities asked her why she was wearing the hijab, how often she prayed, whether she attended a mosque, and how long she had been practicing these religious activities.  She said the officials also questioned her about her Turkish husband’s religious practices.

The government continued its practice of denying visas to foreigners suspected of conducting or intending to conduct missionary activity.  Religious groups able to obtain religious visitor visas for foreign religious speakers said the government continued to grant such visas for very short durations and required the groups to complete burdensome paperwork.  As in previous years, the government did not report the number of religious visitors it allowed to visit the country, nor did it report the number of visa applications of foreign religious visitors it had denied.

In October the government reported religious representatives from Germany, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States visited the country at various times during the year and met with fellow believers.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local sources said persons deviating from traditional religious beliefs and practices continued to report harassment, such as public shaming, by their family members, friends, and neighbors.  Members of registered Christian groups continued to report hostility from acquaintances due to their religious affiliation.

Persons who joined so-called “nontraditional” religious groups reported continuing societal criticism.  Ethnic Turkmen who converted from Islam received more societal scrutiny than ethnic non-Turkmen converts and continued to be ostracized at community events, especially in rural areas, according to representatives of religious minorities.

According to Open Doors USA, Muslims who converted to Christianity faced pressure and occasional physical violence from families, friends, and local communities to return to their former faith.  Open Doors USA said some converts were locked up by their families for long periods, beaten, and sometimes expelled from their communities.

Forum 18 reported the level of societal harassment again increased for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who stated they continued to be treated with suspicion and scrutiny by fellow citizens.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings and official correspondence with government officials, the Ambassador, embassy representatives, and visiting U.S. government officials continued to express concerns about the arrests and detention of individuals, including members of religious communities, in harsh conditions.  In October the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities and other Department of State officials met with high-level MFA representatives to discuss abuses of religious freedom, such as the imprisonment of members of religious communities for engaging in peaceful religious practice, and to urge the government to take positive steps to improve religious freedom.  The Special Advisor and other U.S officials urged the government to create civilian service alternatives for conscientious objectors to military service, clarify registration procedures for religious organizations, streamline the process of registering new groups, and lift restrictions on the importation and distribution of religious literature.

In October the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities and other Department of State officials met with five religious organizations to discuss the registration and reregistration process, limitations to the importation of religious literature, and restrictions to their religious rights.

Since 2014, Turkmenistan 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 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Turkmenistan as a CPC and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation as required in the “important national interest of the United States.”

Uganda

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates there shall be no state religion.  It provides for freedom of belief, the right to practice and promote any religion, and to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious organization in a manner consistent with the constitution.  The government requires religious groups to register.  The government restricted activities of religious groups it defined as “illegal” and arrested some individuals it accused of running “illegal churches.”  Local nongovernmental organizations, the media, a politician, and the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) all stated the government disproportionately and unfairly arrested and imprisoned Muslims and continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring senior and lower-level officials.  Former Minister of Security Henry Tumukunde accused the Uganda Police Force (UPF) of victimizing Muslims arrested in its quest to solve a spate of unresolved killings.

On October 4, media reported that Umar Mulinde, a pastor and Christian convert from Islam, complained that Muslims had broken into his house and stolen property worth 30 million shillings ($8,100).  The UPF was investigating the incident at year’s end.

The embassy brought together religious leaders to promote religious tolerance and diversity.  The embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue at which a U.S. Muslim cleric urged local leaders to build interfaith collaboration to prevent violent extremism.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 40.8 million (September 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent census, conducted in 2014, 39 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 32 percent Anglican, 14 percent Muslim, and 11 percent Pentecostal Christian.  Other religious groups, which collectively constitute less than 5 percent of the population, include Seventh-day Adventists, adherents of indigenous beliefs, Baptists, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Jews, and those with no religious affiliation.  The UMSC estimates Muslims (primarily Sunni) are closer to 25 percent of the population.  According to the Indian Association in Uganda, the largest non-African ethnic population is of Indian origin or descent, most of whom are Hindu.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and establishes there shall be no state religion.  It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, and the right to practice and promote any religion as well as to belong to and participate in the practices of any religious body or organization in a manner consistent with the constitution.  The constitution also stipulates the government may limit these rights by measures that are “reasonably justifiable for dealing with a state of emergency.”  The constitution prohibits the creation of political parties based on religion.

The government requires religious groups to register to obtain legal entity status.  According to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, the government requires faith-based organizations to register as nonprofit organizations with the bureau and then to secure a five-year operating license from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  Although there is no formal mechanism to request an exemption from the requirement to obtain an operating license, in practice larger religious groups, including the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, and the UMSC are de facto exempt, and the government does not require them to obtain an operating license.

In accordance with the constitution, religious instruction in public schools is optional.  The state has developed separate curricula for a number of world religions, including Christianity and Islam.  Public primary and secondary schools may choose which, if any, religious studies to incorporate into their curricula; however, they must adhere to the state-approved curriculum for each religion they choose to teach.

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

Government Practices

On October 4, local media reported the UPF arrested eight persons it accused of conducting an illegal meeting after it reportedly found them holding a nude prayer service.  The UPF accused the group’s leader, Aggrey Elias Mubangizi, of operating an illegal church.  The UPF released the eight without charge.

On September 26, local media reported the UPF arrested Alex Okello after he declared himself to be Jesus Christ and led 14 persons in Lira Town to drop out of school, cease work, and sell off their property in anticipation of the end of time, which Okello indicated would occur in October.  The UPF also arrested Okello’s 14 followers.  The UPF released Okello and the group a week later without charge.

On June 4, local media reported that the UPF cancelled an open-air prayer service organized by evangelical Christians in Iganga Town after Muslims in the area complained the event organizers ridiculed Islamic teachings.  The UPF said it cancelled the service to prevent violence, saying it had received intelligence that some Muslims planned to disrupt it.

Local media, Islamic civil society organizations, and the UMSC regularly stated that the government maintained a policy of discrimination against and persecution of Muslims, and that it continued to discriminate against Muslims when hiring senior and lower-level officials.  On May 21, local media reported that former Minister of Security Henry Tumukunde accused the UPF of victimizing Muslims in its quest to solve a spate of unresolved killings.  Local media reported that since 2010, the UPF had arrested at least 116 individuals, of whom 106 were Muslim, in relation to high-profile killings.  Local media reported the state had secured convictions of only 13 Muslim suspects since 2010 and no convictions in 2018.  The UMSC said authorities did not accord Muslim detainees the same rights to bail and access to visitors as to other detainees.

The inspector general of police in May denied the UPF victimized Muslims but added that once the UPF had credible evidence of a crime committed or plans to commit crime, it would not shy away from arresting Muslim suspects for fear of offending Muslims.

A group of evangelical Christian ministers said they would resist a draft government policy to regulate religious groups once it came into force, saying it was a violation of their religious freedom.  The government announced in December that the cabinet would in the same month vote on a draft policy that sought to introduce academic qualifications for religious leaders.  Evangelical ministers, however, said the government’s intent was to “turn every church pulpit into an NRM (National Resistance Movement) campaign platform by 2021,” and warned it would “definitely have a backlash, and it will not be pretty.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 4, media reported that Umar Mulinde, a pastor and Christian convert from Islam, complained that Muslims had broken into his house and stolen property worth 30 million shillings ($8,100).  The UPF said it would investigate the incident but did not release any findings by year’s end.  Mulinde had survived an acid attack in 2012, which he said his attackers carried out to avenge his conversion.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During a May 30 iftar, the ambassador urged religious and political leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance.  In August the embassy hosted an interfaith dialogue of 35 interdenominational leaders, at which a U.S. scholar and interfaith activist urged local religious leaders to cultivate meaningful, lasting connections with persons of differing beliefs in order to prevent violent extremism.

Ukraine

Executive Summary

In February 2014, Russian military forces invaded and occupied Crimea.  United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 adopted on March 27, 2014, and entitled Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, states the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remains internationally recognized as within Ukraine’s international borders.  The U.S. government does not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and considers that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine.

IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE (BELOW) | CRIMEA


The constitution protects freedom of religion and provides for the separation of church and state.  By law, the objective of domestic religious policy is to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.  In October the Ecumenical Patriarchate announced its intention to grant autocephaly (independence) to a new Ukrainian church after receiving a joint appeal from the government and bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), as well as several bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC-MP), affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate.  In November Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew initiated steps to implement that decision.  In December the UOC-KP, UAOC, and several UOC-MP representatives formed the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and elected its leader at their Establishment Council in Kyiv.  Government leadership called on all parties to refrain from violence and respect the choice of those who decided to remain within the Moscow Patriarchate.  According to human rights groups, documented acts of anti-Semitism declined from previous years.  Some Jewish leaders continued to state their concerns about what they considered impunity for and long delays in completing investigations of acts of anti-Semitism.  Religious leaders also continued to urge the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims.  In various regions of the country, minority religious groups continued to report discriminatory treatment by local authorities in land allocation for religious buildings.  According to the UOC-MP, law enforcement gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure UOC-MP parishioners into leaving the Church, although some media reports stated the Russian government sought to spread trumped up charges of pressure on the UOC-MP.

According to media sources, religious freedom activists, the UOC-KP, Muslims, Protestant churches, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (regions) intensified pressure on minority religious groups.  In Luhansk, proxy authorities banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and the “Supreme Court” in Donetsk upheld a similar ban.  In June proxy authorities raided and later closed the one remaining independent mosque in Donetsk.  Proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk adopted laws requiring all religious organizations except the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluations” and reregister with them.  According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than 1,000 religious groups recognized under Ukrainian law had not reregistered because of stringent legal requirements under Russian legislation preventing or discouraging reregistration of many religious communities.  Many religious groups refused to reregister because they did not recognize the self-proclaimed proxy authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-led forces also continued to occupy religious buildings of minority religious groups and use them as military facilities.  Crimea is reported in an appendix following the report on the rest of Ukraine.

There were continued reports of what some media and political observers characterized as far-right nationalist political groups physically assaulting and pressuring UOC-MP supporters and vandalizing UOC-MP property.  In July supporters of the Svoboda Party physically assaulted the chief editor of a newspaper in Chernihiv Oblast for reportedly publishing a report about a UOC-MP-organized summer camp.  In January representatives of C14, which observers describe as a far-right group, and others tore down an information board near UOC-MP churches in Kyiv.  Two individuals doused the same UOC-MP church with flammable liquid, stating the act was in retaliation for the Moscow Patriarchate’s endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine.  UOC-MP leaders stated the UOC-KP continued to seize churches belonging to the UOC-MP.  The UOC-KP again stated parishioners and not the UOC-KP had initiated the transfers of affiliation.  A group of local residents tried to prevent the construction of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) facility in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast.  Members of the Jewish community stated their continued concern about new construction on a site at Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market located on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery.  There were again reports of vandalism of Christian monuments; Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and Jewish cemeteries; and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Halls.  The All-Ukraine Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations (AUCRA) continued to promote interfaith dialogue and religious diversity.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with the Administration of the President, ministry officials, and members of parliament to discuss the protection of religious heritage sites, manifestations of anti-Semitism, and issues within the Orthodox Churches.  In connection with the move towards autocephaly for the OCU, the Ambassador urged government and religious leaders to practice tolerance, restraint, and mutual understanding to ensure respect for all individuals’ religious freedom and preferences.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge religious groups to resolve property disputes peacefully and through dialogue with government officials, in particular the dispute regarding the location of parts of the Krakivskiy Market on the site of Lviv Old Jewish Cemetery.  Embassy officials continued to meet with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their continuing inability to practice their religion freely in Crimea.  In September the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Kyiv.  He met with government, religious, and community leaders to promote religious freedom, encourage interfaith dialogue, and assure leaders of U.S. support for all people to practice freely their faiths.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 44 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the annual March national survey conducted by the Razumkov Center, an independent public policy think tank; 67.3 percent of respondents self-identify as Christian Orthodox; 9.4 percent Greek Catholic; 2.2 percent Protestant; 0.8 percent Roman Catholic; and 0.4 percent Jewish.  Another 7.7 percent self-identify as “simply a Christian” and 11 percent say they do not belong to any religious group.  Small percentages of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, adherents of other religions, and individuals who chose not to disclose their beliefs constitute the remainder of the respondents.

The same survey breaks down the 67.3 percent identifying as Christian Orthodox:  28.7 percent UOC-KP (26.5 percent in 2017); 12.8 percent UOC-MP; 23.4 percent “just an Orthodox believer”; 0.3 percent the UAOC; 0.2 percent Russian Orthodox Church (as distinct from the UOC-MP); and 1.9 percent undecided.  In a separate Razumkov survey conducted in September after the government, UOC-KP, UAOC, and some bishops representing the UOC-MP petitioned the Ecumenical Patriarchate for autocephaly, the number of respondents self-identifying as UOC-KP increased to 45.2 percent, while 16.9 percent of respondents self-identified as UOC-MP, and 33.9 percent “just as an Orthodox believer.”

According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-KP has followers primarily in the central and western oblasts, with a smaller number in Zakarpattya Oblast.  The UOC-MP is present in all regions of the country, but it has a smaller presence in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv Oblasts in the western part of the country.  Most UAOC adherents are in the western part of the country.  According to the Ministry of Culture, the UOC-MP had 12,348 congregations throughout the country, compared with 12,328 in 2017, while the UOC-KP had 5,167, compared with 5,114 in 2017, and the UAOC had 1,167, compared with 1,195.

According to government statistics, followers of the UGCC reside primarily in the western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano-Frankivsk.  Most Roman Catholic Church congregations are in Lviv, Khmelnytsky, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsya, and Zakarpattya Oblasts in the western part of the country.

The Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine is the largest Protestant community.  Other Christian groups include Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Calvinists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

Government agencies and independent think tanks estimate the Muslim population at 500,000.  Some Muslim leaders put the number at two million.  According to government figures, 300,000 of these are Crimean Tatars.

The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) states there are approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country.  According to VAAD, before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.  There are also Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, Baha’is, and adherents of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship.  By law, the government may restrict this right only in the “interests of protecting public order, the health and morality of the population, or protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons.”  The constitution provides for the separation of church and state and stipulates, “No religion shall be recognized by the state as mandatory.”

By law, the objective of religious policy is to “restore full-fledged dialogue between representatives of various social, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups to foster the creation of a tolerant society and provide for freedom of conscience and worship.”

The law requires a religious institution seeking official status as a legal entity to register both as a religious organization and as a nonprofit organization.  Religious organizations include congregations, theological schools, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious associations consisting of religious organizations.  To obtain official religious status, an organization must register either with the Ministry of Culture, the government agency responsible for religious affairs, or with regional government authorities, depending upon the nature of the organization.  Religious centers, administrations, monasteries, religious brotherhoods, missions, and religious schools register with the Ministry of Culture.  Religious congregations register with the regional authorities where they operate, either with the city government in Kyiv or the respective oblast government outside of Kyiv.  While these religious congregations may form the constituent units of a nationwide religious organization, the nationwide organization does not register on a national basis and may not obtain recognition as a legal entity; rather, the constituent units register and obtain legal entity status.

To be eligible for registration, a religious congregation must have at least 10 adult members and must submit its statutes to the registration authorities.  To obtain status as a nonprofit organization, a religious organization must register with the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for maintaining the government’s register of legal entities.  This register lists all entities with this status, including religious ones.  The law does not specify which of the two registration procedures must be undertaken first.

Without legal entity status, a religious group may not own property, conduct banking activities, or publish materials.  Per the stipulation against national registration, only the registered constituent units of a nationwide religious organization may own property or conduct business activities, either for themselves or on behalf of the nationwide organization.  The law grants property tax exemptions to religious organizations and considers them nonprofit organizations.

The law requires commanders of military units to allow their subordinates to participate in religious services but bans the creation of religious organizations in military institutions and military units.  The Ministry of Defense defines selection criteria for clerics to become chaplains, the status of chaplains in the chain of command, and their rights and duties in the armed forces, National Guard, and State Border Guard Service.

The law gives prison chaplains access to both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates.  It also protects the confidentiality of confession heard by prison chaplains, prohibits the use of information received during confession as evidence in legal proceedings, and does not allow the interrogation of clerics, interpreters, or other persons about matters associated with the confidentiality of confession.

According to the constitution, organizers must notify local authorities in advance of any type of planned public gathering, and authorities may challenge the legality of the planned event.  According to a 2016 Constitutional Court decision, religious organizations need only inform local authorities of their intention to hold a public gathering, and need not apply for permission or notify authorities within a specific period in advance of the event.

The law allows religious groups to establish theological schools to train clergy and other religious workers, as well as seek state accreditation through the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance for their curriculum.  The law states theological schools shall function based on their own statutes.

Government agencies authorized to monitor religious organizations include the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and all other “central bodies of the executive government.”

Only registered religious groups may seek restitution of communal property confiscated by the Communist regime.  Religious groups must apply to regional authorities for property restitution.  The law states the authorities should complete their consideration of a restitution claim within a month.

The law prohibits religious instruction as part of the mandatory public school curriculum and states public school training “shall be free from interference by political parties, civic, and religious organizations.”  Public schools include ethics of faith or similar faith-related courses as optional parts of the curriculum.

The law provides for antidiscrimination screening of draft legislation and government regulations, including based on religion.  The law requires the legal department of each respective agency responsible for verifying the draft legislation conduct the screening, in accordance with instructions developed by the Cabinet of Ministers, to ensure the draft legislation does not contain discriminatory language and to require changes if it does.  Religious groups may participate in screening draft legislation at the invitation of the respective agency.

The law allows alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objectors.  The law does not exempt the clergy from military mobilization.

The Office of the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsman is constitutionally required to release an annual report to parliament with a section on religious freedom.

The law restricts the activities of foreign-based religious groups and defines the permissible activities of noncitizen clergy, preachers, teachers, and other representatives of foreign-based religious organizations.  By law, foreign religious workers may “preach, administer religious ordinances, or practice other canonical activities,” but they may do so only for the religious organization that invited them and with the approval of the government body that registered the statute of the organization.  Missionary activity is included under permissible activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Since 2015, the government has exercised the right of derogation from its obligations under the ICCPR with regard to the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of foreign forces, including the ICCPR provisions pertaining to religious freedom.

Government Practices

On December 26, President Petro Poroshenko signed amendments to a 1991 law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations.  The objective of the amendments was to require religious organizations with a “governing center” in a country designated by law as a state that “committed military aggression against Ukraine and temporarily occupied Ukraine’s territory” to use the full title of the foreign religious organization in its name.  In practice, this meant the UOC-MP was required to change its official title to reflect its affiliation with the Moscow Patriarchate.  The amendments also restricted access of clerics belonging to such organizations to the armed forces and other military organizations.  President Poroshenko stated, “It is easier to make a choice when all things are called by their names, when there is enough information to make this choice voluntary.  The implementation of the law will give the citizens full information.”  The UOC-MP criticized the bill as governmental interference in religious life.

On October 26, the Odesa Regional Administrative Court overturned a decision by the State Migration Service to deny refugee status to a young Jehovah’s Witness woman, an Iranian citizen, and allowed her to remain in the country.

On June 14, following intervention by the parliament’s Human Rights Ombudsman, the village council in Zvedenivka, Vinnytsya Oblast dropped its demand that local Jehovah’s Witnesses conduct their ministry “under control of village council members or police officers.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, between September 2017 and November 2018, its congregations reported 19 cases involving municipal officials or police officers demanding that they stop public missionary work, comparing it to commercial advertising.  At times, the officials reportedly used abusing language and threats.

In his annual address to parliament on September 20, President Poroshenko noted that the creation of a united autocephalous Orthodox Church would help strengthen national unity.  He said the state would not interfere in internal affairs of the church and would respect the choices of those who decide to remain with the Moscow Patriarchate.

On October 10, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul stated it would proceed towards granting autocephalous status to a Ukrainian Orthodox Church after receiving a joint appeal from the Ukrainian government and bishops from the UOC-KP and UAOC and some UOC-MP bishops on April 20.  The statement said the Holy and Sacred Synod in Istanbul also revoked the right of the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv.

On November 3, Patriarch Bartholomew and President Poroshenko signed a Bilateral Agreement on Cooperation and Coordination “within the framework of granting autocephaly to the unified Orthodox Church in Ukraine.”  On November 29, the Holy and Sacred Synod in Istanbul announced it had drafted the Constitutional Charter for an autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine.  Also on November 29, President Poroshenko announced publicly that the Ecumenical Patriarchate had approved the text of a decree that would grant autocephaly to a new Ukrainian Church.

In mid-December the UAOC and UOC-KP disbanded themselves to create a united Orthodox Church.  On December 15, representatives of the UOC-KP, UAOC, and some UOC-MP representatives, including two metropolitans, formed the OCU and chose Metropolitan Epiphaniy of the former UOC-KP as its head at an Establishment Council in Kyiv.  The UOC-MP declared the OCU as a “union of schismatics” that had “no relation” to the UOC-MP, and suspended the clerics who participated in the Establishment Council.  At year’s end, administrative centers of the UOC-KP and UAOC continued to exist as legal entities pending state registration of the OCU administration.

The UOC-MP stated law enforcement gave far-right groups a “free hand” to pressure and intimidate UOC-MP parishioners to leave the Church, although some media reports stated the Russian government sought to spread trumped up charges of pressure on the UOC-MP.

On October 12, following UOC-MP allegations of possible attempts by radical groups to seize its major monasteries, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a statement that religion-based violence and extremism were “unacceptable.”  He called on political and public figures to refrain from provocations and attempts to destabilize the situation in the country.  The minister promised a “tough” response to extremism and religious hatred.  He repeated the pledge in an Interfax-Ukraine interview on December 29.

On November 22, the government hosted a meeting with Muslim community leaders, discussing ways to amend regulations that would allow Muslim women to wear head coverings for internal passport (passport for domestic use only) photographs.

On October 3, the Rivne Oblast State Administration registered a statute of a local Jehovah’s Witnesses organization pursuant to a court order overturning the 2017 refusal by the administration to approve the registration request.  The court had rejected the administration’s 2017 claim that members of the organization were not allowed to preach or study the Bible outside Kingdom Halls because by law religious groups may preach outside their places of worship and there is no regulation banning missionary work.

On October 10, the Supreme Court upheld a petition by a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Tetiyiv, Kyiv Oblast, against the local government’s attempts to fine the congregation for an alleged violation of zoning regulations during the recent construction of its Kingdom Hall.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that from September 2017 to November 2018 local authorities in Myropil, Zhytomyr Oblast, Tetiyiv, Kyiv Oblast, Torun, Transcarpathia Oblast, and Kharkiv denied zoning permits or created other impediments to construction of Kingdom Halls.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, UOC-MP representatives campaigned against the construction of a Kingdom Hall in Myropil, Zhytomyr Oblast.  On June 19, UOC-MP representatives reportedly prevented the Myropil town council from designating a Jehovah’s Witnesses-owned plot of land for the constriction project, advocating that other religious denominations should not be present in the town.  On August 3 and November 2, the council rejected a resolution to designate the land for construction.  On December 3, the Lviv District Administrative Court began examining a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal against the council’s inaction on their request.

On April 19, the government revived the Interagency Commission to Realize the Rights of Religious Organizations.  Although inactive since 2012, the commission was established in 2008 to address complex restitution issues as well as promote dialogue between the government and religious groups.  The commission discussed ways to streamline registration procedures for religious organizations, respond to what it characterized as massive violations of religious freedom in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and address religious property restitution.

The Pastoral Council for Religious Support of the Penitentiary System, an advisory interfaith board designed to promote prison chaplaincy established in 2017, worked with the Ministry of Justice to develop guidance for chaplains ministering to prisoners who faced torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

The UOC-MP said that on July 25, representatives of the Svoboda Party, which political observers describe as a nationalist party, threatened to burn the buses of local bus companies in Nizhyn, Chernihiv Oblast, if they provided transportation for local pilgrims planning to participate in the July 27 UOC-MP procession in Kyiv celebrating St. Volodymyr’s Day.

On November 30, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) searched a country residence of Metropolitan Pavel, abbot of the UOC-MP Kyiv Pechersk Monastery, and the monastery farm office, calling the search an investigation into charges of incitement to religious hatred.  On December 3, the metropolitan rejected the hate speech charges and condemned the searches as political pressure.

On December 5, following several days of searches at UOC-MP buildings in Kyiv and Zhytomyr Oblast, the SBU said it had identified an organized network that distributed materials inciting religious hatred.  The SBU posted copies of several confiscated UOC-MP leaflets presenting the Church’s view on Orthodox Church autocephaly, and labeling Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “sect.”

On November 5, officers of the SBU Rivne Oblast branch interrogated 12 UOC-MP priests as part of an investigation into cases of hate speech and high treason.  The religious news website risu.org.ua and news website charivne.info said a local UOC-MP priest faced treason charges because the Russian media were using his commentaries about regional parish jurisdiction disputes in false reports about “religious war” in Ukraine.  The UOC-MP denied the charges.

On March 6, according to the Umma Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine, approximately two dozen SBU and Kyiv City procuracy representatives conducted a search of the Kyiv Islamic Cultural Center.  According to the search warrant, SBU officials were looking for materials promoting “violence, racial, interethnic or religious hatred.”  Members of the Umma said the law enforcement officials did not allow the cultural center’s security guard to inform them by phone about the raid.  According to the Umma representatives who witnessed the search, the law enforcement representatives planted and immediately “found” “extremist” materials in the library, school premises, and bookstore and also planted and “found” two “extremist” publications during a search in a librarian’s apartment.  The Kyiv City procuracy said authorities conducted the search “in strict accordance with the law.”  It described the search as part of SBU-initiated operations to stop distribution of materials promoting violence.  In 2012, an Odesa court banned distribution of the books seized by the SBU.

Umma Administration leaders said the SBU did not follow legal protocols for search and seizure because it did not employ independent witnesses required to observe the search to prevent attempts to fabricate evidence.  Instead, the law enforcement officers reportedly brought “their own” witnesses who were biased and paid no attention to SBU officers planting the publications.  Umma representatives said this was the third search of congregations associated with Umma in less than a year in which they said law enforcement authorities planted the same books.  In 2017, law enforcement authorities conducted searches at Islamic centers in Sumy and Zhytomyr.

Small religious groups stated local governments continued to discriminate with regard to allocating land for religious buildings in Chernivtsi, Mykolayiv, Odesa, and Ternopil Oblasts, and the city of Kyiv.  Roman Catholics, UOC-KP members, UGCC members, the UAOC, and Muslims continued to report cases of discrimination.  UGCC representatives said local authorities in Sumy and Odesa were still unwilling to allocate land for UGCC churches.  UOC-MP representatives said local authorities in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblasts continued to refuse to allocate land for UOC-MP churches.  UOC-KP representatives said the Haisyn District State Administration refused their request to build a church in the town.  Roman Catholic Church leaders stated they continued to ask authorities to return former Church properties in the western part of the country and elsewhere.  Roman Catholics stated the government continued to refuse to support the restitution of Odesa’s Roman Catholic seminary building, which the Soviet regime had confiscated.  Church of Jesus Christ representatives stated the Kyiv City government continued to fail to reinstate a lease, first revoked in 2015, on land to build a house of worship.  The UAOC said the Chernivtsi City Council was unwilling to finalize allocation of land for a UAOC diocesan administration office in the city.

According to the UOC-MP, in February the village council in Stary Hvizdets, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast, illegally transferred ownership of the local UOC-MP Annunciation Church from the government to the UOC-KP.  Local police reportedly opened an investigation.

On February 7, the Volyn Oblast Appellate Court rejected a petition by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (UCSJ) to remove a private industrial facility from the grounds of a Jewish cemetery near Toykut village in Volyn Oblast.

Kyiv’s Muslim community said the local government, which allocates land for cemeteries, had not acted on the community’s request for additional free land in Kyiv for Islamic burials, which was their legal right.  Muslim community leaders said they were running out of land for burials of their members.

All major religious organizations continued to appeal to the government to establish a transparent legal process to address property restitution claims.  Most organizations said they experienced continued problems and delays in the restitution process to reclaim property seized by the Communist regime.  They said the consideration of claims often took longer than the month prescribed by law.  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups stated a number of factors continued to complicate the restitution process, including intercommunity competition for particular properties, current use of some properties by state institutions, the designation of some properties as historic landmarks, local governments disputing jurisdictional boundaries, and previous transfers of some properties to private ownership.  They continued to report local officials taking sides in property restitution disputes, such as the case of the Lviv city government continuing to deny Roman Catholic Church requests for restitution of several properties turned over to the UGCC.

Muslim community leaders expressed concern over the continued lack of resolution of restitution claims involving historic mosques in Mykolayiv.

The AUCCRO, a longstanding independent interfaith board representing more than 90 percent of all religious organizations in the country, continued to appeal to parliament to impose a moratorium on the privatization of previously confiscated religious buildings.  Despite renewed government promises to address the issue, the government had taken no action by the end of the year.

The Jewish community expressed concern over the continued failure of national and local government authorities to protect historic religious properties, particularly historic synagogues in Lviv, Brody, Sokal, Stryi, Zhokva, Berezhany, Husyatyn, Pidhaytsi, and Dubno.

Jewish community leaders said they continued to experience difficulties with the Ternopil municipal and district governments with regard to property restitution.  The Ternopil District Council continued to reject local Jewish community requests to return a prayer house confiscated during the Soviet regime.  On October 25, local authorities in Chortkiv, Ternopil Oblast, transferred a former synagogue building that had been used as a warehouse to the Jewish community.

On July 25, the Dnipro City Council returned to the Muslim community a mosque confiscated by the Soviet government.

On February 5, the Ministry of Culture issued a statement saying that the UOC-MP had constructed Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church in central Kyiv on the grounds of a state-run national museum.  On February 9, the Municipal Development Commission of the Kyiv City Council upheld a petition to demolish the building.  The government stated that in 2013, the UOC-MP built the church without legal permission.  The building was still standing at year’s end.

UOC-MP representatives continued to object to what they characterized was the central government’s inadequate response to discrimination and intolerance toward its members by UOC-KP and UGCC representatives and high-ranking UOC-KP and UGCC supporters in some local governments.  According to the UOC-MP, law enforcement agencies ignored its requests to bring to justice a Sokal District administration official who intimidated UOC-MP parishioners in Shpykolosy village, Lviv Oblast, over their refusal to join a newly created local UOC-KP congregation.

On December 11, the Lviv Oblast Council declared 2019 as the Year of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN).  The Council issued the decision to mark the 110th anniversary of Bandera’s birth and the 90th anniversary of OUN’s establishment.  Jewish community representatives criticized the decision.  In the 1940s, OUN led the nationalist partisan movement, some of whom were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews.

