The constitution states the country is a secular state, and both it and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. International media reported that terrorist groups, armed insurgents, and jihadists continued their campaign of violence and sometimes targeted places of worship or religious leaders in an attempt to divide the country along sectarian lines. On October 21, at a government forum on “national cohesion,” Speaker of the National Assembly Allassane Bala Sakande stated, “In this war against terrorism, we are not engaged against an ethnic group or against a religion, but we are engaged against those who hate Burkina Faso and the Burkinabe.” In July, Minister of Interior and Territorial Administration Simeon Sawadogo joined the Catholic Archbishop of Ouagadougou during Eid al-Fitr prayers led by the Grand Imam of Ouagadougou and called on the population to “cultivate religious tolerance.” The government issued a decree integrating traditional religions into the Office of National Religious Affairs (ONAFAR), a government office whose main mission is to promote interreligious dialogue, and prevent and manage conflicts of a religious nature.
Domestic and transnational terrorist groups operated throughout the year, resulting in numerous targeted killings based on religious identity, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Attackers killed imams, other clergy, and worshippers while attacking and destroying mosques and churches. Reports stated that they also forced communities in the northern part of the country to dress in specific “Islamic” garb. Terrorists attacked schools and killed teachers for teaching a secular curriculum and for teaching in French rather than Arabic, according to media reports. As of August, terrorist violence forced more than 2,500 schools to close, depriving more than 330,000 children of education, according to UNICEF. Expanding their targeted killings, terrorist groups increasingly attacked Christian religious leaders and worshippers and destroyed churches.
Human rights organizations and religious groups continued to express concern that religiously targeted violence threatened what they termed the traditional peaceful coexistence of religious groups in the country. Academic and other observers stated that the “stigmatization” of the mostly Muslim ethnic-Fulani community because of their perceived sympathy for Islamists aggravated existing societal tensions and posed a threat to stability.
U.S. embassy officials discussed the continued increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and Est Regions, with the government, including the Ministries of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Security, and the Office of the President. In addition, embassy staff met religious leaders to promote religious freedom, interfaith tolerance, and civil dialogue. Throughout the year, the Ambassador or Charge d’Affaires met with imams and Catholic and Protestant leaders to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance. During the year, the embassy conducted regular outreach with imams, Catholic priests, and Protestant leaders to understand the current threat to religious freedom and tolerance in the country as a result of the unprecedented violence against both Christian and Muslim worshippers.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 20.8 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2006 census, 61 percent of the population is Muslim (predominantly Sunni), 19 percent is Roman Catholic, 4 percent belong to various Protestant groups, and 15 percent maintain exclusively indigenous beliefs. Less than one percent is atheist or belongs to other religious groups. Statistics on religious affiliation are approximate because Muslims and Christians often adhere simultaneously to some aspects of traditional or animist religious beliefs.
Muslims reside largely in the northern, eastern, and western border regions, while Christians are concentrated in the center of the country. Traditional and animist religious beliefs are practiced throughout the country, especially in rural communities. The capital has a mixed Muslim and Christian population.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states the country is secular, and both the constitution and other laws provide for the right of individuals to choose and change their religion and to practice the religion of their choice. The constitution states freedom of belief is subject to respect for law, public order, good morals, and “the human person.” Political parties based on religion, ethnicity, or regional affiliation are forbidden.
The law allows all organizations, religious or otherwise, to register with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, which oversees religious affairs. The ministry, through the Directorate for Customary Affairs and Worship, monitors the implementation of standards for burial, exhumation, and transfer of remains; helps organize religious pilgrimages; promotes and fosters interreligious dialogue and peace; and develops and implements measures for the erection of places of worship and the registration of religious organizations and religious congregations. Registration confers legal status, and the process usually takes approximately three to four weeks and costs less than 50,000 CFA francs ($95). Religious organizations are not required to register unless they seek legal recognition by the government, but after they are registered, they must comply with applicable regulations required of all registered organizations or be subject to a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 CFA francs ($95 to $280).
Religious groups operate under the same regulatory framework for publishing and broadcasting as other entities. The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization may request copies of proposed publications and broadcasts to verify they are in accordance with the nature of the religious group as stated in its registration and it may conduct permit application reviews.
The government generally does not fund religious schools or require them to pay taxes unless they conduct for-profit activities. The government provides subsidies to a number of Catholic schools as part of an agreement allowing students from public schools to enroll in Catholic schools when public schools are at full capacity. The government taxes religious groups only if they engage in commercial activities, such as farming or dairy production.
Religious education is not allowed in public schools. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate private primary and secondary schools and some institutions of higher education. These schools are permitted to provide religious instruction to their students. By law, schools (religious or not) must submit the names of their directors to the government and register their schools with the Ministry of National Education and Literacy. The government does not appoint or approve these officials, however. The government periodically reviews the curricula of new religious schools as they open, as well as others, to ensure they offer the full standard academic curriculum. The majority of Quranic schools are not registered, however, and thus their curricula not reviewed.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government stated that terrorists attacked religious institutions with the aim of dividing the population. On October 21, at a government forum on “national cohesion,” Speaker of the National Assembly Allassane Bala Sakande stated, “In this war against terrorism, we are not engaged against an ethnic group or against a religion, but we are engaged against those who hate Burkina Faso and the Burkinabe.”
Following the kidnapping and killing of the grand Imam of Djibo by armed groups in Soum Province on August 11, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said he “strongly condemned” the “barbaric assassination” which “aimed to undermine our model of religious tolerance and the foundations of our nation.”
Following a February 16 attack by approximately 20 armed assailants on the village of Pansi in Yagha Province during which a pastor and 23 others were killed, opposition political party head Jean Hubert Bazie said it was “imperative that the state secure places of worship, as well as other places where citizens gather” and called on the government to create a national body to monitor religious freedom and prevent interreligious confrontation.
The government allocated 75 million CFA francs ($142,000) each to the Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and animist communities, the same level as the previous year. Sources stated that this funding was meant to demonstrate equitable government support to all religious groups in the country. The government also provided funding to registered Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim (commonly referred to as “Franco-Arabic”) schools through subsidies for teacher salaries, which were typically less than those of public-school teachers.
On August 6, the government issued a decree integrating the traditional animist communities into ONAFAR, providing animist communities with representation in the government agency responsible for promoting interreligious dialogue as well as preventing and managing conflicts of a religious nature.
The government continued to routinely approve applications from religious groups for registration, according to religious group leaders, although the government indicated it had rejected some on “moral” grounds.
In September, the government intervened in a legal dispute between Christian and Muslim groups involving a plot of land in Ouagadougou where a mosque had been destroyed. In an October 7 statement, the government said that it “disapproves of the destruction of a place of worship” and that it had taken ownership of the disputed property and would fund reconstruction of the mosque.
In June, the Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo, joined Minister of Interior and Territorial Administration Simeon Sawadogo during Eid al-Fitr prayers led by the Grand Imam of Ouagadougou.
Domestic and transnational terrorist groups continued to operate throughout the year and carried out targeted killings of individuals based on their religious identity, according to media reports. These groups included U.S.-designated terrorist groups Ansaroul Islam, Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, and al-Mourabitoun. Although many attacks in the country went unclaimed, observers attributed most to terrorist groups, including Ansaroul Islam, JNIM, and ISIS-GS. Media reported that the terrorist groups regularly targeted Muslim and Christian clergy, religious congregations, houses of worship, teachers, local government employees, and schools. Some imams were killed after being accused of collaborating with security forces. As of August, terrorist violence forced at least 2,500 schools to close, depriving more than 330,000 children of education, according to UNICEF. In a number of attacks, militants singled out and killed individuals wearing Christian imagery such as crucifixes, according to media reports and church leaders. Some attacks took place at houses of worship, both Christian and Islamic, during prayers or services.
