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Algeria

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship.  The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and prohibits state institutions from behaving in a manner incompatible with Islam.  The law grants all individuals the right to practice their religion as long as they respect public order and regulations.  Offending or insulting any religion is a criminal offense.  Proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims is a crime.  In May authorities charged 26 Ahmadi Muslims in Bejaia with “insulting the precepts of Islam,” “operating an association without approval,” and “collecting money without authorization.”  The courts acquitted three of the Ahmadis while sentencing the others to three months in prison.  According to media reports, authorities charged five Christians from Bouira Province, three of whom belong to the same family, with “inciting a Muslim to change his religion” and “performing religious worship in an unauthorized place.”  On December 25, a judge at the court of Bouira acquitted the five individuals.  In March a court in Tiaret convicted and fined two Christian brothers for carrying more than 50 Bibles in their car.  Prosecutors said the accused planned to use them for proselytism; the brothers said they were for church use only.  The court fined each man 100,000 dinars ($850).  In May another court convicted a church leader and another Christian of proselytizing, sentenced them to three months in prison, and fined them 100,000 dinars.  Leaders of the Ahmadi community reported the government conducted investigations of at least 85 Ahmadi Muslims during the year.  Charges included operating an unregistered religious association, collecting funds without authorization, and holding prayers in unauthorized locations.  There were reports of police confiscating passports and educational diplomas from Ahmadi Muslims, and pressuring employers to put Ahmadi workers on administrative leave.  Authorities closed eight churches and a nursery associated with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) during the year on charges of operating without authorization, illegally printing evangelical publications, and failing to meet building safety codes.  At the end of the year, four churches remained closed.  Some Christian groups continued to report facing a range of administrative difficulties in the absence of a written government response to their requests for recognition as associations.  The government continued to regulate the importation of all books, including religious materials.  Senior government officials continued to oppose calls by extremist groups for violence in the name of Islam.  They also continued to criticize the spread of what they characterized as “foreign” religious influences such as Salafism, Wahhabism, Shia Islam, and Ahmadi Islam.

Media outlets reported the killings of three Sunni imams during the year.  The government attributed the attacks to extremists who opposed the imams’ moderate teachings.  Some Christian leaders and congregants spoke of family members abusing Muslims who converted to or expressed an interest in Christianity.  Media reported unknown individuals vandalized two Christian cemeteries, smashing tombstones and ransacking graves.  Individuals engaged in religious practice other than Sunni Islam reported they had experienced threats and intolerance, including in the media.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers frequently encouraged senior government officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Religious Affairs, Justice, and Interior to promote religious tolerance and discussed the difficulties Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minority groups faced in registering as associations, importing religious materials, and obtaining visas.  Embassy officers in meetings and programs with religious leaders from both Sunni Muslim and minority religious groups, as well as with other members of the public, focused on pluralism and religious moderation.  The embassy used special events, social media, and speakers’ programs to emphasize a message of religious tolerance.  In April the embassy hosted a delegation of nine Americans – a university program officer, one imam, six community and religious leaders, and the executive director of a think tank – for a ten-day tour focused on promoting people-to-people religious ties.  The Ministry of Religious Affairs facilitated the delegation’s visit to six cities – Algiers, Constantine, Oran, Biskra, Tlemcen, and Maskara – where the delegation met with a range of imams, community leaders, and ministry officials to discuss the role of religion in countering extremist narratives and religious communities in the United States.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 41.7 million (July 2018 estimate), more than 99 percent of whom are Muslims following the Maliki school of Sunni Islam.  Religious groups together constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Christians, Jews, Ahmadi Muslims, Shia Muslims, and a community of Ibadi Muslims residing principally in the province of Ghardaia.  Some religious leaders estimate there are fewer than 200 Jews.

The Christian community includes Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, members of the EPA, Lutherans, the Reformed Church, Anglicans, and an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Egyptian Coptic Christians.  Religious leaders’ unofficial estimates of the number of Christians range from 20,000 to 200,000.  According to government officials, foreign residents make up the majority of the Christian population.  The proportion of students and immigrants without legal status from sub-Saharan Africa among the Christian population has also increased in recent years.  Christian leaders say citizens who are Christians predominantly belong to Protestant groups.

Christians reside mostly in the cities of Algiers, Bejaia, Tizi Ouzou, Annaba, and Oran, and the Kabylie region east of the capital.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and prohibits state institutions from engaging in behavior incompatible with Islamic values.  The constitution provides for freedom of worship in accordance with the law and states freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion are inviolable.

The law does not prohibit conversion from Islam, but proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims is a criminal offense.  The law prescribes a maximum punishment of one million dinars ($8,500) and five years’ imprisonment for anyone who “incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction intending to convert a Muslim to another religion; or by using to this end establishments of teaching, education, health, social, culture, training … or any financial means.”  Making, storing, or distributing printed documents or audiovisual materials with the intent of “shaking the faith” of a Muslim is also illegal and subject to the same penalties.

The law criminalizes “offending the Prophet Muhammad” or any other prophets.  The penal code provides a punishment of three to five years in prison and/or a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 dinars ($420 to $850) for denigrating the creed or prophets of Islam through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.  The law also criminalizes insults directed at any other religion, with the same penalties.

The law grants all individuals the right to practice their religion as long as they respect public order and regulations.

The constitution establishes a High Islamic Council and states the council shall encourage and promote ijtihad (the use of independent reasoning as a source of Islamic law for issues not precisely addressed in the Quran) and express opinions on religious questions presented for its review.  The president appoints the members of the council and oversees its work.  The constitution requires the council to submit regular reports to the president on its activities.  A presidential decree further defines the council’s mission as taking responsibility for all questions related to Islam, for correcting mistaken perceptions, and for promoting the true fundamentals of the religion and a correct understanding of it.  The council may issue fatwas at the request of the president.

The law requires any group, religious or otherwise, to register with the government as an association prior to conducting any activities.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) grants association status to religious groups; only registered associations are officially recognized.  The MOI’s registration requirements for national-level associations stipulate the founding members must furnish documents proving their identities, addresses, and other biographic details; furnish police and judicial records to prove their good standing in society; show they have founding members residing in at least one quarter of the country’s provinces to prove the association merits national standing; submit the association’s constitution signed by its president; and submit documents indicating the location of its headquarters. The law requires the ministry to provide a receipt for the application once it has received all the required documentation and to give a response within 60 days of submission of the completed application.  The law states applicants are de facto approved if the ministry fails to make a decision within the 60-day limit.  The law grants the government full discretion in making registration decisions, but provides applicants an opportunity to appeal a denial to an administrative tribunal.  For associations seeking to register at the local or provincial level, application requirements are similar, but the association’s membership and sphere of activity is strictly limited to the area in which it registers.  An association registered at the wilaya (provincial) level is confined to that specific wilaya.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) must approve registration applications of religious associations.  The law, however, does not specify additional requirements for religious associations or further specify the MRA’s role in the process.  Religious groups may appeal an MRA denial to an administrative tribunal.

The National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, a government entity, is responsible by law for facilitating the registration process for all non-Muslim groups.  The MRA presides over the commission, composed of senior representatives of the Ministries of National Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs, the presidency, national police, national gendarmerie, and the governmental National Human Rights Committee (CNDH).  Representatives from Catholic and Protestant churches have not met or communicated with this Commission and believe it rarely meets.

The CNDH monitors and evaluates human rights issues, including matters related to religious freedom.  The law authorizes the agency to conduct investigations of alleged abuses, issue opinions and recommendations, conduct awareness campaigns, and work with other government authorities to address human rights issues.  The agency may address concerns of individuals and groups that believe they are not being treated fairly by the MRA.  The CNDH does not have the authority to enforce its decisions but may refer matters to the relevant administrative or criminal court.  It submits an annual report to the president, who appoints the agency’s members.

The law specifies the manner and conditions under which religious services, Muslim or otherwise, may take place.  The law states religious demonstrations are subject to regulation and the government may shut down any religious service, taking place in private homes or in outdoor settings without official approval.  With the exception of daily prayers, which are permissible anywhere, Islamic services may take place only in state-sanctioned mosques.  Friday prayers are further limited to certain specified mosques.  Non-Islamic religious services must take place only in buildings registered with the state for the exclusive purpose of religious practice, run by a registered religious association, open to the public, and marked as such on the exterior.  A request for permission to observe special non-Muslim religious events must be submitted to the relevant wali (governor) at least five days before the event, and the event must occur in buildings accessible to the public.  Requests must include information on three principal organizers of the event, its purpose, the number of attendees anticipated, a schedule of events, and its planned location.  The organizers also must obtain a permit from the wali.  The wali may request the organizers to move the location of an event or deny permission for it to take place if he deems it would be a danger to public order or harm “national constants,” “good mores,” or symbols of the revolution.  If unauthorized meetings go forward without approval, participants are subject to dispersal by the police.  Failure to disperse at the behest of the police may result in arrest and a prison term of two to 12 months under the penal code.

The penal code states only government-authorized imams, whom the state hires and trains, may lead prayers in mosques and penalizes anyone else who preaches in a mosque with a fine of up to 100,000 dinars ($850) and a prison sentence of one to three years.  Fines as high as 200,000 dinars ($1,700) and prison sentences of three to five years are stipulated for any person, including government-authorized imams, who acts “against the noble nature of the mosque” or in a manner “likely to offend public cohesion.”  The law states such acts include exploiting the mosque to achieve purely material or personal objectives or with a view to harming persons or groups.

By law, the MRA provides financial support to mosques and pays the salaries of imams and other religious personnel, as well as for health care and retirement benefits.  The law also provides for the payment of salaries and benefits to non-Muslim religious leaders who are citizens.  The Ministry of Labor regulates the amount of an individual imam’s or mosque employee’s pay, and likewise sets the salaries of citizen non-Muslim religious leaders based on their position within their individual churches.

The Ministries of Religious Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Commerce must approve the importation of all religious texts, except those intended for personal use.

A 2017 decree established a commission within the MRA to review importation of the Quran.  Authorities generally consider “importation” to be approximately 20 or more religious texts or items.  This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information.  The ministry is given three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the importation application.  A separate 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran states, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.”  The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days.  A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection.  Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

The law states the government must approve any modification of structures intended for non-Islamic collective worship.

Under the law, children born to a Muslim father are considered Muslim regardless of the mother’s religion.

The Ministries of National Education and Religious Affairs require, regulate, and fund the study of Islam in public schools.  Religious education focuses on Islamic studies but includes information on Christianity and Judaism and is mandatory at the primary and secondary school levels.  The Ministry of National Education requires private schools to adhere to curricula in line with national standards, particularly regarding the teaching of Islam, or risk being closed.

The law states discrimination based on religion is prohibited and guarantees state protection for non-Muslims and for the “toleration and respect of different religions.”  It does not prescribe penalties for religious discrimination.

The constitution prohibits non-Muslims from running for the presidency.  Non-Muslims may hold other public offices and work within the government.

The government does not register religious affiliations of the citizenry and does not print religious affiliations on documents such as national identification cards.

The family code prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men unless the man converts to Islam.  The code does not prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslim women.

By law, individuals who have converted from Islam to another religion are ineligible to receive an inheritance via succession.

The law prohibits religious associations from receiving funding from political parties or foreign entities.  The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion.

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

Government Practices

In May authorities prosecuted 26 Ahmadi Muslims in Bejaia for insulting the precepts of Islam, operating an association without approval, and collecting money without authorization.  Their case went to trial in June.  The court acquitted three persons, sentenced a married couple in absentia to six months in prison, and sentenced the remaining individuals to three months in prison.

The government continued to enforce the ban on proselytizing by non-Muslim groups.  According to media reports, authorities arrested, jailed, and fined several Christians on charges of proselytizing by non-Muslims, which prompted churches to restrict some activities not related to proselytizing, such as the distribution of religious literature and holding of events in the local community Muslims might attend.  According to media reports, authorities charged five Christians from Bouira Province, three of whom belong to the same family, with “inciting a Muslim to change his religion” and “performing religious worship in an unauthorized place.”  On December 25, a judge at the court of Bouira acquitted the five individuals.

In March a court in Tiaret convicted two Christian brothers on proselytism charges for carrying more than 50 Bibles in their car.  Prosecutors said the accused planned to use the Bibles for proselytism, while the brothers said they were for church use only.  The court upheld the proselytism charges and fined each man 100,000 dinars ($850).

In May a court convicted a church leader and another Christian of proselytizing for transporting Bibles.  The court fined each individual 100,000 dinars ($850) and sentenced each to three months in prison.

In July a court in Dar El-Beyda dropped all charges against Idir Hamdad, a man arrested in April 2016 at the Algiers airport for carrying a Bible and several religious artifacts including crucifixes, scarves, and keyrings.  The court originally sentenced Hamdad in absentia in September 2017 to six months in prison and fined him 20,000 dinars ($170) on charges of importing unlicensed goods.  On May 3, following his lawyer’s appeal, the court overturned the prison sentence but upheld the fine.  On July 9, the prosecutor appealed, asking for a harsher sentence, but the court dropped all charges against Hamdad.  In its verdict, the court found that Hamdad was prosecuted “simply because he converted to Christianity, and what he was carrying was only gifts.”

Throughout the year, the government conducted investigations of at least 85 Ahmadi Muslims, according to leaders of the Ahmadi community.  Charges included operating an unregistered religious association, collecting funds without authorization, and holding prayers in unauthorized locations.  There were reports of police confiscating passports and educational diplomas from the Ahmadis, and pressuring employers to put Ahmadi workers on administrative leave.  Some of those investigated during the year were placed in pretrial detention, put on trial, and given prison sentences of up to six months.  Others appealed charges and court decisions, were placed under house arrest, or were freed after pretrial detention or serving a prison sentence.  As of December no Ahmadi Muslims were in prison.

Between November 2017 and December 2018, according to the president of the EPA, the government closed eight churches and a nursery associated with the EPA for operating without government authorization, illegally printing evangelical publications, and failing to meet building safety codes.  In June authorities reopened three churches in Oran, Ain Turk, and El Ayaida they had closed between November 2017 and February 2018.  As of the end of the year, three churches affiliated with the EPA in Bejaia and one non-EPA church in Tizi Ouzo remain closed.  Media reported that on December 4, in Oran, the provincial government cancelled the closure of a Christian bookshop associated with the nursery.  The bookshop owner, Pastor Rachid Seighir, was not compensated for the losses incurred since authorities ordered the shop’s closure in November 2017.

The UN Human Rights Committee in July adopted a report including the following language:  “the Committee remains concerned by reports of closures of churches and evangelical institutions and various restrictions on worship by Ahmadi persons.  It also expresses concern regarding allegations of attacks, acts of intimidation and arrests targeting persons who do not fast during Ramadan…”

A lawyer for the Ahmadi community said judges and prosecutors on several occasions questioned Ahmadi defendants in court about their religious beliefs and theological differences with Sunni Islam.  Members of the Ahmadi community said government officials tried to persuade them to recant their beliefs while they were in custody.

In April Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, was released after spending 18 months in prison for posting statements in 2016 on his Facebook page deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.  In July 2017, authorities commuted his sentence as part of a presidential amnesty.  A court originally sentenced Bouhafs to five years in prison plus a 100,000 dinar ($850) fine; authorities later reduced that sentence to three years.

In May a court in Tiaret upheld a verdict against Noureddine Belabbes and another Christian, who previously had been found guilty of proselytizing and fined 100,000 dinars ($850) and legal expenses after their arrest in 2015 for transporting Bibles.  Authorities originally sentenced Belabbes and his colleague in 2017 to two years in prison and a 50,000 dinar ($420) fine, but after a March appeal, the judge overturned the prison sentences and instead gave them suspended prison sentences of three months each and doubled the fines.  Belabbes stated that he would not appeal the judgment.

MRA officials said the government did not regularly prescreen and approve sermons before imams delivered them during Friday prayers.  They also stated the government sometimes provided preapproved sermon topics for Friday prayers to address the public’s concerns following major events, such as a cholera outbreak in August and a June corruption scandal, or to encourage civic participation through activities such as voting in elections.  The MRA said it did not punish imams who failed to discuss the suggested sermon topics.

The government monitored the sermons delivered in mosques.  According to MRA officials, if a ministry inspector suspected an imam’s sermon was inappropriate, particularly if it supported violent extremism, the inspector had the authority to summon the imam to a “scientific council” composed of Islamic law scholars and other imams who assessed the sermon’s correctness.  The government could decide to relieve an imam of duty if he was summoned multiple times.  The government also monitored activities in mosques for possible security-related offenses, such as recruitment by extremist groups, and prohibited the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours.

According to the MOI, although religious associations were de facto registered if the ministry did not reject their applications within 60 days of submission, the 60-day clock did not begin until the ministry considered the application complete and had issued a receipt to that effect.  Nongovernmental organizations and religious leaders said the MOI routinely failed to provide them with a receipt proving they had submitted a completed registration application.  Ahmadis reported their request to meet with Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa or another senior ministry official to discuss their registration concerns had not received a government response.

The Ahmadi community reported administrative difficulties and harassment since they are not a registered association and are unable to meet and collect donations.  Members of the Ahmadi community said they tried to register with the MRA and Ministry of Interior (MOI) as a Muslim group but the government rejected their applications because it regards Ahmadis as non-Muslims.  The government said it would approve the community’s registration as non-Muslims, but the Ahmadis refused to file as anything but Muslims.

In accordance with the 2012 Associations Law that all organizations needed to reregister with the government, several religious groups registered under the previous law continued to try to reregister with the government.  The EPA and the Seventh-day Adventist Church submitted paperwork to renew their registrations in 2014 but as of year’s end had still not received a response from the MOI.