On December 18, the parliament adopted a resolution to mark a number of significant anniversary dates in 2019, including the 110th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Klymiv, one of the leaders of the OUN.  Jewish community representatives criticized the decision due to his role in instigating anti-Semitic pogroms in Nazi-occupied Lviv in 1941.

On September 20, the Kyiv District Administrative Court reaffirmed its 2017 ruling against a proposal to rename a city street in honor of Roman Shukhevych, one of the OUN leaders and commander of the Nazi-controlled Nachtigall Battalion.

In an interview with the Insider news website published on June 25, Deputy Prosecutor General Anatoliy Matios suggested, “Jews seek to drown Ukraine in blood.”  He compared a Jew facing terrorism charges to Jewish communist Alexander Parvus.  Matios said Parvus “who brought money to Lenin for the revolution that flooded Slavs with streams of blood” was also Jewish.  “In this case, they want to do the same to Ukraine,” he said.  Eastern Europe Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff publicly condemned Matios’ statements as “outrageous and false,” and called for his dismissal.

On May 14, Ukrainian Jewish Committee Director Eduard Dolinsky filed a formal complaint to authorities regarding anti-Semitic remarks Skole mayor and Right Sector member Volodymyr Moskal reportedly made in 2017 that “the government of Moskovites and Yids” is running Ukraine and Jews seek to dominate the world, treat all other nations as “subhumans” and destroy them.  The local procuracy and police opened an investigation.  There was no progress reported in the investigation by year’s end.

On May 2, Odesa Oblast Right Sector leader Tetyana Soykina said during a rally held by representatives of Svoboda, Right Sector, and National Militia in the city that “Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not to kikes, not to oligarchs!”  On May 4, President Poroshenko condemned all manifestations of intolerance and anti-Semitism and pledged the government’s “swift” and “resolute” reaction to any attempt to sow enmity in society.

During a meeting with Kyiv Chief Rabbi Jonathan Markowitz on May 7, Interior Minister Avakov condemned the Odesa rally and all other manifestations of anti-Semitism as “unacceptable.”  He added that the Russian government might have orchestrated some anti-Semitic acts in an effort to destabilize Ukraine.  The Odesa police investigated the May 2 act as a criminal code violation of racial and ethnic equality.

According to media reports, on April 18, the Kostopil District State Administration, Rivne Oblast, urged law enforcement agencies to identify and bring to justice perpetrators who in mid-April painted a swastika on a Holocaust memorial near the town.  Local college students removed the graffiti, and an investigation into the case continued at year’s end.

The AUCCRO continued to appeal to the government to adopt a draft bill entitled, “The Concept of Relations between the State and Religious Denominations,” which would shape cooperation between the government and religious groups and provide long-term basis for legislation on religious issues.

In an April 16 meeting with UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret and again during a July 4 meeting with the AUCCRO, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman reaffirmed the government’s commitment to promoting religious freedom and dialogue with religious communities.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Russia-led forces in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts continued to detain and imprison members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as other religious leaders.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on November 30, representatives of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) detained Jehovah’s Witness Mykhailo Papeta as he was travelling to Luhansk through an “LPR” checkpoint.  During a search of his vehicle, they found a business card containing a jw.org address.  They told him that all Jehovah’s Witnesses material and ministry had been banned.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “LPR” representatives took the detainee to a police station, handcuffed, and beat him.  While under detention, “LPR” personnel searched Papeta’s home and confiscated some of his religious books.  After several hours, they released Papeta, threatening to imprison him again in the future.

According to media, on September 26 the “Supreme Court” of the Russia-controlled “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) upheld the “DPR’s” acting prosecutor general’s request to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization.  The “LPR” authorities introduced a similar ban earlier in the year.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian government reportedly sent seven FSB (Federal Security Service) representatives to the “DPR” to intensify harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In October and November, “DPR” and “LPR” “law-enforcement agencies” reportedly received orders to identify and prosecute Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not comply with the ban on their ministry.  The authorities summoned several Jehovah’s Witnesses for interrogation.

During home visits in Boykovske (formerly Telmanove), “DPR police” warned all local Jehovah’s Witnesses about the ban on their activity and collected their signatures to acknowledge receipt of the warning.

On February 2, the Russia-controlled “LPR People’s Council” adopted the Law on the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations.  The law requires all religious organizations except for the UOC-MP to undergo “state religious expert evaluation” and reregister by August 2.  The council later extended the deadline to October 15.  In October the Ukraine-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Institute of Religious Freedom quoted Protestant leaders as saying that the “LPR” had denied reregistration applications of Baptist and Pentecostal churches and Seventh-day Adventists, citing negative results of the “evaluation.”  The leaders described the refusal as a complete ban on their religious activities, including prohibiting religious ceremonies held by believers at their homes.  According to “LPR” proxy authorities, to be eligible for registration a “local religious organization” must have at least 30 adult members, while a “centralized religious organization” must be composed of at least five such local organizations.  These requirements effectively outlawed some smaller religious associations.  The law requires Christian Orthodox congregations to register as part of a “diocese recognized by the Orthodox Churches around the world within the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate,” putting at risk the further existence of several remaining UOC-KP parishes.

On April 13, the Russia-controlled “DPR People’s Council” amended the 2016 Law on the Freedom of Worship and Religious Associations banning all religious organizations that do not meet a March 1, 2019, registration deadline.  The revised law gave the “DPR’s Ministry of Culture” additional powers to monitor the registration of religious associations in the region and to abolish them on various grounds.  The requirement remained for a “religious group,” a newly created religious association not seeking legal entity status, to submit written notification to authorities about its function, location, administration, and the names and home addresses of its members.  The “DPR” authorities had 10 days to either put the group on the Register of Religious Groups or cancel the group’s legal status.  The “DPR” authorities had a month to examine the application documents of “religious organization,” a religious association seeking legal status.  In either case, the “DPR” authorities could conduct a “state religious expert evaluation” of the documents, which could take up to six months, or deny a registration request on a number of grounds, such as missing required information or if authorities had banned the registration of the religious entity that was applying.  All religious organizations and religious groups had to notify authorities about their continued existence annually.  The law required the UOC-MP to undergo a simplified “legalization” procedure without reregistration and “state religious expert evaluation.”

According to Muslim community and Ukrainian media reports, in late June the “Ministry of State Security of the DPR” raided Al-Amal Mosque in Donetsk, seizing prayer books and other religious materials.  The proxy authorities interrogated the mosque’s imam and congregation members.  Subsequently, the “DPR” proxy authorities closed the mosque based on what the Muslim community and some Ukrainian media reports called fabricated extremism charges.

According to the All-Ukraine Baptist Union, on June 3, the “LPR State Security Ministry” raided a Baptist church when its members convened for a religious service at a private apartment in Luhansk.  The authorities confiscated religious literature and sealed the entrance to the apartment.  All-Ukraine Baptist Union sources said that on August 2, proxy authorities ordered the head of the congregation to pay a fine of 8,000 Russian rubles ($110).  Following the raid, in July the “LPR State Security Ministry” labeled the All-Ukraine Baptist Union as an “extremist” religious organization.  The “LPR” proxy authorities accused the Baptists of “evading mandatory state registration,” promoting the “violent assault of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” and using “psychotropic substances” to put psychological pressure on members of the congregation.

As of August 29, Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives reported “DPR” and “LPR” representatives had seized 16 of their buildings in Debaltseve, Donetsk, Horlivka, Perevalsk, Khrustalny (former Krasny Luch), Boykovske (former Telmanove), Yenakieve, Holubivka (former Kirovsk), Alchevsk, Sorokyne (former Krasnodon), Bryanka, Vyhlehirsk, Luhansk, and Kadiyivka (former Stakhanov), and searched two.

On May 30, a fire destroyed a Kingdom Hall seized by the “LPR” in Luhansk in August 2017.  No additional information on the arson was available.

On January 22, the “LPR” authorities closed down a Kingdom Hall in Antratsyt.

No additional information on the closure was available.

According to NGO reports, Russia-led forces continued to use previously seized places of worship as military facilities.  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives stated Russia-led forces used some places of worship as barracks.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, since June “DPR” and “LPR” authorities had collected information about their congregations in Donetsk, Torez, Snizhne, Shakhtarsk, Yenakieve, Makiyivka, Bryanka and others, and took some congregation members for questioning.

The “DPR” continued to label materials distributed by the Jehovah Witnesses as “extremist.”  From July 2017 to March 2018, the “Supreme Court” of the “DPR” issued four “rulings” declaring seven of their publications “extremist.”  The “court” did not notify Jehovah’s Witnesses about its “hearings.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said that as a result, they could neither defend themselves against the charges nor appeal the “rulings.”

On August 22, the “DPR Supreme Court” upheld a request by the “DPR Acting Prosecutor General” to declare Jehovah’s Witnesses website as “extremist”.  On September 5, the “DPR Ministry of Communications” instructed telecommunications providers to ban internet access to the website pursuant to the “court’s” order.

On March 15, the “DPR Supreme Court” and “Ministry of Justice” posted a Republican List of Extremist Materials on their websites.  The list included the four latest issues of The Watchtower.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 6, the chief of the National Police described the explosion that injured a Jewish boy in Uman in 2017 as a terrorist act orchestrated by a foreign state’s intelligence service to incite interethnic and religious confrontation.  He said he had confirmed earlier police reports alleging that in previous years the same individuals as those responsible for the terrorist acts painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of synagogues in Lviv and Odesa, and desecrated a synagogue near the grave of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, in Uman.

Jehovah’s Witnesses reported three cases of physical assaults during the year, compared with 18 in 2017.  They said one of the attackers had physically and verbally assaulted them on at least 15 previous occasions.  On May 27, he beat up and threw stones at Jehovah Witnesses in Korchivtsi village, Chernivtsi Oblast, injuring one of them and damaging the victims’ car.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police ignored their complaints and “mildly reprimanded” the attacker.  On June 13, police began to investigate the May 27 assault as a hate crime after the Jehovah’s Witnesses took the case to court.  The investigation continued at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on June 7, an individual attacked several Jehovah’s Witnesses with a wooden stick in Zhytomyr.  He reportedly threw their missionary materials to the ground and punched one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses several times.  During the 20-minute assault, the attacker demanded that the Jehovah’s Witnesses make the sign of the cross.  Police categorized the assault as personal animosity between the attacker and his victims and forwarded the case to court.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 14, an unidentified man in Mykolayiv demanded that a Jehovah’s Witness stop his public ministry and then broke a beer bottle on the victim’s head.  The attacker fled before police arrived at the scene.

A court in Zhytomyr continued hearings on a criminal case against four individuals arrested for allegedly attacking Chabad Rabbi Mendel Deitsch at the city’s train station in 2016.  Deitsch subsequently died from his injuries.

Authorities dropped the investigation of a 2016 case involving a teenager who reportedly shoved a rabbi and used anti-Semitic insults, including “Kikes out of here,” after the teenager apologized to the Jewish community.

On May 31, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a UOC-MP priest who in 2014 physically and verbally assaulted a Jehovah’s Witness in Berezhonka village, Chernivtsi Oblast.  The victim sustained a concussion and was hospitalized.

On May 16, the Baranivka District Court, Zhytomyr Oblast sentenced Oleg Nikitchyn to 160 hours of community work for verbal and physical assault on Jehovah’s Witness Yuriy Vorobei in June 2017.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the court based its “lenient” sentence on the assailant’s statement, disregarding what they called verifiable signs of a hate crime.  The court rejected Vorobei’s demand that the attacker cover the cost of his medical treatment.

On May 8, Kyiv’s Sviatoshyn District Court found R.V. Prokopenko guilty of hooliganism and ordered him to pay a fine of 8500 hryvnias ($310) for insulting and injuring two Jehovah’s Witnesses, and damaging their mobile display of missionary materials in December 2017.  During the pretrial investigation, Prokopenko apologized to the victims and compensated them for damages.

On July 27, the UOC-MP celebrated St. Volodymyr’s feast day with a procession in Kyiv.  Police estimated that 20,000 persons participated in the event.  The UOC-MP put the number at 250,000.  Police detained three individuals linked to the Bratstvo group, which had reportedly intended to disrupt the procession.  Observers of the group described it as a pseudo-nationalist group with a history of provocations in support of pro-Russian causes.  During the march, Bratstvo streamed a live “interview” with one of its members posing as an anti-Ukrainian UOC-MP monk.

On September 16, private Israeli media outlet Mako posted a video appearing to show an allegedly Jewish man setting fire to a large outdoor crucifix located in Uman, Cherkasy Oblast, as Hasidic pilgrims came to a local river to perform a religious ritual.  According to media, the alleged arson provoked a subsequent altercation between some local residents and pilgrims; there we no reports of injuries.  Uman Jewish community leaders condemned the attack.  Law enforcement authorities opened an investigation.

The AUCRA, established in 2017 by a number of mainly smaller religious groups and churches, met on March 20 to discuss ways to promote interfaith dialogue.  The group reiterated its commitment to dialogue and to building partnerships between religious organizations and the government.

According to the UOC-MP, local authorities continued to transfer parish jurisdictions from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP against the will of the parishioners.  Ternopil Oblast authorities reportedly refused to renew state registration of the UOC-MP parishes whose church buildings in Butyn and Kynakhivtsi villages were transferred to the UOC-KP in 2014 and 2017 following a split within the two congregations.

On April 3, several dozen members of the C14, which observers describe as a far-right group, arrived at the Kyiv Lavra Monastery compound and armed with sticks to “search” for pro-Russian separatists.  They held two monastery guards to cut sleeve patches off the guards’ uniform.  C14 left the monastery upon arrival of a police patrol.  Law enforcement authorities did not press charges against them.  C14 streamed the incident live on its Facebook page.

In a YouTube video posted on April 18, Bratstvo representatives urged Ukrainians to “seize” UOC-MP churches and ignore UOC-KP calls to refrain from violence against the UOC-MP.  Media and civil society characterized Bratstvo as a group of “paid thugs” notorious for their involvement in violent provocations orchestrated by Kremlin-linked political forces since 2004.

Posts on the Right Sector website continued to repeat previous statements by the group stating that, at the request of the UOC-KP, it would continue to visit sites disputed between the UOC-MP and UOC-KP to “facilitate” a change of jurisdiction.

Following the UOC-MP and Right Sector statements, UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret repeated previous UOC-KP statements in an August 2 interview with the UOC-KP press center, rejecting accusations that the UOC-KP was involved in the seizures of UOC-MP churches.  Patriarch Filaret repeated that these were legitimate transfers to UOC-KP jurisdiction initiated by parishioners.  The UOC-KP stated it would continue to act according to the law, but also would continue to accept into its jurisdiction any UOC-MP clergy and laity requesting affiliation with UOC-KP (and after the December 15 Establishment Council, with the OCU).  Following the autocephaly petition from the government and Orthodox bishops to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on April 20, the UOC-KP repeatedly stressed that transition of UOC-MP congregations to a future united Ukrainian Orthodox Church must be voluntary, and free from coercion and violence.

The Jewish community continued to express its concern about the continuing operation of the Krakivskiy Market on the grounds of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Lviv.  The UCSJ urged the government to halt permanently the construction of a multistory building on the cemetery grounds that was initially ordered suspended in 2017.  The UCSJ and civic activists continued to express concern over the possible continuation of construction of a high-rise building at the site of the World War II Jewish ghetto in Lviv.  In 2016, a court suspended the project after human remains were reportedly found and removed from the soil at the construction site.  As of year’s end, the remains had not been returned to the site.

According to UGCC representatives, on July 13, a group of local residents tried to prevent construction vehicles from entering a site designated by the local government for construction of the Nativity of Christ Church in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast.  One of the local residents reportedly held a hand grenade and threatened to detonate it.  Police detained the protester and brought administrative charges against him.  On August 17, dozens of individuals who UGCC said were “hired” destroyed a fence surrounding the construction site.  Police reportedly detained the suspects and released them after questioning.  The authorities opened an investigation.  On August 20, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the incident and urging law enforcement agencies to bring the perpetrators to justice.

According to media, on July 25, supporters of Svoboda physically assaulted Chief Editor of Visti Borznyanshchyny newspaper Serhiy Blyznyuk for publishing a positive report on a children’s summer camp organized by a local UOC-MP diocese.  Svoboda supporters described the article as “anti-Ukrainian.”  Under Svoboda’s pressure, the Borzna District State Administration in Chernihiv Oblast reportedly forced Blyznyuk to resign.

According to the UOC-MP, Svoboda supporters verbally abused Borzna District State Administration Deputy Chairman Oleksandr Maksymov and staffers Olena Taran and Yevhen Tarnovsky and forced them to write resignation letters for allowing the UOC-MP to host the camp in the district.  Earlier local Svoboda activists threatened Archbishop Klyment, head of the local UOC-MP diocese, for organizing the camp.  The UOC-MP representatives said on July 21, a group of drunk Svoboda supporters visited the camp but the site was empty because the children had left the day before.

According to the UOC-MP, on November 27, unidentified individuals splashed red paint at the entrance to UOC-MP diocesan office in Rivne and defaced its wall with graffiti, saying, “Our Sailors’ Blood is on Your Hands.”  The graffiti was an apparent reference to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 crewmembers near the Kerch Strait.

According to police reports, on November 15, two men threw Molotov cocktails at the door of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv.  The Molotov cocktails did not ignite and caused no damage.  The attackers fled, using pepper spray against security guards who confronted them.  According to the UOC-KP, the arsonists injured a UOC-KP priest.  The attack occurred after the government gave permission for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to open a representative mission in the historic building.  On November 27, police detained one of suspected arsonists and found flammable liquid in his apartment in Kyiv.

According to the UAOC, on August 30, unidentified individuals burned and destroyed the interior and roof of the Nativity of the Theotokos Church in Hanychi Village, Transcarpathia Oblast.  No suspects were detained.

According to the UOC-MP, on March 14, unidentified individuals set fire to an auxiliary building near the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow in Kyiv.  The fire destroyed the roof and stored construction materials.  Shortly before the fire, two individuals reportedly asked the church’s security guard about the church’s affiliation.  Police could not identify the perpetrators.  There have been six previous arson attacks on the church since 2014.

According to the UOC-MP, on March 10, unidentified individuals set fire to its Transfiguration Church in Kyiv, causing serious damage to the building.  Police opened an investigation; however, no one was detained by year’s end.

According to media sources, on January 25, individuals who self-identified as members of C14 and others, tore down an information board near the UOC-MP Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church in central Kyiv.  They posted leaflets on church doors describing congregation members as Russian FSB agents.  The individuals fled when police arrived.  C14 then posted footage of the occurrence on its Facebook page.

According to police, on the night of January 25, individuals doused the UOC-MP Sts. Volodymyr and Olga Church with flammable liquid and ignited it, causing minor damage to the building.  They insulted and spit at UOC-MP clerics who arrived at the scene.  Police detained two suspects and found several canisters with flammable liquid near the church.  The detainees said the attack was in retaliation for what they characterized as the Moscow Patriarchate’s endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine.  On January 27, Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court ordered the detention of the suspects for 60 days.  Parliament member Ihor Lutsenko condemned ‎the Shevchenkivsky District Court’s decision to detain the suspects, describing members of the monastic congregation of the church as “FSB agents.”  The Kyiv Appellate Court released the suspects on bail on February 5, following petitions from parliamentarians and a UOC-MP request to mitigate punishment for the suspects.  During the court hearing, the suspects pleaded guilty.  They described the arson attempt as their protest against UOC-MP clerics, saying they were “FSB agents,” and against the “unlawful” construction of the church building at a protected historical heritage site.  On February 6, UOC-KP Patriarch Filaret condemned the arson attack.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported 25 cases of vandalism against Kingdom Halls during the year, compared with 30 acts of vandalism in 2017.  The incidents included an arson attack that destroyed a Kingdom Hall in Radomyshl, Zhytomyr Oblast, on March 25.  Police continued to investigate the arson at year’s end.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 19, unidentified individuals broke windows of a Kingdom Hall in Smila, Cherkasy Oblast.  Police made no progress in investigating this occurrence or two previous acts of vandalism against the building committed in 2017.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on May 2, unidentified individuals defaced a wall of a Kingdom Hall in Kharkiv with graffiti saying “sect.”  Police did not open a criminal investigation of the act, reportedly describing it as a minor case that did not meet the threshold for an investigation.

The National Minority Rights Monitoring Group reported 12 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, compared with 24 in 2017 and 19 in 2016.

The Jewish community continued to express concern over the local government’s inability to relocate a cross that self-described nationalist activists placed in the old Jewish cemetery in Kolomyia in 2017.  On September 6, the Kolomyia City Council upheld the activists’ request to declare the cemetery a memorial park.  The Jewish community filed a lawsuit against the decision, saying that the new legal status of the areas would make it impossible to seek relocation of the cross.  The hearing continued at the Ivano-Frankivsk District Administrative Court at year’s end.

The case against three suspects who vandalized a local synagogue and cemetery and attempted to set fire to the ohel, a structure covering the grave of Chief Rabbi Gillel Boruch Liechtenstein, continued in Kolomyia, Ivano Frankivsk Oblast.

According to the Jewish community and police reports, Holocaust memorials and Jewish religious monuments were vandalized in various locations, including in Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Khmelnytsky, Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, and Ternopil Oblasts and Vinnystya City.  Police investigations into these acts continued at year’s end; according to police, there was no progress on these case or similar cases from 2017.

Jewish community representatives reported systematic desecration of a Holocaust mass grave in Sosonky near Rivne.  On July 21, police detained one of two alleged perpetrators who dug up the mass grave in search of gold.  The second vandal fled the scene.  The detainee reportedly claimed he was only a driver for his associate and was soon released; the case remained under investigation at year’s end.  In April police detained two individuals who dug a tunnel through the Holocaust mass grave in Nemyriv, Vinnytsya Oblast, and removed human remains.  The individuals said they were looking for gold from the grave.

In mid-November unidentified individuals in Kyiv posted leaflets announcing a rally to topple the government to “hand over power to the people.”  Authors of the leaflet featuring a crossed-out Menorah, the president’s photo, and a satanic pentagram, urged the government’s opponents to stop tolerating “genocide.”  According to media reports, on November 18, approximately 300 individuals participated in the announced gathering in central Kyiv.  Its anonymous organizer, wearing a balaclava, and other speakers blamed “Yids” for “seizing power” in the country.  One speaker demanded that Jews be “destroyed.”  The crowd helped the man in a balaclava escape from police, who tried to detain him because of his statements.  After the scuffle, police briefly detained a suspect allegedly involved in the gathering.

On October 29, during a protest against increasing utility tariffs in Vinnytsya, protesters Yuriy Kysil and Mykhailo Siranchuk stated Jews had “seized power” in the country.  On November 23, in response to an inquiry by Member of Parliament Oleksandr Feldman, the Vinnytsya police department said the statements did not constitute hate speech because the activists “had noted they did not mean to fuel ethnic, racial, or religious hatred.”

On February 2, Maryana Polyanska, editor of the Chortkivsky Visnyk newspaper in Ternopil Oblast, published an article titled “Yids or Jews?” stating Jews profiteered at the expense of Ukrainians and dominated the government.  The regional police and procuracy investigated the article as an attempt to incite interethnic hatred.  The local government condemned the publication.  On February 9, the Independent Media Trade Union condemned Polyanska’s article as an expression of “religious and ethnic discrimination” and terminated her union membership.

According to the Vechirniy Kamyanets news website, on October 14, unidentified individuals painted swastikas on a Holocaust memorial in Kamyanets-Podilsky, Khmelnytsky Oblast.

According to media reports, on April 27-28, unidentified individuals smashed windows and scattered prayer books at the ohel over at the grave of renowned 17th century Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast.  Police opened an investigation but did not report any developments by year’s end.

According to media sources, in mid-April unidentified individuals painted neo-Nazi graffiti on a Holocaust monument in Poltava.  Police said they had not made progress in the investigation by year’s end.

On March 22, the SBU announced the detention of several individuals accused of painting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish community center in Sumy in December 2017.  According to the SBU, Russian intelligence agencies had ordered the group to commit anti-Semitic vandalism.

According to media reports, on January 29, a masked individual ran into a Lviv bookstore hosting a Holocaust history lecture and threw a smoke bomb.  The attacker fled after a participant in the event confronted him.  The Lviv mayor’s office condemned the attack, calling on the law enforcement agencies to investigate it.  Police opened an investigation by did not identify the attacker.

According to the Jewish community, police had yet to identify the arsonists who in 2017 damaged parts of the Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya.

Police continued to investigate 2017 acts of vandalism against Holocaust memorials in Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, Svalyava, Ternopil and Uzhhorod.  Authorities also continued to investigate 2016 acts of vandalism against the Israeli flag in Babyn Yar in Kyiv, the ohel on the grave of Rabbi Aryeh Leib in Shpola, and desecration of the Holocaust monument in Uzhhorod, all reportedly without progress.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, embassy officials, and other U.S. government officials continued to meet with the Administration of the President, the Ministries of Culture, Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, members of parliament, political parties, and local officials to engage on issues of religious freedom.  They discussed the importance of fair and transparent treatment of religious groups during the establishment of the new OCU, preservation of religious heritage sites, support for religious minorities, and increasing manifestations of anti-Semitism.  In meetings with government officials at both the national and local levels, the Ambassador called for unequivocal condemnation and swift prosecution of anti-Semitic acts.  The Ambassador also urged government officials to increase their efforts to ensure the preservation of historic religious sites.

The embassy issued several public statements condemning religiously motivated acts of violence and calling for tolerance and restraint to ensure a peaceful transition period around autocephaly.  The embassy also used social media to amplify U.S. government support for religious freedom, including the rights of religious minorities.

The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with government officials, religious leaders, and activists in September to promote religious freedom.  The Ambassador urged government officials to condemn anti-Semitism and called for the government to protect the right of all religious groups to govern their religion according to their beliefs and practice their faiths freely.  He met with religious activists and former prisoners of war to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR,” “LPR,” and occupied Crimea.

Embassy officials continued their meetings with internally displaced Muslims from Crimea to discuss their abuse by occupation authorities, including regular searches and detentions, a continuing inability to practice their religion freely or express dissent, a lack of restitution of their religious properties, and other continuing problems they faced with the Crimean occupation authorities.

Embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom abuses in the “DPR” and “LPR,” including banning of certain religious groups, registration requirements, and a lack of restitution of their religious properties.

The Ambassador hosted an interfaith iftar in June during Ramadan.  Religious leaders from across faiths, government officials, and members of the diplomatic community attended.  The Ambassador and other embassy officials participated in Hanukkah, Christmas, Holocaust commemoration, and other religious events during which they emphasized the importance of religious dialogue and equality and encouraged efforts to combat anti-Semitism and preserve cultural heritage.

The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued to urge the peaceful resolution of property and jurisdiction disputes in meetings with leaders of prominent Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups in Kyiv and Lviv.  In particular, the embassy continued to encourage religious groups involved in the dispute related to the location of parts of Lviv’s Krakivskiy Market on the former site of the city’s Old Jewish Cemetery to resolve the dispute through constructive dialogue.  Embassy officials also discussed other issues affecting religious communities, such as registration procedures for religious groups, desecration of monuments, and the government’s procedures for religious property restitution.


IN THIS SECTION: UKRAINE (ABOVE) | CRIMEA

United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The constitution designates Islam as the official religion.  It guarantees freedom of worship as long as it does not conflict with public policy or morals.  It states all persons are equal before the law, and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief.  The law prohibits blasphemy, proselytizing by non-Muslims, and conversion from Islam.  An antidiscrimination law includes prohibitions on religious discrimination, and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religions.  Local press reported in July that an Ajman court convicted “an Arab man” of blasphemy based on an offensive phone message and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment followed by deportation, and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000).  In January a court sentenced a Dominican woman and her child’s Yemeni biological father to a suspended one-month jail term and deportation for violating the country’s interpretation of sharia by engaging in extramarital sex.  Police and courts also continued to enforce laws against sorcery.  According to media reports, in February the Federal Supreme Court upheld an 18-month jail term against “an Arab man” for charges of witchcraft, fraud, and trying to coerce sex from a woman.  The government prohibited the dissemination of literature it perceived as supporting extremism.  The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) continued to provide strict guidance for the content of sermons in Sunni mosques and instructions on sermons to Shia mosques across all emirates except Dubai, where mosques were overseen by Dubai’s Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD).  In June the cabinet approved the formation of a Fatwa Council to oversee fatwa issuances, license muftis, provide training, and conduct research.  Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths reported they could worship in private without government interference but faced some restrictions on practicing their religion in public.  Government-controlled internet service providers blocked access to websites critical of Islam or supportive of views the government considered extremist.  Christian churches and Hindu and Sikh temples serving the noncitizen population operated on land donated by the ruling families.  During the year, construction was underway on multiple houses of worship.  Regulatory requirements sometimes limited the ability of religious organizations to rent space for worship and limited certain charitable activities.  The minister of tolerance hosted conferences and meetings with religious minority leaders throughout the year to promote interfaith tolerance both domestically and internationally.

According to non-Muslim religious communities, there was a high degree of tolerance within society for minority religious beliefs and traditions, particularly for those associated with officially recognized houses of worship, although conversion from Islam was strongly discouraged.  Conversion to Islam was encouraged, however.  Anti-Semitic materials continued to be available for purchase at book fairs.  There were continued instances of anti-Semitic remarks on social media and news sites.

The Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities spoke at a conference in Abu Dhabi on Muslim minorities at the invitation of the Ministry of Tolerance.  In meetings with senior government counterparts, the Ambassador, embassy and consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. officials reviewed ways to promote respect among faith groups and freedom for minority groups to practice their religions in the country, as well as government initiatives to foster religious tolerance and counter extremist interpretations of Islam.  Embassy and consulate general officials also engaged with a broad range of minority religious groups present in the country.  As concrete demonstrations of the importance of interfaith dialogue, the embassy and consulate general hosted interfaith events to encourage and support religious freedom and tolerance, engaging with various religious communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  Approximately 11 percent of the population are citizens, of whom more than 85 percent are Sunni Muslims, according to media reports.  The vast majority of the remainder are Shia Muslims, who are concentrated in the Emirates of Dubai and Sharjah.

Of the estimated 89 percent of residents who are noncitizens, the majority come from South and Southeast Asia.  Although no official statistics are available for what percentage of the noncitizen population is Muslim or the breakdown between Sunni and Shia Muslims among noncitizen residents, media estimates suggest less than 20 percent of the noncitizen Muslim population is Shia.