Examples of attacks against Christians reported by media, NGOs, and the government included a Sunday, February 9 attack on an evangelical Protestant church in Nagnounbougou in the Est Region during a religious service. At least two Christians were killed as they tried to flee from the attackers.
On January 25 in Silgadji in Soum Province, militants believed to be from JNIM or ISIS-GS killed approximately 30 civilians. The attackers ordered men to wear beards and to no longer wear pants that cover the entire leg. They had ordered women to wear a veil, threatening reprisals against those who did not comply
February 9, suspected ISIS-GS/JNIM militants attacked a church in Matiakoali, Est Region, and killed two worshippers.
On Feb 28, militants killed at least 20 civilians at Rektoulga in Bouroum commune, Sanmantinga Province. Paul Ouedraogo, an internally displaced local pastor of the International Evangelization Center, was among the dead.
On May 29 and 30, militants killed 58 individuals in northern and eastern provinces during several attacks that reportedly targeted Christians and humanitarian aid workers, according to religious media. Approximately 30 persons were killed in the attack at Kompienbiga cattle market near Pama in the east and at least 25 in attacks on two convoys, including a humanitarian one, near Barsalogo in the north.
On August, 11, the Grand Imam of Djibo Souaibou Cisse was kidnapped by armed assailants at Gaskinde while travelling in a bus in Soum Province. His body was found on August 15. President Kabore condemned the killing as “revealing the deeply backward and inhuman nature of its authors.”
On September 15, 50 militants stormed the village of Kontiana, Yagha Province, looking for government forces, informants, and civil servants, according to social media. They threatened Imam Hamadou Amadou and told the villagers to leave or they would burn the village down. The militants left after four hours.
On October 16, the high commissioner of Koulpeologo Province in Centre-Est Region declared a curfew from 8 P.M. to 4:30 A.M. following threats by militants, who told the local population to close school and bars, to stop brewing local beer, and to wear trousers above the ankle.
On November 28, armed assailants attacked Mansila in Yagha Province, killed one individual, kidnapped the imam, and shot two others. Two days earlier, the same group attacked villagers with whips and ordered men to wear pants above the ankle and women to wear a veil, which they said was required based on their interpretation of the teachings of Islam.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Human rights organizations and religious groups continued to express concern that religiously targeted violence threatened what they termed the “traditional peaceful coexistence” of religious groups in the country. Observers continued to report the stigmatization of the Fulani ethnic community because of its perceived association with militant Islamist groups. They said that this aggravated social tensions in some regions, since self-defense militias at times exacted vigilante justice on Fulani communities in northern and central regions of the country because of their alleged connection to “jihadists.”
On November 8, an unknown individual threw a Molotov cocktail into a mosque in the capital during Friday evening prayers, wounding six persons. Media reported a note left nearby said, “Close the mosque or we’ll launch grenades at you.”
Members of the Burkinabe Muslim Community Organization, the Catholic Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, and the Federation of Evangelical Churches continued to state that despite an increase in religiously motivated attacks, religious tolerance remained widespread and numerous examples existed of families of mixed faiths and religious leaders attending each other’s holidays and celebrations. Members of the largest religious communities promoted interfaith dialogue and tolerance through public institutions such as the National Observatory of Religious Facts, which conducted awareness campaigns throughout the country. They also worked through NGOs such as the Dori-based Fraternal Union of Believers, which encouraged various religious communities, specifically in the Sahel Region, to conduct socioeconomic activities with the goal of fostering religious tolerance.
As in previous years, new Muslim and Protestant congregations continued to open without approval and oversight from existing Muslim and Protestant federations. Religious leaders stated the Muslim and Protestant federations were often undermined by small new religious groups that did not fall under their oversight and that took positions counter to the federation’s messages of tolerance. They said the lack of oversight made it difficult for official religious groups to monitor and regulate the activities and messages of these new groups.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy officials raised the continued increase in religiously motivated attacks, particularly in the Sahel and Est Regions, with the government, including the Ministries of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, the Ministries of Defense and Security, and the Office of the President. Embassy staff regularly discussed events and policies affecting religious freedom with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, including the equitable registration process for religious groups, the equitable treatment of religious groups by the government, and the status of the relationship between the ministry and different religious groups.
The Ambassador and embassy officials met separately with Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders to encourage their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue and advocate for religious tolerance and freedom.
Embassy representatives used social media platforms to reinforce messaging that promoted religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador regularly raised the need to counter the threats to the country’s tradition of religious freedom and tolerance.
The embassy funded literacy programming in registered Quranic schools in northern parts of the country, the curriculum of which focused on peaceful dialogue, nonviolent conflict resolution, and religious tolerance.
Throughout the year, the Ambassador or Charge d’Affaires met with imams, priests, and pastors to reinforce U.S. support for religious freedom and tolerance. During the year, embassy officers conducted regular outreach with imams, Catholic priests, and Protestant leaders to understand the current threat to religious freedom and tolerance in the wake of the unprecedented violence against both Christian and Muslim worshippers perpetrated by terrorists. Throughout the year, embassy officials organized or supported several activities to respond to the social divisions between religious groups. For example, the embassy supported training for religious leaders on building tolerance and stability in their communities, conflict management, and fostering inter- and intrareligious cohesion.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and grants individuals freedom of religion in conformity with the law. In September, the transition government formed after an August military coup adopted the Transition Charter, which recognized the continued validity of the 1992 constitution that defined the country as secular and prohibited religious discrimination under the law. The law criminalizes abuses against religious freedom. The presence of groups identified by the government as violent extremist organizations and armed groups in the northern and central areas of the country limited government capacity to govern and bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, especially outside the main cities.
In October, kidnappers from Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), a U.S.-designated terrorist alliance, killed Swiss hostage Beatrice Stoeckli, a Christian missionary who had been held since 2016, according to the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An Italian priest was released by the group in October, along with three other hostages, in exchange for the release by the transition government of scores of suspected extremist prisoners. As of year’s end, Colombian nun Sister Gloria Cecilia Argoti remained a captive of the group. Individuals affiliated with groups identified by authorities as extremist used violence and launched attacks on civilians, security forces, peacekeepers, and others they perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam. According to a report published on August 6 by the Human Rights and Protection Division of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, from April to June, extremist groups required women in the regions of Mopti and Timbuktu to wear veils. In the center of the country, JNIM continued to attack multiple towns in Mopti Region, and to threaten Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities. Groups identified by authorities as extremist organizations continued to target and close government schools for their perceived “Western” curriculum, replacing them with Quranic schools. In the region of Mopti, especially in Koro, groups identified as extremists and local populations reportedly entered into verbal “peace” agreements, such as one prohibiting the sale of alcohol and pork to individuals of all religions, in exchange for security.