Some religious groups stated they functioned as registered 60 days after having submitted their application, even though they had not received an MOI confirmation.  Such groups stated, however, that service providers, such as utilities and banks, refused to provide services without proof of registration.  As a result, these groups faced the same administrative obstacles as unregistered associations and also had limited standing to pursue legal complaints and could not engage in charitable activities, which required bank accounts.

Most Christian leaders stated they had no contact with the National Commission for Non-Muslim Religious Groups, despite its legal mandate to work with them on registration, since its establishment in 2006.  Other MRA officials, however, met regularly with Christian leaders to hear their views, including complaints about the registration process.  Christian leaders stated some Protestant groups continued to avoid applying for recognition and instead operated discreetly because they lacked confidence in the registration process.

Some Christian citizens said they continued to use homes or businesses as “house churches” due to government delays in issuing the necessary legal authorizations.  Other Christian groups, particularly in the Kabylie region, reportedly held worship services more discreetly.  There were no reports of the government shutting down house churches during the year.

According to the MRA, the government continued to allow government employees to wear religious clothing including the hijab, crosses, and the niqab.  Authorities continued to instruct some female government employees, such as security force members, not to wear head and face coverings they said could complicate the performance of their official duties.

The government did not grant any permits for the importation of Christian religious texts during the year, and at least one request remained pending from 2017.  Representatives of the EPA stated they had been waiting more than a year for a new import authorization; the last such authorization was in October 2016.  Non-Islamic religious texts, music, and video media continued to be available on the informal market, and stores and vendors in the capital sold Bibles in several languages, including Arabic, French, and Tamazight.  The government enforced its prohibition on dissemination of any literature portraying violence as a legitimate precept of Islam.

Christian leaders said courts were sometimes biased against non-Muslims in family law cases, such as divorce or custody proceedings.

According to religious community leaders, the government did not always enforce the family code prohibition against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.

In August a local Muslim man applied to a court in Tebessa to marry a Belgian Christian woman.  The court rejected his request because the woman “is Christian and does not embrace Islam.”

Sources stated that Christian leaders were able to visit Christians in prison, regardless of the nature of their imprisonment.

Church groups reported the government did not respond in a timely fashion to their requests for visas for religious workers and visiting scholars and speakers, resulting in an increase in de facto visa refusals.  One Christian leader said the government did not grant or refused 50 percent of visas requested for Catholic Church workers.  As of the end of the year, three members of the Catholic Church had been waiting a year for visas.  Catholic and Protestant groups continued to identify the delays as a significant hindrance to religious practice.  One religious leader identified lack of visa issuances as a major impediment to maintaining contact with the church’s international organization.  Higher-level intervention with officials responsible for visa issuance by senior MRA and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials at the request of religious groups sometimes resulted in the issuance of long-term visas, according to those groups.

The government, along with local private contributors, continued to fund mosque construction.  The government and public and private companies also funded the preservation of some churches, particularly those of historical importance.  The province of Oran, for example, continued to work in partnership with local donors on an extensive renovation of Notre Dame de Santa Cruz as part of its cultural patrimony.

Government-owned radio stations continued to broadcast Christmas and Easter services in French, although many Christians said they would prefer services be broadcast in Arabic or Tamazight.  The country’s efforts to stem religious extremism include dedicated state-run religious TV and radio channels and messages of moderation integrated into mainstream media.

Both private and state-run media produced reports throughout the year examining what they said were foreign ties and dangers of religious groups such as Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, and Salafists.

Government officials continued to invite leading Christian and Jewish citizens to events celebrating national occasions.  President Abdelaziz Bouteflika invited Christian and Jewish community representatives to the November 1 parade to commemorate the beginning of the revolution, according them the same status as Muslim, cultural, and national figures.

Senior government officials continued to publicly condemn acts of violence committed in the name of Islam by nonstate actors and urged all members of society to reject extremist behavior.

Government officials regularly made statements about the need for tolerance of non-Islamic religious groups.  In May imams, representatives from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and municipal officials participated in an interfaith event at a Catholic church in Algiers on the significance of the Virgin Mary in Islam and Christianity.  The same group attended an exhibition on the 99 names of Allah at a Catholic church during Ramadan.

In December a cardinal of the Catholic Church beatified 19 Catholics killed during Algeria’s civil war at a ceremony in Oran.  Algerian authorities facilitated the beatification process by providing transportation, security, and visas to members of the Catholic Church who attended the ceremony.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January unknown individuals hoping to regain control of mosques they reportedly considered too liberal physically killed two imams in the cities of Skikda and Tadjena, respectively.  The attacks took place during weekly committee meetings to manage the mosques’ space and affairs.  After the attacks, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa filed a complaint and started an investigation of those who attacked the imams.  As of the end of the year, the government had not released updates or results of the investigation to the public.

In June Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa said, “It is no secret that radicals are constantly trying to seize the mosques of the republic and influence the mosques’ messages.  These individuals managed to infiltrate groups that seemed pacifist.  They are the cause of the death of two imams; they hurt and insulted dozens of others who did not share their ideologies.”  In July Aissa froze the weekly mosque management committee meetings because he reportedly felt extremist individuals would try to direct the mosques via these committee meetings.  He said these events were reminiscent of the 1990s when the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front forcibly seized control of mosques to spread its extremist ideology.

In October unknown individuals stabbed an imam in a mosque before dawn prayer near the city of Laghouat.  Mosque attendees found the imam and called emergency services, which declared the imam dead.  At year’s end, the government was conducting an investigation to find the individuals responsible.

Media reported a group of young people desecrated more than 31 Christian graves in the British Military La Reunion War Cemetery in Oued Ghir, Bejaia in September, smashing tombstones and ransacking the graves.  A few weeks earlier, unknown individuals vandalized another Christian cemetery in Ain M’lila.  Authorities stated they believed Islamic extremists were responsible for the vandalism but no news of those responsible had been released by year’s end.

Christian leaders said when Christian converts died family members sometimes buried them according to Islamic rites, and their churches had no standing to intervene on their behalf.  Christian groups reported some villages continued not to permit Christians to be buried alongside Muslims.

Several Christian leaders reported instances in which citizens who converted, or who expressed interest in learning more about Christianity, were assaulted by family members, or otherwise pressured to recant their conversions.

Some Christian converts reported they and others in their communities continued to keep a low profile due to concern for their personal safety and the potential for legal, familial, career, and social problems.  Other converts practiced their new religion openly, according to members of the Christian community.

Media outlets reported in August hundreds of imams had lodged complaints in recent years after suffering violent attacks.  MRA officials said extremists who opposed the imams’ moderate teachings carried out the attacks, while others were related to interpersonal disputes.  The government said it would take additional steps to protect imams such as stationing security forces near mosques to deter future attacks and providing more support for local authorities to investigate and prosecute such cases.

The media criticized religious communities it portrayed as “sects” or “deviations” from Islam or as “foreign,” such as Ahmadi Muslims and Shia Muslims.  Some who openly engaged in any religious practice other than Sunni Islam reported that family, neighbors, or others criticized their religious practice, harassed them to convert, and occasionally insinuated they could be in danger because of their choice.

Christian leaders continued to state they had good relations with Muslims in their communities, with only isolated incidents of vandalism or harassment.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers met with government officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, and Religious Affairs to discuss the difficulties Ahmadi and Shia Muslims, Christian, and other minority religious groups faced in registering as associations, importing religious materials, and obtaining visas.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers met throughout the year with government-affiliated and independent religious leaders and with representatives of Muslim and Christian communities to discuss interreligious dialogue and tolerance, and in the case of religious minorities, their rights, and status.

The embassy discussed the practice of religion, its intersection with politics, religious tolerance, and the religious and political roles of women with religious and political leaders, as well as with the Muslim Scholars Association and High Islamic Council.  Visiting officials from the U.S. Department of State regularly raised religious freedom issues in meetings with civil society and government officials.

The Ambassador and other embassy staff hosted several dinners and receptions featuring discussions emphasizing the theme of religious tolerance.  The embassy regularly posted social media content promoting religious freedom, including examples of religious pluralism in the United States.  Embassy staff and embassy-sponsored U.S. speakers addressed the themes of pluralism and religious tolerance in discussions with civil society, youth, and organizations representing a cross-section of citizens.

In April the embassy facilitated the first part of a bilateral exchange program focusing on religion.  The embassy hosted a delegation of nine Americans – a university program officer, one imam, six community and religious leaders, and the executive director of a think tank – for a ten-day tour focused on promoting people-to-people religious ties.  The Ministry of Religious Affairs facilitated the delegation’s visit to six cities – Algiers, Constantine, Oran, Biskra, Tlemcen, and Maskara – where the delegation met with a range of imams, community leaders, and ministry officials to discuss the role of religion in countering extremist narratives and religious communities in the United States.  The second portion of the exchange program is scheduled to take place in 2019 and involve imams visiting the United States to learn about religion and share their experiences.

Egypt

Executive Summary

The constitution states that “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of divine (i.e. Abrahamic) religions is a right regulated by law.”  The constitution states that citizens “are equal before the Law,” and criminalizes discrimination and “incitement to hatred” based upon “religion, belief, sex, origin, race…or any other reason.”  The constitution also states, “Islam is the religion of the state…and the principles of Islamic sharia are the main sources of legislation.”  The government officially recognizes Sunni Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and allows only their adherents to publicly practice their religion and build houses of worship.  In February authorities launched a military campaign, “Sinai 2018,” in the Sinai Peninsula against ISIS in part to respond to the November 2017 attack on a mosque in North Sinai that killed over 300 individuals; the mosque was reportedly targeted because it was frequented by Sufis.  In November a court sentenced an alleged supporter of ISIS to death for the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in September 2017.  In April a military court sentenced 36 people to death for Coptic church bombings in Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta in 2016 and 2017 that killed more than 80 persons.  According to multiple sources, prosecutors employed charges of denigrating religion to arrest anyone who appeared to criticize Islam or Christianity, with a disproportionate number of all blasphemy charges brought against the country’s Christian population.  Under a 2016 law issued to legalize unlicensed churches and facilitate the construction of new churches, the government reported having issued 783 licenses to existing but previously unlicensed churches and related support buildings out of 5,415 applications for licensure, and authorized the building of 14 new churches since September 2017.  Local authorities frequently responded to sectarian attacks against Christians through binding arbitration sessions rather than prosecuting perpetrators of violence, leading to complaints by members of the Coptic community.  In December President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree creating the Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents, tasked with devising a strategy to prevent sectarian incidents and to address them as they occur, applying all relevant laws.  The Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments) continued to issue required certifications to imams, and register and license all mosques.  In May, based upon a 2015 policy, the ministry announced a ban on imams from Friday preaching at 20,000 small prayer rooms (zawiyas) used as mosques.  In October the ministry announced the government had successfully “regained” control over 95 percent of public Islamic discourse.  In January Minister of Awqaf Mokhtar Gomaa affirmed the protection of churches was “as legitimate as defending mosques,” and said that those who died in the defense of a church are “martyrs.”  On August 30, as part of a nationwide governors’ reshuffle, President al-Sisi appointed two Christian governors, including the country’s first-ever female Christian to hold the position, the first such appointments since April 2011.

On November 2, armed assailants attacked three buses carrying Christian pilgrims to a monastery in Minya in Upper Egypt, killing seven and wounding 19.  Attacks continued on Christians and Christian-owned property, as well as on churches in the Upper Egypt region.  On May 26, seven Christians were injured in the village of Shoqaf while attempting to defend a church from an attack by Muslim villagers.  Reports of anti-Semitic remarks on state-owned media, as well as sectarian and defamatory speech against minority religious groups, continued during the year.  Al-Azhar, the country’s primary institution for spreading Islam and defending Islamic doctrine, held conferences on interfaith dialogue, and gave statements condemning extremism and supporting improved relations between Muslims and Christians.

The President discussed religious freedom and the treatment of the Coptic community during his meeting with President al-Sisi during the UN General Assembly meetings in September.  U.S. officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, Charge d’Affaires, visiting senior-level delegations from Washington, and embassy and consulate general officials met with government officials to underscore the importance of religious freedom and equal protection of all citizens before the law.  In meetings with high-level officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, Justice, Awqaf, and Interior, embassy and consulate general officers and visiting U.S. officials emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of key issues, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom abuses resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 99.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  Most experts and media sources state that approximately 90 percent of the population is officially designated as Sunni Muslims and approximately 10 percent is recognized as Christian (estimates range from 5 to 15 percent).  Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.

Other Christian communities together constitute less than 2 percent of the population and include Anglican/Episcopalian and other Protestant denominations, Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite, Maronite, Latin, and Syrian), and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) Churches.  The Protestant community includes Apostolic Grace, Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Brethren, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal Al-Masihi), Church of Christ, Faith (Al-Eyman), Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), Grace (An-Ni’ma), Independent Apostolic, Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala), Open Brethren, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), and Seventh-day Adventist.  Jehovah’s Witnesses account for 1,000-1,500 people, according to media estimates, and there are also an estimated 150 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the vast majority of whom are expatriates.  Christians reside throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians is higher in Upper Egypt and in some sections of Cairo and Alexandria, according to religious and civil society groups.

Scholars estimate that Shia Muslims comprise approximately 1 percent of the population, or approximately 1,000,000.  Baha’i representatives estimate the size of the community to be between 1,000 and 2,000.  There are very small numbers of Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, and expatriate members of various groups.

According to a local Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO), there are seven Jews.  There are no reliable estimates of the number of atheists or religious converts.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the main source of legislation.  The constitution states that “freedom of belief is absolute” and “the freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing worship places for the followers of Abrahamic religions is a right regulated by law.”  The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and makes “incitement to hate” a crime.  It describes freedom of belief as absolute.  The constitution limits the freedom to practice religious rituals and establish places of worship to adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.  The constitution prohibits the exercise of political activity or the formation of political parties on the basis of religion.

The constitution states that Al-Azhar is “the main authority in theology and Islamic affairs” and is responsible for spreading Islam, Islamic doctrine, and the Arabic language in the country and throughout the world.  The grand imam is elected by Al Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars and is officially appointed by the president for a life term.  The president does not have the authority to dismiss him.  While the constitution declares Al-Azhar an independent institution, its 2018 budgetary allocation from the government, which is required by the constitution to provide “sufficient funding for it to achieve its purposes,” was almost 13 billion Egyptian pounds ($726.66 million).

According to the law, capital sentences must be referred to the grand mufti, the country’s highest Islamic legal official, for consultation before they can be carried out.  The mufti’s decision in these cases is consultative and nonbinding on the court that handed down the death sentence.

The constitution also stipulates that the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders.  Individuals are subject to different sets of personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.), depending upon their official religious designation.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) issues national identity cards that include official religious designations.  Designations are limited to Muslim, Christian, or Jewish citizens.  Since a 2009 court order, Baha’is are identified by a dash.  The minister of interior has the authority to issue executive regulations determining what data should be provided on the card.

Neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit apostasy from Islam, nor efforts to proselytize.  The law states individuals may change their religion.  However, the government recognizes conversion to Islam, but not from Islam to any other religion.  In a 2008 ruling on a lawsuit against the government for not recognizing a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity, the Administrative Court ruled in favor of the government asserting its duty to “protect public order from the crime of apostasy from Islam.”  The government recognizes conversion from Islam for individuals who were not born Muslim but later converted to Islam, according to an MOI decree pursuant to a court order.  Reverting to Christianity requires presentation of a document from the receiving church, an identity card, and fingerprints.  After a determination is made that the intent of the change – which often also entails a name change – is not to evade prosecution for a crime committed under the Muslim name, a new identity document should be issued with the Christian name and religious designation.  In those cases in which Muslims not born Muslim convert from Islam, their minor children, and in some cases adult children who were minors when their parents converted, remain classified as Muslims.  When these children reach the age of 18, they have the option of converting to Christianity, and having that reflected on their identity cards.

Consistent with sharia, the law stipulates that Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.  Non-Muslim men who wish to marry Muslim women must convert to Islam.  Christian and Jewish women need not convert to marry Muslim men.  A married non-Muslim woman who converts to Islam must divorce her husband if he is not Muslim and is unwilling to convert.  If a married man is discovered to have left Islam, his marriage to a woman whose official religious designation is Muslim is dissolved.  Children from any unrecognized marriage are considered illegitimate.

A divorced mother is entitled to custody of her son until the age of 10 and her daughter until age 12, unless one parent is Muslim and the other is not, in which case the Muslim parent is awarded custody.

The law generally follows sharia in matters of inheritance.  In 2017, however, an appellate court ruled that applying sharia to non-Muslims violated the section of the constitution stating that the rules of the Christians and Jewish communities govern in personal status matters.

According to the penal code, using religion to promote extremist thought with the aim of inciting strife, demeaning or denigrating Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, and harming national unity carries penalties ranging from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment.

Islamic, Christian, and Jewish denominations may request official recognition from the government, which gives a denomination the right to be governed by its canonical laws, practice religious rituals, establish houses of worship, and import religious literature.  To obtain official recognition, a religious group must submit a request to the Ministry of Interior Religious Affairs Department.  The department then determines whether the group poses a threat to national unity or social peace.  As part of this determination, the department consults leading religious institutions, including the Coptic Orthodox Church and Al-Azhar.  The president then reviews and decides on the registration application.

The law does not recognize the Baha’i Faith or its religious laws and bans Baha’i institutions and community activities.  Although the government lists “Christian” on the identity cards of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a presidential decree bans all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities.  The law does not stipulate any penalties for banned religious groups or their members who engage in religious practices, but these groups are barred from rights granted to recognized groups, such as having their own houses of worship or other property, holding bank accounts, or importing religious literature.