Of the total population (both citizen and noncitizen), the 2005 census, the most recent, found 76 percent to be Muslim, 9 percent Christian, and 15 percent from other religious groups comprising mainly Hindus and Buddhists, and also including Parsis, Baha’is, Druze, Sikhs, and Jews.  Ahmadi Muslims, Ismaili Muslims, and Dawoodi Bohra Muslims together constitute less than 5 percent of the total population and are almost entirely noncitizens.  The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010, 76.9 percent of the total population was Muslim, 12.6 percent Christian, 6.6 percent Hindu, 2 percent Buddhist, with the remaining belonging to other faith traditions.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution designates Islam as the official religion.  It guarantees freedom of religious worship “in accordance with established customs,” provided this “does not conflict with public policy or violate public morals.”  The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law, and prohibits discrimination on grounds of religious belief.

The law prohibits black magic, sorcery, and incantations, which are punishable by a prison term ranging from six months to three years, and deportation for noncitizens.

The law does not directly prohibit Muslims from converting to other religions; however, the penal code defers to sharia on matters defined as crimes in Islamic doctrine, which in many interpretations prohibits apostasy.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to five years for preaching against Islam or proselytizing to Muslims.  The law also prohibits “abusing” a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insulting any religion, inciting someone to commit sin or contravene national values, labeling someone an infidel or unbeliever, and forming groups or holding meetings with the purpose of provoking religious hatred.  Offenders are subject to fines up to two million dirhams ($545,000) and imprisonment generally ranging from five to 10 or more years.

The law prohibits blasphemy, defined as any act insulting God, religions, prophets, messengers, holy books, or houses of worship.  Offenders are subject to imprisonment for five or more years and fines from 250,000 dirhams ($68,100) to two million dirhams ($545,000); noncitizens may be deported.

The law does not require religious organizations to register; however, the formation of a legal entity, which requires some form of registration, is necessary for operational functions such as opening a bank account or renting space.  Each emirate oversees registration of non-Muslim religious organizations and the process differs by emirate, organization, and circumstance.  Currently, there is no consistent legal framework across the seven emirates for registering non-Muslim religious organizations and, as a result, different religious organizations register under different ministries.  In Dubai, religious organizations are required to obtain a license from the Community Development Authority (CDA).  The government has also granted some religious organizations land in free trade zones, where they legally registered by applying for a trade license, which allows them some operational functions.

The law requires Muslims and non-Muslims to refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking in public during fasting hours during the month of Ramadan.

The law prohibits churches from erecting bell towers or displaying crosses or other religious symbols on the outside of their premises, although they may place signs on their properties indicating they are churches.

Islamic studies are mandatory for all students in public schools and for Muslim students in private schools.  The government does not provide instruction in any religion other than Islam in public schools.  In private schools, non-Muslim students are not required to attend Islamic study classes.  All students, however, are required to take national social studies classes, which include some teaching on Islam.  The government permits Christian-affiliated schools to provide instruction tailored to the religious background of the student, for example, Islamic studies for Muslim students, Christian instruction for Christian students, and ethics or comparative religions for others.

Private schools deemed to be teaching material offensive to Islam, defamatory of any religion, or contravening the country’s ethics and beliefs face potential penalties, including closure.  All private schools, regardless of religious affiliation, must register with the government.  Private schools are required to have a license from the federal Ministry of Education and their curriculum must be consistent with a plan of operation submitted to and approved by the ministry.  Administrative oversight of the schools is a responsibility of each emirate’s government.

The law prohibits the distribution of religious literature the government determines is contradictory to Islam, as well as literature it deems blasphemous or offensive towards religions.

Land ownership by non-citizens is restricted to designated freehold areas.  Outside of special economic zones and designated freehold areas, the law restricts the majority company ownership to citizens.  This restriction is an impediment to most minority religious communities (which consist of noncitizens) from purchasing property to build houses of worship.

The law prohibits multiple forms of discrimination, including religious discrimination, and criminalizes acts the government interprets as provoking religious hatred or insulting religion through any form of expression.  It also criminalizes the broadcasting, publication, and transmission of such material by any means, including audio/visual or print media, or via the internet, and prohibits conferences or meetings the government deems promote discrimination, discord, or hatred.

According to the constitution, sharia is the principal source of legislation, although the judicial system applies two types of law, depending on the case.  Sharia forms the basis for judicial decisions in most family law matters for Muslims, such as marriage and divorce, and inheritance for both Muslims and non-Muslims; however, in the case of noncitizens, the parties may petition the court to have the laws of their home country apply, rather than sharia.  Sharia also applies in some criminal matters.  Civil law provides the basis for decisions on all other matters.  Shia Muslims in Dubai may pursue Shia family law cases through a special Shia council rather than through the regular judicial system.  When sharia courts try non-Muslims for criminal offenses, judges have the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties.  Higher courts may overturn or modify sharia penalties.

Under the law, Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women who are “people of the book” (Christian or Jewish).  Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men.  Non-Muslim men and Muslim women who marry are subject to arrest, trial, and imprisonment on grounds of engaging in extramarital sex, which carries a minimum sentence of one year in jail, as the marriage is considered invalid; any extramarital sex between persons of any religion is subject to the same penalties.

In the event of a divorce between a Muslim father and non-Muslim mother, sharia law will usually apply.  Strict interpretation of sharia – which oftentimes favors the father – does not apply to child custody cases.  The father, deemed the guardian, provides for the child financially, while the mother, the custodian, provides day-to-day care of the child.  Non-Muslim wives of citizens are ineligible for naturalization.  There is no automatic spousal inheritance provision for wives under the law if the husband is Muslim and the wife is non-Muslim.  Such wives may not inherit their husband’s property unless named as a beneficiary in their husband’s will.

Abu Dhabi’s judicial department permits Christian leaders to legally mediate divorces for Christians and agnostics if the bride and groom are both residents of the emirate.  The government permits church officials to officiate at weddings for non-Muslims, but the couple must also obtain the marriage certificate from the Abu Dhabi Justice Department.  In both cases of marriage and divorce, the church official must be registered with the Ministry of Justice as officially recognized to perform these acts.

Noncitizens may register wills in the emirate in which they live.  In the absence of a will filed with the government, the assets of foreigners who die are subject to sharia.  Non-Muslims are able to register their wills with the Abu Dhabi judicial system as a way to safeguard their assets and preserve their children’s inheritance rights.  In Dubai, foreigners may file wills at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) Court Wills and Probate Registry and include their own choice of law clause.  The DIFC Wills Service Center allows non-Muslim business owners and shareholders to designate an heir.  Dubai wills not filed in the DIFC Court are subject to sharia.  The DIFC’s jurisdiction extends to the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah.  There are courts for Personal Status and for Inheritance for non-Muslims in the Abu Dhabi Court of First Instance.

The law prohibits activities the government deems supportive of political or extremist interpretations of Islam.  These include the use of the internet or any other electronic means to promote views the government believes insult religions, promote sectarianism, damage national unity or the reputation of the state, or harm public order and public morals.  Punishments include imprisonment and fines from 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) to one million dirhams ($272,000).  In August the government increased the penalties for electronic violations of the law, including raising the maximum fine to four million dirhams ($1.09 million).  The law prohibits membership in groups the government designates as terrorist organizations, with penalties up to life imprisonment and capital punishment.

In May the president issued a federal law declaring that local authorities concerned with mosque affairs are responsible for naming mosques, providing and supervising the needs of mosques and prayer spaces, determining the timing of the second call to prayer, organizing religious lectures, and preparing sermons.  The law also defined acts prohibited in mosques, prayer spaces, and Eid Musallas (open prayer spaces outside of mosques or prayer halls smaller than mosques) without a license, such as giving lectures or sermons, holding Quran memorization circles, fundraising, and distributing written and visual material.  The law further stipulates that citizen applicants must be given first consideration for vacant positions at mosques.  The law prohibits those working in mosques from belonging to any illegal group or from carrying out any political or organizational activities.

The law restricts charitable fundraising activities, including by religious organizations, by prohibiting the collection of donations or advertising fundraising campaigns without prior approval from authorities.

In May the president approved a federal law on charitable endowments, clarifying circumstances under which fundraising was permissible.  The law classifies charitable endowments into three categories:  where proceeds are designated for the founder’s offspring; where proceeds are designated for charitable endeavors supporting the underprivileged; and where the proceeds are designed for both offspring and the general public.

The Dubai CDA is the official body mandated to oversee all civil institutions and nonprofits in the emirate, including non-Muslim religious groups.  The CDA issues operating licenses and permits for events, and monitors fundraising activities.  The law also states that civil institutions may only collect donations or launch fundraising campaigns after obtaining the CDA’s written approval.  Fines for noncompliance range from 500 dirhams ($140) to 100,000 dirhams ($27,200).

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

Government Practices

According to press, in July the criminal court of Ajman sentenced “an Arab man” to seven years of imprisonment, deportation upon completion of jail time, and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,000) on blasphemy charges for an allegedly offensive voice mail that, according to media reports, contained offensive words and insulted God.

In January a court sentenced a Dominican woman and her child’s Yemeni biological father to a suspended one-month jail term and deportation for violating the country’s interpretation of sharia by engaging in extramarital sex.

Police and courts continued to enforce laws against sorcery.  In February the Federal Supreme Court upheld an 18-month jail term against someone identified in the press as “an Arab man” for charges of witchcraft, fraud, and trying to coerce sex from a woman.

There were reports of government actions targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, designated by the government as a terrorist organization, and individuals associated with the group.

Within prisons, the authorities required Muslims to attend weekly Islamic services.  In Abu Dhabi, some Christian clergy reported difficulties visiting Christian prisoners and raised concerns about lack of worship space for incarcerated Christians.  They reported that when they were granted prison access, they were permitted to take Bibles to the prisoners.

The country’s two primary internet service providers, both majority-owned by the government, continued to block certain web sites critical of Islam or supportive of religious views the government considered extremist, including Islamic sites.  The service providers continued to block other sites on religion-related topics, including some with information on Judaism, Christianity, atheism, and testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity.

In June the cabinet approved the formation of the UAE Fatwa Council, headed by President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah.  The cabinet tasked the council with presenting a clear image of Islam, including issuing general fatwas and licensing individuals to issue fatwas, train muftis, and conduct research in coordination with the Awqaf.  In a July statement to the official Emirates news agency, Sheikh bin Bayyah declared, “Unofficial and rogue fatwas are the first gateway to extremist ideologies, and now is the time to demolish the misuse of this platform and end the distortion of fatwas to serve terrorism, murder, and destruction, both in Muslim countries and among Muslim minorities in different countries of the world.”

The Awqaf continued to vet and appoint Sunni imams, except in Dubai, based on their gender, educational background and knowledge of Islam, along with security checks.  According to the federal Awqaf, the government continued to fund Sunni mosques, with the exception of those considered private, and retained all Sunni imams as government employees.

The federal Awqaf continued to oversee the administration of Sunni mosques, except in Dubai, where they were administered by the IACAD.  On its website, the Awqaf stated its goals included offering “religious guidance in the UAE to instill the principle of moderation in Islam.”  It continued to distribute weekly guidance to Sunni imams regarding subject matter, themes, and content of Friday Islamic sermons; published a Friday sermon script every week; and posted the guidance on its website.  The Awqaf applied a three-tier system in which junior imams followed the Awqaf Friday sermon script closely; midlevel imams prepared sermons according to the topic or subject matter selected by Awqaf authorities; and senior imams had the flexibility to choose their own subject and content for their Friday sermons.  Some Shia sheikhs (religious leaders) chose to follow Awqaf-approved weekly addresses, while others wrote their own sermons.  In June the Awqaf launched the first English-language Friday sermons in Ras Al Khaimah.  In September the Awqaf launched an initiative to translate Friday sermons for reading and listening into English and Urdu on its website and mobile application.

Dubai’s IACAD controlled the appointment of Sunni clergy and their conduct during worship in Dubai mosques.  All of the imams in Dubai’s more than 2,000 Sunni mosques were government employees and included both citizens and noncitizens.  Qualification requirements were more stringent for expatriate imams than for local imams, and starting salaries much lower.

The Jaafari Affairs Council, located in Dubai, managed Shia affairs for all of the country, including overseeing mosques and community activities, managing financial affairs, and hiring preachers.  The council complied with the weekly guidance from IACAD and issued additional instructions on sermons to Shia mosques.  In May, acting on an initiative of Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, emirate officials inaugurated the Imam Al Sadiq Center in Dubai for Shia religious and community activities.  The site is intended to hold 2,400 people.

The government did not appoint sheikhs for Shia mosques.  Shia adherents worshiped in and maintained their own mosques.  The government considered all Shia mosques to be private; however, they were eligible to receive some funds from the government upon request.

The Awqaf operated official toll-free call centers and a text messaging service for fatwas in three languages (Arabic, English, and Urdu).  Fatwa categories included belief and worship, business transactions, family issues, women’s issues, and other Islamic legal issues.  Callers explained their question directly to an official mufti, who then issued a fatwa.  Both female (muftiya) and male (mufti) religious scholars worked the phones at the fatwa hotline.

The government permitted Shia Muslims to observe Ashura in private, but not in public.  There were no public processions in Dubai or the northern emirates.

Representatives of non-Islamic faiths said registration procedures and requirements for minority religious groups remained unclear in all emirates other than Dubai.  The government did not require non-Muslim religious groups to register, but according to some observers, the lack of a clear legal designation continued to result in an ambiguous legal status for many groups and created difficulties in carrying out certain administrative functions, including banking or signing leases.  For example, the government required religious groups to register as a precondition for establishing formal places of worship, such as temples, mosques, or churches, or for holding religious services in rented spaces such as hotels or convention centers.  Community sources indicated that the government permitted unregistered religious organizations to rent spaces at hotels in some circumstances.  The government permitted groups that chose not to register to practice in private homes, as long as this activity did not disturb neighbors through excessive noise or vehicle congestion.

The government required all conference organizers, including religious groups, to register conferences and events, including disclosing speaker topics.

In Dubai, there were reports of delays in obtaining permits to worship in spaces outside of government-designated religious compounds from the CDA, tasked with implementing a new oversight structure for civil institutions and nonprofits and with regulating non-Muslim faith communities in the emirate.  There were also reports of additional restrictions on holding some religious services in hotels, due to confusion and uncertainty regarding CDA policies, and last-minute event cancellations affecting religious groups.

Immigration authorities continued to ask foreigners applying for residence permits to declare their religious affiliation on residence applications.  School applications also asked for family religious affiliation.  Applicants were required to list a religious affiliation, creating potential legal issues for atheists and agnostics.  According to Ministry of Interior officials, the government collected this information for demographic statistical analysis only.

Individuals belonging to non-Islamic faiths, including Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Judaism, said they generally could worship and practice without government interference within designated compounds or buildings, or in private facilities or homes.  While the government did not generally allow non-Muslims to worship, preach, or conduct prayers in public, there were reports of government-sanctioned exceptions, such as the annual Easter celebrations held on a beach.

The government continued to provide land for non-Islamic cemeteries.  There were cremation facilities and associated cemeteries for the large Hindu community.  The Al Ain municipality in Abu Dhabi Emirate also ran a cremation facility.  Non-Muslim groups said the capacity in crematoriums and cemeteries was sufficient to meet demand.  The government required residents and nonresidents to obtain a permit to use cremation facilities, and authorities routinely granted such permits.  The government allowed people from all religious groups except Islam to use the cremation facilities.

In November the Abu Dhabi International Airport opened a multi-faith prayer room for use by the general public.

Some religious groups, particularly Christians and Hindus, advertised religious functions in the press or online, including holiday celebrations, memorial services, religious conventions, and choral concerts, without government objection.  The government also allowed businesses to advertise, sell merchandise, and host events for non-Islamic religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Diwali.  The government allowed local media to report on non-Islamic religious holiday celebrations, including service times and related community-safety reminders.

In spite of legal prohibitions on eating during daytime hours of Ramadan, in Dubai and several northern emirates, non-Muslims were exempt from these laws in hotels and most malls; non-Muslims could eat at some stand-alone restaurants and most hotels in Abu Dhabi as well.  In Dubai and several northern emirates, the emirate governments permitted most licensed restaurants to offer alcohol during Ramadan.

The government did not always enforce the law against bell towers and crosses on churches, and some churches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai displayed crosses on their buildings or had ornamental bell towers; none of them used the towers to ring or chime bells.

Customs authorities continued to review the content of religious materials imported into the country and occasionally confiscated some materials, such as books.  Additionally, sometimes customs authorities denied or delayed entry to passengers carrying items deemed intended for sorcery, black magic, or witchcraft.  Specific items airport inspectors reportedly confiscated included amulets, animal bones, spells, knives, and containers of blood.

Officials from the Awqaf’s Department of Research and Censorship reviewed religious materials such as books and DVDs published at home and abroad.  The department’s Religious Publications Monitoring Section continued to limit the publication and distribution of religious literature to those it considered consistent with moderate interpretations of Islam and placed restrictions on non-Islamic religious publications, such as material that could be considered proselytizing or promoting another religion over Islam.  The section issued permits to print the Quran and reviewed literature on Quranic interpretation.  The government continued to prohibit the publication and distribution of literature it believed promoted extremist Islam and overtly political Islam.  The Religious Publications Monitoring Section inspected mosques to ensure prohibited publications were not present.

The Anti-Defamation League noted that despite the central government’s policy of promoting religious tolerance, the Dubai emirate sponsored three speakers with a history of anti-Semitic comments at an emirate-sponsored Ramadan event, a ceremony for the Dubai Holy Quran Award.  Omar Abdel Kafi, also spoke at the opening session of the May 2018 “Tolerance and Diversity of Cultures” conference in Abu Dhabi, held at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research.  Another of the speakers identified in the report, Saleh al-Maghemsy, spoke at the April “Al-Quds – Location and Status” conference in Abu Dhabi, under the patronage of the Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan.

The government continued to grant permission to build houses of worship on a case-by-case basis.  Minority religious groups said, however, the construction of new houses of worship had not kept up with demand from the country’s large noncitizen population.  Many existing churches continued to face overcrowding and many congregations lacked their own space.  In Dubai, overcrowding of the emirate’s two church compounds was especially pronounced, and routinely led to congestion and traffic.  Media reports highlighted that holiday services often attract tens of thousands of worshippers to Dubai’s church compounds.  Some smaller congregations met in private locations, or shared space with other churches to which rulers had given land.  Noncitizen groups with land grants did not pay rent on the property.  Several emirates also continued to provide free utilities for religious buildings.

Noncitizens, who make up the membership of most minority religious groups, relied on grants and permission from local rulers to build houses of worship.  For these groups, land titles remained in the respective ruler’s name.  There were approximately 42 Christian churches, built on land donated by the ruling families of the emirates in which they were located.  Ajman and Umm Al Quwain were the only emirates without dedicated land for Christian churches, although congregations gathered in other spaces, such as hotels.

There are two Hindu temples and one Sikh temple in Dubai.  Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed allocated land in Al-Wathba, Abu Dhabi, for the construction of a privately funded Hindu temple, scheduled to be completed by 2020.  In January the minister of tolerance and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East inaugurated Saint Elias Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.  There were no Buddhist temples; some Buddhist groups met in private facilities.  There were no synagogues for the expatriate resident Jewish population, but regular communal worship took place on the Sabbath and holidays in a private villa in Dubai.  In December Bloomberg published an article about the Dubai Jewish community with the permission of its leaders, marking the first time the worship space had been publicly acknowledged.  Construction was underway on a new Anglican church in Abu Dhabi; the projected completion date is not clear.

Although the government permitted non-Muslim groups to raise money from their congregations and from abroad, some noncitizen religious groups were unable to open bank accounts because of the lack of a clear legal category to assign the organization.  Several religious minority leaders reported this ambiguity created practical barriers to renting space, paying salaries, collecting funds, and purchasing insurance, and made it difficult to maintain financial controls and accountability.

In Islamic court cases involving non-Muslim defendants, judges had the discretion to impose civil or sharia penalties, and sources said the judges generally imposed civil penalties.

Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan often spoke publicly in support of free practice of religion, including during a February address to a delegation from the Catholic University of Paris.  The minister continued to host the International Institute of Tolerance, which sponsored the Dubai-based World Tolerance Summit in November, which featured messaging on respect for religious pluralism.

The government engaged with religious minorities frequently.  In January the minister of tolerance hosted senior Christian leaders from across the Gulf Cooperation Council at his palace in Abu Dhabi and discussed interfaith relations and their ability to worship in the UAE.  In January Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, hosted Aga Khan IV, imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, as part of the Aga Khan’s diamond jubilee tour as spiritual leader and to promote the Aga Khan Foundation.

In October Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed and numerous other officials hosted a visiting evangelical Christian delegation from the United States to discuss promotion of tolerance and religious pluralism.

During the St. Anthony’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral’s Christmas celebration, Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan addressed the congregation and condemned the terrorist attack against the Church of Mar Mina in Cairo and affirmed the country’s commitment to religious tolerance and interfaith understanding.

In June Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with Pope Francis and other senior Vatican officials in Rome.  Local media reports noted that the discussions included promoting interfaith dialogue and increased bilateral cooperation.

Some Muslim and non-Muslim groups reported their ability to engage in nonreligious charitable activities, such as providing meals or social services, was limited because of government restrictions.  For example, the government required groups to obtain permission prior to any fundraising activities.  Religious groups reported official permission was required for any activities held outside of their place of worship, including charitable activities, and this permission was sometimes difficult to obtain.

In Dubai, representatives of the CDA attended interfaith iftars and suhoors (predawn meals during Ramadan) hosted by several Christian congregations, the Sikh Gurudwara, and the Ismaili Center.  Dubai’s Al Manara Islamic Center hosted an interfaith iftar, and invited attendees to share their thoughts on the themes of tolerance and happiness.  The iftar was broadcast live on the center’s website.  Dubai’s grand mufti addressed the diverse group of minority religious leaders and diplomats in attendance.

In June 2018 Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited the Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi, India, as part of an official visit.

Prominent government figures and social media influencers routinely acknowledged minority religious holidays using various platforms.  For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai, tweeted wishes for a happy Diwali and encouraged observers to use social media to share pictures of Diwali celebrations around the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to non-Muslim groups, there continued to be societal pressure discouraging conversion from Islam and encouraging conversion to Islam.  In March the Dubai-based Dar Al Ber Society announced that it had supported the conversion to Islam of 3,014 residents representing 69 nationalities in 2017.  During Ramadan, local newspapers published stories portraying conversions to Islam positively and published statistics on conversions to Islam.  For example, local media reported that 40 residents converted to Islam at an iftar hosted by the Islamic Information Center (IIC) of Dubai.  By contrast, observers reported conversion from Islam was highly discouraged through strong cultural and social pressure, particularly from family members.

Holiday foods, decorations, posters, and books continued to be widely available during major Christian and Hindu holidays, and Christmas trees and elaborate decorations remained prominent features at malls and hotels.  The news media continued to print reports of religious holiday celebrations, including religious activities such as Christmas celebrations and Hindu festivals such as Diwali.  Decorations and supplies for christenings and other religious events were available in major shopping centers.

Religious literature, primarily related to Islam, was available in stores; however, bookstores generally did not carry core religious works for other faiths, such as the Bible or Hindu sacred texts.

Radio and television stations frequently broadcast Islamic programming, including sermons and lectures; they did not feature similar content for other religious groups.

In some cases, organizations reported hotels, citing government regulatory barriers, were unwilling to rent space for non-Islamic religious purposes, such as weekly church services.  Local media reported on difficulties in obtaining bank loans to cover construction costs for new religious spaces, even for registered religious organizations, such as Anglican attempts to fund construction for All Saints Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi.

Anti-Semitic materials were available for purchase at some book fairs and from a major international book retailer.  There were continued reports of users posting anti-Semitic remarks on some social media sites and local Arabic print media featured anti-Semitic caricatures in political cartoons.  Following the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in May, Al-Bayan, a Dubai-based newspaper, ran an editorial cartoon showing the caricature of an orthodox Jew wearing a hat featuring the Star of David and firing a pistol into a grave with a headstone marked “Palestine’s martyrs.”

News reports during the year quoted religious leaders, including from Catholic, Anglican, Hindu, Sikh, and other religious communities, expressing appreciation for government support for their communities and the relative freedom in which their communities could worship.  During Ramadan, local media widely covered interfaith iftars hosted by minority faith communities, for example by the Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi.

Because of the limited capacity of official houses of worship, dozens of religious organizations and different sects shared worship space.  At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi, the minister of tolerance during his keynote address praised the number of different Christian faith groups sharing space and worshipping side by side.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In December the U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom spoke at the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies’ fifth annual conference in Abu Dhabi about advancing religious freedom across the world.  In May the Department of State Special Advisor for Religious Minorities, at the invitation of the Ministry of Tolerance, spoke about U.S. support for Muslim communities as a panel member for the International Conference on Muslim Minorities.

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, Consul General, and other embassy and consulate general officers met with representatives of the Ministry of Tolerance, Dubai’s CDA, IACAD, and other officials during the year.  In addition to the implementation of new laws and regulatory practices, officers discussed international, bilateral, and governmental efforts to support religious diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance, as well as government initiatives to promote moderate Islam.  Officers also engaged with government-supported organizations whose official stated purpose was to promote tolerance within and across religions, such as the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

Embassy and consulate general officers regularly met with representatives of minority religious groups to learn more about issues affecting their communities as part of continuing efforts to monitor their abilities to associate and worship.  The embassy and consulate general hosted events that brought together leaders from diverse religious communities, such as the Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Shia communities, to facilitate the sharing of their experiences with one another, encourage interfaith contact building and dialogue, and demonstrate U.S. support for tolerance and religious freedom.  In March in partnership with the Ministry of Tolerance, the U.S. embassy and consulate sponsored the visit of a gospel choir affiliated with Howard University to perform in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Fujairah.  The choir also sang on local radio and at an event hosted by the minister of tolerance at his majlis (salon).  In Dubai, the Ismaili Center cohosted the gospel choir for an interfaith concert that was widely covered by local media.  Remarks from both U.S. and UAE officials throughout the visit praised mutual efforts to understand different religions and cultures.

United Kingdom

Executive Summary

In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church.  The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion.  The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs.  The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils.  The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias.  Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism.  The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism.  The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism.  In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition.  During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it.  The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.

The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017.  There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups.  There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians.  Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.”  A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups.  The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities.  On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.  The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 65.1 million (October 2018 estimate).  Census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian, comprising the Church of England (Anglican), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), other Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and other Christian groups.  Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identified as Muslim; 1.5 percent Hindu; 0.8 percent Sikh; 0.5 percent Jewish; and 0.4 Buddhist.  Approximately 25 percent of the population reported no religious affiliation, and 7 percent chose not to answer.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses estimates there are 137,000 members in the country, and the Baha’i community estimates it numbers more than 7,000 members.

According to the 2018 British Social Attitudes survey, an annual survey conducted by the independent National Center for Social Research, 53 percent of those surveyed described themselves as having no religion, 15 percent as Anglican, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as belonging to non-Christian religious groups.

The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but it also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of European descent.  Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.

Census figures for Scotland in 2011 indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and other Christian groups (6 percent).  The Muslim community constitutes 1.4 percent of the population.  Other religious groups, which together make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists.  Persons not belonging to any religious group make up 36.7 percent of the population, and the remainder did not provide information on religious affiliation.

Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicate 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant – consisting of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (19 percent), Church of Ireland (14 percent), Methodist Church in Ireland (3 percent), and other Protestant groups (6 percent) – and 41 percent Roman Catholic.  Less than 1 percent of the population belongs to non-Christian religious groups, and approximately 10 percent professes no religion; 7 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation.

Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cite 22 religious groups in the population of 71,000; 78 percent identifies as Christian, including 16 percent Anglican, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent African Methodist Episcopal, and 7 percent Seventh-day Adventist.  Approximately 2 percent identifies with other religious groups, including approximately 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians, and 120 Jews.  Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church.  Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions.  Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.

The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.  It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with other and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”  The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”

As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church.  The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission.  Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration.  The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.

In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate language and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material.  The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof.  The police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense.  The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison.  If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than the underlying crime alone.  In Scotland the law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.

By law the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales.  The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.”  Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages.  Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program.  Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter.

Throughout the country the law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 13 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level.  Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus.  Parents may request to exempt their children from RE.  At age 13, students themselves may choose to stop RE or continue, in which case they study two religions.  Nonreligious state schools require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students.  It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country.  Students and, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, teachers may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice.

Nonreligious state schools in England and Wales are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.”  Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship.  The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action.  Nonreligious state schools are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.

In Scotland only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance is compulsory in all Scottish schools.  Religious observance is defined as “Community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.”  Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas, Easter, and Holocaust Memorial Day.  Parents can make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.

In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.”  At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.

There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school.  One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.

The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities.  If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance.  Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.

Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools.  Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds.  Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant and Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools.  These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.”  RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and “the school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.”  All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship.  Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.

An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system.  They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law.  Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis.  The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies.  As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.

The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief.”  The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination.  The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales.  The minister for women and equalities appoints the members.  If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice.  The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently.  The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.

In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief only in employment; however, schools may discriminate on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers.  In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.

Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.

Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church.  Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the life and work of the upper house.

The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination.  A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.

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

Government Practices

In the Autumn Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced 1.7 million pounds ($2.18 million) of new funding to support Holocaust education.  The money was earmarked for coordinating Holocaust survivors’ visits to schools and student visits to concentration camps.  The Treasury is designated to work with the Holocaust Education Trust to distribute the funds.  This funding is in addition to the 50 million pounds ($64.02 million) committed to support the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre and Holocaust Memorial, due to be built next to Parliament.

On October 16, the Home Office and the Department for Housing, Communities, and Local Government updated the government’s 2016 Hate Crime Plan.  The updated plan includes more than 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) of new funding for educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs among young persons.  The plan also extended the Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme from three to four years.  During the year, the scheme provided grants to nine churches, 22 mosques, two Hindu temples, and 12 Sikh gurdwaras.  Additional new measures include a Law Commission review into hate crime; a nationwide public awareness campaign; specialist training for police call handlers on how to support hate crime victims; an upgrade of the reporting website, True Vision; and roundtables hosted by government ministers on anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.

On May 31, a committee led by Lord Bracadale (Alastair Campbell, former Scottish judge) provided to Scottish ministers the final report of the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation that was tasked in January 2017.  The report found adequate provisions under existing law for religion as a “protected characteristic.”

In September the Scottish government together with Police Scotland launched a “Letters from Scotland” advertising campaign to raise awareness of hate crimes and encourage persons to report them.  The Catholic Church criticized the Scottish government for not directly addressing sectarian hate crimes in the campaign.