Muslim religious leaders continued to condemn what they termed extremist interpretations of sharia, and non-Muslim religious leaders condemned what they characterized as extremism related to religion. Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern regarding the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist, with Caritas representatives citing a ban on alcohol and pork in some parts of the region of Mopti as signs of the growing influence of Islam in these parts of the country and a threat to the Christian community. They also raised concerns regarding the October prisoner release. Muslim, Protestant, and Roman Catholic religious leaders jointly called for peace and solidarity among all faiths at celebrations marking Christmas, the New Year, and Eid al-Fitr.
The U.S. embassy supported programs to counter violent extremism related to religion and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation. The Ambassador and other officials discussed the importance of religious leaders helping bring peace to the country with religious leaders, as well as with human rights organizations. In March, the embassy released a video Ramadan greeting by the Ambassador on social media and sent letters to more than 40 mosques throughout the country highlighting the role of religious leaders in confronting challenges such as insecurity fueled by religious intolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 19.6 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to statistics from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship, Muslims constitute an estimated 95 percent of the population. Nearly all Muslims are Sunni, and most follow Sufism; however, one prominent Shia imam stated that as many as 10 percent of Muslims are Shia. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Christians, of whom approximately two-thirds are Catholic and one-third Protestant; groups with indigenous religious beliefs; and those with no religious affiliation. Groups adhering to indigenous religious beliefs reside throughout the country, mostly in rural areas. Many Muslims and Christians also adhere to some aspects of indigenous beliefs. The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship estimates fewer than 1,000 individuals in Bamako and an unknown number outside of the capital are associated with the Muslim group Dawa al-Tablig.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution defines the country as a secular state, prohibits discrimination based on religion, and provides for freedom of religion in conformity with the law. In September, the transition government formed after an August military coup adopted the Transition Charter, which recognized the continued validity of the 1992 constitution that defined the country as secular and prohibited religious discrimination under the law.
According to the penal code, any act of discrimination based on religion or any act impeding the freedom of religious observance or worship is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or 10 years’ banishment (prohibition from residing in the country). The penal code also states any religiously motivated persecution of a group of persons constitutes a crime against humanity. There is no statute of limitations for such crimes.
The law requires registration of all public associations, including religious groups, except for groups practicing indigenous religious beliefs; however, registration confers no tax preferences or other legal benefits, and there is no penalty for not registering. To register, applicants must submit copies of a declaration of intent to create an association, notarized copies of bylaws, copies of policies and regulations, notarized copies of a report of the first meeting of the association’s general assembly, and lists of the leaders of the association, with signature samples of three of the leaders. Upon review, if approved, the Ministry of Territorial Administration grants the certificate of registration.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship is responsible for administering the national strategy for countering violent extremism, promoting religious tolerance, and coordinating national religious activities such as pilgrimages and religious holidays for followers of all religions.
The constitution prohibits public schools from offering religious instruction, but it permits private schools to do so. Privately funded medersas (madrassahs) teach the standard government curriculum, as well as Islam. Non-Muslim students in these schools are not required to attend Islamic religious classes. Private Catholic schools teach the standard government curriculum and Catholic religious classes. Non-Catholic students in these schools are not required to attend Catholic religious classes. Informal schools, known locally as Quranic schools and which some students attend in lieu of public schools, do not follow a government curriculum and offer religious instruction exclusively.
The law defines marriage as secular. Couples who seek legal recognition must have a civil ceremony, which they may follow with a religious ceremony. Under the law, a man may choose between a monogamous or polygamous marriage. The law states that the religious customs of the deceased determine inheritance rights. Civil courts consider these customs when they adjudicate such cases; however, many cases are settled informally.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government and security forces struggled to tamp down violence generated by the spread of groups they described as violent extremist organizations in the northern and central regions of the country – including armed religious groups, as well as ethnically aligned militias. The presence of groups, identified by the government as violent extremist organizations, and armed groups in the northern and central areas limited government capacity to govern and to bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, especially outside the main cities.
In October, the National Secretariat for the Prevention and the Fight Against Violent Extremism in the Ministry of Religions Affairs and Worship, with the assistance of the UN Development Program, launched a study of factors influencing extremism related to religion. According to the ministry, the evaluation results, which were not released by year’s end, will form the basis of a new national action plan that includes interfaith efforts and promotion of religious tolerance.
A Moroccan-funded training program for 500 Sufi imams in Morocco, one objective of which was to improve interfaith tolerance, concluded in December 2019, with the fifth class of imams returning to the country.
The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission launched in 2014 and renewed for an additional two years in 2019 continued operating during the year. In December 2019, the commission held its first public hearing, at which 13 victims of conflict recounted mistreatment they had suffered. The commission held a second public hearing on December 5 and heard cases ranging from abuses committed during a 1963 rebellion to 2019 mass killings in Ogossagou and Sobane Da. Both public hearings were broadcast on national television. As of December 16, the commission had heard the testimony of 3,329 individuals, compared with 5,324 in 2019, 3,592 in 2018, and 6,953 in 2017. Political events in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic, growing security concerns in the central and northern regions of the country, a lack of transportation for victims, and the lack of access in camps for displaced persons limited the collection of testimony. As of December 16, the commission reported it had collected more than 19,000 statements since it had begun its work in January 2017, including cases involving religious freedom violations.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship organized, in coordination with Archbishop of Bamako Cardinal Jean Zerbo, the annual Catholic pilgrimage to Kita, which took place in November. Cardinal Zerbo took part in the pilgrimage, as did the Union of Young Malian Muslims (UJMA). A UJMA representative marched from Kayes to Kita (approximately 250 miles) to demonstrate UJMA’s support for interfaith dialogue.
In November, the transition government announced the composition of a 121-member National Transition Council (its legislative body) that would include three seats reserved for representatives of religious organizations. The transition government’s Vice President reviewed applications and selected members of the council. Following the release of the names in December, representatives of the Catholic Church criticized the fact that no representatives of the Church were accorded seats.
Throughout the year, mostly in the country’s central and northern regions, domestic and transnational violent terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates Ansar al-Dine, Macina Liberation Front, and al-Mourabitoune, united under the umbrella group JNIM, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, continued to carry out attacks on domestic and international security forces, UN peacekeepers, civilians, and others they reportedly perceived as not adhering to their interpretation of Islam. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and security experts, armed groups have, in some instances, co-opted pre-existing intercommunal and ethnic tensions to further sow instability and violence, and it was not possible to attribute some incidents entirely to religious motives. Several of JNIM’s public messages repeated an intent to govern the country according to sharia.
In October, kidnappers from JNIM, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, killed Swiss hostage Beatrice Stoeckli, a Christian missionary who had been held since 2016, according to the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An Italian priest was released by the group in October, along with three other hostages, in exchange for the release by the transition government of scores of suspected extremist prisoners. As of year’s end, the group continued to hold Colombian nun Sister Gloria Cecilia Argoti captive.
In the center of the country, JNIM continued to attack multiple towns in Mopti Region, and to threaten Christian, Muslim, and traditional religious communities. According to a report published on August 6 by the Human Rights and Protection Division of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, from April to June, extremist groups required women in the regions of Mopti and Timbuktu to wear veils. According to the report, in Binedama, Mopti Region, members of extremist groups forced all women to wear a veil, while in Dianke, Timbuktu Region, extremist groups reportedly intimidated and threatened several unveiled women. In other areas, members of extremist groups reportedly told NGOs they could carry out their work only if their field teams did not include women, in compliance with a strict interpretation of Islam.
