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Cabo Verde

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws protect the right of individuals to choose, practice, profess, and change their religion. The law provides for freedom of religion and worship and provides for equal rights in accordance with the constitution and international law. Under a concordat with the Holy See, the government grants privileges to the Roman Catholic Church not received by other groups, including recognition of the legal status of the Catholic Church and Catholic marriages under civil law. Muslim community leaders noted an increased ability to obtain visas for religious visitors as compared to under the previous government, but stated they did not make many requests during the year.

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

U.S. embassy officials and government officials discussed religious freedom and ability to worship in prisons. Embassy representatives discussed interfaith relations with members of civil society, including religious leaders, around the country and promoted respect for religious freedom through use of social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 561,000 (July 2017 estimate). The national government’s statistics indicate 77 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 10 percent Protestant, 2 percent Muslim, and 1 percent does not identify with any religion. The second-largest Christian denomination is the Church of the Nazarene. Other Christian denominations include Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Assemblies of God, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and other Pentecostal and evangelical groups. There are small Bahai and Jewish communities.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience, religion, and worship are inviolable and protects the right of individuals to choose, practice, profess, and change their religion and to interpret their religious beliefs for themselves. It provides for the separation of religion and state and prohibits the state from imposing religious beliefs and practices on individuals. It prohibits political parties from adopting names associated with particular religious groups. The constitution prohibits ridiculing religious symbols or practices. Under the constitution, rights may be suspended only in a state of emergency or siege.

Violations of religious freedom are crimes subject to penalties of between three months and three years in prison.

The law codifies the constitution’s religious freedom provisions by providing for equal rights and guarantees for all religions in accordance with the constitution and international law. The law separates religion and state but allows the government to sign agreements with religious entities on matters of public interest. Specific sections of the law guarantee the protection of religious heritage, the right to religious education, freedom of organization of religious groups, and the free exercise of religious functions and worship.

A 2014 concordat between the government and the Holy See recognizes the legal status of the Catholic Church and its right to carry out its apostolic mission freely. The concordat further recognizes Catholic marriages under civil law and the right of Catholics to carry out religious observances on Sundays, and it specifies a number of Catholic holidays as public holidays. It protects places of worship and other Catholic properties and provides for religious educational institutions, charitable activities, and pastoral work in the military, hospitals, and penal institutions. The concordat exempts Church revenues and properties used in religious and nonprofit activities from taxes and makes contributions to the Church tax deductible.

The law requires all associations, whether religious or secular, to register with the Ministry of Justice. The constitution states an association may not be armed; be in violation of penal law; or promote violence, racism, xenophobia, or dictatorship. To register, a religious group must submit a copy of its charter and statutes signed by its members. Failure to register does not result in any restriction of religious practice, but registration provides additional benefits such as exemptions from national, regional, and local taxes and fees. Registered religious groups may receive exemptions from taxes and fees in connection with places of worship or other buildings intended for religious purposes, activities with exclusively religious purposes, institutions and seminaries intended for religious education or training of religious leaders, goods purchased for religious purposes, and distribution of publications with information on places of worship. Legally registered churches and religious groups may use broadcast time on public radio and television at their own expense.

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

Government Practices

Under the 2014 concordat, the government continued to grant privileges to the Catholic Church that other groups did not receive, including in educational institutions, in government facilities, and in access to media. Some minority religious groups said this practice strengthened the perception that the government favored the Catholic Church as the “official religion” over other religious groups. The government continued to use Catholic Church representatives to inaugurate public buildings throughout the country. Public television transmitted religious programming paid for by the Catholic Church, most of which was of Catholic services. A Brazilian-owned television network TV Record covered the religious activities of the Universal Church. Other religious groups received minimal television broadcast time, reportedly because they did not request it or had no means to pay for it.

Muslim leaders stated the registration process was straightforward and that they were hopeful the new government, elected in 2016, would be easier to work with than the previous one. Muslim community leaders noted, Muslims requesting to visit for community strengthening and to conduct minor infrastructure projects such as refurbishment of mosques were denied entry in the past, but the change in government appeared to have reversed that tendency, although the volume of such requests was small. The director of the Central Prison of Praia stated that he had not scheduled a time for regular clergy visits for Muslim prisoners, although other religious groups had such visits. He added that Ramadan was observed in the prison. The prison director in Mindelo, the country’s second-largest prison, noted that requests for Muslim religious services access often would involve after-hours support from the prison. A Muslim leader confirmed that the community had not approached the prison for permission since the change of government. Ministry of External Relations and Communities officials stated that the country was an institution-based democracy that respected freedom of religion, including in prison.

The country officially recognized its Jewish heritage as part of the national patrimony and national culture in a resolution issued by the Council of Ministers and signed by the prime minister in July.

Members of minority religious groups, including Mormons, stated that they received no media coverage for their events. According to some observers, only Catholic and large Nazarene events received media coverage.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives met with officials from the Ministry of External Relations and Communities to discuss inmates’ ability and freedom to practice the religion of their choosing in prisons around the country. U.S. embassy representatives met with Catholic and other religious communities on various trips around the archipelago to discuss social conditions and interfaith and religious community relations. The embassy also spoke with civil society representatives regarding religious freedom. The embassy used social media channels to raise awareness about the need to protect religious freedom.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

The constitution states Buddhism is the state religion and is promoted by the government through holiday observances, religious training, Buddhist instruction in public school, and financial support to Buddhist institutions. The law provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, provided such freedom neither interferes with others’ beliefs and religions nor violates public order and security. The government refused to allow the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle a group of Christian Montagnards UNCHR said had legitimate claims of asylum and who had fled persecution in Vietnam. In October the government cooperated with the United Nations on the resettlement of seven of the Montagnards to a third country, but it said an additional 29 had weak asylum cases and announced plans to forcibly repatriate them back to Vietnam, even though UNHCR was ready to assist in resettling them. The government condemned a statement by the UN special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Cambodia criticizing the treatment of the Montagnards as interference in domestic affairs.

Villagers killed several Phnong people suspected of practicing sorcery due to their animist beliefs and practices. There also were continued reports of societal barriers to the integration of the predominantly Muslim Cham people.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the issue of the Montagnard Christians with the government. Embassy officials also discussed the importance of religious acceptance and diversity with government representatives, political party leaders, civil society organizations, and leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim groups. The embassy promoted themes of religious tolerance and understanding through a formal iftar dinner, speakers’ series, and other forms of engagement.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 16.2 million (July 2017 estimate). The 2013 Intercensal Population Survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics said Buddhists make up 97.9 percent of the population, almost all of them Theravada Buddhist, according to the Ministry of Cults and Religions (MCR). The vast majority of ethnic Khmer Cambodians are Buddhist. Ethnic Vietnamese in the country traditionally practice Mahayana Buddhism, although there are many who have adopted Theravada Buddhism. Other ethnic Vietnamese practice Roman Catholicism, and they make up the vast majority of Catholics in the country. Ethnic Vietnamese make up approximately 5 percent of the population. According to government estimates, approximately 2.1 percent of the population is Muslim, although some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) estimate the Muslim population to be 4-5 percent. The Muslim population is predominantly ethnic Cham, although not all Cham are Muslim. The Cham typically live in towns and rural fishing villages on the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River, as well as in Kampot Province. There are four branches of Islam represented in the country: the Shafi’i branch, practiced by as many as 90 percent of Muslims in the country; the Salafi (Wahhabi) branch; the indigenous Iman-San branch; and the Kadiani branch. The remainder of the population includes Bahais, Jews, ethnic Vietnamese Cao Dai, and members of various Christian denominations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, provided such freedom neither interferes with others’ beliefs and religions nor violates public order and security. The constitution establishes Buddhism as the state religion and provides for state support of Buddhist education; it also prohibits discrimination based on religion. The law requires that religious groups refrain from openly criticizing other religious groups, although this provision is rarely tested. The law also forbids religious organizations from organizing events, rallies, meetings, and training sessions that are politically focused.

The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhist groups, to register with the MCR to conduct religious activities. The law mandates that groups must inform the government of the goals of their religious organization, describe its activities, provide biographical information for all religious leaders, describe funding sources, commit to submitting annual reports detailing all activities, and refrain from insulting other religious groups, fomenting disputes, or undermining national security. Registration requires approvals from numerous local, provincial, and national government offices, a process which can take up to 90 days. The MCR, however, has no authority to punish religious groups for failing to register, and there are no associated penalties for failing to register. Registered religious groups receive an income tax exemption from the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The law formally bans non-Buddhist groups from door-to-door proselytizing and stipulates that non-Buddhist literature may be distributed only inside religious institutions. The law also prohibits offers of money or materials in order to convince people to convert.

The law requires separate registration of all places of worship and religious schools. Unregistered places of worship and religious schools may be shut down temporarily until they are registered, although the MCR says it has not taken such action. The law also makes a legal distinction between “places of worship” and “offices of prayer.” The establishment of a place of worship requires that the founders own the structure and the land on which it is located. The facility must have a minimum capacity of 200 persons, and the permit application requires the support of at least 100 congregants. An office of prayer may be located in a rented property and has no minimum capacity requirement. The permit application for an office of prayer requires the support of at least 25 congregants. Places of worship must be located at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) from each other and may not be used for political purposes or to house criminals or fugitives. The distance requirement applies only to the construction of new places of worship and not to offices of religious organizations or offices of prayer.

Religious schools must be registered with the MCR and the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport (MOEYS). Religious schools are advised to follow the MOEYS core curriculum, which does not include a religious component; however, schools may supplement lessons with a religious curriculum in addition to the ministry’s core curriculum. The government promotes Buddhist religious instruction in public schools in coordination with MOEYS. Non-Buddhist students are allowed to opt out of this instruction. The law does not mandate non-Buddhist religious instruction, and no other religions are taught in public schools. Non-Buddhist religious instruction may be provided by private institutions.

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

Government Practices

In August UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith released a statement following her two-week mission to the country affirming UNHCR had determined 36 Vietnamese Christian Montagnards who had fled to Cambodia had legitimate asylum claims. The Cambodian government, however, had not agreed to settle them within the country or facilitate their transit to a third country for resettlement. In October the government determined that seven of the Montagnards had legitimate refugee claims and cooperated in sending them to a third country. It said the remaining 29 had weak asylum cases and announced plans to forcibly repatriate them back to Vietnam, even though UNHCR was ready to assist in resettling them. The government dismissed the special rapporteur’s statement and condemned her for what it described as interference in its domestic affairs.

In September during a speech to garment workers in Kampong Cham Province, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged all private-sector employers to allow Muslims to wear headscarves and conservative clothing at the workplace. During Ramadan, the prime minister reaffirmed Muslim rights to wear religious head coverings at school and in photographs used for official identification. He also pledged support to Muslim teachers across the country and praised the government for facilitating their integration into the public education system.

The government continued to promote Buddhist holidays by declaring some of them as official holidays off from work, provide Buddhist training and education to monks and others in pagodas, and provide financial support to an institute that performed research and published materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions. The government did not grant similar treatment to other religions or religious holidays.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, continued to hear testimony related to charges of ethnic- and religious-based genocide against the Cham population during the Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979.

During Ramadan Prime Minister Hun Sen hosted an iftar for more than 4,700 members of the Muslim community. In his speech he told his guests there was no basis for political discrimination in the country and called on Buddhists to be tolerant and accepting of the Muslim and Christian communities.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Villagers killed several ethnic Phnong people suspected of practicing sorcery due to their animist beliefs. In July a 29-year-old man was shot in the head in Mondulkiri, and in November a 62-year-old man was beheaded by villagers in Kampot; both were accused of sorcery.

There were reports from members of the Cham Muslim community of barriers to their integration into society. Local media reported some members of the majority Buddhist community continued to view the Cham and other minority ethnic groups with suspicion as purported practitioners of sorcery or “black magic.” In some cases, those who were suspected of practicing black magic were threatened or, in past years, killed by villagers or by their own family members.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials raised religious freedom and tolerance with MCR representatives and other government officials. MCR officials spoke about their initial plans of drafting a new law on religious freedom. The embassy offered to review the draft law when appropriate. Embassy officials also discussed the issue of forced repatriation and residency of Montagnard Christians with government officials and members of international and local NGOs.

The embassy underscored the importance of acceptance of religious diversity with leaders of Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim groups, emphasizing the importance of interfaith tolerance in a democratic society. Embassy programs focused on faith-based communities and promoted pluralism through exchanges and youth programs.

Several embassy programs specifically focused on the preservation of Cham heritage, including religious heritage, through reading and writing instruction in the Cham language, and included the preservation and study of religious artifacts from the ancient Kingdom of Champa. The embassy continued a series of speaking engagements and focus groups in which Islamic leaders from around the world engaged with the Cham community to provide them with a deeper understanding of the constructive role that various Muslim populations play throughout the world in their workforces and communities.

Other embassy programs focused on interfaith cooperation, community leadership, and conflict resolution. Embassy officials toured the country on several occasions to meet members of the community, in the process promoting religious tolerance, showing respect for Cham culture, lessening the isolation of the Cham, and supporting Cham integration into the wider culture. The Ambassador also hosted an iftar for members of the Cham and Muslim community during Ramadan. The iftar included members of the ruling and opposition parties, youth groups, and civil society and allowed for open discussions about the importance of religious tolerance and acceptance.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship. During the year, the government implemented a series of measures that it stated it took to preserve order within religious groups undergoing internal disputes. These included instances of internal disputes within Christian communities over the creation of new ecclesiastical districts and the election of church leaders that prompted the government to suspend elected executives and install provisional administrations in some communities. The death under suspicious circumstances of a Roman Catholic bishop and lawsuits against some clerics led some religious leaders to claim harassment. Authorities threatened but did not act to close down unauthorized religious groups in the Center Region. In a number of instances, security forces intervened to enable worship services to take place in spite of opposition from disgruntled factions within some religious communities. The government did not authorize any new religious groups, although many submitted requests. Authorities did not officially lift but also did not enforce the ban on full-face Islamic veils implemented in the Far North Region after July 2015 terrorist attacks.

Boko Haram carried out a series of violent attacks, including suicide bombings against civilians, government officials, and military forces, and harassed and intimidated populations in the Far North Region. Attacks on civilians included suicide bombings in mosques, killings and kidnappings of Muslims and Christians, and theft and destruction of property, including arson. The insurgents attacked places of worship and private homes. According to reports, Boko Haram killed at least 300 civilians, police, military personnel, and gendarmes between January and October.

Protracted leadership struggles in some Christian communities often prevented the holding of worship services, and on at least one occasion led to the suspension of elected church leaders. Although many individuals continued to associate Boko Haram with Islam, certain imams stated that stigmatization of Muslims was decreasing.

U.S. embassy officers discussed religious freedom issues, including the importance of interfaith dialogue, with government officials and leading figures from the principal religious groups. The embassy continued to discuss the dangers of inter and intrareligious intolerance and the importance of interfaith dialogue in one-on-one meetings and youth training sessions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 25 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2005 census, the most recent available, 69.2 percent of the population is Christian, 20.9 percent Muslim, 5.6 percent animist, 1.0 percent other religions, and 3.2 percent report no religious affiliation. Of Christians, approximately 55.5 percent are Roman Catholic, 38 percent Protestant, and 6.5 percent other Christian denominations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox churches. There is a growing number of Christian revivalist churches.

Christians are concentrated primarily in the southern and western parts of the country. The two Anglophone regions are largely Protestant, and the five southern Francophone regions are mostly Catholic. The Fulani (Peuhl) ethnic group is mostly Muslim and lives primarily in the northern Francophone regions; the Bamoun ethnic group is also predominantly Muslim and lives in the West Region. Many Muslims, Christians, and members of other faiths also adhere to some aspects of animist beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits harassment or discrimination on grounds of religion, and provides for freedom of religion and worship.

The law on freedom of association governs relations between the government and religious groups. The government must approve religious groups or institutions as a prerequisite for lawful operation. Although the law prescribes no specific penalties for operating without official recognition, the government may suspend the activities of unauthorized groups. The government does not require indigenous religious groups to register, characterizing the practice of traditional religion as a private concern observed by members of a particular ethnic or kinship group or the residents of a particular locality.

To become an authorized entity, a religious group must legally qualify as a religious congregation, defined as “any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship” or “any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine.” The religious group must submit a request for authorization as a religious group, and include with it the group’s charter describing planned activities, names and functions of the group’s officials, and a declaration of commitment to comply with the law on freedom of association, to the relevant divisional (local-level) office. That office forwards the documents to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINATD). The MINATD reviews the file and sends it to the presidency with a recommendation to approve or deny. Authorization may be granted by presidential decree. Official authorization confers no general tax benefits but allows religious groups to receive real estate as a tax-free gift for the conduct of their activities and to gather publicly and worship. It also permits missionaries to receive visas with longer validity. Unauthorized religious groups may gather publicly and worship under a policy of “administrative tolerance” as long as public security and peace are not disturbed.

The MINATD may issue an order to suspend any religious group for “disturbing public order,” which is not defined in the law. The president may dissolve any previously authorized religious organization that “deviates from its initial focus.”

The Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Secondary Education require private religious schools to comply with the same curriculum, infrastructure, and teacher training standards as state-operated schools. Unlike public schools, private schools may offer religious education.

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

Government Practices

The government and leaders of the Catholic Church disagreed about the circumstances surrounding the death of Bishop Jean Marie Benoit Bala of the Diocese of Bafia. On June 2, his body was recovered from the Sanaga River after his car was found on the bridge with a note inside stating, “I am in the water.” On June 13, the National Episcopal Council of Cameroon (NECC) declared the Bishop had been brutally murdered. The NECC challenged the results of an official autopsy, which stated that the Bishop probably drowned, given that there were no signs of violence on his body. On July 4, the attorney general also released a statement at the Central Appeal Court stating, “Drowning is the most probable cause of death of the Bishop.” On July 10, the NECC stated in a public statement, based on what it said was moral certitude, “the corpse which was recovered from the river and identified as his, bore marks of violence.” Bala’s death followed a series of killings of Roman Catholic clergymen since the 1980s. Bishop Abraham Kome, appointed as administrator of the Diocese of Bafia following Bala’s death, said during a homily that people in positions of power killed Bala because he stood against homosexual activity. On August 4, NECC President Archbishop Samuel Kleda said the controversy surrounding the Bishop’s death had significantly strained relations between the Church and the government. The NECC filed a private lawsuit against government officials for “mishandling the case.”

On September 17, security officers in Douala arrested the pastor of the Salvation for All Nations revivalist church following the death of Henriette Fagna, a parishioner who sought treatment from her pastor after falling ill. The pastor initiated a healing service on her behalf, but her condition deteriorated, and she was eventually taken to a health facility where she later died. Authorities charged the pastor with her death, stating the pastor’s actions delayed medical intervention until it was too late.

On August 8, the newly appointed governor of the Center Region, Paul Naseri Bea, announced the closure of unauthorized revivalist churches, citing public order and health concerns, especially nighttime noise that disturbed residents. The authorities, however, did not implement his order or close any churches.

The government intervened on several occasions in protracted leadership crises within Christian groups, such as the Cameroon Evangelical Church (CEC) and the Cameroonian Presbyterian Church (EPC). In July the courts suspended the president and other executives of the CEC, who had been elected in April. In February the Divisional Officer of Mvila, South Region, placed five parishes of the CPC under the temporary administration of its General Assembly. In both cases, the government stated it took this measure to preserve order and encourage a solution and reconciliation among those involved. Various factions of the two denominations accused the government of administrative bias and judicial discrimination.

On June 25, security officers dispersed a group of persons attempting to disrupt Islamic prayers marking the end of Ramadan in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region. The group that attempted the disruption stated that the traditional Muslim ruler (Lamido) and the governor had wrongfully expelled 48 families from the prayer site in May after public authorities granted the land to them. The governor said the state owned the land in question and granted the Muslim community access after an official request. Gendarmes arrested six protesters.

The government again took no action to adjudicate applications for legal status by a number of religious groups whose applications had been pending for years. The government approved only one new religious group in the last 18 years and none since 2010. According to the MINATD, incomplete application submissions and lengthy background investigations contributed to delays. Although, by law, groups must register, the government continued to allow hundreds of unauthorized small religious groups to operate freely under its policy of “administrative tolerance.” Forty-seven religious groups continued to be legally authorized at year’s end.

The government continued to grant broad legal authority to traditional leaders to manage their districts. As part of this authority, traditional leaders continued to exercise control over local mosques with the right to appoint or dismiss imams.

The state-sponsored television station and radio stations regularly broadcast Christian and Islamic religious services and ceremonies on national holidays and during national events. Government ministers and other officials often attended these ceremonies.

The government provided an annual subsidy to all private primary and secondary education institutions, including those operated by religious denominations. The size of each subsidy was proportional to the size of the student body.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Boko Haram continued committing acts of mass violence in its quest to impose its religious and political beliefs. Boko Haram perpetrated numerous attacks, sometimes directly targeting places of worship. For example, on September 13, a young girl walked into the Sanda-Wadjiri mosque in Kolofata and set off an explosive that killed five worshippers during morning prayers. Boko Haram perpetrated multiple and indiscriminate killings of civilians – Muslim and Christian alike – and of government officials and military personnel. In addition, insurgents kidnapped civilians and set residences on fire. On September 5, Amnesty International released a report stating that Boko Haram suicide bombers had killed 158 civilians in the country between April and September.

The government worked in conjunction with the Nigerian government in a joint forces campaign to free citizens under the control of Boko Haram and arrest Boko Haram fighters. In March troops from the country’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), alongside Nigerian forces, freed several localities, including Siyara, Kote, Sigawa Tchatike, and Lamukura, in the border region under Boko Haram control.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Mfombam Memouna said her father Mfomban Aboubakar, who opposed her conversion from Islam to Christianity, forcibly transported her from her residence in Yaounde to a mosque in Douala following her conversion, where she was beaten, forced to recite Quranic verses and inhale certain fumes. She said Aboubakar demanded her to renounce her conversion. Although she escaped back to Yaounde, her father continued to threaten her in an attempt to compel her to renounce Christianity. On October 12, Memouna submitted a complaint against her father to the attorney general of the Court of First Instance in Yaounde. At year’s end, she had yet to receive a response.

In March a “Consortium of Parents” filed lawsuits against Catholic, Presbyterian, and Baptist clergy who presided over denominational schools in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Authorities subsequently charged the clerics with embezzlement, refusing to teach students, and jeopardizing national unity. Observers stated the charges were perceived as a disguised government attack, since the accusations were made following a communique on February 9 in which the clergymen jointly called on the government to “pursue frank dialogue with agitating Anglophone leaders” and pointed out that the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions “resulted from an underlying and unsolved political problem.” Church leaders in these regions made clear their conviction that the government was behind the charges filed against them, which they said stemmed from a school boycott conducted by Anglophone strikers that began in November 2016. The consortium filed the lawsuit after strikers closed most schools in these regions due to perceived marginalization of the Anglophone community. On September 25, the attorneys general of the respective regional courts of appeal dropped all charges against the clerics.

In April members of the CEC elected as president Reverend Jean Samuel Hendje Toya, but a faction of the CEC protested and filed a lawsuit on May 23, saying the election was rigged. In 2009 members had agreed their next president would be of Sawa ethnicity, and some rejected Toya for not meeting this criterion or because they had pledged their allegiance to Toya’s rival, Reverend Priso Moungole. Demonstrations and interruptions of church services ensued, and on July 21, the Court of First Instance in Wouri, Littoral Region, suspended the installation of those elected in April. Toya’s supporters denounced this decision, which was upheld on appeal, and rejected the authority of the state to adjudicate in internal disputes of the CEC.

On April 2, a faction of the CPC in Abong-Mbang, East Region, attempted to prevent the reopening of the Nkol-Mvolan Chapel by removing the cross, palms, altar cloth, and other religious objects and setting up barricades. Security forces intervened, the chapel reopened, and worship took place. The Nkol-Mvolan and Mbama chapels had been closed since 2014 following a dispute among those who created the Nkol-Mvolan Jerusalem parish to replace the Nkol-Mvolan parish, an initiative the CPC leadership opposed.

On February 21, the senior divisional officer for Mvila, South Region, Victor Marcel Mendel Ngangue, endorsed the decision reached by the opposing factions of the EPC. During a meeting over which he presided, they arrived at a consensus, and he placed five disputed parishes of the EPC in Ebolowa, the capital of South Region, under the provisional administration of the General Assembly of the church.

On June 7, Bishop Dibo Thomas Babyngton Elango of the Anglican Church of Cameroon addressed accusations made in 2016 that he gave preferential treatment to Nigerian clergymen. Elango stated that most parishes in the country were fledgling and consequently required outside help, including from Nigerians.

Many prominent religious leaders as well as various organizations spoke out against Boko Haram and violent extremism. On June 25, during prayers marking the end of Ramadan, the president of the Council of Imams and Religious Dignitaries of Cameroon (CIDIMUC) called on Muslims to reject terrorism and denounce Boko Haram’s radical extremism. Once a month, one imam in the Southwest Region publicly denounced Boko Haram and religious extremists.

In July, during the 11th assembly of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Central Africa Region in Yaounde, Catholic priests and clergy from other religious groups condemned religious fundamentalism and promoted dialogue and mutual acceptance when discussing differences of belief. On October 3 and 4, the UN Development Program organized a workshop in Maroua, Far North Region, which sensitized students and teachers of Quranic schools on the prevention of violent extremism, citizenship, and mutual acceptance. On September 10, the Diocese of Ebolowa held an interreligious service to promote peaceful coexistence between the Catholic Church and practitioners of traditional African beliefs and customs. This involved discussions between the bishop and local traditional leaders, which addressed myths and stereotypes, as well as “suspicions, prejudices, and ambiguities” that had characterized relations between their communities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy discussed religious freedom and the importance of interfaith dialogue with government officials, including regional delegations from the Ministry of Social Affairs and the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms.

Embassy officers met with leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities, including the Archbishop of Douala, who is president of the NECC and president of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Central Africa Region; the national coordinator of CIDIMUC; the president of the Islamic Union of Cameroon; and the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Cameroon. The conversations focused on preventing violent extremism related to religion and promoting freedom of worship. They also focused on promoting religious tolerance and peacebuilding. The embassy underscored the commitment of the U.S. to interfaith dialogue and cooperation in the face of threats by Boko Haram.

The U.S. government funded several projects in the Far North Region concerning religious freedom. In December local NGO Cameroon Association for Interreligious Dialogue (ACADIR) convened 169 female religious leaders for three days to share experiences and jointly elaborate an action plan to counter violent extremism and address interreligious conflicts. Fifty-one male leaders joined them on the final day. In July the NGO Public Concern, implemented two workshops related to countering violent extremism connected to religion, bringing together 60 community leaders from four divisions. In March ACADIR held a program entitled “Sensitizing Youth of Different Religious Backgrounds on Violent Extremism in the Far North,” involving 256 youth, including 64 girls, from four villages.

Additionally, the U.S. government funded a two-year project in the North and Far North Regions that concentrated on improving cohesion in communities at risk of violent extremist attack or recruitment. The project supported and trained staff of community radio stations to produce radio programs in local languages about religious tolerance, interreligious dialogue, and interreligious conflict. Project partner ACADIR assisted with organizing community events that bolstered social cohesion and provided the project with a network of moderate religious leaders who were featured on the radio programs.

Canada

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion. The government does not require religious groups to register, but those that do receive tax-exempt status. In January the prime minister publicly condemned a January 29 attack against the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, in which a gunman entered the facility and opened fire on worshippers, killing six and injuring several others, as a “terrorist attack on Muslims.” Police charged the gunman with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder. A group of Christian physicians in Ontario continued its legal complaint against the province, stating that provincial regulations requiring doctors to refer patients seeking assisted death, abortion, or contraception to another practitioner, rather than to a registry of licensed physicians that perform such procedures, constituted facilitation and violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and religion. In October the Quebec National Assembly enacted a law to ban individuals from wearing religious face coverings when providing or receiving provincial government services. The government said the law would foster adherence to state religious neutrality, while critics said it discriminated against Muslim women. The law entered into force on October 18, but it allowed Quebeckers to apply for exemptions, in accordance with guidelines the government expected to release in 2018. On December 2, a Quebec Superior Court justice issued a temporary stay of the implementation of the law until the government issued guidelines for religious accommodations.

There were reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activity, including incidents of violence, hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and vandalism, including the January 29 attack in Quebec. In September police charged two men with arson for allegedly setting on fire on August 6, a car owned by the head of the same Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec targeted in the January violent assault. The vandalism occurred 36 hours after the city of Quebec announced it would sell land to the center to create an Islamic cemetery. In a separate incident, unidentified individuals flung excrement at the front door of the building. In February unknown individuals posted notes with the words “No Jews” placed above a swastika on the doors of a condominium building in North York, Ontario.

The Charge d’Affaires, embassy and consulate officers, and other U.S. government officials raised respect for religious freedom and diversity with the national and provincial governments. Embassy officials discussed strategies to combat religious intolerance through engagement with religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious minority groups. The embassy sponsored and participated in public programs and events encouraging interfaith dialogue and freedom of religion. In February the Charge visited the leaders of the mosque in Quebec City targeted in the January 29 terrorist attack. In October the Consul General in Quebec City planted a tree outside the mosque and donated a plaque to commemorate the victims. In September the Charge attended a public ceremony to remember the victims and honor the survivors of the Holocaust at the inauguration of the country’s National Holocaust Monument. The embassy amplified these activities through social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 35.6 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census (the most recent data available), approximately 67 percent of the population self-identify as Christian. Roman Catholics constitute the largest group (38 percent of the total population), followed by the United Church of Canada (6 percent), Anglican (5 percent), Baptist (1.9 percent), and Christian Orthodox (1.7 percent). Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Pentecostal groups each constitute less than 2 percent of the population. Approximately 3 percent of the population is Muslim and 1 percent is Jewish. Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Bahais, and adherents of Shintoism, Taoism, and aboriginal spirituality together constitute less than 4 percent of the population. Approximately 24 percent of the population claims no religious affiliation.

According to the 2011 census, 56 percent of immigrants who arrived in the country from 2006 to 2011 were of Asian origin and 12 percent were of African origin; these groups generally adhere to religious beliefs that differ from the majority of native-born citizens. According to the 2011 census, non-Caucasian, nonindigenous ethnic minorities constitute 19.1 percent of the overall population and adhere to a diverse range of religious practices.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, and expression. Every individual is equal under the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion. The law imposes “reasonable limits” on the exercise of these religious rights only where such restrictions can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The law permits individuals to sue the government for violations of religious freedom. Federal and provincial human rights laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of religion. Civil remedies include compensation and/or changes to the policy or practice responsible for the discrimination.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but the government grants tax-exempt status to religious groups that register as nonprofit organizations with the Charities Directorate of the Canada Revenue Agency. Nonprofit status provides federal and provincial sales tax reductions, rebates, and exemptions. To gain and retain tax-exempt status, a group must be nonpolitical and undergo periodic audits. Charitable status also grants clergy various federal benefits, including a housing deduction under the tax code and expedited processing through the immigration system. The term “clergy” includes persons whose communities have licensed, ordained, or otherwise formally recognized them for their religious leadership and authority to perform spiritual duties and services within their religious organization. Individual citizens who donate to tax-exempt religious groups receive a federal tax receipt entitling them to federal income tax deductions.

The criminal code prohibits the practice of polygamy, which is an indictable offense subject to imprisonment of up to five years.

Government policy and practices with respect to education, including religious schools, fall under the purview of the provincial, rather than federal, governments. Six of the 10 provinces provide full or partial funding to some religious schools.

Catholic schools in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan retain the constitutionally protected provincial funding they had when those provinces joined the federation. Federal statutory protection for Catholic and Protestant publicly funded minority education exists in the Yukon, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories, which do not have provincial status. Constitutional or federal statutory protection for public funding of religious education does not extend to schools of other religious groups, although British Columbia (B.C.), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec offer partial funding to religious schools of any faith that meet provincial scholastic criteria. The law permits parents to homeschool their children and to enroll them in private schools for religious reasons.

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

Government Practices

In January the prime minister publicly condemned the January 29 attack against the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, in which a gunman killed six worshippers and injured several others, as a “terrorist attack on Muslims.” The premier of Quebec and the mayor of Quebec City also publicly denounced the attack and expressed solidarity with the Muslim community. The premier pledged to increase security at Quebec mosques. The federal government extended a deadline for communities at risk of hate-motivated crime to apply for public funds to upgrade security at their facilities.

In July a court found two elders of a fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C., guilty of practicing polygamy. The elders filed an appeal, stating the ruling violated their constitutional right to freedom of religion and other rights. The province originally dropped polygamy charges against the men in 2009 after a provincial court ruled the method for choosing a prosecutor was inappropriate. The provincial government asked the B.C. Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the polygamy ban. In 2011, the court found that the harm polygamy represented outweighed the right to religious freedom. Authorities reinstated the charges in 2014, which led to the conviction.

In November the federal Supreme Court declined to extend constitutional protection for religious freedom to objects of worship or territory of spiritual significance. In 2012, the indigenous Ktunaxa Nation sought judicial review of a B.C. government decision to approve the construction of a ski resort in an area the Ktunaxa said was the habitat of Grizzly Bear Spirit, which is central to their faith. The Ktunaxa claimed the development would drive away the spirit, irrevocably impair their religious beliefs and practices, and violate their religious freedom. The court ruled the constitution protects the right to hold and to practice religious beliefs, but such protection does not extend to “the object of beliefs or the spiritual focal point of worship.”

In October the Quebec assembly enacted a law banning individuals from wearing religious face coverings when providing or receiving government services. The government stated the law fostered adherence to state religious neutrality and boosted social cohesion while providing a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain governmental bodies; however, critics said it would discriminate against Muslim women. The law went into effect on October 18 and allows for exemptions, although the law did not specify how these would be applied and how the law would be enforced pending the publication of explanatory regulations in 2018. The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a legal challenge to the legislation, stating the law infringed on the religious and equality rights of Muslim women. On November 12, NGOs in Quebec held a peaceful street march in Montreal to protest the law and to speak out against racism and extremism. Approximately 160 organizations cosigned a declaration in support of tolerance and inclusivity. On December 2, a Quebec Superior Court justice issued a temporary stay against implementation of the law until the government issued guidelines for religious accommodations.

In May Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall invoked a Canadian legal procedure to temporarily defer application of a ruling by a Saskatchewan judge ordering the province to cease public funding of non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools. The judge ruled that providing funding for non-Catholic students discriminated against secular schools and those of other religious groups in favor of Catholic education. Critics of the ruling said some Catholic schools could close if enrollment of non-Catholic students fell.

In June the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) reached an out-of-court settlement with a former non-Catholic student. She alleged her high school administrators had punished her after she sought an exemption from religious studies classes at her Catholic high school and filed a complaint at the provincial human rights tribunal. OCSTA agreed to review its procedures to ensure that schools did not impose barriers to granting exemptions.