The government continued to provide religious accommodation for employees when it considered such accommodation feasible.  Muslim employees of the prison service regularly took time off during their shifts to pray.  The prison service recognized the rights of prisoners to practice their faith while in custody.  The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than religious groups.  All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population.  Prison service regulations stated that “chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”

The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith.  At year’s end, there were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian.  The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for their Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits.  The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board was reviewing provision of chaplaincy for personnel of these religions and considering employing suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.

In February the Home Office published an independent review into the application of sharia in England and Wales.  The review, commissioned in October 2015 and launched in May 2016, provided three recommendations.  The independent review panel recommended amendments be made to the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Act 1973.  These changes would “ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriages, in line with Christian and Jewish marriages in the eyes of the law.”  The review stated the closure of sharia councils was not a viable option.  Sharia councils are predominantly used by Muslim women seeking a religious divorce, in some cases because their religious marriages were never registered civilly, rendering civil divorce unavailable to them.  The report also recommended the introduction of awareness campaigns, educational programs, and other similar measures to “encourage communities to acknowledge women’s rights in civil law, especially in areas of marriage and divorce.”  The report also proposed the creation of a body that would set up the process for councils to regulate themselves.  This regulation would require sharia councils to accept and implement a code of practice established by the regulatory body.

The Home Office responded to the independent panel’s recommendations stating, “We will not be taking forward the review’s recommendation to regulate sharia councils.  Sharia law has no jurisdiction in the UK, and we would not facilitate or endorse regulation, which could present councils as an alternative to UK laws.”

As of January 2017 there were 6,814 state-funded faith-based schools in England.  Of these, 6,177 were primary schools (ages three through 11), representing 37 percent of all state-funded primary schools, and 637 secondary schools (ages 11 through 16), representing 19 percent of all state-funded secondary schools.  Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at secondary level (9 percent).  Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 26 Methodist, two Greek Orthodox, one Quaker, one Seventh-day Adventist, one United Reform, 145 other Christian, 48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh, and five Hindu state-funded schools.  There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland:  366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish.  The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.

On the centenary of the legislation that brought Catholic schools into Scotland’s state education system, in June First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a 450 percent increase to 127,000 pounds ($163,000) in funding for a Catholic teaching program so that more individuals could acquire a Catholic Teaching Certificate allowing them to teach at a Catholic school.

The government continued to require schools to consider the needs of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students.  This included wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head.  Guidance from the Department of Education required schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it noted schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.

In April the Department of Education dropped plans to require providers of out-of-school education to register with local authorities, following a reported personal intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The proposals, which aimed to safeguard children from the risk of extremism, would have subjected religious organizations to government regulations and inspections.  The plans would have affected Christian Sunday schools and Muslim madrassas.  Groups including the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Institute, and Christian Concern expressed their opposition to the proposals.  The Department of Education received approximately 18,000 responses during its three-month consultation period (November 2015-January 2016), many of which were from faith groups stating concern over the proposed regulation.

In January press reported that a North London coroner withdrew a special arrangement for the Jewish community in October 2017.  Under the arrangement in effect since January 2015, the remains of Jews who died at home in North London could be sent directly to a specified funeral home, rather than a public mortuary.  Coroner Mary Hassell stated that a North London synagogue and burial society had made one of her officers feel bullied and persecuted during a previous postmortem examination.  In response, Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Synagogue and Burial Society said the policy was “unlawful” and called for Hassell’s removal.  Religious groups brought a legal challenge, and in April the High Court declared Hassell’s policy unlawful and ordered her to change it.  In July Hassell made a public apology and requested input from religious groups in crafting a new policy.

In Scotland, a law that criminalized religious hatred where it was connected to soccer matches was repealed on April 20.  New charges that would previously have been reported under that law would henceforth be reported as a different offense with a religious aggravation.  All ongoing charges under the former law were amended to reflect the change in statutes.

In August a Scottish judge blocked the deportation of a Malaysian Christian woman on religious grounds after she stated she had come to the country to flee Islamist persecution.  The presiding Judge Lady Clark held that the woman’s life would be in danger if she were to return to Malaysia.

In May the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote an open letter to the chairman of the Conservative Party demanding an inquiry into “Islamophobia” within the party.  In the letter, the MCB asked the party to launch an independent inquiry, publish a list of incidents, institute an education program, and make a public commitment to stamp out bigotry.  The letter named Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Bob Blackman as “fostering Islamophobia.”  It listed examples of politicians who had “liked” or reposted anti-Muslim social media posts and pages or had ties to anti-Muslim and far-right groups.  In August a petition demanding an independent inquiry into “Islamophobia” in political parties reached more than 30,000 signatures in two days.  The petition asked the parliament to adopt the steps proposed by the MCB.

In June two Conservative councilors were suspended following allegations of anti-Muslim comments on social media.  Councilor Linda Freedman of Barnet in North London appeared to express support for the detention of Muslims on Twitter.  Councilor Ian Hibberd of Southampton posted derogatory comments under a photograph of a fellow councilor wearing Sikh religious dress.

In August former Foreign Secretary and Conservative MP Boris Johnson wrote an opinion piece in The Telegraph newspaper in which he compared fully veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”  Johnson faced criticism from a range of voices within his party, the opposition, and civil society.  Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May and the chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, both called on Johnson to apologize for his comments.  Labour Party Shadow Equalities Minister, MP Naz Shah, labeled the comments as “ugly and naked Islamophobia.”  The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum accused Johnson of “pandering to the far right.”  In December an independent panel cleared Johnson of breaking the Conservative Party’s code of conduct.  The panel found that while his comments could be considered provocative, it would be “unwise to censor excessively,” adding that Conservative Party rules do not “override an individual’s right to freedom of expression.”

The Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, faced further allegations of anti- Semitism.  The CST recorded 148 incidents during the year that were examples of, or related to arguments over, alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.  In April the Labour Party was internally investigating 90 cases of anti-Semitism among its members.  In April Corbyn wrote an article published in the London Evening Standard newspaper stating that the number of cases of anti-Semitism over the past three years represented less than 0.1 percent of Labour’s membership.  In response, BBC Reality Check calculated that from 2015 to 2018, there were more than 300 complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the party, approximately half of those leading to expulsions.  In March press reported that in 2012, Corbyn showed support for a mural depicting “Jewish bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the poor.”  In response, two major Jewish groups – the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews – wrote an open letter to the Labour Party and organized a demonstration in Parliament Square.  Corbyn later apologized, saying he did not properly look at the picture before arguing that the art should not be removed.  Labour MPs joined the British Jewish community in a 2,000-person protest against anti-Semitism within the party.

In April Labour expelled a party member for heckling a Jewish MP at the launch of an anti-Semitism report in 2016.  Former Labour Party member and activist Marc Wadsworth accused MP Ruth Smeeth of working “hand-in-hand” with the right-wing newspapers.  Wadsworth was expelled two years later by the party’s National Constitution Committee for breaching party rules.

In May former London Mayor Ken Livingstone announced his resignation from the Labour Party after being suspended by the party for two years over allegations of anti-Semitism.  The Labour Party first suspended Livingstone in 2016 after he said in a radio interview that Hitler had supported Zionism and announced in March that his suspension had been extended following another formal investigation over anti-Semitism.  He continued to dispute the allegations.

In July Labour MP Naz Shah was appointed Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.  In 2016 Shah lost the party whip position and was barred from party activity for three months following comments on Facebook in which she appeared to liken Israeli policies to those of Hitler and suggested Israel should be moved to the United States.  In January 2017, following a meeting with the Bradford Board of Deputies, a leading Jewish organization, its president, Jonathan Arkush, supported her, saying, “[Shah] is one of the only people involved in Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis who has sought to make amends for her actions, and for this we commend her and now regard Naz as a sincere friend of our community.”

In December Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered an independent, global review of the persecution of Christians of all nationalities.  The Foreign Office review was to be led by Bishop of Truro Philip Mountstephen and was to make recommendations to the government to better support those under threat.  The review was due by April 21 (Easter) 2019.

The government, a member of the IHRA since 1998, adopted the full working definition of anti-Semitism in 2016, and the Crown Prosecution Service used it to assess potential prosecutions for anti-Semitic hate crimes.  In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition.  In July the Conservative Party adopted the IHRA definition and amended its code of conduct to include an interpretive annex on discrimination, which refers to the IHRA definition.  The Liberal Democrats Party adopted the definition in September.  The Guardian newspaper reported that the Green Party’s ruling body discussed adopting the definition as part of an internal review but decided against it.  The SNP did not clarify whether it had adopted the IHRA definition, but a spokesperson pointed out that the Scottish government, which is ruled by the SNP, adopted the definition in 2017.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 8,336 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in England and Wales – 9 percent of total hate crimes – a 40 percent increase over the 5,949 crimes in the previous year.  There was no breakdown by type of crime.  Home Office statisticians said the increase likely reflected both a genuine rise in hate crime and ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police.  Figures rose sharply in March 2017 and March 2018; however, police record crime data on a UK financial year basis (April-March), and there are commonly “increases” in March of each year as police reconcile their annual data.  There was also a sharp increase in religiously motivated hate crime in June 2017, which the Home Office linked to the ISIS terrorist attacks in May and June.

In July Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, released its annual report for 2017.  The report showed the highest number of anti-Muslim incidents since its launch in 2012.  In 2017 Tell MAMA recorded a total of 1,330 reports, of which 1,201 were verified as being anti-Muslim in nature.  More than two-thirds (839) of the verified incidents, a 30 percent increase compared with 2016, did not occur online.  Online reports accounted for one-third of the total incidents in 2017, a 16.3 percent increase from the previous year.  Consistent with previous years, incidents that were not online took place within public areas such as parks and shopping areas.  Public transport was the second most common place for incidents to take place.  The report stated there was “a sharp increase in hate crime in June 2017 following terrorist attacks in May and June.”

In November Tell MAMA released its interim report for the first six months of 2018.  During this time, a total of 685 incidents were reported, of which 608 were verified as being anti-Muslim.  Of the total number of incidents, 65.9 percent (401) were offline, or street-based, and 34 percent (207) occurred online.  The report noted 59.9 percent (124) of the online incidents took place on Twitter, 23.6 percent (49) on Facebook, and the rest on platforms including YouTube and Instagram.  Abusive behavior formed the majority of incidents that were not online, and accounted for 45.3 percent (182) records.  More than half the victims were Muslim women, accounting for 58 percent (233) of incidents where gender data was available.

In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 642 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 5 percent decrease (678 in the previous year).  The most recent figures included 319 anti-Catholic crimes (384), 174 anti-Protestant crimes (165), 115 anti-Muslim crimes (113), and 21 anti-Semitic crimes (23).  Cases did not add up to the total number reported as some of the crimes related to conduct that targeted more than one religious group.  In the year ending in March, court proceedings commenced in 85 percent of cases.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 41 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 38 incidents during 2017-18, a 46 percent increase from the previous period.  The PSNI cited 52 other religiously motivated incidents in the same period that did not constitute crimes, an increase of 31 over the previous year.

The CST recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year – the highest in a calendar year.  For the 2018 calendar year, incidents targeted Jewish public figures (82, compared with 18 in 2017), Jewish schools (40), synagogues (66), Jewish homes (130), and Jewish community organizations, communal events, or commercial property (221).  The CST categorized 122 incidents as assaults.  Almost three quarters of the incidents occurred in the main Jewish centers of greater London and greater Manchester, 950 and 145, respectively.  The CST recorded 384 incidents of anti-Semitism on social media, constituting 23 percent of the overall total of incidents, an increase of 54 percent, compared with 249 in 2017.

According to CST, the sustained high levels of anti-Semitic incidents reported may have resulted in part from improvements in information collection, including better reporting from victims and witnesses as a result of growing communal concern about anti-Semitism; an increase in the number of security guards (many of whom the government funded through a CST-administered grant to provide security at Jewish locations); and ongoing improvements to CST’s information sharing with police forces around the country.  While CST stated there was no clear trigger event, months in which the CST recorded a higher number of incidents correlated with the political and media debate over allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.  The CST recorded 148 incidents that were examples of, or linked to, the Labour Party.  The CST also stated that higher monthly totals in April and May might have been partly influenced by reactions to violence on the Gaza-Israel border.  According to the CST, this sustained high number of anti-Semitic incidents suggested a longer-term phenomenon in which persons with anti-Semitic views appeared to be more confident expressing their views.  The CST stated that identifying the ethnicity or religious beliefs of anti-Semitic offenders was difficult, since many incidents involved brief public encounters or, in the case of online statements, no face-to-face contact at all.  The CST received a description of the ethnic appearance of an offender in 30 percent (502) of the 1,652 incidents reported.  Of these, 60 percent (300) were described as white – European; 15 percent (73) as Black; 13 percent (64) as South Asian; and 9 percent (44) as Arab or North African; and 4 percent (18) as white – South European.

In January the Chelsea Football Club (FC) announced a new campaign to raise awareness of anti-Semitism and its consequences, after fans chanted anti-Semitic abuse at a game in late 2017.  Days after Chelsea FC announced its initiative to combat anti-Semitism by its fans, in February some of its supporters were caught singing anti-Semitic songs during a game.  In April Chelsea FC sent a delegation of 150 staff and supporters to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living, a trip described by Chelsea FC’s chairman, Bruce Buck, as “important and effective.”  In October Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich announced plans to continue the initiative by sending anti-Semitic supporters on educational trips to Auschwitz, rather than banning them from attending games.  Buck told The Sun, “This policy gives them a chance to realize what they’ve done, to make them want to behave better.”  On October 10, Chelsea FC previewed a film at the Houses of Parliament aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism, through interspersing images of offensive chants and social media posts alongside images from the Holocaust.  The club’s website states, “We are just trying to make a dent in the anti-Semitism in this world.  Over time, we hope to make a real contribution for good to society.”

Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, respectively the leader and deputy leader of Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far right, appeared separately in court in January in response to charges lodged in November 2017 over their allegedly inciting hatred with anti-Islamic remarks made at the “Northern Ireland against Terrorism” rally, held in Belfast in August 2017.  The pair were due in court in April 2018, but the trial was postponed after they were imprisoned in England for similar crimes.  As of year’s end, no date had been set for the trial to resume.

In March the leaders of Britain First were jailed over anti-Muslim hate crimes.  In May 2017 authorities charged them with causing religiously aggravated harassment in connection with a trial of four Muslim men, at least three of whom were migrants from Afghanistan, accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl.  Authorities stated that during the trial of the four men, Britain First leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen had distributed leaflets, posted videos, and harassed individuals who they believed were associated with the accused rapists.  On October 17, Golding and Fransen were found guilty of “religiously aggravated harassment,” Golding on one charge and Fransen on three.  Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison and Frasen to 36 weeks.  Facebook deleted the pages of Britain First in the following days, stating the posts had “crossed the line and became hate speech designed to stir up hatred against groups in our society.”

In September the Local Government Commissioner for Standards suspended independent Belfast Councilor Jolene Bunting for four months after she helped Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen send a video message from the lord mayor’s chair.  In the video, Fransen referred to a speech she gave in August 2017, where she made anti-Muslim comments.  In addition to the PSNI investigation of the incident, the local government commissioner was investigating 14 other complaints, including comments she made about Islam.

In March an individual sent letters promoting “Punish a Muslim Day” to mosques in England and Wales, South Asian Members of Parliament, and members of the government, including Prime Minister May.  Similar letters, sent in 2016, targeted former Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II.  In 2017 similar letters were sent to mosques around the country.  The letters assigned points to specific acts of violence, from awarding 25 points for removing a Muslim woman’s headscarf to 1,000 points for bombing a mosque.  Politicians from across the political divide condemned the letters.  Following an Urgent Question raised by MP Yasmin Qureshi in the House of Commons, Home Office Minister MP Victoria Atkins called on Muslims to report this letter, or similar communications, to the police.  The minister also confirmed the government would revise its Hate Crime Action Plan by introducing new measures, including a wide-ranging law commission review into hate crime, increased funding for places of worship, and the launch of a new public awareness campaign.  In June David Parnham, a local government employee from central England, was arrested following fingerprint and DNA evidence.  In October Parnham pleaded guilty to creating and sending the letters with the intention of terrorizing Muslims; Parnham faced a potential life sentence.

In March staff at a Belfast library received “threatening phone calls” following an event planned to mark the birth of Belfast-born former Israeli President Chaim Herzog.  The Israeli ambassador attended the event organized by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, which occurred without incident.  Following the event, former First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster called for political parties in the region to unite against anti-Semitism.

In April the Glasgow High Court sentenced Connor Ward of Banff to life imprisonment for planning terror attacks against mosques.  In October Ward appealed his conviction, which the Edinburgh Court of Criminal Appeal rejected on December 13.

In April a group calling itself “Generation Sparta” distributed anti-Muslim leaflets in the lower Ravenhill Road area of Belfast, warning against the “Islamification” of Northern Ireland and calling for Catholics and Protestants to unite against the “common threat” of “fanatical Islamists.”  Belfast City Councilor Jolene Bunting defended the incident, which was widely condemned by political parties and was being investigated by the PSNI.

In April a court in Airdrie fined Mark Meechan, who posted online videos of a pet dog taught to perform Nazi salutes, 800 pounds ($1,000).  Meechan recorded his partner’s dog responding to statements such as “gas the Jews” and “sieg heil” by raising its paw.  Meechan posted these videos on YouTube in 2016.  Meechan reacted to the verdict saying, “It’s the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar that was the entire point of the joke.”

In May police investigated two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti at Mearns Castle High School in the suburbs of Glasgow.  Mearns Castle is a receiving high school for Calderwood Lodge, Scotland’s only Jewish primary school.

In June a man was jailed for threatening to “slit a Muslim’s throat” on Twitter.  Twitter users reported Rhodenne Chand to police after they said they feared he would carry out his threat.  Chand told police he was “venting” in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.  He had written 32 tweets between the Manchester Arena bombing and his arrest in June 2017, including wanting to “slit Muslim’s throat.”  West Midlands police said some of Chand’s tweets, which had since been taken offline, encouraged violence against Muslims and called for mosques to be attacked.  Upon his arrest, Chand told officers he “felt disgusted at himself for writing the posts.”  Chand was jailed for 20 months.

In June supporters of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – performed Nazi salutes at a violent protest in London.  Demonstrations against Robinson’s jail sentence took place in various cities across the country.  In London a man was filmed repeatedly saluting while holding a banner with anti-Muslim messaging.  In Belfast, another supporter was photographed displaying the Nazi salute.  Robinson was serving a 13-month sentence in prison, but a court of appeals overturned the verdict in August and ordered a retrial.  In October the judge, retrying Robinson for contempt of court, referred the case to the attorney general, stating that in the current setting, lawyers would not be able to perform an appropriate cross-examination of the testimony and evidence given by Robinson in his own defense.  By referring the case to the attorney general, Robinson’s contempt charges could be heard in an adversarial setting, in which a lawyer could present evidence and question witnesses to make the case.  Robinson was released on bail.  The attorney general had responsibility for deciding whether to send the case to the High Court or drop the contempt proceedings.  There was no timeline for the decision to be made, and the case remained pending at year’s end.

Police were investigating a video showing England football fans making Nazi salutes during the World Cup in June.  The video showed two fans performing a Nazi salute and singing a fascist chant while in a bar.

In July an individual spat on a Scottish priest twice as he spoke to parishioners outside a Catholic church in Glasgow.  Another man carrying a pole then further insulted and lunged at the priest.  The Orange Walk parade, an annual march held by the Protestant fraternal order Orange Order, was passing by at the time of the incident.  Police Scotland investigated the incident; the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland said none of its members was responsible.  Later, police charged a 24-year-old man with aggravated assault linked to the incidents.  The attack drew condemnation from all sides of the political debate.  In August in Glasgow, the Council banned the Orange Order from walking past the church.  Police Scotland welcomed the move to reroute the parade.

In August two women, Emma Storey and Lois Evans, were convicted of assaulting a man because of his Islamic beliefs near Middlesborough in northeast England.  The two women held and beat the victim while shouting that they hated Muslims.  Evans threatened to kill the victim.  The court was shown footage of the assault, filmed on Storey’s cell phone.  Storey was sentenced to three years and four months, and Evans was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.

In August an individual set fire to the doors of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Edinburgh, causing smoke damage to the temple.  The gurdwara is situated in a former church and is the only Sikh center in the Scottish capital, serving a community of more than 500 Sikhs.  The Church of Scotland released a short statement expressing its “deepest sympathy” to Edinburgh’s Sikh community.  Police arrested a 49-year-old man who had “issues with religion” in connection with the attack.

In August, in Birmingham, armed police were called to two mosques after perpetrators smashed windows using a “heavy-duty catapult” during evening prayers.  The attacks, reportedly led worshippers to believe they were under attack by a gunman.  No arrests were made.

In September a Swansea FC fan was banned from games for three years and sentenced to a 12-month probation period for making a Nazi salute during a game against Tottenham Hotspur FC.  Tottenham’s Director Jon Reuben captured the salute on camera.

In October ITV Tyne Tees discovered a Facebook group named “Bishop Auckland Against Islam” and reported it to Durham police.  The Facebook group featured posts praising acts of violence against Muslims, with suggestions that Muslims should be killed for their religious beliefs.  Facebook removed the page.

In October attackers beat and kicked two female Jewish protesters outside a “Corbyn, Antisemitism, and Justice for Palestine” event hosted by a pro-Corbyn group in Islington, North London.  One of the protesters was pulled to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the head by two women.  The victim sustained minor head injuries.  The protesters were asked by their attackers to cease filming the doorway to the event and were reportedly shouting “shame on you” as the women turned to enter the venue.  It was not clear if the attackers were attending the Corbyn-hosted event.

In October police investigated a possible hate crime in Newtownards by a group dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, including an image posted on social media of the group in a threatening pose outside the town’s Islamic Centre.  In 2017 a pig’s head was placed outside the same center.

Numerous individuals expressed complaints concerning an article in The Sunday Times newspaper in October by Rod Liddle for suggesting that British Islamists should “blow themselves up” in East London.  The Independent Press Standards Organisation confirmed that it was processing the complaints but did not provide further information.  Labour MP Anna Turley called the article “deeply insulting,” and Tell MAMA accused Liddle of Islamophobia.

In November a young boy required hospitalization after he was punched in the eye and grabbed by the mouth by a couple on a bus in Wales after his mother told them she was born in Israel.  According to a bystander, the couple appeared to be intoxicated, and the man used “verbal anti-Semitic abuse” when he found out she was Israeli.  Police were searching for the perpetrators.

In December the Arsenal Football Club investigated allegations of anti-Semitic behavior by fans during a game against Tottenham, including offensive chants and gestures.

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 4,731 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents responded to the online survey.  Twenty-four percent said they had witnessed other Jews being insulted, harassed, or physically attacked in the previous 12 months, and 25 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  Seventeen percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 88 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

A number of interfaith organizations operated in the country, including Faith Matters, the Inter Faith Network, and Interfaith Scotland.  Various interfaith efforts took place throughout the year.  In May Muslim leaders ran a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph newspaper condemning anti-Semitism.  Leaders of groups including Faith Matters, the Association of British Muslims, and Tell MAMA signed the advertisement.  The advertisement read, “We understand that many in our country empathise with the Palestinians and their right to a sovereign state.  However, we must be ever vigilant against those who cynically use international issues to vilify Jews or promote anti-Semitic tropes.”  The Board of Deputies of British Jews praised the advertisement, tweeting, “Incredible solidarity…. Thank you.  Together we will defeat the twin evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate.”  A week earlier, the Board of Deputies joined Tell MAMA in condemning Islamophobia following the release of its annual report.

In March Interfaith Glasgow won third prize in the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week for its program, “Friendship, Dialogue, Cooperation:  Exploring Crucial Elements of Interfaith Harmony.”  The group promotes positive engagement between persons of different religious traditions in Scotland’s most religiously diverse city.

In July Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups joined to launch the “21 for 21” interfaith collaboration.  The project, in collaboration with three media outlets – The Jewish News, The Church Times, and Muslim TV – was termed a “search for 21 leaders for the 21st century.”  Seven Christians, seven Jews, and seven Muslims were to be chosen from a range of nominees.  Winners would be presented with prizes at a reception at Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In September local chapters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and the Quakers in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire organized an interfaith conference.

In October the Anglican Diocese of Oxford extended an invitation to a Muslim scholar to preach at a Eucharist service.  In response to criticism, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Oxford said the imam “is not the first person from another faith community to be invited to preach the University Sermon.  His presence on Sunday reflects the strong commitment of the Church, university, and other faith communities to interfaith engagement.”

In November Interfaith Scotland celebrated Scottish Interfaith Week through a series of events and competitions, including a launch event focused on women of faith in the suffragette movement and creative competition targeted at school students and local communities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In April U.S. embassy consular officials hosted members of the Jewish community to discuss religious funerals and ways in which the embassy could assist.  Specific areas of concern included coroners refusing to work “out-of-hours” and intrusive post-mortems.

The embassy used social media channels to promote the recognition of International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, including tweets highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial, and the Secretary of State’s statement on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities.  Similarly, the embassy used social media to call attention to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.  On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial in honor of the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting at a North West London Jewish center.  The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.

In November the Department of State and the UK’s Department for International Development cohosted a dialogue titled “Protecting Vulnerable Religious Minorities in Conflict and Crisis Settings,” at Wilton Park, Surrey.

In early December the Ambassador invited a local rabbi to light the menorah in observance of Hanukkah at a ceremony in the embassy.  Also in December embassy officials sponsored a speaker to address a gathering at the London Central Mosque.  The theme of the event was “diversity in the workplace” and specifically focused on diversity of religion in the working environment.

The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast continued to regularly engage Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim religious leaders to discuss challenges in their communities, including those pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion or traditional belief.  The preamble to the constitution refers to traditional Christian values, but there is no state religion.  On penalty of a fine, the law requires religious groups to register; however, the government did not enforce this requirement.  In October during a visit to Jerusalem, the prime minister said Vanuatu was a Christian country.  The Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) received a 10 million vatu ($89,500) annual grant from the government.  The VCC said it would use the funds to strengthen the capacity of the VCC to support member churches and provide training.

The VCC reportedly continued to believe the government should revisit the freedom of religion clause in the constitution to prohibit the establishment of non-Christian faiths in the country, although it did not make any public statements supporting this proposal as in 2016.  In February the VCC chairman spoke out against a decision from the University of the South Pacific’s main campus in Fiji to ban Christian fellowship programs on the university campus, stating he would oppose a similar ban on the Vanuatu campus.  The VCC called on the government to ban the import of goods and materials “detrimental to both spiritual and physical health and life of Christians in Vanuatu.”

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.  On periodic visits to the country, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea discussed religious freedom with representatives of the government.  Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom with the VCC and smaller religious organizations, and posted about religious freedom on social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 288,000 (July 2018 estimate).  According to the 2009 census, approximately 82 percent of the population is Christian.  An estimated 28 percent of the population is Presbyterian; 15 percent, Anglican; 12 percent, Roman Catholic; and 12 percent, Seventh-day Adventist.  Other Christian groups, cumulatively comprising 15 percent of the population, include the Church of Christ, Neil Thomas Ministries, the Apostolic Church, and the Assemblies of God.  Smaller Christian groups include Jehovah’s Witnesses, who estimate their membership at 750, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), which estimates its membership at nearly 9,000.  According to the census, approximately 13 percent of the population are followers of an estimated 88 other religious groups, including Baha’is, Muslims, and several newly formed groups.  The John Frum Movement, an indigenous religious group, is centered on the island of Tanna and constitutes less than 1 percent of the population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees individual freedom of “religious or traditional beliefs,” including the freedoms of conscience and worship, subject “to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defense, safety, public order, welfare, and health.”  Any individual who believes these rights have been violated may apply “independently of any other possible legal remedy… to the Supreme Court to enforce that right.”  The Supreme Court may issue orders it considers appropriate to enforce these rights if it finds a violation of such rights and to order payment of compensation.  The preamble of the constitution refers to a commitment to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles.”

The law requires every religious body to apply to the government for a certificate of registration, pay 1,000 vatu ($9), and obtain the final approval of the minister for internal affairs to operate.  Registration allows the religious group to maintain a bank account.  The penalty for not registering is a fine not exceeding 50,000 vatu ($450); however, the law is not enforced.

According to law, children may not be refused school admission or be treated unfavorably because of their religion.

The Department of Education prohibits religious discrimination.  Government schools schedule time each week for religious education conducted by VCC representatives using their own materials.  The government provides grants to church-operated schools and pays the salaries of teachers at church-operated schools in existence since independence in 1980.  There is no uniform standard amount of time dedicated to religious instruction across all schools; however, the standard curriculum requires that students in years seven through 12 receive one hour of religious instruction per week.  Parents may request that students be excused from religious education classes in both private and public schools.

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

Government Practices

In October during an official visit to Jerusalem, the prime minister stated that “as a Christian country,” Vanuatu was considering the possibility of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  In January the minister of internal affairs told media it was important for families to uphold Christian values for a better Vanuatu.

The government interacted with religious groups through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the VCC, the latter composed of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Christ, and the Apostolic Church, with the Seventh-day Adventist and Assemblies of God Churches having observer status.  The VCC chairman and secretary general of the VCC were members of the Constitutional Review Committee established by the parliament in 2016.  The committee considered amending the constitution to call for “respect for Christian principles and traditional Melanesian values” and “faith in God” more broadly.  The VCC supported these amendments to make the country officially Christian; however, the amendments were not among those the committee proposed and parliament did not consider them.

In January the Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Seventh-day Adventist Church to cooperate in the delivery of health services.  Five other Churches – the Presbyterian Church, Anglican Church, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ – already had similar arrangements.

The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($89,500) annual grant from the government.  The VCC said it would use the funds to strengthen the capacity of the VCC to support member churches and provide training.

Government oaths of office customarily were taken on the Bible.

Ceremonial prayers at national events were organized through the VCC.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The VCC reportedly continued to believe the government should revisit the freedom of religion clause in the constitution to prohibit the establishment of non-Christian faiths in the country, although it did not make any public statements or organize marches in support of this proposal as in 2016.

In February the VCC chairman said he felt like “picking up a whip and whipping those who want to make Vanuatu a marketplace because it is not, it is a Christian country where people worship God.”  His statement referred to an ongoing debate at the University of the South Pacific’s Port Vila campus regarding whether or not it would implement a ban on Christian fellowship programs on campus, as was done on the university’s main campus in Suva, Fiji in 2016.  He said expatriate atheists were behind the ban.  In August he again stated foreign influences were responsible for “compromising Vanuatu’s position as a Christian country.”  He called for the government to ban imported goods and materials “detrimental to both spiritual and physical health and life of Christians in Vanuatu.”