According to the 2020 Freedom House Freedom in The World report, armed extremists committed religious freedom abuses in the northern and central regions, attacking those who disagreed with their interpretation of Islam. According to the report, between 2012 and 2017, these groups kidnapped Christians, sometimes subjecting them to violent mistreatment.
Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity. Several influential imams and former government officials cautioned against divisive language that conflated certain ethnic groups, such as Fulani populations, with extremists.
In June and July, in Koro and Bankass, perceived extremist elements reportedly prohibited the sale of alcohol and pork, including to non-Muslims, in exchange for security. According to a local church leader, extremists also threatened to ban the practice of Catholicism, teach Islam, and impose sharia on Catholics. The extremist elements later departed those areas and, as of October, had not returned. Most of the churches remained open.
According to a member of the UJMA, local Shia did not face discrimination from the government, but they often faced it from followers of different schools of Islam that perceive Shia practices to be incorrect.
According to a local NGO and videos released on social media, on April 20, armed individuals believed to be terrorists entered a market in the village of Sarafere, Timbuktu Region, and announced a ban on activities such as selling or buying tobacco. The armed group said these activities were not permissible under Islamic law and threatened to return and kill anyone found with tobacco. The unidentified individuals also told the population to join them and leave behind their “hedonistic ways” or prepare “to kill or be killed,” according to local NGO representatives and videos.
Islamist armed groups targeted and closed government schools that taught any curriculum not based on Islam, replacing them with Quranic schools teaching a strict interpretation of Islam, according to NGOs and media reports. According to Caritas, the schools that closed due to threats or conflict did not reopen, and more schools were closed throughout the year, especially in Mopti Region.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
In June and July, in response to violent antigovernment protests, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant interfaith leaders joined civil society leaders in creating a mediation and negotiation network called the Cadre for Action, Monitoring, Mediation and Negotiation of Religious Denominations and Civil Society. They jointly called for dialogue among the political parties to end the violence.
Some Christian missionaries again expressed concern regarding the increased influence in remote areas of organizations they characterized as violent and extremist, which the missionaries said could affect their ability to continue working in the country over the long term. Caritas representatives said priests in Minta, Mopti Region, were surrounded by extremist elements, preventing them from free movement. According to Caritas, the expanding influence of what it described as violent extremist organizations, particularly in remote areas, increasingly threatened religious freedom in the country. Caritas representatives said they were concerned that the closure of government schools and opening of Quranic schools by what they termed extremist groups would negatively impact interreligious understanding and cooperation and could endanger Christianity in the country in the long term. Caritas representatives said the ban on alcohol and pork in some areas and attacks on some bars in Bamako on July 14 following negative messaging from Muslim religious leaders were also threats to religious freedom. Caritas also expressed concern regarding what it said was the growing influence of Muslim religious leaders in the political field.
Ousmane Bocoum, a local Quranic teacher, civil society leader, and businessman with a broad social media reach, continued spreading messages of tolerance as a way of countering radical ideologies and messaging spreading via social media and driving violence and instability, particularly in the center of the country. Bocoum promoted religious freedom as a facilitator of youth programs and leader of a peacebuilding program in Mopti.
Following a January 21 workshop discussing the role of the High Islamic Council of Mali (HCIM) in countering conflict-related sexual violence, the president of the HCIM signed a declaration making commitments to prevent gender-based violence, including the issuance of a fatwa to denounce conflict-related sexual violence. In June and July, the Coordination of Movements, Associations, and Supporters of Imam Dicko joined other political and civil society organizations in demanding the resignation of then-President Keita and the dissolution of his government. According to press reports, Dicko, the former long-term head of the HCIM believed by many observers to have political ambitions, was seen as the “moral authority” of the opposition movement. In an August 29 television interview following the August 18 military overthrow of the Keita government, Dicko stated he planned to remain an imam and had “no ambition to be president” of the country.
While media reporting highlighted religious leaders’ playing an increasingly important role in politics, it also noted that religious activism was not a new phenomenon in the country, and largely attributed it to the demands of citizens on their religious leaders. Members of religious groups commonly attended the religious ceremonies of other religious groups, especially baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The embassy continued to encourage the government to promote interfaith dialogue and to maintain a tradition of religious tolerance. The embassy also continued to highlight the importance of countering violent extremism, including through working with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship to support programs to counter violent extremism related to religion. Embassy officials worked with vulnerable communities to build their ability to address conflict, radicalization, and religious violent extremism.
The Ambassador and embassy officers spoke with a wide range of religious leaders and human rights organizations to promote religious tolerance, including Imam Dicko and other imams. They urged religious leaders to advocate for tolerance and peace among various social and religious groups.
In February, a visiting Muslim-American from New York discussed religious tolerance and diversity in the United States with students and young professionals, as well as the importance of religious tolerance in promoting peace and social cohesion and in combating violent extremism.
In March, the embassy released a video Ramadan greeting by the Ambassador on social media and sent letters to more than 40 mosques throughout the country highlighting the role of religious leaders in confronting challenges such as insecurity fueled by religious intolerance.
The embassy highlighted the importance of tolerance and respect for religious diversity on its social media throughout the year. In June, following a meeting with religious and civil society leaders regarding the country’s political crisis, the Ambassador said in a televised statement that religious leaders played an important role in creating a stronger, more democratic, and more stable country.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and worship consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity. It provides for the separation of state and religion and prohibits religiously affiliated political parties. Implementation of the 2019 National Worship Strategy was hindered by COVID-19 restrictions, civil unrest, and the government focus on the December general election. The government continued to prohibit full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions intended to prevent concealment of bombs and weapons. The government also continued to prohibit open air, public proselytization events due to stated safety concerns. The government said it faced a series of persistent and growing security threats from the group alternatively known as the “Islamic State in West Africa” or “the Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” formerly known as Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, and commonly known as Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization active in the region. In Mirriah Commune, 11 miles east of Zinder, numerous young people armed with stones and clubs demonstrated publicly to denounce the government’s ban on religious gatherings under COVID-19 restrictions and the arrest of a local imam who refused to comply.
Following the announcement of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Islamic Council and the Coalition of Nigerien Churches called for a ban on collective prayers and other religious gatherings in the country’s mosques and churches. Many individuals did not comply with these decrees and large numbers of Muslims prayed at mosques the day after the High Islamic Council’s announcement. The council issued a statement urging Muslims to abide by government’s COVID-19 prevention measures during Ramadan, and also urged Muslim leaders and preachers to conduct COVID-19 awareness campaigns.
The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government leaders, including the Interior and Foreign Ministers. Embassy representatives conveyed messages of religious tolerance in meetings with Muslim and Christian representatives, including during the Ambassador’s meeting with the imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey on the eve of Eid al-Adha. The embassy continued to sponsor nationwide programs with religious leaders focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying voices of religious tolerance. The embassy provided assistance in the design of new education programming, in consultation with traditional and religious leaders, including scrutinizing school curriculum and texts for content contrary to the principles of religious freedom and tolerance.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 22.8 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the Ministry of Interior, more than 98 percent of the population is Muslim. Of the Muslim population, the great majority is Sunni and less than 7 percent is Shia. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other religious groups account for less than 2 percent of the population. There are several thousand Baha’is, who reside primarily in Niamey and in communities on the west side of the Niger River. A small percentage of the population adheres primarily to indigenous religious beliefs. Some Muslims intermingle animist practices with their practice of Islam, although observers note this has become less common over the past decade.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, specifies separation of religion and state as an unalterable principle, and stipulates equality under the law for all, regardless of religion. It provides for freedom of conscience, religion, worship, and expression of faith consistent with public order, social peace, and national unity. The constitution also states no religion or faith shall claim political power or interfere in state affairs and bans political parties based on religious affiliation.