The government appoints and monitors imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques and pays their salaries.  According to the law, penalties for preaching or giving religious lessons without a license from the Ministry of Awqaf or Al-Azhar include a prison term of up to one year and/or a fine of up to 50,000 pounds ($2,800).  The penalty doubles for repeat offenders.  Ministry of Awqaf inspectors also have judicial authority to arrest imams violating this law.  A ministry decree prevents unlicensed imams from preaching in any mosque, prohibits holding Friday prayers in mosques smaller than 80 square meters (860 square feet), bans unlicensed mosques from holding Friday prayer services (other prayer services are permitted), and pays bonuses to imams who deliver Friday sermons consistent with Ministry of Awqaf guidelines.  Any imam who fails to follow the guidelines loses the bonus and may be subject to disciplinary measures, including potentially losing his preaching license.  The ministry also issues prewritten sermons, and ministry personnel monitor Friday sermons in major mosques.  Imams are subject to disciplinary action including dismissal for ignoring the ministry’s guidelines.

The prime minister has authority to stop the circulation of books that “denigrate religions.”  Ministries may obtain court orders to ban or confiscate books and works of art.  The cabinet may ban works it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace.  The Islamic Research Center of Al-Azhar has the legal authority to censor and confiscate any publications dealing with the Quran and the authoritative Islamic traditions (hadith), and to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches, and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law.

A 2016 law delegates the power to issue legal permits and to authorize church construction or renovation to governors of the country’s 27 governorates rather than the president.  The governor is to respond within four months; any refusal must include a written justification.  The law does not provide for review or appeal of a refusal, nor does it specify recourse if a governor fails to respond within the required timeframe.  The law also includes provisions to legalize existing unlicensed churches.  It stipulates that while a request to license an existing building for use as a church is pending, the use of the building to conduct church services and rites may not be prevented.  Under the law, the size of new churches depends on a government determination of the “number and need” of Christians in the area.  Construction of new churches must meet stringent land registration procedures and building codes and is subject to greater government scrutiny than that applied to the construction of new mosques.

Under a separate law governing the construction of mosques, the Ministry of Awqaf approves permits to build mosques.  A 2001 cabinet decree includes a provision requiring that new mosques built after that date must be a minimum distance of 500 meters (1600 feet) from the nearest other mosque, and be built only in areas where “the existing mosques do not accommodate the number of residents in the area.”  The law does not require Ministry of Awqaf approval for mosque renovations.

In public schools, Muslim students are required to take courses on “principles of Islam,” and Christian students are required to take courses on “principles of Christianity” in all grades.  Determinations of religious identity are based on official designations, not personal or parental decisions.  Students who are neither Muslim nor Christian must choose one or the other course; they may not opt out or change from one to the other.  A common set of textbooks for these two courses is mandated for both public and private schools, including Christian-owned schools.  Al-Azhar maintains a separate school system which serves some two million students from elementary through secondary school using its own separate curriculum.

The penal code criminalizes discrimination based on religion and defines it as including “any action, or lack of action, that leads to discrimination between people or against a sect due to…religion or belief.”  The law stipulates imprisonment and/or a fine of no less than 30,000 pounds ($1,700) and no more than 50,000 pounds ($2,800) as penalties for discrimination.  If the perpetrator is a public servant, the law states that the imprisonment should be no less than three months, and the fine no less than 50,000 pounds ($2,800) and no more than 100,000 pounds ($5,600).

The government recognizes only the marriages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims with documentation from a cleric.  Since the state does not recognize Baha’i marriage, married Baha’is are denied the legal rights of married couples of other religious beliefs, including those pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and sponsoring a foreign spouse’s permanent residence.  Baha’is, in practice, file individual demands for recognition of marriages in civil court.

In matters of family law, when spouses are members of the same religious denomination, courts apply that denomination’s canonical laws.  In cases where one spouse is Muslim and the other a member of a different religion, both are Christians but members of different denominations, or the individuals are not clearly a part of a religious group, the courts apply sharia.

Sharia provisions forbidding adoption apply to all citizens.  The Ministry of Social Solidarity, however, manages a program entitled “Alternative Family” which recognizes permanent legal guardianship if certain requirements are met.

The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights, whose members are appointed by parliament, is charged with strengthening protections, raising awareness, and ensuring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom.  It also is charged with monitoring enforcement and application of international agreements pertaining to human rights.  The council’s mandate includes investigating reports of alleged violations of religious freedom.

According to the constitution, “no political activity may be exercised or political parties formed on the basis of religion, or discrimination based on sex, origin, sect, or geographic location, nor may any activity be practiced that is hostile to democracy, secretive, or which possesses a military or quasi-military nature.”

The constitution mandates that the state eliminate all forms of discrimination through an independent commission to be established by parliament.  However, by year’s end, parliament had not yet established such a commission.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but declared in a reservation that it became a party considering that the provisions of the covenant do not conflict with sharia.

Government Practices

In February security forces launched a military campaign, “Sinai 2018,” in the Sinai Peninsula against ISIS, in part to respond to a November 2017 attack on a mosque in Al-Rawda village in North Sinai that killed over 300 individuals at worship; the mosque was reportedly attacked because it was frequented by Sufis.  Although the government reported significant successes in the campaign, ISIS attacks continued in North Sinai.

In November a court sentenced an alleged ISIS supporter to death for the fatal stabbing of an 82-year-old Christian doctor in September 2017.  Authorities did not identify the defendant.

On July 12, police thwarted an attempted suicide bombing at the Church of the Holy Virgin in Qalioubiya, near Cairo.  After encountering security forces, the attacker detonated an explosive vest in the vicinity of the church, killing a police officer and civilian.  On August 11, security forces foiled a suicide bombing at the Coptic Virgin Mary Church in the Cairo suburb of Mostorod.  After being denied entry to the church, the bomber died when he exploded his suicide belt; no one else was injured.

During the year, courts imposed death sentences on several people convicted of killing Christians.  On February 12, a court confirmed a death sentence against the killer of Semaan Shehata, a Coptic Orthodox priest from Beni Suef.  The killer stabbed Shehata to death in the Cairo suburb of El-Salaam City in 2017 and carved a cross on his forehead.  On April 1, the Cassation Court upheld the death sentence of the killer of liquor storeowner Youssef Lamei, who had confessed to slitting Lamei’s throat outside his store for selling alcohol in January 2017.  In April a military court sentenced 36 people to death for Coptic church bombings between 2016 and 2017 in Cairo, Alexandria, and Tanta, resulting in the deaths of more than 80 people.  ISIS claimed responsibility.  International human rights organizations expressed concern about these mass convictions and asserted the proceedings did not meet international fair trial standards.

In March media reported that Matthew Habib, a Christian military conscript who had complained to his family of persecution from superiors due to his religion, committed suicide while on duty.  Although the official cause of death was determined to be multiple self-inflicted gunshot wounds, the family alleged that Habib had been killed by a more senior officer.

On January 31, the Giza misdemeanor court sentenced 20 individuals to one-year suspended jail sentences for an attack on an unlicensed Coptic church in Kafr al-Waslin village south of Cairo, carried out on December 22, 2017.  Each was fined 500 pounds ($28) on charges of inciting sectarian strife, harming national unity, and vandalizing private property.  The court also fined the owner of the unlicensed church 360,000 pounds ($20,100) for building without a permit.  The Archdiocese of Atfih has reportedly applied for the Kafr al-Waslin Church to be legalized.

On January 2, press reported that the public prosecutor filed murder charges against an individual accused of killing 11 people on December 29, 2017, in an attack on a Coptic church and Christian-owned shop in Helwan, a suburb south of Cairo.  On December 1, the prosecutor general referred 11 additional suspects to trial for forming a terrorist group, murder, attempted murder, and other charges related to the attack.

The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, citing its 2016 report, reported in October that 41 percent of all blasphemy charges had been brought by authorities against the country’s Christian population

March 14, police in Beni Suef Governorate arrested social studies teacher Magdy Farag Samir on charges of denigrating Islam after he included wordplays in a set of questions for students about the Prophet Muhammad.  Samir was detained for 15 days while police investigated the charges.  A court acquitted him on April 19.

In December a court in Upper Egypt upheld a three-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Christian Abd Adel Bebawy for a Facebook post that allegedly insulted Islam.  Authorities arrested Bebawy in his home village of Minbal on July 6 and the original court passed the prison sentence in November.  Bebawy’s lawyers stated that he reported the hacking of his Facebook account in July and that the post was immediately deleted.  On July 9, reportedly in response to Bebawy’s social media posts, a crowd of Muslims attacked Christian-owned homes in Minbal.  Police arrested over 90 Muslim attackers, charging 39 with a variety of crimes related to the attack.

On May 3, police arrested atheist blogger Sherif Gaber and detained him for four days.  Authorities accused Gaber of insulting Islam and sharia, disrupting communal peace, and other charges stemming from a series of videos he posted on YouTube.  Police had earlier arrested Gaber on similar charges in 2015 and 2013.  In October Gaber tweeted that he had been prevented from leaving the country and that authorities had charged him with three additional felonies and that the charges now included blasphemy, contempt of religion, supporting homosexuality, and religious extremism.

According to the NGO International Christian Concern (ICC), during several incidents of interreligious violence between Muslims and Christians in Upper Egypt from August 22 to 25, security forces delayed providing protection to Christians.  On August 22, in the village of Esna in Luxor Governorate, a crowd of Muslims gathered to protest Christian worship in a church that was seeking legalization.  Following Friday prayers on August 24, the crowd gathered a second time.  While the police prevented this second gathering from escalating, local sources report that authorities arrested five Christians, who were charged with conducting religious rituals in an unlicensed church and incitement, and 15 Muslims.  All those arrested were released in September.  Also on August 24, a crowd gathered in the village of Sultan in Minya Governorate to protest efforts by a local church to seek official legalization.

Security forces arrested members of what they described as a terrorist cell in Nag’ Hammadi in Qena Governorate during Coptic celebrations for Easter in April.  Security forces increased their presence in Coptic institutions and communities around Christmas, Easter, and other Christian holidays.

Religious freedom and human rights activists said government officials sometimes did not extend procedural safeguards or rights of due process to members of minority faiths, including by closing churches in violation of the 2016 church construction law.  On April 14, a group of Muslim villagers hurled stones and bricks, breaking the windows of a building used as a church in Beni Meinin in Beni Suef Governorate.  The attack followed a government inspection of the building, a step toward legalizing the church.  Authorities arrested 45 Muslim and Christian residents of the village, and, following an agreement according to customary reconciliation procedures (a binding arbitration process, often criticized by Christians as discriminatory), all arrestees were released and the church remained unlicensed and closed.

The government prosecuted some perpetrators of sectarian violence committed in previous years.  Authorities transferred to a court in Beni Suef for prosecution the 2016 case against the attackers of Souad Thabet, a Christian who was paraded naked through her village of Karm in Minya in response to rumors that her son had an affair with the wife of a Muslim business partner.  Authorities charged four people with attacking Thabet, and another 25 with attacking Thabet’s home and six others owned by Christians.

There were multiple reports of the government closing unlicensed churches following protests, particularly in Upper Egypt.  In November the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) reported that from September 28, 2016, when the church construction law was issued, to October, authorities shuttered nine churches that hosted religious services prior to the closure orders.  Four of these churches were closed during the year, with Copts denied access and religious services in them prohibited.  In July media reported that police closed a church in Ezbet Sultan after a series of protests and the destruction of Christian-owned property.  During one protest, Muslims reportedly chanted, “We don’t want a church.”

In a November report, EIPR documented 15 instances of sectarian violence related to the legalization of 15 previously unlicensed churches from September 2017 to October 2018.  The churches had been functioning for several years and were well known to both state institutions and local residents.  EIPR’s report also documented 35 cases of violence since the church construction law was issued, not including incidents associated with the construction of new churches.

On August 22, in Zeneiqa village in Upper Egypt, police closed a church following protests by local Muslims against legalization of the church.  They arrested five Copts and five Muslims, plus an additional 10 Muslim residents during protests held a week later.  In March local mosque personnel in Al-Tod village near Luxor encouraged Muslims to protest the licensing of a church that had been in use for a decade.  Protestors built a wall to block access to the church.  Christians and Muslims took part in a customary reconciliation session led by Muslim elders and, reportedly under pressure, the Christians agreed to abandon their application for a church license.

According to official statistics, from September 2017 the government approved 783 of the 5,415 applications for licensure of churches.  According to a local human rights organization, the increased pace of legalization and construction of churches was causing sectarian tensions in some communities where Muslim citizens did not want a legal church in their village.

As it did in recent years, the government in October closed the room containing the tomb of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Al-Hussein, located inside Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo, during the three-day commemoration of Ashura.  The government explained the closure was due to construction, but multiple news reports described it as an attempt to discourage the celebration of Shia religious rituals.  The main area of the mosque remained open; only the room containing the shrine was closed.

In September the Ministry of Awqaf cancelled the preaching permit of prominent Salafi cleric Mohamed Raslan and banned him from delivering sermons for refusing to recite the official sermon written by the ministry.  The ministry reinstated his license after he apologized publicly and committed to follow the government’s weekly sermon.

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

In May the government announced a policy to ban imams from preaching on Fridays at 20,000 small prayer rooms (zawiyas) used as mosques and restricted their use to daily prayers.  In a statement, the Ministry of Awqaf said the measure would prevent “fundamentalist” preaching during Ramadan.  The May announcement repeated a policy first announced in 2015 that resulted in the closure of 27,000 zawiyas and forbade preaching in them.  Authorities also increased the penalties for mosques using their loudspeakers for anything other than the traditional call to prayer.

In October the Ministry of Awqaf announced that the government had successfully “regained” control over 95 percent of public Islamic discourse in the country and cited the ministry’s “complete” control of Islam as expressed through “the media, lessons, seminars and [public] forums.”  Public issuances of fatwas were, according to a senior advisor at the Dar al-Iftaa, the country’s fatwa issuing authority, restricted to Muslim clerics from Al-Azhar University, 40 clerics from Dar al-Iftaa, and a small number of clerics affiliated with the Ministry of Awqaf.  The ministry announced that any unauthorized cleric offering religious sermons or issuing fatwas would be subject to criminal investigation and prosecution for “carrying out a job without a license.”

In September the Court of Urgent Matters suspended a July ruling by an administrative court that had allowed policemen with long beards to return to work.  The court upheld MOI regulations on facial hair and stated the government had an obligation to keep the police force a “secular organizational entity.”

During Ramadan in May the government put in place regulations governing the practice of reclusion (itikaaf), a Sunni Muslim religious ritual requiring adherents spend 10 days of prayer in mosques during Ramadan.  Authorization required an application to the Ministry of Awqaf, registration of national identification cards, a residence in the same neighborhood of the requested mosque, and personal knowledge of the applicant by the mosque administrator.

On June 22, a video showing adherents performing Sufi religious rituals in a mosque sparked demands on social media to ban Sufi rituals inside mosques.  In response, the Ministry of Awqaf suspended the mosque attendant for participating in the incident, and announced a public campaign to raise awareness of “correct Islam.”

The government did not prevent Baha’is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and Jehovah’s Witnesses from worshiping privately in small numbers.  However, Baha’i sources said the government refused requests for public religious gatherings.  According to members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, security officials engaged in surveillance and frequent home visits during which adherents were interrogated and sometimes threatened.  The National Security Services (NSS) also summoned members to their offices for interrogations.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that on April 3, a security officer who has interrogated and threatened its members in the past questioned a male Witness at length, asking numerous probing questions about the operations and activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The government continued to ban the importation and sale of Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and to authorize customs officials to confiscate their personally owned religious materials.  In July NSS officers stopped two Jehovah’s Witnesses members in Beni Suef and confiscated their religious materials.  NSS officers did the same with two other Jehovah’s Witnesses who arrived later.

Twelve Baha’i couples filed lawsuits requesting recognition of their civil marriages, four of which were approved by October.  While Baha’i sources hailed the first issuance of a civil marriage license that took place in 2017, they reported that courts remained inconsistent in their rulings on the matter.  By year’s end, standardized procedures for issuing civil marriage licenses to couples with no religious affiliation designated had not been developed.

In May the country’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled that regulators must block the YouTube service for one month because of the availability of a video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad.  A lower court had ordered in 2013 the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to block YouTube because of the video, but the decision had been appealed and the court’s ruling has not been implemented.

The minister of immigration and expatriate affairs was the only Christian in the cabinet.  On August 30, as part of a nationwide governors’ reshuffle, President al-Sisi appointed Christian governors to the Damietta and Dakahliya governorates, the first such appointments since April 2011 when the government suspended the appointment of a Copt to Qena in Upper Egypt following protests.  The new Governor of Damietta was the country’s first-ever female Christian governor.

Christians remained underrepresented in the military and security services.  Christians admitted at the entry-level of government institutions were rarely promoted to the upper ranks of government entities, according to sources.  According to a press report, a senior Christian judge in line for promotion to the leadership of the Administrative Prosecution was reportedly denied the position in May due to her religion.  When a Muslim judge challenged the failure to promote her, he was dismissed.

No Christians served as presidents of the country’s 25 public universities.  In January for the first time, a Christian was appointed as dean of the dental school of Cairo University.  The government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic language teachers, stating as its reason that the curriculum involved study of the Quran.