In April a school run by the Anglican Church expelled two Seventh-day Adventist students for attending church on Friday evening and Saturday instead of taking part in school activities.  The Seventh-day Adventist Church criticized the dismissal, calling it a violation of the students’ rights to education and freedom of worship.  Two Seventh-day Adventist schools admitted the affected students.

In most rural areas, traditional Melanesian communal decision making predominated.  In general, if a community member proposed a significant change within the community, such as the establishment of a new religious group, the action required agreement by the chief and the rest of the community.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.  The U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea is accredited to the government and embassy officials periodically visited the country and discussed religious freedom with government officials.  The ambassador and other embassy representatives also met with the VCC and discussed its views on the presence of traditional and new non-Christian faiths in the country, encouraging respect for diversity.  Embassy officials also spoke with smaller religious groups and highlighted U.S. support for religious freedom through social media.

Venezuela

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition its practice does not violate public morality, decency, or public order.  Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Protestant leaders stated President Nicolas Maduro used a 2017 antihate law to persecute clergy who espoused views challenging his policies or highlighting the country’s humanitarian crisis.  Several religious organizations described continued difficulties with government bureaucracy when seeking to register, requesting approval for new internal statutes, or applying for religious visas for foreign clergy.  Representatives of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV) and the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (ECV) said the government retaliated against their clergy and other members for continuing to call attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis.  Catholic Church leaders reported President Maduro ordered criminal investigations of two bishops for violating the antihate law after they delivered homilies highlighting hunger and government corruption.  CEV representatives reported that a woman, characterized by media as a government sympathizer, attacked Father Miguel Acevedo during Mass in Caracas.  According to a local reporter, the woman interrupted Acevedo’s homily, shouted insults at him, and then rushed toward him in an attempt to hit him.  Representatives of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela (CAIV) said criticism of Israel in government-owned or -affiliated media continued to carry anti-Semitic overtones, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionist messages.  They said government-owned or -associated media and government supporters again denied or trivialized the Holocaust, citing media reports of President Maduro’s comparing migrant Venezuelans to Jews persecuted by Hitler.

CAIV representatives said many citizens and government officials continued to believe members of the Jewish community maintained direct lines of communication with the White House and placed U.S. interests above those of the country, which made them concerned their community could become targets of anti-Semitic acts.  On June 6, after the United States announced it would to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, pro-Palestinian groups accompanied by progovernment representatives protested the decision.  Media interviewed protesters in Caracas who proclaimed they repudiated Zionism and supported the Palestinian cause.  Some members of the Jewish community cited this protest as an example of the use of anti-Zionist rhetoric to avoid overt anti-Semitic messages.

Government officials again did not respond to U.S. embassy requests for meetings on religious freedom and related issues.  The embassy maintained close contact with a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic communities.  Embassy representatives and these groups discussed government registration procedures and delays; harassment by progovernment and armed civilian gangs; the media environment; and anti-Semitism.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 31.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  This number, however, does not reflect the UN November 8 estimate that approximately three million Venezuelan refugees and migrants had left the country during the past few years.  The U.S. government estimates that 96 percent of the population is Catholic.  The remaining population includes evangelical Protestants, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Baha’is, and Jews.

The ECV estimates 17 percent of the population is Protestant, the majority members of evangelical Protestant churches.  The Church of Jesus Christ estimates its numbers at 168,000.  The Muslim community numbers more than 100,000 and consists primarily of persons of Lebanese and Syrian descent living in Nueva Esparta State and the Caracas metropolitan area.  Sunnis are the majority, with a minority Shia community primarily in Margarita Island in Nueva Esparta State.  According to the Baha’i community, its membership is approximately 5,000.  According to CAIV, the Jewish community numbers approximately 9,000, with most members living in Caracas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or public order.  A 1964 concordat governs relations between the government and the Holy See and provides for government funding for Catholic Church-run schools.  In 2017 the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which the opposition and much of the international community considers illegitimate, passed an antihate law criminalizing acts of incitement to hatred or violence.  Individuals who violate the law face 10 to 20 years in prison.  The law includes 25 articles that stipulate a wide array of directives, restrictions, and penalties.  The law criminalizes political party activities promoting “fascism, intolerance, or hatred” regarding numerous factors, including religion.  It also criminalizes individual acts promoting violence or hatred, the publication or transmission of any messages promoting violence or hatred by any media outlet, and the publication of messages promoting violence or hatred on social media.  Among the violations are those committed by individuals or media outlets, including by members of religious groups or media associated with a religious group.

The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace (MOI) maintains a registry of religious groups, disburses funds to religious organizations, and promotes awareness and understanding among religious communities.  Each religious group must register with the DJR to acquire legal status as a religious organization.  Registration requires declaration of property belonging to the religious group, identification of any religious authorities working directly for the group, and articles of incorporation.  The government requires religious groups to demonstrate how they will provide social services to their communities and to receive a letter of acceptance from the government-controlled community council in the neighborhood(s) where the group will work.  The MOI reviews applications and may delay approval indefinitely.  Religious groups must register any new statutes with the DJR.

The law neither prohibits nor promotes religious education in public schools.  An unenforced 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allows catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values (in preparation for First Communion) in public schools.

The law provides for Catholic chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of Catholics serving in the military.  There are no similar provisions for other religious groups.

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

Government Practices

CEV and other Catholic Church leaders and ECV representatives said the government continued to retaliate against church leaders and clergy members who made statements critical of the government, including by imposing arbitrary registration requirements, threatening and detaining clergy, and denying religious visas to foreign visiting clergy.

CEV representatives reported a woman, characterized by media as a government sympathizer, had attacked Father Miguel Acevedo during a Mass on February 2 at Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria parish in Caracas.  According to witnesses, the woman interrupted Acevedo’s homily, shouted insults at Acevedo, and then rushed toward him in an attempt to hit him.  Church personnel disrupted her attack.

Catholic Church leaders said President Maduro ordered criminal investigations of two bishops for violating the 2017 antihate law after they delivered homilies highlighting hunger and government corruption.  Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe of San Felipe, Yaracuy State, which is associated with the Barquisimeto Archdiocese in Lara State, asked during his January 14 homily that the “Divine shepherdess free Venezuela of the curse of political corruption that has led to moral, economic, and social ruin.”  During the homily, Basabe referred to the country’s crisis, stating, “Thousands of Venezuelans rummage through garbage searching for scraps to satisfy their hunger.”  In a separate homily the same day, Archbishop of Barquisimeto Antonio Lopez Castillo urged the “Divine shepherdess to free us from hunger; free us from corruption.”  In his State of the Union speech the following day, President Maduro called for the attorney general to investigate Bishop Basabe and Archbishop Lopez Castillo for instigating “hate with the intent to generate confrontation, violence, death, exclusion, and persecution.”

Lopez Castillo reported to news media that on January 19, Bolivarian National Intelligence Service officials detained him after Mass, then released him after an interview and threatened that if he persisted in speaking against the Maduro government, they would charge him with violating the antihate law.  On January 16, the CEV issued a statement denouncing the investigation order against Lopez Castillo and Basabe.  The CEV said the antihate law, promulgated by the ANC, was “conceived to criminalize all that upsets the government and its views.”  Neither Basabe nor Lopez Castillo was charged.  While CEV leaders reported Lopez Castillo had received no further threats, on October 9, progovernment Lara State legislators declared Basabe “persona non grata,” which then Governor Carmen Melendez endorsed.  Legislators and Governor Melendez cited Basabe’s January 14 homily as the reason.  CEV leaders said Basabe remained in his position as apostolic administrator and no new threats occurred after he was declared persona non grata.

On February 19, the MOI summoned Father Acevedo and Bishop Tulio Luis Ramirez Padilla, Auxiliary Bishop of Caracas, to appear before the court for “inciting hate” during their Mass in Caracas on February 2.  Media reported that according to some of the parishioners, who had interceded on behalf of Acevedo and Ramirez, both were “treated” well and released with a warning.

Catholic leaders said Maria Albarran, a Zulia State government official, brought charges against Father Santiago Dominguez for “instigating hate” during a February 2 Mass over which he presided at the Church of La Consolacion in Maracaibo State.  Albarran stated in media interviews she was offended by Dominguez’ comparison of Venezuelans who left the country to lepers.  CEV leaders reported the government took no further action against Dominguez.

A CEV representative stated the government still had not fulfilled an 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allowing catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values (in preparation for First Communion) in public schools.  The same CEV representative said the government had removed catechism from the classroom and at times threatened to sanction principals of schools that attempted to teach it.  The CEV representative said government representatives denied his petition to establish catechism courses in a local public school, violating the CEV agreement permitting schools to teach catechism upon a parent’s request.  He stated the government’s decision violated freedom of religion for parents whose children could not receive catechism locally when there was no available transportation to distant schools where catechism was available.

The ECV said the DJR imposed arbitrary registration requirements on religious groups.  According to the ECV, after several years delay, the MOI approved the ECV’s new registration in March; however, the MOI restricted the number of ECV board members to five, despite previously permitting 15.  ECV leaders said this restriction violated its “freedom to associate,” because the ECV, a network of approximately 1,300 evangelical Protestant churches, needed to assign 15 board members to oversee its 1,300 churches and 650 pastors.  ECV leaders said the limit on board members would leave it vulnerable should the government nullify church statutes made by its nonregistered board members.

According to the ECV, the government retaliated against its organization because it opposed some government policies, including the antihate law, which the ECV leader said repressed religious expression and led to self-censorship.  ECV leaders stated the government denied religious visas to visiting clergy after it held a July 24 church assembly in the city of Valencia.  They said that during the event, a progovernment individual monitoring the assembly approached the pastor of the church in Valencia and said he would report him to government security officials for instigating hate and violating the antihate law.  An ECV representative later stated the government had denied the ECV a religious visa for a pastor planning to travel to the country to lead a national conference.  Regarding the ECV’s distribution of food to needy parishioners, an ECV representative said National Police agents regularly confiscated a portion of food boxes, stating the food was “contraband” and the ECV was selling it for profit.  The ECV representative said a private NGO had donated the food boxes, which ECV personnel would then distribute to needy parishioners.  Clergy said they felt intimidated and frequently were required to give the police agents a portion of the food boxes as a “commission” in exchange for allowing clergy to distribute the remainder.

Jewish leaders stated that to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism, government and some progovernment media continued to replace the word “Jewish” with “Zionist.”  During his September 9 television broadcast, ANC President Diosdado Cabello stated that former Mayor of El Hatillo David Smolansky was leading a political project to impose a “Zionist Venezuela” in response to Smolansky’s designation to lead an OAS working group on the migratory crisis in Venezuela.  Cabello categorized Smolansky as a “violent Zionist.”

In September President Maduro compared the situation of migrant Venezuelans to that of “Hitler’s persecution of Jews, resulting in the death of six million Jews.”  Media widely reported that during a September 18 press conference in China, Maduro stated there was an “inquisition campaign” against Venezuelans by “oligarchic media” from Colombia, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru, which he likened to Hitler’s persecution of Jews.  He went on to say, “The oligarch media in those countries launched an inquisition campaign that I compare to, excuse me if someone is bothered by my comparison, I compare it to the persecution campaign against the Jewish people that Hitler initiated that ended with six million dead Jews.”  Maduro continued, stating, “Many of the things said against Venezuela and Venezuelans in those countries are similar to what was said of the Jews, the Venezuelans are guilty of this, this, this and Venezuelans are guilty of everything.”

CAIV representatives stated the government supported anti-Semitic media.  In February progovernment television outlet Venezolana de Television (VTV) broadcast an interview with Walter Martinez, a political analyst.  During the interview, Martinez said media companies, including Warner Music, CNN, and HBO Ole, whose artists call to “Free Venezuela,” are manipulated by Zionism.  Martinez said, “Judaism has been hijacked by Zionism.”  CAIV representatives said this incident was typical of the government’s anti-Semitic leanings.

On February 2, Roberto Hernandez Montoya, moderator of government-owned VTV television and the Radio Nacional de Venezuela radio program, retweeted, “Capriles is a Zionist agent menial slave of the Empire, who is nothing more than a political corpse who belongs in the [expletive]-hole of history and never shall a repulsive idiot like him (that did military service in Israel) be elected as president of the Bolivarian people.”  A prominent Venezuelan opposition politician and practicing Catholic of Jewish ancestry, Henrique Capriles was a presidential candidate in 2012 and 2013.

CAIV’s president stated that CAIV leadership made a concerted effort to maintain communication with the government to avoid escalating tensions.  He said Delcy Rodriguez, the country’s vice president, had cooperated with requests to import kosher products essential to Jewish religious practices.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

CAIV representatives said many citizens and government officials continued to believe members of the Jewish community maintained direct lines of communication with the White House and placed U.S. interests above those of Venezuela, which made them concerned their community could become targets of anti-Semitic acts.  On June 6, after the United States announced it would to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, pro-Palestinian groups accompanied by progovernment representatives protested the decision.  Media interviewed protesters in Caracas who proclaimed they repudiated Zionism and supported the Palestinian cause.  Some members of the Jewish community stated this protest was an example of the use of anti-Zionism to mask anti-Semitism.  The CEV, CAIV, and Muslim League continued to meet informally, holding periodic interreligious panels, including a discussion on differences and similarities among Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The government again did not respond to the U.S. embassy’s requests for meetings to discuss religious freedom and related topics such as freedom of assembly, conscience, and expression.

Embassy officials communicated regularly with a wide range of religious communities and religious leaders to discuss government treatment of religious groups, registration issues, and government and societal reprisals on some faith groups not in line with the government’s political agenda.  In September embassy officials held meetings with representatives from the CEV, ECV, CAIV, and Muslim community.  Each community expressed interest in maintaining communication and exploring possible outreach programs in the future.  The embassy continued to develop outreach opportunities with the various faith groups.

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The constitution states that all people have freedom of belief and religion.  The law provides for significant government control over religious practices and includes vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the stated interest of national security and social unity.  The 2016 Law on Belief and Religion, which came into effect in January, maintains a multistage registration and recognition process for religious groups but shortens the time for recognition at the national or provincial level from 23 to five years.  It also specifies the right of recognized religious organizations to have legal personality.  Religious leaders, particularly those representing groups without recognition or certificates of registration, reported various forms of government harassment – including physical assaults, arrests, prosecutions, monitoring, travel restrictions, and property seizure or destruction – and denials or no response to requests for registration and/or other permissions.  For example, six independent Hoa Hao Buddhists were imprisoned in February on charges of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.”  There continued to be reports of severe harassment of religious adherents by authorities in the Central Highlands, specifically members of the Evangelical Church of Christ, and in the Northwest Highlands for H’mong Christians and Catholics, as well as for Catholic and Protestant groups in Nghe An Province.  Religious group adherents reported local or provincial authorities committed the majority of harassment incidents.  Members of recognized groups or those with certificates of registration were reportedly able to practice their beliefs with less government interference, although some recognized groups reported more difficulty gathering together in certain provinces, including the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (North) (ECVN) in Quang Binh, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Ha Giang, and Hoa Binh Provinces.  Others seeking to officially register their groups, including the United Presbyterian Church and the Vietnam Baptist Convention, also reported increased difficulty gathering in some provinces.  Members of religious groups said some local and provincial authorities used the local and national regulatory systems to slow, delegitimize, and suppress religious activities of groups that resisted close government management of their leadership, training programs, assemblies, and other activities.  The government registered two religious communities, the Vietnam Full Gospel Denomination and the Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, during the year.  Registration is the second step in the three-step process towards recognition and does not convey legal status.  For the first time since 1998, United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) leader Thich Quang Do took up residence in a UBCV-affiliated pagoda.  The government also allowed renowned Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh to return to the country.  Hanh resided at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue at year’s end, and adherents reported no difficulties visiting him.  Hanh also received diplomats and senior government leaders.

There were several reports of registered Cao Dai adherents preventing adherents of the unsanctioned Cao Dai from performing certain religious rituals.  There continued to be some incidents of harassment of Catholics by the progovernment Red Flag Association, although the group reportedly dissolved itself in March.

The Ambassador and senior embassy and consulate general officials urged authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely, including the independent UBCV, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and independent and “pure” Hoa Hao and Cao Dai groups.  They sought greater freedom for recognized religious groups and urged an end to restrictions on and harassment of groups without recognition or registration.  The Ambassador, Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, and senior embassy officers advocated for religious freedom in visits across the country, including to the Central Highlands.  The Ambassador and officials met regularly and maintained recurring contact with religious leaders across the country.  The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with the chairman of the Government Committee on Religious Affairs in Washington, D.C. in July and raised concerns about implementation of the new law, the status of religious believers detained or imprisoned, and the situation of ethnic religious minority groups.  The Ambassador at Large and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor raised issues of religious freedom during the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Washington in May.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 97 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to statistics released by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA), 26.4 percent of the population is categorized as religious believers:  14.91 percent is Buddhist, 7.35 percent Roman Catholic, 1.09 percent Protestant, 1.16 percent Cao Dai, and 1.47 percent Hoa Hao Buddhist.  Within the Buddhist community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic majority, while approximately 1.2 percent of the total population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.  Smaller religious groups that combined constitute less than 0.16 percent of the population include a devotional form of Hinduism, mostly practiced by an estimated 70,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area; approximately 80,000 Muslims scattered throughout the country (approximately 40 percent are Sunnis; the remaining 60 percent practice Bani Islam); an estimated 3,000 members of the Baha’i Faith; and approximately 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).  Religious groups originating within the country (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon) comprise a total of 0.34 percent.  A small, mostly foreign, Jewish population resides in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Other citizens say they have no religious affiliation, or practice animism or the veneration of ancestors, tutelary and protective saints, national heroes, or local, respected persons.  Many individuals blend traditional practices with religious teachings, particularly Buddhism and Christianity.

Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14 percent of the population.  Based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including groups in the Northwest Highlands (H’mong, Dzao, Thai, and others) and in the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Sedang, and M’nong, among others, including groups referred to as Montagnards).  The Khmer Krom ethnic group overwhelmingly practices Theravada Buddhism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the freedom to follow no religion.  The constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of religion or belief of those whose rights are limited, including inmates or any foreigners and stateless persons.  The constitution states all religions are equal before the law and the state must respect and protect freedom of belief and religion.  The constitution prohibits citizens from violating the freedom of belief and religion or taking advantage of a belief or religion in order to violate the law.

The Law on Belief and Religion and implementing Decree 162, which came into effect on January 1, serve as the primary documents governing religious groups and their activities.  At year’s end, a decree prescribing penalties for noncompliance with the new law had yet to be finalized.  The law reiterates citizens’ rights to freedom of belief and religion and that individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder; infringe upon the life, health, dignity, honor and/or property of others; impede the exercise of civic rights and performance of civic obligations; or conduct superstitious activities or otherwise violate the law.

The government recognizes 38 religious organizations and one dharma practice (a set of spiritual practices) that affiliate with 15 distinct religious traditions as defined by the government.  The 15 religious traditions are:  Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i, Catholicism, Protestantism, Church of Jesus Christ, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Phat Duong Nam Tong Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao Tam Tong Mieu, Khmer Brahmanism, and Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism.  Distinct denominations within these religious traditions must seek their own registration and/or recognition.  Three additional groups – the Assemblies of God, Ta Lon Dutiful and Loyal Buddhism, and Vietnam Full Gospel Church – have “registration for religious operation” but are not recognized as official organizations.

The law provides for government control over religious practices and permits restrictions on religious freedom in the interest of “national security” and “social unity.”

The new law reduced the waiting period for a religious group, and its affiliate group or groups, to obtain recognition from 23 years to five years and for the first time specifies that recognized religious organizations and their affiliates are noncommercial legal entities.  The law also specifies that religious organizations be allowed to conduct educational, health, social protection, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the relevant laws, but it does not specify which law prevails in instances in which the law may contradict other laws, or where other laws do not have clear provisions, such as the Law on Education.

The CRA is responsible for implementing religious laws and decrees, and it maintains offices at the central, provincial, and, in some areas, district level.  The law lays out specific responsibilities for central-, provincial-, and local-level CRA offices and delegates certain religion-related management tasks to provincial- and local-level people’s committees (i.e., local leaders).  The central-level CRA is charged with disseminating information to authorities and assuring uniform compliance with the legal framework on religion at the provincial, district, commune, and village levels.

By law, forcing others to follow or renounce a religion or belief is prohibited.

The law requires “religious practices” to register with communal authorities where the “lawful premises for the religious practice is based” and prescribes two stages of institutionalization for religious organizations seeking to gather at a specified location to “practice worship rituals, pray, or express their religious faith.”  The first stage is “registration for religious operation” with the provincial- or national-level CRA, depending on the geographic extent of the group’s activities.  A registration for religious operation allows the group to organize religious ceremonies and religious practice; preach and conduct religious classes at approved locations; elect, appoint, or designate functionaries; repair or renovate the headquarters; engage in charitable or humanitarian activities; and organize congresses to approve its charter.  To obtain this registration, the group must submit a detailed application package with information about its doctrine, history, bylaws, leaders, and members and proof it has a legal meeting location.  The relevant provincial CRA office or the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), depending on whether the group in question is operating in one or more provinces, is responsible for approving a valid application for registration within 60 days of receipt.  The relevant provincial CRA office or the MHA is required to provide any rejection in writing.

The second stage of institutionalization is recognition.  A religious group may apply for recognition after it has operated continuously for at least five years since the date of receiving the “registration for religious operation.”  The religious group is required to have a legal charter and bylaws, leaders in good standing without criminal records, and to have managed assets and conducted transactions autonomously.  To obtain such recognition, the group must submit a detailed application package to the provincial or national level CRA, depending on the geographic extent of the organization.  The application dossier must include a written request specifying the group’s structure, membership, geographical scope of operation and headquarters location; summary of history, dogmas, canon laws and rites; list and resumes, judicial records, and summary of religious activities of the organization’s representative and tentative leaders; charter; declaration of the organization’s lawful assets; and proof of lawful premises to serve as a headquarters.  The relevant provincial people’s committee or the MHA is responsible for approving a valid application for recognition within 60 days of receipt.  The relevant provincial people’s committee or MHA is required to provide any rejection in writing.  Recognition allows the religious group to conduct religious activities in accordance with the religious organization’s charter; organize religious practice; publish religious texts, books, and other publications; produce, export, and import religious cultural products and religious articles; renovate, upgrade, or construct new religious establishments; and receive lawful donations from domestic and foreign sources, among other rights.

The law states that religious organizations and their affiliates, clergy, and believers have the right to file complaints or civil and administrative lawsuits, or make formal complaints about government officials or agencies (denunciations) under the relevant laws and decrees.  The law also states that organizations and individuals have the right to bring civil lawsuits in court regarding the actions of religious groups or believers.  There were no specific analogous provisions in the previous laws.

The law provides a separate process for unregistered, unrecognized religious organizations or groups of individuals to receive permission for specific religious activities by submitting an application package to the commune-level people’s committee.  Current regulations require the people’s committee to respond in writing to such an application within 20 working days of receipt.  The law specifies that a wide variety of religious activities require advance approval or registration from the authorities at the central and/or local levels.  These activities include “belief activities” (defined as traditional communal practices related to ancestor, hero, or folk worship); “belief festivals” being held for the first time; the establishment, split, or merger of religious affiliates; the ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); establishment of a religious training facility; conducting religious training classes; holding major religious congresses; organizing religious events, preaching or evangelizing outside of approved locations; traveling abroad to conduct religious activities or training; and joining a foreign religious organization.

Certain religious activities do not require advance approval, but instead require notification to the appropriate authorities.  Activities requiring notification include recurring or periodic “belief festivals”; dismissal of clergy; conducting fundraising activities; notification of enrollment figures at a seminary or religious school; the repair or renovation of religious facilities not considered cultural-historical relics; ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious clergy (such as monks); transfers or dismissals of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); conducting operations at an approved religious training facility; routine religious activities (defined as “religious preaching, practicing religious tenets and rites, and management of a religious organization”); and internal conferences of a religious organization.

The law provides prisoners access to religious materials, with conditions, while in detention.  It reserves authority for the government to restrict the “assurance” of that right.  Decree 162 states detainees may use religious documents that are legally published and circulated, in line with legal provisions on custody, detention, prison, or other types of confinement.  This use and/or practice must not affect rights to belief/religion or nonbelief/religion of others or go against relevant laws.  The decree states the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs shall be responsible for providing guidelines on the management of religious documents, and the time and venue for the use of these documents.

The law specifies that religious organizations must follow numerous other laws for certain activities.  Religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the relevant laws, but the law does not provide clarification as to which activities are permitted.  In addition, construction or renovation of religious facilities must be undertaken in accordance with relevant laws and regulations on construction and foreigners participating in religious activities must abide by immigration law.

The law states that publishing, producing, exporting, or importing religious texts must be in accordance with laws and regulations related to publishing.  Publishing legislation requires all publishers be licensed public entities or state-owned enterprises.  Publishers must receive prior government approval to publish all documents, including religious texts.  By decree, only the Religious Publishing House may publish religious books.  Any bookstore may sell legally published religious texts and other religious materials.

The constitution states the government owns and manages all land on behalf of the people.  According to the law, land use by religious organizations must conform to the land law and its related decrees.  The land law recognizes that licensed religious institutions and schools may acquire land-use rights and be allocated or leased land.  The law specifies religious institutions are eligible for state compensation if their land is seized under eminent domain.  The law allows provincial-level people’s committees to seize land via eminent domain in order to facilitate the construction of religious facilities.

Under the law, provincial-level people’s committees may grant land-use certificates for a “long and stable term” to religious institutions if they have permission to operate, the land is dispute-free, and the land was not acquired via transfer or donation after July 1, 2004.  Religious institutions are not permitted to exchange, transfer, lease, donate, or mortgage their land-use rights.  In land disputes involving a religious institution, the chairperson of the provincial-level people’s committee has authority to settle disputes.  Those who disagree with the chairperson’s decision may appeal to the minister of natural resources and environment or file a lawsuit in court.

In practice, if a religious organization has not obtained recognition, members of the congregation may acquire a land-use title individually, but not corporately as a religious establishment.

The renovation or upgrade of facilities owned by religious groups also requires notification to authorities, although it does not necessarily require a permit, depending on the extent of the renovation.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public and private schools.  Private schools are required to follow a government-approved curriculum, which does not allow for religious instruction.  The government does not permit religious groups to run private schools; however, some religious groups, such as Catholics and Buddhists, run kindergartens, and some Christian churches have seminaries.

The law no longer requires individuals to specify their religious affiliation on national identification cards.

There are separate provisions of the law for foreigners legally residing in the country to request permission to conduct religious activities, teach, attend local religious training, or preach in local religious institutions.  The law requires religious organizations or citizens to receive government permission in advance of hosting or conducting any religious activities involving foreign organizations, foreign individuals, or travel abroad.  Current regulations also contain requirements for foreigners conducting religious activities within the country, including those involved in religious training, ordination, and leadership, to seek permission for their activities.

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

Government Practices

On February 9, a court in An Giang Province sentenced six independent Hoa Hao Buddhists – Bui Van Trung, Bui Van Tham, Nguyen Hoang Nam, Le Thi Hong Hanh, Le Thi Hen, and Bui Thi Bich Tuyen – to two to six years in prison on charges of “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties.”  Bui Van Trung was additionally charged with “causing public disorder.”  Le Thi Hen’s sentence was later suspended due to health concerns, and authorities had not yet forced Bui Thi Bich Tuyen to report to prison.  According to the indictment by the People’s Procuracy of An Phu District in November 2017, the defendants “disturbed the public order and impacted the safety and order of the traffic, causing a traffic jam on national route 91C by hindering, obstructing, pushing, and screaming to provoke and denounce transportation police.”  According to Radio Free Asia, the basis of the charges against Trung was that in April 2017 family members and friends attempted to hold an unregistered death anniversary commemoration in Trung’s home prayer hall.

On April 5, a court in Hanoi sentenced independent Hoa Hao follower and religious freedom and human rights activist Nguyen Bac Truyen and Protestant Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton to 11 years and 12 years in prison, respectively, for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration.”  Both had been associated with a group called the Brotherhood for Democracy and were tried with several other prominent human rights activists.  Truyen ran the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association and, among other activities, advocated for the rights of independent and unregistered Hoa Hao followers.  Ton was a long-time advocate for human rights and religious freedom.  He had been a member of Interfaith Council in Ho Chi Minh City, a group composed predominately of representatives of unregistered religions.

The family members of Ma Seo Sung, a H’mong Protestant man who died in police custody in 2017, were forced by local authorities to leave their homes during the year after repeated harassment, including threats of arrest, from local authorities in Buon Ma Thuot, Dak Lak Province, after they publicized details of Ma Seo Sung’s death, according to individuals close to the family.  The family said commune police arrested Ma Seo Sung in 2017 under suspicion of “searching for a new Christian homeland.”

On April 12, a court in Thai Nguyen Province sentenced four Falun Gong practitioners to a total of nine years’ imprisonment for theft.  According to independent media, local authorities confiscated their assets (including drums, loudspeakers, and drumsticks) when they practiced spiritual exercises in a park.  Subsequently, the four practitioners reportedly came to the authorities’ office and took back their assets without consent.

Many independent and unsanctioned religious leaders who participated in the 2018 Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief Conference in Thailand reported they faced harassment upon their return to Vietnam, including Chang A Do, a local leader and member of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam who was harassed and threatened with arrest in October by Communist Party representatives from the central and local governments, and by police and plainclothes individuals in Doan Ket Village, Dak Ngo Commune, Tuy Duc District, Dak Nong Province, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO).  Government officials also prevented several from leaving the country to attend the event.

On October 3 and 4, commune and district police in Krong Pac District, Dak Lak Province, convened a public denunciation of Ksor Sun, Pastor Y Nuen Ayun, and Y Jon Ayun, all members of the Evangelical Church of Christ, according to an NGO.  Police accused the individuals of going against the government and the Communist Party of Vietnam.  Police reportedly said these individuals should be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, and if they wanted to remain in the community, they must leave the Church of Christ.

In June staff working for the warden of Gia Trung Prison, Mang Yang District, Gia Lai Province, beat Pastor A Dao of the Evangelical Church of Christ, who advocated for religious freedom for his fellow church members in the Central Highlands, according to an NGO report.

Members of various ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands collectively known as Montagnards stated government officials continued to assault, monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily arrest, and discriminate against them, in part because of their religious practices.  Officials stated that “Degar” Christians incited violent separatism by ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands from 2001 through 2008.  State-run media published articles cautioning individuals that Degar Protestantism aimed to undertake antigovernment activities.