The law on the organization and practice of religion, passed and ratified in 2019, reaffirms existing laws on freedom of religion, as long as religion is exercised respecting “public order and moral good.” It provides for government regulation and approval of the construction of places of worship and oversight of financial contributions for the construction of religious venues.
Religious groups are treated the same as other nongovernmental organizations and must register with the Ministry of Interior’s Customary and Religious Affairs Office. Registration approval is based on submission of required legal documents, including the group’s charter, minutes of the group’s board of directors, annual action plan, and list of the organization’s founders. Only registered organizations are legally recognized entities. Nonregistered groups are not legal entities and are not permitted to operate, although some unregistered religious organizations reportedly operate without authorization in remote areas. The Ministry of Interior requires clerics speaking to a large national gathering either to belong to a registered religious organization or to obtain a special permit.
Registered religious groups wishing to obtain permanent legal status must undergo a three-year review and probationary period before the Ministry of Interior’s Customary and Religious Affairs Office may grant a change in legal status from probationary to permanent.
The constitution specifies the President, Prime Minister, and President of the National Assembly must take an oath when assuming office on the holy book of his or her religion. By law, other senior government officials are also required to take religious oaths upon entering office.
The government prohibits full-face veils in the Diffa Region under state of emergency provisions, with the stated purpose of preventing concealment of bombs and weapons.
The government prohibits open air, public proselytization events by all religious groups due to expressed safety concerns. There is no legal restriction on private, peaceful proselytization or conversion of an individual from one religious faith to another as long as the group sponsoring the conversion is registered with the government.
The establishment of any private school by a religious association must receive the concurrence of both the Ministry of Interior and the relevant department of the Ministry of Education (primary, secondary, superior, or vocational). Private Quranic schools, established uniquely to teach the Quran without providing other education, are unregulated. Most public schools do not include religious education. The government funds a small number of special primary schools (called “French and Arabic schools”) that include Islamic religious study as part of the curriculum.
There are no restrictions on the issuance of visas for visiting religious representatives; however, the long-term residency of foreign religious representatives must be approved by the Ministry of Interior.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Implementation of the 2019 National Worship Strategy was hindered by COVID-19 restrictions, civil unrest, and the government’s focus on the December general election. The strategy’s six goals were to design and implement a plan for the location of places of worship; promote quality religious training; encourage educational and tolerant religious public discourse; ensure “adequate supervision” of religious practice; strengthen intra- and interreligious dialogue; and discourage violent religious extremism. The status of the planned National Worship Councils remained unclear at year’s end.
On March 17, the government decreed 10 measures to control COVID-19, including a ban on gatherings and social distancing requirements. On March 23 in Mirriah Commune, located 11 miles east of Zinder and approximately 550 miles east of Niamey, numerous young people took part in street demonstrations to denounce the government’s COVID-19-prevention ban on religious gatherings and the arrest of a local imam who refused to comply. Demonstrators barricaded the streets, burned tires, and set fire to the mayor’s office. Police and gendarmerie were dispatched to break up the riot. Media reported that several young men were wounded as a result of the confrontations. On March 27, following additional clashes in Zinder, police arrested a number of demonstrators. According to press reports, most of the demonstrators were followers of Imam Garin Malam, who had urged them to disobey the government’s restrictions on communal prayers.
On April 18, the High Islamic Council issued a statement urging Muslims to abide by government COVID-19 measures banning large public gatherings, including group prayers, during Ramadan. The council also urged Muslim leaders and preachers to conduct COVID-19 awareness campaigns. Large numbers of Muslims reportedly prayed at mosques the next day.
Cheikh Boureima Abdou Daouda registered as a candidate for the December 27 presidential election as the candidate of the Democratic Union of Renaissance Socialists (UDSR Martaba), a party he founded 20 years ago. Daouda was the first imam of the University of Niamey’s mosque to enter a presidential race.
The Islamic Forum, established by the government in 2017 to standardize the practice of Islam and prevent the spread of Islamic extremism, continued to liaise with the government.
Government officials continued to express concern about funding from Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and other countries for the construction of mosques and the training of imams, but according to observers, the government had only limited resources to track the extent of the funding and fully understand its consequences.
The government stated that it continued to face a series of persistent and growing security threats from the group alternatively known as “the Islamic State in West Africa,” or “the Islamic State’s West Africa Province,” formerly known as Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, and commonly known as Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization active in the region. Armed terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and groups affiliated with al-Qaida, ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked and killed both civilians and security forces, according to media. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued regular attacks in the Diffa Region in the Lake Chad Basin, while ISIS-GS and JNIM increased attacks in the border areas with Mali and Burkina Faso. Armed groups also reportedly conducted targeted campaigns of killings and threats against what they called “informants.” ISIS-GS and Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslim affiliates in northern Tillabery Region reportedly continued charging local villagers Islamic taxes, while members of terrorist organizations in western Tillabery Region reportedly burned government-funded schools, telling villagers their children should not attend secular schools.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
On March 19, following the announcement of the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the High Islamic Council and the Coalition of Nigerien Churches called for a ban on collective prayers and other religious gatherings in the country’s mosques and churches. According to media, numerous individuals did not comply with these decrees and large numbers of Muslims prayed in mosques on March 20, the day after the High Islamic Council’s announcement.
The Muslim-Christian Interfaith Forum continued to meet, bringing together representatives of Islamic associations and Christian churches to discuss interfaith cooperation. According to representatives of both Christian and Muslim groups, there were generally good relations between Muslims and Christians; however, according to some religious leaders, a minority of Muslims rejected closer ties between Muslims and Christians as a corruption of the true faith and therefore resented the forum.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
The Ambassador and other embassy representatives continued to advocate for religious freedom and tolerance through meetings with government and religious leaders. The Ambassador raised religious freedom with the Interior Minister and the Foreign Minister, encouraging broad engagement with Muslim associations in the government’s efforts to promote religious tolerance and counter extremist messages.
The Ambassador and embassy representatives met with representatives of Muslim and Christian groups to support intra- and interfaith dialogues intended to promote tolerance and understanding and to jointly tackle societal issues where religious leadership and tradition were driving factors, such as education for all and reducing early marriage. The Ambassador met with the president of the Islamic Association, also known as the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Niamey, on the eve of Eid al-Adha to discuss the role of faith in society and how it could help defeat extremism related to religion.
The embassy continued to sponsor programs with religious leaders nationwide focused on countering violent extremism related to religion and amplifying voices of religious tolerance. The embassy hosted a conference on August 28 titled “Preventing Violent Extremism in Youth Through Islam,” featuring Cheikh Oumarou Bizo as the guest speaker. Additionally, the embassy provided assistance in the design of new education programming in consultation with traditional and religious leaders, including scrutinizing school curriculum and texts for content that countered principles of religious freedom and tolerance.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s faith or life stance (belief in a nonreligious philosophy). It declares the Church of Norway is the country’s established church. The government continued to provide the Church of Norway with exclusive benefits, including funds for salaries and benefits of clergy and staff. The government enacted a new law governing religious life in April that outlines how faith and life stance organizations with at least 50 registered members may apply for state subsidies, which are to be prorated as a percentage of the subsidy received by the Church of Norway based on group membership. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. On June 11, the Oslo District Court sentenced Philip Manshaus to 21 years’ imprisonment for the attack on an Islamic cultural center and the killing of his stepsister in 2019. In March, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to bring a case to the Supreme Court after a court of appeals acquitted three men of hate speech charges arising from a 2018 incident when they raised a Nazi flag outside the site of a World War II Gestapo headquarters. The government continued to implement an action plan to combat anti-Semitism, particularly hate speech, and released a similar plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment. The government continued to provide financial support for interreligious dialogue.