The government generally permitted foreign religious workers in the country.  Sources reported, however, some religious workers were denied visas or refused entry upon arrival without explanation.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) stated that it continued to develop a new curriculum that included increased coverage of respect for human rights and religious tolerance.  In the fall, kindergarten and first grade students began instruction under the new curriculum.  According to the MOE, the new curriculum for subsequent grade levels would be introduced yearly.  Local English-language press reported in May that curriculum reform plans, aimed at encouraging tolerance, included a textbook for use in religious studies classes to be attended jointly by Muslim and Coptic Christian students.  Muslim and Christian students previously attended separate religion classes.  Minister of Awqaf Gomaa, whose ministry oversees Islamic studies courses in the country’s schools, announced the plan.  The press reported that the planned textbook drew criticism from conservative Muslims.

In January the grand mufti issued a fatwa that defined greeting Christians on Coptic Christmas as an act of righteousness.  During the same month, Minister of Awqaf Gomaa affirmed the protection of churches “as legitimate as defending mosques,” and said that those who died in the defense of a church were “martyrs.”

In August Al-Azhar issued a statement criticizing ISIS for issuing fatwas justifying the killing of non-Muslims and stressed its prohibition.

In June the Ministry of Awqaf completed training in Quranic interpretation and other Islamic texts for 300 female preachers (wa’ezaat).  In July the government published an action plan for “renewing religious discourse” that included hiring and training imams and expanding the role of women in religious preaching.  The ministry opened a new training academy for preachers in October and announced that women could begin to serve as preachers in mosques and schools, serve on governing boards of mosques, and sing in choirs dedicated to liturgical music.

In December President al-Sisi decreed that the government create an agency tasked with countering sectarian strife.  The new Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents would be headed by the president’s advisor for security and counter terrorism affairs and composed of members from the Military Operations Authority, the Military and General Intelligence Services, the NSS, and the Administrative Oversight Agency.  The new committee was charged with devising a strategy to prevent sectarian incidents, address them as they occur, and apply all antidiscrimination and antihate laws in carrying out these responsibilities.  The committee had the authority to invite ministers, their representatives, or representatives of concerned bodies to meetings.  The government stated that the strategy would include awareness-raising campaigns, promotion of religious tolerance, and possible mechanisms for dealing with individual incidents.

Al-Azhar continued to host events to promote religious tolerance.  In February the grand imam received a delegation from the Anglican Communion and stressed the importance of dialogue between religions.  In July the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the Archbishop of Canterbury organized an interfaith conference in London for young Muslims and Christians.  In October Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, where they stressed their commitment to religious dialogue.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On November 2, armed assailants attacked three buses carrying Christian pilgrims to a monastery in Minya in Upper Egypt, killing seven and wounding 19.  Media reported the attackers used automatic weapons to spray the buses indiscriminately, targeting men, women, and children.  The local ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.  Media reported that ISIS repeatedly vowed to attack the country’s Christians as punishment for their support of the government.  Following the attack, authorities stated they killed 19 individuals suspected of involvement in the assault in a shootout west of Minya.  The government did not present evidence to link these individuals to the attack, and a local human rights activist argued these shootings might have constituted extrajudicial killings.

On January 14, armed assailants killed a man in North Sinai upon discovering he was Christian, according to press.  Following a series of attacks against Christians in North Sinai that began in January 2017, more than 250 Christian families left the region, according to EIPR.  Displaced families reported they remained unable to return to their homes.

On May 26, seven Christians were injured in the village of Shoqaf in Beheira while attempting to defend a church from an attack by Muslim villagers.  The church had been used for religious services for three years, and had applied for a license in January 2017.  According to the press, calls to attack the church had come from a nearby mosque.  Police arrested 11 Muslims and nine Christians.  All of those arrested were released following a customary reconciliation session, and the church remained open.

There were reported incidents of mob action against, and collective punishment of, Christians.

On January 17, Muslim villagers attacked the houses of three Christian families in the village of Al-Dawar in Beheira after a Christian man was accused of attempting to sexually assault a Muslim woman, according to press.  Muslim villagers used stones and Molotov cocktails to attack local Christian property.  Police arrested the Christian accused of sexual assault and two of his relatives, but none of the Muslim attackers.  Following a customary reconciliation session attended by a number of parliamentarians, the village mayor and elders, it was agreed that the accused Christian would pay a fine and be expelled from the village.

In late August and early September local press reported Muslim residents of the village of Dimshaw Hashem in Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt protested Christian religious services held in an unlicensed church, and looted four Christian-owned houses before setting them on fire.  The attack injured two Coptic villagers and a firefighter.  Coptic Orthodox Bishop Macarius told the press numerous Christian villagers had informed local police about an imminent attack and that the police failed to take action.  After the attack, police arrested and criminally charged multiple protesters, releasing them on September 27.  EIPR subsequently criticized authorities for pressuring Copts to accept customary reconciliation in addressing the attacks.  Referring to this case, Human Rights Watch stated that customary reconciliation “allows perpetrators to evade prosecution, while authorities offered no concrete future protections to the worshippers and their families.”

Similar to the previous year, the Coptic Orthodox Church refused to participate in government-sponsored customary reconciliation as a substitute to criminal proceedings to address attacks on Christians and their churches.  However, customary reconciliation continued to take place without its participation.  Human rights groups and Christian community representatives said that the practice constituted an encroachment on the principles of nondiscrimination and citizenship, and effectively precluded recourse to the judicial system.  Human rights activists said that, as part of the process, Christians were regularly pressured to retract their statements and deny facts, leading to the dropping of charges.

Discrimination in private sector hiring continued, including in professional sports, according to human rights groups and religious communities.  According to the press, the country’s participation in the World Cup highlighted the absence of Christian players from the national team and major club teams.  The Christian community told the press clubs excluded Christian players from tryouts.  Press reported there were no Christian players on the national soccer team for more than 15 years.  A single Christian player played for one of the 18 top clubs the previous season.  Coptic Pope Tawadros II told the press that the lack of Christians in Egyptian soccer was “extraordinary.”

Some religious leaders and media personalities continued to employ discriminatory language against Christians.  In March exiled Salafi cleric Wagdi Ghoneim told the press senior officials who maintained good relations with Christians were kafirs (infidels).  Dar Al-Iftaa condemned the statement, and said Ghoneim wrongly interpreted Islamic texts.  Television preacher Abdullah Roshdi said that “It is prohibited for Muslims to congratulate non-Muslims on their religious occasions because it expresses support for practices that Islam considers to be acts of unbelief.”  Dar al Iftaa and Al Azhar issued several fatwas permitting and encouraging Muslims to congratulate Christians on their holidays.

Reports of societal anti-Semitism continued.  Journalists and academics made statements on state-owned TV endorsing conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of world media and the economy, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).  In a June interview on a state-owned channel, law professor Nabil Hilmi said, “Jews control the money and the media,” adding that they have a 50-year plan to reach Mecca and Medina.

In May Chair of the Hebrew Language Department at Menoufia University, Professor Amr Allam, said on a weekly show on a state-owned channel that “Israeli violence…is embedded in the Jewish genes.”

Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements continued in the wake of the December 2017 U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent move of the embassy to Jerusalem.  According to a MEMRI report, Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb blamed Israel for terrorism in the Middle East in a January interview on a state-owned channel.  He described Israel as a “dagger plunged into the body of the Arab world,” and said that were it not for “Zionist entity abuse…the Middle East would have progressed.”  He said Arab infighting worked to the advantage of Israel, which he claimed would “march on the Kaaba and on the Prophet’s Mosque [in Medina].”

In January Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church co-sponsored a conference addressing terrorism.  Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq, secretary general of the Egyptian Family House, an Al-Azhar and Coptic Orthodox Church initiative created to send religious leaders to defuse community tensions following sectarian violence, called for religious scholars to challenge terrorism and include education to protect future generations from what he termed the mistaken ideas of extremism.  He stated that all Muslims suffered from the consequences of terrorism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The President discussed religious freedom and the treatment of Egypt’s Coptic community during his meeting with President al-Sisi during the UN General Assembly session in September.  The Vice President discussed religious freedom issues during his visit to Cairo in January.  Other U.S. government officials at multiple levels, including the Charge d’Affaires, and other Department of State, embassy, and consulate general officials, raised religious freedom concerns with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Awqaf, as well as with members of parliament, governors, and representatives of Islamic institutions, church communities, religious minority groups, and civil society groups.  In their meetings with government officials, the Charge and other embassy and consulate general officers emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of key issues, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom abuses resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents.

Throughout the year, embassy officers and visiting U.S. officials met with senior officials in the offices of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and bishops and senior pastors of Protestant churches.  Issues raised included cases in which the government failed to hold the perpetrators of sectarian violence accountable and failed to protect victims of sectarian attacks; prosecuted individuals for religious defamation; and enabled religious discrimination by means of official religious designations including on national identity cards.

U.S. officials met with human rights activists, and religious and community leaders to discuss contemporary incidents of sectarian conflict and gather information to raise in government engagements.  Embassy representatives also met with leading religious figures, including the Grand Mufti of Dar Al-Iftaa, the chairman of the Sufi Council, leading Christian clergy, and representatives of the Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’i communities.  The embassy also promoted religious freedom on social media throughout the year, including three posts on the 2017 International Religious Freedom Report that reached 30,000 people and four on the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom that reached 20,000 people.

France

Executive Summary

The constitution and the law protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and practice religion.  The president and other government officials again condemned anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and the government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces to protect sensitive sites, including religious ones.  In June the government thwarted an attempted extremist plot to attack Muslims.  In April authorities expelled an Algerian imam because of his radical preaching in Marseille.  The government denied an Algerian Muslim woman citizenship after she refused to shake the hands of male officials.  The government announced a 2018-2020 action plan to combat hatred, including anti-Semitism, and a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and funding of Islam within France.  In July the interior minister announced expansion of a “precomplaint” system designed to facilitate reporting of crimes, to include anti-Semitic acts.  The government continued to enforce a ban on full-face coverings in public and the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools.  President Emmanuel Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.”  In May the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the application of counterterrorism laws and called the government closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.

Religiously motivated crimes and other incidents against Jews and Muslims occurred, including killings or attempted killings, beatings, threats, hate speech, discrimination, and vandalism.  The government reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, compared with 1,038 in 2017, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property.  According to government statistics, there were 100 crimes targeting Muslims, including an attack against Muslim worshippers outside a mosque, a 17 percent decrease compared with the 121 in 2017.  The government also reported an additional 51 acts against Muslim places of worship or cemeteries.  There were 541 anti-Semitic crimes, consisting of physical attacks, threats, and vandalism, an increase of 74 percent compared with the 311 incidents recorded in 2017.  Anti-Semitic incidents included the killing of a Holocaust survivor, an acid attack against a rabbi’s baby, and threatening letters against Jewish groups citing the killing of the Holocaust survivor.  Violent anti-Semitic crimes totaled 81, compared with 97 in 2017.  A student leader at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne) generated considerable debate after wearing a hijab on national television.  According to a poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) in February, 43 percent of respondents thought Islam was not compatible with the values of the republic.

The U.S. embassy, consulates general, and American Presence Posts (APPs) discussed religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in combating violent extremism, and cooperation on these issues with officials at the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and with the country’s Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights and Holocaust Issues.  The Ambassador, embassy, consulate, and APP officials met regularly with religious communities and their leaders throughout the country to discuss religious freedom concerns and encourage interfaith cooperation and tolerance.  The embassy sponsored projects and events to combat religious discrimination and advance tolerance.  The embassy funded a visit to the United States for four nongovernmental organization (NGO) directors on an exchange program that included themes of interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance.  It also sponsored the participation of three imams at a conference in Rabat focused on building interfaith relationships.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 67.4 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the most recent study by the National Institute for Demographic and Economic Studies, conducted in 2008 and published in 2010, 45 percent of respondents aged 18-50 reported no religious affiliation, while 43 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 8 percent as Muslim, 2 percent as Protestant, and the remaining 2 percent as Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or other.

A poll conducted in March by the private firm Opinionway found 41 percent of respondents older than 18 years identify as Catholic, 8 percent Muslim, 3 percent Protestant, 1 percent Buddhist, and 1 percent Jewish; 43 percent said they have no religious affiliation.

According to a survey conducted in March by the Catholic Institute of Paris and St. Mary’s Catholic University in the United Kingdom, 64 percent of young people aged 16-29 in France declared themselves without a religion compared with 23 percent who said they were Catholic and 10 percent who said they were Muslim.

The MOI estimates 8-10 percent of the population is Muslim.  The Muslim population consists primarily of immigrants from former French colonies in North and sub-Saharan Africa and their descendants.  According to a Pew Research Center study published in November 2017, Muslims number 5.72 million, 8.8 percent of the total population.

According to a 2017 Ipsos study published in Reforme, a Protestant online news daily, there are an estimated 600,000 Lutheran, 600,000 evangelical, and 800,000 nondenominational members in the Protestant community.  Many evangelical churches primarily serve African and Caribbean immigrants.

A 2016 report by Berman Jewish Data Bank estimated there are 460,000-700,000 Jews, depending on the criteria chosen.  According to the study, there are more Sephardic than Ashkenazi Jews.

The Buddhist Union of France estimates there are one million Buddhists, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants.  Other religious groups estimate their numbers as follows:  Jehovah’s Witnesses, 120,000; Orthodox Christians, most of whom are associated with the Greek or Russian Orthodox Churches, 80,000-100,000; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 66,000; Church of Scientology, 45,000; and Sikhs, 30,000.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The law, as well as international and European covenants which France adheres to, protects the freedom of individuals to choose, change, and practice their religion.  Interference with freedom of religion is subject to criminal penalties, including a fine of 1,500 euros ($1700) and imprisonment of one month.  Individuals who are defendants in a trial may challenge the constitutionality of any law they say impedes their freedom of religion.

Laws increase the penalties for acts of violence or defamation when they are committed because of the victim’s actual or perceived membership or nonmembership in a given religious group.  Penalties for acts of violence that courts determine are religiously motivated are three to five years’ imprisonment and fines of 45,000-75,000 euros ($51,600-86,000), depending on the severity of the victims’ injuries.  For religiously motivated acts of public defamation, the penalties are one year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of 45,000 euros ($51,600).  The government may expel noncitizens for inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against a specific person or group of persons based on religion.

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

Religious groups must apply at the local prefecture (the administrative body representing the central government in each department) for recognition as an association of worship and tax-exempt status.  Once granted, the association may use the tax-exempt status nationwide.  In order to qualify, the group’s sole purpose must be the practice of religion, which may include religious training and the construction of buildings serving the religious group.  Among excluded activities are those purely cultural, social, or humanitarian in nature.  The government does not tax associations of worship on donations they receive.  If the prefecture determines an association is not in conformity with its tax-exempt status, however, the government may change that status and require the association to pay taxes at a rate of 60 percent on past, as well as future, donations until it regains tax-exempt status.  According to the MOI, 109 Protestant, 100 Catholic, 50 Jehovah’s Witness, 30 Muslim, and 15 Jewish associations have tax-exempt status.

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

Counterterrorism legislation grants prefects in each department the authority to close a place of worship for a maximum of six months if they find comments, writings, or activities in the place of worship “provoke violence, hatred or discrimination or the commission of acts of terrorism or praise such acts of terrorism.”  The management of the place of worship has 48 hours to appeal the closure decision to an administrative court.  Noncompliance with a closure decision carries a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,600).  The core provisions of the legislation will expire at the end of 2020 unless renewed by parliament.

The law prohibits covering one’s face in public places, including public transportation, government buildings, and other public spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters.  If police encounter a person in a public space wearing a face covering such as a mask or burqa, they are legally required to ask the individual to remove it to verify the individual’s identity.  Police officials may not remove it themselves.  If an individual refuses to remove the garment, police may take the person to the local police station to verify his or her identity.  Police may not question or hold an individual for more than four hours.  Refusing a police instruction to remove a face-covering garment carries a maximum fine of 150 euros ($170) or attendance at a citizenship course.  Individuals who coerce another person to cover his or her face on account of gender by threat, violence, force, or abuse of power or authority are subject to a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($34,400) and may receive a sentence of up to one year in prison.  The fine and sentence are doubled if the person coerced is a minor.

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

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

Public schools are secular.  The law prohibits public school employees and students from wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the Muslim headscarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban, and large Christian crosses.  Public schools do not provide religious instruction, except in Alsace-Moselle and overseas departments and territories.  In Alsace-Moselle, religious education is compulsory in public primary and secondary schools, although students may opt for a secular equivalent with a written request from their parents.  Religious education classes are taught by members of the faiths concerned and are under the control of the respective churches.  Elsewhere in mainland France, public schools teach information about religious groups as part of the history curriculum.  Parents who wish their children to wear conspicuous religious symbols or to receive religious instruction may homeschool or send their children to a private school.  Homeschooling and private schools must conform to the educational standards established for public schools.

By law, the government subsidizes private schools, including those affiliated with religious organizations.  In 98 percent of private schools, in accordance with the law, the government pays the teachers’ salaries, provided the school accepts all children regardless of an individual child’s religious affiliation.  The law does not address the issue of religious instruction in government-subsidized private schools or whether students must be allowed to opt out of such instruction.

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

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

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

Government Practices

On June 23, the General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) arrested 10 men linked to a suspected far-right extremist plot to attack Muslims, according to media reports.  The suspects were arrested in the Paris and southwestern regions and on the island of Corsica and charged with criminal association with a terrorist enterprise.  Among the detainees was a retired police officer whom investigators considered the head of the network.  The suspects, who were previously unknown to authorities, reportedly had an “ill-defined plan to commit a violent act targeting people of the Muslim faith,” according to a source close to the investigation.  LCI TV reported the group was planning to “target radical imams, Islamist inmates released from prison, and veiled women chosen at random in the streets.”  In a June 24 statement, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb hailed the arrests and welcomed “DGSI’s constant commitment to the protection of the French people from any violent action, no matter where it comes from.”