In June the Ontario government amended provincial law to add a child’s gender identity and gender expression as factors provincial child welfare authorities should consider in matters of child protection, adoption, and foster care. The law also eliminated consideration of the religious faith in which the parents were raising a child when deciding where and whether to place a child in care. Some NGOs stated the change could discriminate against parents, adoptive couples, or foster parents with religious beliefs that only recognize marriage between individuals of opposite sexes. They also stated the change could allow child protection services to remove LGBTI-identifying children from the custody of biological parents whose religious beliefs do not support LGBTI persons. Government officials said this was not the intent of the law.

In November the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed an application on behalf of an evangelical Christian couple for judicial review of an Alberta Child and Family Services decision to deny them the ability to adopt a child because of their religious beliefs. Child welfare authorities allegedly told the couple their religious beliefs regarding heterosexual marriage and sexuality appeared to “reject” children who identify as LGBTI, which made them ineligible as adoptive parents under provincial government policy. The application for judicial review argued the decision was unreasonable and arbitrary, and violated the couple’s right to religious freedom under the constitution and the Alberta Human Rights Act. The case remained pending at the end of the year.

In December the Supreme Court heard concurrent appeals of provincial court decisions on accreditation for future graduates of Trinity Western University (TWU) Law School, a Christian university in B.C. The court reserved its decision in the case, which remained pending at the end of the year. In June 2016 an Ontario appeals court found the Ontario law society’s decision to bar future TWU graduates from receiving provincial legal accreditation was reasonable. The law society argued that TWU’s requirement that students sign a “Christian covenant” pledging to abstain from sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage discriminated against homosexuals and violated same-sex equality laws. In contrast, the B.C. Court of Appeal found unlawful the B.C. law society’s decision to deny accreditation on the same grounds. In 2016 a Nova Scotia appeals court ruled that province’s law society exceeded its jurisdiction in denying accreditation to future TWU graduates because TWU was located in B.C. and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.

In June the Ontario Superior Court heard arguments from a coalition of Christian medical organizations and several individual physicians on their application for judicial review of the province’s requirement that physicians who oppose assisted death on moral grounds make an “effective [active] referral” to another medical provider for patients who seek the service. The group of plaintiffs included the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, and Canadian Physicians for Life in Ontario. Under Ontario’s regulations, physicians who fail to make such referrals could face sanctions up to and including the loss of their medical license. Federal law permits assisted death but specifies that doctors have the right to freedom of conscience and the right not to perform or assist in providing the procedure. Ontario is the only province requiring referral to another physician rather than to a registry of licensed physicians that perform such procedures or some other mechanism. The plaintiffs argued that the referral to another practitioner, rather than to a registry, constituted facilitation and violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and religion. The court’s decision remained pending at the end of the year.

The same court heard arguments in June from Ontario-based physician faith groups in a suit filed in 2015 against the province’s medical regulator. The suit challenged a provincial policy requiring doctors who decline to provide access to contraception or decline to perform abortions on religious or moral grounds to refer the patient to another physician. The court’s decision remained pending at the end of the year.

In November the federal Supreme Court heard the appeal of an Alberta congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling that courts could exercise jurisdiction in matters of religious edicts. The Supreme Court reserved its decision, which remained pending at the end of the year. In 2016, the Alberta court allowed a Calgary man’s appeal of his “shunning” by a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses to proceed in a lower provincial court. The plaintiff successfully argued his “disfellowship” was procedurally unfair and adversely affected his civil and property rights as a real estate agent whose clientele was largely composed of members of his former religious community.

In March the House of Commons passed a motion condemning Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination. The nonbinding measure also called for a parliamentary committee to study and report by year’s end on how the government could reduce or eliminate racism and religious discrimination, and collect data to inform the reporting of hate crime. The measure’s passage prompted online criticism and a brief period of protests. Opponents stated the motion singled out Islamophobia and violated freedom of speech. Media outlets reported Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) Iqra Khalid, who introduced the motion, received more than 50,000 mostly hostile emails on the topic, including some with death threats. Police offered the MP extra protection and investigated the threatening messages.

In July a Quebec judge issued an arrest warrant for a Jordanian imam for the willful promotion of hatred – a criminal offense. In a December 2016 sermon at a Montreal mosque, circulated online, the imam allegedly called for the killing of Jews. The imam was not a Canadian resident, but the warrant would apply if he tried to reenter the country.

In July police in Montreal apologized to a Jewish couple for initially refusing to investigate anti-Semitic graffiti daubed on their car and suggested the couple remove the graffiti themselves. Police investigated the incident but had no suspects at year’s end.

In November Toronto police arrested and charged the editor and publisher of the Toronto-based newspaper Your Ward News on two counts of “promoting willful hatred against women and Jews.” The charges stemmed from the newspaper’s summer 2017 issue, in which one of the accused allegedly incited readers to “bludgeon to death” a couple who had filed a civil suit against the newspaper. Your Ward News faced numerous civil complaints in recent years for its depictions of women, Jews, Muslims, and LGBTI persons. In 2016, the federal government banned it from using Canada Post for distribution, although it appealed that ruling.

On May 8, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau served as keynote speaker at the national Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony and reiterated the government’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, racism, and all forms of discrimination. Leaders of major federal political parties also attended. In January Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in which she stated the importance of the country’s standing against anti-Semitism and increasing Holocaust awareness and knowledge.

In September Prime Minister Trudeau and other officials participated in the unveiling of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa. After Jewish groups, opposition politicians, and rights advocates criticized the government for omitting the mention of Jews and anti-Semitism on a plaque at the monument’s entrance, the government removed it and pledged to correct and replace it.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The government supported, both domestically and abroad, Holocaust education, remembrance, and research, and it recommended continued participation in the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of various incidents directed against religious groups, in particular anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents including physical violence, destruction of places of places of worship, vandalism, hate speech, violence, and harassment. On January 29, a gunman entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec and opened fire on worshippers, killing six men, critically injuring five, and wounding approximately 12 others. On January 30, police charged the gunman with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder. On August 6, individuals set fire to a car owned by the head of the same Islamic Cultural Centre targeted in January. In September police arrested and charged two men with arson. In a separate incident, unidentified individuals flung excrement at the front door of the building. Unknown attackers also targeted the mosque several times in 2016, including an incident in which an unidentified vandal left a pig’s head on the building’s doorstep and distributed racist tracts in the mosque’s neighborhood. Police did not identify any suspects.

In November the national statistical agency released police data identifying Jews as the religious group most frequently targeted for hate crimes in 2016, followed by Catholics and Muslims. Jews were targets of 221 incidents, up from 178 in 2015. The number of hate crimes recorded by police against Catholics fell from 55 in 2015 to 27 in 2016 and from 159 incidents against Muslims in 2015 to 139 incidents in 2016.

According to an October poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, a public opinion research foundation, in partnership with faith-based think tank Cardus, 55 percent of respondents stated religious freedom made Canada a better country, while 44 percent said religious diversity had both positive and negative impacts on the country. Forty-six percent of respondents said Islam was damaging to the country, the highest negative score of all the faiths included in the survey, followed by Sikhism at 22 percent. Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, and Judaism had overall positive ratings. Quebec respondents were the most likely to identify increasing religious diversity as an adverse impact on the country, listed at 31 percent compared with 23 percent nationally.

In June Husky Energy agreed to investigate allegations by three Muslim women in Edmonton, Alberta, who stated that their employer, a contracting company affiliated with Husky Energy, dismissed them after they complained a non-Muslim coworker had told them to remove their hijabs. The three women filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which remained pending at the end of the year. Husky Energy announced in December it had completed a review of the incident and found the women’s employer, a subcontractor, was not related to the women’s complaint and occurred as part of a scheduled downsizing as the contractor’s maintenance contract with Husky Energy expired. Husky Energy dismissed the allegations as part of its internal investigation. Both Husky Energy and the contractor underscored their commitment to a diverse workforce and pledged to cooperate fully with the Human Rights Commission investigation.

In February a B.C. carpentry school rejected an application from a prospective Israeli student on the stated grounds of his nationality and “non-inclusive” policies pursued by the Israeli government. According to a press report, the school’s executive director subsequently issued a written apology to the student, reversed the school’s decision, and rescinded restrictions on admission of students from Israel.

On August 4, the mayor of Quebec City announced the municipality had conditionally accepted an offer from the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre to purchase city-owned land for an Islamic cemetery. The agreement followed a July 16 referendum in Saint-Apollinaire, a town near Quebec City, in which voters rejected the center’s bid to build an Islamic cemetery in the town. Although the Saint-Apollinaire city council had unanimously approved the center’s application, the cemetery required a zoning change, necessitating a referendum under Quebec law. Only residents living adjacent to the proposed site were eligible to vote, and of 49 eligible voters, 36 cast ballots. Debate spread beyond the community and engendered messages directed against the mosque. In July the mosque received a mailed package containing a defaced copy of the Quran and a note expressing hatred toward Muslims. Police opened a hate crime investigation but did not identify suspects. Prime Minister Trudeau condemned the incident as inconsistent with Quebec or Canadian values; he later praised the municipal government’s decision to sell the land for the cemetery.

The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights said it received 1,728 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, a 26 percent increase from 2015. The greatest number of reports (490) came from Ontario. Reported incidents in 2016 included violence against persons (11 incidents); harassment (1,559 incidents); vandalism, including graffiti; and attacks on synagogues, private homes, community centers, and desecration of cemeteries (158 incidents).

Independent Arabic language newspaper Al Saraha, based in London, Ontario, agreed to publish a front-page apology for reprinting an article in its June-July 2016 edition. The article alleged Jews had inflated the number of Holocaust victims from 100,000-600,000 to six million and blamed them for Germany’s economic collapse in the 1920s. Al Saraha had reprinted the article from an Egyptian newspaper. The publication is distributed online and through Middle Eastern restaurants and grocery stores throughout the greater London, Ontario area.

In February Ryerson University in Toronto fired teaching assistant Imam Ayman Elkasrawy for reportedly calling for purification of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem from the “filth of the Jews” in a 2016 off-campus sermon.

In December, eight synagogues in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, and Edmonton received identical letters depicting a swastika inside a bleeding Star of David with the phrase “Jewry Must Perish,” in what appeared to be a coordinated mailing that coincided with Hanukkah. Police in all four cities opened hate crime investigations. Police in north Toronto, where one of the targeted synagogues was located, said his detachment would pay additional attention to synagogues and Jewish facilities in the area.

In February unknown individuals posted notes with the words “No Jews” placed above a swastika on the doors of a condominium building in North York, Ontario. Authorities did not identify any suspects.

In September a woman interrupted an event in support of then federal New Democratic Party leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh, by heckling and accusing him of supporting sharia and the Muslim Brotherhood organization. Singh won his party’s leadership, and some observers credited, in part, what they said was his deft handling of the interaction with the heckler for boosting his popularity.

In August police in Markham, Ontario, investigated incidents of anti-Semitic and race-related graffiti at three schools. Police treated the cases as related hate crimes; however, they did not identify any suspects.

On August 31, an Ontario judge sentenced an 18-year-old male to a year in custody, including time served, plus two years’ probation for vandalizing six religious buildings in Ottawa in 2016. The vandalism included anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish school, synagogue, and rabbi’s home.

Authorities did not identify any suspects following an April 2016 incident in which vandals wrote the words “Muslim terrorists” over a picture of a Muslim woman wearing a niqab at a library exhibit on the lives of Muslims in Quebec.

Numerous interfaith and ecumenical organizations at the national, provincial, and local levels continued to operate, with the stated purposed of fostering respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equal treatment for all religious groups. The groups included participation by the Canadian Council of Churches, the United Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic Church, The Salvation Army, other Protestant communities, as well as Jewish and Muslim associations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy and other U.S. government officials met with representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss issues of religious freedom in the country and internationally.

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials also conducted regular outreach to religious leaders, NGOs, and religious groups to discuss strategies for combating religious intolerance. In February the Charge visited Quebec City and met with the leadership of the mosque where six worshippers were shot and killed on January 29. In October the U.S. Consulate in Quebec City donated a tree and plaque to the mosque to commemorate the shooting victims. The embassy amplified these efforts to support the mosque and the shooting victims on social media. In December a senior embassy official hosted a lunch at her residence for clergy, faith leaders, and NGOs that support religious freedom and diversity to raise awareness of International Religious Freedom Day and the United Nations International Day for Tolerance, and to promote interfaith dialogue. In September the Charge attended a public ceremony to remember the victims and honor the survivors of the Holocaust at the inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument. The embassy amplified the Charge’s attendance at the event through social media. In July the embassy hosted a gathering of religious and civil groups to view a moderated discussion via video conference on violence and discrimination targeting vulnerable groups, including Muslims. The audience identified ways to adapt best practices to their own vulnerable groups and agreed to form a working group through Ottawa City Hall to address hate crimes. In July the Consul General and consulate staff in Quebec City hosted an iftar with leaders and young representatives of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious communities. In her remarks, the Consul General highlighted the values of sharing, compassion, and mutual understanding. Embassy officials also met on several occasions with local faith leaders to discuss issues of religious freedom. On two occasions embassy officials met with imams in Ottawa to hear about the challenges facing their communities and about their success in building interfaith alliances.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism.” The government continued to exercise limited control or influence in most of the country, and police and the gendarmerie failed to stop or punish abuses committed by militias, including killings, abductions, physical abuse, and gender-based violence. The mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia forces and the predominantly Muslim ex-Seleka militia forces continued to occupy territories in the western and northern parts of the country, respectively. The Muslim community reported continued discrimination, including when requesting government services.

During the year, outbreaks of violence between Muslim and Christian citizens and residents continued, involving members of competing armed groups, including the anti-Balaka and the ex-Seleka forces. Prayers resumed at the sites of damaged or destroyed mosques in various locations in Bangui. In June the Central African Religious Platform, an interfaith organization that promotes peace and reconciliation, held an interfaith service for peace, attended by the president and members of the government and parliament. On September 30, several imams held a reconciliation prayer service and ceremony in the community that was previously the stronghold of the Seleka and where Seleka and other Muslims were violently expelled in 2014. During the ceremony, a local anti-Balaka leader called for peace and reconciliation and invited Muslims to return to the community.

The U.S. Ambassador met with government and religious leaders to discuss the impact of the conflict among religious groups, challenges faced by the Muslim community, ways to promote the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) forced from their homes because of religiously based violence, and the importance of fostering religious tolerance. The Ambassador and embassy officials met regularly with Christian and Muslim religious leaders to discuss their relationships with the government, reports of religious discrimination, and the role of religious groups in reconciliation efforts. The U.S. government continued to fund a consortium formed to build up the capacity of the Central African Religious Platform, led by leaders of the Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities, and played a high-profile role in promoting social cohesion.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.6 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the Pew Research Foundation, the population is 61 percent Protestant, 28 percent Roman Catholic, and 9 percent Muslim. Other religious groups, including traditional religious groups and those having no religious beliefs, make up an estimated 2 percent of the population. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Oxfam estimates the percentage of Muslims at up to 15 percent. Some Christians and Muslims incorporate aspects of indigenous beliefs into their religious practices.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion under conditions set by law and equal protection under the law regardless of religion. It prohibits all forms of religious intolerance and “religious fundamentalism,” which is not defined in law. It specifies an oath of office for the head of state made “before God” that includes a promise to fulfill the duties of the office without any consideration of religion.

Religious groups, except for indigenous religious groups, are required to register with the Ministry of the Interior, Public Security, and Territorial Administration. To register, religious groups must prove they have a minimum of 1,000 members and their leaders have adequate religious education, as judged by the ministry.

The law permits the ministry to deny registration to any religious group it deems offensive to public morals or likely to disturb social peace, and to suspend the operation of registered religious groups if it finds their activities subversive. Registration is free and confers official recognition and certain benefits, such as customs duty exemptions for vehicles or equipment. There are no penalties prescribed for groups that fail to register.

The law does not prohibit religious instruction in public or private schools, but it is not part of the public school curriculum.

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

Government Practices

According to media reports and religious and civil society leaders, civilian authorities failed to maintain effective control over the security forces, a situation that has persisted for a number of years. Human rights organizations stated the government again failed to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses that targeted members of various religious groups. These individuals were in the security forces and elsewhere in the government, and the human rights organizations stated this was a long-standing problem and one that fostered a climate of impunity.

During a government and UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) military operation to question and arrest local Muslim militia leader Yossouf Malinga, security forces killed Malinga in a February 7 shootout in Bangui’s predominantly Muslim PK5 neighborhood. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, his death was followed by several violent incidents, including the fatal stabbing of a Protestant minister at his church by supporters of Malinga’s militia group, the burning of two other churches, and the killing of a Muslim civilian, reportedly by anti-Balaka elements in retaliation. In addition, 300 residents of the Fondo neighborhood, also in the same district, fled their homes and took shelter at the recently closed IDP site at nearby M’Poko International Airport.

Muslims continued to report harassment outside of the PK5 enclave and exclusion from national decision making. Muslim leaders cited situations where Muslims were treated as outsiders or as a different class of citizens, especially when requesting government services.

Some government officials stated they intended to focus efforts on reconciliation among religious groups, although observers stated they made limited progress for a second year. The national Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission was created in December 2016, but its members had not been named by the end of 2017. Following the announcement of its creation in 2016, local peace committees began meeting in several areas. On August 23, President Faustin-Archange Touadera appointed new administrators for all of the country’s 16 prefectures; none of the appointees were Muslim. Critics stated the appointments lacked religious diversity. On September 12, Touadera named a new cabinet that included seven Muslims among the 34 ministers. The previous cabinet included four Muslims among 23 ministers. The percentage of Muslims in the cabinet increased from 17 to 21.

In February the government completed the closure of the IDP camp located at M’Poko International Airport. More than 28,000 residents, predominantly Christian, were unsure of where to go after the camp’s closure, according to UNICEF. Many of the IDPs previously lived in the PK5 neighborhood.

In July the Ministry of Social Affairs provided Muslim IDPs living on the grounds of Bangui’s Central Mosque with 50,000 CFA francs ($88) each to assist them with finding housing, mostly in the PK5 neighborhood.

The government continued to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as official but unpaid holidays. Unlike in the previous year, the government did not host an iftar.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Armed groups, which generally operated freely in certain areas of the country, continued to commit many of the actions affecting religious freedom. The government remained incapable of imposing its authority throughout the territory, preventing abuses, or ensuring the rule of law and the administration of justice, according to many observers.

Armed groups, particularly the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka, continued to control significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, according to media and UN reports.

Police and the gendarmerie failed to stop or punish abuses committed by the ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka militias, including killings, abductions, physical mistreatment, extortion, and gender-based violence.

MINUSCA was deployed to multiple areas within the country in response to violence between anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements during the year.

According to UN Independent Expert Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum, in mid-February anti-Balaka fighters reportedly killed at least 16 civilians from the predominantly Muslim and nomadic Peulh community near Ippy, Ouaka Prefecture, during an ambush on a truck carrying persons trying to reach safety in Bambari. Between March 7 and 15, attacks carried out by anti-Balaka elements on the village of Site Chinois, to the south of Bria, reportedly resulted in the deaths of an estimated nine Peulh civilians and massive population displacement.

On May 11, the local branch of the Red Cross in Alindao, Basse-Kotto, reported that 37 bodies had been recovered and 110 persons injured in the locality following attacks carried out against the population between May 8 and May 10, reportedly by predominantly Muslim Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique – Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) militias. According to MINUSCA, a group of assailants believed to be associated with anti-Balaka forces attacked a UN convoy near the town of Bangassou in the southeast on May 8, killing five peacekeepers. This was part of a series of attacks that included attacks on the Muslim population in Bangassou.

According to the July report from the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic, on May 13, anti-Balaka fighters attacked the Tokoyo neighborhood of Bangassou and the MINUSCA base, resulting in 72 persons killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced. During the attacks 1,000 persons took refuge in a mosque in Bangassou, and 500 took refuge in a hospital. According to the UN Panel, attackers specifically targeted members of the Muslim community sheltering inside a Catholic church after peacekeepers left the church and returned to the MINUSCA base to protect it, leaving the Muslims at the church unprotected. One UN peacekeeper was killed. On May 14, UN forces were able to regain control of the area and those who sought refuge were freed. The Red Cross reported that it found the bodies of 115 individuals, the majority of whom were likely Muslim, in Bangassou on May 17, following the several days long anti-Balaka attacks. Approximately 2,000 Muslims remained in the Catholic mission after the attacks. Their Muslim neighborhood was destroyed by the anti-Balaka, and many homes were burned down. Additional anti-Balaka attacks targeting Muslims took place in June, leading to the displacement of additional civilians, approximately 21,000 altogether.

According to MINUSCA, on July 21, anti-Balaka militias targeted a Roman Catholic seminary in Bangassou which was providing refuge to an estimated 2,000 internally displaced Muslims. During the attack, two children were seriously hurt. A Muslim woman was also kidnapped, presumably by anti-Balaka militia; in response Muslim groups detained six Christians. Two of the Christians were reportedly released on July 22, and the whereabouts of the others remained unknown at year’s end.

According to international media reports, in mid-May the predominantly Muslim armed group Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central African Republic (FPRC) entered the town of Bria and faced off with anti-Balaka militants, displacing tens of thousands of persons, mostly Christians. A month after the FPRC forces entered, approximately 41,000 persons, mostly Christians, continued to live in IDP camps. The PK3 camp, close to the UN base in Bria, had more than 26,000 inhabitants.

On August 8, 50 Christians were killed by the ex-Seleka in Gambo after anti-Balaka forces were cleared from the area by the MINUSCA.

According to the July UN Report of the Independent Expert, the Human Rights Division of MINUSCA documented 45 cases of violence committed against persons accused of witchcraft, involving 77 victims – 38 men, 32 women, and seven children. According to the report, most individuals accused of witchcraft and charlatanism were women and children, and a large number went to prison. The report said false allegations were made by members of armed groups to terrorize and extort money from the population. The report recommended the prosecution and punishment of all perpetrators of violence against persons accused of witchcraft.

In October a Bangui newspaper reported that a “network of sorcerers” had been dismantled in the village of Ndangala, outside Bangui. Villagers reportedly handed over to authorities in the town of Bimbo for investigation 12 individuals whom they accused of attempting to kill a woman through witchcraft.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

While most observers stated violent conflict and instability in the country had multiple sources, they also said religion continued to be used as a tool to divide the population. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to international news reports, on November 11, attackers launched a grenade attack on a nightclub concert intended to foster reconciliation and social cohesion and attended by both Muslims and Christians, killing four and injuring more than 20 persons. Christian and Muslim victims were taken to separate hospitals to diffuse tensions. On November 12, reportedly in retaliation three motorcycle taxi drivers were killed and their bodies delivered to a local mosque.

According to the July 7 report of the Panel of Experts, rhetoric against the Peulh community was widespread in the country, and the situation was reminiscent of 2014, when the negative discourse against one specific Muslim community – the Chadians – led to the targeting of the Muslim community as a whole.

Negative comments about or directed toward Muslims, particularly members of the Peulh community, were still common in most media outlets. Private media outlets reportedly continued to be heavily influenced by their financers, generally representing a Christian perspective, and led by Christian editors. There had been no Muslim-operated radio station or Muslim-oriented program on the national radio station since September 2015.

Muslims continued to report facing consistent social discrimination and marginalization, including an inability to move freely or to access schools, hospitals, and basic necessities, such as services provided by the government, as well as those provided by private donors and organizations.

Muslims reported facing several challenges within their community, including differences among Muslims of Arab, Peulh, and Bantu ethnicity regarding identity, discrimination, and internal division over leadership.

According to international reports, Christians felt that MINUSCA was biased towards the Muslim population because many peacekeepers were Muslim.

In January prayers resumed at the site of the Petevo Mosque in Bangui. The mosque was destroyed during the intercommunal violence in 2014. In May prayers resumed at the Al Faroukou de Yapele Mosque in Bangui. The mosque was heavily damaged during the intercommunal violence in 2014.

In June the Religious Platform held an interreligious service for peace at the National Assembly, attended by the country’s president and members of the government and parliament. Religious Platform leaders called for an end to violence, a return to peace, and reconciliation. They emphasized their belief that the crisis the country was experiencing was not an interconfessional crisis, but began because of economic and social conditions and had become associated with religion due to manipulation by bad actors.

On September 30, several imams, including the Muslim representative of the Religious Platform, held a reconciliation prayer service and ceremony near the site of the representative’s destroyed mosque and home in the predominantly Christian Eighth District. The mosque was destroyed in 2014. During the ceremony a local anti-Balaka leader called for peace and reconciliation and invited Muslims to return to the community.

Prayers resumed at the site of the Miskine Mosque in Bangui’s predominantly Christian Fifth District in September. The mosque was one of the first mosques destroyed during the intercommunal violence in 2014.

On February 10, Muslim and Christian communities from districts affected by intercommunal violence celebrated the one-year anniversary of a nonaggression pact signed between groups that were engaged in armed conflict. The celebration was held at an intersection that, prior to the pact, served as a barrier between communities and obstructed the movement of both Christians and Muslims to certain parts of the city.

The Religious Platform continued to spread messages of peace and reconciliation throughout the country. For example, in November, following a grenade attack on a nightclub in Bangui, the Platform issued a statement saying, “Christians and Muslims must remain united and speak one language in order to bring peace to the Central African Republic. During this time of disturbance, all peace-loving Central Africans must be vigilant and act for the cause of peace.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador raised issues related to religion, including violence against Muslims and Christians, freedom of movement, the return of refugees and IDPs, representation in government, and access to the justice system and other government services. He encouraged governmental outreach to all religious communities in high-level meetings, including with President Touadera, the presidential advisor for national reconciliation, and the minister of social affairs and reconciliation.

The Ambassador and embassy officials engaged regularly with religious leaders, including the leaders of the Religious Platform, the Imam of the Central Mosque, and the Coordinating Committee for Central African Muslim Organizations, on issues related to religious freedom and reconciliation, and they discussed ways to broaden access and dialogue to elected officials.

The U.S. government continued to fund a consortium formed to build up the capacity of the Religious Platform to bolster its high-profile role in promoting social cohesion, including reconciliation between religious communities.

In February the Ambassador, the Senior USAID Advisor for the Great Lakes Region, and the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Coordinator visited a Muslim and a Christian IDP site and the Muslim enclave in Boda in the southwestern part of the country. In all three locations, they discussed with local residents concerns such as religious tolerance, freedom of movement, and assistance for returnees.

In March U.S. government officials visited the Central Mosque and met with the imam and several displaced persons. They discussed topics including equal representation and access to government services for Muslims, obstacles to the return of refugees and IDPs, and freedom of movement.

In May the Ambassador returned to Boda, where he met with religious leaders from the Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss progress on intercommunal reconciliation and challenges faced by their respective communities.

Also in May a local NGO launched an embassy-funded program that brought together Muslim and Christian women from three Bangui districts for training on promoting intercommunal reconciliation and social cohesion among their communities, along with technical and financial support for starting small businesses.

In August the Ambassador inaugurated an embassy-funded program to provide free motorcycle taxi rides between the primarily Muslim PK5 neighborhood and other communities in Bangui. The objective was to reduce the isolation of Muslim residents and to encourage non-Muslims to travel to PK5, the site of Bangui’s largest public market.

In October the Charge d’Affaires delivered remarks at the finale of an embassy-sponsored basketball tournament that included mixed faith teams from all eight Bangui districts. The tournament promoted reconciliation among residents of the districts, which had experienced significant intercommunal violence since 2013. The imam from the Religious Platform attended the game and afterwards met with community members from a predominantly Christian district of Bangui, where the tournament was held.

On August 31, embassy officers visited the Central Mosque and discussed with the deputy imam the social and security conditions for Muslims in Bangui and U.S. engagement on religious freedom and reconciliation.

Chad

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state. It provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion. It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that inhibits national unity. The government maintained its ban on the leading Salafist association, but anecdotal evidence continued to suggest enforcement of the ban was difficult. Those practicing this interpretation of Islam continued to meet and worship in their own mosques. Senior government officials, including the president, promoted religious tolerance in their public statements. In a June speech, President Idriss Deby warned intra-Muslim tensions in the country were not good for peaceful cohabitation and could lead to violent extremism.

Religious leaders continued to raise awareness of the risks of terrorist attacks and to advocate for security in places of worship. Religious leaders, including the secretary of the Chadian Churches and Evangelical Mission for Harmony, the Archbishop of the Catholic Church of Chad, and the High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA) publicly stated they supported the president’s statements advocating religious tolerance.

The U.S. Ambassador hosted an iftar for religious leaders, including Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Bahai representatives, and government officials. Participants discussed religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives maintained a dialogue on religious freedom, met regularly with religious leaders, and supported outreach programs with Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 12.1 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the most recent census, in 2009, approximately 58 percent of the population is Muslim, 18 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Protestant, and the remaining 8 percent practices indigenous religious beliefs. Most Muslims adhere to the Sufi Tijaniyah tradition. A small minority hold beliefs associated with Wahhabism or Salafism. The majority of Protestants are evangelical Christians. There are also small numbers of Bahais and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Most northerners practice Islam, and most southerners practice Christianity or indigenous religions; religious distribution is mixed in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes the state as secular and affirms the separation of religion and state. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and equality before the law without distinction as to religion. These rights may be regulated by law and may only be limited by law to ensure mutual respect for the rights of others and for the “imperative” of safeguarding public order and good morals. It prohibits “denominational propaganda” that infringes on national unity or the secular nature of the state.

Under the law, all associations, religious or otherwise, must register with the Ministry of Territorial Planning, Urban Development, and Housing. The associations must provide a list of all the founding members and their positions in the organization, the founders’ resumes, copies of the founders’ identification cards, minutes of the establishment meetings, a letter to the minister requesting registration, the principal source of the organization’s revenue, the address of the organization, a copy of the rules and procedures, and the statutory documents of the organization. The Ministry of Public Security and Immigration conducts background checks on every founding member and establishes a six-month temporary, but renewable, authorization to operate, pending final authorization and approval. Failure to register with the ministry means that organizations are not considered legal entities and may not open a bank account or enter into contracts; it may also lead to the banning of a group, one month to a year in prison, and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($88 to $880). Registration does not confer tax preferences or other benefits.

Burqas, defined by ministerial notice as any garment where one sees only the eyes, are forbidden in the entire national territory by ministerial decree. This also applies to niqabs.

The constitution states public education shall be secular. The government prohibits religious instruction in public schools but permits religious groups to operate private schools.

The government-created High Council for Islamic Affairs (HCIA) oversees Islamic religious activities, including some Arabic language schools and institutions of higher learning, and represents the country at international Islamic forums. Wahabbists are not officially represented on the council and are banned by the government. The Grand Imam of N’Djamena, who is selected by a committee of Muslim elders and approved by the government, is the de facto president of the HCIA and oversees the grand imams from each of the country’s 23 regions. He has the authority to restrict Muslim groups from proselytizing, regulate the content of mosque sermons, and control activities of Islamic charities.

The constitution states military service is obligatory and prohibits invoking religious belief to “avoid an obligation dictated by the national interest.” The government does not enforce conscription, however.

The Office of the Director of Religious and Traditional Affairs under the Ministry of Territorial Planning, Urban Development, and Housing oversees religious matters. The office is responsible for mediating intercommunal conflict, reporting on religious practices, coordinating religious pilgrimages, and ensuring religious freedom.

According to regulations of the government board that oversees the distribution of oil revenues, Muslim and Christian leaders share a rotational position on the board. The position is held for three years and may be renewed only once.

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

Government Practices

The government maintained its ban on the leading Wahabbist group; however, those practicing continued to meet and worship in their own mosques.

The government continued its long running public education campaign in the national media to inform individuals of the burqa ban. During the year, there were no known prosecutions for violating the ban.

In June during the celebration of the end of Ramadan, President Deby stated that all mosques should affiliate with the HCIA and that the HCIA would have oversight over all Muslim activities. Institutions that did not comply could face closure.

The government continued to deploy security forces around both Muslim and Christian places of worship, notably on Fridays around mosques and Sundays around churches, as well as other occasions for religious events.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In a June speech, President Deby warned that intra-Muslim tensions in the country were not good for peaceful cohabitation and could lead to violent extremism. The statement further referenced a 2016 government-endorsed fact-finding mission that concluded that intra-Muslim tensions in the country were high, pointing to the absence of a Salafi representative on the HCIA as a particular concern.

In September Moussa Nguedmbaye was stabbed to death in the Al Rahman mosque in N’Djamena. Media reported that the victim, who was a Sufi, had a conflict with the Wahabbi members of the mosque before he was killed. One media outlet stated that the imam of the mosque ordered the killing. There were no arrests at year’s end.

During the National Day of Prayer and Peaceful Interreligious Coexistence, held on November 28, religious leaders, including the Secretary of the Chadian Churches and Evangelical Mission for Harmony, the Archbishop of the N’Djamena, and the HCIA publicly stated they supported the president’s statements advocating religious tolerance.

Religious leaders continued to raise awareness of the risks of terrorist attacks and to advocate for continued additional security in places of worship.

The Regional Forum on Interfaith Dialogue, comprising representatives of evangelical Protestant churches, the Catholic Church, and the Islamic community, met in February in N’Djamena to promote religious tolerance and combat prejudice. They publicly reiterated their commitment to educate their respective groups on the necessity of peaceful cohabitation.

On June 6, during Ramadan, members of the HCIA discussed the country’s socioeconomic challenges, peaceful interreligious coexistence, and global terrorism. They pledged to support the government in the fight against religious extremism, and made speeches explaining the purpose of the burqa ban. The HCIA and Radio Al Koran al-Karim used positive messaging to strengthen communities and counter religious extremism. The HCIA continued to use the same messages throughout the year to raise awareness to counter religious extremism.

Catholic Archbishop of N’Djamena Edmond Jitangar began seeking funds from nongovernment sources for reconstruction of the Catholic cathedral in N’Djamena, which was damaged in 1980 during the country’s civil war. In August he noted, “it is not the role of the state to construct a cathedral, because we are in a secular state,” and expressed his belief that reconstruction would symbolize the peaceful coexistence of religion in the country, as the cathedral is located just a few yards from the Malik Faycal Mosque.

Muslims and Christians commonly attended each other’s ceremonies and celebrations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador hosted an iftar attended by more than 60 religious leaders, including Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Bahai representatives, and government officials. At the iftar, attendees discussed religious freedom and tolerance in the country. Embassy officials met regularly with imams in training sessions and workshops to promote tolerance and human rights. The Ambassador and other embassy representatives met with the grand imam, and with Catholic and Protestant leaders to monitor and promote religious freedom and tolerance, as well as to discuss efforts to counter extremist messages.

In September the U.S. government provided additional funding and continued support to the nongovernmental organization Equal Access, which worked with religious leaders of all faiths to promote moderate messaging on community radio stations. Additionally, in July the U.S. Ambassador gave a speech at the inauguration of a U.S. government-funded community radio station in Karal established to amplify moderate voices.