A total of 807 hate-motivated crimes were reported during the year, of which 16.7 percent were religiously motivated. This was the first decline following a period of strong increase. Several groups reported that anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment remained prevalent among extremist groups and that internet hate speech against Jews and Muslims increased during the year. On September 27, Yom Kippur, three members of the Nordic Resistance Movement handed out hate propaganda outside an Oslo synagogue. Stop the Islamization of Norway (SIAN) held a number of rallies during the year in different cities that received widespread media attention.
U.S. embassy officials met with officials from the Ministry of Children and Families to discuss the draft law on faith and life stance communities and public financing for faith and life stance organizations. In addition, embassy officials discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes as well as to promote religious freedom. The Charge d’Affaires hosted religious leaders from the Church of Norway, Roman Catholic Church, Jewish community, and Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN) at an event to promote interfaith dialogue. Embassy representatives continued to meet with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and numerous faith and religious minority groups, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Uighur Muslims, and humanists, to discuss issues such as religious freedom and tolerance and the integration of minority groups. The embassy routinely used social media to share messages of religious tolerance and to highlight religious holidays and events.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.5 million (midyear 2020 estimate). According to Statistics Norway, the official government statistics office, 69 percent of the population (December 2019 figure) belongs to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran denomination, a decline of 2.8 percentage points over the previous three years.
Statistics Norway, which assesses membership in religious groups using criteria based on registration, age, and attendance, reports registered membership in religious and life stance communities other than the Church of Norway is approximately 12.6 percent of the population (December 2019 estimate); 6.7 percent belongs to other Christian denominations, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, at 3 percent, and 3.2 percent is Muslim. There are approximately 21,000 Buddhists, 11,400 Hindus, 4,000 Sikhs, and 1,500 Jews registered in the country. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) has approximately 4,600 members.
According to Statistics Norway, approximately 1.8 percent of the population participates in life stance organizations. The Norwegian Humanist Association reports approximately 100,000 registered members, making it the largest life stance organization in the country.
Immigrants, whom Statistics Norway defines as those born outside the country and their children, even if born in Norway, comprise the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway. Immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Philippines have increased the number of Catholics in the country, while those from countries including Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia have increased the size of the Muslim community. Catholics and Muslims generally have greater representation in cities than in rural areas. Muslims are located throughout the country but are mainly concentrated in the Oslo region. Most of the Jewish community resides in or near the cities of Oslo and Trondheim.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of religion, and all religious and philosophical communities shall be supported on equal terms. The constitution also states, “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion,” national values “will remain our Christian and humanistic heritage,” and “The Church of Norway shall remain the country’s established church and be supported by the state.” The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their faith or life stance. Any person older than age 15 has the right to join or leave a religious or life stance community. Parents have the right to decide their child’s faith or life stance community before age 15, but they must take into consideration the views of the children once they reach the age of seven and give those views priority once they reach age 12.
The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on faith or life stance, or for expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups.
By law, the national government and local municipalities provide direct financial support to the Church of Norway. The national government provides an annual block grant that covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. The national government may provide additional support for other projects. By law, municipal governments provide financial support to the Church’s local activities, including maintenance and operation of Church buildings, as well as to public but Church-related properties, such as cemeteries and parks.
All registered faith and life stance organizations are eligible to apply for financial support from the government. The government pays prorated subsidies to nearly 800 such organizations based on their membership numbers, as compared to membership numbers of the Church of Norway.
In April, parliament enacted a new law governing religious life that included suggestions from the Church of Norway and other religious and life stance communities. The law was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2021. According to its provisions, faith and life stance organizations with at least 50 registered members may apply for state subsidies. The government shall pay prorated subsidies to organizations based on their membership numbers, as compared to membership numbers of the Church of Norway. Faith and life stance organizations must provide annual reports detailing activities, opportunities for children and youth, the use of the state subsidies, marital law administration, and gender equality, as well as any funds received from abroad. The government shall continue to provide the Church of Norway with an annual block grant that pays the full cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. The government must provide additional funding to the Church of Norway for maintenance of cemeteries and religious buildings.
To register, a faith or life stance organization must notify the government and provide its creed and doctrine, activities, names of board members, names and responsibilities of group leaders, operating rules – including who may become a member – voting rights, and the processes for amending statutes and dissolution. According to a 2020 amendment to the Law on the Faith and Life Stance Communities, faith and life stance organizations no longer need to register with local municipalities. Per a new law adopted during the year, faith and life stance organizations no longer register with the county (state equivalent) governor. A group must report its national tally of members annually. If a religious group does not register, it does not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities except that faith and life stance communities that practice or give support to violent activities or receive funding from abroad may lose financial support following an assessment by the state. Most religious organizations and life stance communities register and receive government funding. By law, a faith or life stance organization must have a minimum of 500 members to qualify for government funding.
Public schools include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10. State-employed instructors teach the CKREE course, which covers world religions and philosophies and promotes tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism. Students may not opt out of this course. Schools do not permit religious ceremonies, but schools may organize religious outings, such as attending Christmas services at a local Church of Norway church. At their parents’ request, children may opt out of participating in or performing specific acts related to religion, such as a class trip to a church. Parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption. Students may apply to be absent to celebrate certain religious holidays, such as an Eid or Passover, but there is no celebration or observance of such holidays in public schools.
Members of minority religious groups must apply for annual leave from work in order to celebrate religious holidays; many Christian religious holidays are official holidays.
The law bans clothing at educational institutions that mostly or fully covers the face. The prohibition applies to students and teachers wearing burqas or niqabs in schools and day-care centers.
Police are responsible for investigating criminal cases of discrimination, including those involving religion, such as hate crimes. The government-funded but independent Equality and Antidiscrimination Ombudsman reviews noncriminal discrimination and harassment cases, including those involving religion.
Individuals may apply for a full exemption from the required registration for a year of military service for religious reasons and are not required to perform alternative service.
According to the law, an animal must be stunned or administered anesthetics before slaughter, making most traditional kosher and halal slaughter practices illegal. Halal and kosher meat may be imported. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food routinely waives import duties on halal and kosher meat and provides guidance on import procedures to the Jewish and Muslim communities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 11, in a combined case, the Oslo District Court sentenced Philip Manshaus to 21 years in prison for the attack on the al-Noor Islamic Cultural Center and the killing of his stepsister in 2019. Manshaus must serve a minimum of 14 years before he can apply for parole, the strictest sentence ever given by a Norwegian court and the maximum allowed under the penal code. According to law, he may be required to serve more than 21 years if on review of his case it is determined that he remains a threat to society. Manshaus was also ordered to pay restitution to his stepmother for the death of his stepsister and to three al-Noor members who were present on the day of the attack.