In January investigating magistrates dismissed the court case against Lebanese-Canadian academic Hassan Diab, who was charged with bombing a synagogue in Paris during Sabbath prayers in 1980, killing four and injuring 40.  The magistrates said they found the evidence against Diab inconclusive and ordered his release.  Prosecutors appealed Diab’s discharge, and on October 26, the Paris Appeals Court requested additional expert testimony before ruling.  The court had not issued a ruling by year’s end.  Diab was extradited from Canada in 2014.

On July 10, a senate report stated authorities had closed four places of worship under the counterterrorism law between November 1, 2017 and June 8.  On December 13, the newspaper La Voix du Nord reported the prefect of the North Department applied the counterterrorism law to close the As-Sunnah prayer room in Hautmont for six months.  According to a statement issued by the prefecture, the prayer room’s activities and the ideas disseminated there “provoke violence, hatred, and discrimination, and praise acts of terror,” and the prefecture closed the prayer room “with the sole purpose of preventing the commission of acts of terrorism.”

On April 20, authorities expelled Algerian imam El Hadi Doudi, the leader of the Salafist As-Sounna Mosque in Marseille, to Algeria.  This decision followed the closing of As-Sounna for six months by the Bouches-du-Rhone Prefecture in December 2017 because of what it stated was Doudi’s radical preaching, which, according to press reports, inspired attendees to join ISIS.  According to authorities, sermons at the As-Sounna Mosque, sometimes disseminated via internet, preached in favor of armed jihad and the death penalty for adulterers and apostates, and used insulting or threatening terms towards Jews.  The As-Sounna Mosque, which had approximately 800 worshippers for its Friday prayers before its closure, was one of 80 places of Islamic worship in Marseille.  The mosque did not reopen after the six-month closure, because, according to the Marseille online newspaper Marsactu, the city of Marseille invoked its legal “preemption right” to take possession of the site.  According to a report in Le Parisien newspaper in May citing an interior ministry source, the purposed of the preemption was to prevent the mosque from reopening, while according to a report in La Provence newspaper citing a source in the Marseille municipality, the city acquired the property for purposes of urban renewal.

In an April 12 interview, President Macron stated his intent to “fight against Salafism and extremism,” which he described as “a problem in our country.”  In September Interior Minister Collomb stated that since 2017, the country had expelled 300 radical imams.

On May 16, the prefect of the Herault Department closed a small Muslim prayer room in in a townhouse in Gigean, which the authorities said they had considered a Salafist “reference point” for six months.  According to the prefectural decree posted on the townhouse, the prayer room was “an influential place of reference of the Salafist movement, advocating a rigorous Islam, calling for discrimination, hatred and violence against women, Jews, and Christians.”  Information as to whether the prayer room reopened after the six-month period was unavailable at year’s end.

The government continued to deploy 7,000 security forces throughout the country to protect sensitive sites, including vulnerable Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim sites and other places of worship.  On March 30, NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers reported the government deployed 70,000 law enforcement personnel from March 31 until April 7 to protect places of worship during Easter celebrations.

In April authorities denied an Algerian woman citizenship for refusing to shake hands with male officials at a French nationalization ceremony in the Department of Isere in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region due to her religious convictions.  The country’s top administrative court, the Council of State, ruled there were sufficient grounds to do so since the woman’s refusal “in a place and at a moment that are symbolic, reveals a lack of assimilation,” and that the decision was not detrimental to her freedom of religion.

On September 4, a court in Nanterre fined the Union of Clichy Muslim Association (UAMC) 17,000 euros ($19,500) for organizing Friday street prayers on 34 occasions without first informing city or prefecture officials of its plans.  The UAMC had been conducting the street prayers as a protest in front of the mayor’s office in Clichy-la-Garenne, after the town declined to renew the UAMC’s lease on a space it had been using as a mosque and expelled the group from the site in 2017.  The UAMC had rejected as inadequate an alternative space offered by the town.

According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 2017 the penitentiary system employed the following number of chaplains:  695 Catholic, 347 Protestant, 224 Muslim, 76 Jewish, 54 Orthodox Christian, 170 Jehovah’s Witness, and 19 Buddhist.  In detainee visiting areas, visitors could bring religious objects to an inmate or speak with the prisoner about religious issues but could not pray.  Prisoners could pray in their cells individually, with a chaplain in designated prayer rooms, or, in some institutions, in special apartments where they could receive family for up to 48 hours.

On June 19, the administrative court of Nice ordered the Mayor of Cannes to refund a fine levied on a woman for violating an “anti-burkini order” at the beach.  In August 2016, municipal police had fined the woman and told her she could not remain at the beach while wearing a burkini.  After the terrorist attack in Nice in 2016, Cannes and several other coastal cities banned burkinis on the beaches.  However, later that same year, the Council of State ruled that these decrees were illegal.

On August 10, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) criticized a 2014 Supreme Court ruling upholding the 2008 dismissal of a woman from a private nursery in the town of Chanteloup-les-Vignes for refusing to remove her veil at work.  The council stated that prohibiting a person from wearing a headscarf in the workplace interfered with her right to manifest her religion.

On October 23, the UNHRC found the country violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing niqabs in two separate cases in 2012.  The committee received the complaints in 2016 and issued the decisions in the two cases concurrently.  The government had 180 days to report to the committee action taken to respond to the violation and to prevent similar violations in the future.  On October 23, the government issued a statement declaring “the total legitimacy of a law [prohibiting concealment of the face in public spaces] whose goal is to uphold the conditions for living together harmoniously while fully exercising one’s civil and political rights,” and adding, “Everyone is free to appear in public wearing clothing that expresses a religious conviction, so long as it allows the face to be seen.”  The statement cited a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court that the law complied with the constitution and a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the law did not infringe upon freedom of conscience or religion and was not discriminatory.  In its statement, the government said it would convey its views in a follow-up report to the UNHRC.

On December 11, the senate adopted a resolution reaffirming the importance of the 2010 law prohibiting the concealment of the face in public spaces and calling on the government to maintain the legal framework “relative to the wearing of the full-face Islamic veil in the public space.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ni Aoilain expressed concern that counterterrorism legislation enacted in 2017 restricted freedom of religion, movement, and expression in the country.  After a weeklong visit in May, Ni Aoilain said, “the scope of these measures constitutes a de facto state of qualified emergency in ordinary French law.”  She said the government treated Muslims as a “suspect community” through the “broad application” of counterterrorism law and called the closure of mosques a restriction on religious freedom.

Pursuant to the 2014 agreement between France and the United States on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs, the United States established the Holocaust Deportation Claims Program.  Under the agreement, which entered into force on November 1, 2015, France provided a lump sum of $60 million to the United States for distribution to eligible claimants.  At year’s end, payments to claimants from this fund totaled $30,028,500.

Speaking on March 19 at the National Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the broad outlines of a three-year national action plan, covering the 2018-2020 period, to combat racism and anti-Semitism in the country, with a strong focus on countering online hate content.  Accompanied by seven other ministers and the head of the Interagency Delegation to Counter Racism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-LGBT Hatred (DILCRAH), Philippe stated the action plan would have four key targets:  countering online hate content; improving victim protection services; anti-racism education; and developing new areas of mobilization against hate.

The plan would encompass specific measures, including:  advocating for an EU-level law to require social media platforms to more quickly remove hate content on their servers; imposing heavy fines on social media companies that failed to remove hate content within 24 hours; increasing the capacity and staffing of the government’s Pharos online platform to register and remove online hate content; creating a national anti-racism prize named after Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man killed in 2006, to recognize the efforts of youth fighting racism and anti-Semitism; and launching a campaign to increase awareness of racism in sport.  The prime minister said a three-person committee would develop the details of the action plan and submit it to the government for review and implementation.

In a July 5 speech before the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), then-Interior Minister Collomb announced the extension of law enforcement’s online “precomplaint” system to racist and anti-Semitic acts in order to facilitate action and “prosecute anti-Semitic offenders even more effectively.”  The system previously was restricted to property crimes.  Grievants may submit their identity and contact information, the location of an incident, and other relevant facts on a government website and, after filling out the precomplaint, go to a police station to sign and validate the complaint to initiate an investigation.

On May 15, the Observatory for Secularism, a body comprised of 15 senior civil servants, parliamentarians, legal experts, and intellectuals who advise the government on the implementation of the “principle of secularism,” released its fifth annual report evaluating secularism in schools, public spaces, and hospitals.  According to the report, the subject of secularism remained a sensitive one, although “direct attacks on secularism” were not widespread.  The report stated there was a need for training and education to overcome “deep ignorance” of the law.

President Macron delivered his New Year’s greetings to the country’s religious communities at the Elysee Presidential Palace on January 4.  He welcomed two representatives each from Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist groups.  Prime Minister Philippe and then-Interior Minister Collomb also attended.  Macron’s speech focused mainly on secularism, which he underlined as a fundamental pillar of the country, before highlighting the essential place for religion in society and the importance of teaching theology.  The president hailed the role played by Christian charitable organizations in assisting refugees while recalling the “ethical tension” between the right of asylum and “the reality of our society, its capacity to welcome.”  Macron also said he would meet religious community leaders on a regular basis behind closed doors to consult on various topics.  He cited the need to “structure” Islam in the country and to train imams to fight radicalization.  “I will help you,” he said.

On June 12, then-Interior Minister Collomb attended an iftar hosted by the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the official government structure responsible for relations with the country’s Muslim community.  Collomb, whose ministry oversees government relations with religious communities, strongly defended secularism and stated the government “will never accept … the stigmatization of a religion” nor “to reduce Islam to Islamism.”  He said the country must focus on the preventing radicalization, training for imams, sources of financing of mosques, and structuring the administration of Islam in the country.  “It is up to the Muslims of France to address these issues in the long-term,” he said.  Attendees at the event included Muslim community leaders, interfaith leaders, other government officials, and ambassadors.

On June 25, then-Minister Collomb announced a nationwide consultation process with the Muslim community to reform the organization and the funding of Islam in the country.  Prefects in each department would hold listening sessions with local representatives from the Muslim community on issues related to institutional representation, financing of Islamic places of worship, and training of imams.  He stated the dialogue would strive to include all the diversity of the Muslim community, including younger and female voices, as well as civil society members, according to an administrative circular he sent to prefects.  The government said it expected to release the results of the dialogue in 2019.

Speaking before the Conference of Catholic Bishops of France (CEF) on April 9, President Macron said he supported “repairing” ties between the state and the Catholic Church.  Macron was the first sitting president to speak at a CEF event.  He stated the Catholic Church should engage in the political debate on key issues important to the Church, such as treatment of migrants, possible legislative changes concerning bioethics, and medically assisted reproduction for single women and lesbian couples, and generally encouraged Catholics to engage more in politics.  His appearance generated criticism from left-wing politicians, including Jean-Luc Melenchon, Alexis Corbiere, and Olivier Faure, who said it flouted the strict separation of church and state mandated by the law on secularism.

President Macron met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on June 26 to discuss immigration and other challenges facing Europe.  The Vatican described the meeting as “cordial” and said it highlighted the “good existing bilateral relations” between the two nations.  Speaking later to the press, Macron described the meeting as “intense” and said he told Pope Francis that the “progressive way to handle the migrant crisis was through a true policy of development for Africa.”

On January 9, Prime Minister Philippe, then-Interior Minister Collomb, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, and government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux attended a memorial ceremony outside a Paris kosher supermarket, where two years earlier a gunman had killed four Jews and held 15 other people hostage.  Former President Francois Hollande and former Prime Ministers Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve also attended the event.

On July 22, Prime Minister Philippe held a ceremony in Paris honoring the victims of the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup of July 1942 in which 13,000 French Jews, including 4,000 children, were deported to extermination camps.  “There is one area in which we must do better, that of the restitution of cultural property,” stolen during the Nazi occupation, Philippe said.  A Ministry of Culture report submitted in April to Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen criticized the current policy of restitution as inefficient and lacking ambition, coordination, leadership, and visibility.  As a result, the Commission for the Compensation of the Victims of Spoliation was to examine all cases of restitution and transmit its recommendations to the prime minister, according to an official statement released by the Ministry of Culture.  In addition, the Ministry of Culture said it would take a more active role in the search and restitution of stolen properties.  The report identified 2,008 cultural works with no identified owner.

Recalling his plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism launched in March, Prime Minister Philippe reiterated his “absolute desire to change French law and European law to remove hate content on the internet, to unmask and punish its authors.”

President Macron and government ministers condemned anti-Semitism and declared support for Holocaust education on several occasions including the March 7 annual CRIF dinner; the March 19 commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the killings of three Jewish children and their teacher by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse; the April 30 Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration; and the June 1 French Judaism Day observance.

In a November 9 Facebook post, Prime Minister Philippe announced the number of anti-Semitic acts committed in the first nine months of the year rose by 69 percent compared to the same period in 2017.  Philippe did not quote the exact numbers of anti-Semitic acts or their nature, such as physical attacks, threats, or vandalism.  Underlining that his announcement coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom by the Nazis against Jews, PM Philippe wrote, “Every aggression perpetrated against one of our citizens because they are Jewish echoes like the breaking of a new crystal…. We are very far from being finished with anti-Semitism.”  Referencing Elie Wiesel’s “danger of indifference,” Philippe pledged the government would not be indifferent and recalled recent acts taken to combat anti-Semitism.  Acts he cited included toughening of rules against hate speech online; mobilizing a national rapid-response team from the Ministry of Education and DILCRAH to support teachers reporting cases of anti-Semitism; and the trial use of a network of investigators and magistrates specifically trained in the fight against hate acts, which could later be extended nationwide.

On December 20, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanqer announced the launch of an online platform that teachers could use to report cases of anti-Semitism and racism to the education ministry.

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

As part of an established exchange program, the government continued to host the visit of 30 Moroccan, 120 Algerian, and 151 Turkish imams to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism within Muslim communities.  The imams’ countries of origin paid their salaries.  During Ramadan, when there was an increased number of worshippers, between 250 and 300 imams came to France temporarily.

On June 11, the Diocese of Vannes moved a 25-foot-tall statue of Saint Pope John Paul II from public land in Ploermel in Brittany to a Catholic school in the same town.  In 2017, the Council of State had ruled the statue could remain on public land but ordered the removal of the cross on the statue within six months because it violated the law separating church and state.  Rather than removing the cross, the diocese elected to move the entire statue to Church-owned land.  Some Christians and politicians criticized the decision, calling it another example of efforts to erase the country’s Christian heritage.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the latest government estimates available, the MOI reported registered crimes targeting Muslims (threats or violence) totaled 100, down from 121 in 2017; there were an additional 45 acts of vandalism against Muslim places of worship and six acts of desecration against Muslim cemeteries.  The reported anti-Semitic crimes (threats or violence) increased to 541, compared with 311 in the previous year.  Despite an overall increase resulting from a significant rise in threats, violent acts against Jews fell from 97 to 81.  Anti-Semitic threats rose from 214 in 2017 to 358, and acts of vandalism totaled 102.  The government also reported 1,063 anti-Christian incidents, most of which involved vandalism or other acts against property, compared with 1,038 in 2017.  The government did not provide a detailed breakdown of anti-Muslim or anti-Christian acts registered during the year.

On March 23, Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, aged 85, was found dead in her Paris apartment.  An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed at least 11 times before being burned in a fire, which was ruled to be arson.  Authorities arrested two individuals in connection with the killing and placed them in pretrial detention.  The Paris prosecutor’s office was investigating the killing as a hate crime.  After the incident, thousands of people participated in a “white march,” a silent gathering to commemorate the victim, in Paris.  On May 27, President Macron stated Knoll was “murdered because she was Jewish.”

In February unknown individuals placed acid in the stroller of a rabbi’s baby daughter in Bron.  The child suffered burns on her back and legs.  According to an ongoing police investigation, anti-Semitic motives were involved.

In March police arrested four teens suspected of beating a Jewish boy with a stick and taking his kippah outside a synagogue north of Paris.  The suspects reportedly called the boy and his siblings “dirty Jews.”

On August 24, a man attacked two male worshippers with a bicycle chain as they were leaving a mosque in the town of Lens, near Calais.  The Mayor of Lens, Sylvain Robert, condemned the attack in a statement.  According to the mayor, during his court hearing, the accused cited “ideological and racist” justifications for his act.  On September 26, the Lens Court sentenced the accused to an 11-month prison sentence for aggravated assault, referencing the racist nature of the attack.

In July a psychiatric evaluation of Kobili Traore, charged with killing his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, in 2017, determined Traore was not responsible for his actions and therefore unable to stand trial.  Authorities were planning to conduct a third psychiatric evaluation of Traore, who remained incarcerated at year’s end.  On February 27, reversing a previous decision, the judge presiding over the case added the charge of anti-Semitism as a motive for the crime.  The magistrate made this decision after hearing testimony from Traore.  In a statement, CRIF hailed the judge’s decision and expressed “satisfaction” and “relief.”

Authorities scheduled a new trial for March 2019 in Paris Criminal Court for Abdelkader Merah on the charge of complicity in the killing by his brother, Mohammed Merah, of seven persons outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.  In November 2017, prosecutors appealed the 2017 acquittal of Abdelkader Merah on the complicity charge; the court had convicted him on the lesser charge of criminal terrorist conspiracy.