In some cases, Montagnards stated ongoing social and religious persecution drove them to flee to Cambodia and Thailand, where some sought asylum.  Several such asylum seekers in Thailand reported local-level (communal) Vietnamese authorities continued to harass them remotely, through social media and by harassing, intimidating, and in some cases threatening and physically assaulting family members back home.

In Song Ngoc Catholic parish, Vinh Diocese, Nghe An Province, there were multiple incidents of plainclothes individuals harassing parishioners and priests, assaulting parishioners, and damaging church property and the property of parishioners, according to Catholic representatives and NGOs.

In April plainclothes individuals assaulted parishioners of Dong Kieu parish at Dien My Commune, Nghe An Province, according to Catholic representatives and NGOs.

On December 25, police from Nan San Commune, Si Ma Cai District, Lao Cai Province in the Northwest Highlands, reportedly stopped a Christmas celebration of the H’mong Gospel Missionary Church and assaulted adherent Hang Seo Pao for holding an unsanctioned gathering.  Church members said they had applied to local authorities for permission to hold the gathering but were denied.

Throughout the year, local authorities in Trung Lap Ha Commune, Cu Chi District, Ho Chi Minh City, told members of the UBCV Lien Tri home pagoda to stop praying and to remove all banners and UBCV Buddhist flags.  The authorities said persons attending the ceremony could continue to gather but could not give offerings, pray, or administer rituals, as their location was unregistered.  According to one adherent, in August and September plainclothes police surveilled the pagoda and prevented monks from leaving.

A senior pastor of an unregistered Protestant church reported that local authorities did not allow his organization to organize summer camps for children in the Central Highlands and Northern Highlands and asked some members not to worship in Quang Ngai, Ninh Thuan, Dak Lak, and Dak Nong Provinces.

Members of the military were not permitted to read the Bible or practice religious rites at any time while on active duty; they had to take personal leave to conduct such activities, religious freedom experts reported.  The Association for the Protection of Freedom of Religion reportedly sent a petition to the government in 2015 requesting soldiers be allowed to attend church while on duty; however, the association still had yet to receive a response.  There were no clear regulations for religious expression in the military, with individual unit commanders having significant discretion, experts reported.

Authorities continued to deny some prisoners and detainees the right to religious practice.  Officers at the Nam Ha detention facility, Phu Ly District, Ha Nam Province, continued to refuse to allow a priest to visit Catholic prisoner Ho Duc Hoa, according to Hoa’s family.  Prison authorities stated this was due to the lack of appropriate facilities inside the prison for the priest to perform services.  Other prisoners continued to report they were allowed to read the Bible or other religious materials and practice their beliefs while incarcerated.  According to an NGO, independent Hoa Hao adherent Bui Van Trung was able to have a censored version of the Hoa Hao scripture in prison.

Registered Protestant, Buddhist, and Cao Dai leaders reportedly did not face the same difficulties as independent or unregistered Protestant, Buddhist, and Cao Dai leaders.  Media carried reports of registered religious groups celebrating festivals without impediment.

On December 18, Joseph Vu Van Thien was installed as the new Archbishop of Hanoi at a ceremony attended by Catholic leaders from Vietnam and the Vatican and by members of the diplomatic corps.  The prime minister also received a high-level Vatican delegation on December 18.

On September 24, local and central authorities permitted a Cao Dai festival commemorating the Holy Goddess Mother to be held at the Cao Dai Holy See.  The festival drew the participation of hundreds of thousands of adherents and pilgrims, including foreign religious representatives, foreign diplomats, and international academia.  Senior officials of Tay Ninh Province and the CRA also attended the festival.

The government stated it continued to monitor the activities of certain religious groups because of their political activism and invoked national security and solidarity provisions in the constitution and penal code to override laws and regulations providing for religious freedom.  For example, the government impeded some religious gatherings and blocked attempts by religious groups to proselytize certain ethnic groups in border regions deemed sensitive, including the Central Highlands, Northwest Highlands, and certain Mekong Delta provinces.

Government treatment of foreigners seeking to worship or proselytize varied in practice from locality to locality.  Foreigners were generally able to meet and conduct services.  Municipal officials allowed multiple foreign religious congregations to meet.  Some foreign religious congregations said they could conduct charitable activities with tacit, but not official, permission.

State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems, particularly in remote areas in the Northwest and Central Highlands where there was a high concentration of ethnic minorities.  Progovernment websites repeatedly accused these groups of being “cover” for or “tools” of “hostile forces to act against the state,” “disrupt the great solidarity” or “destroy the [Vietnamese] culture” and warned the public not to be “fooled.”  Many progovernment websites and blogs criticized various religious groups and believers who were critical of the authorities or engaged in any activities that the authorities deemed sensitive, including protests against China, the cybersecurity law, land confiscation, or various social and economic issues.  Groups attracting the most vociferous criticism on these sites included priests and Catholics in the central part of the country, particularly in Nghe An Province, Falun Gong practitioners, and Protestants in the Central Highlands.

Catholic priests in the central part of the country continued to help organize a series of demonstrations calling for stronger environmental protection.  Many Catholic churches in these provinces held demonstrations in June to protest draft laws on special administrative economic zones and a new restrictive cybersecurity law.  Priests continued to assist parishioners in filing complaints and lawsuits against the government for financial compensation for losses suffered in the aftermath of a 2016 industrial disaster in the region.  State-run media and progovernment blogs continued to publish material defaming priests who assisted activists and victims of the 2016 Formosa incident in which a steel mill discharged toxic waste into the sea, leading to a massive fish kill in the central part of the country.  Priests who helped victims were reportedly pressured by authorities to leave their parishes.  In February the Bishop of Vinh Diocese transferred Father Dang Huu Nam, who had served in Phu Yen Parish near the steel mill for three years.  State-run media quoted the bishop as saying he was not pressured to make this decision.

Progovernment blogs published multiple articles criticizing Catholic priests and parishioners who were vocal in their opposition to the government on a variety of issues, including a cybersecurity law that human rights groups and others said could lead to violations of freedom of expression and other human rights, accusing them of receiving money from and “colluding with hostile forces with the purpose of inciting public disorder and acting against the Communist Party and State.”

In August police and local authorities in Hue surrounded the local UBCV temple and reportedly harassed, intimidated, and intercepted members of the Buddhist Youth Movement as they organized the movement’s annual summer camp.

Multiple Buddhist clergy of the recognized Vietnam Buddhist Sangha who supported land rights activists or were outspoken about suspected corruption within the organization reported local authorities continued to harass them and members of their pagodas, including in Bac Giang Province and in Hanoi.  They said harassment included intimidation of monks and nuns, expulsion by force of clergy from their buildings, suspected plainclothes police breaking into religious buildings, the destruction of pagoda property, and theft of cash donations from villagers.  Central government authorities agreed to allow at least one of these individuals, a Sangha nun, to return to her pagoda if she ceased petitioning the government.

In November UBCV Supreme Patriarch Thich Quang Do stated he left the government-sanctioned Thanh Minh Monastery in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, of his own accord to travel to his home province to bless a pagoda for his family.  Do subsequently returned to Ho Chi Minh City and took up residence in the UBCV-affiliated Tu Hieu Pagoda, the first time he had been able to live in a UBCV pagoda since 1998.  Earlier reports, primarily on social media, said Do’s superior monk, Thich Thanh Minh, had been pressured by authorities and asked Do to leave because his presence caused political and economic problems for the monastery.

Other UBCV leaders stated the government continued to monitor their activities and restrict their movements, although they were able to meet with some foreign diplomats, visit other UBCV members, and maintain contact with associates overseas.  General Secretary Le Cong Cau of the UBCV reported local police closely watched him and prevented him from traveling outside Hue.

Throughout the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported harassment by authorities in numerous provinces and cities, including Cao Bang, Lang Son, Son La, Nghe An, Hue, Lam Dong, Dong Thap, Ca Mau, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Quang Ngai, Hue, and Hanoi.  Harassment included local authorities asking them to leave the parks where practitioners had gathered and other public spaces, where individuals were blaring loud music and throwing items such as fermented fish sauce on practitioners.

State media reported authorities at different levels in the Northwest Highlands, including Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen Provinces, continued to state the Duong Van Minh religious group was a threat to national security, political stability, and social order.  Authorities said eliminating membership in the group was a priority.  During the year, authorities in Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, and Bac Can collectively reportedly destroyed 38 structures used to store funerary objects used by the Duong Van Minh group and burned the funerary objects inside.  Authorities in these provinces and Thai Nguyen also reportedly encouraged schoolchildren not to follow the Duong Van Minh religion.

Throughout the year, there were numerous reports of harassment of H’mong Protestants in the Northwest and Central Highlands.  Local officials in several provinces in the Central Highlands, including Doan Ket Village, Dak Ngo Commune, Tuy Duc District, Dak Nong Province, denied household registration, which is necessary for all Vietnamese citizens, to approximately 700 H’mong Christian individuals who had migrated there in recent years, according to an NGO and H’mong Protestant sources.  As a result, many of their children were unable to go to school.

Some registered and unregistered Protestant groups continued to report local authorities, particularly in the Central Highlands, pressured newer congregations to affiliate with older, well-established congregations.  Pastors said this practice was widespread in ethnic minority villages in Gia Lai and Kon Tum Provinces.  Authorities reportedly also pressured smaller Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) congregations, some with as many as 100 followers, to combine into larger groups of up to 1,500 in order to be registered.  Church leaders again stated such requests were unreasonable, saying many of the congregations were composed of a variety of ethnic minority groups with different languages and incongruent worship practices.  Mountainous terrain and lack of infrastructure in the rural highlands prevented other SECV churches from sustaining the required minimum number of followers necessary to qualify for local registration.

Religious leaders expressed mixed views on the new Law on Belief and Religion.  Some religious groups and experts continued to state the new law was a step forward in certain areas for religious freedom, including the reduced registration/recognition time and granting legal personality to religious groups.  Some religious groups and experts expressed concern that a more precise legal approach and registration process could make the operations of religious groups – including registration of meeting points and clergy, expansion, and proselytization – more difficult.  Religious leaders and experts continued to emphasize that the two implementing decrees, one still in draft form, and actual implementation of the law, particularly at the local level, would be critical, and expressed frustration at the uneven implementation to date.

The government organized multiple conferences and training sessions on the new law throughout the year at the local, provincial, and national levels, including a public presentation in May for Hanoi-based diplomats and government implementers.  Religious leaders in remote areas of An Giang Province stated they had received training on the new law and that it had been translated into local languages.  Religious leaders continued to note existing laws and regulations on education, health, publishing, and construction were restrictive toward religious groups and would need to be revised to allow religious groups greater freedom to conduct such activities in practice.

Religious leaders and academics said the new law continued to enshrine in the country’s legal framework significant restrictions and bureaucratic controls over religious activity.  Many religious leaders expressed concern the law continued to give significant discretion to the government regarding approving or denying various types of applications.  Some observers continued to say the new law was not in place to protect religious freedom but rather to serve and cater to the rules of the Communist Party.  Groups also stated the law should allow religious organizations to conduct activities without the need for government approvals.

Registered and unregistered religious groups continued to state government agencies sometimes did not respond to registration applications or approval requests for religious activities within the stipulated time period, if at all, and often did not specify reasons for refusals.  Some groups reported they successfully appealed local decisions to higher-level authorities through informal channels.  Several religious leaders reported authorities sometimes asked for bribes to facilitate approvals.  Authorities attributed the delays and denials to the failure of applicants to complete forms correctly or provide complete information.  Religious groups said the process to register groups or notify activities in new locations was particularly difficult.

Churches affiliated with the ECVN had difficulty registering with local authorities in Quang Binh, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, and Hoa Binh Provinces.  The ECVN stated that more than 1,000 affiliates and a total of 500 of its meeting points were recognized, although there were many more it wished to register.  Church leaders said that local authorities permitted individuals to gather without incident at unregistered meeting points in numerous provinces.  Numbers were not available for the south.

Local authorities continued to cite general security concerns, such as political destabilization or potential conflict between followers of established ethnic or traditional religious beliefs and newly introduced Christian beliefs, as reasons to deny approval.

According to many Catholic bishops, parishes in remote areas or with majority ethnic minority populations continued to face difficulty registering with provincial authorities, uneven and inconsistent enforcement of national laws, and a lack of accountability on the part of provincial authorities.  Catholic leaders again stated the most problematic regions were in the Central Highlands (Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong Provinces), and the Northwest Highlands, including Hoa Binh, Son La, Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, and Yen Bai.

Hoa Binh authorities continued to deny Luong Son parish’s application to become a parish-affiliate of Hoa Binh Diocese and did not respond to a similar request from Vu Ban parish, Catholic representatives reported.  Authorities said the Long Son application was not complete and Vu Ban was a new parish, which the Church continued to dispute, according to Catholic authorities.

Some Buddhist, Protestant, and Cao Dai groups chose not to affiliate with any government-recognized or government-registered religious organizations, nor did they seek their own registration or recognition.  Unregistered Buddhist, Cao Dai, and Christian religious groups, including members of the Interfaith Council, continued to regularly report some provincial authorities used local registration laws as a pretext to pressure, intimidate, threaten, extort, harass, and assault them, and discouraged their members’ participation in the groups.

On November 9, plainclothes police in Lam Dong reportedly set fire to a storage room at the coffee plantation of Hua Phi, an unregistered Cao Dai master, the day after he met with foreign diplomats in Ho Chi Minh City.  The storage room was completely destroyed, but no casualties were reported.

On September 11, the CRA granted a “certificate of registration for religious activities” to Vietnam Full Gospel Denomination at a ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City.  On December 14, the CRA granted a “certificate of registration for religious activities” to the Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, also in Ho Chi Minh City.

The ECVN and the unregistered Vietnam Baptist Convention both reported increased difficulty gathering in well-established meeting points during the year, including in Bac Giang and Thanh Hoa Provinces.  In their rejections of applications and disruptions of religious services, local authorities noted that they viewed prior gatherings as illegal and explained the meeting points had not fulfilled requirements for organizing and conducting religious gatherings.  For example, they had “no legal representatives who coordinate with the authorities in exercising the state management of religious activities in line with the law” or failed “to meet order and safety requirements.”

Throughout the year, independent Hoa Hao followers and activists reported local authorities, police, and suspected plainclothes police in several provinces, including An Giang, Vinh Long, and Dong Thap, and in Can Tho City established checkpoints to monitor and prevent them from travelling to the unregistered Quang Minh Pagoda, to participate in a major religious commemoration.  Local authorities reportedly said the government would not allow Hoa Hao followers to commemorate anniversaries related to the life of Prophet Huynh Phu So.

On April 18, public security officials in Ko M’Leo Hamlet, Hoa Thang Commune, Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province, came to a house church of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ, interrogated adherents about their religious activities, and told them not to worship in a group or teach the Bible because the church was not registered, according to an NGO.  On April 27, public security officials in Ea Yong A Hamlet, Ea Yong Commune, Krong Pac District, Dak Lak Province, reportedly “invited” a churchgoer to the ward official’s office for interrogation on his religious activities and the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ.  The officials forbade him to worship at home, attend services of the Evangelical Church of Christ, or attend other unregistered Protestant churches.  During May and June public security officials in Tot Bioch Village, Chu Se Town, Gia Lai Province, and in Buon Ho Town, Dak Lak Province, monitored suspected evangelical Christians, interrogated them about their religious activities, and told them to recant their faith, according to an NGO.

Leaders and members of unregistered congregations reported police harassment, such as being detained for questioning, undergoing increased surveillance, and having their cell phones and Bibles confiscated.  There were reports of severe harassment in Dak Lak, Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Binh Phuoc, Tra Vinh, and Phu Yen Provinces, among others.

In Muong Khuong District, Lao Cai Province, local authorities continued to prevent Catholic priests from conducting services in certain areas.  A priest stated that authorities targeted him and his parishioners on July 31 after they visited parishioners in Cao Son and La Pan Tan Village at unregistered meeting points.  Before the visit, the priest said he filed a registration request with the local authorities but received no response.

Although the law prohibits publishing of all materials, including religious materials, without government approval, in practice some private, unlicensed publishing houses continued to unofficially print and distribute religious texts without active government interference.  Other licensed publishers printed books on religion.  Publishers had permission to print the Bible in Vietnamese and a number of other languages, including Chinese, Ede, Jarai, Banar, M’nong, H’mong, C’ho, and English.  Other published texts included, but were not limited to, works pertaining to ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Cao Dai.

On March 2, authorities permitted a showing of the film “Walk With Me,” a documentary on the doctrine of Zen Buddhism master Thich Nhat Hanh.  The film was reportedly shown in more than 60 theaters throughout the country.

Some Protestant church leaders, Montagnards, and followers of Duong Van Minh stated that local authorities seized their land or property partly due to their religious beliefs or that they received less compensation for seized land than others not affiliated with these groups.  Provincial authorities routinely dispersed religious gatherings and directed officials to organize public renunciations of Degar Christianity or other “unauthorized Christian beliefs” among ethnic minority communities.

In July 2017, the Thua-Thien Hue Provincial People’s Committee met representatives of the Thien An Monastery and Catholic Archdiocese of Hue to try to resolve a nearly 20-year-old land dispute related to the Thien An Monastery.  At the end of the year, the dispute remained unresolved; both sides stated they welcomed the opportunity for dialogue.

During the year, Venerable Thich Khong Tanh and monks from the Lien Tri Pagoda, which district authorities in Ho Chi Minh City demolished in 2016, were still living at dispersed locations throughout the city.  Tanh reported local authorities refused to offer any site to rebuild the pagoda other than the one previously offered in the Cat Lai area of Ho Chi Minh City, which Tanh said he found inappropriate.

On November 9 in Da Nang City, Son Tra District authorities in Da Nang City demolished the unregistered An Cu house pagoda, affiliated with the UBCV, after three years of land-use negotiations failed.

Relocation discussions between authorities and leaders of the Dong Men Thanh Gia (Lovers of the Holy Cross) Thu Thiem Catholic Convent and Thu Thiem Catholic Church continued at year’s end.

On September 19, the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Natural Resources and Environment announced the city had granted land-use certificates to more than 800 religious entities consisting of a total area of more than 200 hectares (500 acres).  The city reportedly aimed to issue land-use certificates to all local religious groups by the end of 2019.  Local authorities granted the Kon Tum Archdiocese a land-use certificate during the year.

The government continued to restrict the number of students permitted to enroll in Catholic and Protestant seminaries.  The churches’ leadership said the numbers allowed were inadequate to meet demand.  ECVN leaders said 23 students graduated from their Bible school in the last five years.  The government continued to permit them to recruit new students every two years.

On December 17 in Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnam Seventh-day Adventist Church organized the opening ceremony of its first domestic Christian Bible College.

Authorities permitted Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, and Buddhist groups to provide religious education to adherents in their own facilities, and religious leaders noted increased enrollment in recent years.  Students continued to participate in training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy organized at pagodas nationwide during summer holidays.

Some religious leaders faced travel restrictions, and leaders and followers of certain religious groups faced restrictions on movement by government authorities.  On May 14, border guards in Bo Y Border Gate, Kon Tum Province, prohibited Catholic Redemptorist Father Dinh Huu Thoai from exiting the country without providing justification for his travel.

In January, February, and May, independent Cao Dai follower Hua Phi reported local authorities did not allow him to leave Lam Dong Province for travel to Ho Chi Minh City for medical treatment.  He said he was allowed to seek treatment later in the year.

During the year, authorities lifted travel restrictions on certain religious leaders.  Authorities again permitted Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to visit Danang and Hue, his second annual visit after a decade outside the country.  Hanh resided at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue at year’s end, and adherents reported no difficulties visiting him.

Protestant and Catholic groups continued to report that legal restrictions and lack of legal clarity on operating faith-based medical and educational facilities made them wary of attempting to open hospitals or parochial schools, despite government statements welcoming religious groups to expand participation in health, education, and charitable activities.  Catholic representatives said the government refused to return hospitals, clinics, and schools seized from the Catholic Church in past decades, although Catholic leaders noted modest progress with local authorities in land disputes around the country.  The majority of educational facilities owned and run by religious groups continued to be kindergartens and preschools.

In several cases, local authorities permitted religious organizations to operate social services and to gather for training.  For example, in Hanoi and surrounding areas, city officials continued to allow Protestant house churches to operate drug rehabilitation centers, and a church affiliated with the Full Gospel Church in Quoc Oai, a district of Hanoi, noted progress in dealing with local authorities and expanding drug treatment operations following authorities’ acceptance of the Full Gospel Church’s Registration of Religious Operation.  The registration had eased the affiliated church’s operations in areas outside Quoc Oai as well, according to the church leader.

Most representatives of religious groups continued to report adherence to a registered religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernmental civil, economic, and secular life, but that adherence to an unregistered group was more disadvantageous.  Practitioners of various registered religions served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly.  Many nationally recognized religious organizations, such as the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, as well as other clergy and religious followers, were members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group for government-affiliated organizations under the guidance of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).  High-ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter and attended Vesak activities commemorating the birth of the Buddha.  The official resumes of the top three CPV leaders stated they followed no religion.

While Catholics and Protestants could serve in the enlisted ranks (including during temporary mandatory military service), commissioned officers were not permitted to be religious believers.  Religious adherents continued to be customarily excluded through the military recruitment process.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were several reports of registered Cao Dai adherents preventing adherents of the unsanctioned Cao Dai from performing certain religious rituals.  Registered Cao Dai members prevented the family of unsanctioned Cao Dai adherent Le Van Nha from burying him in the Cuc Lac Thai Binh Cemetery on January 7, according to a report prepared by the unregistered Cao Dai.  Unregistered Cao Dai also accused the registered group of demolishing graves of unregistered Cao Dai in the Cuc Lac Thai Binh Cemetery.  The group also reported that in January registered Cao Dai adherents prevented an unregistered Cao Dai follower from conducting the ninth-day posthumous rites for her husband unless she used a clergy member from the registered group in Ninh Phuoc Village, Ninh Thanh Ward, Tay Ninh City, Tay Ninh Province.

There continued to be some incidents of harassment of Catholics by the progovernment Red Flag Association, although the group reportedly dissolved itself in March.  On February 23, social media carried reports that members of the Red Flag Association at an elementary school at Dien Doai Commune, Dien Chau District, Nghe An Province, intimidated and beat Catholic parents meeting with the school’s leadership to get more information about the expulsion of their children after they refused to pay additional school fees.

The Catholic Institute continued to meet at the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese’s Pastoral Center located next to the St. Joseph Grand Seminary, while discussing a suitable permanent location with the city government.  The current venue limited the institute’s ability to accept new students because it received more applications than it could accommodate in the space.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives from the Embassy in Hanoi and the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City regularly raised concerns about religious freedom with a wide range of government officials and CPV leaders, including the president, prime minister, and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the CRA, and other offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and in various provinces and cities.  They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.

The Ambassador and other officials at the embassy and consulate general urged authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely, including the UBCV, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and independent Cao Dai and Hoa Hao groups; sought greater freedom for recognized and registered religious groups; advocated access to religious materials and clergy for those incarcerated; and urged an end to restrictions on unregistered groups.  Embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuse, as well as government harassment against Catholics, Protestant groups, the UBCV, independent Hoa Hao groups, and ethnic minority house churches, with the CRA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial- and local-level authorities.  U.S. government officials called for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies to make them more uniform and transparent.  U.S. government officials also urged the government to resolve peacefully outstanding land-rights disputes with religious organizations.

The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom met with the Chairman of the CRA in Washington, D.C. in July and raised concerns about implementation of the new law, the status of religious believers detained or imprisoned, and the situation of ethnic religious minority groups.  The Ambassador at Large and a senior official from the Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor raised issues of religious freedom during the annual U.S. Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Washington.

Representatives of the Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom visited Vietnam in November and met with government officials from the MFA and the CRA as well as with registered and unregistered religious groups to discuss implementation of the Law on Belief and Religion and advocate for increased religious freedom, including allowing both registered and unregistered groups to exercise their rights freely, seeking accountability for reports of government harassment, and resolving lands-rights issues.

The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders from both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom.  On December 11, the Ambassador and the Consul General visited Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Tu Hieu Pagoda in Thua Thien, Hue.  On September 24, the Consul General addressed an estimated one hundred thousand attendees at the registered Cao Dai Holy Mother Goddess Festival in Tay Ninh Province and underscored the U.S. commitment to religious freedom.  Senior embassy and consulate officials at every level traveled throughout the country, including to the Northwest and Central Highlands, to monitor religious liberty and meet with religious leaders.  Representatives of the embassy and consulate general maintained frequent contact with many leaders of religious communities, including recognized, registered, and unregistered organizations.

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)


This section includes the West Bank and Gaza.  In December 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Jerusalem.  Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA did not have authority there, and Hamas continued to exercise de facto control over security and other matters.  The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation, but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality.  It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.  Violence between Palestinians and Israelis continued, primarily in the West Bank and the periphery of Gaza.  Continued travel restrictions impeded the movements of Muslims and Christians between the West Bank and Jerusalem.  Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling Fatah political movement, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence, at times referring to assailants as “martyrs.”  Several local Fatah chapters on social media referred to individuals who had engaged in terrorist attacks as martyrs and posted memorials, including photographs of suicide bombers.  The Fatah branch in the city of Tubas and the Fatah youth organization posted a photograph in March celebrating a suicide bomber from the second Intifada who killed one Israeli and injured 90 others.  Anti-Semitic content also appeared in Fatah and PA-controlled media.  In October Palestinian authorities detained a Palestinian-U.S. citizen Jerusalem identification card holder, prosecuted him for possible involvement in sale of Palestinian-owned property to a Jewish Israeli group, and found him guilty of “seizing/tearing away part of the Palestinian Territories to a foreign state,” sentencing him to life in prison with hard labor.  In April the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council reiterated an Islamic legal ruling (fatwa) reemphasizing previous rulings that sale of Palestinian-owned lands, including in Jerusalem, to “enemies such as the state of Israel,” is forbidden to Muslims according to sharia.  According to media sources, the ruling considered the land to be Islamic public property and not personal private property, based on previous rulings by Palestinian and other Muslim religious legal scholars.  Palestinian officials also condemned the sale of Palestinian land to Jewish Israelis in nationalistic terms.  Palestinian leaders did not always publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence.  PA President Mahmoud Abbas maintained a public commitment to nonviolence.  The PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act.  The PA and PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis.  President Abbas said he would use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”  Following the September fatal stabbing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank by a Palestinian, President Abbas told Israeli government leaders that “everybody loses from violence.”  On April 30, however, President Abbas delivered a speech at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, in which he said massacres of Jews, including the Holocaust, were related to their conduct in “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters,” and not their religion.  He issued a statement on May 4 apologizing to those offended by the remarks, condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in history.  Senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders condemned violent acts by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians, including property crimes.  The Israeli government arrested or detained alleged suspects in such attacks.  Local human rights groups and media stated that authorities rarely convicted alleged Israeli offenders.

Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with de facto control of Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other extremist groups disseminated anti-Semitic materials and incited violence through traditional and social media channels, as well as during rallies and other events.  Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia.

In some cases, perpetrators justified incidents of violence on religious grounds.  On January 9, a Palestinian shot and killed an Israeli rabbi at a traffic junction near the Israeli settlement outpost (a term used to describe a settlement that, under Israeli law, is illegal and unauthorized) of Havat Gilad, west of Nablus in the West Bank.  Israeli police opened an investigation into the death of Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank, killed October 12 when a thrown stone broke through her car windshield.  At year’s end, an Israeli police investigation continued into the possible involvement of yeshiva students from a nearby settlement.  On multiple occasions, Palestinians threw rocks at Jewish visitors to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.  Various Israeli and Palestinian groups opposed to interacting with members of other religions continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation.  Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “price tag” attacks (violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests), such as the uprooting Palestinian olive trees, as necessary for the defense of Judaism.

U.S. government representatives met with Palestinian religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities.  U.S. officials met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation.  U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship, and also met with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 2.8 million in the West Bank and 1.8 million in the Gaza Strip (July 2018 estimates).  According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims.  The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports an estimated 412,000 Jewish Israelis reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  According to various estimates, 50,000 Christians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and according to media reports and religious communities, there are approximately 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza.  According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has continued at rapid rates.  A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere.  Approximately 360 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) reside in the West Bank, primarily in the Nablus area.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

West Bank and the Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities.  Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordnances enacted by the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, PA law.  Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander and Israeli law and Israeli legislation.  Palestinians living in the portion of the West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo II Accord are subject to military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander.  Palestinians who live in Area B fall under PA civil and criminal law, while Israel retains the overriding responsibility for security.  Although per the Oslo II Accord, only PA civil and security law applies to Palestinians living in Area A of the West Bank, Israel applies military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander whenever its military enters Area A, as part of its overriding responsibility for security.  The city of Hebron in the West Bank – an important city for Jews, Muslims, and Christians due to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs – is divided into two separate areas:  area H1 under PA control and area H2, where approximately 800 Israeli settlers live and where internal security, public order and civil authorities relating to Israelis and their property are under Israeli military control.  In 2007, Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory, although the area nominally comes under PA jurisdiction.

An interim Basic Law applies in the areas under PA jurisdiction.  The Basic Law states Islam is the official religion, but calls for respect of “all other divine religions.”  It provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality.  The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.  The law states the principles of sharia shall be the main sources of legislation.  It contains language adopted from the pre-1967 criminal code of Jordanian rule criminalizing “defaming religion,” with a maximum penalty of life in prison.  Since 2007, the elected Palestinian Legislative Council, controlled by Hamas, has not convened.  The Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in December and called for new elections.  The President of the PA promulgates executive decrees that have legal authority.

There is no specified process by which religious organizations gain official recognition; each religious group must negotiate its own bilateral relationship with the PA.  The PA observes nineteenth century status quo arrangements reached with the Ottoman authorities, which recognize the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic Churches.  The PA also observes subsequent agreements that recognize the rights of the Episcopal (Anglican) and Evangelical Lutheran Churches.  The PA recognizes the legal authority of these religious groups to adjudicate personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.  Recognized religious groups may establish ecclesiastical courts to issue legally binding rulings on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities.  The PA’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is administratively responsible for these family law issues.

Islamic or Christian religious courts handle legal matters relating to personal status, including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support.  For Muslims, sharia determines personal status law, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians.  By law, members of one religious group may submit a personal status dispute to a different religious group for adjudication if the disputants agree it is appropriate to do so.

The PA maintains some unwritten understandings with churches that are not officially recognized, based on the basic principles of the status quo agreements, including the Assemblies of God, Nazarene Church, and some evangelical Christian churches, which may operate freely.  Some of these groups may perform some official functions such as issuing marriage licenses.  Churches not recognized by the PA generally must obtain special one-time permission from the PA to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters if these groups want the actions to be recognized by and registered with the PA.  These churches may not proselytize.