Chile

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship. The law prohibits religious discrimination. Religion and state are officially separate. The National Office of Religious Affairs (ONAR), an executive government agency, is charged with facilitating communication between faith communities and the government and ensuring the rights of religious minorities are protected. Catholic and Episcopalian leaders condemned the Constitutional Court’s August decision to partially lift the country’s total ban on abortions, stating that permitting abortions was unconstitutional and violated their religious beliefs. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported arsonists burned down eight churches in the Araucania Region between January and October, following more than 10 similar incidents the previous year. No one was hurt in the attacks. The regional government announced in April it would help to reconstruct the destroyed churches. In August after ONAR’s intervention, representatives of the Catholic and Protestant faiths signed an agreement with the Chilean Timber Association (CORMA) under which CORMA provided materials to rebuild the churches. In June ONAR published the first edition of an ethics code to facilitate a dialogue of mutual understanding among the country’s religious communities, public and private entities, labor leaders, and civil society. With the stated goal of facilitating civil society input, ONAR continued to meet regularly with its Interfaith Advisory Council to facilitate interreligious dialogue between religious and government leaders, including holding meetings with indigenous groups, religious minorities, and civil society leaders.

A June soccer game in Santiago between Club Israeliti, a Chilean-Jewish team, and Club Palestino, a Chilean-Palestinian team, ended in physical violence. Jewish community leaders filed a complaint with the public prosecutor over anti-Semitic chants by Club Palestino fans. Chilean-Palestinian leaders complained to authorities the entrance to their community’s soccer field was marked with graffiti of the Star of David and the words “Palestine doesn’t exist, Arabs are terrorists.” The Jewish community also expressed concern about anti-Semitic flyers distributed at university campuses.

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy representatives periodically met with government officials and religious leaders to discuss religious diversity and tolerance and to raise incidents of concern, including church burnings and the conflict at the Israeliti-Palestino game. In June a senior embassy official hosted leaders of various religious communities at an interfaith iftar designed to emphasize religious tolerance and promote interfaith dialogue. In August a senior embassy official participated in an interreligious dialogue between government officials and faith leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 17.8 million (July 2017 estimate). According to ONAR, approximately 60 percent of the population self-identifies as Roman Catholic and approximately 18 percent identifies as “evangelical,” a term used in the country to refer to all non-Catholic Christian groups except The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox churches (including the Armenian, Greek, Persian, Serbian, and Ukrainian communities), and Seventh-day Adventists. In the most recent census, conducted in 2002, Bahais, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, members of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Orthodox churches, Seventh-day Adventists, and unspecified members of religious groups together constituted less than 5 percent of the population. An estimated 4 percent of the population identifies as atheist or agnostic, while 17 percent of the population identifies as nonreligious.

According to ONAR, 9 percent of the population self-identifies as indigenous, of whom 55 percent identify as Catholic, 37 percent as evangelical, and 6 percent identify as other, which includes adherents of traditional indigenous faith practices. Over the last decade, the country has experienced a decline in numbers of individuals affiliated with the Catholic faith. According to the 2002 census, 70 percent of the country’s population identified as Roman Catholic in 2002 compared to the 60 percent ONAR specified in 2017. Evangelical Christian affiliation increased from 15.1 to 18 percent between 2002 and 2017.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship. It states that these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.” Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship, as long as the locations are in compliance with public hygiene (health standards) and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.

According to the constitution, religion and state are officially separate. The law prohibits religious discrimination and provides civil legal remedies to victims of discrimination based on religion or belief and increases criminal penalties for acts of discriminatory violence.

The law does not require religious groups to register with the government; however, there are tax benefits for those that do. Once registered, a religious group is recognized as a religious nonprofit organization; religious organizations have the option of adopting a charter and bylaws suited to a religious entity rather than a private corporation or a secular nonprofit. Under the law, religious nonprofit organizations may create affiliates, such as charitable foundations, schools, or additional houses of worship, which retain the tax benefits of the religious parent organization. According to ONAR, public law recognizes more than 3,200 religious entities as legal entities. By law, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) may not refuse the registration petition of a religious entity, although it may object to petitions within 90 days if legal prerequisites for registration are not satisfied.

Applicants for religious nonprofit status must present the MOJ with an authorized copy of their charter, corresponding bylaws with signatures, and the national identification numbers of charter signatories. The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure. The charter must specify the signatories, the name of the organization, its physical address, and must include confirmation that bylaws have been approved by the religious institutions’ charter signatories. In the event the MOJ raises objections to the group, the group may petition; the petitioning group has 60 days to address the MOJ’s objections or can challenge them in court. Once registered, the state may not dissolve a religious entity by decree. If concerns are raised about a religious group’s activities after registration, the semi-autonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review of the matter. The government has never deregistered a legally registered group. One registration per religious group is sufficient to extend nonprofit status to affiliates, such as additional places of worship or schools, clubs, and sports organizations, without registering them as separate entities. According to ONAR, the MOJ receives approximately 30 petitions monthly; the MOJ has not objected to any petition and has registered every group that completed the required paperwork.

By law, all schools must offer religious education for two teaching hours per week through pre-elementary, elementary, middle, and high school. Local school administrators decide how religious education classes are structured. The majority of religious instruction in public schools is Catholic, although the Ministry of Education has approved instruction curricula designed by 14 other religious groups, such as orthodox and reformed Jews, evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, and other groups. Schools must provide religious instruction for students according to students’ religious affiliations. Parents may have their children excused from religious education. Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or enroll them in private, religiously oriented schools.

The law grants religious groups the right to appoint chaplains to offer religious services in public hospitals and prisons. Prisoners may request religious accommodations. Regulations for the armed forces and law enforcement agencies allow officially registered religious groups to appoint chaplains to serve in each branch of the armed forces, in the national uniformed police, and the national investigative police.

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

Government Practices

Catholic and Episcopalian leaders condemned the Constitutional Court’s August decision to partially lift the country’s total ban on abortions, stating that permitting abortions was unconstitutional and violated their religious beliefs.

Both central and regional authorities continued to support the provision of non-Catholic religious education in public schools when parents requested it. Authorities supported schools through municipal offices of religious affairs, encouraged the development of community-supported religious curricula, and provided religious diversity training to public servants.

While prison and military chaplains remained predominately Catholic, the numbers of evangelical Protestant chaplains and other non-Catholic chaplains increased, due in part to the diverse religious affiliations of the prison population and the increase in evangelical Protestant followers in the country. ONAR continued to work to counter perceptions of bias and support diversity in the chaplaincy by encouraging other faith communities to prepare and present candidates for those positions. The National Institute of Human Rights, an independent government agency, continued to report that Protestant faith communities operated without impediments in the prison system.

According to CSW, from January to October, arsonists set fire to four Catholic and four Baptist churches in the primarily indigenous Mapuche communities in the rural Araucania Region. No one was hurt in the attacks. In October the National Prosecutors’ Office found the alleged arsonists did not meet the threshold for trial under the anti-terrorism law. The alleged perpetrators were charged with arson; the trial was still pending at the end of the year. CORMA pledged to develop a work plan to help provide peaceful solutions to the region’s societal conflict by bringing together churches, parishioners, community organizations, neighbors, workers, investors, and business owners. CORMA also donated in-kind goods to rebuild the churches. The regional government announced in April it would help to reconstruct the destroyed churches and initiated programs to train Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches in preventative security measures.

ONAR representatives regularly met with religious leaders with the stated aim of ensuring state institutions respected minority religious practices. In June ONAR published the first edition of an ethics code to facilitate a dialogue of mutual understanding among the country’s religious communities, public and private entities, labor leaders, and civil society. The ethics code asserts Chile’s identity as a secular state and outlines best practices through which civil society, the private sector, and religious institutions might demonstrate religious diversity and tolerance. The ethics code discusses suggestions for education, media outlets, and the environment, among other topics.

ONAR continued to work through the Interfaith Advisory Council, a roundtable organization comprising religious leaders representing the country’s religious communities, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Bahais, among others. Their efforts were designed to facilitate and enhance interreligious dialogue within the country by establishing standing meetings among religious leaders and offering government space to host those conversations.

In June President Michelle Bachelet and ONAR hosted an interfaith iftar at the La Moneda presidential palace to support dialogue and promote interfaith understanding.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

While the Assemblies of God and the Interdenominational Regional Council of Pastors of Araucania publicly called on the authorities to improve their investigation into the eight church burnings, other churches and organizations did not make public statements. According to political sources, the church attacks appeared to fit into the pattern of protest and sabotage directed against a wide range of institutions and business interests in the Araucania Region, which also included trucks, farm equipment, and farm structures.

A soccer match in Santiago on June 8 between Club Israeliti, a Chilean-Jewish team, and Club Palestino, a Chilean-Palestinian team, ended in physical violence as xenophobic chants erupted and fans of the Chilean-Palestinian club rushed the field. Jewish community leaders filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, accusing the Club Palestino fans of anti-Semitic chants. Chilean-Palestinian leaders complained to authorities that the entrance to their community’s soccer field was marked with graffiti of the Star of David and the words “Palestine doesn’t exist, Arabs are terrorists.” Club Palestino denounced the graffiti, describing it as “cowardly aggression.” The president of the Jewish Community of Chile filed a complaint with the police against Club Palestino’s fans, condemned the vandalizing of Club Palestino’s stadium, and expressed the Jewish community’s solidarity with Chile’s Palestinian community.

Jewish community leaders expressed concern about other incidents of graffiti, including some marking Jewish homes as businesses, which they perceived as anti-Semitic, and graffiti that pledged support for Hitler. They also expressed concern about anti-Semitic flyers found in June at Universidad Concepcion and Universidad Catolica promoting white racial purity and denouncing immigration, interreligious marriage, and “racial degeneration.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials met regularly with ONAR officials, regional government leaders, and law enforcement to express concern about the impact of the church burnings on religious minorities in Araucania and neighboring regions.

The Ambassador and embassy officials met with religious leaders to discuss the status of religious minorities in the country, expressions of anti-Semitism, the impact of immigration on religious institutions, the impact of elections on religious institutions, security, and institutional cooperation among government and religious organizations. In August a senior embassy official participated in an interreligious dialogue between government officials and faith leaders, including members of the Jewish, Bahai, evangelical, and Catholic faiths, among others; ONAR; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In June a senior embassy official hosted leaders of Muslim, Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Bahai, and indigenous Mapuche communities at an interfaith iftar. The event celebrated religious diversity, interfaith dialogue, and religious tolerance, and sought to increase cooperation among religious organizations in light of the arson attacks in the Araucania Region. In December the Ambassador participated in a Hanukkah celebration hosted by President Bachelet and the Jewish Community of Chile. The event highlighted interreligious dialogue, democracy, solidarity, freedom of expression, equality, and education, among other topics. As part of the ceremony, the Ambassador, the presidential rabbi, and the minister of labor and social security lit a menorah candle in celebration of equality. The embassy celebrated International Religious Freedom Day and UN International Day for Tolerance with social media campaigns.

China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA (BELOW) | TIBET | HONG KONG MACAU

Reports on Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet are appended at the end of this report.

The constitution states citizens have freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” and does not define “normal.” The government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when the government perceived these as threatening state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, according to nongovernmental organization (NGO) and international media reports. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services. There continued to be reports the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices, including members of unregistered Christian churches (also known as “house churches”). Falun Gong reported dozens of its members died in detention. Although Chinese authorities continued to block information about the number of self-immolations of Tibetan Buddhists, including Buddhist monks, media reported on six self-immolations and one instance in which a man in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) committed suicide by slitting his throat. Reportedly, a Buddhist monk self-immolated in Haikou City due to a land requisition dispute involving a Buddhist temple. Multiple media outlets reported an increase in control over religious activities in advance of the 19th Party Congress in October. 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 the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and Tajiks. In addition to the national Counterterrorism Law that addressed “religious extremism,” Xinjiang enacted a separate counterextremism law, effective April 1, which spelled out many of the behaviors deemed “extremist.” Authorities in Xinjiang punished university students for praying and barred them from participating in religious activities, including fasting during Ramadan. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims have been forcibly sent to re-education centers, and extensive and invasive security and surveillance practices have been instituted. The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries and detained some of those who returned, leading many to seek asylum overseas on the grounds of religious persecution. In several cases, there are reports that returnees died while in detention or disappeared. During the year, the government passed new regulations scheduled to come into effect in February 2018 to govern the activities of religious groups. Religious leaders and groups stated that the 2018 regulations would increase restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious group members to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” Christian churches stated the government increased monitoring even before the new regulations came into effect, causing many churches to cease their normal activities. Authorities continued to arrest and harass Christians in Zhejiang Province, including by requiring Christian churches to install surveillance cameras to enable daily police monitoring of their activities. An ongoing campaign of cross removals and church demolitions continued during the year, reportedly on a more limited basis than in previous years.

Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists reported severe societal discrimination in employment, housing, and business opportunities. In Xinjiang tension between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese continued.

The Secretary of State, Ambassador, and other embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concern about abuses of religious freedom. On August 15, the Secretary of State said, “In China, the government tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs.” He said dozens of Falun Gong members died in detention in 2016, and policies that restrict Uighur Muslims’ and Tibetan Buddhists’ religious expression increased in number. U.S. officials consistently urged the government to adhere to internationally recognized rights of religious freedom and urged the release of those imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Embassy officials met with members from diverse religious communities and protested the imprisonment of individuals on charges related to religious freedom.

Since 1999, China 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 December 22, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 billion (July 2017 estimate). According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), there are more than 200 million religious believers in the country. Many experts, however, believe that official estimates understate the total number of religious adherents. The U.S. government estimates there are 658 million religious believers in the country, including 251 million Buddhists, 70 million Christians, 25 million Muslims, 302 million observers of folk religions, and 10 million observers of other faiths, including Taoism. According to a February estimate by the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House, there are more than 350 million religious believers in the country, including 185-250 million Chinese Buddhists, 60-80 million Protestants, 21-23 million Muslims, 7-20 million Falun Gong practitioners, 12 million Catholics, 6-8 million Tibetan Buddhists, and hundreds of millions who follow various folk traditions. According to 2016 data from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population is 2,600.

The 2014 Blue Book of Religions, produced by the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a research institution directly under the State Council, reported the number of Protestants to be between 23 and 40 million. Among these, there are 20 million Protestant Christians affiliated with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the state-sanctioned umbrella organization for all officially recognized Protestant churches, according to information on TSPM’s website in March. According to a 2014 SARA statistic, more than 5.7 million Catholics worship in sites registered by the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), the state-sanctioned organization for all officially recognized Catholic churches. Accurate estimates on the numbers of Catholics and Protestants as well as other faiths are difficult to calculate, however, because many adherents practice exclusively at home.

According to SARA, there are more than 21 million Muslims, with 10 ethnic minorities practicing Islam. Other sources indicate almost all of the Muslims are Sunni. The two largest Muslim ethnic minorities are Hui and Uighur, with Hui Muslims concentrated primarily in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces. SARA estimates the Muslim Hui population at 10.6 million. Uighur Muslims live primarily in the XUAR. The State Council’s 2015 White Paper on Xinjiang reports Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uighur, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities constitute 14.63 million residents in Xinjiang, 63 percent of the total population.

While there is no reliable government breakdown of the Buddhist population by branch, the vast majority of Buddhists in China are adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center.

Prior to the government’s 1999 ban on Falun Gong, the government estimated there were 70 million adherents. Falun Gong sources estimate that tens of millions continue to practice privately, and Freedom House estimates 7-20 million practitioners.

Some ethnic minorities retain traditional religions, such as Dongba among the Naxi people in Yunnan Province and Buluotuo among the Zhuang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Media sources report Tibetan Buddhism is growing in popularity among the Han Chinese population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states citizens have “freedom of religious belief,” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities.” The constitution does not define “normal.” It says religion may not be used to disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens, or interfere with the educational system. The constitution provides for the right to hold or not to hold a religious belief, and states that state organs, public organizations, and individuals may not discriminate against citizens “who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” The law does not allow legal action to be taken against the government on the basis of the religious freedom protections afforded by the constitution. Criminal law allows the state to sentence government officials to up to two years in prison if they violate a citizen’s religious freedom.

CCP members and members of the armed forces are required to be atheists and are forbidden from engaging in religious practice. Members found to belong to religious organizations are subject to expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced. The vast majority of public office holders are CCP members, and membership is widely considered a prerequisite for success in a government career. These restrictions also apply to retired CCP cadres and party members.

Certain religious or spiritual groups are banned by law. The criminal law defines banned groups as “cult organizations,” and those belonging to them can receive sentences of up to life in prison. There are no published criteria for determining, or procedures for challenging, such a designation. A national security law explicitly bans “cult organizations.” The CCP maintains an extralegal, party-run security apparatus to eliminate the Falun Gong movement and other such organizations. The government continues to ban Falun Gong, the Guanyin Method religious group (Guanyin Famen or the Way of the Goddess of Mercy), and Zhong Gong (a qigong exercise discipline). The government also considers several Christian groups to be “evil cults,” including the Shouters, The Church of Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning), Society of Disciples (Mentu Hui), Full Scope Church (Quan Fanwei Jiaohui), Spirit Sect, New Testament Church, Three Grades of Servants (San Ban Puren), Association of Disciples, Lord God religious group, Established King Church, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Family of Love, and South China Church.

The Counterterrorism Law describes “religious extremism” as the ideological basis of terrorism that uses “distorted religious teachings or other means to incite hatred, or discrimination, or advocate violence.” Xinjiang has its own counterterrorism law containing similar provisions regarding “religious extremism” as the national law. Xinjiang also enacted a separate counterextremism law, which took effect April 1. The law bans the wearing of long beards, full-face coverings, giving “abnormal” names to children, expanding halal practice beyond food, and “interfering” with family planning, weddings, funerals, or inheritance, among other provisions.

Regulations require religious groups to register with the government. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are permitted to register with the government and legally hold worship services. These five associations operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department. Other religious groups, such as Protestant groups unaffiliated with the official patriotic religious association or Catholics professing loyalty to the Vatican, are not permitted to register as legal entities. The government does not recognize Judaism. The country’s laws and policies do not provide a mechanism for religious groups independent of the five official patriotic religious associations to obtain legal status.

All religious organizations are required to register with SARA or its provincial and local offices. Registered religious organizations are allowed to possess property, publish approved materials, train staff, and collect donations. According to regulations, religious organizations must submit information about the organization’s historical background, members, doctrines, key publications, minimum funding requirements, and government sponsor, often a “patriotic religious association.” According to SARA, there are more than 360,000 clergy, 140,000 places of worship, and 5,500 registered religious groups in the country.

Religious regulations also vary by province; many provinces updated their regulations during the year following the National Work Conference on Religion in April.

In September the State Council issued revisions to the 2005 Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA), scheduled to take effect on February 1, 2018. These revised regulations will allow members of unregistered religious groups to seek approval from authorities to participate in religious activities. Individuals who do not participate in religious activities through a registered organization or those that have not been approved by authorities will be considered to have engaged in “illegal religious activities,” and doing so carries potential criminal or administrative penalties. The revisions will require religious groups to register with the government, increase penalties for conducting or “providing facilities” for unauthorized religious activities, and restrict contact with overseas religious institutions, including a new requirement for members of religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” The revisions include new registration requirements for religious schools. They also place new restrictions on religious groups conducting business or making investments. Additionally, the revisions require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” While the current regulations stipulate the obligations of religious groups to abide by the law and safeguard national unity, the new revisions specify steps to take strong measures on “religious extremism.” The new regulations also place limits on the online activities of religious groups, requiring activities to be approved by the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau.

In addition to the five nationally recognized religions, local governments permit certain religious communities and practices, such as Orthodox Christianity in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces. The government classifies worship of Mazu, a folk deity with Taoist roots, as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice.

The government and the Holy See do not have diplomatic relations, and the Vatican has no representative in the country. The CPA does not recognize the authority of the Holy See to appoint Catholic bishops. The Regulation on the Election and Consecration of Bishops requires candidate bishops to pledge publicly support for the CCP.

SARA states through a policy posted on its website that family and friends have the right to meet at home for worship, including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government.

According to the law, inmates have the right to believe in a religion and maintain their religious beliefs while in custody.

Tibetan Buddhists in the country, including outside the TAR, are not free to venerate the Dalai Lama openly. While there is no public law expressly forbidding it, authorities view as suspect any display of the Dalai Lama’s photo by businesses or individuals and treat those seen as loyal to him as a separatist threat.

Proselytizing in public or meeting in unregistered places of worship is not permitted.

Religious and social regulations permit official patriotic religious associations to engage in activities, such as building places of worship, training religious leaders, publishing literature, and providing social services to local communities. The CCP’s United Front Work Department, SARA, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs provide policy guidance and supervision on the implementation of these regulations.

An amendment to the criminal law and a judicial interpretation by the national Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Supreme People’s Court published in November 2016 criminalize the act of forcing others to wear “extremist” garments. Neither the amendment nor the judicial interpretation defines what garments or symbols are considered “extremist.” Regulations in Urumqi, Xinjiang, prohibit residents from wearing veils that cover the face, forbid residents from homeschooling children, and forbid men from growing “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.”

In February authorities in Xinjiang defined 26 religious activities, including some practices of Islam, Christianity, and Tibetan Buddhism, as illegal without government authorization. These regulations, which came into force April 1, 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. The pronouncement forbids the designation of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist teachers without government approval. It also bans editing, translation, publication, printing, reproduction, production, distribution, sale, and dissemination of religious publications and audiovisual products without authorization.

National printing regulations restrict the publication and distribution of literature with religious content. Religious texts published without authorization, including Bibles and Qurans, may be confiscated, and unauthorized publishing houses closed. The government allows some foreign educational institutions to provide religious materials in Chinese, which are used by both registered and unregistered religious groups.

The government offers some subsidies for the construction of state-sanctioned places of worship and religious schools.

By regulation, if a religious structure is to be demolished or relocated because of city planning or construction of key projects, the party responsible for demolishing the structure must consult with its local Bureau of Religious Affairs (administered by SARA) and the religious group using the structure. If all parties agree to the demolition, the party conducting the demolition must agree to rebuild the structure or provide compensation equal to its appraised market value.

National regulations permit parents to instruct children under the age of 18 in the beliefs of officially recognized religious groups, and children may participate in religious activities. Xinjiang officials, however, require minors to complete nine years of compulsory education before they may receive religious education outside of school. Also in Xinjiang, regulations 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 November 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. The new Xinjiang law also amends its regional version of the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency Law to require children taking part in religious activities go to “specialized schools for correction.” In April Xinjiang authorities banned naming children with any name having an Islamic connotation, and in June stated all children under the age of 16 with such names must change their names.

The teaching of atheism in schools is mandated, and a CCP directive provides guidance to universities on how to prevent foreign proselytizing of university students.

The law states job applicants shall not face discrimination in hiring based on factors including religious belief.

Birth limitation policies stating all married couples may have no more than two children, with no exceptions for ethnic or religious minorities, remain in force.

The law currently permits domestic NGOs, including religious organizations, to receive donations in foreign currency. The law requires documented approval by SARA of donations from foreign sources to domestic religious groups of more than one million renminbi (RMB) ($154,000). This amount is expected to change in February 2018 with the implementation of the new religious regulations that will require government approval for donations of more than 100,000 RMB ($15,400).

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). With respect to Macau, the national government notified the UN Secretary General, in part, that residents of Macau shall not be restricted in the rights and freedoms they are entitled to, unless otherwise provided for by law, and in case of restrictions, the restrictions shall not contravene the ICCPR. With respect to Hong Kong, the national government notified the secretary general, in part, that the ICCPR would also apply to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Throughout the country, there continued to be reports of deaths in detention of religious adherents as well as reports the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices. Religious affairs officials and security organs scrutinized and restricted the religious activities of registered and unregistered religious groups, including assembling for religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, teaching youth, and publishing religious texts. Falun Gong reported that dozens of its members died in detention. Reportedly, a Buddhist monk self-immolated in January in Haikou City, due to a land requisition dispute involving a Buddhist temple. International media reported an increase in control over religious activities in advance of the 19th Party Congress in October. Religious leaders and groups stated the 2018 regulations would increase restrictions on their ability to practice their religions, including a new requirement for religious groups to seek approval to travel abroad and a prohibition on “accepting domination by external forces.” 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, including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and Tajiks. The government’s repression of religious freedom remained most severe in Xinjiang and in Tibetan areas, according to media and NGO sources. According to reports, the government continued to extract unpaid labor, conduct indoctrination sessions, and closely monitor and restrict the movements of Uighurs to counteract what it considered “religious extremism” in Xinjiang.

According to Minghui, a Falun Gong-affiliated organization, during the year 42 practitioners died in custody or following release from prison due to injuries sustained while in custody. Minghui reported Han Hongxia died in March while in police custody. Officials of the Da’an City Domestic Security Office in Jilin Province arrested her in October 2016. Guards at the Baicheng City Detention Center reportedly tortured her for refusing to renounce her beliefs in Falun Gong. Minghui also reported that Falun Gong practitioner Yang Yuyong died in July in police custody. Authorities in Tianjin arrested him in December 2016. He reportedly suffered severe abuse while in custody, including sexual abuse involving 13 inmates who pinched his genitals and bit his nipples. By the time authorities took him to receive medical care, he was already suffering complete organ failure. His family reported his body as being black and blue and having traces of bamboo sticks under his toenails. Yang’s wife, Meng Xianzhen, was arrested with him and remained in custody at year’s end.

On January 10 in Haikou City, Hainan Province, Buddhist monk Shi-Wu Zong self-immolated and died in front of witnesses from the local ethnic and religious affairs bureau as well as officials from the social stability office. Bowen Press said his action was due to a land requisition dispute. Since the end of 2016, Shi-Wu Zong had protested an alleged illegal land transaction between government authorities and a local real estate developer. The real estate contractor hired workers to demolish a Buddhist temple to make way for new construction. Authorities accused Shi-Wu Zong of criminal disturbance of social order before he self-immolated.

On June 15, Radio Free Asia reported ethnic Kazakh Imam Akmet (one name only) died on June 4 in police custody in Xinjiang. According to sources in the region, authorities had detained him a week before for unknown reasons and said he had hanged himself. Sources reported authorities detained more than 100 of his supporters who spoke out about his death online. Earlier in the year, Radio Free Asia also reported that a Kaba (Habahe) County court sentenced an ethnic Kazakh Imam Okan (one name only) to 10 years in prison for performing traditional funeral prayers in accordance with Islamic customs.

According to July articles by ChinaAid and in Express, TSPM Nanle County Church Pastor Zhang Shaojie’s daughter said authorities beat him nearly to death after he appealed his 12-year sentence following four years of imprisonment. Zhang’s relatives said prison guards had tortured him, using methods including sleep deprivation as well as slowly starving him by giving him very little to eat. Zhang is a pastor in Xinxiang, Henan Province, in prison for “swindling” and “assembling a crowd to disrupt public order” for leading a group of Christians to Beijing to file a petition concerning his church’s land dispute with local officials.

In January The South China Morning Post and Radio Free Asia reported Christian Pastor Yang Hua (also known as Li Guozhi) of the unofficial Livingstone Church in Guizhou Province was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for divulging state secrets. The documents in question reportedly concerned a “crackdown” on his church. Authorities detained the pastor in 2015, and he spent more than a year in jail prior to his sentencing. Yang’s lawyers said authorities tortured him, did not treat his serious medical conditions, and threatened to kill him and his family. In late August authorities fined the Livingstone Church seven million RMB ($1.1 million) for illegally establishing a religious space. Pastor Su Tianfu and lawyer Huang Sha filed an application with the Guiyang Municipal Ethnic and Religious Committee requesting reconsideration of the decision. In 2016, authorities arrested Su and released him pending trial, but security services continued to follow him and pressured him to plead guilty to disclosing state secrets and to relinquish to the government the space the church purchased. Authorities released church deacon Zhang Xiuhong in August on a five-year suspended sentence. Reportedly, authorities targeted church leaders because they were unwilling to register the church under the TSPM. Authorities had previously shut down the church in 2015.

In a May court hearing, a judge ordered prosecutors to gather further evidence in the case of Chen Huixia, a Falun Gong practitioner in Hebei Province charged with “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement.” Amnesty International said detention center officials tortured her and held her without access to family or lawyers since 2016.

According to Christian NGO ChinaAid and religious groups, as part of the government’s ongoing campaign of “Sinicization,” religious organizations reported a continued increase in detentions and arrests, especially of those not affiliated with a government-backed patriotic association. The most common charges included “illegal religious activities” and “disrupting social stability.”

Multiple media outlets reported an increase in authorities’ control over religious activities in advance of the 19th Party Congress in October. These controls included detaining persons for participating in religious rituals outside of officially sanctioned religious sites, arresting persons for disturbing public order, and increasing surveillance of religious sites and communities.

Human rights groups said the vague definition of “terrorism” and “religious extremism” in the Counterterrorism Law that took effect in 2016 and in the revised religious regulations that are scheduled to come into force in 2018 could be used to criminalize peaceful expressions of religious belief. Authorities often failed to distinguish between peaceful religious practice and criminal or terrorist activities, according to human rights organizations. It remained difficult to determine whether particular raids, detentions, arrests, or judicial punishments targeted those pursuing political goals, the right to worship, or criminal acts.

The Political Prisoner Database maintained by human rights NGO Dui Hua Foundation contained the following number of religious prisoners at year’s end: 308 Protestants, 277 Almighty God Church members, 107 Muslims, 30 Buddhists, and nine Catholics, compared with 207 Protestants, 366 Almighty God Church members, 66 Muslims, 21 Buddhists, and 23 Catholics at the end of 2016. The Political Prisoner Database listed 3,516 Falun Gong practitioners imprisoned at year’s end, compared with 3,322 at the end of 2016. Dui Hua defined religious prisoners as “people persecuted for holding religious beliefs that are not officially sanctioned.”

Falun Gong reported significantly higher numbers of its members being arrested and sentenced, stating on Minghui authorities sentenced almost 1,000 practitioners to imprisonment during the year for practicing Falun Dafa. During the year, authorities arrested and charged at least 50 persons with “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement.” International Falun Gong-affiliated NGOs and international media reported detentions of Falun Gong practitioners continued to increase around “sensitive” dates. Authorities instructed neighborhood communities to report Falun Gong members to officials and offered monetary rewards to citizens who informed on Falun Gong practitioners.

Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Burultokay (Fuhai) County, Xinjiang, sentenced ethnic Kazakh Manat Hamit to 16 years in prison on an ethnic hatred charge at a May secret trial after authorities found audio files of Quranic recitations on his computer. Authorities reportedly refused to provide his family information regarding his trial and did not accept the lawyer hired for his appeal, which a court rejected in July.

According to ChinaAid as reported by The Christian Post in January, individuals reportedly connected to the government beat a group of Christians from Fuxing Church in Hebei Province after the church refused local officials’ pressure to sign a land transfer that would remove the congregation from the space. Several of the Christians were subsequently hospitalized.

In January authorities detained more than 80 Christians affiliated with the Protestant house church network Fangcheng Fellowship across Xinjiang Province for worshipping in house churches, according to The Christian Post. Some of those arrested were charged with “engaging in religious activities at nonreligious sites.”

According to The Christian Post, local authorities in Xinjiang arrested Ma Huichao in January for holding a Bible study in her home. They charged her with “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” and sentenced her to three years in prison. In October Radio Free Asia reported that Xinjiang authorities had detained three grandchildren of Qurban Barat, a deceased ethnic Uighur imam in Hotan (Hetian) Prefecture. Authorities charged them with “religious violations” and possession of illegal religious material, sentencing two to six years in prison and the third to five and a half years. They had given a fourth grandson an eight-year prison sentence in 2015 for the same charges.

In January authorities formally arrested Pastor Gu “Joseph” Yuese, the former pastor of Chongyi Church in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, one of the country’s largest TSPM churches, on embezzlement charges his supporters said authorities fabricated to punish him for publicly opposing Zhejiang’s cross demolition campaign. On December 24, prosecutors withdrew the charges and released Gu. Authorities barred him from returning to his pastoral duties after his release. This was the second time authorities detained Gu on embezzlement charges in as many years. In January 2016 authorities had removed Gu from his pastoral duties and placed him under criminal detention for suspected embezzlement of church funds, but released him on bail in March 2016.

According to ChinaAid, authorities jailed five Christians in March in Liaoning Province and subsequently sentenced them to three to seven years in prison for buying and selling “officially forbidden Christian devotional books.” Although their church, Chaoguang Village Christian Gathering Place, is officially registered with the TSPM, authorities said they were conducting illegal business because they intended to make a profit from their activities. Authorities closed the church.

ChinaAid said police detained two Christians, Zhou Jinxia from Dalian, Liaoning Province, and Shi Xinhong from Bengbu, Anhui Province, after they attempted to pray at the Great Hall of the People at the beginning of the National People’s Congress on March 5. Authorities detained Zhou for 10 days in 2016 for holding religious signs outside CCP headquarters.

In March authorities detained at least 14 members of a 90-member house church in Langzhong City, Sichuan Province, for 15 days. According to ChinaAid, authorities also confiscated items belonging to the house church. Police charged the members with the crime of “illegal congregation.”

In April authorities in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, briefly detained a group of Christian worshippers and Taiwan Pastor Xu Rongzhang for singing a Christian song – an activity authorities said was illegal. According to ChinaAid, police released Xu the same day, but kept his identification for a two more days. Police forced the local Christians to write letters of confession and told Xu not to hold gatherings of more than 10 persons.

According to a Voice of America report, after ISIS in Pakistan killed two Chinese missionaries sometime in May or June, Chinese authorities reportedly detained four church leaders from Zhejiang Province who had assigned the two to travel overseas. The families of the missionaries said after the arrest the government used their killings to suppress underground churches and Christians in the area. Civil society reported authorities told the families of the missionaries they should feel shame for how the negative publicity from the killings affected the country’s international image.

According to ChinaAid, police arrested Pastor Chen Shixin of Caili Church in Anhui Province in May and detained him for one month before formally charging him with “intentionally sabotaging public and private property.” On November 29, Chen pleaded innocent at his trial. During the trial, the prosecution said Chen damaged trees on a plot of land belonging to persons from the neighboring village. Chen said the land belonged to his church.

The Telegraph and BBC reported that in June authorities detained 18 suspected members of The Church of Almighty God (also known as Eastern Lightning), regarded by the government as an illegal demonic cult. In August 2016 authorities in Anhui Province detained 36 members of the group, accusing them of creating and distributing video content for the group.

According to ChinaAid, in July Guangdong police detained Pastor Tang Lili of Renyi, a five-year-old Protestant house church mainly serving migrant workers in a village in Jiangmen’s Xinhui District, and shut down the church. Police later searched Tang’s apartment and confiscated all religious items.