By year’s end authorities had not set a date for the trial of five individuals arrested in November 2017 and charged with carrying out an attack on a Jewish family in Livry Gargan earlier that year.

On July 6, a court in Val-de-Marne sentenced three young men who carried out a rape and robbery of a Jewish couple in the Paris suburb of Creteil in 2014.  Abdou Salam Koita and Ladje Haidara, who committed the rape, were present in court.  Houssame Hatri, who made anti-Semitic slurs during the attack, remained at large and was convicted in absentia.  The three, who were sentenced to eight, 13, and 16 years in prison, respectively, bound and gagged their victims before carrying out the rape and stealing jewelry and bank cards.  “Jews do not put money in the bank,” one of them reportedly said.  During the attack Hatri also reportedly said that the attack was “for my brothers in Palestine” before suggesting the perpetrators should “gas” their victims.  Two accomplices received sentences of five and six years in jail.

On June 29, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into anti-Semitic letters received by at least six Jewish associations, including CRIF.  The letters, signed by “The Black Hand,” were posted June 18 and referred to the killing of Mireille Knoll, according to press reports.  The letters read in part, “Dear Jews, you bitterly mourn the death of an old Jew murdered for her money.  We think you pay little for the number of crimes you commit every day.  Enjoy it, because the day of punishment will come.”

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 3,869 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of France responded to the online survey.  Twenty-two percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 27 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  One-fifth of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 93 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.

The annual report of the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, an advisory body to the prime minister, released in March, included the results of a poll conducted in November 2017 by the Ipsos Institute, a research and consulting company, involving face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of 1,003 residents over the age of 18.  According to the poll, 38.2 percent of the respondents (2 percent fewer than in 2016) believed Jews “have a particular relationship with money,” and 19.7 percent thought Jews had too much power in the country.  The same poll found 29.5 percent of respondents had a negative image of Islam and 43.9 percent (2.1 percent fewer than in the previous year) of them considered it a threat to national identity.  The report also cited what it said was persistent societal rejection of Islamic religious practices, such as of prayer and women wearing a veil.  According to the report, there was a decrease in anti-Semitic and racist acts compared with 2016, “despite a general context favorable to the rejection of the other, notably marked by terrorism, the arrival of migrants, unemployment, the importance of security issues reported in the media, and the rise in populism in Europe.”

In May Maryam Pougetoux, aged 19, the leader of the Sorbonne chapter of the French National Students’ Union, set off a debate by wearing a hijab on national television.  Laurent Bouvet, a secularist and member of Le Printemps Republicain (Repulican Spring), a group created to defend secularism, stated in a Twitter post, “We aren’t hunting anyone but merely pointing to the inconsistency” of Pougetoux wearing a hijab, arguing it contradicted her support for abortion rights and other “feminist principles.”  Then-Interior Minister Collomb called her appearance “shocking,” while Marlene Schiappa, the junior minister for gender equality, said she saw in Pougetoux’s act a “form of promotion of political Islam.”  Hijabs are permitted on college campuses.

According to media reports, on June 28, a judge fined a tobacco shop owner in the town of Albi 1,000 euros ($1,100) for refusing goods and services to a Muslim woman who was wearing a jilbab.  The woman had come to the merchant’s store to pick up a parcel she had delivered there.  The woman’s face was visible when she presented her identity card to the shop owner, and she offered to remove her veil in a setting where no men were present, according to reports.  The judge also ordered the shop owner to pay to each of the four women who accompanied the plaintiff to the store 800 euros ($920) for moral damages and 500 euros ($570) for legal fees, as well as 800 euros ($920) in damages each to the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism and the Movement Against Racism and Friendship Between Peoples, and one euro ($1) to the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).

On Easter Monday (April 2), unidentified individuals vandalized the church of Fenay, near Dijon.  According to the parish priest, the attackers broke the door of the sacristy with an ax, then threw down and trampled the consecrated hosts.  “This is a deliberate act of desecration,” said the priest, who filed a complaint, according to press reports.  The investigation continued at year’s end.

On January 26, unknown individuals painted a large swastika at the entrance to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

On June 17, Strasbourg celebrated the 11th anniversary of its interfaith dialogue initiative, which continued to bring together religious leaders from Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths.

In July, for the second consecutive year, young Christians and Muslims from across the country, Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East participated in a three-day “weekend of friendship” event at the Taize Ecumenical Community in the Department of Saone-et-Loire.  The approximately 200 participants addressed a series of questions from the organizers on prayer, religious freedom, and fasting.

In December 80 civil society representatives from 25 countries attended the ninth annual Muslim-Jewish Conference in Paris, exchanging best practices and discussing ways to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.  The organizers said interfaith dialogue was more important than ever and committed to supporting Jewish and Muslim communities in the country and around the world.

The Council of Christian Churches, composed of 10 representatives from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Churches, continued to serve as a forum for dialogue.  One observer represented the Anglican Communion on the council.  The council met twice in plenary session and twice at the working level.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and other staff from the U.S. embassy, consulates general, and APPs discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with relevant government officials, including at the religious affairs offices of the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs.  Topics discussed included religious tolerance, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, the role of religious freedom in lessening violent extremism, the BDS movement, Holocaust-related compensation, and bilateral cooperation on these issues.

In June embassy and visiting U.S. government officials met MFA Ambassador-at-Large for Human Rights Francois Croquette regarding the 2014 Agreement on Compensation for Certain Victims of Holocaust-Related Deportation from France Who Are Not Covered by French Programs between France and the United States.

The Ambassador met in Paris with Grand Rabbi of France Haim Korsia, Rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris Dalil Boubakeur, Apostolic Nuncio Monsignor Luigi Ventura, Rector of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Paris Patrick Chauvet, CRIF president Francis Kalifat, and Joel Mergui of the Central Consistory (the leading Jewish institution administrating Jewish religious affairs), to discuss their views on religious freedom and tolerance.  In these meetings, the Ambassador stressed the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting freedom of religion, the benefits of interfaith dialogue in promoting peace and countering radicalization, and the importance of collectively countering anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Staff from the embassy, consulates general, and APPs met regularly with religious community leaders, activists, and private citizens throughout the country to discuss issues of discrimination and to advocate tolerance for diversity.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and interfaith dialogue and tolerance with senior Christian, Muslim, and Jewish representatives and NGOs such as Coexister and AJC Europe.  They also hosted meetings with CRIF, the Consistory, the CFCM, Catholic priests, and Protestant representatives working on interfaith dialogue.

The Ambassador and embassy officials engaged regularly with senior Israeli embassy representatives on efforts and best practices to counter anti-Semitism in France.  U.S. embassy officials closely monitored and reported on anti-Semitic incidents in the country and the official government position on the BDS movement.

In September the embassy hosted a conference in partnership with the German Marshall Fund on inclusive leaders, including those promoting interfaith collaboration and dialogue, from NGOs Coexister, Sparknews, The Next Level, and the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship, which focused on developing leaders and creating stronger networks across sectors, including interfaith relations.

The embassy awarded small grants to various NGOs across the country to support projects that aimed to advance religious tolerance and integration.  One grant for $17,500 to Coexister was to fund a documentary film based on the group’s 2019-2020 Interfaith World Tour, a yearlong voyage around the globe centered on the theme of material and immaterial religious heritage and designed to observe interfaith initiatives and gather best practices to share with youth organizations across the country.

In April the embassy identified and funded the travel of three imams to the two-day conference for European imams in Rabat organized by the U.S. NGO Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (CECF) in partnership with the U.S. embassy in Rabat and the Imam Training Center in Rabat.  The conference focused on interfaith relationship building, radicalization prevention, and countering violent extremism in each imam’s home community.

In April the embassy funded a program in the United States for four NGO leaders.  Representatives from Parle-moi d’Islam (Speak to Me about Islam), focused on the prevention of youth radicalization, Coexister, which promotes diversity, social cohesion, and peaceful coexistence across faiths, and the Hozes Institute, dedicated to training imams in French language and culture, participated.  The program included meetings with the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and with a panel of female religious leaders in New York City that examined how U.S. religious groups function in the context of a democratic society and illustrated U.S. approaches to interfaith dialogue.

On September 28, the Consulate General in Strasbourg hosted an interfaith lunch to discuss issues affecting religious communities, including the separation of church and state, state funding of religion, and the official status granted to four religions (Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Judaism) in Alsace-Moselle by the Alsatian Concordat of 1801.

On September 19, staff from APP Bordeaux joined faith leaders, elected Bordeaux officials, members of the academic community, and various social organizations at a gathering to promote interfaith dialogue and support nondiscrimination initiatives.  As part of the event, participants attended a screening of the short-film “Ramdam,” produced by Bordeaux-based film director Zangro, which depicted the trials and tribulations of a fictional imam living in Mont-de-Marsan.

Germany

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the practice of one’s religion.  The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy on registration of religious groups and other matters.  Unrecognized religious groups are ineligible for tax benefits.  The federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of certain Muslim groups.  Authorities also monitored the Church of Scientology (COS), which reported continued government discrimination against its members.  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees, particularly teachers and courtroom officials.  While senior government leaders continued to condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, some members of the federal parliament and state assemblies from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party again made anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements.  The federal and seven state governments appointed anti-Semitism commissioners for the first time, following a recommendation in a parliament-commissioned 2017 experts’ report to create a federal anti-Semitism commissioner in response to growing anti-Semitism.  The federal anti-Semitism commissioner serves as a contact for Jewish groups and coordinates initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in the federal ministries.  In July the government announced it would increase social welfare funding for Holocaust survivors by 75 million euros ($86 million) in 2019.  In March Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture, and that the country was characterized by Christianity.  In May the Bavarian government decreed that every public building in the state must display a cross in a clearly visible location near its entrance.

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts.  Jews expressed security concerns after several widely publicized anti-Semitic attacks, coupled with reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools.  Final federal crime statistics cite 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes during the year, including 69 involving violence, an increase of 20 percent compared with 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, in 2017.  The federal crime statistics attributed 93 percent of the 2017 crimes to the far right.  A study covering 2007-2017 by the Technical University of Berlin found online anti-Semitism was at its highest level ever recorded.  There were demonstrations expressing anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment and protests against what participants described as radical Islam.  The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) continued to make public statements opposing the COS.

The U.S. embassy and five consulates general monitored the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and expressed concerns about anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Muslim acts.  Embassy representatives met regularly with the newly appointed federal government anti-Semitism commissioner at the Ministry of Interior.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on their concerns about religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 80.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 29 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and 27 percent belongs to the EKD – a confederation of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist), and United (Prussian Union) Protestant regional churches.  Other Protestant denominations, including the New Apostolic Church, Baptist communities, and nondenominational Christians, combined account for less than 1 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 2.4 percent of the population.

According to government estimates, approximately 6.3 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 75 percent is Sunni, 13 percent Alevi, and 7 percent Shia; the remainder identifies simply as “Muslim.”  According to the Ministry of Interior, approximately 25 percent of Muslims are recent immigrants; between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1.2 million refugees arrived from predominately Muslim countries.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Central Council of Jews estimates it at 200,000.  The Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany reported that Jewish communities had approximately 100,000 members at the end of 2017.  According to Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), a secular, religious studies NGO, groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (222,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (15,000); and COS (5,000-10,000).  All of REMID’s estimates are based only on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 36 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in the government’s statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution (also known as the basic law) prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience and the freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed and to practice one’s religion.  The constitution also prohibits an official state church.  It stipulates no one shall be required to disclose his or her religious convictions nor be compelled to participate in religious acts.  The constitution states religious instruction shall be part of the curriculum in public schools and that parents have the right to decide whether their children shall receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and states groups may organize themselves for private religious purposes without constraint.  It allows registered religious groups with Public Law Corporation (PLC) status to receive public subsidies from the states and provide religious services in the military, at hospitals, and in prisons.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence or arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members or inciting hatred against them.  Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.  It also prohibits “assaulting the human dignity of religious groups or their members by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming them,” specifying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, although prison sentences are rare.  The prohibition and the penalties apply equally to online speech.  The federal criminal code prohibits disturbing religious services or acts of worship, with violators subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.  The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred, specifying a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups as “sects,” “youth religions,” and “youth sects,” and allows the government to provide “accurate information” or warnings about them to the public.  The law does not permit the government to use terms such as “destructive,” “pseudo-religious,” or “manipulative” when referring to these groups.  Several court decisions have ruled the government must remain neutral towards a religion and may provide a warning to the public only if an “offer” by a religious group would endanger the basic rights of an individual or place the individual in a state of physical or financial dependence.

Religious groups wishing to qualify as nonprofit associations with tax-exempt status must register.  State-level authorities review registration submissions and routinely grant tax-exempt status; if challenged, their decisions are subject to judicial review.  Religious groups applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence through their statutes, history, and activities that they are a religious group.

A special partnership exists between the states and religious groups with PLC status, as outlined in the constitution.  Any religious group may request PLC status, which, if granted, entitles the group to levy tithes on members (averaging 9 percent of income tax) that each state collects on its behalf, separately from income taxes, but through the state’s tax collection process.  PLCs pay fees to the government for the tithing service, but not all groups with PLC status utilize the service.  PLC status also allows for tax exemptions (larger than those given to groups with nonprofit status), representation on supervisory boards of public television and radio stations, and the right to special labor regulations, for example, requiring employees in hospitals, kindergartens, or NGOs run by a religious group to be members of that group.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status providing public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  Due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before the Weimar republic, all state governments except for Bremen and Hamburg subsidize the Catholic Church and the EKD with different yearly amounts.

According to the constitution, the decision to grant PLC status is made at the state level.  Individual states base PLC status decisions on a number of varying qualifications, including an assurance of the group’s permanence, size, and respect for the constitutional order and fundamental rights of individuals.  An estimated 180 religious groups have PLC status, including Catholics, the EKD, Baha’is, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Mennonites, Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Salvation Army, and Seventh-day Adventists.  Ahmadi Muslim groups have PLC status in the states of Hesse and Hamburg; no other Muslim communities have PLC status.  The COS does not have PLC or nonprofit status in any state.

According to a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, general headscarf bans for teachers at public schools are a violation of religious freedom, but implementation is left to the states, which may determine if special circumstances apply.  Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Bremen do not prohibit headscarves for teachers.  Hesse permits teachers to wear headscarves as long as doing so does not impair “school peace” or threaten perceptions of state neutrality.  A law in Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, law enforcement staff, and primary and secondary public school teachers.  The Berlin law permits teachers at some categories of institutions, such as vocational schools, to wear headscarves.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

In April the Bavarian Parliament amended its legislation to prohibit judges, prosecutors, and judicial trainees from wearing religious symbols in court.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($69) fine.

Some federal and state laws affect religious practices.  Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  However, there are exceptions.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, trained personnel may kill animals without anesthesia in a registered slaughterhouse under observation of the local veterinary inspection office if the meat is for consumption only by members of religious communities whose beliefs require slaughtering animals without anesthesia.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males under the age of six months.  After six months, the law states circumcisions must be performed in a “medically professional manner” and without unnecessary pain.

All states offer religious instruction and ethics courses in public schools.  Religious communities with PLC status (or without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state that grants them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to set the curriculum for religious education in line with the constitution; the states pay the teachers’ salaries.  Most public schools offer the option of Protestant and Catholic religious instruction in cooperation with those Churches, as well as instruction in Judaism if enough students (usually 12, although regulations vary state to state) express an interest.  The states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam, with the teachers provided by the religious community or by the government, depending on the state.  In Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state provides this instruction; in the other federal states, Muslim communities or associations do.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction for all students is offered by the Protestant Church and the state, respectively.

In Bavaria, teachers provide Islamic instruction to approximately 15,000 students in 219 primary schools and 118 middle and secondary schools under a pilot program expiring in 2019.  In the fall, NRW began providing Islamic religious instruction in 20 occupational (vocational) schools.

Students who do not wish to participate in religious instruction may opt out; in some states those who opt out may substitute ethics courses.  State authorities generally permit religious groups to establish private schools as long as they meet basic curriculum requirements.  Schooling is constitutionally mandated, and homeschooling, including for religious reasons, is prohibited in all the states.

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

Government Practices

In January the federal government created the new position of commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.  The new commissioner, Felix Klein, started work in May.  The appointment followed federal parliament enactment of a resolution entitled “Resolutely Combating Anti-Semitism” on January 18.  The resolution called for creation of an anti-Semitism commissioner and expressed appreciation for the government’s 2017 decision to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) working definition of anti-Semitism.  It also called for deportation of foreigners that incite anti-Semitic hatred, “determined” countering of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continued punishment for persons who denied or trivialized the Holocaust, and further financing – including with Muslim organizations and mosques – for projects to combat anti-Semitism, as well as continued financial support for Jewish communities and memorials of the Holocaust.  A 2017 report on anti-Semitism in the country by independent experts had also called for the appointment of a federal commissioner on anti-Semitism, as well as improved documentation and punishment of anti-Semitic crimes and better advisory services for those affected by anti-Semitism.

In October Klein announced that he planned to implement a nationwide system of recording anti-Semitic incidents below the threshold of criminal offenses.  During a visit to Israel, he announced cooperation with the Israeli government in encouraging third party states to apply the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and to develop codes of conduct for governments’ interactions with social media companies to combat online anti-Semitism.  On December 20, Klein announced the 2019 launch of a nationwide online platform for reporting anti-Semitic incidents.  The platform will be run by the Research and Information Center for Anti-Semitism (RIAS), a nonprofit organization that receives some federal and state funding.  The Ministry of Interior also announced it would establish a separate anti-Semitism department and add experts on Jewish life to the religious department.  Klein repeatedly encouraged the federal states to establish their own anti-Semitism commissioners.

Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Bavaria, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt and NRW established anti-Semitism commissioners.  The responsibilities and functions of the position varied by state, but generally included developing contacts with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic incidents, and designing education and prevention programs.  In November the federal and state level anti-Semitism commissioners met for the first time to discuss best practices and identify areas of cooperation.

In November Baden-Wuerttemberg opened an anti-discrimination office.  The state government said it would serve as a point of contact for those experiencing any form of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

In March NRW Minister-President Armin Laschet advocated granting PLC status to Muslim organizations.  In January the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat requested PLC status in NRW, and the application was pending at year’s end.

In November Rhineland-Palatinate announced it was planning to sign a state agreement with the Muslim Alevite community.  According to the state chancellery, the agreement would outline conditions for Alevi holidays and religious instruction in schools.  At year’s end, four Rhineland-Palatinate elementary schools offered Alevi religious instruction.  The government was scheduled to sign the agreement in March 2019.

In August the state of Rhineland-Palatinate announced it would stop negotiations to establish a “religion treaty” with the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and three other Islamic organizations, Schura Rheinland-Palatinate, Ahmadiyya, and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers.  Such an agreement would have been a precondition for introducing state-wide Islamic religious education in public schools, but the state followed two expert opinion reports that had questioned DITIB’s independence from the Turkish government and the organizations’ “constitutional adequacy” as official partners for the state.  State authorities also classified DITIB and Schura as “suspicious.”

In December media reported the Hesse State criminal police office started an investigation of a possible neo-Nazi network in Frankfurt’s police force after a group of police officers allegedly sent a threatening letter to a German lawyer of Turkish origin.  In August investigators said they had found police officials used a work computer to look up the lawyer’s personal information without an official reason, and also found a group of five police officers had been sharing neo-Nazi images and content.  Authorities suspended the five officers from duty, and the case remained under investigation at year’s end.

According to reports from the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC) – the domestic intelligence service – and state OPCs and COS members, the federal and state OPCs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Thuringia continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating Scientology publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  In September following the opening of new representational COS offices in Stuttgart, a Baden-Wuerttemberg state OPC spokesperson said state and national COS membership had decreased by one third since 1997, and suggested that the OPC’s monitoring of the COS deterred membership.  COS leadership disputed the state OPC’s statement that membership had declined.  At least four major political parties (the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Federal Democratic Party (FDP)) continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor a number of Muslim groups, including Salafist movements, ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Turkish Hezbollah (TH), Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Milli Gorus.  The website of NRW’s OPC stated the Muslim Brotherhood “rejects democracy.”

Groups under OPC observation continued to say their status as meriting OPC scrutiny implied they were extremist and constrained their ability to apply for publicly funded projects.

In January the Hamburg Regional Court acquitted 12 alleged members of the banned Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim.  The Hamburg state attorney’s office charged that the men had, among other offenses, stormed a mosque in Luebeck, Schleswig-Holstein in 2013 and threatened to kill those who did not adhere to Millatu Ibrahim’s convictions.  The state attorney’s office stated it was convinced of the defendants’ guilt but that it had failed to prove the allegations.

In July Hamburg began to record hate crimes in a more detailed manner.  Hamburg Justice Senator (the city-state’s minister of justice) Till Stefen told the newspaper Welt in June the statistics would improve sentencing and make sociopolitical developments more visible.  Stefen added, “We need new sources to make anti-Semitic crimes visible.”  Hamburg State Attorney General Jorg Frohlich stated that collecting the new statistics would require significant additional work but that “every progress is worthwhile” when combating hate crime.

In September Bavaria established a hotline for reporting anti-Semitic incidents, according to the state’s anti-Semitism commissioner.  Bavarian authorities said the hotline would begin operations in spring 2019.

In May federal statistical data on the number of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hate crimes became available for the first time.  Police had added the categories to their criminal statistics in 2017.  Anti-Semitism was already a category of hate crime in federal crime statistics.

In February Baden-Wuerttemberg announced the state would start organizing training for Muslim chaplains at correctional facilities, rather than rely on outside organizations to conduct the training.  In the same month media reported the state OPC had barred three of 16 imams who were graduates of a third-party training course from serving as prison chaplains because of what the OPC said were the imam’s contacts with radical Islamist organizations.

In May Bavarian Minister-President Markus Soeder announced a decree requiring public offices to display a cross in a visible place at the entrance area of the building where they were located.  According to Soeder, the decree was intended to highlight Bavaria’s cultural and historical roots.

In March the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed the suit of a woman who wanted to drive wearing a niqab.  The court stated the woman had not sufficiently demonstrated how the law prohibiting driving with a face covering restricted her religious freedom.

In March the Koblenz police district completed a disciplinary review of a male Muslim police officer who in 2017 refused to shake the hand of a female colleague, citing religious reasons.  Police officials disciplined the officer, and ordered him to pledge his allegiance to the constitution in writing and pay a fine of 1,000 euros ($1,100).  They also instructed the officer, on penalty of dismissal, not to refuse to shake the hands of women in the future when acting in an official capacity.

In May the Berlin Labor Court ruled against a teacher in Berlin who had sued the school system in 2017 for transferring her from a primary school to a school for older children because state law barred women who wore a headscarf from teaching younger children.  The court decided the state administration had the right to transfer its teachers to any other post of the same salary level.

In November the State Labor Court of Berlin and Brandenburg awarded approximately 5,000 euros ($5,700) to a job applicant in compensation for discrimination on the grounds of religion.  The job applicant, trained in information technology, said the school where she applied to work as a teacher had rejected her because she wore a headscarf.  In May the local labor court had ruled that, because teachers served as a model for young students, the school was justified in limiting her religious freedom and asking her to teach without a headscarf.  The state court, however, saw no indication that a teacher wearing a headscarf would have threatened “school peace,” and quoted the Federal Constitutional Court’s 2015 decision that such a threat was a necessary condition for prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves.

In April the NRW integration ministry announced it would examine legal requirements for a headscarf ban for girls younger than 14, the age of so-called “religious majority.”  The state integration minister stated in an interview that wearing a headscarf was a personal decision, but children lacked the self determination to decide and should not be pressured.  Critics of the proposed ban, including some teachers, asked how the ban would be enforced.  The federal integration commissioner and the chairwoman of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency spoke against the ban while federal FDP Party Chair Christian Lindner and CDU Party Vice Chair and federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Kloeckner supported it.  By year’s end, the NRW state government had not decided on the proposed ban and said it expected to continue debating the issue through the end of 2019.

In April a Muslim woman wearing a niqab left a reception by Heiner Bernhard (SPD Party), the mayor of Weinheim in Baden-Wuerttemberg, after she refused a request by a town employee to show her face.  The mayor stated he wished “to greet all citizens of his town face to face,” and that he considered it a “citizen’s duty” to show one’s face in a democratic state.  Shortly before the incident, the municipality had refused to process a pending passport application for the woman’s child because, according to Mayor Bernhard, the mother declined to show her face for identification purposes, as required by law, while applying for the passport on behalf of her child.  Bernhard told the newspaper Welt, “For identity verification, we had to see the woman’s face.  She could have gone to a separate room in our town hall.”

In September the city of Pforzheim announced it had reversed a regulation requiring Muslim women wishing to wear a headscarf in their driver’s license photograph to present evidence of their faith through a certificate from their mosque or religious community.  Earlier in the year, a Muslim woman’s tweet about the requirement had generated strong criticism of it on social media.  The new policy required certificates of faith only in cases where there was reasonable doubt about the religious motivation of those seeking to wear a headscarf in the photograph.

In February the AfD put forward a motion requesting the government to introduce legislation in parliament to prohibit full-face veils in public.  Citing the individual rights of Muslim women, the AfD motion stated that wearing a full-face veil was “an expression of the oppression of women” and of conscious distancing from “Western liberal society.”  At year’s end parliament was still debating the motion in committee.

In March the Bavarian Administrative Court rejected the complaint of a judicial trainee in Augsburg who in 2014 had sued to contest a Bavarian Ministry of Justice rule denying judicial trainees the right to wear a headscarf in court.  A lower court had previously sided with the plaintiff in 2016.

In July a majority of the citizens of Kaufbeuren, Bavaria voted in a referendum against leasing (for a symbolic fee) municipal real estate to the local DITIB organization on which to build a mosque.

In March the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster, NRW ruled that an event venue owner could not rent his venue for a Muslim circumcision celebration scheduled for Good Friday.  The ruling reaffirmed a December 2015 ruling by the Administrative Court in Cologne.  The circumcision itself had taken place several weeks before the scheduled celebration and the court ruled that the jubilant nature of the event contradicted the quiet nature of the Christian Good Friday observance, which several federal states, including NRW, legally enforced.

In February the Gelsenkirchen Administrative Court in NRW banned outdoor amplification of the call to prayer via speakers by a local mosque.  Following legal action by nearby residents in 2015, the Muslim community had to stop amplifying the prayer call outside of the mosque’s premises pending a court decision.  The court justified its decision in this specific case with the lack of citizen involvement and dialogue in the city’s first decision to grant the permit for the call to prayer but did not prohibit the call to prayer altogether.  In March the city announced it would appeal the decision prohibiting the amplification.  The city’s lawyer compared the call to prayer with the ringing of church bells and said the court had not respected the religious freedom of the Muslim community.

In October the Federal Labor Court ruled on new guidelines for the rights of religious communities as employers, ruling on a case in which the EKD-owned charity organization Diakonie denied employment to a social worker because she was not a member of a religious community.  Although the job description required applicants to belong to a Christian church, the court ruled that Diakonie could not deny her employment solely on that basis.  The court’s decision stated religious communities could no longer require applicants to belong to a religious community as a condition of employment unless religious communities could demonstrate that membership was required to perform the job.

In March the European Court of Human Rights unanimously held that the country’s courts’ decisions in 2013 to take Twelve Tribes Church children living in Bavaria into state care because of reports that Church members punished their children by caning had not violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In March Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned rising anti-Semitism at schools after Muslim immigrant children bullied a Jewish girl at a Berlin elementary school.  The bullying reportedly included death threats.

In May the NRW Ministry of Schools and Education distributed resources on countering anti-Semitic bullying in schools to all schools and education authorities in the state.  The action followed reports indicating that bullying of Jewish students rose in 2017.  Politicians from the CDU/CSU called for action, including that schools pay more attention to communicating religious tolerance.

In December Hamburg’s parliament passed a resolution to strengthen preventive work against anti-Semitism.  The parliament allocated an additional 300,000 euros ($344,000) for school programs to combat anti-Semitism, including educational visits to former concentration camps, adult education, and anti-discrimination counseling.  The parliament said it would cooperate with Hamburg’s Jewish community and organizations to support their efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and that its efforts would target right-wing extremist groups.

In May the education ministry of Brandenburg, and the education ministries of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate in June, signed declarations of intent with Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel to collaborate on Holocaust education in the states’ schools.  In November Hamburg’s education ministry introduced educational materials on Jewish life from Yad Vashem as part of a broader effort to combat anti-Semitism in schools.  Yad Vashem said it had concluded such agreements with 15 of 16 states in the country.

In June the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government announced plans to reorganize Islamic religious education in public schools.  Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann said that, because of the absence of a single Islamic partner organization, he proposed establishing a Sunni Muslim educational foundation that would serve as a mediator between the state and various Islamic associations.  The state government did not reach a decision on a new model for Islamic religious education and announced it would continue the existing system for an additional school year.

The Alevi Muslim community continued to offer separate religious lessons in schools in eight states for approximately 1,400 students.

In June Berlin Humboldt University, a public university, created an institute for Islamic theology and said it would begin training imams and religion teachers in 2019.  The state of Berlin pledged to provide 13.8 million euros ($15.83 million) in funding for the institute through 2022.  Humboldt University created the institute in cooperation with three Muslim associations – the Central Council of Muslims, Islamic Federation, and Islamic Association of Shia Communities – and the associations were to have a voice in selecting the institute’s professors.  Critics, including student organizations and the Berlin CDU, said they disapproved of the extent of the associations’ control over the institute’s board, or of what they described as the associations’ conservative orientation.

During campaigning for the October Bavarian state elections, the Bavarian AfD distributed posters calling for “Islam-free schools,” which the party explained as a call to end “Islamic education and headscarves in schools.”

The COS continued to report governmental discrimination.  “Sect filters,” which were signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.  According to the COS, in September a Munich school refused to hire a teacher due to his membership in the COS.  The COS said the government also discriminated against firms owned or operated by its members.  According to the COS, Hamburg city officials asked one COS member to sign a “sect filter” when he attempted to purchase land from the city for his company.

In April the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a suit that the mosque association Neukoellner Begegnungsstaette (NBS) had brought against the Berlin OPC in 2017.  NBS had sought to have the Berlin OPC remove the association’s name from its annual report and to stop stating NBS had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.  The court ruled that the Berlin OPC’s statements that NBS had had contacts with the Islamic Community in Germany and that the latter group organized followers of the Muslim Brotherhood were valid.

In May the NRW state chancery spokesperson told media the state government stopped cooperation with DITIB due to the Turkish government’s influence over the group.

In July the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an increase of 75 million euros ($86 million) of government funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors, raising the yearly contribution from 405 million euros ($464.45 million) in 2018 to 480 million euros ($550.46 million) in 2019.  According to the commission, the increased funds would finance additional home care, food support, medicine, and transportation services for Holocaust survivors.

The government continued to subsidize some Jewish groups.  Based on an agreement between the federal government and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the federal government increased its yearly support from 10 to 13 million euros ($11.47 to $14.91 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage, restore the Jewish community, and support integration and social work.  In addition, the federal government provided financial support to the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg, the Rabbi Seminar at the University of Potsdam, and the Leo Baeck Institute, an international research group on the history and culture of German Jewry.

State governments continued to provide funds to Jewish communities and organizations in various amounts, for such purposes as the renovation and construction of synagogues.  The federal government continued to cover 50 percent of maintenance costs for Jewish cemeteries.  State and local police units continued to provide security for synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

In September the NRW government announced a ten-year plan totaling 44 million euros ($50.46 million), beginning in 2018 and ending in 2028, for the modernization and new construction of Jewish facilities and institutions.  The state said funding would begin at three million euros ($3.44 million) and be increased by 200,000 euros ($229,000) annually until reaching the maximum funding level of five million euros ($5.73 million) in 2028.  Separately, NRW again provided three million euros ($3.44 million) to support and upgrade security in Jewish buildings.

On November 8, the city of Dessau-Rosslau in Saxony-Anhalt presented the Jewish community with a piece of land to build a new synagogue in the center of town.  The community received 195,000 euros ($224,000) from the city and 300,000 euros ($344,000) from the state’s lottery commission for the construction of the building, as well as 700,000 euros ($803,000) from the federal government.  The Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Hasselof, welcomed the new synagogue, stating it would increase the visibility of Jewish life in the city.

According to the Humanistic Union, an independent civil liberties organization, total state contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD amounted to approximately 538 million euros ($616.97 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on the federal states’ budgets.

In June the NRW state government’s Center for Political Education organized six one-day information programs in six cities entitled Diverse Islam versus Violence-Prone Salafism:  Opportunities for Intervention and PreventionThe stated goals were to help teachers and educators distinguish between Islam as a religion and what the organizers described as violent Islamist extremists, and to engage with youths vulnerable to religiously based extremism.  Presenters were Muslim and non-Muslim academics, members of NGOs, and state government employees.  Muslim religious leaders did not participate in the programs.

In July the NRW Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees, and Integration awarded 160,000 euros ($183,000) to the Central Council of Muslims in support of its Hands-on Diversity:  Students against anti-Semitism project.

In January the Federal Constitutional Court reversed the 2016 acquittal by the Wuppertal Regional Court of seven members of a self-declared “Sharia Police” on charges of violating the prohibition on wearing uniforms as expressions of a common political opinion.  Dressed in yellow vests marked “Sharia Police,” the men patrolled Wuppertal in September 2014 to counter “non-Muslim behavior.”  The Constitutional Court remanded the case back to the lower court and stated the latter had failed to consider whether the uniforms caused intimidation or were otherwise threatening to the public.  At year’s end the lower court had not scheduled a new trial date.

On July 9, the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and anti-Semitism, in conjunction with several other Jewish organizations in the country, published a “declaration of principles on the fight against anti-Semitism.”  While applauding several “well-intentioned” federal- and state-level public statements and initiatives over the previous months, the declaration called on the government to back up policies with concrete action.  It cited the need to take victims seriously, distinguish anti-Semitism as a specific form of discrimination, and apply the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism.  The signatories called upon the newly appointed federal and state commissioners on anti-Semitism to develop more effective preventative measures to combat it and to learn from the experiences of victims to develop more effective preventive measures.  They also called on federal and state government agencies and publicly funded institutions to explicitly distance themselves from all form of anti-Semitism, including campaigns such as BDS.

Frankfurt Deputy Mayor and City Treasurer Uwe Becker targeted the BDS movement against Israel on numerous occasions and called for a ban of BDS in Germany.  In April Becker said “Frankfurt will, in the future, only work with banks which do not maintain business relations with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”  In June he added that artists who supported the BDS movement were not welcome in Frankfurt and festivals or organizations in Frankfurt supporting BDS or providing a platform to its supporters risked losing city funding.

In September the NRW State Parliament condemned the BDS movement and its calls to boycott Israeli products and companies, as well as Israeli scientists and artists in NRW.  The parliament also requested that all NRW government organizations deny BDS requests to use city, municipality, and county spaces.