By law, the PA provides financial support to Islamic institutions and places of worship.

Religious education is part of the curriculum for students in grades one through six in public schools the PA operates, as well as some Palestinian schools in Jerusalem that use PA curriculum.  There are separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.  Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religious courses.  Recognized churches operate private schools in the West Bank, which include religious instruction.  Private Islamic schools also operate in the West Bank.

Palestinian law provides that in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council, six seats be allocated to Christian candidates, who also have the right to contest other seats.  There are no seats reserved for members of any other religious group.  A presidential decree requires that Christians head 10 municipal councils in the West Bank (including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Birzeit, and Beit Jala) and establishes a Christian quota for 10 West Bank municipal councils.

PA land laws prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian-owned lands to “any man or judicial body corporation of Israeli citizenship, living in Israel or acting on its behalf.”  While the law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of Israeli land in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.

Although the PA removed the religious affiliation category from Palestinian identity cards issued since 2014, older identity cards continue to circulate, listing the holder as either Muslim or Christian.

Government Practices

In October Palestinian authorities detained a Palestinian-U.S. citizen Jerusalem identification card holder and investigated him for involvement in brokering the sale of Palestinian property to Jewish Israelis.  After a one-week trial, the Palestinian Grand Criminal Court found him guilty of “seizing/tearing away part of the Palestinian Territories to a foreign State” and sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor.  Authorities also froze his bank accounts as well as those of the owners of the property, according to media.

Israeli police and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported investigating known instances of religiously motivated attacks and making arrests where possible.  In general, however, NGOs, religious institutions, and media continued to state that arrests in religiously motivated crimes against Palestinians rarely led to indictments and convictions.  Israeli NGO Yesh Din also reported Palestinian victims generally feared reprisals by perpetrators or their associates.  Both of these factors increased Palestinian victims’ reluctance to file official complaints, according to Yesh Din.

The Israeli government stated that authorities maintained a zero-tolerance policy against Israeli extremists’ attacks on Palestinians and have made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, including through taskforces, increased funding, and hiring additional staff members.  During the first six months of the year, Israeli police had investigated 115 allegations of nationalistic-based offenses committed by Israelis in the West Bank and 405 allegations against Palestinians.  In all of 2017, Israeli police investigated 183 and 609 allegations, respectively.  At the end of June, Israeli authorities had opened 35 new investigations of ideologically-based offenses and disturbances of public order by Israelis against Palestinians, compared with 29 in all of 2017.  By June Israeli authorities issued four indictments in these cases, two of which were from prior years’ investigations, while in 2017 four indictments were issued, including three from prior years’ investigations.  Offenses against property constituted 65 percent of these cases.  Israeli authorities investigated 15 cases of Israelis allegedly committing bodily harm against Palestinians.  As of the end of June, however, Israeli authorities had not investigated any cases involving Israeli stone-throwing at Palestinians in the West Bank.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 21 incidents of Israelis throwing stones at Palestinian homes and vehicles during the same six-month period.

As of October, Israeli authorities had issued 27 restraining orders against 25 Israelis from entering the West Bank and four orders prohibiting Israelis from entering specific areas in the West Bank.  In 2017, Israeli authorities issued one detention order and 55 restraining orders against 41 Israelis, including minors, prohibiting their presence in the West Bank to deter and prevent ideologically based offenses.  The Israeli government stated the special unit it established in 2013 in the West Bank’s Judea and Samaria Police District to combat nationalist crimes was fully operational, with 60 police officers, and 20 auxiliary officers.

The PA continued to provide imams with themes they were required to use in weekly Friday sermons in West Bank mosques and to prohibit them from broadcasting Quranic recitations from minarets prior to the call to prayer.  The Mufti of Jerusalem issued fatwas prohibiting Palestinian participation in Jerusalem municipal elections, and sales of Palestinian-owned lands to Israelis.  In April the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council reiterated an Islamic legal ruling (fatwa) reemphasizing previous rulings that sale of Palestinian-owned lands, including in Jerusalem, to “enemies such as the state of Israel,” is forbidden to Muslims according to sharia.

Nonrecognized churches, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups, faced a continued PA ban on proselytization but stated they were able to conduct most other functions unhindered by the PA.  Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis personal status documents issued by nonrecognized churches.  The PA, however, continued to refuse to recognize personal status legal documents (e.g., marriage certificates) issued by some of these nonrecognized churches, which the groups said made it difficult for them to register newborn children under their fathers’ names or as children of married couples.  Many nonrecognized churches advised members with dual citizenship to marry or divorce abroad to register the action officially in that location.  Some converts to nonrecognized Christian faiths had recognized churches with which they were previously affiliated perform their marriages and divorces.  Members of some faith communities and faith-based organizations stated they viewed their need to do so as conflicting with their religious beliefs.  During the year, Palestinian authorities established a procedure for registering future marriages involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would also enable couples to register their children and protect the children’s inheritance rights.  Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis documents from a small number of churches that were relatively recently established in the West Bank and whose legal status remained uncertain.

Religious organizations providing education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians in and around East Jerusalem continued to state that the security barrier that was begun by Israel during the second Intifada (2000-2005), impeded their work, particularly south of Jerusalem in the West Bank Christian communities around Bethlehem.  Clergy members stated the barrier and additional checkpoints restricted their movements between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregants between their homes and places of worship.  Christian leaders continued to state the barrier hindered Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  They also said it made visits to Christian sites in Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who lived on the west side of the barrier.  Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers also reported difficulty or delays accessing Christian religious sites in the West Bank because of the barrier.  The Israeli government previously stated it constructed the barrier as an act of self-defense, and that it was highly effective in preventing attacks in Israel.

In addition, Bethlehem residents said political instability affected tourism, Bethlehem’s key economic sector.  Christians also criticized the PA for failing to better protect their communities and way of life, which was under pressure from lack of economic opportunities and other drivers of emigration.  During the year, Bethlehem had the highest unemployment rate among West Bank cities, which sources stated was a factor compelling many young Christians to emigrate.  Community leaders estimated Bethlehem and surrounding communities were only 12 percent Christian, compared with more than 70 percent in 1950.

Palestinian leaders often did not publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence.  Media and social media regularly used the word “martyr” to refer to individuals killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces.  Some official PA media channels, social media sites affiliated with the Fatah political movement, terrorist organizations, and individuals glorified terrorist attacks on Jewish Israelis, referring to the assailants as “martyrs.”  Several local Fatah chapters on social media referred to individuals who had engaged in terrorist attacks as martyrs and posted memorials, including photographs of suicide bombers.  The Fatah branch in the city of Tubas and the Fatah youth organization posted a photograph on March 11 of Wafa Idreis, a suicide bomber who carried out an attack during the second Intifada, and which killed one Israeli and injured 90 others.

The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act.  The PA and the PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis.  These payments and separate stipends for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and have continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel.  President Abbas said he would use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”

The PA Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs continued to pay for construction of new mosques, maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank.  The ministry also continued to provide limited financial support to some Christian clergy and Christian charitable organizations.

The Israeli government and the PA sometimes prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting Jewish religious sites in PA-controlled territory in the West Bank for security reasons.

The Israeli government continued to prohibit Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the PA (Area A).  While these restrictions in general prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting several Jewish religious sites, the IDF provided special security escorts for Jews to visit religious sites in Area A, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a site of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Some Jewish religious leaders said this policy limiting travel to parts of the West Bank prevented Jewish Israelis from freely visiting several Jewish religious sites in the West Bank, including Joseph’s Tomb, because they were denied the opportunity to visit the site on unscheduled occasions or in larger numbers than permitted through IDF coordination.  IDF officials said requirements to coordinate Jewish visits to Joseph’s Tomb were necessary to ensure Jewish Israelis’ safety.  Palestinian and Israeli security forces coordinated some visits by Jewish groups to PA-controlled areas within the West Bank.

Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims under Israeli jurisdiction in Area C, remained separated from the West Bank by the security barrier built during the second Intifada, and Palestinians could only access it if Israeli authorities permitted them to cross the barrier.  Residents and citizens of Israel continued to have relatively unimpeded access.  Israeli police closed the site to all visitors on Saturdays, for the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat).

The IDF continued to limit access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, another site of significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham.  Palestinian leaders continued in statements to local media to oppose the IDF’s control of access, citing Oslo-era agreements that gave Israel and the PA shared administrative responsibility for the site, although Israel retained full security responsibility for the site.  Some Muslim leaders publicly rejected a Jewish connection to the site.  The IDF again restricted Muslim access on 10 days corresponding to Jewish holidays and Jewish access on 10 days corresponding to Islamic holidays.  The Israeli government said these restrictions allowed a greater number of worshipers to access the site on special days for the two faiths.  The IDF restricted Muslims to one entry point with IDF security screening.  The IDF granted Jews access via several entry points without security screening.  The Israeli government said police guard posts were located at both crossings, and manned by soldiers and equipped with metal detectors.  Entrance was denied to individuals identified as posing a threat to the security of the site or its worshipers.  Citing security concerns, the IDF periodically closed roads approaching the site, and since 2001 has permanently closed Shuhada Street, the former main Hebron market and one of the main streets leading to the holy site, to Palestinian-owned vehicles.  The Israeli government said the road closure was to prevent confrontations.  Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously in separate spaces, a physical separation that was instituted by the IDF following a 1994 attack by an Israeli that killed 29 Palestinians.  Israeli authorities continued to implement frequent bans on the Islamic call to prayer from the Ibrahimi Mosque, stating the government acted upon requests by Jewish religious leaders in Hebron regarding the needs of Jewish worshippers at the site.

Following the September fatal stabbing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank by a Palestinian, President Abbas told Israeli government leaders that “everybody loses from violence.”  On April 30, however, Abbas spoke at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, stating the  massacres of Jews, including during the Holocaust, were related to their “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters,” and not their religion.  He issued a statement on May 4 apologizing to those offended by his remarks, condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in history.

Religiously intolerant and anti-Semitic material continued to appear in official PA media.  On October 5, the official Palestinian TV aired a speech by PA Islamic Law Judge Muhannad Abu Roomi describing Jews as “fabricators of history” who “dance and live on the body parts and blood of others.”  In another instance, a guest on a Palestinian TV program on April 10 stated that the Holocaust was a lie, and that many Jews “colluded with Hitler to create a gateway to bring settlers to Palestine.”  On December 14, Osama al-Tibi delivered a Friday sermon at the Taqwa mosque in al-Tira, near Ramallah, broadcast on Palestine TV.  In his sermon, al-Tibi said he was not able to mention all of the Jews’ despicable traits, and that “Allah … turned them into apes and pigs.”

There continued to be anti-Semitic and militaristic and adversarial content directed against Israel in Palestinian textbooks as well as the absence of references to Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion, according to Palestinian Media Watch and the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.  The two NGOs also reported that PA schoolbooks for the 2017-2018 school year contained material glorifying terror and promoting violence.  In September media reported a European Parliament committee voted to freeze more than $17 million in aid to the PA over incitement against Israel in its textbooks.

NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in the West Bank continued to state the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), an Israeli government entity, exploited archaeological finds to bolster Jewish claims, while overlooking other historically significant archaeological finds of other religions or the needs of Palestinian residents at these sites.  Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the ministers of culture, justice, and religious affairs.  The government stated that the IAA conducted impartial evaluations of all unearthed archeological finds, and the IAA was obligated by law to document, preserve, and publish all findings from excavations.  It added that IAA researchers “have greatly intensified their research of ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk and Ottoman periods.”

The Israeli government retained its previous regulations regarding visa issuance for foreigners to work in the West Bank, regulations Christian institutions said impeded their work by preventing many foreign clergy from entering and working.  The Israeli government continued to limit Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank to single entry visas, which local parish leaders in the West Bank said complicated needed travel to other areas under their pastoral authority outside the West Bank or Jerusalem, such as Jordan.  Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries said they continued to face long delays in receiving visas and reported periodic denials of their visa applications.  The Israeli government stated visa delays or denials were due to security processing, and visitors from states without diplomatic relations with Israeli could face delays.  Officials from multiple churches expressed concerns that non-Arab visa applicants and visa renewal applicants also faced long delays.  Christian leaders said Israel’s visa and permit policy for individuals wishing to work and reside in the West Bank adversely impacted faith-based operations in the West Bank.  While clergy generally were able to obtain visas, Christian leaders said this policy adversely affected school teachers and volunteers affiliated with faith-based charities working in the West Bank.  NGOs and religious leaders said this policy did not appear to specifically target faith based organizations, but rather, appeared to be part of a broader Israeli tightening of visa issuance in response to the international “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.”  Israeli authorities issued permits for some Christians in Gaza to exit Gaza to attend religious services in Jerusalem or the West Bank.  Christian leaders said Israel issued insufficient permits to meet the full demand, and the process was lengthy and time consuming.

According to some church officials, Israel continued to prohibit some Arab Christian clergy from entering Gaza, including bishops and other senior clergy seeking to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority.  Israel facilitated visits by clergy, including bishops from non-Arab countries, to Gaza on multiple occasions, including delegations from Europe, North America, and South Africa.

At year’s end, Christians held minister-level positions in three PA ministries (Finance, Economy, and Tourism) and the cabinet-level office of deputy prime minister for public information.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Hamas, PIJ, and other militant and terrorist groups continued to be active in Gaza.  Hamas remained in de facto political control of Gaza.

Hamas leaders continued to call for the elimination of the state of Israel, and some Hamas leaders called for the killing of Zionist Jews.  Some Hamas leaders condemned, however, the terrorist attack on a U.S. synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia, including a separate judicial system from the PA courts.  At times Hamas courts prohibited women from departing Gaza due to ongoing divorce or family court proceedings, despite having Israeli authorization to travel.  Human Rights Watch issued a report in October regarding accusation of torture and abuse of detainees in PA and Hamas detention, based on 86 cases and dozens of interviews with former detainees, lawyers, and family members.  The report included an example from 2017 of Hamas police detaining a social worker and investigating him for “offending religious feelings.”  Media reported the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University of Gaza required hijabs for all females.  Gazan civil society leaders said Hamas in recent years had moderated its restrictions on dress and gender segregation in public.

Christian groups reported Hamas generally tolerated the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force Christians to abide by Islamic law.  According to media accounts, Hamas continued to neither investigate nor prosecute Gaza-based cases of religious discrimination, including reported anti-Christian bias in private sector hiring and in police investigations of anti-Christian harassment.  Media quoted Gazan Christians as saying that Hamas generally did not impede private and communal religious activities for the Christian minority in Gaza, but continued to not celebrate Christmas as a public holiday, unlike in the West Bank.

Some Muslim students continued to attend schools run by Christian institutions and NGOs in Gaza.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were incidents of deadly violence that perpetrators said was justified at least partly on religious grounds.  Because religion and ethnicity or nationality were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity.  Actions included killings, physical and verbal attacks on worshipers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites.  There was also harassment by members of one religious group of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and anti-Semitic content in media.

On January 9, a member of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades shot and killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach at a traffic junction near the Israeli settlement outpost of Havat Gilad, west of Nablus in the West Bank.  On March 28, an Arab Israeli, Abed al-Hakim Asi, was charged in Central District Court for the February 5 fatal stabbing of Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal at a bus stop near the Ariel settlement, located between Nablus and Ramallah.  Following these two attacks, Israeli settlers from neighboring areas threw stones at Palestinian vehicles and houses, destroyed olive orchards, sprayed anti-Palestinian graffiti, and blocked road access to Nablus.

On October 12, Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of Bidya village, died when an unidentified individual threw a two-kilogram (4.4 pound) stone through her car windshield.  Israeli police opened an investigation and at year’s end continued to investigate the possible involvement of yeshiva students from the nearby Israeli settlement of Rehelim.

In July a Palestinian teenager climbed over the wall of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank near Ramallah and stabbed three Israelis, killing one.  Neighbors of the victim killed the 17-year-old.  In response, the Israeli defense minister tweeted, “The best answer to terror is the accelerated settlement of Judea and Samaria.”

Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited holy sites in the West Bank, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.  Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails and clashed with IDF escorts during visits of Jewish groups to Joseph’s Tomb (located in Area A) on several days during the year.  The IDF used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire to disperse Palestinian protesters, secure the site, and/or evacuate Jewish worshippers.

According to local press and social media, some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “price tag” attacks, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, as necessary for the defense of Judaism.  NGO Tag Meir reported that in April unknown assailants attempted to set a mosque near Nablus on fire, leaving graffiti on the building that stated “price tag and revenge.”

According to local human rights groups and media, Israeli authorities rarely prosecuted Jewish attacks against Muslims and Christians successfully, failing to open investigations or closing cases for lack of evidence.  The Israeli government stated it maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards “price-tag” offenses by Israeli extremists and other violence against Palestinians in areas of the West Bank under its responsibility.  It also stated it had made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, which led to a decrease in ideologically-based offences, and an increase in the numbers of investigations and rates of prosecution.

A crowd of Christian Palestinians threw stones, bottles, and eggs at Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III on January 6-7 when he arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square to preside over midnight Mass on Orthodox Christmas.  Members of the crowd, who also pounded the patriarch’s car with their fists, chanting “traitor, traitor,” accused the Greek Orthodox Church of selling Palestinian-owned property and land to Israeli Jewish groups.  According to media, the controversy dated back to 2004, when three companies associated with a settler group obtained a long-term lease on three buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The church launched a legal battle against the agreement, calling it “illegal” and “unauthorized.”  In 2017, a district court in Israel rejected the church’s argument.  The church appealed the decision to the Israeli Supreme Court in November 2017, and the appeal was still pending at year’s end.

According to members of more recently arrived faith communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, established Christian groups opposed their efforts to obtain official recognition from the PA because of the newcomers’ proselytizing.

Political and religious groups in the West Bank and Gaza continued to call on members to “defend” Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Palestinian sources, most Christian and Muslim families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip pressured their children, especially their daughters, to marry within their respective religious groups.  Couples who challenged this societal norm, particularly Palestinian Christians or Muslims who sought to marry Jews, encountered considerable societal and family opposition.  Families sometimes reportedly disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith.

In an article published by the independent Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, former Hamas official Mustafa al-Lidawi invoked the blood libel to describe how Jews prepared pastries for the Purim holiday.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government representatives met with representatives of a range of religious groups from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and when possible, the Gaza Strip.  Engagement included meetings with Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and Reform rabbis, as well as representatives of various Jewish institutions; regular contacts with the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox patriarchates; and meetings with the Holy See’s Custodian of the Holy Land, leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, the Syrian Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and leaders of evangelical Christian groups.  These meetings included discussions of the groups’ concerns about religious tolerance, access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship.

U.S. government representatives met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote tolerance and cooperation to combat religious prejudice.  They also met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship and with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.


IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL | WEST BANK AND GAZA (ABOVE)

Western Sahara

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara and administers the area it controls by the same constitution, laws, and structures as in internationally recognized Morocco, including laws that deal with religious freedom.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), an organization seeking the territory’s independence, disputes Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory.  According to the Moroccan constitution, Islam is the religion of the state, and the state guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly.  The constitution also says the state guarantees to everyone the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.”  The constitution states the king holds the Islamic title “Commander of the Faithful,” and he is the protector of Islam and guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country.  It also prohibits political parties from being founded on religion and forbids political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments from denigrating or infringing on Islam.  Moroccan law penalizes the use of enticements to convert a Muslim to another religion and prohibits criticism of Islam.  There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom in the portion of the territory administered by Morocco.

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

U.S. officials discussed religious freedom and tolerance with Moroccan officials and also met members of religious minority communities during their visits to the territory.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 620,000 (July 2018 estimate).  The overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.  Christian leaders report there are dozens of Moroccan Christians, as well as a small group of foreign resident Roman Catholics.

There is a small foreign community, many of whose members are non-Muslim, working for the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Morocco administers the territory it controls in Western Sahara by the same constitution, laws, and structures that apply within internationally recognized Morocco.

The Moroccan constitution declares Islam to be the religion of the state.  The constitution guarantees the freedoms of thought, expression, and assembly and says the state guarantees to everyone the freedom to practice his religious affairs.

The Moroccan constitution and the law governing media prohibit any individual from criticizing Islam on public platforms, such as in print or online media, or in public speeches.  Such expressions are punishable by imprisonment for two years and a fine of 200,000 dirhams ($21,000).

Moroccan law penalizes anyone who “employs enticements to undermine the faith” or convert a Muslim to another faith, and provides punishments of six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($21 to $52).  Impeding or preventing one or more persons from worshipping or from attending worship services of any religion is punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($21 to $52).  By law, all publicly funded educational institutions are required to teach Sunni Islam in accordance with the teachings of the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.  Other Moroccan laws pertaining to the registration of religious groups, their operations, and the application of relevant aspects of personal status law also apply.

The Moroccan constitution states the king holds the Islamic title of “Commander of the Faithful,” and he is the protector of Islam and guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs.  It also states only the High Council of Ulema, a group headed and appointed by the king, is authorized to issue fatwas, which become legally binding only through endorsement by the king in a royal decree and subsequent confirmation by parliamentary legislation.  According to the constitution, political parties may not be founded on religion and may not denigrate or infringe on Islam.

Government Practices

There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom in the territory administered by Morocco.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom in the territory administered by Morocco.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. officials discussed religious freedom and tolerance with Moroccan officials and also met members of religious minority communities, including Roman Catholics, during their visits to the territory.

Xinjiang

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET | XINJIANG (BELOW) | HONG KONG | MACAU


This separate section on Xinjiang is included given the scope and severity of reported religious freedom violations specific to the region this year.

Multiple media and NGOs estimated the government detained at least 800,000 and up to possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim groups, mostly Chinese citizens, in specially built or converted detention facilities in Xinjiang and subjected them to forced disappearance, torture, physical abuse, and prolonged detention without trial because of their religion and ethnicity since April 2017.  There were reports of deaths among detainees.  Authorities maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices.  The government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Muslims in Xinjiang.  The reported intensification of detentions accompanied authorities’ implementation of a Xinjiang counterextremism regulation, enacted in March 2017, which identified many of the behaviors deemed “extremist,” as well as continued implementation of the National Counterterrorism Law, revised during 2018, which addressed “religious extremism.”  In October the Standing Committee of the 12th People’s Congress in Xinjiang revised its regulation to insert guidance on “vocational skill education training centers.”  Authorities in Xinjiang punished schoolchildren, university students, and their family members for praying and barred youths from participating in religious activities, including fasting, during Ramadan.  The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned.

Uighur Muslims reported severe societal discrimination in employment and business opportunities.  In Xinjiang, tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued.

Embassy officials met with government officials regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.  According to a statement issued at the July 24-26 U.S. government-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, “We are particularly troubled by reports of the Chinese government’s deepening crackdown on Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups… [including] the detention of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, in facilities ranging from makeshift holding centers to prisons, ostensibly for political re-education,” in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.  There are reports of deaths in these facilities.  We call on the Chinese government to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained.”  On September 21, the Secretary of State said, “Uighurs are held against their will in so-called reeducation camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses.  Their religious beliefs are decimated.”  On December 21, in discussing why China remained a Country of Particular Concern, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom said what is happening to Muslim Uighurs is one of the “worst human rights situations in the world.”  In October the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said, “In China, the government is engaged in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell.”  She added, “It is the largest internment of civilians in the world today” and “It may be the largest since World War II.”

Section I. Religious Demography

A 2015 report on Xinjiang issued by the State Council Information Office (SCIO) states Uighur, Kazakh, Hui, Kyrgyz, and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities constitute approximately14.2 million residents in Xinjiang, or 61 percent of the total Xinjiang population.  Uighur Muslims live primarily in Xinjiang.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution of the People’s Republic of China states citizens enjoy “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.”  The constitution also stipulates the right of citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion.  Only religious groups belonging to one of five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant), however, are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services or other religious ceremonies and activities.

Xinjiang has its own counterterrorism law containing similar provisions regarding “religious extremism” as the national law.  The law bans the wearing of long beards, full-face coverings, expanding halal practice beyond food, and “interfering” with family planning, weddings, funerals, or inheritance, among other provisions.

In November SCIO published a report on cultural protection and development in Xinjiang that said the government promotes the use of standard Chinese language by law, issues religious texts published and distributed according to the law, and provides “important legal protection for the diverse cultural heritage of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang.”

In October the Xinjiang regional government issued implementing regulations for the counterterrorism law to permit the establishment of “vocational skill education training centers” (which the government also calls “education centers” and “education and transformation establishments”) to “carry out anti-extremist ideological education.”  The revised regulations stipulate, “Institutions such as vocational skill education training centers should carry out training sessions on the common national language, laws and regulations, and vocational skills, and carry out anti-extremist ideological education, and psychological and behavioral correction to promote thought transformation of trainees, and help them return to the society and family.”

On October 9, The Standing Committee of the 13th People’s Congress of Xinjiang announced that the regional government maintains the right to uphold the basic principles of the party’s religious work, adhere to the rule of law, and actively guide religion to adapt to the socialist society.  It states, “The judicial administrative department shall organize, guide, and coordinate the propaganda work of relevant laws and regulations, strengthen prison management, prevent the spread of extremism in prisons, and do relevant remolding, education, and transformation.”

Regulations in Urumqi, Xinjiang, prohibit veils that cover the face, homeschooling children, and “abnormal beards.”  A separate regulation approved by the Xinjiang People’s Congress Standing Committee in 2016 bans the practice of religion in government buildings and the wearing of clothes associated with “religious extremism.”

Authorities in Xinjiang have defined 26 religious activities, including some practices of Islam, Christianity, and Tibetan Buddhism, as illegal without government authorization.  These regulations stipulate that no classes, scripture study groups, or religious studies courses may be offered by any group or institution without prior government approval.  No religious group is permitted to carry out any religious activities, including preaching, missionary work, proselytizing, and ordaining clergy, without government approval.  It also bans editing, translation, publication, printing, reproduction, production, distribution, sale, and dissemination of religious publications and audiovisual products without authorization.

Xinjiang officials require minors to complete nine years of compulsory education before they may receive religious education outside of school.  Xinjiang regulations also forbid minors from participating in religious activities and impose penalties on organizations and individuals who “organize, entice, or force” minors to participate in religious activities.  According to press reports, a regulation in effect since 2016 further bans any form of religious activity in Xinjiang schools and stipulates parents or guardians who “organize, lure, or force minors into religious activities” may be stopped by anyone and reported to police.  Xinjiang’s regional version of the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency Law states children affected by ethnic separatism, extremism and terrorism, and/or committing offenses that seriously endanger the society but do not constitute a criminal punishment may be sent to “specialized schools for correction” at the request of their parents, guardians or school.Xinjiang authorities continued to ban giving children any name with an Islamic connotation.

Government Practices

According to media and NGO reports, since April 2017 the government in Xinjiang continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism” as reasons to have detained an estimated 800,000 to two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other majority Muslim groups, mostly Chinese citizens, in prison-like conditions.  According to a July ChinaAid article, Christians were also detained in the same facilities.  There were reports of deaths in detention and disappearances.  The government targeted individuals for detention based primarily on their ethnic and religious identities, and detainees were reportedly subjected to forms of torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, including sexual abuse.  Police raids and the government’s restrictions on Islamic practices as part of “strike hard” campaigns, which began in 2014, continued throughout the year.  Local observers said, however, many incidents related to abuses or pressure on Uighurs went unreported to international media or NGOs.

According to Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), two Uighur religious scholars, Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulnehed Mehsum, died in detention camps.  Authorities detained Hajim in late 2017, along with several members of his family, and in January UHRP learned of his death.  UHRP reported that Mehsum died while in detention in Hotan in November 2017, but his death was not made public until May.

In August The Guardian reported local sources told a reporter that a Uighur named Karim had been jailed and “died after prolonged heavy labor.”  He had lived in Muslim-majority countries and owned a Uighur restaurant in a major Chinese city.

On November 28, Mihrigul Tursun, said that while in detention, she saw nine women of the 68 who shared a cell with her die over the course of 3 months.

There were also reports of suicides.  A Uighur advocacy group reported that more than 10 Uighur women committed suicide during the year in direct response to pressure or abuses by authorities.  Reportedly, officials came to their homes and said either the women had to marry a Han Chinese man or the officials would take their parents into detention.  To prevent this, the women committed suicide.

The New York Times, Radio Free Asia, and UHRP reported on the disappearance of several Uighur academics and university administrators during the year.  A report released by UHRP in October identified 231 Uighur intellectuals authorities had caused to disappear, removed from their post, imprisoned, or sent to detention facilities.

In October UHRP said Uighur literature professors Abdukerim Rahman, Azat Sultan, and Gheyretjan Osman, language professor Arslan Abdulla, and poet Abdulqadir Jalaleddin had disappeared and were believed to be held in detention facilities.

Radio Free Asia reported in September that two Kashgar University administrators (Erkin Omer, Muhter Abdughopur) and two professors (Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul) had been removed from their positions and their whereabouts were unknown.

International media reported former president of Xinjiang University Tashpolat Tiyip and former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital Halmurat Ghopur separately received two-year suspended death sentences.

In August The New York Times reported Uighur academic Rahile Dawut, from Xinjiang, who had lectured and written extensively on Uighur culture, disappeared sometime after telling a relative of her intent to travel to Beijing from Urumqi in late 2017.  Her family and friends said she was secretly detained as part of the government’s crackdown on Uighurs.

In March Toronto’s The Globe and Mail interviewed Nurgul Sawut, a clinical social worker in Canberra who said at least 12 of her family members disappeared in Xinjiang since the beginning of the year.  Sawut also stated 54 relatives and close friends in Xinjiang of one couple in Australia had disappeared and were presumably in detention facilities.  The article said more than 30 members of the family of Rebiya Kadeer, an activist and former president of the World Uyghur Congress, vanished or were being detained.  Gulchehra Hoja, a broadcaster with the Uighur service of Radio Free Asia, stated that more than 20 of her relatives were missing and the government was responsible.  The article also reported that Adalet Rahim of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, said a brother and six cousins were in forced indoctrination programs.  Her father, Abdulaziz Sattar, said some 50 of his relatives – among them bureaucrats, teachers, and a medical doctor – had been incarcerated in Xinjiang.

Associated Press reported the continued disappearance of 16-year-old Uighur Pakzat Qurban, who arrived at the Urumqi airport from Istanbul on his way to visit his grandmother in 2016.

There were numerous reports of authorities subjecting detained individuals to torture and other physical abuse.