Antiterror police extradited a man to France who had lived in the country since 1991 for links to a Palestinian group that carried out a 1982 attack on a restaurant in Paris’ predominantly Jewish Marais quarter that killed six and injured 20 individuals. Norway had rejected a 2015 extradition request by France.
The government continued to implement its 2016-20 action plan to counter anti-Semitism, funding projects carried out by government, academic institutions, and the Mosaic Community (DMT), the country’s principal Jewish organization. The plan emphasizes data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture and space. For example, the government provided 400,000 kroner ($46,900) to the Dembra program of the Holocaust Center, an independent research and educational center associated with the University of Oslo, for a 2020-21 program to collaborate with teacher training institutions to counter prejudice and internal discrimination. Under the plan, police authorities continued to revise their training curriculum to improve the reporting, processing, and investigation of religiously based hate crimes and to collect statistics on hate crimes, including anti-Semitic incidents.
On September 23, the government released a multiyear plan to combat discrimination and hate toward Muslims. The plan responded to recent studies showing an increase in negative attitudes and actions toward Muslims in the country, including the 2019 attack against the al-Noor Islamic Center, and the increasing threat from right-wing extremists, as reported by the Police Security Service in its annual threat assessment. The plan contained 18 measures that focused on research and education, dialogue across religious communities, and police initiatives, such as registration of hate crimes towards Muslims as a separate category in crime statistics. The plan also outlined a new grant scheme outlining security measures for religious and life stance communities and steps to raise awareness about discrimination and racism in the business community.
During the year, the Department of Justice received proposals for a five-million-kroner ($586,000) annual fund to enhance physical security for religious and life stance communities considered potential targets by the Police Security Service’s annual national threat assessment. The fund will be administered by the Norwegian Police Directorate. The Islamic Council criticized the funding amount as too little.
The government’s 2021 budget set aside 10 million kroner ($1.17 million) to build awareness of, and support research on, hate crimes as a part of its 2020-2023 Action Plan Against Racism and Discrimination on the Basis of Ethnicity and Religion.
In June, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to bring a case to the Supreme Court after a court of appeals acquitted three men of hate speech charges arising from a 2018 incident in which they raised a Nazi flag outside the site of a World War II Gestapo headquarters.
The police continued to prohibit officers from wearing religious symbols, including religious headwear, with police uniforms. Other uniformed organizations allowed the use of religious headwear. The military provided some religious headwear that conformed to military dress regulations.
In October, the government eliminated a requirement introduced in 2014 that citizens must show their ears in official passport and national identity photographs, thereby allowing turbans and hijabs to be worn in such photographs.
Christian, Muslim, and humanist chaplains served as officers in the military. Religious and humanist groups provided chaplains at their own expense to hospitals, universities, and prisons.
Funded by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, the Oslo Synagogue, in coordination with the DMT, worked with the Oslo police to coordinate security for the synagogue and Jewish heritage sites in Oslo, and acted as an intermediary between the Jewish community and police to facilitate timely reporting and monitoring of hate crimes.
The Center Against Racism continued to provide training and advisory services to police on detecting, investigating, and prosecuting racial and religiously motivated hate crimes. Police continued to assign personnel to support and coordinate these efforts, including providing resources to maintain hate crime investigators in each of the country’s 12 police districts.
The National Criminal Investigation Service continued to maintain a website for the public to contact police to report hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents.
The national CKREE curriculum continued to include components on Judaism and the Holocaust. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Research continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech. The government also continued to fund the Jewish Pathfinders, a life module through which young Jews engaged with high school students about Judaism and being Jewish in the country. In many instances, these grants were provided as part of the government’s action plan against anti-Semitism.
The government introduced a new curriculum beginning in the fall 2020 semester. According to the Norwegian Humanist Association, the new CKREE curriculum, introduced in September, better reflects the breadth of religions and philosophies, although it continues to prioritize Christianity.
Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. The government allocated 15.5 million kroner ($1.82 million) to support extracurricular programs that took secondary school students to Nazi concentration camps and other sites on three-day tours to educate them about the Holocaust, but it did not conduct these tours during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two NGOs with primary responsibility for these programs, Hvite Busser (White Buses) and Aktive Fredsreiser (Travel For Peace), continued providing teaching materials, entrance fees, guided tours, and tour guide expenses for students who took day trips. Schools facilitated fundraising activities among the students as well.
State support to religious and life stance organizations from both the national and municipal governments totaled approximately six billion kroner ($703.4 million) during the year. The government provided approximately 2.215 billion kroner ($259.7 million), or 587 kroner ($69) per registered member, to the Church of Norway for salaries and operating expenses during the year, including for pensions and benefits of Church employees and clergy. The government provided other registered religious and life stance organizations approximately 414.9 million kroner ($48.64 million) in total. The Church of Jesus Christ continued to be the only major religious community choosing to decline government funding. The Norwegian Humanist Association continued to criticize state and municipal funding for the maintenance of Church of Norway property, such as Church buildings and cemeteries, which other religious communities had to fund on their own.
Consistent with previous years, the government budget provided 5.1 million kroner ($598,000) in subsidies for Church of Norway buildings and 14.9 million kroner ($1.75 million) to religious dialogue and umbrella organizations, such as the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL) and the Norwegian Humanist Association, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life stance organizations.
The government continued to fund workshops and other intervention programs that featured practitioners who worked with religious minorities to promote their economic and social integration into society. Efforts focused on youth education and engaging local community stakeholders. For example, the government provided financial support to Minotenk, an organization that provided opportunities for young members of minority groups to publish books that were distributed to schools to raise awareness on issues related to minority communities, including minority religious communities.
Culture Minister Abid Raja spoke out against the anti-Muslim group SIAN prior to an August 29 rally in front of the parliament building, calling on counterdemonstrators not to give SIAN the attention it sought by appearing at the rally. The Vestland Police District initiated criminal investigations against SIAN leader Lars Thorsen, his deputy Ellen Due Brynjulfsen, and secretary Fanny Braten under the hate speech law following a SIAN rally in Bergen in August, but it dropped almost all charges after determining that the remarks did not rise to the level of hate speech under the law. At year’s end, one person remained under investigation for hate speech and awaited a final determination by the public prosecutor on whether the case would move forward.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
A total of 807 hate-motivated crimes were reported nationwide during the year, of which 16.7 percent were religiously motivated. The number showed the first decline following a period of strong increase.
The Kristiansand Superintendent of Police, who also serves as Violent Extremism Coordinator, reported two main religious freedom concerns: the anti-Semitic Nordic Resistance Movement and increased anti-Muslim activity by individuals.
Representatives of the MDN, which represents 30,000 Muslims in the country, said that since the shooting at the al-Noor Islamic Center in 2019, fear of violence was a greater contributor to low attendance at mosques than COVID-19.
A Muslim woman working at the national hospital in Oslo told the newspaper Aftenposten in June that one patient screamed at her that “all Muslims were terrorists” and grabbed her hijab. The elderly patient reportedly stated that he “hated hijabs” and that the woman should “go home.”
In June, the Institute for Social Research, on behalf of the Immigration and Diversity Department, released its Study on the Attitudes to Immigration and Integration in Norway – Integration Barometer 2020. In this national survey, 63 percent of the 2,968 residents polled responded that the reason for problems with integration were that “many immigrations have a religion or culture that does not fit in Norway.” Almost the same number, 60 percent, believed discrimination hindered integration. Almost two-thirds believed there would be more conflict between religious groups in the country in the future. Fifty-two percent responded that Islam is not compatible with fundamental values in Norwegian society. The number that responded that Islam is not compatible with Norwegian society has hovered between 40 and 50 percent over the last 15 years in the same survey. Forty-five percent said they were skeptical of persons who practice Islam, while 53 percent said they were not skeptical of such persons. Seven of 10 respondents were skeptical of individuals with a strong Muslim faith.