According to press reports, nearly every week government-backed groups in Ezhou, Hubei Province, harassed Christian house church members who met outdoors after local authorities confiscated the chairs and desks of their former indoor space on January 10. Also in January, according to ChinaAid, authorities detained six women from the church, including Hao Zhiwei, one of the church’s pastors, and a court sentenced each to 10 to 15 days of detention on charges of organizing unauthorized religious activities. Hao told Radio Free Asia reporters on August 14 authorities detained four Christians and beat them for five to seven days. On August 22, the government-backed groups beat five or six of the church members. Attackers dumped buckets of mud on the Christians, shot firecrackers at them, and beat one woman unconscious. One of the attackers reportedly told the church members, “Beating people up is my job.” Local police reportedly refused to intervene to stop the attackers or to press charges. In December 2016 local authorities warned the house church members their group violated the Regulation on Religious Affairs because it organized religious activities without the government’s approval, and said they should cease their religious activities.

In Shanxi Province, dozens of Catholics reportedly sustained injuries in August when trying to block bulldozers from destroying their church building, which belonged to the local diocese, part of the officially recognized CCPA. Local officials announced the church and surrounding plaza would be demolished “to enrich the life of the people,” despite the issuance of formal appeals by parishioners, according to news reports.

In September authorities in Sichuan Province prevented “unofficial” Protestant house Pastor Wang Yi from traveling to Hong Kong. Wang said border guards had told him that he was detained because he represented a “threat to national security,” according to Radio Free Asia.

In September authorities in Zhejiang Province arrested Pastor Xu Shizhen, along with her daughter and three-year-old grandson, after the women performed religious services in public parks and squares, according to Christianity Today. Reports from October indicated that Xu and her daughter were transferred to other facilities while the grandson was held at the police station. Christian advocates reported Xu and her daughter’s whereabouts remained unknown. Authorities seized Xu’s former church in 2012 and handed it over to the government-sanctioned church.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) reported Father Lu Danhua of Lishui Diocese of eastern Zhejiang Province went missing on December 29. UCAN said officials of SARA took him from a priests’ dormitory and, according to a witness, the officials said they were going for a brief chat. On December 30, the witness went to SARA’s office where officials said they already released Lu, but he remained missing and his mobile phone unanswered at the end of the year. A source told UCAN that authorities had said Lu needed to go to Wenzhou for “re-education” on new religious regulations scheduled to come into effect in February 2018.

On August 9, Radio Free Asia reported there was no sign of ethnic Kazakh Imam Nurjan Mehmet whose expected release from prison was July 31. According to sources in the region, authorities had arrested him in August 2016 when a Muslim couple registering their marriage said he led a traditional Muslim nikah wedding ceremony for them. A source said, “This may be a local policy unique to Xinjiang. You have to first apply for a marriage certificate and then carry out the Islamic practice of nikah. The imams aren’t allowed to perform nikah if there is no marriage certificate, or they will be sent to prison.” Reports said Mehmet was serving a four-year jail term instead of the original one-year sentence.

According to Radio Free Asia, sources estimated authorities in Xinjiang detained hundreds of ethnic minority Kazakhs in the months leading up to December for “extremist” behavior that included normal Islamic practices. In December Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Xinjiang detained five Kazakhs for disseminating “terrorist audio and video” online. A regional official of the Cyberspace Administration said they detained 37-year-old Wu (full names not provided) on November 1 for possessing “terrorist video” materials on a cellular phone, 31-year-old Zhu for “making comments that promote ethnic divisions,” and 26-year-old “A,” 36-year-old Ye, and 26-year-old Tuo for “incitement to ethnic hatred.” Radio Free Asia said regional officials had recently investigated 10 similar cases in which they detained suspects for “promoting, storing, and disseminating text, images, audio, and video related to terrorist violence, religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and false rumors.” Radio Free Asia said authorities detained six Uighurs on similar charges in November.

Authorities reportedly continued to harass and detain human rights lawyers defending religious adherents, often forbidding client meetings and threatening revocation of their professional licenses. During the year, authorities tried and convicted several prominent Christian legal rights activists and lawyers on charges of subversion of state power. Authorities also harassed or detained the family members, including children, of religious leaders and religious freedom activists. Authorities placed some of the family members under travel bans, restricting their movement.

Police in Jiangmen, Guangzhou Province, arrested human rights activist and Catholic Church member He Lin after he participated in a seaside memorial for human rights activist Liu Xiaobo on July 19. According to He Lin, authorities offered to release him if he were willing to sign a “repentance statement.” Lin refused the offer and told his lawyer he would rather sit in jail than violate his faith by signing a false statement.

In September police detained human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had defended members of religious groups, including Christians and Falun Gong members. Gao had previously released a memoir published in Taiwan detailing reported abuses he had suffered during six years of harassment from authorities, including abductions, followed by five years of detention and physical abuse in prison, such as beatings to his face with an electric baton. Gao and his family said that after his release in 2014, government agents continued to subject him to intrusive visits at home and deny him permission to travel for medical treatment.

Relations between the Vatican and the government reportedly improved early in the year before stagnating, while media and observers reported many cases of authorities surveilling, harassing, and detaining unregistered bishops and priests.

In January overseas media reported the Shanghai chapter of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) announced Shanghai Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin as a “supplemental member” of its executive committee, but listed him as “Father Ma Daqin” – not as a bishop. Ma reportedly remained under house arrest in Sheshan Seminary after resigning from the CCPA during his episcopal ordination in 2012. In 2016, there were reports that Ma had written a blog post saying it was a mistake to leave the CCPA.

According to several news sources, in April, before Catholics marked Holy Week, security officials took Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin away from his Wenzhou Diocese, marking the fourth time authorities detained him since September 2016. Authorities in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province, originally detained Shao, whom the Vatican recognized but who was not a member of the CCPA, in 2016 to prevent him from assuming control of Wenzhou Diocese following the death of Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang. In September a photo of Shao in a Beijing hospital began circulating on social media. According to overseas media, the photo was taken at Beijing Tongren Hospital where the bishop was to have ear surgery. In October prior to the start of the Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress in Beijing, authorities moved Shao to Xining in Qinghai Province in the west of the country. Media reports said authorities pressured Shao to sign an agreement stating that he would support SARA and the state’s authority to appoint bishops, but Shao reportedly did not agree with the terms. According to reports, authorities continued to detain him at year’s end.

In Fujian Province, AsiaNews reported “underground” Catholic Bishop Guo Xijin was missing for a few days after meeting with authorities from the Religious Affairs Office on April 6. According to AsiaNews, the head of public security in Ningde said the Bishop “needs to study and learn” and would remain in custody for 20 days. Guo’s followers said he might have been pressured into joining the government-affiliated CCPA.

The Catholic Herald reported authorities raided an “underground” Catholic Mass at a community hall in Heilongjiang Province on April 20 to prevent an “illegal religious activity.” Videos taken at the scene showed police attempting to arrest the parish priest and the community’s lay preacher, as well as arguing with parishioners.

According to the UCAN, on September 17, a court in Gaizhou City, Liaoning Province, sentenced Catholic priest Fei Jisheng to 18 months’ imprisonment for stealing funds from a charity money box at a home for the elderly. The trial was not public, and court records were unavailable. Authorities had arrested or detained Fei multiple times in 2016 for conducting religious work outside his own diocese. In October 2016 authorities detained Fei on charges of stealing charity funds. Catholic community members said the real reason for his arrest was due to his work with the Apostolic Class, an illegal evangelical Christian organization. Authorities released Fei after five weeks of detention and a week of ideological retraining. Fei hired a local lawyer after his arrest, but the lawyer reportedly quit due to pressure from local authorities. Local sources stated Liaoning police authorities planned to punish Fei severely to regain the trust of the central government, which was lost when local authorities failed to stop a large underground gathering of Catholics in 2015.

While authorities officially abolished “re-education through labor camps” in 2013, advocacy groups and international media continued to report some camps had been relabeled and continued to house members of religious and spiritual groups.

In Xinjiang human rights groups and others reported hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims were forcibly sent to re-education camps, and extensive and invasive security and surveillance practices were instituted. According to Human Rights Watch, restrictions on religious dress and expression came into effect in April along with restrictions on giving children names with religious connotations. Authorities increasingly restricted travel for religious purposes, and continued to bar Uighur children from participating in religious activities. Radio Free Asia reported that officials stayed with some families for up to 15 days during Ramadan to ensure they did not fast or pray.

Authorities in Xinjiang implemented a campaign to force Uighur Muslims returning from abroad into re-education camps. According to Radio Free Asia, the director of public security in Korla’s Qara Yulghun village said those in the camps had to express appropriate remorse for traveling abroad before authorities allowed them to return to “general re-education” studies, and eventually allowed them to leave. Other reports said officials in Hotan (Hetian), largely populated by Uighurs, confirmed that higher authorities gave them a target of sending nearly half the area’s residents to re-education camps throughout Xinjiang. Many of these camps have been registered as “career development centers” to circumvent legal problems. Reports indicated authorities sent Muslims and some Christians from ethnic minority groups to re-education.

The government continued to seek the forcible return of thousands of Uighur Muslims living outside the country, many of whom had sought asylum from religious persecution, according to human rights organizations. The government continued to claim that Uighurs were criminals and not refugees, and some countries, including Egypt, complied with the government’s requests for the forcible return of Uighur asylum seekers.

Government authorities focused forced repatriation efforts on Uighur religious students studying at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. The Financial Times reported Chinese government officials sent these students messages in May telling them to return home. Authorities arrested some of the students’ families in China in an attempt to compel them to return. Since July the Egyptian police reportedly arrested more than 200 Uighur students in Cairo, and the Egyptian government repatriated at least 22 to China.

Uighur Islamic scholar and professor Dr. Hebibulla Tohti received a 10-year prison sentence in May. According to Radio Free Asia, authorities compelled him to return from study in Egypt in 2016 to register with authorities in Xinjiang. Authorities said he conducted illegal activities by teaching religion to Uighur students in Egypt without approval, participating in a religious conference in Saudi Arabia without approval, and emphasizing the distinctive nature of Uighur culture in his doctoral dissertation. The government-sanctioned China Islamic Association provided financial support for his graduate studies and previously lauded his work publicly.

Radio Free Asia reported in November that authorities in some parts of Xinjiang had recently issued orders for ethnic Kazakh Chinese nationals to hand in their passports and Kazakh residence permits. Reportedly, authorities detained hundreds of ethnic Kazakhs returning from overseas study or family visits to Kazakhstan and sent them for indefinite terms to “re-education” facilities. One ethnic Kazakh in Tekes County said authorities placed him on a “wanted” list, along with some 60 other ethnic Kazakhs, for “returning to China after a long absence.”

According to Minghui, authorities continued to successfully force some prisoners and detainees to recant their beliefs, particularly Falun Gong practitioners, whom the government reportedly subjected to “transformation through re-education.” Authorities also failed to provide prisoners with adequate access to religious materials, facilities, or clergy. Prison authorities reportedly subjected detained Falun Gong practitioners to various methods of physical and psychological coercion, such as sleep deprivation, in attempts to force them to renounce their beliefs.

Religious groups continued to report the CCP interfered in matters of doctrine, theology, and religious practice in “patriotic religious associations.” Local authorities pressured religious believers to affiliate with patriotic associations and used administrative detention, including confinement and abuse in administrative detention centers, to punish members of unregistered religious or spiritual groups. Patriotic religious associations regularly reviewed sermons and sometimes required church leaders to attend education sessions with religious bureau officials. They also closely monitored and sometimes blocked the ability of religious leaders to meet freely with foreigners.

Due to the difficulty of fulfilling registration requirements, many religious organizations remained either unregistered or registered as commercial enterprises. Unregistered groups reported they were vulnerable to coercive and punitive action by SARA, the Ministry of Public Security, and other party or government security organs. In some areas local authorities allowed or at least did not interfere with the activities of some unregistered groups, while in other areas, local officials restricted events and meetings, confiscated and destroyed property, physically assaulted and injured participants, or imprisoned leaders and worshippers, according to reports.

SARA continued to maintain statistics on registered religious groups. According to statistics released in February, there were 21 officially recognized Protestant seminaries, 48,000 pastors, and 56,000 churches and other meeting places. According to civil society, there were 12 CPA seminaries; however, the government was reportedly in the process of closing the ones in Shanghai and Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Although there were two CPA seminaries in Beijing, civil society regarded one of them to be primarily used as the CPA’s propaganda for international visitors. There were 72 CPA-affiliated Catholic bishops, eight of whom the Vatican did not recognize, and three of those eight were excommunicated. An outside source estimated approximately 37 Catholic bishops remained independent of the CPA and continued to operate unofficially. In some locations, however, local authorities reportedly pressured unregistered Catholic priests and believers to renounce all ordinations approved by the Holy See. SARA also estimated there were 40,000 mosques, 50,000 imams, and 10 Quran Institutes.

It remained unclear how strictly authorities would enforce the revised RRA. Some experts noted while the text of the revisions appeared to indicate a harsher line towards religious activity, the last revision of the RRA was in 2005, and thus the revisions could serve to formalize policies and practices already in place, in addition to adding new regulations.

The government did not recognize house or unregistered churches, and continued to closely monitor their activities. Some officials reportedly still denied the existence of house churches or unregistered churches. Although SARA declared family and friends had the right to worship together at home – including prayer and Bible study, without registering with the government – authorities still regularly harassed and detained small groups that did so.

Officials across Zhejiang Province forcibly entered churches to install “antiterrorism” surveillance cameras, according to Radio Free Asia and The South China Morning Post. In some cases where church followers resisted, officials cut off water and electricity to the churches. Authorities beat some of those who resisted to the extent that they required hospitalization. The churches targeted for installation of cameras were often the same ones previously targeted for removal of unapproved crosses.

More than 10 government officials broke up a group of Christians praying at Olive Church in Guangdong Province on March 19 and accused the congregation of conducting religious activities without legal authorization. ChinaAid reported the police detained approximately 20 church members, releasing them later that day. ChinaAid also reported public security and religious affairs bureaus combined forces to target Huaqiangbei Bible Guizheng Church in Shenzhen during the year, confiscating church property. In response, the congregation dispersed to several satellite locations.

On April 20, police raided the Buji Church in Shenzhen, stating the church was operating illegally, detained Zhang Rongxian – the wife of Pastor Zhang Fei – and interrogated her for 15 hours. The police also conducted frequent fire inspections of church facilities and pressured the property owner to evict the pastor and his wife, according to ChinaAid.

ChinaAid reported on several actions in May. On May 3, Dongguan local police raided the Zhong Fu Wan Min “underground” Catholic Church during its worship service, which two U.S. citizens attended. Police took 30 congregants in for questioning. Authorities released them the next day. Police officers beat Pastor Li Peng at the church and kept him in custody at the local police station. ChinaAid reported this was the second time in a year local police raided the Zhong Fu Wan Min Church.

On May 4, the “underground” Guang Fu Church’s landlord requested the church to move out of one of its locations in Baiyun District, Guangzhou. Local police also denied Pastor Ma Ke and some of his church members’ applications for residency permits.

On May 12, in Xiamen, local authorities banned the River of Life Berean Church and the Berean Research Institute of Theology, accusing them of having Korean connections and setting up illegal religious meeting places. The local Huli District Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau also confiscated 1,345 yuan ($210) donated to the church, claiming it was illegal income.

On July 26, officials from the Guangzhou Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau summoned Ma Ke, Pastor of Guangfu Church, to the police station and told him the church could either become a member of the TSPM church or consent to “special personnel” monitoring the congregation. The pastor refused the first option, citing a belief that house churches and TSPM churches followed a different theology. The pastor said Guangfu Church had been a constant target of government harassment and surveillance over the past few years.

Security officials frequently interrupted the outdoor services of the unregistered Shouwang Church in Beijing and detained individuals attending services for several days without charge. Security services continued to closely monitor and harass church Pastor Jin Tianming, according to reports from advocacy groups.

Despite an overall tightening in spaces for unregistered churches to operate, in some areas, members of unregistered churches said they had more freedom than in the past to conduct religious services, as long as they gathered only in private and kept congregation numbers low. In some areas, however, authorities shut down churches that tried to maintain a low profile. Some unregistered churches reported authorities harassed and pressured their landlords to break property leases with the churches. Civil society reported authorities in one city forbade vacation Bible sessions for children during school breaks – a change from the previous year, while authorities refused to allow weekend religious education programs in numerous other cities across the country.

Churches nationwide continued to report stricter requirements on sermon content, design of buildings, and management of finances. Some local governments continued to restrict the growth of unregistered Protestant church networks and cross-congregational affiliations.

In Xinjiang, the government continued to cite concerns over the “three evils” as a reason to enact and enforce repressive measures against the religious practices of Uighur Muslims. Authorities typically characterized these operations as targeting “separatists” or “terrorists.” Police raids and restrictions on Islamic practices were part of “strike hard” campaigns, which began in 2014 and continued throughout the year. Local observers said, however, many incidents related to pressure on Uighurs went unreported to international media or NGOs.

Radio Free Asia reported in February that an official at the Xinjiang Religious and Ethnic Minority Affairs Bureau confirmed the government banned all Christian activities not linked to state-approved churches.

In January and February local authorities conducted a series of raids and arrests targeting Christian house churches in Xinjiang. Media reports indicated authorities used short-term administrative sentences in an attempt to pressure house church members to join government-sanctioned congregations.

On November 16, Radio Free Asia reported authorities in Tekes County, Xinjiang, searched the homes of 30,000 members of the mostly Muslim Kazakh ethnic group over several weeks, confiscating religious items they had ordered families to hand over in September.

During Ramadan in May and June, local authorities throughout Xinjiang imposed policies intended to disrupt Muslims’ observance of the fast. According to The Independent, these included mandatory 24-hour shifts for local government employees, the requirement that restaurants remain open during the day, and mandatory sports activities and patriotic film sessions for students on Fridays throughout the month. There were reports of authorities prohibiting university students from fasting during Ramadan.

Throughout Ramadan, authorities in Hotan (Hetian) Prefecture, Xinjiang implemented the “Together in Five Things” campaign during which authorities assigned local 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.” 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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to deny international media reports stating authorities banned Uighur Muslims from Ramadan fasting, and said that religious freedom for Uighurs was guaranteed by the country’s constitution. 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 the 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. 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.

Restrictions across Xinjiang that required worshippers to apply for mosque entry permits remained in place. Beginning in October 2016, authorities in several prefectures in Xinjiang further restricted movement by requiring residents turn their passports in to their local police station for an annual review. Ethnoreligious minorities also reported increased screening at airport, train station, and roadside security checkpoints.

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 ones. Approximately 12,800 Chinese Muslims participated in the Hajj during the year, according to SARA, almost 2,000 fewer than in 2016. The China Islamic Association reported in 2016 Saudi Arabia imposed an annual quota on the number of pilgrims from China that was lower than those for other countries such as India, which was granted 175,025 during the year. Chinese 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 China Islamic Association 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 the China Islamic Association’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.

Radio Free Asia reported the CCP on March 23 demoted a CCP official from Chira (Cele) County, Hotan (Hetian) for her having a Muslim wedding ceremony (nikah) in her home. A local Han Chinese official reportedly said the majority Muslim region’s regulations clearly stated weddings should not be at one’s own house, and that the village party branch secretary and a specially appointed religious leader must attend, because not doing so “might promote deviant views that contradict ethnic unity and the sovereignty of the country.”

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 in ceremonies wearing traditional Han Chinese clothing, performing tai chi, and singing the national anthem.

According to media reports, in August authorities in Xinjiang arrested more than 20 ethnic Kazakh Muslim university students because they were wearing religious clothing and reciting daily prayers. Security forces closely monitored university students and forbade religious activity.

The government pressured students in northwestern Xinjiang to report information on their family’s religious practices to teachers, including identifying those in the family who prayed, attended religious ceremonies, or wore a hijab or beard. Teachers conducted these surveys annually and passed them to security authorities as a means to stop religious ideology from entering schools, according to media reports.

Hui Muslims in Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan Provinces continued to engage in religious practice with less government interference than did Uighurs, according to local sources. Hui Muslims reported they were free to practice as they wished with regard to family customs such as fasting during Ramadan, clothing, prayer, and performing the Hajj. They reported, however, they did not receive special accommodations for time to pray during their workday and were not given time off for Islamic holidays. They said they were treated the same as others in their community.

SARA conducted training for Muslim leaders at the local and national levels on religious regulations and their rights under the constitution. SARA officials stated they acknowledged the importance of cultivating the talents of religious leaders to promote the country’s social development.

Authorities continued to restrict the printing and distribution of religious materials. The government limited distribution of Bibles to CPA and TSPM/Chinese Christian Council entities such as churches, church bookshops, and seminaries. Individuals could not order Bibles directly from publishing houses. Members of unregistered churches reported the supply and distribution of Bibles was inadequate, particularly in rural locations. There were approximately 11 provincial TSPM Christian publishers. Authorities only allowed the national TSPM to publish the Bible legally. According to reports, while there were no independent domestic Christian booksellers, publishers not religiously-affiliated could publish Christian books. Approximately 20 distribution centers and bookstores were linked to the national TSPM. In addition, authorities reportedly allowed churches with more than 2,000 members to sell books at their church facilities. Approximately 700 churches had such bookstores. During the year, authorities continued to limit the number of Christian titles that could be published annually, with draft manuscripts closely reviewed. Authorities also restricted the ability of some bookstores to sell Christian books. Christian organizations seeking to use social media and smartphone applications to distribute Christian materials, however, reported the government did not generally censor such materials.

As part of the ongoing “Three Illegals and One Item” campaign, international media reported authorities in Xinjiang continued to confiscate Qurans and prayer rugs as illegal religious items. The campaign also included confiscating items containing religious symbols.

On March 2, Radio Free Asia reported local police intimidated Xu Lei, the spouse of detained Guangfu Protestant Family Church member Li Hongmin, after she petitioned the government in Beijing regarding her husband’s case. Xu had appealed on behalf of her husband, whom authorities charged with conducting illegal business operations for printing Bibles. Xu’s landlord evicted her at the end of March.

On September 14, officials in Shangqiu County, Henan Province, shut down a Christian-run academy for youth, saying it was “brainwashing” young persons. Officials also confiscated books and seized a computer and other materials from the academy, according to ChinaAid.

In October Radio Free Asia reported Beijing authorities closed an Islamic bookstore and publishing house. They also arrested the owner, a member of the Dongxiang minority group, on terrorism charges. The publishing house specialized in the production of materials related to Hui Muslims.

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 any sensitive content.

There were reports authorities restricted the acquisition or use of buildings for religious ceremonies and purposes. Authorities continued to arrest and harass church leaders in Zhejiang Province where the government continued to conduct its “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, according to news reports. The campaign, which the Zhejiang provincial government announced in 2013, involved the demolition of church buildings authorities said were “illegal” structures. Christian communities reported many targeted churches had building permits and other official documents showing that the proper authorities had approved their building.

Numerous church officials, journalists, and commentators said the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign focused on demolishing buildings used by Christians. Church pastors and members of their congregations openly continued to resist official cross removals, including by forming human chains and replacing or reattaching crosses, resulting in repeated clashes and standoffs with police. Some observers estimated the government demolished as many as 2,000 crosses and buildings in Zhejiang Province since 2014 when the campaign began. LaCroix International reported that on September 20, local officials in Tanghe County, Henan Province, forcibly demolished the cross on top of the Holy Grace Protestant Church, an officially registered church. The cross caught on fire during the demolition. On August 3, officials in Jiangxi Province’s Shangrao City forcibly dismantled a cross from a church that was still under construction. This was the most recent of 10 cross removals in Jiangxi, according to reports.

In January individuals in Henan Province reportedly hired by the government raided the state-recognized Dali Christian Church, locked several church officials in an office, confiscated their mobile phones and threw away their phone cards, smashed and looted church property, and demolished part of the church with a front-end loader, according to ChinaAid.

In April the Guizhou Provincial Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau reported in 2016 it shut down 79 Buddhist and Taoist congregation sites and 254 Christian congregation sites in Guizhou Province, referring to these sites as illegal establishments and operations.

According to the Catholic News Agency, on May 5, 300 police officers in Shangqiu City, Henan Province, demolished a church, beat and shoved to the ground worshippers who tried to stop the demolition, and detained 40 worshippers. Local officials referred to the church as an “illegal structure” and ordered its demolition. They also said the church had not paid a “road usage fee” demanded by other villagers. Authorities detained the church’s pastor when he tried to discuss the issue with officials.

In June the Bazhong municipal government in Sichuan Province announced it shut down 10 religious congregation sites for failure to register properly with the government in accordance with the law.

In December authorities demolished a Catholic church in Xi’an’s Huyi District, Shaanxi Province, according to Radio Free Asia. Three hundred parishioners protested the action.

The government continued to restrict religious education in institutions across the country. Muslims and Christians also reported restrictions on their ability to speak about their faith among university students; the government strictly banned meetings of student religious organizations. Local public security bureau officials regularly warned religious student groups against meeting.

Individuals seeking to enroll at an official seminary or other institution of religious learning had to obtain the support of the official patriotic religious association. The government continued to require students to demonstrate “political reliability,” and political issues were included in examinations of graduates of religious schools. Protestant representatives reported that in TSPM-controlled seminaries, officials directed faculty to engage in “theological reconstruction” to make the Protestant doctrine conform to socialism. Both registered and unregistered religious groups reported a shortage of trained clergy due in part to government controls on admission to seminaries.

Baptist Press reported authorities in Zhejiang and Henan provinces notified churches they forbade religious education of minors, including Sunday school and church summer camps. Henan authorities reportedly said they prohibited church summer camps due to the potential health risk of excessive heat. In August authorities notified more than 100 churches in Zhejiang Province they banned minors from entering churches or participating in religious activities.

Officials continued to hold “anticult” education sessions and propaganda campaigns affecting schoolchildren and their families. Some officials required families to sign statements guaranteeing they would not take part in unregistered churches and “cult organization” activities related to Falun Gong as a prerequisite for registering their children for school. The media reported authorities forced government employees in Xinjiang to sign guarantees they would refrain from religious or political expression. The penalty for not signing could be a ban on their children entering university or an administrative investigation of the employees.

Authorities continued to allow some patriotic religious association-approved Catholic and Protestant seminarians, Muslim clerics, and Buddhist monks to travel abroad for additional religious study. Religious workers not affiliated with a patriotic religious association stated they faced difficulties in obtaining passports or official approval to study abroad.

Official media outlets often linked the ongoing anticorruption campaign to the religious or superstitious beliefs of fallen officials. These beliefs ranged from mainstream religious beliefs to fortune telling or soothsaying.

In May officials in a rural part of Zhumadian, Henan Province, banned gatherings of a house church and accused it of being part of a cult and practicing “heresy,” according to ChinaAid.

According to human rights groups, on June 12, police officers followed Ruan Haonan, who hosted Jiangmen Fengle Church Christian gatherings in his home, and detained him and fellow church members at the local police station. Officials interrogated them and ordered them to confess they had participated in an “evil cult” – a charge reportedly often levied against Christians for their church activities. Later that day, police forcibly entered Ruan’s apartment and arrested his pregnant wife Luo Caiyan. Police did not show her family any documents authorizing the arrest. Despite not mentioning any “cult” activities, police forced church members to sign a document as a condition of their release, asserting they participated in a cult. On July 13, police released Jiangmen Fengle Family Church Pastors Li Wanhua and Ruan Haonan on bail. On June 15, police arrested the church’s other pastor, Li Wanhua, on the charge of “sabotaging implementation of the law by organizing and using cults.”

Government policy continued to allow religious groups to engage in charitable work. Regulations specifically prohibited faith-based organizations from proselytizing while conducting charitable activities. Authorities required faith-based charities, like all other charitable groups, to register with the government. Once registered as an official charity, authorities allowed them to raise funds publicly and to receive tax benefits. The government did not permit unregistered charitable groups to raise funds openly, hire employees, open bank accounts, or own property. According to several unregistered religious groups, the government required faith-based charities to obtain official cosponsorship of the registration application by the local official religious affairs bureau. Authorities often required these groups to affiliate with one of the five patriotic religious associations.

Authorities allowed certain overseas faith-based aid groups to deliver services in coordination with local authorities and domestic groups. Some unregistered religious groups reported local authorities placed limits on their ability to provide social services.

Foreign residents belonging to religious groups not officially recognized by the government reported authorities permitted them to worship. According to policy, however, foreigners could not proselytize, conduct religious activities at unregistered venues, or conduct religious activities with local citizens at religious venues. In many cases, authorities prohibited citizens from attending the services of religious organizations permitted to operate for foreign residents. In some cases, authorities reportedly expelled foreign residents who attempted to conduct religious activities with Chinese citizens without government approval. Some foreign residents whose appeals for registration the government denied still met without government approval. On several occasions, police raided those meetings, with increased pressure reported during sensitive holidays.

In February international media reported authorities arrested and detained two South Korean pastors in Liaoning Province for assisting North Korean defectors in China. According to media reports, authorities also stepped up a campaign to arrest and deport Christian missionaries. Previously, authorities often issued missionaries a warning and allowed them one month to leave the country. Security services in the northeastern provinces more often arrested and detained missionaries, seizing their electronic devices as they did so, according to international media sources.

The government continued its efforts to restrict the movement of the Dalai Lama. In June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the Dalai Lama’s series of lectures and his commencement speech at the University of California San Diego. After the Dalai Lama’s commencement speech, the China Scholarship Council announced it would no longer fund programs for visiting Chinese scholars intending to study or do research at the University of California San Diego.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion, culture, and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents of societal discrimination as being solely based on religious identity. Religious and ethnic minority groups such as Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims experienced institutionalized discrimination throughout the country because of both their religious beliefs and their status as ethnic minorities with distinct languages and cultures.

Anti-Muslim speech in social media remained widespread, although in September the government announced it would censor some anti-Islamic expression on the internet. According to the South China Morning Post, many social media articles criticized Hui Muslims in Shadian, Yunnan Province, and said the local government was too tolerant of them. Some individuals boycotted a food delivery service that offered halal meals, according to media reports. Individuals criticized what some perceived as too favorable treatment toward Muslim populations and associated all Muslims with terrorism. National Public Radio reported a Han Chinese resident of Urumqi’s suburbs as saying, without the new security measures, “each time I see a face that doesn’t look like mine, I might wonder if they’re terrorists from outside the country.” 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.

Despite labor law provisions against discrimination in hiring based on religious belief, some employers openly discriminated against religious believers. Some Protestant Christians reported employers terminated their employment due to their religious activities. Muslims in Xinjiang faced discrimination in hiring, lost their positions, and were detained by authorities for praying in their workplaces. There were also reports from Falun Gong practitioners that employers dismissed them for practicing Falun Gong. In some instances, landlords discriminated against potential tenants based on their religious beliefs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Secretary of State, Ambassador, and other embassy and consulates general representatives repeatedly and publicly expressed concerns about abuses of religious freedom. On August 15, the Secretary said, “In China, the government tortures, detains, and imprisons thousands for practicing their religious beliefs.” He said dozens of Falun Gong members died in detention in 2016 and police policies that restrict Uighur Muslims’ and Tibetan Buddhists’ religious expression increased.

Embassy officials met regularly with a range of government officials managing religious affairs, both to advocate for greater religious freedom and tolerance and to obtain more information on government policy on the management of religious affairs, including regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Embassy officials, including the Ambassador, urged government officials at the central and local levels, including those at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Council, to implement stronger protections for religious freedom and to release prisoners of conscience. The Ambassador highlighted religious freedom in private diplomacy with senior officials. The Department of State, the embassy, and the consulates general regularly called upon the government to release prisoners of conscience, including individuals imprisoned for religious reasons.

The Ambassador, the Consuls General, and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious groups as well as academics, NGOs, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and family members of religious prisoners to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom. Embassy and consulate general officials hosted events around religious holidays and conducted roundtable discussions with religious leaders to convey the importance of religious pluralism in society and learn about issues facing religious communities. The embassy supported a number of religious leaders and scholars to participate in exchange programs related to the role of religion and religious tolerance. The embassy arranged for the introduction of religious officials to members of U.S. religious communities and U.S. government agencies that engaged with those communities. The embassy and consulates general regularly hosted events for the public to promote understanding and tolerance, such as an academic discussion about the relationship between religion and the state, as well as events highlighting ethnoreligious minority communities.

Authorities continually harassed and intimidated religious leaders to dissuade them from speaking with U.S. officials. Authorities regularly prevented members of religious communities from attending events at the embassy and consulates general, and security services questioned individuals that did attend.

Since 1999, China 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 December 22, the Secretary of State redesignated China as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing restriction on exports to China of crime control and detection instruments and equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1990 and 1991 (Public Law 101-246), pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

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China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Executive Summary

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The Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), as well as other laws and policies, states residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Religious groups are exempt from the legal requirement that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) register, but they may apply for subsidies and concessional terms to run schools and lease land if they register. Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly, but they reported harassment from groups they said were connected to the Communist Party of China.

Religious leaders reported hosting and participating in interfaith activities, such as a local mosque hosting a visitor exchange with a local Jewish synagogue.

The U.S. consulate general affirmed U.S. government support for protecting freedom of religion and belief in meetings with the government, including the Home Affairs Bureau. The Consul General and consulate general officials met regularly with religious leaders and community representatives to promote religious equality.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.2 million (July 2017 estimate). According to SAR government statistics, there are approximately two million Buddhists and Taoists; 480,000 Protestants; 379,000 Roman Catholics; 100,000 Hindus; 20,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons); 12,000 Sikhs, and 5,000-6,000 Jews. Local Muslim groups estimate the SAR has approximately 300,000 Muslims. Small communities of Bahais and Zoroastrians also reside in the SAR. Confucianism is widespread, and in some cases, elements of Confucianism are practiced in conjunction with other belief systems. The Falun Gong estimates there are approximately 500 Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong.

There are approximately 50 Protestant denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Church of Christ in China, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Seventh-day Adventists. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong recognizes the pope and maintains links to the Vatican.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Under the Basic Law, the Hong Kong SAR has autonomy in the management of religious affairs. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious groups and their mainland counterparts based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.” The Basic Law states residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Basic Law also states the government cannot interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities that do not contravene other laws.

The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the ICCPR, which include the right to manifest religious belief individually or in community with others, in public or private, and through worship, observance, practice, and teaching. The Bill of Rights Ordinance states persons belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their own religion, and use their own language. The ordinance also protects the right of parents or legal guardians to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” These rights may be limited when an emergency is proclaimed and “manifestation” of religious beliefs may be limited by law when necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights of others. Such limitations may not discriminate solely on the basis of religion.