In October ChinaAid reported first-hand accounts of a three-part system to which Uighurs were subjected in several detention facilities.  According to local residents, each camp consists of areas A, B, and C.  Guards first placed “newcomers and Muslims” in C, the worst area, where guards deprived them of food or water for 24 hours.  Guards shackled their hands and feet, beat them, and screamed insults at them until they repeatedly thanked the CCP and President Xi Jinping.  Then the guards transferred them to area B, where they ate poor quality food and were permitted to use the bathroom.  They went outside for 15 minutes every day to sing the national anthem.  Guards then moved those considered successfully re-educated in Communist Party beliefs to area A, where the conditions were better.

The September Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled Eradicating Ideological Viruses contained an account from a detention center in Xinjiang where detainees described interrogations and torture, including beatings, staff hanging detainees from ceilings and walls, and prolonged shackling.  Detainees also reported being kept in spaces so overcrowded there was no room for all to sleep.  One detainee said fellow detainees feared torture when being removed from their cells for interrogations, and one showed him scars after guards hanged the detainee from the ceiling.  After being left hanging for a night, he said he would agree to anything.  One individual said guards chained him to a bed so at most he could only sit and stand in one place.  Guards told him that they would treat detainees the same way that they treat murderers.  They also said there was a Xinjiang-wide order that all Uighurs and ethnic Kazakhs would have their feet shackled and their hands chained together with just five to six “rings” apart, making movement very difficult.

In May ChinaAid reported an 87-year-old ethnic Kazakh man said he was tortured in a Uighur detention facility in Xinjiang.  He said authorities blasted noise from a high-pitched speaker, causing many inmates to slip into comas.  He also said authorities forced Muslims to drink poor quality alcohol and eat pork, practices against their religious beliefs.  Another ethnic Kazakh with knowledge of the situation said prison officials forced detainees to wear a special helmet that played noise for 21 hours per day, causing many to suffer mental breakdowns.

In September The Guardian reported that Kairat Samarkand, an ethnic Kazakh Muslim who had been detained outside Karamagay for nearly four months, said he was forced to wear an outfit of “iron clothes” that consisted of claws and rods that left him immobile with his hands and legs outstretched.  He said guards forced him to wear it for 12 hours one day after he refused to make his bed.  According to Samarkand, guards told him that there is no religion, and that the government and the party would take care of him.  Samarkand told The Washington Post that guards in detention facilities would handcuff and ankle cuff detainees who disobeyed rules for up to 12 hours, and would subject detainees to waterboarding.

In July ChinaAid reported guards forced a woman in a detention facility to take unknown medication and her hair fell out.  The woman said prison authorities handcuffed detainees and made them wear 44 pounds of armor for three-12 hours per day.  Guards also shaved off Uighur women’s hair, which some of the women considered sacred.  Helatti Shamarkhan, a former inmate, said he saw detainees being forcibly vaccinated and medicated.

In September HRW reported that a former detainee said authorities put him in a small solitary confinement cell measuring approximately 2 by 2 meters (43 square feet).  They did not give the detainee any food or drink, handcuffed him in the back, and forced him to stand for 24 hours without sleep.

NGOs and international media reported arrests and detentions of Muslims in Xinjiang for “untrustworthy behavior” such as attending religious education courses, possessing books about religion and Uighur culture, wearing clothing with Islamic symbols, and traveling to certain counties.  There were also reports of authorities holding children in orphanages after their parents were taken to internment camps.

The Economist reported authorities in Xinjiang used detailed information to rank citizens’ “trustworthiness” using various criteria.  Officials deemed people as trustworthy, average, or untrustworthy depending on how they fit into the following categories:  were 15 to 55 years old (i.e., of military age); were Uighur; were unemployed; had religious knowledge; prayed five times a day; had a passport; had visited one of 26 countries; had ever overstayed a visa; had family members in a foreign country (there are at least 10,000 Uighurs in Turkey); and home schooled their children.  The Economist said “…the catalogue is explicitly racist:  people are suspected merely on account of their ethnicity.”  Being labelled “untrustworthy” could lead to being detained by authorities.  HRW reported the 26 “sensitive countries” were Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

International media reported the government issued guidelines warning officials to look out for 75 “signs” or behaviors that signified religious extremism.  These guidelines included growing a beard, praying in public outside of mosques, and abstaining from smoking or drinking alcohol.  Radio Free Asia reported in November that government authorities in Hotan, Xinjiang, were using an expanded set of guidelines that included additional behaviors, such as how people stood during prayer and dying hair red with henna.  According to another source, authorities considered red hair a sign of affiliation with extremist religious groups because some individuals say the Prophet Mohammad had red hair.  Radio Free Asia reported that officials threatened individuals who did not comply with the list of proscribed behaviors with detention.  Authorities also pressured students to report information on their family’s religious practices to their teachers, who would then pass the information to security officials.

In July the NGO China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) published a report saying that, based on Chinese government data, criminal arrests in Xinjiang accounted for 21 percent of all arrests in China in 2017, while the population of Xinjiang comprised less than 2 percent of China’s overall population.  CHRD reported the ratio of arrests in Xinjiang increased by more than 300 percent during the 2013-2017 period compared with 5 percent in preceding years.  CHRD reported that, although the government does not provide an ethnic breakdown of the arrests, “…criminal punishment would disproportionately target the Uyghur Muslim group based on their percentage of the population.”

On July 25, CHRD reported officials in a Xinjiang village detained the local imam and forced him to provide his students’ names.  Soon thereafter, authorities detained a carpenter in the village because he had attended Quranic studies classes 10 years previously.

On September 8, the New York Times reported that Abdusalam Muhemet said police in Xinjiang detained him for reciting a verse of the Quran at a funeral.  Xinjiang residents said authorities detained people for visiting relatives abroad, possessing books about religion and Uighur culture, and even for wearing a T-shirt with a Muslim crescent.  The article said the goal of these actions was to remove any devotion to Islam.

HRW reported a witness said he knew “three restaurant owners … [who] ran ‘Islamic’ restaurants – they got detained because they don’t allow smoking or drinking in their restaurants….  [The authorities] are banning everything Islamic.”  A former detainee stated that authorities in the detention centers did not allow people to say “as-salaam alaikum,” a religious greeting, but instead forced them to speak Mandarin only.  The detainee also stated that if he used Turkic language words, officials would punish him.

In September The Associated Press reported Gulzar Seley and her infant son, Uighurs who lived in Istanbul and returned to Xinjiang to visit family, were imprisoned.  According to Seley’s husband, who remained behind in Istanbul, authorities detained Seley shortly after she arrived at the airport in Urumqi and took her to her hometown, Karamay.  Upon being released for a short period, she called her husband in Istanbul to tell him she and her son would not be coming back because she did not have time.  She then disappeared, but her husband said he later learned she and their son were in jail.

According to The Guardian, in June police in Urumqi sentenced Guli, an ethnic Kazakh woman from Kazakhstan, to 15 days detention for not having her identification with her.  Local authorities had previously interrogated her, citing reports that she wore a hijab and prayed.  Guli described her detention facility as a long, single-story building that held approximately 230 women.  She said inside the detention center, guards forced women to sing patriotic songs for two hours on most days, memorize a 10-point disciplinary code, and undergo self-criticism sessions.  One woman told Guli she was there because police had found a “happy Eid” message on her phone.  Authorities released Guli after eight days and sent her back to Kazakhstan.

Under a policy launched in 2017, authorities in Xinjiang built “welfare centers” aimed at providing orphans with state-sponsored care until they turn 18.  According to a July Financial Times report, a former teacher in detention facilities said detainees’ children were sent to “welfare centers” as they were forbidden to attend school with “normal” children because their parents had political problems.  The same article said public tenders issued by local governments since 2017 indicated “dozens” of orphanages were being built.  One county in Kashgar built 18 new orphanages in 2017 alone, according to local media.

Radio Free Asia reported in July and September that authorities placed children whose parents were in detention facilities in “Little Angel Schools.”  The reports described the schools as surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire.  Reports on the ages of children held varied, and some said children from six months to 14 years were being held, and were not allowed to go out due to security concerns.  Reportedly, one worker at a regional orphanage in southern Xinjiang told Radio Free Asia his facility was seriously overcrowded with children “locked up like farm animals in a shed.”  He said, with the overcrowding, authorities “are moving children to mainland China,” although he was unsure of where they were being sent.  He added that “it isn’t possible” for parents released from detention to look for their children in orphanages.  The CCP Secretary for Hotan Prefecture’s Keriye County said approximately 2,500 children were being held in two newly constructed buildings.  International media and NGOs reported the government restricted individuals’ ability to engage in religious practices and forced Muslims in Xinjiang to perform activities inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

The New York Times reported in September that officials in Hotan set very narrow limits on the practice of Islam, including a prohibition on praying at home if there were friends or guests present.  Residents said police sometimes searched homes for forbidden books and items such as prayer mats, using special equipment to check walls and floors for hidden caches.

ChinaAid reported that on February 17, authorities in Yili, Xinjiang, ordered Uighurs and ethnic Kazakhs to destroy the Islamic star and crescent symbol on all gravesites.  Otherwise, authorities would forcibly demolish the graves.

Bitter Winter, an online magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, reported government officials monitored funeral services in Xinjiang and prohibited Muslims from commemorating their dead according to their faith traditions.  In February armed police officers detain Ezimet, a Uighur CCP member from Kashgar City, for performing an Islamic funeral prayer at his mother’s burial ceremony several years previously.  As of year’s end, Ezimet remained in custody in an undisclosed location.  Authorities also implicated his wife and child, and forced them to study government policy.

Radio Free Asia reported in June that authorities in Xinjiang affiliated with the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps were building nine “burial management centers,” which included crematoria, in areas with high Uighur populations.  Members of the Uighur exile community said authorities were using the centers to remove the religious context from funerary rites.  According to the article, other members of the exile community said “authorities use the crematoria to secretly ‘deal with’ the bodies of Uyghurs who have been killed by security forces during protests against … religious repression… or who have died under questionable circumstances in re-education camps.”  The article cited a source who said “very few” ethnic corpses brought to his crematorium in Kuchar (Kuche) county came from the “re-education camps.”  The source said the corpses of ethnic minorities brought to his crematorium are “normally brought to us with special documentation provided by police.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to deny international media reports stating authorities banned Uighur Muslims from Ramadan fasting, and said the constitution provided for religious freedom for Uighurs.  Reports published on the official websites of local governments in Xinjiang, however, indicated authorities restricted or banned certain groups of Uighurs from observing Ramadan, including CCP members, their relatives, students, and employees of state-owned enterprises and state-run organizations, and instead hosted education events about the dangers of “religious extremism.”  Authorities also hosted morning sessions in order to ensure students and workers ate breakfast.  According to The Independent, authorities required mandatory 24-hour shifts for local government employees, and mandatory sports activities and patriotic film sessions for students on Fridays throughout the month.  Authorities ordered restaurants and grocery stores to remain open and serve alcohol during Ramadan, according to the website of the Qapqal County, Yili (Ili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture government.

There were reports of authorities prohibiting students from the middle school level through to the university level from fasting during Ramadan.

According to Radio Free Asia, authorities required all Uighur cadres, civil servants, and pensioners to sign a pledge stating they would not fast and would seek to dissuade their families and friends from doing so.

The government facilitated participation in the Hajj, and Muslims applied online or through local official Islamic associations.  Media reported authorities punished pilgrims attempting to perform the Hajj through routes other than government-arranged options.  According to an official media report in Global Times, approximately 11,500 Chinese Muslims were expected to make the Hajj pilgrimage during the year, compared to 12,800 in 2017.  Approximately 3,300 of them were to receive GPS tracking devices as part of a pilot program allowing the IAC to monitor their location in real time throughout the pilgrimage.  According to the manufacturer, SARA and IAC jointly designed the device.  In 2016 IAC reported that Saudi Arabia imposed an annual quota on the number of pilgrims from China that was lower than those for other countries.  State media said Xinjiang provided nearly a quarter of pilgrims, although independent sources say only 1,400 Uighur Muslims were able to participate.  These figures included IAC members and security officials sent to monitor Muslim citizens and prevent unauthorized activities.  Uighur Muslims reported difficulties taking part in state-sanctioned Hajj travel due to IAC’s criteria for participation in the official Hajj program.  The government confiscated the passports of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and Uighurs reported near universal failure in efforts to regain possession of travel documents.  Age restrictions limiting Hajj travel to Uighurs over 60 years old also reduced the number traveling to Mecca, according to media reports.  Those selected to perform state-sanctioned Hajj travel were required to undergo political and religious “education,” according to SARA and media reports.  Uighurs allowed to attend the Hajj were also reportedly forced to participate in political education every day during the Hajj.  Organizations reported the government favored Hui Muslims over Uighur Muslims in the Hajj application process.  Muslims that chose to travel outside of legal government channels reportedly often risked deportation when they tried to travel through third countries.

In September HRW reported authorities began requiring everyone in a village in Xinjiang to gather for a weekly Chinese flag-raising ceremony.  On one occasion, police hit an elderly woman, telling her to take off her headscarf.  Authorities confiscated prayer mats and copies of the Quran.  Village authorities prohibited children from learning about religion, even at home.

In February ChinaAid reported that officials forced Muslims in Xinjiang to take part in traditional methods of celebration for the Chinese Lunar New Year, despite conflicts with Islam.  According to an ethnic Kazakh man, authorities forced ethnic Kazakhs and Uighurs in Xinjiang to eat pork dumplings – a violation of Islamic dietary restrictions.  If they refused, public security staff detained them on the spot.

Authorities continued to prevent any “illegal” religious activities in Xinjiang and prioritize Chinese language and culture over Uighur language and culture under the rubric of ethnic unity.  Authorities promoted loyalty to the Communist Party as the most important value.  Reportedly, authorities encouraged thousands of Uighurs to participate against their will in ceremonies wearing traditional Han Chinese clothing, performing tai chi, and singing the national anthem.  HRW reported in September that in Xinjiang, officials required individuals to attend political indoctrination meetings and, for some, Mandarin classes.

On December 12, the SCIO issued a report on what it said was the progress of human rights over 40 years.  The report said the state offered training sessions to clerics on interpreting scriptures and, since 2011, the National Religious Affairs Administration had trained several hundred Islamic clerics from Xinjiang.  The central government supported the Xinjiang Islamic Institute.

Authorities in Xinjiang maintained extensive and invasive security and surveillance, reportedly in part to gain information regarding individuals’ religious adherence and practices.

HRW reported the government required all individuals in Xinjiang to have a spyware app on their mobile phone because the government considered “web cleansing” necessary to prevent access to terrorist information.  Failing to install the app, which could identify whom people called, track online activity, and record social media use, was deemed an offense.  The reported stated that “Wi-Fi sniffers” in public places monitored all networked devices in range.

The People’s High Court, Public Security Bureau, Bureau of Culture, and Bureau of Industry and Commerce in Xinjiang continued to implement restrictions on video and audio recordings the government defined as promoting terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism.  Authorities prohibited dissemination of such materials on the internet, social media, and in online marketplaces.  As part of these measures, police randomly stopped individuals to check their mobile phones for sensitive content.

In September HRW stated that in Xinjiang, officials used questionnaires to examine people’s everyday behavior, inputting the results into a large-scale data analysis program.  According to HRW, any indications of religious piousness, along with “storing lots of food in one’s home” or owning fitness equipment, could be construed as signs  of “extremism.”  HRW said the government’s religious restrictions had become so stringent that it had “effectively outlawed the practice of Islam.”

At the end of December 2017, HRW reported a continuing effort of authorities in Xinjiang to collect DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the ages of 12 and 65.  This campaign significantly expanded authorities’ collection of biodata beyond previous government efforts  in the region, which were limited to biometric information from passport applicants.

According to The New York Times, authorities collected DNA samples, face-scans, voice recordings, and fingerprints of individuals in Xinjiang after saying they were receiving a free health check, but authorities refused to provide the results of the “check.”  In patent applications filed in 2013 and 2017, government researchers said they took genetic material from Uighurs and compared it with DNA from other ethnic groups, and were able to sort people by ethnicity.  Human rights groups and Uighur activists said collecting genetic material was a key part of the government’s campaign in Xinjiang.  They said the government would compile the information into a comprehensive DNA database used to track any Uighurs who resisted conforming to the government’s wishes.

According to an HRW report released in September, an individual who spent months in detainment facilities in Xinjiang said in May that guards watched the inmates through video cameras, forcing everyone to remain still until a voice came from the speakers telling detainees they could relax for a few minutes.  Guards also watched when inmates went to the bathroom.  The same report detailed how the government extended surveillance to life outside the camps.  A woman who left Xinjiang in 2017 told HRW that five officials took turns watching over her at home, documenting that they had checked on her.  According to the report, the government officials appeared in photographs reading political propaganda together and preparing a bed to stay overnight.  The report said having male cadres stay overnight in homes with female inhabitants caused women and girls to be vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Throughout Ramadan, authorities in Hotan Prefecture assigned party cadres to stay in local residences.  They observed families throughout the day and ensured they did not pray or fast.  According to Radio Free Asia, an official said “During this period, [officials] will get to know the lives of the people, assist in their daily activities – such as farming – and propagate laws and regulations, party and government ethnic and religious policies, and so on.”

In May CNN reported that authorities had dispatched more than one million Communist officials from other parts of the country to live with local families in Xinjiang.  The report stated the government instituted these home stays to target farmer households in southern Xinjiang, where authorities have been waging what the report called an unrelenting campaign against the forces of “terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism.”  The report also stated the government required families to provide detailed information on their personal lives and political views during the officials’ visits.  Authorities also subjected families to political education from the live-in officials – whom the government had mandated to stay at least one week per month in some locations.  The program started in 2014, according to CNN.

A local Xinjiang government statement online indicated officials had to inspect the homes in which they were staying for any religious elements or logos and instructed the officials to confiscate any such items they found.

On August 8, The New York Times reported that, in addition to the mass detentions in Xinjiang, authorities intensified the use of informers and expanded police surveillance, including installing cameras in some people’s homes.

In May The Economist reported that in Hotan, Xinjiang, there were police stations approximately every 300 meters (1000 feet).  The article stated that the government referred to the stations as “convenience police stations.”  The stations were part of a grid-management system similar to those Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo started when he was Party Secretary in Tibet from 2011 to 2016.  In Xinjiang authorities divided each city into squares, with approximately 500 people in each square.  Every square had a police station that monitored the inhabitants.  The report adds that every village in Xinjiang had a similar type of “convenience police station.”

The same report detailed police activities at a large checkpoint on the edge of Hotan, where a police officer ordered all the passengers off the bus.  The passengers (all Uighur) took turns in a booth, where officials scanned identity cards, took photographs and fingerprints, used newly installed iris-recognition technology, and forced women to take off their headscarves.  The officials also forced young Uighurs to give authorities access to their phones in order to download their smart phone contents for later analysis.

The government restricted access to houses of worship.  The Economist reported in May that in Hotan authorities closed neighborhood mosques, leaving a handful of large mosques open.  The account stated that police forced worshippers to register with them before attending mosques.  At the entrance to the largest mosque in Kashgar, the Idh Kha – a famous place of pilgrimage – two policemen sat underneath a banner saying “Love the party, love the country.”  Inside, a member of the mosque’s staff held classes for local traders on how to be a good Communist.  In Urumqi, the article stated that authorities knocked down minarets and Islamic crescents on the mosques that were permitted to remain open.  Other reports said restrictions across Xinjiang that required worshippers to apply for mosque entry permits remained in place.  According to a local source, authorities banned individuals under the age of 20 from attending religious services in mosques.

The government reportedly moved against human rights activists.  Radio Free Asia reported that on August 16, police threatened prominent Hui Muslim poet Cui Haoxin (whose pen name is An Ran), after he tweeted about the mass incarceration of Uighurs in internment camps.  According to Cui, five police officers raided his home and warned him not to use social media.  Authorities had previously sent Cui to a weeklong re-education course in eastern China and briefly detained him in connection with his poetry and writings that referenced Xinjiang.

The government also reportedly restricted travel and sought to intimidate or forcibly repatriate Uighur and other Muslims abroad.

According to an HRW September report, individuals had to apply to the police for permission and proceed through numerous checkpoints to go from one town to the next in Xinjiang.  HRW also reported that authorities recalled passports from people in the region and prohibited communication with individuals outside the country, including relatives.  Ethnoreligious minorities also reported increased screening at airport, train station, and roadside security checkpoints.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Chinese security officials told Uighurs living abroad to collect information on other Uighurs.  Several Uighurs abroad reported the government denying their passport renewals and instead offering a one-way travel document back to China.  Several individuals also reported authorities threatened to put family members of Uighurs living abroad into detention centers if they did not return.

HRW reported that in September an officer called an ethnic Turkic Muslim living in the United States and told him to return to China, threatening to abduct him if he refused.  It may not be now, the officer said, “but this is just a matter of time.”

HRW reported in June that Chinese authorities contacted Murat, a 37-year-old student living outside the country whose sister was in a detention facility in China, telling her that even though she was in a foreign country, they could “manage” her.  Murat stated that she did not join any terrorist organization or any organization against China or join any demonstrations.

According to a Business Insider report from August the government began compiling a database of its Muslim citizens living abroad.  The article said authorities used intimidation tactics to obtain license plate numbers, bank details, and marriage certificate information from Uighur citizens in other countries.

In a March 28 article, The Economist cited reports issued by human rights groups saying authorities forced hundreds of Uighurs back to China in the past decade from Egypt, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere.  These groups said Chinese authorities in foreign countries had detained and interrogated individuals and several hundred were in foreign jails.  Chinese officials often recruited local residents on both sides of the country’s southwestern borders and across Central Asia to report the arrival of “suspicious” individuals.  The Economist report said the government frequently succeeded in having these individuals sent back without going through any official legal process.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because the government and individuals closely link religion, culture, and ethnicity, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity.  Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring and retaining their positions.

In Xinjiang, policies discriminating against Uighurs, as well as greater access to economic opportunities for Han Chinese, exacerbated tensions between Uighur Muslims and both the Han Chinese and the government.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials routinely raised concerns the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang with Chinese government officials.  A statement issued to accompany the July 24-26 U.S. Government-hosted Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom said, “We are particularly troubled by reports of the Chinese government’s deepening crackdown on Uighurs and members of other Muslim minority groups…[including] the detention of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, in facilities ranging from makeshift holding centers to prisons, ostensibly for political re-education,” in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.  There are reports of deaths in these facilities.  We call on the Chinese government to release immediately all those arbitrarily detained.”  On September 21, the Secretary of State said, “Uighurs are held against their will in so-called reeducation camps where they’re forced to endure severe political indoctrination and other awful abuses.  Their religious beliefs are decimated.”  On December 21, while explaining why China remained designated on the list of Countries of Particular Concern, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom said what is happening to Muslim Uighurs is one of the “worst human rights situations in the world.”  At the October 15 Chiefs of Defense Conference Dinner in Washington, the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said, “In China, the government is engaged in the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities that is straight out of George Orwell.”  She added, “It is the largest internment of civilians in the world today” and “It may be the largest since World War II.”

The embassy and consulates general delivered direct messaging about religious freedom in Xinjiang through social media posts on Weibo and WeChat.  In a series of April messages, the embassy posted the Department of State Spokesperson’s criticism of the arrest of Uighur journalists’ family members in Xinjiang, driving a surge of engagement with Chinese online users on the issue of religious repression in Xinjiang.  In July the embassy promoted the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington through social media posts advocating for religious freedom that stimulated online debate regarding the situation of Muslims in Xinjiang.  The embassy and consulates general created messages for Ramadan and Eid featuring the Ambassador and Consuls General, and promoted Islamic holiday messages from the White House, the Secretary of State, and others.  These messages sparked online engagement on the issue of religious freedom for Muslims, and, in particular, for Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Muslim populations.  The embassy and consulates general created weekly social media content promoting tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity, generally by using examples from the United States to inspire discussion about religious freedom in China, including Xinjiang.  The embassy continued to draw attention to specific cases of repression in Xinjiang, and while government censors often blocked such posts on Weibo and WeChat, the discussion continued on Twitter.  The embassy’s Twitter followers regularly engaged in open, Chinese-language discussions related to Xinjiang or that were critical of Chinese official positions.

Embassy and consulate general officials also engaged directly with Chinese audiences for discussions about religious freedom for Muslims.  In July the embassy hosted a screening and discussion of a film about gender equality in Islamic society which explained the Islamic faith, the rituals of Ramadan, and wearing the hijab.  In January a Guangzhou Consulate General officer spoke on freedom of religion, focusing on its role in ameliorating sources of terrorism, which led to an audience discussion about the role of Islam in China.


IN THIS SECTIONCHINA | TIBET | XINJIANG (ABOVE) | HONG KONG | MACAU

Zambia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares the country a Christian nation; the constitution also prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, belief, and religion.  Prominent religious groups continued to state the government should not be involved in religious affairs, such as organizing national prayer days.  On October 18, the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs (MNGRA) coordinated the fourth National Day of Prayer and Fasting.  Various religious groups raised concerns over the government-managed event, stating it blurred the line between church and state.  The government continued to introduce administrative measures to regulate religious affairs that religious groups said were excessively bureaucratic.  New procedures included a requirement that clergy practicing in the country must have attended a “recognized and reputable” theology school, but the government provided no specific definition or list of acceptable schools.  Religious groups must also belong to a larger religious grouping, locally known as a “mother body.”  To accommodate this requirement, the MNGRA sought to recognize additional church mother bodies to encompass the variety of Christian and other religious groups. Some religious groups remained opposed to the process, as they felt that government was forcing them to align their faith to a particular mother body.  Religious leaders stated the clearance procedures for foreign visitors coming to conduct religious activities remained arduous.  They also criticized public statements by government officials that they said were detrimental to promoting religious tolerance.  For example, in September Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili told the media that inviting Hindus and Muslims to join in the MNGRA-hosted National Day of Prayer event would cause “confusion.”

Incidents of mob attacks and killings of individuals suspected of practicing witchcraft continued throughout the country.  Victims were often elderly persons reportedly associated with witchcraft.  For example, in August a 59-year-old man from Copperbelt Province’s Masaiti District was killed by a mob on suspicion of practicing witchcraft.  Leaders of religious organizations continued to hold regular meetings to promote mutual understanding of and joint advocacy on religious issues.  Among these were joint approaches in favor of restricting government involvement in oversight of worship and religious practice.

U.S. embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, met with government officials to discuss topics related to religious freedom such as enforcement of registration laws and the regulation of new and existing religious groups.  Embassy representatives also met with religious leaders to discuss issues of religious freedom, interfaith relations, and the role of religious groups in the national dialogue process designed to reduce tensions following the disputed results of the 2016 general election.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 16.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to U.S. government estimates, 95.5 percent of the country is Christian; of these 75.3 percent identify as Protestant and 20.2 percent as Roman Catholic.  Protestant groups with the largest numbers of adherents include the Anglican Church, evangelical Christians, and Pentecostal groups.  Approximately 2.7 percent of the population is Muslim, with smaller numbers of Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs.  Approximately 1.8 percent of the population adheres to other belief systems, including indigenous religions and witchcraft, or belongs to small communities that hold no religious beliefs.  Many persons combine Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

Muslims, Sunni and Shia, are primarily concentrated in Lusaka, Eastern, and Copperbelt Provinces.  Many are immigrants from South Asia, Somalia, and the Middle East who have acquired citizenship.  A small minority of indigenous persons are also Muslim.  Hindus, mostly of South Asian descent, are located largely in the Copperbelt and Lusaka and estimate the size of their community at approximately 10,000.  There are small numbers of Jews, mostly in Lusaka and Northern Province.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the country to be a Christian nation but upholds freedom of conscience, belief, and religion for all persons.  It prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for the right of individuals to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.  It protects the freedom of individuals to change their religion or belief.  It states no one shall be compelled to take an oath or perform acts contrary to his or her religious belief.  The law prescribes legal recourse against, and penalties of fines and imprisonment for, violations of religious freedom.

The MNGRA has a mandate to provide oversight on all matters relating to national guidance and religious affairs in the country, according to a March publication of the ministry’s strategic plan.  Ministry functions include preserving religious heritage sites and coordinating public religious celebrations, such as the commemoration of the declaration as a Christian nation (December 29), the National Day of Prayer (October 18), and World Prayer Day (first Friday in March).  The ministry’s mandate also includes ensuring Christian values are reflected in government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business, as well as promoting church-state, interdenominational, and interfaith dialogue.

Under new regulations published in March, all religious organizations are required to register through the Chief Registrar’s Office in the Ministry of Home Affairs.  A group must have a unique name, recommendation letter from its mother body, and a document of the clergy’s professional qualifications from a “recognized and reputable” theological school, but the government provides no specific definition or list of qualifying institutions.  The Chief Registrar’s Office then conducts a preliminary assessment of the applicant’s authenticity and religious purpose as well as a security check.  Religious groups must pay a one-time fee of 2,000 kwacha ($170) and adhere to laws pertaining to labor, employment practices, and criminal conduct.

All religious groups are required to affiliate with an umbrella body, often referred to as a “mother body,” which gathers individual churches and denominations under one administrative authority.  Key mother bodies include the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and Council of Churches in Zambia.  During the year, the MNGRA expanded the number of umbrella bodies, an action it said was intended to allow more minority groups to join existing umbrella bodies or form their own.  Additional bodies included the Independent Churches of Zambia, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Apostles Council of Churches, Islamic Supreme Council of Zambia, House of Rastafari, Jewish Board of Zambia, and Guru Nanak Council of Zambia.

All religious groups holding a public event outside of normal worship or prayer services are required to obtain prior clearance from the MNGRA.  The religious group must prove membership in a mother body and submit a validation letter and documentation of its activities to the ministry.  After granting approval, the ministry instructs law enforcement authorities under the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the religious group to hold an event or activity.

The Minister of Home Affairs has the legal authority to revoke the registration of religious groups.  Grounds for revocation include failure to pay registration fees or a finding by the minister that the group has professed purposes or has taken or intends to take actions that run counter to the interests of “peace, welfare, or good order.”  Groups may appeal this finding in the courts.  The government has the authority to levy fines and prison sentences of up to seven years against unregistered religious groups and their members; there were no reported cases involving prison sentences or fines levied during the year.

The MNGRA may make a recommendation to the tax authority for consideration of a tax exemption for a religious group.  The recommendation is based on a group’s long-term record and profile of community social work.  The law provides for privileged tax treatment for public benefit organizations, including religious groups, provided they are established for the promotion of religion, education, and relief of poverty or other distress.

The constitution allows religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction to members of their religious communities.  The gover