The Holocaust Center, DMT, the Center against Racism, University of Oslo, and Institute for Social Research reported religiously motivated hate speech, particularly online, remained persistent. A leader in both the DMT and the Center against Racism said that anti-Semitism was trivialized in society; the leader criticized a lack of media reporting after three members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) handed out hate propaganda outside a synagogue on Yom Kippur in September. Media reported that the NRM conducted a series of anti-Semitic actions on Yom Kippur in coordination with NRM groups in Denmark and Iceland. As in previous years, the DMT expressed concern about what it viewed as a continued tolerance of anti-Semitic expression in national media, and it stated online anti-Semitism had increased again during the year. It said there were websites operated by SIAN, NRM, Human Rights Service, and Document.no that tended to espouse an extreme, far-right ideology, including anti-Semitic and racist positions associated with the Nazis. They said that the NRM, with an estimated 100-200 members in the country, continued to maintain a strong online presence. The NRM, Document.no, SIAN (with 2,500-3,000 members), Resett.no, and Vigrid were among the most active, according to the DMT.
Police and NGOs also stated that a small but active minority continued to participate in online chat rooms, message boards, and forums such as 4chan, 8chan, and EndChan, which regularly featured anti-Semitic and/or anti-Muslim content. Police maintained mechanisms to receive tips on online hate movements, said the Kristiansand Police Superintendent.
The Holocaust Center stated anti-Muslim organizations such as SIAN, Human Rights Service, and Document.no again increased their activity during the year, including by writing articles online or in print media. The Holocaust Center stated the groups were relatively small but maintained a strong and well-organized presence on the internet. In many instances, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views were closely linked. SIAN held a number of rallies in different cities that received widespread media attention and that also included larger groups of counterprotesters. Oslo police arrested SIAN secretary Fanny Braten and approximately 20 counterdemonstrators who broke through police barriers after Braten tore pages out of the Quran and spat on them in front of the parliament building on August 29. A number of religious groups raised concerns regarding the difficulty in enforcing provisions of the hate speech law that target religion.
In a June conference hosted by the Foundation Dialogue for Peace, an organization that described itself as working for peace, reconciliation, and the promotion of respect in areas of conflict, Imam Nemat Ali Shah, leader of the Imam Council of Norway, representing approximately 200,000 Norwegian-Muslims, presented a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was attending the conference. The letter stated, in part, “On behalf of the Norwegian Imam Council, we are very concerned that the development of hatred and discrimination against Muslims in Norway is increasing sharply. We see that groups that increasingly spread hatred and xenophobia against Muslims in Norway are increasingly being formed by burning the Qur’an and spreading misinformation.”
In October and November, the Norwegian branch of the U.K.-based charitable organization Islamic Relief Worldwide accepted the resignations of two of its three trustees following media reports of their anti-Semitic and pro-Hamas postings on social media.
The Holocaust Center continued to conduct programs on the Holocaust and to combat anti-Semitism, with financial support from the government. The center developed instructional materials on the tolerance of religious diversity and distributed them to high schools nationwide. It published numerous articles and books documenting anti-Semitism and the persecution of religious minorities throughout the world. The center operated a website that provided a comprehensive overview of anti-Semitism and served as a foundation for the center’s educational efforts. It also screened materials used in public schools for anti-Semitic content. In addition, the center continued to operate a museum and library supported by its research organization and to offer a wide range of educational materials, programs, exhibitions, and publications. The center also organized a memorial ceremony at the Oslo monument to the victims of the Holocaust, in collaboration with the DMT.
The Holocaust Center continued to play a significant role in supporting the government’s action plan against anti-Semitism by developing educational materials and online platforms for the Ministry of Education and Research and monitoring anti-Semitic (and anti-Muslim) attitudes throughout society. It conducted research on Jewish life in the country, anti-Semitism in Scandinavia, religious extremism and radicalization, and hate crimes, both on its own initiative and on behalf of parliament and government ministries. It also advised the STL. Media frequently cited the center’s staff as legal, policy, or historical experts on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and religious issues, as well as on ethnic/religious oppression and genocide internationally.
The STL continued to foster interfaith dialogue by holding joint meetings with all its member communities, including virtual events when COVID-19 restrictions barred most public gatherings. Its mandate was to promote the equal treatment of religious and life stance communities and respect and understanding among all individuals and faith and life stance communities through dialogue. It received support from the government, as well as financial and in-kind contributions from its member organizations.
Minotenk said it believed that more research and knowledge about how Muslims live their lives in different parts of the country was important in developing a broader picture of the challenges faced by the Muslim community. Minotenk criticized the fact that only 10 of 428 communes in 2019 had action plans against discrimination against minorities. In the wake of the al-Noor attack in 2019, Minotenk highlighted the importance for mosques of local police contacts, since there were several large mosques in the greater Oslo area. Minotenk also requested that all police districts publish a report on hate crime statistics that was similar to the Oslo Police District’s annual report.
In September, the Church of Norway’s Bishop of Oslo expressed support for the country’s move toward equality for all faiths and life stances under the law following the government’s transfer of the Church Council and the Bishop’s Offices from government supervision to a newly independent and separate Church of Norway in 2017.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy officials met with officials of the Ministry of Children and Families who worked on religious issues to discuss the law on religion and public financing for faith and life stance organizations. Embassy officials regularly met with the Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss threats to religious freedom. They also met with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, as well as the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman, to discuss efforts to track, investigate, and prosecute religiously based hate crimes.
The Charge d’Affaires hosted four religious leaders from the Church of Norway, Roman Catholic Church, Jewish community, and Muslim Dialogue Network at an event to promote interfaith dialogue on September 24. He underscored the importance the United States places on religious freedom, citing the President’s June 2 Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, and shared the significant persecution of religious adherents he personally witnessed during his diplomatic work in the former Soviet Union and more recently in China.
The embassy used social media to honor a range of religious holidays celebrated by different faiths in the country. In January, the embassy commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day with digital events. The government held a drive-in Eid al-Fitr feast in May that was livestreamed by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. The embassy promoted the feast and similar virtual events on social media.
During the year, embassy officials traveled to areas of historical tension for religious minority groups, including Kristiansand, to gather information on issues faced by ethnic and religious minorities, where they met with representatives of the joint Somali and Pakistani mosque.
Embassy staff engaged a wide range of religious and civil society groups to discuss religious freedom, integration of minority groups, life as a religious person, and efforts to promote religious tolerance in the country, as well as their concerns about religious discrimination and perceptions of government favoritism for the Church of Norway. These groups included the STL, DMT, MDN, Catholic Church, Church of Norway, Church of Jesus Christ, Humanist Association of Norway, Amnesty International, Sikh community, Uighur Muslim representatives, Center for Holocaust Studies and Religious Minorities, Minotenk, Norwegian Church Youth Project, Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Norwegian Christian advisory council (an umbrella organization for Christian churches in Norway), Stefanus Alliance (a Christian missions and human rights organization), Buddhist community, and Foundation Dialogue for Peace.