Religious groups are not legally required to register with the government; however, they must register to receive government benefits, such as tax-exempt status, rent subsidies, government or other professional development training, the use of government facilities, or a grant to provide social services. To qualify for such benefits, the group must prove to the satisfaction of the government that it is established solely for religious, charitable, social, or recreational reasons. The government determines whether a religious group’s application for tax-exempt status is accepted. Registrants must provide the name and purpose of the organization, identify its office holders, and confirm the address of the principal place of business and any other premises owned or occupied by the organization. If a religious group registers with the government, it enters the registry of all NGOs, but the government makes no adjudication on the validity of any registered groups. Religious groups may register as a society and/or tax-exempt organization as long as they have at least three members who hold valid SAR identity documents; the registration process normally takes approximately 12 working days. Falun Gong is not classified as a religious group under the law, as it is registered as a society, under which its Hong Kong-based branches are able to establish offices, collect dues from members, and have legal status.

The Basic Law allows private schools to provide religious education. The government offers subsidies to schools built and run by religious groups, should they seek such support. Government subsidized schools must adhere to government curriculum standards and may not bar students based on religion, but they may provide nonmandatory religious instruction as part of their curriculum. Teachers may not discriminate against students because of their religious beliefs. The public school curriculum mandates coursework on ethics and religious studies, with a focus on religious tolerance; the government curriculum also includes elective modules on different world religions.

Religious groups may apply to the government to lease land at concessional terms through Home Affairs Bureau sponsorship. Religious groups may apply to develop or use facilities in accordance with local legislation.

The only direct government role in managing religious affairs is the Chinese Temples Committee, led by the secretary for home affairs. The SAR chief executive appoints its members. The committee oversees the management and logistical operations of 24 of the region’s 600 temples and provides grants to other charitable organizations. The committee provides grants to the Home Affairs Bureau for disbursement, in the form of financial assistance to needy ethnic Chinese citizens. The colonial-era law does not require new temples to register to be eligible for Temples Committee assistance.

An approximately 1,200-member Election Committee elects Hong Kong’s chief executive. The Basic Law stipulates that the Election Committee’s members shall be “broadly representative.” Committee members come from four sectors, divided into 38 subsectors, representing various trades, professions, and social services groups. The religious subsector is comprised of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, the Hong Kong Christian Council, the Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. These six bodies are each entitled to 10 of the 60 seats for the religious subsector on the Election Committee. The religious subsector is not required to hold elections under the Chief Executive Election Ordinance. Instead, each religious organization selects its electors in its own fashion. Each of the six designated religious groups is also a member of the Hong Kong Colloquium of Religious Leaders.

Government Practices

During the year, Falun Gong practitioners reported generally being able to operate openly and engage in behavior that remained prohibited elsewhere in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as distributing literature and conducting public exhibitions. The group had an ongoing lawsuit against the Hong Kong government in 2012 to contest a requirement to obtain government approval for the display of posters; the retrial was scheduled for March 2018. In April Falun Gong practitioners conducted public protests against the treatment of fellow practitioners in Mainland China. In June Falun Gong practitioners displayed banners and posters calling on visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the persecution of Falun Gong and to bring Jiang Zemin, former head of the Chinese Communist Party, to justice. The Hong Kong Falun Gong Association said that it suspected that the Communist Party of China funded private groups that harassed its members at public events by surrounding them and yelling at them. The association also reported continuing difficulties renting venues for meetings and cultural events from both government and private facilities. The association suspected the cause of this difficulty was the central government’s pressure on venue owners.

According to the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times, immigration authorities barred 43 Falun Gong practitioners from Taiwan from entering at the Hong Kong International Airport in July. The immigration authorities ordered the practitioners to return to Taiwan without explanation. The practitioners had intended to join an annual parade in Hong Kong peacefully protesting the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in Mainland China.

Some religious groups expressed concern that new PRC religious affairs regulations entering into force in February 2018 could have a negative impact on exchanges and interactions with counterparts in the Mainland.

A variety of government and media sources reported that faith leaders continued to be able to meet with detainees and prisoners of all nationalities. The Home Affairs Bureau functioned as a liaison between religious groups and the government.

Senior government leaders often participated in large-scale events held by religious organizations. The SAR government and legislative council representatives participated in Confucian and Buddhist commemorative activities, Taoist festivals, and other religious events throughout the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious groups, some of which received government funding, provided a wide range of social services open to those of all religious affiliations including welfare, elder care, hospitals, publishing services, media and employment services, rehabilitation centers, youth and community service functions, and other charitable activities.

Religious leaders reported hosting and participating in interfaith activities. For example, a local mosque hosted a visitor exchange with a local Jewish synagogue, and Jewish leaders hosted Holocaust awareness public events.

Clergy from Hong Kong accepted invitations from state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations on the Mainland to teach at religious institutions. There were also student exchanges between state-sanctioned religious groups on the Mainland and Hong Kong-based religious groups.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Consulate general officials, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue in meetings with Hong Kong government officials, including representatives of the Home Affairs Bureau.

Consulate general representatives also met with religious leaders, NGOs, and community representatives. The Consul General and other consulate officials met with Buddhist, Catholic, Taoist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Sikh religious leaders to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to receive reports about the status of religious freedom both in Hong Kong and in the Mainland.

Throughout the year, consulate general officials showed respect for religious traditions by marking traditional religious holidays and visiting local Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist temples. The Consul General hosted an annual iftar at his residence, and consulate officers participated in other festival celebrations with the Buddhist and Muslim communities. Consulate general officials also participated in Holocaust commemorations. At all these events, consulate general officials stressed in public and private remarks the importance of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.

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China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Executive Summary

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The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education. The law also protects the right of religious assembly and the rights of religious organizations to administer schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and to provide other social services. The law states the government does not recognize a state religion and explicitly states all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. Falun Gong continued to hold rallies, including protesting the visit of a high-ranking Communist Party official from the Mainland, but reported difficulty renting venues for events.

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, continued to provide diverse social services to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

The staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for all religious groups, and they discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland and in Hong Kong, in meetings with Macau SAR government officials and civil society representatives.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 602,000 (July 2017 estimate). The SAR Government Information Bureau reports nearly 80 percent of the population practices Buddhism. There are approximately 30,000 Roman Catholics, of whom more than half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and more than 8,000 Protestants. Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches. Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with Mainland churches, are also present. Muslim groups estimate there are approximately 12,000 Muslims. Smaller religious groups include Bahais, who estimate their membership at above 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their membership at 50 persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Macau Basic Law states residents have freedom of religious belief and the freedom to publicly preach as well as conduct and participate in religious activities. These rights may be limited in extreme situations for national security reasons. The Basic Law further stipulates that the government shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups or in their relations with their counterparts outside Macau. It bars the government from restricting religious activities that do not contravene the laws of the Macau SAR.

Under the Basic Law, the government of the Macau SAR, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is charged with safeguarding religious freedom in the SAR.

The law states the Macau SAR government does not recognize a state religion and stipulates all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law further provides for freedom of religion, including privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education.

Religious groups are not required to register in order to conduct religious activities, but registration enables them to benefit from legal status. Religious groups register with the Identification Bureau, providing their names, identification card numbers, and contact information, as well as the group’s name and a copy of the group’s charter to register. To receive tax-exempt status or other advantages, religious groups register as charities with the Identification Bureau by submitting the same information and documents as are required to register.

The law guarantees religious organizations may run seminaries and schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and provide other social services.

Schools run by religious organizations may provide religious education under the law. No religious education is required in public schools.

By law, religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, recognizes the pope as its head. The Vatican appoints the bishop for the diocese.

Government Practices

Falun Gong members continued to hold rallies and set up informational sites at public venues without incident. For example, a Falun Gong-related civil society organization reported that in May, Falun Gong members participated in a public rally during a visit from Zhang Dejiang; one of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee members, for what they said was his role in persecuting Falun Gong members on the Mainland. Falun Gong practitioners, however, reported difficulty renting venues for large events, a situation they suspected was a result of Communist Party pressure.

Some religious groups reported the Central Government Liaison Office supported their activities and exchanges with coreligionists on the Mainland. Others said the government acknowledged and did not obstruct charity work conducted on the Mainland. Religious groups said they retained their ability to conduct activities on the Mainland by working through official channels and officially recognized churches.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run most educational institutions, only 10 of 77 schools were public, according to government statistics from the 2016-17 school year.

The government provided financial support, regardless of religious affiliation, for the establishment of schools, child-care centers, clinics, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centers, and vocational training centers run by religious groups. The government also continued to refer victims of human trafficking to religious organizations for the provision of support services.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, provided social services to individuals of all faiths.

There were reports Mainland students were no longer able to attend local seminaries.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. consulate general officials, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious diversity and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland in meetings with Macau SAR officials and civil society interlocutors, including the Catholic Bishop of Macau, a Catholic nongovernmental organization, Muslim organizations, and Protestant clergy.

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China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Executive Summary

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The United States recognizes the Tibet 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 that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities” without defining “normal.” 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, 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, which led to life-threatening injuries or even death, in protest of government policies continued, and at least six individuals set themselves on fire during the year, including two monks. Another report stated a man in Lhasa died after he slit his own throat in protest near the Jokhang Temple. As part of an ongoing multi-year project, according to local sources, during the year authorities continued to evict at least 11,500 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying as many as 6,000 homes where they resided and subjecting many of them to “patriotic re-education.” The government routinely denigrated the Dalai Lama, whom most Tibetan Buddhists revere as their most important spiritual leader, and forbade Tibetans from venerating him and other religious leaders associated with him. Authorities often justified their interference with Tibetan Buddhist monasteries by claiming the religious institutions engaged in separatist or pro-independence activities, and undermined the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

Some Tibetans encountered societal discrimination when seeking employment, engaging in business, or when traveling for pilgrimage, according to multiple sources. Because expressions of identity and religion are often 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 faiths and to allow Tibetans to preserve, practice, teach, and develop their religious traditions and language without interference from the government. U.S. officials expressed concerns to the Chinese government at the highest 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. While diplomatic access to the TAR remained tightly controlled, three U.S. visits occurred: one consular visit in July and visits by the U.S. Consul General in Chengdu in April and November. U.S. officials emphasized to TAR officials during the April and November visits the importance of respecting religious freedom in Tibet. In July the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with the Gyalwang Karmapa to highlight continued U.S. support for religious freedom.

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 make up the remainder. Some experts, however, believe the number of Han Chinese and other non-Tibetans living there is significantly underreported. Outside of 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, and 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 or 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.” 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.

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 the 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 that 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 the building and management of religious structures and require monasteries to obtain official permission to hold large-scale religious events or gatherings.

In September the central government’s State Council issued revisions to the Regulations on Religious Affairs, slated to take effect on February 1, 2018. The revisions require religious groups to register with the government, increase penalties 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 and place new restrictions on religious groups conducting business or investments. Additionally, the revisions require that religious activity “must not harm national security.” While the 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.” The new regulations also place limits on the online activities of religious groups, requiring activities be approved by the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau.

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 one or both 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 of the TAR have similar regulations.

At the central government level, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s Central Tibet Work Coordination Group, the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), and SARA are responsible for developing 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 cadres 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 expulsion, although these rules are not universally enforced.

Government Practices

Summary Paragraph: Across the Tibetan Plateau there were reports of forced disappearance, physical abuse, prolonged detention, and arbitrary arrest of persons due to their religious practice, as well as forced expulsions from monasteries, restrictions on religious gatherings, and destruction of monastery- related dwellings, according to media reporting and human rights organizations. There were six cases of self-immolation and one reported suicide by other means in protest of government policies. Human rights advocates stated authorities continued to use intimidation, including collective punishment of family or community members for acts of dissent, to compel acquiescence with government regulations and to attempt to reduce the likelihood of antigovernment demonstrations, thereby projecting an image of stability and the appearance of popular support. Security forces maintained a permanent presence at some monasteries, sometimes dressing in monastic clothing. As part of an ongoing multi-year project, according to local sources, during the year authorities continued to evict at least 11,500 monks and nuns from Buddhist institutes at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, destroying as many as 6,000 homes where they resided and subjecting many of them to “patriotic re-education.” In many Tibetan areas police detained monks and laypersons who called for freedom, human rights, and religious liberty, or who expressed support for the Dalai Lama or solidarity with individuals who had self-immolated. Several monks were detained without formal criminal charges. For example, in February authorities detained Lobsang Tsultrim, a monk from Kirti Monastery, for shouting slogans supportive of Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama. Restrictions on religious activities were particularly severe around politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Tibet scholars stated the Chinese government’s ban on minors entering monasteries and nunneries and restrictions on travel of monks and nuns threatened the traditional transmission and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. According to human rights organizations, authorities scrutinized and sought to control monastic operations and restricted travel for religious purposes, including to neighboring countries such as India and Nepal. According to reports, Bon members were subject to many of the same restrictions as Tibetan Buddhists.

As in previous years there were cases of self-immolation as a means of protest against government policies. During the year, six Tibetans reportedly self-immolated, as compared to three individuals in 2016, seven in 2015, 11 in 2014, and 26 in 2013. Some experts attributed reports of the continued relatively low number of self-immolations to tighter controls by authorities. Local authorities prosecuted and imprisoned an unknown number of Tibetans whom authorities said had aided or instigated self-immolations, including family members and friends of self-immolators, according to press reports. Authorities also reportedly took measures, including threatening anyone who shared this information with foreigners with up to 15-year prison sentences, 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.

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other groups reported 16-year-old Chagdor Kyab set fire to himself in Bora (Bola) Township of Xiahe (Sangchu) County, Gansu Province, in May while calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama. According to a number of local sources, following the self-immolation, prefecture police detained Chagdor’s parents and other family members for interrogation and threatened them with “severe consequences” should they fail to cooperate with security officials. As of December, local sources reported authorities had released Chagdor’s parents, but instructed them not to discuss the incident.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that on March 18, a 24-year-old Tibetan farmer named Pema Gyaltsen, from Nyagrong, set himself ablaze in Kardze in protest of government policies. His fate remained unclear.

RFA also reported that on April 15, another Nyagrong resident, Wangchuk Tseten, a 39-year-old father of four, set himself ablaze in Kardze. As he burned, RFA’s sources said he called for a long life for the Dalai Lama. The source added there seemed to be little chance that Tseten survived.

Jamyang Losel, a 22-year-old monk at Gyerteng monastery, self-immolated on May 19, close to a hospital in Kangsta (Gangcha) county in Qinghai’s Tsojang (Haibei) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. A source cited in an RFA article said, “He did not survive his protest,” but that police who took away Losel’s body refused to give his remains to family members who requested it.

A 63-year-old Tibetan monk named Tenga, from a monastery in Kardze (Ganzi) county, reportedly died of his injuries after he set himself on fire November 26. While burning, Tenga called out for freedom for Tibet. Afterwards, there reportedly was a heavy security lockdown in the area, and Tenga’s family members in Dando village were placed under watch by Chinese police.

RFA reported that a former Kirti monastery monk named Konpe set himself ablaze on December 23. Konpe self-immolated on the main road in Ngaba, a site of numerous other self-immolations and protests calling for Tibetan freedom. Detailed information on Konpe’s identity and condition were delayed, reportedly due to a clampdown imposed by Chinese authorities in the area. Konpe was approximately 30 years old and joined the monastery as a young child but later disrobed. Konpe’s father was reportedly detained by authorities who talked to him about his son’s medical costs.

In June FreeTibet.org reported that a Tibetan man died after slitting his own throat near the Jokhang Temple in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The man shouted “We don’t have freedom and rights” before he took his own life. Authorities referred to the event as a suicide and did not mention any form of protest.

In February Nyima Lhamo, the niece of prominent reincarnate lama political prisoner Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, testified at the 9th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy that Chinese authorities denied her uncle a fair trial and medical parole even as his health deteriorated. Nyima Lhamo recounted what she said were mysterious circumstances leading to the Rinpoche’s death in prison in 2015 and the government’s denial of permission for his family to perform post-death Buddhist rites and for his religious order to seek his reincarnation. According to Nyima Lhamo, her family remained in Tibet until 2016, and Chinese authorities continued to harass and threaten them with prosecution for Nyima Lhamo’s continued advocacy for her late uncle. She reported other local Tibetans seeking justice for the Rinpoche were arrested and “sustained injuries from gunshots” from authorities.

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. 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, including ordering every Tibetan family in Chamdo (Changdu) city to send family members to a September teaching session in order to ensure hundreds of thousands of people paid him respect. Authorities have installed Gyaltsen Norbu in Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse (Xigaze), a prefecture-level city in the TAR, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. Chinese authorities detained Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, who is recognized by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans, and his parents in 1995 when he was six years old and have not responded to requests by international observers to visit him. Members of the Tibetan community inside the country and in exile consider him to be forcibly disappeared by the Chinese government, and have been unsuccessful in their attempts to visit him for more than two decades. His and his parents’ whereabouts remain unknown. The Panchen Lama is the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent teacher after the Dalai Lama.

The government continued to exercise its authority over the approval of reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas and the supervision of their religious education. 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 as part of the interference by authorities 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. These and other interferences continued to cause concern to religious leaders about the ability of religious traditions to survive for successive generations. According to media reports, as of December, the government added seven additional “living buddhas” below the age of 16 to last year’s list of more than 1,300 approved “living buddhas.” The new additions continued to undergo training on patriotism and the Chinese Communist Party’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 placed restrictions on the size of Buddhist monasteries and other institutions. According to local sources, at Larung Gar, Kardze (Ganzi), Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, site of the world’s largest Tibetan Buddhist institute, during the year the government evicted approximately 9,000 monks and nuns from a population that was at least 20,000 in 2016, and demolished an estimated 4,000 residences. 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.

According to local sources, during the year authorities destroyed at least 2,000 residences and evicted approximately 2,500 monks and nuns from an estimated population of 10,000 religious practitioners in Yachen Gar, also in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture. Local sources reported monks and nuns from Yachen Gar who returned to their hometowns in the TAR were told they were prohibited from joining any other monastery or nunnery there or participating in any public religious practices.

In a 2016 letter to Chinese authorities that was made public in March before the UN Human Rights Council, six UN special rapporteurs, including the special rapporteur for religious freedom and belief wrote: “While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of these allegations, grave concern is expressed over the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning in Larung Gar and Yachen Gar.”

Chinese authorities targeted centrally or conveniently located monasteries or temples to make it more difficult for Tibetan Buddhists to worship. For example, local sources reported Chinese authorities recently demolished Bagar (Baiyanshan) Monastery in Linzhi, TAR – the main worship place for Buddhists in Linzhi city and a popular tourist destination – citing transportation safety concerns.

There were reports of the arbitrary arrest and physical abuse of religious prisoners and prolonged detention of religious figures without criminal charges. In February authorities detained Lobsang Tsultrim, a monk from Kirti Monastery, for shouting slogans supportive of Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama and holding his photo in public. Local sources reported police severely beat Tsultrim. His condition and whereabouts remained unknown following his detention in Aba (Ngaba) Prefecture.

In March authorities reportedly arrested Lobsang Dhargyal, a young monk from Kirti Monastery, for staging a solo protest against the Chinese government in Aba (Ngaba) Prefecture. Police detained Dhargyal shortly after his protest, and his whereabouts remained unknown.

In May authorities reportedly detained Gonpo (only name given), a monk from the Oephung Monastery in Nyagrong (Xinlong) County, Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, after local authorities suspected he had disseminated information regarding local protests to outside contacts. The protests reportedly involved Wangchuk Tseten and Pema Gyaltsen, who self-immolated earlier in the year. Gonpo’s whereabouts remained unknown.

In May Chinese police in Machu County of Gansu Province detained Khedup, a 50-year-old Tibetan doctor and monk from the Mura Monastery, for the second time. According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, authorities accused Khedup of posting the Dalai Lama’s teachings on social media, writing and reposting blog posts that expressed support for the monks and nuns displaced from Larung Gar, and advocating for religious freedom and cultural rights for Tibetans. Khedup’s condition and whereabouts remained unknown.

According to the Tibet Post, on July 29 Chinese authorities released Lobsang Kelsang from Deyang Prison. Police originally detained Kelsang, a Kirti Monastery monk, in 2011 following his self-immolation in protest against Chinese repressive rule. Following his release, the Tibet Post’s source stated Kelsang was under strict surveillance at his home in northeastern Tibet. There was no additional information regarding his condition. On March 28, authorities released another Kirti monk named Lobsang Kunchok from Deyang Prison in Sichuan Province after he had served more than six years in prison for staging a self-immolation protest. His leg was amputated in prison. After his release Kunchok remained under strict surveillance in his Meruma home.

The condition and whereabouts of Lobsang Tsering, a monk from Kirti Monastery whom authorities reportedly detained in 2016 in Aba (Ngaba) County following a solo protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibet, remained unknown. During the protest he wore a ceremonial scarf and carried a photo of the Dalai Lama, calling for his long life. Prison officials reportedly beat him in custody.

In addition, the condition and whereabouts of Ven Pagah and Geshe Orgyen, the abbot and a monk from the Chongri Monastery in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, Sichuan Province, remained unknown. Authorities detained them in 2016 after the monastery helped organize a mass prayer for the recovery of the Dalai Lama, who was then undergoing medical treatment in the United States.

Limited access to information about prisoners made it difficult to ascertain the exact number of Tibetan prisoners of religious conscience, 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 records of 1,414 political or religious prisoners known or thought to be in custody as of November 5. A later accounting specific to Tibet included 512 Tibetan political prisoners who had been detained by December 29, and who were presumed to remain detained or imprisoned. Of the 512 political prisoners, 506 were detained on or after March 2008, the start of a wave of political protests that spread across the Tibetan areas of China. Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns, and teachers made up 212 cases of the 506 persons serving known sentences.

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. Human Rights Watch reported a video circulated on social media that showed what appeared to be 25 young Tibetan nuns with shaven heads, dressed in military jackets and standing at attention, in rows inside a police or government office. Authorities had reportedly expelled the group from the Larung Gar Tibetan Buddhist Institute. The women chanted in unison, “The Tibetans and the Chinese are daughters of the same mother, the name of the mother is China.” Another video reportedly showed Tibetan nuns singing and dancing to a Communist Party song. Since Buddhist nuns vow to refrain from singing, dancing, and viewing entertainment, the report suggests these performances were coerced as part of political re-education.

According to many observers, primary sources of grievances among Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns included the requirement that all monks under the age of 18, who are legally unable to join monasteries and Buddhist religious institutions, undergo “patriotic education”; strict controls over religious practice; and intrusive surveillance of many monasteries and nunneries, including the permanent installation of CCP and public security officials and overt camera surveillance systems at religious sites and monasteries. 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 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.

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 February new TAR Party Secretary Wu Yingjie called for monks and nuns in the region to “resolutely fight against the ‘Dalai Clique’ and defend the unity of the motherland.” In September Wu instructed various party and government organs to reduce “negative religious influence” and ensure religious figures in the region were aware they needed to draw a clear line between themselves and the “14th Dalai Lama clique.” 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.

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 religious 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 82nd 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 celebrations. According to local sources, Sichuan provincial authorities patrolled major monasteries in Tibetan areas and warned that those holding special events or celebrations would face severe consequences.

During Lunar New Year celebrations in January and February, ICT reported the authorities, among other measures, imposed “intimidating” military force at a prayer ceremony at Kumbum Monastery; hosted a series of meetings in Lhasa telling monks and nuns to comply with party policy; and inspected “armed forces” and cadres at Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. They deployed troops to monitor prayer festivals elsewhere in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. In early November the government banned the annual Dechen Shedrub prayer festival from occurring in Larung Gar, citing overcrowding and unfinished reconstruction. The ban marked the second consecutive year the government did not allow the 21-year-old festival to take place.

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 the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognize as the 11th Panchen Lama. Punishments in certain counties inside the TAR for displaying images of the Dalai Lama included closing of venues, expulsion from monasteries, and criminal prosecution.

The TAR government 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 Nagchu (Naqu) and Chamdo (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 garb to avoid such harassment when traveling outside of their monasteries and around the country.

In many areas, monks and nuns under the age of 18 were forced to leave their monasteries. In July in Draggo (Luhuo) County in Kardze (Ganzi) Prefecture, sources reported the government had removed minors from local monasteries following a January 2015 provincial mandate to remove all monks and nuns under the age of 18 from monasteries and Buddhist schools to receive “patriotic education.”

According to a December 18 report from the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, authorities told parents of an eight-year-old girl in Manchu County, Gansu Province, she would not be allowed to attend school because her father, who was reportedly tortured and denied medical assistance in prison, had participated in protests for Tibetan freedom.

The traditional monastic system reportedly continued to decline as many top Buddhist teachers remained in exile or died in India or elsewhere, and 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 Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (who died in 2015), as well as Bon leader Gyalwa Menri Trizin (who died in September) – all resided in exile.

Multiple sources also reported that during the past three years the Chinese government increasingly restricted Tibetan Buddhist monks from visiting Chinese cities to teach. For example, prominent Larung Gar Buddhist Institute religious leaders Khenpo Tsultrim Lode and Khenpo So Dargey, who both previously taught in Chinese cities, were no longer allowed to do so. Authorities also restricted Tibetans’ travel inside China, particularly for Tibetans residing outside the TAR who wished to visit the TAR, during sensitive periods. 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. 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, that 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 construction of new temples was prohibited. 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. General administrative affairs in TAR monasteries, which traditionally were managed by monks, 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, such as Sichuan Province’s Kirti Monastic Management Committee.

In August Deputy Chief of the Public Security Bureau of Kardze (Ganzi), Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, Zha Ba was appointed to serve concurrently as party secretary general and president of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the world. In addition to Zha Ba, six other party cadres were appointed to various positions in the monastery, including deputy party secretaries, vice presidents, and deputy managing directors.

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

Provincial, prefectural, county, and local governments continued to station CCP cadres 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 September. Security forces continued to block access to and from important monasteries during politically sensitive events and political religious anniversaries.

Authorities hindered 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, according to local sources.

In some cases, authorities enforced 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 an RFA report confirmed by several hotels.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because expressions of 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.

In July some Tibetan scholars and monks reportedly tried to organize an informal event to discuss current trends of Tibetan language education in a hotel in Chengdu, but the hotel refused to rent the conference room and told the organizers that “religious and ethnic minority gatherings” required advance approval from relevant government departments. As a result, the event was held in a tea shop.

Many Han Buddhists were interested in Tibetan Buddhism and donated money to Tibetan 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 Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the U.S. Consul General and other officers in Chengdu, and officers at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing continued sustained and concerted efforts to encourage greater religious freedom in Tibetan areas.

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. In addition to raising systemic issues, such as passport issuance to Tibetans, U.S. officials expressed concern and sought further information about individual cases and incidents of religious persecution and discrimination.

In April officials from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu met with Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress Lobsang Gyaltsen and TAR Governor Qi Zhala. 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 the highest levels regarding severe restrictions imposed on Tibetans’ ability to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom and cultural rights.

In July the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with the Gyalwang Karmapa, who along with the Dalai Lama leads two of the four major religious schools in Tibetan Buddhism, to highlight continued U.S. support for religious freedom. Also in July, U.S. officials met with Arjia Thubten Lobsang Rinpoche, one of the highest-ranking reincarnate lamas to flee into exile, following his opposition to becoming the tutor of the Chinese government-appointed Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu. In November the Consul General in Chengdu met with various TAR government officials, including TAR Executive Vice Chairman and TAR Standing Committee Member Norbu Dhundrup (Luobu Dunzhu), TAR National People’s Congress Standing Committee Vice Chairman Ju Jianhua, and Nyingchi (Linzhi) Party Secretary Ma Shengchang. The Consul General called for the TAR government to respect the Tibetan people’s right to practice their religion freely.

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 one U.S. consular visit in July, and two Consul General visits in April and November.

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Colombia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, among other responsibilities. The MOI established in June the National Table of the Religious Sector, which, along with corresponding entities at the regional level, offers religious organizations direct participation in policy formulation related to religious freedom. The Mennonite Association for Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action (Justapaz), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring human rights and religious freedom regardless of religious affiliation, expressed concern over a new law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. Justapaz representatives said that because of the disproportionate staffing of these commissions by members of the armed forces, the commissions were not independent and impartial.

NGOs continued to report that in many areas of the country, illegal armed groups threatened leaders and members of religious organizations. The Episcopal Conference of Colombia (ECC) stated that on July 27, unknown assailants killed Father Diomer Eliver Chavarria Perez in the Santa Rosa de Osos diocese in Antioquia Department. On October 3, unknown attackers robbed and killed Father Abelardo Antonio Munoz Sanchez in Rionegro. The Jewish community reported continued comments promoting anti-Semitism on some social media sites, including aggressive actions by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Colombia, an anti-Israel protest movement. During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation, including a series of talks in Bogota in October and November with former guerrilla combatants.

U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with government officials. Embassy officials met with the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the International Affairs Directorate of the Attorney General’s Office, and the Religious Affairs Directorate of the MOI. Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, and evangelical Protestants, Baptists, and Mennonites. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to eliminating institutionalized discrimination and the importance of promoting freedom of religion and association, conscientious objection, peace, and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 47.6 million (July 2017 estimate). The Catholic Church estimates 75 percent of the population is Catholic but notes the government has never taken a precise census. According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center (the most recent), 79 percent of the population is Catholic, 13 percent Protestant, and 6 percent atheist or agnostic. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include nondenominational worshipers or members of other religious groups, including Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Mennonites. The Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities (CJCC) estimates there are approximately 4,200 Jews. There is also a small population of adherents to animism and various syncretistic beliefs.

Some religious groups are concentrated in certain geographical regions. Most of those who blend Catholicism with elements of African animism are African-Colombians and reside on the Pacific coast. Most Jews reside in major cities, most Muslims on the Caribbean coast, and most adherents of indigenous animistic religions in remote rural areas. A small Taoist community is located in a mountainous region of Santander Department.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. There is no official state church or religion, but the law says the state “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment.” The constitution states all religions and churches are equal before the law. A 1998 Constitutional Court ruling upheld the right of traditional authorities to enforce the observation of and participation in traditional religious beliefs and practices on indigenous reserves. Recent rulings referred to the 1998 decision to reaffirm the right of indigenous governors to prohibit the practice of certain religions on indigenous reserves. A concordat between the Holy See and the government, made into law, recognizes marriages performed by the Catholic Church, allows the Church to provide chaplaincy services, and prohibits members of the Catholic clergy from compulsory public service, including military service. A court ruling determined these provisions were constitutional so long as they apply to all religious groups.

The law prohibits any official government reference to a religious affiliation for the country.

The MOI is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, as well as keeping a public registry of religious entities. Entities formally recognized by the MOI can then confer this recognition, called “extended public recognition,” to affiliated groups sharing the same beliefs. The application process requires submission of a formal request and basic organizational information, including copies of an act of constitution and an estimation of the number of members, to obtain formal recognition. The government considers a religious group’s total membership, its degree of acceptance within society, and other factors, such as the organization’s statutes and its required behavioral norms, when deciding whether to grant the religious group formal recognition. The MOI is authorized to reject requests that are incomplete or do not fully comply with established requirements. The MOI provides a free, web-based registration process for religious and faith-based organizations seeking recognition. Formally recognized entities may collect funds and receive donations, establish religious education institutions, and perform religious services not including marriages. Unregistered entities may still perform religious activities without penalty but may not collect funds or receive donations.

The state recognizes as legally binding religious marriages performed by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and 13 additional non-Catholic Christian denominations that are signatories to the 1997 public law agreement. This agreement enables non-Catholic religious groups to engage in a number of activities previously restricted to the Catholic Church, such as marriages, funeral services, and spiritual assistance in prisons, hospitals, military facilities, and educational institutions. Under this agreement, members of religious groups that are neither signatories to the agreement nor affiliates must marry in a civil ceremony for the state to recognize the marriage. Non-Catholic religious groups seeking to provide chaplaincy services and conduct state-recognized marriages must also solicit formal state recognition from the MOI.

The constitution recognizes the right of parents to choose the education their child receives, including religious instruction. The law states religious education shall be offered in accordance with laws protecting religious freedom, and it identifies the Ministry of Education as responsible for establishing guidelines for teaching religion within the public school curriculum. Religious groups, including those that have not acceded to the public law agreement, may establish their own schools, provided they comply with ministry requirements. A Constitutional Court ruling obligates schools to implement alternative accommodations for students based on their religion, which could include students at religious institutions opting out of prayers or religious lessons. The government does not provide subsidies for private schools run by religious organizations.

The law imposes a penalty of one to three years in prison and a fine of 7.4 million to 11 million Colombian pesos ($2,500 to $3,700) for violations of religious freedoms, including discrimination based on religion. The penal code also prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs, including physical or moral harm.

A Constitutional Court ruling states citizens, including members of indigenous communities, may be exempt from compulsory military service if they can demonstrate a serious and permanent commitment to religious principles that prohibit the use of force. Conscientious objectors who are exempt from military service are required to complete alternative, government-selected public service. A law passed in August reinforces protections for conscientious objectors and expands options for compulsory military service exemptions by removing the prior distinction between times of war and peace. It also requires that regional interagency commissions (Interdisciplinary Commissions on Conscientious Objection, or ICCOs), under the Ministry of Defense, evaluate requests for conscientious objector status; commission members include representatives from the armed forces, the Inspector General’s Office, and medical, psychological, and legal experts. According to the new law, the National Commission of Conscientious Objection reviews any cases not resolved at the regional level.

Foreign missionaries must possess a special visa, valid for up to two years. The MFA issues visas to foreign missionaries and religious group administrators who are members of religious organizations officially recognized and registered with the MOI. When they apply for a visa, foreign missionaries must have a certificate from either the MOI or church authorities confirming registration of their religious group with the MFA. Alternatively, they may produce a certificate issued by a registered religious group confirming the applicant’s membership and mission in the country. The visa application also requires a letter issued by a legal representative of the religious group stating the organization accepts full financial responsibility for the expenses of the applicant and family, including funds for return to their country of origin or last country of residence. Applicants must explain the purpose of the proposed sojourn and provide proof of economic means. A Constitutional Court ruling stipulates that no group may force religious conversion on members of indigenous communities.

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

Government Practices

Justapaz said there were two cases of arbitrary arrest related to military service targeting members of evangelical Christian churches. The army detained a high school student and member of the Foursquare Church on January 26 for what the army said was the student’s failure to complete compulsory military service in Tolima Department’s municipality of Honda. The student, who said he objected to military service because of his religious beliefs, was in detention for eight days and then released. On May 4, the army detained a displaced victim and member of the United Pentecostal Church of Colombia in Bogota and informed him he would be required to complete compulsory military service. The Inspector General’s Office interceded on the man’s behalf, securing his release after six hours in detention.

The ECC objected to the Ministry of Education’s mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in an antidiscrimination campaign in public schools, as well as the government’s decision to omit the Te Deum liturgical service from the July 20 independence celebration. The ECC perceived these actions as “ignoring the religious dimension of the individual” and infringing upon one’s right to express in public one’s religious beliefs.

The MOI reported it received 1,243 applications for formal recognition of religious entities, approved 581, and archived 95 due to failure to complete the required documentation during the year. The MOI continued to review the remaining applications, some of which awaited additional information from applicants. The MOI said the majority of applications were from evangelical Christian churches. The MOI gave applicants who submitted incomplete applications or incorrect supporting documents 30 days to bring their applications into compliance. If the MOI deemed an application incomplete, it could deny the application; however, the applying organization was able to resubmit an application at any time. There was no waiting period to reapply. The MOI reported it rejected applications only if they were determined to be incomplete.

The Traditional Episcopal Church and International Ministerial Church of Jesus Christ filed petitions to accede to the 1997 public law agreement enabling religious groups to provide chaplaincy services and perform marriages. The petitions remained pending at year’s end; however, the government proposed interim agreements to allow the two groups to perform marriages and provide chaplaincy services.

According to religious groups, individuals continued to have difficulty obtaining exemptions from military service on religious grounds. Justapaz reported an increase in requests for conscientious objector status, likely due to increased outreach and the August law’s inclusion of conscientious objector status as a valid exemption from compulsory military service. The National Army Reserve Recruitment and Control Command stated it had received 140 requests for recognition of conscientious objector status. Of those, it approved 86 by the end of the year. Justapaz stated that the ICCOs interagency commissions established by the August law to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status were staffed disproportionally by members of the armed forces, which it said ran counter to a 1998 UN resolution requiring that independent and impartial bodies evaluate objection requests to protect the rights to freedom of worship and of consciousness.

The Association of Conscientious Objectors of Colombia (ACOOC) said indigenous peoples were often unaware of their rights to object on religious grounds because of language differences.

An article added to the 2014-18 National Development Plan required the MOI to develop new guidelines on freedom of religion. Specifically, the new article mandated the MOI work with religious groups to develop policies to guarantee freedom of religion and equal treatment among religious groups. The MOI issued a resolution in June guaranteeing religious groups’ participation in the formulation and implementation of this policy through the creation of the National Table of the Religious Sector and corresponding entities at the regional level. The final version, which entered into force on December 12, focused on the promotion of religious rights and the social and institutional inclusion of the country’s religious plurality. It also emphasized the importance of reducing social, cultural, and institutional factors that fuel intolerance, exclusion, and persecution; guaranteed conditions of equality among the various religions and denominations; and proposed implementing strategies to create and strengthen peace initiatives and social projects with religious entities.

The Colombian National Police, through the Protection and Special Services Directorate, continued to provide security for religious sites under threat. Some religious groups filed reports of threats with the police; however, they said they had not received updates related to follow-up investigations or charges.

In accordance with a declaration signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016, the country again observed July 4 as the National Day of Religious Freedom. In connection with the observance, the MOI and regional governments held various forums and presentational events to educate the public on the significance of the holiday and build bridges with religious organizations.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Bogota mayor’s office and National University of Colombia’s study showed that, among those surveyed, 13 percent had received threats of violence, kidnapping, or extortion due to their religious beliefs.

The CJCC continued to report instances of anti-Israel rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli Embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular, the CJCC expressed concern over the presence of BDS Colombia, which it said aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel, and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israel policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

A number of faith-based and interfaith NGOs continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance through their programs and community engagement. On October 30, the Episcopal Conference of Latin America, Latin American Jewish Congress, Latin American Council of Churches, and the Islamic Organization for Latin America and the Caribbean signed the Cordoba Declaration, which promotes religious coexistence and pluralism in the region. ACOOC, Justapaz, Pastoral Social, and the CJCC advocated for new cases of conscientious objectors, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed conscientious objection to military service and the effect of guerrilla and illegal armed groups on religious freedom with the MFA, the Attorney General’s Office, and the MOI.

Embassy representatives continued to meet with representatives from the Catholic Church, Justapaz, Witness for Peace, the CJCC, the Muslim Charity Association, faith-based NGO Pastoral Social, and others to discuss religious freedoms in the post-accord period. Given the presence of illegal armed actors in many parts of the country, religious leaders and faith-based NGOs reported in meetings with embassy officials that they continued to focus their efforts on ensuring the safety of their communities and assisting community members – many of them displaced persons or victims of the conflict – with victim registration and restitution. Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues during an annual embassy-hosted working group session attended by government representatives, civil society, and religious leaders that emphasized the importance of continued interfaith dialogue and coordination with government partners. Among the results of the working group were the establishment of a direct line of communication between NGOs and religious organizations and the Attorney General’s Office to report religiously motivated crimes, and discussions between the MOI and Attorney General’s Office to convene a technical working group to monitor religious freedom issues.

Comoros

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies Islam is the state religion but proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all regardless of religious belief. A law establishes Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference.” Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for deportation of foreigners who do so. The law prohibits the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places on the basis of “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.” National leaders explicitly condoned harassment, primarily against individuals practicing non-Sunni forms of Islam. President Azali Assoumani, wearing a national address, said that non-majority Muslim practices would not be tolerated and would be subject to severe sanction, and Moustoidrane Abdou, one of the country’s vice presidents, said, “We will completely eradicate Shiism from the country.” Government forces expropriated and partly demolished an Ahmadi Muslim mosque, and with the help of the local population, completely destroyed a Shia mosque. A court sentenced 26 individuals on Grande Comore to between six and 12 months of prison, in addition to fines, for celebrating Eid al-Adha one day early; they were pardoned by the president one week later. Members of minority Muslim groups were the subject of harassment and discrimination by government officials. The government arrested and jailed Muslims for violating Ramadan restrictions and prevented Muslims from worshipping in their mosques of choice. The Prefect of Mutsamudu, a representative of the presidency in Anjouan, and a representative of the Council of Ulema signed a decree stipulating that the opening of mosques without prior approval by the Muftiate and the Council of Ulema would be punishable by law, and suspending all Friday prayers in conflict with majority religious practices.

There continued to be reports that communities unofficially shunned individuals who were suspected of converting from Islam to Christianity. There were reports of societal abuse and discrimination against non-Shafi’i Sunni Muslim citizens. Both citizens and noncitizens reportedly faced pressure to practice elements of Islam, particularly during Ramadan. A Shia Muslim in Koni-Djodjo told a journalist that his family received death threats from other local residents, and that gendarmes made several threatening phone calls.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar visited the country and engaged with government officials on issues of religious freedom. The U.S. Ambassador discussed religious freedom and the seizure of an Ahmadi mosque with President Azali. Other embassy officials conveyed their concern and alarm concerning the increasing harassment of religious minorities with the minister of justice, the minister of interior, the commander of the gendarmerie, the governors of Anjouan and Moheli, and the mayors of the major cities. In August the embassy hosted a visiting speaker for a week to meet with religious, political, and civil society leaders to discuss countering extremism through economic empowerment. Embassy representatives also discussed religious freedom with religious and civil society leaders and others, including members of minority religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 808,000 (July 2017 estimate), of which 98 percent is Sunni Muslim. Roman Catholics, Shia, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Protestants together make up less than 2 percent of the population. Non-Muslims are mainly foreign residents and are concentrated in the country’s capital, Moroni, and the capital of Anjouan, Mutsamudu. Shia and Ahmadi Muslims mostly live in Anjouan.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states Islam is the state religion and citizens shall draw the state’s governing principles and rules from Islamic tenets. It proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all individuals regardless of religion or belief. A law establishes the Sunni Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and provides sanctions of five months to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs ($240 to $1,200) for campaigns, propaganda, or religious practices or customs in public places that could cause social unrest or undermine national cohesion.

Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for deportation of foreigners who do so. The penal code states “whoever discloses, spreads, and teaches Muslims a religion other than Islam will be punished with imprisonment of three months to one year and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs” ($120 to $1,200).

There is no official registration for religious groups. The law allows Sunni religious groups to establish places of worship, train clergy, and assemble for peaceful religious activities. It does not allow non-Sunni religious groups to assemble for peaceful religious activities in public places.

The law prohibits proselytizing or performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places, based on “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.” Without specifying religion, the penal code provides penalties for the profaning of any spaces designated for worship, interfering with the delivery of religious leaders in the performance of their duties, or in cases where the practice of sorcery, magic, or charlatanism interferes with public order.

By law, the president nominates the grand mufti, the senior Muslim cleric who is part of the government and manages issues concerning religion and religious administration. The grand mufti heads an independent government institution called the Supreme National Institution in Charge of Religious Practices in the Union of the Comoros. The grand mufti counsels the government on matters concerning the practice of Islam and Islamic law. The grand mufti chairs and periodically consults with the Council of Ulema, a group of religious elders cited in the constitution, to assess whether citizens are respecting the principles of Islam.

The law provides that before the month of Ramadan, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Council of Ulema publish a ministerial decree providing instructions to the population for that month.

The government uses the Quran in public primary schools for Arabic reading instruction. There are more than 200 government-supported, fee-based schools with Quranic instruction. The tenets of Islam are sometimes taught in conjunction with Arabic in public and private schools at the middle school and high school levels.

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

Government Practices

The government issued decrees restricting the practice of Islam and jailed people for violating these decrees or other Islamic guidelines. The government prevented non-Shafi’i Sunni Muslim groups from attending or establishing their own mosques, and seized, damaged or destroyed mosques of minority Muslim groups. The president and other national leaders condoned the harassment of non-Shafi’i Sunnis, particularly Shia, in public statements.

On September 1, gendarmes arrested 28 persons, including several imams and their followers, on Grande Comore for violating the grand mufti’s guidance declaring Eid al-Adha to be on September 2 rather than the day prior as it was celebrated elsewhere. According to observers, the decree had been issued for political reasons, including to discredit a presidential contender who, in a previous term, had decreed the holiday should be observed on the same day as in Mecca. A court found 26 of the 28 individuals guilty and sentenced them to varying terms of imprisonment and also imposed fines. The imams received 12-month prison terms, two without parole and a 250,000 Comorian francs ($610) fine. Those who followed their imams’ guidance received a six-month sentence, one without parole, and a 100,000 Comorian francs fine ($240). A week later, President Azali pardoned them all.

In late January gendarmes on Anjouan prevented so-called “Djawulas” (a cleric from the group rejected the label and said they call themselves Sunni Muslims), a Muslim group that holds a more literal view of Islam than the majority, from worshipping at their local mosque. A cleric from the group said they were forbidden from establishing their own mosques and that three other “Djawulas” had been arrested days earlier for violating a presidential ban against their religious observance and were serving a one-year prison sentence. Multiple sources reported the arrests, but the specific charges could not be independently verified.

The government banned alcohol consumption and daytime swimming during Ramadan, which the police enforced. Authorities arrested Muslims in Fomboni, on Moheli, and in Mutsamudu, on Anjouan, for eating, and eating and smoking, respectively. According to press reporting, they received sentences of between one and five years in prison.

On October 30, the Council of Ulema on Anjouan sent a letter to the Prefect of Nyumakele prohibiting a local group of Muslims calling themselves the “Ahl As-Sounna wal Jamaa” from conducting Friday prayers in their own mosque, apart from the community’s existing, state-approved “Friday mosques.”

Christians reported they were pressured to fast during Ramadan, including by police officials, and forbidden from openly wearing religious symbols such as crucifixes. Local Christians said they practiced their faith secretly to avoid harassment by government officials or members of their communities.

On January 30, the Prefect of Mutsamudu, as well as a representative of the presidency in Anjouan and a representative of the Council of Ulema, signed a decree stating that the increasing number of religious groups was creating conflict and discord and noting that religion was a “prerogative” of the president. The decree stipulated that the opening of mosques without prior approval by the Muftiate and the Council of Ulema would be punishable by law, and it suspended all Friday prayers in conflict with majority religious practices.

During a July 6 national day speech, President Azali equated the “recent rise of Shiism” with “fringe extremist sects.” While acknowledging the constitution’s guarantee of freedom of worship, he said “any practice other than [Shafi’i Sunni Islam] which undermines national cohesion will not be tolerated and will be severely sanctioned.”

In a press interview published on September 25, Moustoidrane Abdou, one of the country’s three vice presidents, responded to a question about increasing pressure on religious minorities by equating Shia Islam with outside influence, and said, “We will completely eradicate Shiism from the country.”

On January 8, the minister of the interior ordered the seizure and partial demolition of the country’s first Ahmadi mosque, in Mutsamudu, on Anjouan, because it was deemed to undermine public order. He prevented its inauguration in October 2016, closed the mosque in November 2016, and in January ordered its expropriation, the destruction of its minarets, and its conversion into a police station.

On August 23, government forces destroyed a Shia mosque in Koni-Djodjo on Anjouan with the help of the local population.

The grand mufti continued to regularly address the country on the radio, applying Islamic principles to social issues such as delinquency, alcohol abuse, marriage, divorce, and education.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

As in previous years, there were reports that communities unofficially shunned individuals suspected of converting from Islam to Christianity. Societal abuse and discrimination against non-Muslim citizens persisted, particularly against Christians or those who were converts from Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners reported little to no discrimination.

In August a Shia Muslim in Koni-Djodjo told a journalist that his family received death threats from other local inhabitants, and that gendarmes had made several threatening phone calls.

According to the Comorian Press Agency, on June 21 an event was held at the National Documentation and Scientific Research Center under the theme “Sunnism and Shiism: Convergences to Divergences.” The report said the event was designed as a debate with Sunni and Shia participation, but only Sunni Muslims were speakers.

Observers stated that all citizens faced pressure from fellow citizens to practice elements of Islam, and this pressure was extended to noncitizens during Ramadan. Most societal pressure and discrimination reportedly occurred behind closed doors at the village level. The extent of de facto discrimination typically depended on the level of involvement of local Islamic teachers. Most non-Muslim citizens reportedly did not openly practice their faith for fear of societal rejection. Persons who raised their children with non-Muslim religious teachings said they faced societal discrimination. Societal pressure and intimidation continued to restrict the use of the country’s three churches to noncitizens.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. Representatives from the U.S. embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar visited the country and engaged with government officials on issues of religious freedom. The U.S. Ambassador discussed religious freedom and the seizure of an Ahmadi mosque with President Azali. An article published the day after the meeting quoted the president’s office saying, “the only form of Islamic practice President Azali will allow is the Sunni of ‘Ahli Sunna waldjamaa,’” referring to the practices of the majority. Other embassy officials met with the minister of justice, the minister of interior, the commander of the gendarmerie, the Governors of Anjouan and Moheli, and the mayors of the major cities to discuss the situation of religious minorities and to express their concern and alarm regarding the increasing harassment of religious minorities.

In August the embassy hosted an imam for a week to discuss countering extremism through economic empowerment. The visiting imam met with religious, political, and civil society leaders to address religious tolerance through economic development in the country.

Embassy officers met with a wide variety of Muslim and Christian religious and civil society leaders on issues of religious freedom.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the state religion; the state is required by law to contribute to its maintenance. The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of religions that does not impugn “universal morality or proper behavior” and provides for redress in cases of alleged violations of religious freedom. Efforts by secular groups to remove Catholicism as the state religion and define the country as an explicitly secular state lost momentum, according to an evangelical Protestant leader, although some civil society leaders continued to state that the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups. The Constitutional Chamber received four claims against the free exercise of religious freedom at educational institutions. The Constitutional Chamber dismissed two of them, stating there was insufficient evidence. In the other two cases, the chamber ruled in favor of each student: one who requested rescheduling of an exam planned for a Saturday for his observation of the Sabbath, and the other who argued that a school rule violated his constitutional rights by prohibiting him from wearing a kippah skullcap.

Instances of anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic language on social media continued. For example, an article posted on Facebook reporting on the Catholic Church’s position on abortion received several comments with vitriolic language and slurs against the Catholic clergy. A legislative advisor of one of the Christian parties in the National Assembly also reported that he saw frequent insults and derogatory language aimed at Catholic and other Christian groups in response to arguments on social media regarding same-sex marriage and abortion. The Jewish community reported instances of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Embassy officials met with Christian legislators and discussed issues of free expression of religious beliefs as well as same-sex marriage and abortion issues of concern to religious groups. Embassy representatives met with religious leaders throughout the year, including those representing religious minorities, to discuss their views on religious freedom. The outreach to religious groups included meetings with officials from the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian communities in the country. At the embassy’s July 4th event, the Ambassador delivered remarks emphasizing the importance of valuing diversity, including religious diversity. The embassy used social media to send congratulatory messages to religious groups on special religious occasions. A senior U.S. embassy official spoke at the concert of an embassy-sponsored Klezmer band from the U.S., emphasizing the importance of religious diversity and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.9 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a March survey by the Center for Investigations and Political Studies of the University of Costa Rica, an estimated 69.7 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 72.8 percent in a 2013 survey), 15.2 percent Protestant, including evangelical Protestants (compared with 14.8 percent in the 2013 survey), 3.0 percent other religious groups (compared with 3.6 percent in 2013), and 12.0 percent without religious affiliation (compared with 8.4 percent in 2013). The majority of Protestants are Pentecostal, with smaller numbers of Lutherans and Baptists. There are an estimated 60,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, predominantly on the Caribbean coast. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) estimates its membership at 35,000. The Jewish Zionist Center estimates there are between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews in the country. Approximately 1,000 Quakers live near the cloud forest reserve of Monteverde, Puntarenas. Smaller groups include followers of Islam, Taoism, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Scientology, Tenrikyo, and the Bahai Faith. Some members of indigenous groups practice animism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and requires the state to contribute to its maintenance. The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of other religions that does not undermine “universal morality or proper behavior.” Unlike other religious groups, the Catholic Church is not registered as an association and receives special legal recognition. Its assets and holdings are governed consistent with Catholic canon law.

The constitution recognizes the right to practice the religion of one’s choice. By law, a person claiming a violation of religious freedom may file suit with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, and may also file a motion before the Constitutional Chamber to have a statute or regulation declared unconstitutional. Additionally, a person claiming a violation of religious freedom may appeal to the Administrative Court to sue the government for alleged discriminatory acts. Legal protections cover discrimination by private persons and entities.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religion is responsible for managing the government’s relationship with the Catholic Church and other religious groups. According to the law, a group with a minimum of 10 persons may incorporate as an association with judicial status by registering with the public registry of the Ministry of Justice. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, religious groups must register if they choose to engage in any type of fundraising. Registration also entitles them to obtain legal representation and standing to own property.

The constitution forbids Catholic clergy from serving in the capacity of president, vice president, cabinet member, or Supreme Court justice. This prohibition does not apply to non-Catholic clergy.

An executive order provides the legal framework for religious organizations to establish places of worship. Religious organizations must submit applications to the local municipality to establish a place of worship and to comply with safety and noise regulations established by law.

The law establishes that public schools must provide ecumenical religious instruction by a person who is able to promote moral values and tolerance and be respectful of human rights. If a parent on behalf of a child chooses to opt out of religious courses, the parent must make a written request. The Ministry of Public Education provides assistance for religious education to private schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic, including directly hiring teachers and providing teacher salaries and other funds.

The law allows the government to provide land free of charge to the Catholic Church only. Government-to-church land transfers are typically granted through periodic legislation.

Only Catholic priests and public notaries may perform state-recognized marriages. Wedding ceremonies performed by other religious groups must be legalized through a civil union.

Immigration law requires foreign religious workers to belong to a religious group accredited for migration control purposes by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religion and stipulates religious workers may receive permission to stay at least 90 days but not more than two years. The permission is renewable. In order to obtain accreditation, a religious group must present documentation about its organization, including its complete name, the number of followers, bank information, the number of houses of worship, and the names of and information on the group’s board of directors. Immigration regulations require religious workers to apply for temporary residency before arrival.

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

Government Practices

The Constitutional Chamber received four claims against the free exercise of religious freedom at educational institutions. The court dismissed two claims due to lack of evidence proving discrimination. In the other two claims, the chamber ruled in favor of the claimants. In one case, the chamber ordered that a student’s exam planned for a Saturday be rescheduled for his observation of the Sabbath. In the other case, the chamber ruled that a Jewish student had the constitutional right to wear the kippah skullcap during classes.

The government included support for the Catholic Church in its annual budget. It earmarked approximately 8.4 million colones ($14,900) for various projects requested by the Catholic Church during the year, including funds needed to make improvements at churches and cemeteries in different parts of the country. This was the only funding for religious groups included in the national budget for 2017. A semi-autonomous government institution sold lottery tickets and used the proceeds to support social programs, including some run by non-Catholic groups.

Some non-Catholic leaders continued to state the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups. Members of Protestant groups registered as secular associations continued to state they preferred a separate registration that would specifically cover church construction and operation, permits to organize events, and pastoral access to hospitals and jails for members of non-Catholic religious groups. In the case of the Catholic Church, the government continued to address such concerns through the special legal recognition afforded the Church under canon law.

According to the director of the Evangelical Alliance, a movement to remove Catholicism as the state religion and define the country as an explicitly secular state lost momentum.

The director of the Evangelical Alliance and the president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops criticized proposed legislation that would revise the law permitting abortion only when the mother’s life or health is at risk. Similarly, the Evangelical Alliance director and the president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops criticized the government for supporting draft legislation allowing same-sex civil unions.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Jewish community reported instances of anti-Semitic comments on social media, in particular posts that questioned Israel’s right to exist.

Arguments over same-sex marriage and abortion on social media networks were occasionally accompanied by insults and remarks disparaging the beliefs of Catholics and other Christians. For example, an article reporting on the Catholic Church’s opposition to a change in the law governing access to abortion received several insulting comments with disparaging language toward Catholic leaders. Similarly, an article sharing the views of a leader of a Christian political party garnered comments with slurs and derogatory language.

On December 3, thousands of citizens participated in the “March for Life and Family,” sponsored by an association made up of members of the Catholic Church and other Christian groups. Participants carried signs and banners expressing support for prolife measures and traditional gender and family roles. Seven of the country’s presidential candidates also attended the event.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with Christian legislators and discussed issues of free expression of religious beliefs as well as same-sex marriage and abortion issues of concern to religious groups. Embassy representatives met throughout the year with a wide range of religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant and other Christian communities to discuss their views on religious freedom in the country, including the free expression of religious beliefs. At the embassy’s July 4th event, its largest representational event of the year, the Ambassador delivered remarks emphasizing the importance of valuing diversity, including religious diversity. The embassy used social media to send congratulatory messages to religious groups on special religious occasions. A senior U.S. embassy official spoke at the concert of an embassy-sponsored Klezmer band from the U.S., emphasizing the importance of religious diversity and tolerance.

Cote d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief and worship, consistent with law and order, and prohibits religious discrimination in employment. It emphasizes that religious tolerance is fundamental to the nation’s unity, national reconciliation, and social cohesion. It forbids speech that encourages religious hatred. On June 6, members of a mosque closed in 2016 held a sit-in to protest its closing. As in previous years, the government organized and supervised Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and funded pilgrimages to France and Israel for Christians. In January Muslim and Catholic leaders participated in dialogue between the government and soldiers who staged a mutiny over payment of bonuses. The vice president, the prime minister, and members of the government attended an interfaith ceremony on the Day of Remembrance for the 22 persons killed during the March 2016 terrorist attack in Grand Bassam. A Catholic priest and an imam said prayers for the victims.

On June 21, during a sermon on the Night of Destiny, an imam condemned what he termed the widespread corruption and impunity of the government in the presence of several high-level government officials.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed the importance of religious tolerance with political figures in the government, the political opposition, and the national media. In November an embassy official met with the director general of religious affairs to discuss how the directorate manages interreligious dialogue. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives visited the city of Man, in the west, on several occasions, where they met with government and religious leaders to discuss a conflict over the leadership of a prominent mosque. In June the Charge d’Affaires led an embassy delegation on a visit to an impoverished neighborhood of Abidjan to participate in an iftar during Ramadan at the Abobo Rail mosque. The Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives met with religious leaders and groups, such as Fondation Djigui, throughout the year to discuss their role in maintaining a climate of tolerance and religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 24.1 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the most recent census (in 2014), 42 percent is Muslim, 34 percent Christian, and 4 percent adherents of indigenous religious beliefs. Approximately 20 percent did not respond to the census. Many Christians and Muslims also practice some aspects of indigenous religious beliefs.

Christian groups include Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Harrists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Southern Baptists, Copts, adherents of the Celestial Church of Christ, and members of the Assemblies of God. Muslim groups include Sunnis, Shia, Sufis, and Ahmadis. Other religious groups include Buddhists, Bahais, Rastafarians, followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Bossonists, who follow traditions of the Akan ethnic group.

Traditionally, the northern part of the country is associated with Islam and the south with Christianity, although adherents of both religious groups live throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates a secular state that respects all beliefs and treats all individuals equally under the law, regardless of religion. It prohibits religious discrimination in public and private employment and provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and worship consistent with the law, the rights of others, national security, and public order. It prohibits “propaganda” that encourages religious hatred. It recognizes the right of political asylum in the country for individuals persecuted for religious reasons.

The Department of Faith-Based Organizations (Direction Générale des Cultes), within the Ministry of Interior, is charged with promoting dialogue among religious groups and between the government and religious groups, providing administrative support to groups trying to become established, monitoring religious activities, and managing state-sponsored religious pilgrimages and registration of new religious groups.

The law requires all religious groups to register with the government. Groups must submit an application to the Department of Faith-Based Organizations. The application must include the group’s bylaws, names of the founding members and board members, date of founding, and general assembly minutes. The department investigates the organization to ensure the religious group has no members or purpose deemed politically subversive and that no members are deprived of their civil and political rights. There are no penalties prescribed for groups that do not register, but those that register benefit from government support. For example, the government provides free access to state-run television and radio for religious programming to registered religious groups that request it. Registered religious groups are not charged import duties on devotional items such as religious books and religious items such as rosaries.

Religious education is not included in the public school curriculum but is often included in private schools affiliated with a particular faith.

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

Government Practices

On June 6, women and children from the Guinean faction of one of the largest mosques in Man staged a sit-in to protest its closing in 2016. Local authorities closed the mosque following violent incidents to resolve a question of leadership between the Guinean and Ivorian factions. The women ended their sit-in on June 25, on the condition that the local authorities would look into reopening the mosque. The mosque was still closed at the end of the year.

The government continued to supervise and organize Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and fund pilgrimages to Israel and France for Christians, as well as fund local pilgrimages for members of independent African Christian churches. The government organized and transported 4,200 pilgrims to the Hajj and funded pilgrimages for 3,500 Christians of all denominations.

The government included prominent Muslim and Catholic religious leaders in talks with disgruntled soldiers who staged a mutiny in January over the back payment of promised bonuses. Religious leaders also met with the soldiers before the second mutiny in May, and shared their assessment with government officials that the soldiers were likely to stage a second mutiny.

The national government declared the one-year anniversary of the March 2016 terrorist attack in Grand Bassam a “Day of Remembrance.” On this occasion, the mayor organized a public ceremony to unveil a headstone in memory of the victims. A Catholic priest and an imam said prayers for the victims.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Ivoirians regularly celebrated each other’s religious holidays by attending household or neighborhood gatherings, regardless of their own faith.

While religious leaders said they shunned working too closely with political parties, an imam used his influence to condemn what he termed widespread corruption and impunity on June 21 during a sermon on the Night of Destiny, the holiest night during Ramadan, at which several high-level government officials were present.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives frequently discussed the importance of religious tolerance with figures in the government, the political opposition, and the national media. In March an embassy official attended the anniversary ceremony of the 2016 terrorist attack in Grand Bassam and emphasized the need for religious tolerance. In November an embassy official met with the director general of religious affairs. In the meeting, officials discussed how the directorate manages interreligious dialogue. This includes regular outreach with leaders of faith communities, with the aim of preventing radicalization and preserving the peaceful relations between religious groups. The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials took multiple trips to Man, in the west, where they met with government, civil society, and religious leaders to discuss the 2016 closure of a prominent mosque, whose members had resorted to violence to resolve a question of leadership. The embassy urged government officials to work to reduce tensions. Embassy officials also met with representatives of both sides of the conflict to allow them to air their grievances and continued efforts to resolve the conflict.

In June the Charge d’Affaires led an embassy delegation on a visit to the Abobo Rail mosque in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Abidjan to participate in an iftar meal celebrating Ramadan. He made a donation of food and other items and spoke on national television and radio on the importance of tolerance in a diverse society. In September an embassy official attended Eid al-Adha ceremonies in Grand Bassam. During this visit he spoke on national television and gave an interview to Fraternite Matin, the state-owned newspaper, on the importance of religious tolerance. The embassy conducted a social cohesion program for youth using soccer as a vehicle to teach youth themes of tolerance, respect for diversity, and conflict resolution. The program specifically included mention of the need for tolerance in a religiously diverse country.

Foundation Djigui, a human rights organization founded by a prominent imam, participated in an embassy-hosted panel discussion on the need to reform cultural and traditional practices that discriminate against women, particularly female genital mutilation, which is common in Muslim communities.

Under an agreement between Voice of America (VOA) and Al-Bayane Radio, VOA’s Dialogue des Religions (Dialogue of Religions) in French continued to reach millions of listeners across the country with its weekly broadcast on the Islamic radio station. Dialogue des Religions featured a host and guests – often religious scholars or journalists – who discussed religious issues in the news and answered listeners’ questions on various facets of religion. The embassy also continued its Hello, America! Broadcast – a monthly radio program in partnership with the Al-Bayane Islamic radio station which had the largest audience in the country. The program featured Americans from the embassy who represented different ethnic and religious backgrounds and spoke about the value of American diversity, as well as religious tolerance and diversity.

Croatia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred. All religious communities receive the same religious protections, and are free to worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide for state financial support and tax and other benefits; other registered religious communities with agreements with the state receive equivalent benefits. Registered religious communities without such agreements and unregistered religious groups receive fewer benefits. The ombudsman reported some health institutions denied operations to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions for religious reasons. The ombudsman recommended the two ministries concerned act to ensure Jehovah’s Witnesses received adequate medical care. The government did not resolve outstanding property restitution cases with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). Senior government officials attended an annual commemoration of victims of the World War II (WWII)-era Jasenovac death camp, which Jewish and Serb (largely Orthodox) leaders boycotted to protest placement near the camp of a private plaque bearing a salute of the fascist Ustasha organization and the lack of government action to remove the plaque. Government leaders later condemned the plaque and moved it elsewhere. The government formed a council to make recommendations on the use of totalitarian symbols and slogans used during and after WWII.

Jewish community leaders continued to report concerns about Holocaust denial, distancing, and minimization and the use by some of Ustasha symbols and slogans. Some Jewish community leaders said there were incidents of significant historical revisionism and downplaying of the country’s role in the Holocaust, and expressed dissatisfaction with how the government responded to cases of anti-Semitism, such as the placement of the controversial plaque at Jasenovac. Jewish, Serb, and other groups organized separate commemorations for the victims of the Jasenovac death camp after boycotting the government’s ceremony. In February a nonparliamentary political party organized a demonstration in which marchers bore Ustasha symbols, and in August a singer led pro-Ustasha chants during a concert. SOC Patriarch Irinej of Serbia called on the government and Catholic clergy to respond to crimes against Croatian Serbs and to address what he described as the desecration of SOC churches in the country.

The U.S. embassy continued to encourage the government to restitute property seized during and after WWII, particularly from the Jewish community during the Holocaust, and advocated amendments to existing legislation that would allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications. The embassy sponsored a visit by four teachers to the U.S. for a Holocaust education exchange program.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.3 million (July 2017 estimate.) According to the 2011 census, 86.3 percent of residents are Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim. Nearly 4 percent self-identify as nonreligious or atheist. Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians. According to the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 Jews.

Religious affiliation correlates closely with ethnicity. Ethnic Serbs are predominantly members of the SOC and live primarily in cities and areas bordering Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most members of other minority religious groups reside in urban areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, and freedom of conscience and religious expression. It prohibits incitement of religious hatred. According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to publicly conduct religious services and open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and assistance of the state.

The Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established in four concordats between the government and the Holy See. These agreements allow state financing for salaries and pensions of some religious officials associated with religious education through government-managed pension and health funds. These agreements also stipulate state funding for religious education in public schools. The law stipulates the same rights and benefits as those specified for the Catholic Church in the concordats with other registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state.

The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits; registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations. According to the law, a religious community which was previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information about the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register. To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association for at least five years. To register as an organization, a group submits a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Administration. Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but without tax or other benefits. A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.

The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration. Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration. Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in schools or access state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, building costs, and clergy salaries; however, they may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.

There are 54 registered religious communities, including the Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia. Besides the Catholic Church, 19 religious communities have agreements with the state.

Public schools must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds. The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used. Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith. Eligible religious communities provide the instructors and the state pays their salaries. Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance.

The law does not allow citizens whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution, as it excludes the period of 1941-45 from claims. The law also does not allow noncitizens to file new property claims, since a legal deadline for such claims expired in 2003 and has not been renewed.

The ombudsman is a commissioner of the parliament responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. The ombudsman examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies, local and regional self-government, and legal persons vested with public authority. The ombudsman can issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices, but does not have authority itself to enforce compliance with recommendations.

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

Government Practices

The ombudsman reported continued obstacles encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding their right to health care in accordance with their religious beliefs. The ombudsman stated that in 2016, the latest year for which figures were available, there were 22 cases in which 14 state healthcare institutions denied surgery to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions because of their religious beliefs. The Jehovah’s Witness community reported having to use its own finances to send patients to different hospitals for procedures, including hospitals outside of the country. The ombudsman’s 2016 report made recommendations for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor to improve hospital procedures and policies in order to provide adequate health care to patients in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Representatives of the SOC reported the government did not resolve any of its outstanding property restitution cases during the year, including claims for land in Osijek County and properties in Vukovar, Vinkovci, and Epharchy Osijecko-Poljska.

On August 17, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs issued a statement noting the government was engaged in dialogue with representatives of minorities and was committed to promoting tolerance, solidarity, and cooperation among minority and religious groups.

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the Catholic Church received 299.5 million kuna ($48.1 million) in government funding during the year for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared to 285.7 million kuna ($45.9 million) in 2016. The government offered funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools (all offered on an opt-in basis), as well as the operation of private religious schools. The government provided 20.6 million kuna ($3.31 million) to these groups, the same amount as the previous year.

On April 23, Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Plenkovic and other government ministers attended the annual official commemoration for victims of the WWII-era Jasenovac death camp. For the second year in a row, Jewish and Serb (largely Orthodox) leaders announced they would not participate in the official ceremony, but would hold separate commemorations. The leaders cited dissatisfaction with the government’s lack of response to a veterans group’s placement of a plaque, in November 2016, bearing the Ustasha-era salute “Za dom Spremni” (“For the Homeland, Ready,” ZDS) near the site of the camp. Following the boycott, PM Plenkovic said he regretted the placement of the plaque and that it was the lasting task of the government to develop a tolerant and democratic society. In September President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and PM Plenkovic both condemned the plaque, and the government relocated it to a veterans’ cemetery in the nearby town of Novska; the government did not make a determination on the legality of the use of the controversial Ustasha salute.

In March PM Plenkovic announced the creation of a special council, the Council for Dealing with Consequences of the Rule of Non-Democratic Regimes. According to the PM, the council would provide the government with legal and institutional recommendations regarding the use of symbols of totalitarian regimes during and after WWII, to include ZDS, that would be used for eventual legislation on the issue. The government directed the council, which consisted of legal experts, academics, and historians, to issue its recommendations by March 2018.

In January PM Plenkovic attended a traditional Orthodox Christmas reception organized by the Serb National Council (SNV) in Zagreb. He stated his government’s policy was one of stability, tolerance, dialogue, settlement of outstanding issues, and good relations with all minorities in the country. When he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in January, he committed to fight “any form of hatred, racism, and Holocaust denial” and said the country would continue to promote “values of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance.”

On August 24, President Grabar-Kitarovic bestowed the Order of Ante Starcevic, a national decoration, upon the leader of the Islamic Community of Croatia, Mufti Aziz Efendi Hasanovic. Hasanovic was recognized for his contribution to the building of the contemporary state and promotion of religious liberties, tolerance, and human rights, as well as for his engagement in interreligious and intercultural cooperation. During the ceremony, the president stated Muslim citizens were included in all spheres of social life on an equal footing. The president emphasized the successful interreligious dialogue between the Christian majority and Muslim minority, commending the role of the Islamic Community of Croatia.

Members of the Islamic community reported they cooperated with the government to provide religious and cultural instruction to soldiers before they deployed to Muslim countries, particularly Afghanistan. The Mufti of Croatia, Aziz Hasanovic, accompanied President Grabar-Kitarovic on state visits to majority-Muslim countries.

The Office of the President continued to maintain a special advisor for Holocaust issues.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Jewish community leaders said there were incidents of significant historical revisionism and downplaying or denial of the country’s role in the Holocaust. They expressed dissatisfaction with how the government responded to cases of anti-Semitism, such as the placement of the controversial plaque at Jasenovac and use by some of Ustasha symbols and slogans.

The Jewish community organized its own commemoration of the victims of the Jasenovac death camp after boycotting the government’s ceremony. Serb and other organizations, such as the Association of Anti-Fascist Fighters and the Anti-Fascists of Croatia, also held separate commemorations.

In February the extra-parliamentary Autonomous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP), described widely in both media reports and academic analyses as far right, staged a march in Zagreb during which party members waved flags bearing an unofficial coat of arms associated with the fascist Ustasha movement. The procession of approximately 30 participants also flew an A-HSP party flag emblazoned with the ZDS Ustasha salute. According to PM Plenkovic, the actions were intended to “incite fear and intolerance in society.” Police arrested A-HSP leader Drazen Kleminec during the rally for disturbing the peace.

In August singer Marko “Thompson” Perkovic led pro-Ustasha chants during a concert in Slunj commemorating the country’s Victory and Homeland Day. Police filed misdemeanor charges against him for violating public peace and order.

On January 23, during an interview with daily newspaper Jutarnji list, SOC Patriarch Irinej of Serbia called upon government officials and Catholic clergy to respond to continuing crimes against the Croatian Serb population and to address desecration of SOC churches reported during previous years. He also stated that when visiting the Jasenovac camp in 2016, he had noticed pro-Ustasha graffiti on the memorial walls.

SOC representatives reported to authorities approximately 10 burglaries during the year at religious properties in Knin and Drnis.

The country continued to host a center for Halal Quality Certification. The center provided halal certifications to businesses producing halal products for domestic consumption and export, as well as education, scientific, research, and marketing services related to halal products. Since its opening in 2010, the center certified 66 food producers, 18 hotels, seven travel agencies, a catering company, and a public school.

In July the Constitutional Court ruled that inclusion of the phrase “So help me God” in the oath taken by newly elected presidents of the country did not violate the secularity of the republic and that the oath was in accordance with the constitution. The court found that taking the oath was “essentially just a ceremonial act,” and the phrase “So help me God” was not “linked to any religious position,” and did not “represent a theistic and religious conviction,” or “impose a particular religious commitment upon the president.” Three individuals had separately challenged the constitutionality of including the phrase in the oath in motions they filed in 2009, 2013, and 2014. Two judges dissented from the majority opinion, opining the phrase violated the principles of equality of religious communities and of separation of religion from the state.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy staff regularly discussed religious freedom issues, including concerns related to the status and treatment of religious minorities, with representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, Office of the Chief State Prosecutor, ombudsman, and other officials. In March and September the Ambassador, embassy staff, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with Justice Minister Drazen Bosnjakovic, then-Justice Minister Ante Sprlje, Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek, officials from the foreign ministry and the PM’s office, and members of parliament. They encouraged them to adopt amendments to existing legislation to provide for restitution of private and communal or religious property seized during and after WWII, including provisions that would unequivocally allow for foreign claims and that would also reopen the deadline for potential new claims. Embassy engagement also focused on the restitution of Jewish communal properties such as cultural centers, synagogues, and cemeteries, as well as private property, and creation of a claims process for victims.

The embassy discussed religious freedom issues, including concerns related to freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with the NGO Society for Promotion of Religious Freedom and other civil society organizations, such as Human Rights House, Documenta, and Freedom House, as well as representatives from Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports, the embassy funded Holocaust education training in the U.S. for two high school and two primary school teachers, who later applied the training in the classroom. The annual program was organized by the Department of State, the Association of Holocaust Organizations in New York, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The program imparted new teaching methods and techniques, facilitated an exchange of ideas and experiences, and provided resources and materials for classroom instruction.

Cuba

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The government and the Communist Party, through the Communist Party’s Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), continued to control most aspects of religious life. Observers noted the government continued to use threats, travel restrictions, detentions, and violence against some religious leaders and their followers. In May the government officially informed the Assemblies of God (AG) it would not proceed with confiscation orders against 2,000 AG churches or demolish a church in Santiago under zoning laws passed in 2015; however, it did not provide written guarantees to this effect. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) noted 325 violations of freedom of religion or belief during the year. CSW reported a “significant drop” in the reported cases of violations of religious freedom or belief in the year compared with previous years, which it attributed to the government’s verbal rescinding in May of the decree outlawing the 2,000 AG churches. The majority of CSW’s reported violations were related to government efforts to prevent members of the human rights organization Ladies in White from attending Catholic Mass, as well as government threats and harassment of members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom. Religious groups reported a continued increase in the ability of their members to conduct charitable and educational projects, such as operating before and after school and community service programs, assisting with care of the elderly, and maintaining small libraries of religious materials. Some leaders from Catholic, Protestant, and minority religious groups stated the religious freedom environment had improved compared with the previous year, pointing to progress made in a pending permit to build a permanent church structure, while some evangelical Christian groups said religious freedom had not improved for them.

The Community of Sant’Egidio organized the Paths of Peace, an interreligious meeting, in Havana on October 4 and 5. Leaders of different religions and more than 500 participants attended the meeting, which focused on the importance of welcoming and integrating migrants regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation.

U.S. embassy officials met with ORA officials to discuss the registration process for religious organizations and encourage equal treatment in allowing nonregistered groups to practice their religion. Embassy officials also met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches (CCC), a government-recognized organization with close ties to the government and comprising most Protestant groups, to discuss its operations and programs. The embassy met regularly with Catholic Church authorities and Jewish community representatives concerning the state of religious, economic, and political activities. Embassy officials also met with representatives from Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, Santeria, and various Protestant communities. The embassy remained in close contact with religious groups, including facilitating exchanges between visiting religious delegations and religious groups in the country. In social media and other public statements, the U.S. government continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.2 million (July 2017 estimate). There is no independent, authoritative source on the overall size or composition of religious groups. The Roman Catholic Church estimates 60 to 70 percent of the population identifies as Catholic. Membership in Protestant churches is estimated at 5 percent of the population. Pentecostals and Baptists are likely the largest Protestant denominations. The Assemblies of God reports approximately 120,000 members and the four Baptist conventions estimate their combined membership at more than 100,000. Jehovah’s Witnesses estimate their members at 96,000; Methodists at 40,000; Seventh-day Adventists at 35,000; Anglicans, 22,500; Presbyterians, 15,500; Episcopalians, 6,000; Quakers, 300; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 150. Some Christian leaders say they have observed a marked growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the country. The Jewish community estimates it has 1,500 members, of whom 1,200 reside in Havana. According to the local Islamic League, there are 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims, of whom an estimated 1,500 are native born. Other religious groups with small numbers of adherents include Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Buddhists, and Bahais.

Many individuals, particularly those of African descent, practice religions with roots in West Africa and the Congo River Basin, known collectively as Santeria. These religious practices are commonly intermingled with Catholicism, and some require Catholic baptism for full initiation, making it difficult to estimate accurately their total membership.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

According to the constitution, “the state recognizes, respects, and guarantees freedom of religion” and “different beliefs and religions enjoy the same considerations under the law.” The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. It declares the country to be secular and provides for the separation of church and state, but says the Communist Party of Cuba is “the superior leading force of the society and the State.” It also states no freedom can be exercised contrary to the “objectives of the socialist state.”

The ORA, an organ of the Communist Party, regulates religious institutions and the practice of religion. The law of associations requires all religious groups to apply to the MOJ for official recognition. The MOJ recognizes religious denominations as associations similar to officially recognized civil society organizations. The application process requires religious groups to identify the location of their activities, their proposed leadership, and their funding sources, among other requirements. Ineligibilities for registration include determination by the MOJ that another group has identical or similar objectives, or that the group’s activities could harm the common good. Once the ministry grants official recognition, the religious group must request permission from the ORA to conduct activities, such as holding meetings in approved locations, publishing major decisions from meetings, receiving foreign visitors, importing religious literature, purchasing and operating motor vehicles, and constructing, repairing, or purchasing places of worship. Groups failing to register may face penalties ranging from fines to closure of their organizations.

The constitution states “the rights of assembly, demonstration and association are exercised by workers, both manual and intellectual; peasants; women; students; and other sectors of the working people,” but it does not explicitly address religious association. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.

Military service is mandatory for all men. For religious groups that actively oppose military participation, there are no legal provisions exempting their members as conscientious objectors; in practice, the authorities allow conscientious objectors to perform alternative service.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The country notes, “With respect to the scope and implementation of some of the provisions of this international instrument, Cuba will make such reservations or interpretative declarations as it may deem appropriate.”

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Religious organizations and human rights groups stated the government continued to threaten, detain, and use violence against outspoken religious figures, especially those advocating for human rights and religious freedom or collaborating with independent human rights groups. Security forces took measures, including detentions sometimes accompanied by violence, which inhibited the ability of members of the protest group Ladies in White to attend Catholic Mass. Some members of independent evangelical Christian churches said government authorities closely monitored and detained, for unspecified periods of time, their leadership and family members. Representatives of the Patmos Institute, a religious freedom advocacy organization, said authorities also targeted Christians affiliated with the institute, including through threats, detentions, and expulsions from school and work. One leader, who stated the situation had improved from the previous year, cited the approved permit to build the first new church built in the country since 1959.

Some high level Catholic, Protestant, and minority religious leaders stated the religious freedom environment had improved compared with the previous year; however, some evangelical Christian groups said religious freedom had not improved for their groups. CSW’s annual report stated church leaders from all denominations reported consistent harassment and surveillance from state security and officials responsible for religious affairs. It also stated the government continued to severely restrict public religious events. The CSW report counted 325 violations during the year, compared with 2,380 violations in 2016 and over 2,300 violations in 2015. In its report CSW stated the “significant drop” in the reported cases of violations of religious freedom or belief in the year, compared with previous years, was due to the government’s verbal rescinding in May of a decree that had outlawed 2,000 AG churches. One leader, who stated the situation had improved from the previous year, cited the approved permit to build a new Catholic church in Pinar del Rio Province – the first new church built in the country since 1959.

According to CSW, human rights activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez reported state security agents raided the home of Misael Diaz Paseiro on October 22 and confiscated two Bibles, a number of crucifixes and five rosaries. On November 4, police reportedly beat Diaz, tore his rosaries from his neck, and said “in addition to being a counterrevolutionary, you are also a Christian. You should look at us – we are revolutionaries and we don’t believe in your god. Our god is Fidel Castro.” Diaz was imprisoned on November 22 and reportedly denied visits from a priest and access to a Bible. The Christian Post reported the government charged Diaz with “pre-criminal dangerousness” and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison.

Reverend Juan Carlos Nunez Velazquez, an Apostolic Movement leader, lost an appeal on February 1 to overturn his sentence of one year under house arrest. Police arrested Nunez in 2016 for disturbing the peace because he failed to comply with police orders to reduce the size and volume of the speakers he used during Sunday sermons at his open-air church.

According to CSW, in February authorities twice interrogated an Eastern Baptist Convention pastor about his work, members of his congregation, and the activities of his church. The authorities also threatened to confiscate the property; however, at year’s end, the government had taken no action against the church.

According to CSW and news sources, on April 27, airport authorities detained and interrogated Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez, a 20-year-old student and evangelical Christian and religious freedom activist, upon his return to the country. The authorities informed Llerena Lopez he was being investigated for planning terrorist acts, possessing pornographic materials, and meeting with “terrorist” Cuban exiles opposed to the government. The authorities briefly detained Lopez’s mother, expelled Llerena Lopez from the university where he was a part-time student, and banned him from international travel. On October 2, authorities informed Llerena Lopez he would not be charged with any crimes and rescinded his travel ban; however, the university had not reinstated him at year’s end. CSW quoted Llerena Lopez as saying, “After five months of opposition, arrests, being expelled from university, intimidation, threats, and a false accusation, today I can say that solidarity and the dignity of not giving up on principles … triumphed.”

According to CSW, on November 6, police arrested and briefly detained Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, a local Patmos coordinator in Santa Clara, without charges. CSW sources said on April 11, Rodriguez’s daughter, Dalila Rodriguez Gonzalez, was fired from her position as a university professor for not being “a good influence on students” and because she “could damage their formation.” According to Rodriguez Alonso, his daughter’s dismissal was revenge for his religious freedom advocacy.

According to CSW, police physically assaulted members of the Ladies in White, a rights advocacy organization, while they were en route to attend religious ceremonies. On February 19, CSW reported that a police officer punched in the face Ladies in White member Magda Onelvis Mendoza Diaz as she was going to church. On August 13, a police officer in Havana reportedly choked Berta Soler Fernandez, and officers detained her for 24 hours; they subsequently released her without charge.

According to representatives of several religious organizations that had unsuccessfully sought legal recognition, the government continued to interpret the law on associations as a means for the MOJ to deny the registration of certain religious groups. If the MOJ decided a group was duplicating the activities of another, it denied recognition. In some cases, the MOJ delayed the request for registration or cited changing laws as a reason why a request had not been approved.

According to the members of Protestant denominations, some groups were still able to register only a small percentage of “house churches” in private homes; however, most unregistered house churches continued to operate with little or no government interference. A number of religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, continued to await a decision from the MOJ on pending applications for official recognition, some dating as far back as 1994. These groups said the authorities permitted them to conduct religious activities, hold meetings, receive foreign visitors, make substantial renovations to their facilities, and send representatives abroad. They also said state security continued to monitor their movements, telephone calls, visitors, and religious meetings.

According to CSW sources, on September 14, police disrupted an interdenominational Christian service in Santiago; local authorities had previously approved the service. Local authorities said the service was “counterrevolutionary” and threatened to imprison event organizer Pastor Ernesto Lora if he organized a similar event in the future.

According to CSW, on April 3, authorities in Las Tunas fined Reverend Mario Travieso of the Apostolic Church 1,500 pesos ($1,500) for building a wall next to his church that the authorities considered too high even though he had received written approval from his neighbors. Prior to imposing the fine, authorities had inspected his house in response to a noise complaint; they told him not to pray or sing with neighboring families.

Many religious leaders continued to state they refrained from speaking about overtly political topics. Some said they feared criticizing the government could lead to denials of permits from the ORA, dismantling of religious buildings, or other measures that could limit the growth of their religious groups. The nongovernmental organization Outreach Aid to the Americas (OAA) reported some instances in which evangelical Christians not supporting Communist Party political activities experienced harassment and threats from government employers and educators.

According to the OAA, the Central University in Santa Clara expelled an 18-year-old student after he began attending Christian group meetings at the university. The OAA said university officials told the student he was expelled because his beliefs “were not compatible with the philosophy taught at the university.”

The OAA said from October 2016 to April 2017, the supervisors of an employee in a government-run company in Taguasco reportedly threatened the employee with termination after learning he had joined a Christian church in 2016. The man reported his harassment and threats to his pastor in April.

The OAA stated in April school administrators had threatened to expel a 17-year-old student enrolled in a pre-university course at the Ernesto Che Guevara Institute of Santa Clara if he continued to participate in Christian group meetings.

In May the government informed the Assemblies of God (AG) it would not proceed with confiscation orders against 2,000 AG churches or demolish a church in Santiago under zoning laws passed in 2015; however, it did not provide written guarantees to this effect.

Many religious groups continued to use private homes as house churches to work around restrictions on constructing new buildings. Protestant leaders’ estimates of the total number of house churches for Protestant groups varied significantly, from fewer than 2,000 to as many as 10,000. Religious groups said authorities approved many applications within two to three years from the date of the application, but either did not respond to or denied other applications arbitrarily.

Representatives from both the Catholic Church and the CCC said they continued to conduct religious services in prisons and detention centers in some provinces. The Protestant seminary in Matanzas and churches in Pinar del Rio continued to train chaplains and laypersons to provide religious counseling for prison inmates and to provide support for their families. The CCC continued to operate a training facility it opened in 2016, at which it offered courses on chaplain work as well as courses on caring for sacred religious objects, gender and women’s issues, and seminars for international students.

Representatives of religious groups reported their leaders continued to travel abroad generally unimpeded to participate in exchanges between local and international faith-based communities. The majority of religious groups continued to report improvement in their ability to attract new members without government interference, and a reduction in interference from the government in conducting their services. According to local observers, in September authorities prohibited a Baptist journalist from traveling with an interfaith group of religious and civil society activists and journalists to a human rights training seminar in Brazil. The journalist’s employer reportedly accused the journalist of selling secret information and of committing treason. Several independent journalists and bloggers reported an increase in government harassment and prohibitions of travel of individuals who questioned government policies.

Some religious leaders reported obstacles preventing them from importing religious materials and donated goods, including bureaucratic challenges and arbitrary restrictions such as inconsistent rules on computers and electronic devices. Several groups said they could import large quantities of Bibles, books, clothing, and other donated goods. The Catholic Church and several Protestant religious group representatives said they continued to maintain small libraries, print periodicals and other information, and operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship. The Catholic Church continued to publish periodicals and hold regular forums at the Varela Center that sometimes criticized official social and economic policies.

By year’s end, the government had not granted the Archbishop of Havana’s 2016 public request to allow the Catholic Church to reopen religious schools and have open access to broadcast on television and radio. The ORA authorized the CCC to host a monthly radio broadcast, which allowed the council’s messages to be heard throughout the country. No other churches had access to media, which are all state-owned. Several religious leaders continued to protest the government’s restriction on broadcasting religious services over the radio or on television.

The ORA stated in August the law on associations was being revised, although it did not provide a timeline for when the revisions would be finalized, nor what the changes would be. Members of the AG continued to request the government pass reforms to the law that would validate and legalize the property the church owned, as well as allow the church to build new temples.

Several religious leaders said the ORA continued to grant new permits to repair or restore existing buildings, allowing the expansion of some structures and in some cases the construction of essentially new buildings on the foundations of the old. In August the an ORA source stated the ORA had granted permission in 2015 for the Catholic Church to build an entirely new church on newly acquired ground in Pinar del Rio Province. The media reported in 2017 the construction was almost complete. Some religious leaders stated the government regularly granted permits to buy properties to be used as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there. Other religious groups stated securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.

The government continued to prevent religious groups from establishing accredited schools but did not interfere with the efforts of some religious groups to operate seminaries, interfaith training centers, before- and after-school programs, eldercare programs, weekend retreats, workshops for primary and secondary students, and higher education programs. The Catholic Church continued to offer coursework leading to a bachelor’s and master’s degree through foreign partners. Several Protestant communities continued to offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees in theology, the humanities, and related subjects via distance learning; however the government did not recognize any of these degrees.

Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders continued to state they found the requirements for university admission and the course of study incompatible with the group’s beliefs since their religion prohibited them from political involvement. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses remained ineligible for professional careers in the fields of law, medicine, among others.

Church leaders reported the government continued an unofficial practice of allowing civilian public service to substitute for mandatory military service for those who objected on religious grounds. Church leaders submitted official letters to a military committee, which decided whether to grant these exemptions. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventist leaders stated their members generally were permitted to perform social service in lieu of military service.

Some religious leaders said the government continued to restrict their ability to receive donations from overseas. They cited a measure that prohibited churches and religious groups from using individuals’ bank accounts for their organizations, and required existing individual accounts used in this way to be consolidated into one per denomination or organization. Larger, better organized churches reported more success in receiving large donations, while smaller, less formal churches reported difficulties with banking procedures. According to these religious leaders, the regulations allowed the government to curb the scope and number of activities of individual churches and to single out groups that could be held accountable for withdrawing money intended for purposes not approved by the government.

Religious groups continued to report the government allowed them to engage in community service programs, including assisting the elderly, providing potable water to small towns, growing and selling fruits and vegetables at below-market prices, and establishing health clinics. International faith-based charitable operations such as Caritas, Sant’Egidio, and the Salvation Army maintained local offices in Havana. Caritas in particular was very involved in gathering and distributing hurricane relief items.

According to the Western Baptist Convention (WBC), on July 6, members of a family that occupied a Havana property owned by the WBC more than 30 years ago broke into the WBC’s new office adjacent to where the family lived. The family reportedly stole the WBC’s documents, computers, furniture, and other property and refused to return it to the WBC. The ORA took no action, despite WBC’s requests for ORA’s intervention. In 1992, a court ruled the family’s residency in the property was illegal but did not require the family to leave.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Community of Sant’Egidio, recognized by the Catholic Church as a “Church public lay association,” held an interfaith meeting – “Paths of Peace” – in Havana on October 4 and 5 to promote interreligious engagement, tolerance, and joint efforts towards peace. Leaders of different religious groups in the country and more than 500 participants attended the meeting, which focused on the importance of welcoming and integrating migrants regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of affiliation.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet with ORA officials and raise concerns about the ability of unregistered churches to gain official status and practice their religion. The ORA officials continued to state their interest in increased engagement with U.S. religious groups and U.S. government counterparts. The U.S. government continued to call upon the government to respect its citizens’ fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of religion and expression. For example, the Department of State Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor posted on social media about “fundamental freedoms” on January 6 and about Ladies in White on April 13. The latter post stated “great meeting with Damas de Blanco on human rights in Cuba – we stand with defenders of free expression and assembly.”

Embassy officials met with the head of the CCC and discussed concerns some unregistered churches faced to gain official status.

Embassy officers continued to meet frequently with a wide range of religious groups, including Protestants, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and Catholics, to discuss the principal issues of religious freedom and tolerance affecting each group, including freedom of assembly, church expansion, access to state-owned media, and their ability to open private religious schools. Embassy engagement with smaller religious groups under pressure from the government included a continuing assessment of how the change in diplomatic relations between the two governments affected these communities.

Embassy engagement focused on facilitating exchanges between visiting religious delegations and religious groups, including between visiting representatives of U.S. religious organizations and local institutions. The groups often discussed the challenges of daily life in the country, such as obtaining government permission for certain activities, and successes, such as closer bonds between Cuban and American churches and an increase in two-way travel between Cuban and American congregations.

Cyprus

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS (BELOW) | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

Since 1974, the southern part of Cyprus has been under the authority of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, while the northern part, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island. A buffer zone, or “green line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two parts.

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom to worship, teach, and practice one’s religion. It grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and recognizes the Vakf, an Islamic institution that manages land Muslims have donated as an endowment for charitable purposes as well as sites of worship. The government granted Turkish Cypriots access to religious sites in the area it controls, including for visits by approximately 2,650 Turkish Cypriots and foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque on three occasions. Seven of the eight functioning mosques, with the exception of Hala Sultan Tekke, in the government-controlled area were open for all five daily prayers, and six had the necessary facilities for ablutions. Despite long-standing requests, the government did not grant permission to the Muslim community to make improvements at mosques. A representative of the Buddhist community reported authorities raised obstacles to the operation of a temple in a village outside of Nicosia and forced the community to relocate the temple. In July the government removed a requirement to designate a person’s religion on civil marriage applications and certificates. The ombudsman’s office reported it was investigating new complaints regarding Ministry of Education (MOE) regulations for exempting students from religious instruction. The government required those who objected to military service on religious grounds to perform alternate service for longer periods.

The Jewish community reported incidents of assault, verbal harassment, and vandalism. Some religious minority groups reported pressure to engage in religious ceremonies of majority groups. Members of the Greek Orthodox majority reported they sometimes faced social ostracism from the Greek Orthodox community if they converted to another religion, such as Islam. A hotel reportedly refused to hire Muslim women for a cleaning job because they wore a hijab. In June a bicommunal working group set up as part of the UN-facilitated settlement talks completed the restoration of Koprulu Mosque in Limassol and Mathiatis Mosque in Nicosia district, and in October the Department of Antiquities completed the restoration of Arnavut Mosque in Limassol. The United Nations introduced religious groups and civil society organizations to its “Faith for Rights” initiative, which aimed to strengthen and deepen the connections between religious groups and human rights. The religious and civil society groups reportedly received the initiative positively and discussed ways to engage the public in a dialogue on protecting human rights to promote freedom of religion. Leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet and reaffirmed their commitment to the promotion of religious freedom across the island. In October the Office of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) launched a pilot program offering Greek and Turkish language classes for priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons who worked for faith-based organizations.

U.S. embassy staff met with the government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious leaders to discuss religious freedom issues, including access to religious sites island-wide and discriminatory treatment of minority religious groups. Embassy officials encouraged religious leaders to continue their dialogue and hold reciprocal visits to places of religious significance on either side of the “green line.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the island at 1.2 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, the population of the government-controlled area was 840,000. Of that total, 89.1 percent is Greek Orthodox Christian and 1.8 percent Muslim. Other religious groups include Roman Catholics (2.9 percent), Protestants (2 percent), Buddhists (1 percent), Maronite Catholics (0.5 percent), Armenian Orthodox (0.3 percent), with small populations of Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Bahais. Recent immigrants and migrant workers are predominantly Roman Catholic, Muslim, and Buddhist. The country’s chief rabbi estimates the number of Jews at approximately 3,000, most of whom are foreign born.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right of individuals to profess their faith and to worship, teach, and practice or observe their religion, individually or collectively, in private or in public, subject to limitations due to considerations of national security or public health, safety, order, and morals, or the protection of civil liberties. The constitution specifies all religions whose doctrines or rites are not secret are free and equal before the law. It protects the right to change one’s religion and prohibits the use of physical or moral compulsion to make a person change, or prevent a person from changing, his or her religion. The ombudsman is an independent state institution responsible for protecting citizens’ rights and human rights in general. The ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints made against any public service or official for actions that violate human rights, including freedom of religion, or actions exercised in contravention of the laws or the rules of proper administration. The ombudsman makes recommendations to correct wrongdoings but does not issue remedial steps.

The constitution states the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus (Church of Cyprus) has the exclusive right to regulate and administer the Church’s internal affairs and property in accordance with its canons and charter. By law, the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus pays taxes only on commercial activities.

The constitution sets guidelines for the Vakf, which is tax exempt and has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its laws and principles. According to the constitution, no legislative, executive, or other act may contravene or interfere with the Church of Cyprus or the Vakf. The Vakf operates only in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and does not administer mosques located in the government-controlled area. The Vakf acts as caretaker of religious properties in the Turkish Cypriot community. The government serves as caretaker and provides financial support to mosques in government-controlled areas.

Besides the Church of Cyprus and Islam, the constitution recognizes three other religious groups: Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and “Latins” (Cypriot Roman Catholics). Their institutions are exempt from taxes and eligible for government subsidies for cultural and educational matters, depending on the needs of each group, for example, to cover costs to operate their own schools, for school fees for members of the groups attending private schools, or for activities to preserve their cultural identity.

Religious groups not recognized in the constitution must register with the government as nonprofit organizations in order to engage in financial transactions and maintain bank accounts. To register, a religious group must submit through an attorney an application to the Ministry of Commerce stating its purpose and provide the names of its directors. Religious groups registered as nonprofit organizations are treated the same as any other nonprofit organization; they are tax-exempt, must provide annual reports to the government, and are not eligible for government subsidies.

The government requires Greek Orthodox religious instruction and attendance at religious services before major holidays in public primary and secondary schools. The MOE may excuse primary school students of other religious groups from attending religious services and instruction at the request of their guardians, but Greek Orthodox children in primary school may not opt out. The MOE may excuse any secondary school student from religious instruction on grounds of religion or conscience, and may excuse them from attending religious services on any grounds at the request of their guardians, or at their own request if over the age of 16.

Conscientious objectors on religious grounds are exempt from active military duty and from reservist service in the National Guard but must complete alternative service. There are two options available for conscientious objectors: unarmed military service, which is a maximum of four months longer than the normal 14-month service; or social service, which is a maximum of eight months longer than normal service but requires fewer hours of work per day. The penalty for refusing military or alternate service is up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 6,000 euros ($7,200), or both. Those who refuse both military and alternate service, even if objecting on religious grounds, are considered to have committed an offense involving dishonesty or moral turpitude and are disqualified from holding elected public office and ineligible for permits to provide private security services.

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

Government Practices

The Ministry of Interior (MOI), which has oversight of Turkish Cypriot properties in the government-controlled area, granted Turkish Cypriots access to religious sites in the area it controlled; however, Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to withhold full access to 19 mosques located on cultural heritage sites and deny them any administrative authority over the sites. The ministry made available six of those 19 mosques, as well as two other mosques not located on cultural heritage sites, for religious services. Of the eight functioning mosques, seven were available for all five daily prayers, and six had the necessary facilities for ablutions. Bayraktar and Dhali Mosques had no ablution facilities and no bathrooms, and the government removed temporary bathrooms installed during Ramadan at Dhali Mosque. The Ministry of Communications and Works’ Department of Antiquities reported it provided bathroom facilities at a distance of approximately 330 feet from Bayraktar Mosque, because the mosque was part of the medieval Venetian wall of the city, making it impossible to install sewage pipes. According to the MOI, in 2016, the government approved architectural plans for ablution and bathroom facilities at the Dhali Mosque; construction had not begun by year’s end. The government again failed to respond to a long-standing request by the Muslim community for permission to make improvements at the functioning mosques, and there was no change from previous years in either the number of open mosques or the number of ablution and bathroom facilities available at those mosques.

The only one of the eight functioning mosques not open for all five daily prayers was the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, the most important Islamic religious site in the country. The Department of Antiquities continued to keep it open during standard museum hours only, limiting access to the mosque to two of the five daily prayer times. The mosque’s imam had to ask permission of the MOI and Department of Antiquities to keep the mosque open after 5 p.m. in the autumn/winter months and after 7:30 p.m. in the spring/summer months. To cross the “green line” without identification checks to visit religious sites, Turkish Cypriots were required to submit their requests to UNFICYP, which then facilitated the approval process with the government.

The government continued to waive visa requirements for the movement of non-Turkish Cypriot pilgrims south across the “green line” to visit Hala Sultan Tekke to conduct prayers and services on special occasions. On June 27, approximately 1,000 pilgrims crossed into the government-controlled areas for a pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke on Eid al-Fitr. On September 5, police escorted approximately 700 Turkish Cypriots, Turks, and other foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke for prayers on Eid al-Adha. On November 29, 950 more crossed the “green line” for a pilgrimage at Hala Sultan Tekke on the occasion of the Mawlid-al Nabi.

A representative of the Buddhist community reported it continued to encounter difficulties operating a temple due to the rigorous enforcement of laws not typically observed for majority religious and other groups. Authorities prevented the community from operating a temple in Pera, a village outside of Nicosia where the community owned a house, arguing the community should have applied first for permission to change the building’s use from a residence to a temple. Local authorities instructed the Buddhist monks to remove the temple sign and move statues inside. The Buddhist community did not apply for the permit to change the use of the house to a temple and abandoned the effort in that village. The community instead rented an apartment in Nicosia to use as a temple. A representative of the Buddhist community reported the Municipality of Nicosia sent a letter to the owner of the newly rented apartment warning that it could not be used for large gatherings because of insufficient parking. To prevent further action by the municipality, members of the community avoided parking outside the building. A 2015 government criminal case against the Buddhist priest for unlicensed alterations and additions to the building in Pera remained open, and the priest had to appear in court on several occasions. The Buddhist community also reported delays in the renewal of the same religious leader’s temporary residence permit.

In response to a 2016 recommendation by the ombudsman, in July the government removed the requirement to designate a person’s religion on civil marriage certificates and on applications for civil marriage.

The ombudsman’s office reported it received new complaints regarding MOE regulations for exempting students from religious instruction and from participation in school-organized Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies. Most of the complaints concerned rejection of exemption applications because the applicants, who objected to the requirement to state their religion on their application, did not do so and the schools therefore denied the exemption. Another parent complained the school indiscreetly handled the student’s exemption from a religious ceremony and traumatized the child. The ombudsman was examining the complaints at year’s end.

The military continued to require recruits to take part in a common prayer led by Church of Cyprus clergy during swearing-in ceremonies. Recruits of other faiths, atheists, and those who did not wish to take the oath for reasons of conscience could refrain from raising their hand during the ceremony. They instead gave a pledge of allegiance at a separate gathering.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Representatives of the Jewish community continued to report incidents of assault and verbal harassment directed against individuals with yarmulkes and payot (hair side curls) but did not provide additional details. By year’s end, the police had not arrested any suspects for any of the incidents.

Members of minority religious groups continued to report societal pressures to participate in public religious ceremonies. For example, children of various religious minorities faced pressure to attend religious ceremonies at school, even though parents had the option to request they be exempted from participation. A representative of a religious group reported younger non-Greek Orthodox students did not wish to be excluded from school-organized Greek Orthodox Church ceremonies but said there were cases of Greek Orthodox clergy denying communion to those students in front of their classmates. Some Greek Orthodox adherents, who converted to other faiths, including Islam, reportedly hid their conversion from family and friends due to fear of social ostracism.

An NGO reported an employer at a hotel refused to hire migrant Muslim women for a cleaning job, stating their hijab would get in the way of doing their work.

In June the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH), one of the bicommunal working groups set up as part of the UN-facilitated settlement talks, completed the restoration of Koprulu Mosque in Limassol and Mathiatis Mosque in Nicosia district. The TCCH was restoring the mosques of Ayios Nicolaos (Aynikola) and Ayios Yiannis (Ayianni) in Paphos district. The Department of Antiquities assumed responsibility for restoring Arnavut Mosque in Limassol as an ancient monument and completed the work in October.

The leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet regularly and visit places of worship on both sides of the buffer zone. On September 28, the RTCYPP, an initiative of the embassy of Sweden that served as a platform for all religious leaders to discuss and promote religious freedom and contribute to efforts for reunification of the island, convened its third Round Table for Human Rights with religious leaders and civil society organizations. At that meeting, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights introduced its “Faith for Rights” initiative, which aimed to provide space for a cross-disciplinary dialogue between religious groups concerning human rights, on the assumption that individual and communal expression of religion or belief could thrive and flourish in environments where human rights were protected. Attendees discussed ways to engage women, men, and children from across the island in implementing the initiative. On October 5, the RTCYPP launched a joint project of religious leaders to offer Greek and Turkish classes for members of the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite, and Latin Catholic faith communities. The pilot course, the first of its kind, included a group of 20 persons, including priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons who worked for faith-based organizations.

On November 16, in commemoration of the International Day of Tolerance, the religious leaders from the five principal religious groups – Archbishop Chrysostomos II of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus; Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus; Archbishop Doghramadjian of the Armenian Orthodox Church; Father Ibrahim Khita, representing the Maronite Catholic Church; and Father Jerzy Kraj, representing the Latin Catholic Church – jointly visited churches in the buffer zone and discussed the importance of religious freedom and the restoration of religious monuments. The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to dialogue and cooperation and reiterated their request to the political leadership to respect religious heritage and the right to worship.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet frequently with government officials – from the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, as well as the Department of Antiquities and the Office of the Ombudsman – to discuss religious freedom issues, such as access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” dividing the country.

Embassy staff continued to discuss religious freedom issues with the NGOs Movement for Equality, Support, Anti-Racism and Future Worlds Center. They met with representatives of the Armenian Orthodox, Bahai, Buddhist, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Latin, Maronite, and Muslim communities to hear their concerns about access to and the condition of religious sites, and to inquire about incidents of discrimination or violence based on religion, societal attitudes toward minority religions, and obstacles to full enjoyment of religious freedom. For example, embassy officials frequently discussed with Greek Orthodox leaders their community’s concerns over the restrictions Turkish Cypriot authorities placed on the number and the duration of church ceremonies conducted in the area under Turkish Cypriot administration, as well as the heavy “police” monitoring of services, including occasional videotaping of the congregation. Embassy officials were supportive of religious leaders’ ongoing dialogue and encouraged the continuing reciprocal visits of Christian and Muslim leaders to places of worship on both sides of the “green line.”

READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS (ABOVE) | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS

Cyprus – the Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS (BELOW)

Since 1974, the southern part of Cyprus has been under the authority of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, while the northern part, administered by Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey. A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island. A buffer zone, or “green line,” patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two parts.

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” refers to the “state” as secular and provides for freedom of religious faith and worship consistent with public order and morals. It prohibits forced participation in worship and religious services and states religious education may be conducted only under “state” supervision. It grants the Islamic Vakf, which manages land Muslims have donated as a charitable endowment and sites of worship, the exclusive right to regulate its internal affairs. Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to restrict access to religious sites. UNFICYP reported that of 112 requests it received to facilitate religious services at churches in the northern part of the island during the year, the “TRNC Ministry of Foreign Affairs” (“MFA”) approved approximately 67. The “MFA” reported that, of 133 total requests (including both UNFICYP-facilitated and non-UNFICYP-facilitated requests) to hold religious services during the year, it approved 83. Alevi Muslims said they lacked places to worship and funding to construct them and that authorities treated them and other religious minorities unequally. In May the “ombudsman” stated the “Ministry of Education” (“MOE”) was violating freedom of religion by imposing mandatory religion courses based on Sunni Islam at schools, without presenting alternatives to non-Sunnis. Some minority religious groups continued to report police surveillance and restrictions of their activities.

The Turkish-Speaking Protestant Association (TSPA) continued to report societal discrimination toward Protestants, and some minority religious groups said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths, particularly Christianity, faced criticism. A pastor of a church whose members were African students reported difficulties in securing a place of worship. The TCCH reported it had completed restoration of eight religious sites and was restoring another seven. The TCCH also reported completing five small cultural heritage activities, including religious sites, and completing project designs for another two sites. Religious leaders such as the mufti and the archbishop continued to promote religious dialogue by meeting and arranging visits to places of worship across the “green line.”

U.S. embassy officials met with Turkish Cypriot representatives to discuss access to religious sites and the ability to hold religious services at the sites without restrictions. Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from different religious groups to discuss freedom of worship and access to religious sites.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to 2011 census information from the Turkish Cypriot authorities, the population of the area administered by Turkish Cypriots is 286,000. The census contains no data on religious affiliation. Sociologists estimate as much as 97 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, of which 500 are members of the Naqshbandi Sufi order. Religious groups report an estimated 10,000 migrant workers of Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab origin are Alevi Muslims. According to sociologists, other small groups include approximately 330 members of the Church of Cyprus, 200 members of the Russian Orthodox Church, 150 Bahais, 150 Maronite Catholics, 180 Anglicans, 150 Jews, 300 Turkish-speaking Protestants, and 40 Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to “MOE” statistics for the 2016-17 academic year, there were 79,686 foreign students enrolled at universities in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots. Of these, 50,650 were predominantly Muslim Turks and 29,036 were foreign students, many of them Christian and Muslim, from more than 100 different countries.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” states the territory is a “secular republic” and provides for freedom of conscience and religious faith and unrestricted worship and religious ceremonies, provided they do not contravene public order or morals. It prohibits forced prayer, forced attendance at religious services, condemnation based on religious beliefs, and compelling of individuals to disclose their religious beliefs. It stipulates religious education may only be conducted under “state” supervision. The “law” does not recognize any specific religion, and individuals cannot “exploit or abuse” religion to establish, even partially, a state based on religious precepts or for political or personal gain. The Vakf has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with Vakf laws and principles. Although the “constitution” states the Vakf shall be exempt from all taxation, its commercial operations are subject to applicable taxes. It also receives income from properties it manages. According to the “constitution,” the Turkish Cypriot authorities shall help the Vakf in the execution of Islamic religious services and in meeting the expenses of such services. No other religious organization is tax exempt or receives subsidies from Turkish Cypriot authorities.

The 1975 Vienna III Agreement covers the treatment of Greek Cypriots and Maronite Catholics living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and the treatment of Turkish Cypriots living in the government-controlled area. Among other provisions, the agreement provides for facilities for religious worship for Greek Cypriots, stating they are free to stay and “will be given every help to lead a normal life, including facilities for education and for the practice of their religion.”

Turkish Cypriot “regulations” stipulate Greek Orthodox residents may conduct liturgies or masses led by three priests designated by the Orthodox Church at three designated functional churches in the Karpas Peninsula without seeking permission. Maronite residents may hold liturgies or masses at four designated functional Maronite churches by Maronite-designated clergy without seeking permission. These religious groups must submit applications to the authorities for permission to hold religious services at churches or monasteries other than these seven designated churches. For the application to be considered, the date should be of significance to that religious group; the church or monastery must be structurally sound; it must not be located in a military zone; and it must not have a dual use, for example, as a museum. Permission is also necessary for priests other than those officially predesignated to conduct services. Specific permission is required for services in which Cypriots who are not residents in the Turkish Cypriot-administered area, such as members of the Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches, participate. UNFICYP coordinates some applications, which must be submitted 10 days before the date of the requested service.

The “Religious Affairs Department” represents Islam in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots. Whereas the Vakf manages land that has been donated as an endowment by Muslims for charitable purposes, the “Religious Affairs Department” oversees how imams conduct prayers and deliver sermons in mosques.

Religious groups are not required to register with authorities as associations in order to assemble or worship, but only associations registered with the “Ministry of Interior” (“MOI”) have the right to engage in commercial activity and maintain bank accounts. Religious groups and nonreligious groups have the same registration process and are required to submit the founders’ names and photocopies of their identification cards to the “MOI,” along with a copy of the association’s rules and regulations. Associations do not receive tax-exempt status or any “government” benefits or subsidies. Religious groups are not permitted to register as associations if the stated purpose of the association is to provide religious education to their members.

There is compulsory instruction covering religion in grades four through eight in all schools. These classes focus primarily on Islam but also include sessions on comparative religion. The “MOE” chooses the curriculum, which is based on a textbook commissioned by the Ministry of Education in Turkey. Schools or teachers may excuse non-Muslim students from attending the course or taking the mandatory exam at the end of the semester on an individual basis at the request of their guardians, but there is no formal process to request such an exemption. At the high school level, religion classes are optional.

There are no provisions or “laws” allowing conscientious objection to mandatory military service, which includes a 12-15-month initial service requirement and a one-day annual reserve duty.

“Government” Practices

Authorities continued to restrict access to Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox places of worship, and the “MFA” continued to state Greek Cypriots were abusing the right to religious freedom and politicizing the situation. Apostolos Andreas, St. Barnabas, and St. Mamas Churches remained open for religious services throughout the year. Apostolos Andreas Monastery was open for prayer but still required special permission to celebrate liturgy.

Authorities continued restrictions on regular religious services in certain other churches. UNFICYP reported, of 112 requests it received to facilitate religious services at churches in the northern part of the island during the year, the “MFA” approved approximately 67, compared with 139 requests and 84 approvals in 2016. The “MFA” reported that, of 133 requests (including both UNFICYP-facilitated and non-UNFICYP-facilitated requests) to hold religious services during the year, it approved 83, compared with 163 requests and 109 approvals in 2016.

In April the “MFA” again did not allow Good Friday church services to take place at the St. George Exorinos Church in Famagusta.

Turkish Cypriot civil society organizations criticized authorities for not allowing Greek Cypriots to perform church services and urged greater access to religious sites.

In response to a complaint from an Alevi Muslim association that religion courses ignored their needs, the “ombudsman” published a report in May stating the “MOE” only offered Sunni Islam-based academic religion courses in schools and that the policy ran contrary to basic rights of equality, faith, and freedom of religion, as stated in the “TRNC constitution.” It advised the “MOE” to make religion courses optional and more inclusive. In a joint press conference, the Pir Sultan Abdal Association, an Alevi Muslim association, the Primary Education Teachers’ Union, and the Secondary Education Teachers’ Union also stated they were against mandatory religion courses in schools.

Some Christians, as well as Alevis, stated the mandatory religion classes in schools were overly focused on Sunni Islam, and they expressed concerns that their children had no formal recourse to opt out of the classes. Alevis reported the education system discriminated against them. For example, one Alevi representative reported all students at the Hala Sultan Religious High School, which offered additional classes in Sunni Islam, received scholarships, but students at other schools were not all eligible for scholarships.

According to a representative of the Maronite community, the Turkish military continued to grant Maronites limited access to their churches and villages located within Turkish military zones. The Turkish military allowed Maronites to celebrate Mass once a year in the Church of Ayia Marina. It denied Maronites access to the Church of Marki near Kormakitis/Kormacit. The Maronite Church of Archangelos Michael in the village of Asamatos/Ozhan was also located within a Turkish military zone but did not require permission to function regularly on Sundays.

A representative of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus stated 50-55 religious sites remained inaccessible due to being located within Turkish military zones.

On July 11, police in Turkey released “Director of the Religious Affairs Department” and Mufti Talip Atalay after four days of interrogation. “Acting Director of Religious Affairs” Fahrettin Ogdu told the press Atalay was not detained due to “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization”-related affiliations, but rather because of unfounded accusations made by the “MFA” in an attempt to punish Atalay for his participation in the Religious Track dialogue with other religious leaders.

In August local newspapers reported the “MFA” did not grant permission for Greek Cypriots to conduct a religious ceremony on September 1-3 at St. Mamas Church to celebrate the saint’s name day. The “MFA” stated that due to security concerns and the overlap with Muslim holiday Kurban Bayram in the area administered by the Turkish Cypriots, it suggested postponing the religious ceremony one week. Main opposition Republican Turkish Party issued a written statement criticizing the “MFA” for preventing Greek Cypriots from holding Mass at St. Mamas, citing annual celebrations there since 2003. The Greek Cypriots declined to hold the religious ceremony a week later.

Some minority religious groups, including evangelical Christians, continued to report Turkish Cypriot authorities, including the police, monitored their activities. A Greek Orthodox priest reported heavy police presence during church services, including police inside the church videotaping services held by the enclaved Greek Cypriot community.

The TSPA again reported some of its members were frightened to attend religious services due to police pressure; TSPA representatives visited homes instead.

According to a Greek Orthodox official, police were instructing Greek Orthodox priests to limit the length of services, and there were instances when police intervened during the service to tell the priest to expedite it.

Heavy police escorts continued to accompany visiting Greek Orthodox worshippers. Turkish Cypriot authorities said the escorts were to provide security; Greek Orthodox officials said they were for surveillance.

The “Religious Affairs Department” staffed 192 mosques, all Sunni, with 225 imams. Members of the majority Sunni religious community continued to voice concerns the “government” was interfering with religious affairs by selecting imams.

Some non-Sunni Muslims continued to state they lacked places of worship and funding to construct such facilities. Alevi Muslims said the authorities treated them and other minority religious groups unequally. The Alevi Culture Association continued to report that due to the lack of a house of worship, Alevis were required to conduct funerals inside mosques, contrary to their traditions. They also said they perceived favoritism in “state” funding toward the Sunni Muslim population through financing of mosque construction and support for administration of mosques. One Alevi representative reported there were 196 [sic] “state”-funded mosques for Sunnis, but only one cemevi (place of worship) for Alevis, which had been under construction for several years and still not been completed. Consequently, Alevis had to worship at the unfinished cemevi or at some other location. Turkish Cypriot authorities earmarked three million Turkish liras ($792,000) in the “state” budget in 2016 for the completion of the cemevi but had not yet disbursed the funds. The tender process to complete construction of the cemevi was expected to begin the first half of 2018.

A representative of the Greek Orthodox Church again stated that some religious sites, to which Church officials had little or no access, were damaged or close to collapse due to decades of neglect. The representative did not cite specific examples.

Greek Orthodox religious groups continued to complain that authorities placed religious items, including icons, in storage rooms or displayed them in museums, against the wishes of the communities to whom they were sacred.

In August Turkish Cypriot local authorities cancelled a TSPA-organized theatrical performance, even though the authorities had previously issued all necessary permits. The TSPA stated it believed local authorities, who reportedly did not provide a justification, cancelled the event because they deemed the performance Christian propaganda.

The TSPA also reported Turkish Cypriot authorities had prevented it from opening an office in Famagusta for the previous two years.

The TSPA said the police paid monthly visits to the association to check on the group and monitor its activities.

The TSPA reported it sent a letter to “President” Mustafa Akinci in September requesting the abolishment of mandatory religion courses in schools, a place to worship, and an opportunity to broadcast Christmas or Easter programming on a “state” television channel. By year’s end, the president had not responded, according to the TSPA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The TSPA continued to report societal discrimination within the Turkish Cypriot community toward Protestants. The TSPA reported that, after previously agreeing to rent the group an assembly room for a Christmas party and play planned for December 24, a local school principal canceled the event on December 19. According to the TSPA, the school principal succumbed to pressure from nationalists who disapproved of the religious celebration. Despite appeals, the “MOE” did not intervene on the association’s behalf.

The TCCH reported it had completed restoration of eight religious sites and was restoring another seven. The TCCH also reported completing five small cultural heritage activities, including religious sites, and completing project designs for another two sites. The TCCH and the UN Development Program Partnership for the Future continued restoration work at the Greek Orthodox Apostolos Andreas Monastery in the Karpas Peninsula, a popular destination for pilgrims. The second phase of the project, including the restoration of the small chapel, surrounding buildings, and environmental landscaping, was expected to begin during the first half of 2018.

A pastor of a church, whose members were African students studying in universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, reported difficulties in securing a place of worship. The pastor said local companies rejected their requests to rent halls for religious ceremonies and required payment of an entire year’s rent up front. They reported Near East University in the north had a mosque on campus for Muslims but did not have a chapel or church for Christians.

Muslim and Orthodox religious leaders continued to promote religious tolerance by meeting and arranging pilgrimages for their congregations to places of worship across the “green line,” such as Hala Sultan in the Republic of Cyprus and St. Barnabas in the “TRNC.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with Turkish Cypriot authorities at the “Presidency” and the “MFA” to discuss access to religious sites and the ability to hold religious services at sites without restrictions.

Embassy officials also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom, including access to sites of worship and instances of societal discrimination within the Turkish Cypriot community, with representatives of the Armenian Orthodox, Alevi Muslim, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Protestant, and Sunni Muslim communities.

All references to place names within this report are for reference purposes only and are meant to convey meaning. They should not be interpreted as implying or indicating any political recognition or change in long-standing U.S. policy.

READ A SECTION: REPUBLIC OF CYPRUS | THE AREA ADMINISTERED BY TURKISH CYPRIOTS (ABOVE)

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary document to the constitution, guarantees the freedom of religious conviction and states every individual has the right to change religion, abstain from religious belief, and freely practice religion. Two registration applications by religious groups were pending with the government at year’s end. The government rejected an application by the Path of Guru Jara (PGJ) and an appeal of that decision by PGJ, whose leader was one of two PGJ members for whom government-issued arrest warrants remained pending at the end of the year. PGJ filed a court appeal of the rejection. The Community of Buddhism in the Czech Republic and the Cannabis Church appealed, respectively, to the Ministry of Culture (MOC) and in court after the government suspended their registration applications. The Lions of the Round Table Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown was appealing the 2016 rejection of its registration application in court. In the first three months of the year, the government addressed hundreds of claims by religious groups for property confiscated during the communist period; as of April 1, more than 1,000 cases remained pending or on appeal in the courts. The mayor of Prostejov opposed the efforts of a foreign donor to restore the former Jewish cemetery in that city. In May the government approved its annual Strategy to Combat Extremism, including religiously motivated extremism, which outlined tasks for various ministries. The president and prime minister continued to make critical remarks about Muslim immigration. Several political groups, including the Freedom and Direct Democracy party (FDD), which won more than 10 percent of the vote in October parliamentary elections, campaigned on an anti-Muslim platform.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) In Iustitia reported 34 religiously motivated hate incidents during the year, 22 against Muslims, 10 against Jews, and two against Christians. The government reported 28 anti-Semitic and seven anti-Muslim incidents in 2016, the most recent year for which figures were available, compared with 47 and five, respectively, in the previous year. PGJ reported what it characterized as media bias and societal discrimination against the group and its members. Groups, including extraparliamentary political parties, held anti-Muslim rallies and published internet blogs that included anti-Semitic statements, including Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi propaganda and anti-Muslim sentiments. A group of minors vandalized a symbolic tombstone designated as a cultural monument at the site of the former Jewish cemetery in the city of Prostejov.

U.S. embassy officials met with government officials to discuss religious freedom issues and monitored the process of restitution of religious properties, participating in meetings on restitution with representatives from the MOC, Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC). Embassy officials responded to two requests for assistance from U.S. citizen Holocaust victims seeking compensation for property seized in the past. Embassy officials and a representative from the U.S. Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues (SEHI) met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reiterate continuous support for the goals of the 2009 Terezin Declaration, aimed at providing assistance and redress to, and remembrance of, victims of Nazi persecution. Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious leaders to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.7 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, of the 56 percent of citizens who responded to the question about their religious beliefs, approximately 62 percent held no religious beliefs, 18 percent were Catholic, 12 percent listed no specific religion, and 7 percent belonged to a variety of religious groups, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, other Protestant churches, other Christian groups, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Academics estimate there are 10,000 Jews; the FJC estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000. Leaders of the Muslim community estimate there are 10,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution does not explicitly address religious freedom, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplementary constitutional document, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and the fundamental rights of all regardless of their faith or religion. It states every individual has the right to change religion or faith; to abstain from religious belief; and to freely practice religion, alone or in community, in private or public, “through worship, teaching, practice, or observance.” The charter defines religious societies, recognizing their freedom to profess their faith publicly or privately and to govern their own affairs, independent of the state. It stipulates conscientious objectors may not be compelled to perform military service and that conditions for religious instruction at state schools shall be set by law. The charter states religious freedom may be limited by law in the event of threats to “public safety and order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.”

The law states the MOC Department of Churches is responsible for religious affairs. While religious groups are not required by law to register with the government and are free to perform religious activities without registering, they have the option to register with the MOC. The law establishes a two-tiered system of registration for religious groups. The MOC reviews applications for first- and second-tier registration with input from other government bodies, such as the Office for Protection of Private Data, and outside experts on religious affairs. The law does not establish a deadline for the MOC to decide on a registration application. Applicants denied registration can appeal to the MOC to reconsider its decision and, if again denied, to the courts.

To qualify for the first (lower) tier, a religious group must present the signatures of at least 300 adult members permanently residing in the country, a founding document listing the basic tenets of the faith, and a clearly defined structure of fiduciary responsibilities. First-tier registration confers limited tax benefits, including exemptions from a tax on the interest earned on current account deposits and taxes on donations and members’ contributions, and establishes annual reporting requirements on activities, balance sheets, and use of funds.

For second-tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches for 10 years, have published annual reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons. The group must provide this number of signatures as proof. Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to government subsidies. In addition, only clergy of registered second-tier religious groups may perform officially recognized marriage ceremonies and serve as chaplains in the military and at prisons. Prisoners who belong to unregistered religious groups or groups with first-tier status may receive visits from their own clergy, outside of the prison chaplaincy system.

Religious groups registered prior to 2002 have automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration.

There are 38 state-registered religious groups; 16 groups are first tier and 22 are second tier.

Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property. The law provides unregistered groups the option of forming civic associations to manage their property.

The law authorizes the government to return to 17 religious groups (including the FJC) land and other property confiscated during the communist era and still in the government’s possession, the total value of which is estimated to be approximately 75 billion koruna ($3.59 billion). It also sets aside 59 billion koruna ($2.83 billion) for financial compensation for lands that cannot be returned, to be paid over 30 years to 17 second-tier religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church, that received state subsidies prior to the enactment of the restitution law. Using a mechanism prescribed by law based on an agreement among the religious groups concerned, the government allocates slightly more than 79 percent of the financial compensation to the Catholic Church. Religious groups had a one-year window, which ended in 2013, to make restitution claims for confiscated land and other property, which the government is processing. If the government rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in the courts. The law also contains provisions for phasing out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period, ending in 2029.

The law permits second-tier registered religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools; 11 of the 22 second-tier groups have applied and received permission. The teachers are supplied by the religious groups and paid by the state. If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, teachers are paid by parishes or dioceses. Although the law makes religious instruction in public schools optional, school directors must provide instruction in the beliefs of one of the 11 approved religious groups if seven or more students of that religious group request it, in which case the school provides the religious instruction only to the students who requested it.

The government does not regulate instruction in private schools.

The penal code outlaws denial of Nazi, communist, or other genocide, providing for prison sentences of six months to three years for public denial, questioning, approval of, or attempts to justify the genocide committed by the Nazis. The law also prohibits the incitement of hatred based on religion and provides for penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment.

Foreign religious workers must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country more than 90 days. There is no special visa category for religious workers; foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.

The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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

Government Practices

The MOC did not register any religious groups during the year. Registration applications by Theravada Buddhists in May and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. In January the ministry rejected PGJ’s registration application on grounds of what it characterized as abuse of personal information, incitement of hate, and the primarily for-profit character of the group’s activities. In February the group appealed the decision to the MOC. In September Minister of Culture Daniel Herman upheld the rejection. Following that decision, PGJ appealed to the municipal court in Prague. PGJ said it expected the court to begin hearing the case in early 2018.

In February the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown – appealed in court against the MOC’s rejection of its first-tier registration application in May 2016. The case was pending at year’s end. In June the Community of Buddhism in the Czech Republic appealed to the MOC, asking it to reconsider its decision in May to halt the group’s 2016 registration application. The MOC rejected the appeal in December. In December 2016, the Cannabis Church appealed in court the MOC’s halting of its registration procedure. The case remained pending at year’s end. The MOC said it had halted the applications of both these groups because they had not provided sufficient information in their registration applications as required by law.

The government provided 17 second-tier religious groups with approximately 3.4 billion koruna ($162.8 million), with approximately 1.3 billion koruna ($62.25 million) given as a subsidy and 2.1 billion koruna ($100.6 million) as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned to churches. Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined all state funding. While accepting the state subsidy, the Baptist Union opted not to accept the compensation for unreturned property. The MOC provided 4.0 million koruna ($192,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from a variety of religious groups.

PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and PGJ member Barbora Plaskova remained in immigration detention in the Philippines, where they had been seeking asylum since 2015. International arrest warrants issued by Czech authorities for Dobes and Plaskova remained outstanding, as criminal proceeding against Dobes and Plaskova for alleged sexual abuse remained pending in the Zlin Regional Court.

In January the Prague 10 District Court ruled in favor of a state nursing school which a former Muslim student had sued in 2013 for discrimination because the school barred her from wearing a hijab during classes. The court ruled there was no evidence of discrimination. In September the appellate senate of the Prague Municipal Court upheld the ruling. The appellate court found the school’s prohibition did not constitute discrimination because it applied to all head coverings and not just to hijabs.

The government addressed hundreds of religious communal property restitution cases, restituting property to 17 religious groups during the year. These included claims of the Roman Catholic authorities and other religious groups concerning property seized during the communist era. Although the government returned most Catholic churches, parishes, and monasteries in the 1990s, much of the land and forests the Church had previously owned remained in state possession and were being returned in the framework of 2012 restitution legislation. Between January and March the government settled 735 claims with religious groups for agricultural property and 106 claims for nonagricultural property. As of March 31, there were 65 agricultural and 120 nonagricultural property claims that had not been adjudicated. At that time, there were also 1,203 pending lawsuits religious groups had filed in the courts to appeal government restitution decisions.

In August the South Moravian Regional Court in Brno overturned a decision by the municipal court that had ruled in February in favor of the Brno Jewish Community (BJC), holding that it had legal title to a property in possession of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The ministry had appealed the municipal court’s decision to the regional court. In reaction to the revocation by the regional court, the BJC appealed to the Supreme Court. The appeal was pending at year’s end. The BJC filed its claim in 2013 based on church restitution legislation, and the ministry rejected the claim in 2014.

The MOI continued to cooperate with the Jewish community on protection of Jewish sites in Prague and across the country.

In January the MOC designated as items of cultural heritage 12 tombstones and tombstone fragments originally from a former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov that the MOC designated as a cultural monument in 2016. The Prostejov local mayor supported a local petition against privately funded efforts to restore the Prostejov cemetery, which the Nazis had destroyed, and which the city later converted into a public park. In November 2016, 10 percent of the city’s voters signed the petition. According to the petition and the mayor, the park provided needed access to a nearby school and residential parking; according to the national media, planners said the reconstruction would not restrict access or impede parking. Soon thereafter, anti-Semitic statements appeared in social media, and a local tabloid, Prostejovsky vecernik, characterized the dispute as an Orthodox Jewish attack on the city. In February Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka appointed his chief advisor, Vladimir Spidla, to mediate the dispute, which was continuing at year’s end.

President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Sobotka continued to make public statements against Muslim immigration. For example, in September President Zeman stated at a press conference after meeting with his German counterpart that Muslim culture was not compatible with European culture. He stated integration of Muslims into national society was “practically impossible.” In August Prime Minister Sobotka told the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, “We do not want any more Muslims in the Czech Republic.” In June citing “the aggravated security situation and the dysfunctionality of the whole [relocation] system,” Interior Minister Milan Chovanec announced the government had approved a decision to halt acceptance of refugees under the EU’s refugee relocation program. At the time, the country had accepted 12 of approximately 2,700 refugees, whom the EU had allotted to the country and many of whom came from Muslim-majority countries.

In September Tomio Okamura, the leader of the opposition FDD, and other members of the party leadership issued a public statement calling for a ban on Islam as “an ideology incompatible with freedom and democracy.” The party ran on an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform, posting billboards reading, “No to Islam” before October parliamentary elections. The party won more than 10 percent of the vote.

In May the government approved the annual Strategy to Combat Extremism, which outlined tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, and MOC, in fighting extremism, including religiously motivated extremism. The document outlined primary strategic goals, including better communication with the public regarding extremist activities and MOI countermeasures, education programs at schools, crime prevention, specialized training for law enforcement to counter extremism, and assistance to victims of crimes, especially victims from minority groups. The MOI continued to monitor the activities of groups and political parties espousing anti-Semitic views, including National Democracy, National Revival, and the Workers’ Party of Social Justice.

In April Deputy Chairman of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera and Minister of Culture Herman sponsored and participated in an annual march and concert against anti-Semitism, which opened the 14th Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival. Approximately 750 people attended the event.

At year’s end the government was continuing to review the 2016 applications of 92 Chinese Christians on grounds of religious persecution in China.

The government funded religiously oriented cultural activities, including the 2017 Night of Churches in several cities, the annual National Pilgrimage of St. Wenceslaus, the Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival, the 2017 Hussite Festival, and the 13th International Festival of Sacral Music, as well as a series of ecumenical services that included Romani religious music.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to estimates from NGO In Iustitia, there were reports of 34 religiously motivated hate incidents during the year, 22 against Muslims, 10 against Jews, and two against Christians, compared with 24 cases in 2016. In Iustitia did not provide details of the incidents.

In 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, the MOI recorded 28 criminal offenses with anti-Semitic motives, compared with 47 cases in the previous year. The MOI reported seven criminal offenses with anti-Muslim motives in 2016 compared with five in 2015. The MOI did not provide details of the incidents.

In July a woman assaulted two Muslim women accompanying a group of children to a water park in Prague. The attacker photographed the group and then insulted the two women, kicking and punching one of them, after the women asked her to stop taking pictures of the group. Police said they were investigating the alleged attacker on suspicion of committing a misdemeanor.

PGJ said its members faced societal discrimination stemming from negative media reporting about the group. PGJ compiled 14 statements from members describing instances of discrimination. Members said they faced difficulty leasing space for PGJ events, encountered difficulties selling PGJ books, lost clients when their affiliation with the group became known, been dismissed or threatened with dismissal from their jobs, and felt they must conceal their membership in the group from family, friends, and associates. PGJ stated nine media reports on the group during the year contained false or defamatory information or violated the group’s presumption of innocence. Other reports, according to PGJ, called its leader, Jaroslav Dobes, “a notorious fraudster, a fake guru, and sexual abuser of women,” and PGJ “a dangerous cult or sect.” The umbrella organization Czech Women’s Lobby (CWL), representing 32 women’s organizations, stated that several former members of the PGJ turned to CWL member organization ProFem (Center for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence) after they experienced sexual abuse by PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes during spiritual practices. ProFem provided them with social and legal counseling.

According to press reports, groups that included the Worker’s Party of Social Justice and the Block Against Islamization (BPI) – political parties which did not hold office at any level – organized a number of demonstrations in Prague and elsewhere against accepting migrants and refugees, many of whom were Muslim, and against the EU for imposing refugee quotas. One such demonstration was held in Wenceslas Square in Prague in May. The number of participants at the demonstrations generally varied between dozens and 100.

In October the national television service filed a criminal complaint, asking law enforcement to investigate the BPI for what the station said was an anti-Muslim election campaign video it was required by law to broadcast.

In March the police concluded an investigation of Martin Konvicka, leader of the Block Against Islam group that dissolved itself in 2016. In 2016, Block Against Islam staged a mock attack by ISIS in the center of Prague. Police stated the investigation did not prove the group committed a crime and did not file charges. By year’s end, authorities had not yet concluded a pre-trial phase of the prosecution of Konvicka, whom they charged in 2016 with incitement of hatred and suppression of rights and freedoms for statements they said he made on the internet against Islam and Muslims.

In February online news platform Coda Story cited Lukas Houdek, project coordinator of HateFree, a government antidiscrimination program, as stating that anti-Muslim sentiment had found fertile ground in the country. Many people, he said, had no personal experience with Islam, and anti-Muslim attitudes appeared to stem from fear of the unknown. According to Houdek, “most of the [television] news you see about Muslims is negative.” Coda Story also cited a report by internet research project Netmonitor.cz stating that what it described as the most popular anti-Muslim web outlet, Parlamentni listy, averaged 123,000 readers per day in January, compared with 1.6 million readers for novinky.cz, the most popular news website in the country.

In May the Ethical Commission of the Syndicate of Journalists stated some of the articles on efforts to restore the Prostejov Jewish cemetery published in Prostejovsky vecernik weekly exhibited features of anti-Semitism. The Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation, a U.S. charity involved with the restoration effort, had filed a complaint with the commission about Prostejovsky vecernik’s coverage.

Adam Bartos, Chairman of the National Democracy Party, which did not hold political office at any level, continued to post anti-Semitic writings on social media. In March a regional court in Brno upheld a one-year suspended prison sentence with two years of probation for incitement to hatred and defamation over a note Bartos wrote in 2015 supporting an 1899 Jewish blood libel trial. Bartos appealed to the Supreme Court. In July the Prague 1 District Court heard a case in which authorities charged Bartos with incitement to hatred and Holocaust denial on the internet, in public speeches, and books. The case remained pending at year’s end.

From January to September the MOI reported seven private “white power” music concerts took place in the country, where participants expressed anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi views. The MOI did not provide additional details.

In April youths vandalized a symbolic tombstone of Rabbi Zvi Horowitz, designated as a cultural monument at the site of the former Jewish cemetery in Prostejov. Police declined to pursue the case because the perpetrators were minors. In a previous vandalism case in 2016, in which a group damaged 30 tombstones at the Jewish cemetery in Korycany, authorities also declined to file charges because the alleged vandals were minors.

In August the European Shoah Legacy Institute ceased operations, reportedly for lack of funding. The NGO had sought systematic international solutions for restitution of Jewish cultural assets stolen by the Nazis and promoted provision of adequate social welfare to Holocaust survivors and Holocaust education.

The government-funded Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims, established by the FJC, again contributed 4.5 million koruna ($215,000) to 13 institutions providing health and social care to approximately 500 Holocaust survivors.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy continued to engage government officials from the MOC, especially the Department of Churches, on issues such as church restitution and religious tolerance. In March embassy officials and representatives from SEHI met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reiterate continued support for the goals of 2009 Terezin Declaration, especially property restitution and the welfare of Holocaust survivors, after the closure of the European Shoah Legacy Institute in August.

In a series of meetings in June, Department of State representatives and embassy officials discussed religious tolerance with representatives of the MOC and with religious groups and NGOs, including the Ecumenical Council of Churches, the FJC, the Czech Council of Jewish Women, In Iustitia, and the NGO People in Need.

The embassy monitored the process of restitution of church property. Embassy officials responded to requests for assistance from two U.S. citizen Holocaust victims seeking compensation for property seized in the past. The government informed the claimants it could not return the property under the existing restitution law.

In June the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar during which representatives of the local Muslim community, NGOs, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Martina Stepankova, and Senator Hassan Mezian discussed religious tolerance and the need for interfaith dialogue to overcome perceived differences.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim groups to reaffirm commitment for religious tolerance and to hear the groups’ views on interfaith relations.