In December Jewish community leaders in Duesseldorf said they believe NRW could still do more to combat anti-Semitism, and they found state-level responses to the BDS movement to be insufficient and weak.

On January 1, the government implemented procedures for registering complaints and violations of the law barring hate speech enacted in late 2017.  The procedures stipulated operators of social networks with more than two million users in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, must delete or block “obviously illegal content” within 24 hours after notification or, in more complex cases, within seven days.  Operators must name a representative in the country able to react to complaints within 48 hours.  Operators failing to comply systematically with the requirements were subject to fines of up to 50 million euros ($57.34 million).  By year’s end the government had not penalized any companies under the law.  Anti-Semitism Commissioner of Baden-Wuerttemberg Michael Blume reported the new law had had little effect on the spread of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech, as groups simply chose to use other, less public social media forms such as WhatsApp groups and video game chat rooms not covered by the law.

In March federal Interior Minister Seehofer stated the phrase “Islam is part of Germany,” which former President Christian Wulff and other politicians had popularized, was wrong.  “No.  Islam is not part of Germany,” he said.  Seehofer added that Muslims in the country “are, of course, part of Germany,” but that he did not consider Islam to be a part of the country’s culture.  The minister’s statements led to a public debate on the role of Islam and Muslims in the country.  Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that, while the country was shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, “Now there are four million Muslims living in Germany” who “can live their religion here, too.”  Several Muslim associations criticized the minister’s statements.  Gokay Sofuoglu, chair of the advocacy group Turkish Community in Germany, said, “At a time when there are more and more attacks on mosques and Muslims, it is not a good start if the minister of the interior begins with such a statement.”  He also stated that “it is not his [Seehofer’s] job to decide who belongs to Germany and who does not.”  Addressing Seehofer’s remarks, Islamic Council Chair Burhan Kesici said, “He does not have the decency to withhold his opinion.…It would be better to recognize reality and see Muslims as part of society.  Only then could prejudices be reduced.”  Ayman Mazyek, Chair of the Central Council of Muslims, commented, “Against the backdrop of the mosque fires and the increased Islamophobic attacks, I would have expected the new interior minister to stand behind German Muslims.”

In September Hans Peter Stauch, an AfD state parliament member in Baden-Wuerttemberg, posted a video on Facebook entitled “The Power of the Rothschilds.”  The video included statements that the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust.  Baden-Wuerttemberg’s state commissioner for anti-Semitism and the heads of the state-level Green, SPD, and FDP parties criticized Stauch, saying that he was spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.  Stauch responded that he had only posted the video without commentary and said he was exercising his freedom of speech.

In January AfD Bundestag (federal parliament) member Beatrix von Storch tweeted that Cologne police were appeasing “barbaric, gang-raping, Muslim hordes” when the police tweeted a New Year’s Day greeting in Arabic.  Twitter briefly suspended von Storch’s account.  Thomas Held, spokesman for the Cologne police, confirmed to media that the Cologne police initiated a criminal report against von Storch for suspicion of inciting hatred, stating that this was “a completely normal procedure” which they were “legally obliged” to start upon the suspicion of a criminal offense.  Additionally, approximately 100 private individuals reported von Storch’s tweet to police.  Twitter also deleted a tweet by AfD Parliamentary Caucus Chief Alice Weidel, defending her colleague by using the phrase “imported, marauding, grabbing, beating, knife stabbing migrant mobs.”

In May Weidel argued in a parliamentary debate that the uncontrolled immigration of Muslims endangered the wealth of the country, stating, “Burquas, headscarf girls, subsidized knife men, and other good-for-nothings will not secure our wealth, the economic growth, and most of all our welfare state.”  Representatives of all other parties present in parliament reacted with interjections and booing.  Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble called her to order for “discriminating against all women who wear a headscarf.”

In July a group of AfD party members from Weidel’s Bodensee electoral district in Baden-Wuerttemberg visited the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial in Brandenburg State as part of a trip to Berlin sponsored by the federal press office.  According to the memorial site’s staff, some participants continuously interrupted the guided tour with inappropriate comments, including speech that trivialized Nazi crimes and questioned the existence of gas chambers.  The federal press office stated one participant made anti-Semitic statements.  Neuruppin public prosecutor Wilfried Lehman was investigating the case, and stated in November that his office hoped to complete the investigation by year’s end, and he already had sufficient evidence for one case of Holocaust denial.

On April 26, the Bundestag condemned the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks in the country, and emphasized its support for Israel’s right to exist.  “It is intolerable when Jewish life in Germany is not possible without fear,” said SPD party leader Andrea Nahles.  Volker Kauder (who at the time was CDU/CSU parliamentary caucus leader), said “Everyone has a place in this society,” but that there was no place for anti-Semitism.

In May the Rostock District Court upheld a lower court’s 2016 finding that AfD state Member of Parliament (MP) Holger Arppe was guilty of hate speech against Muslims for comments he wrote on the right-wing website Politically Incorrect in 2010, while using a pseudonym.  The court increased Arppe’s fine from 6,300 to 9,000 euros (from $7,200 to $10,300).

On February 8, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court found the creator of the banned Altermedia neo-Nazi website guilty of leadership in a criminal association and inciting racial hatred and sentenced him to two and a half years in prison.  Three women, charged with supporting the website and incitement, were convicted and received suspended sentences ranging from eight months to two years.  The court declared the platform a criminal organization.  It had published content that denied the Holocaust and targeted Jews, immigrants, and foreigners; the federal interior minister closed it in 2016.

According to the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), political parties continued to distance themselves from Islamic associations because they were concerned foreign nations and organizations could influence Muslims with money and by sending radical imams to mosques in the country.

As part of the coalition agreement between the ruling CDU/CSU and SPD parties, the government agreed to continue the German Islam Conference dialogue between representatives of the government and Muslims in the country, which began in 2006.  The conference’s aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population in the country, give greater recognition to Muslims’ contributions to society, and, in the absence of a central organization representing all Muslims in the country, further develop partnerships between the government and Islamic organizations.  In November the government held its fourth German Islam Conference, a two-day conference with 240 participants.  Conference attendees included representatives of Muslim associations, communities, scholars, and activists.  Interior Minister Seehofer called on Muslim communities to cut their ties with sources of foreign funding and influence, develop their own training systems for the country’s imams, and increase their cooperation with the country’s government.  Federal Integration Commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz, reiterating concerns about the foreign financing of the country’s mosques, said, “Those who want to be part of Germany as a Muslim organization cannot remain part of Ankara.”

In January Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian heritage, proposed the government require that “everybody living in this country” visit Nazi concentration camp memorials at least once.  She added that newly arrived immigrants should visit the memorials as part of programs to integrate them into society, in order to sensitize them to Nazi crimes against Jews and combat anti-Semitism.  The country’s Central Council of Jews and the World Jewish Congress endorsed the proposal.  Council President Josef Schuster told Deutschlandfunk Radio that migrants who had fled or been expelled from their home countries could develop empathy by visiting such memorials.  The proposal generated debate and was not adopted.  Critics said such visits should be voluntary and preceded by prior education about the Holocaust.  Gunter Morsch, Director of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation and head of the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, said, “It seems to me an illusion to believe that such a visit can help to counter a strongly entrenched prejudice.”

In March NRW Minister-President Laschet hosted an iftar at the state chancery, the first NRW minister-president to do so.

The government created the position of federal commissioner for worldwide religious freedom within the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and in April it appointed MP Markus Gruebel as the first commissioner.  Gruebel stated the government wanted to send a clear signal on the importance it places on religious freedom and the strengthening of common values.

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  Most anti-Christian incidents involved actions by Muslim migrants against migrant converts.  According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes committed during the year – including 69 incidents involving violence – a 20 percent increase over the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes, of which 37 were violent, reported in 2017.  The interior ministry attributed 93 percent of the incidents in 2017 to the far right but stated its methodology was not exact.

The federal OPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents decreased from 31 in 2016 to 28 in 2017.  It noted membership in neo-Nazi groups remained steady at approximately 6,000 persons.

NGO RIAS, to which victims can report anti-Semitic incidents independently of filing charges with police, reported 527 anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin in the first six months of the year, including 18 involving violence or attempted violence, compared with 514 incidents over the same period a year earlier.  RIAS used different categories than official police statistics and counted anti-Semitic incidents that did not rise to the level of a criminal offense, such as “hurtful behavior.”

According to the anti-Semitism commissioner in Bavaria, incidents of anti-Semitism were increasing in the state.  He said perpetrators were from both the extreme left and right, as well as the Muslim community.

In 2017, the first year in which authorities maintained a tally of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents, the Ministry of Interior registered 1,075 incidents against Muslims and Muslim institutions, such as mosques or community centers, including 56 attacks involving bodily harm.  Other recorded infractions included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive behavior in the street.  The ministry also recorded approximately 90 demonstrations against the “Islamization of Germany.”

The Ministry of Interior counted 129 incidents against Christians in 2017, including 34 cases involving violence.  It classified a majority of these incidents as motivated by religious ideology.  In at least 14 cases, the victims were refugees.  Media reported that refugees who had converted from Islam to Christianity experienced aggression from Muslim refugees, especially if they were housed in the same refugee shelter.

In February an unknown perpetrator fired shots with an air gun from a high-rise building towards a mosque in Halle and injured a Syrian man.  Federal Immigration Commissioner Aydan Oezoguz (SPD) visited the site to talk to members of the Muslim community.  In June one or more unidentified individuals fired shots from an air gun near the same mosque that hit a man of Syrian origin.  Police investigated, but by year’s end had not identified a suspect in either incident.

On June 3, according to RIAS, three men accosted four teenagers listening to an Israeli song on a cell phone at a subway station in Berlin.  The men asked the cell phone owner if he was Jewish.  When he said yes, they told him they were from Gaza City, that Jews had been killing children for 70 years, and that if he showed up again they would slit his throat, calling him a [expletive] Jew.  The men then tried to push the cell phone owner onto the subway tracks and injured one of the other youths with broken glass.  The attackers fled when police appeared.  There were no arrests.

In September the president of the Jewish amateur sports club Makkabi Germany, Alon Meyer, said club members increasingly faced anti-Semitic abuse from other competitors during sporting events, ranging from insults to physical violence and knife attacks.  According to Meyer, insults included “filthy Jew” and “Jews into the gas.”  He added, “It’s not stopping at insulting, it will be fisticuffs, it will be knife attacks.”  Meyer attributed the attacks mostly to an increase in migrants and refugees with a Muslim-Arab background.

In February the regional court in Traunstein, Bavaria sentenced an Afghan man to life in prison.  The court found the man guilty of stabbing a woman to death in 2017, in part because she had converted from Islam to Christianity.  According to the court, the attacker killed the victim, who was also from Afghanistan, in front of her young sons.

On August 31, the Dresden District Court convicted a man charged with bombing a mosque in 2016 of attempted murder, arson, and causing a bomb explosion and sentenced him to nine years and eight months in prison.

In June police reported three men with extreme far-right views attacked a Jewish man from Dortmund, attempting to punch him in the head and insulting him.  The victim said he encountered the attackers for a second time that same day, and they again insulted and threatened him and made the Nazi salute.  The Dortmund police intelligence service published a call for witness accounts and launched an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.  Three days earlier, the victim said one of the three men had pushed him and directed anti-Semitic insults at him.  At that time, police had verified the identities of alleged perpetrator and victim and were investigating the former for possible charges, including incitement to violence.

In July in Bonn, a 20-year old citizen of Palestinian descent assaulted a visiting Israeli professor from Johns Hopkins University.  The attacker, upon seeing the professor, shouted “No Jews in Germany!” and then knocked the yarmulke off his head.  When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene.  The police mistakenly believed the victim to be the attacker and used force to detain him.  Police later apprehended the alleged perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm.  They later released him.  The Cologne police opened an internal investigation of the Bonn police actions in the incident, and the police officers involved were assigned to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results.

In April a group of three men reportedly insulted two men wearing yarmulkes across a street in Berlin.  In court, the victims stated their attackers had shouted insults at them in Arabic.  A video then showed one of the perpetrators, a Syrian refugee, crossing the street towards one victim, hitting him with a belt, and screaming the Arabic word for Jew.  The victim was an Arab-Israeli who had received the yarmulke as a gift.  In June the local court in Berlin-Tiergarten sentenced the attacker to four weeks in jail.  Since the man had been in pretrial detention for two months, authorities set him free immediately, as they considered the sentence served.  The man sought monetary compensation for the excess time he had served in prison, but authorities denied his claim.  While his lawyer initially announced in July he would appeal the decision not to compensate him, the lawyer withdrew the appeal in October.

On August 26, the AfD and the group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) organized a peaceful rally in Chemnitz after the killing of a citizen, reportedly by two refugees from Syria and Iraq.  Later that day, approximately 800 persons marched in another demonstration in downtown Chemnitz and reportedly shouted anti-immigrant slogans, attempted to attack persons who appeared to be migrants, and clashed with police.  On August 27, a group of 12 individuals who yelled “Get out of Germany, you Jewish pig” attacked the Jewish owner of the Schalom restaurant in Chemnitz, throwing rocks and bottles at the restaurant and injuring the owner, before running away.  At year’s end Chemnitz police were still investigating the case.  Saxony Minister-President Michael Kretschmer strongly condemned the attack, which occurred after social unrest in the city.  The same day, according to press reports, approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counterdemonstrators marched in Chemnitz.  Newscasts showed demonstrators shouting anti-immigrant slogans and making the Nazi salute.  Two police and 18 demonstrators were injured.  Because ethnicity and religion are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the demonstrations as being solely based on religious identity.

In May a 67-year-old man allegedly hit a woman wearing a headscarf in the face at a bus stop in Berlin.  The man had asked the woman about the headscarf, and she had told him she was a Muslim and liked to wear it.  Police identified a suspect and opened an investigation.

In August the Berlin-Tiergarten local court convicted a 68-year-old woman of committing deliberate bodily harm and insult for hitting a Muslim woman in the face and trying to rip off her headscarf in an incident in January.  The victim and her daughter managed to detain the perpetrator until police arrived.  The court fined the perpetrator 2,400 euros ($2,800).

In separate incidents during one week in March, unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at a mosque in Berlin, at a Turkish club in Meschede, and at a Turkish greengrocer in Itzehoe.  The newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that, between mid-January and mid-March, individuals carried out 26 attacks on mosques, of which 18 belonged to DITIB.  According to the same newspaper, after an attack with Molotov cocktails on a building belonging to the Muslim group Milli Gorus in Laufen-am-Neckar in March, what appeared to be anti-Turkish Kurds said in an online video the attacks were in retaliation for Turkish army raids against the northern Syrian city of Afrin.  In a joint statement, DITIB, the Central Council of Muslims, and the Islamic Council expressed the Muslim community’s perception that politicians and the public were not taking their concerns about their safety and that of their mosques seriously.  At year’s end authorities continued to investigate these incidents and had made no arrests.

A Berlin-based Jewish-Israeli restaurant owner who appeared in a 2017 video that received widespread online attention showing him as the target of verbal anti-Semitic aggression received death threats and hate mail, and individuals threw firecrackers at his restaurant.  According to a media report in September, hate mail he received filled 31 pages.  Police investigated but could not identify any of those sending death threats.  In July the man who had initiated the original diatribe against the restaurant owner in 2017 received a seven months’ suspended prison sentence.

The Duesseldorf Jewish Community said attendance at two Jewish schools it sponsored in the city had spiked up due to increased anti-Semitism in schools around Duesseldorf.  According to the group, the schools, which the NRW government funded, had been established to enable Jewish students to strengthen their Jewish identity.  Most students, however, were enrolling because they sought a safe haven from increased bullying due to their Jewish faith.  According to NRW Ministry of Education officials, much anti-Semitism in schools came from students’ parents and media, and anti-Semitism among Muslim children was particularly difficult to change.

The Catholic Church and the EKD continued to oppose the COS publicly.  “Sect commissioners” or “departments on sects and worldview matters” of the EKD and the Catholic Church investigated “sects and cults” and publicized what they considered to be the dangers of these groups.  On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views warned the public about what it said were the dangers posed by multiple religious groups, including the COS, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Bhagwan-Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Universal Life, and continued to produce literature criticizing these groups.

A study on discrimination against migrants in the labor market by the Scientific Center Berlin for Social Research released in June reported that Muslims experienced discrimination when looking for a job.  According to the study, which included more than 6,000 fictitious job applications, Muslim job applicants were 7 percent less likely to receive a positive answer than Christian applicants with the same qualifications.

In April the Center to Combat Antidiscrimination and Counselling on Racism and Anti-Semitism (SABRA) held an all-day conference on Anti-Semitism and Refugees.  The Duesseldorf Jewish Community established SABRA in 2017 as a new service to combat anti-Semitism.  SABRA is part of a network of state government-supported organizations throughout NRW that provide services to immigrants to help them integrate into society.  Conference participants stated that, although anti-Semitism had always been present in the country, the influx of a large number of mostly Muslim refugees exacerbated anti-Semitism.  The program focused on supporting individuals who were victims of anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination by providing counseling and legal services and helping to resolve cases of discrimination; sponsoring prevention programs in schools; and monitoring incidents of anti-Semitism throughout the state.  SABRA also provided support for victims of anti-Semitic incidents that did not meet the threshold for filing criminal charges.

In November Abraham Lehrer, Vice President of the Central Council of Jews, told media that he expected anti-Semitism among Arab or Muslim immigrants to increase and called for combating anti-Semitism through education.  Lehrer said, “Many of these people were influenced by regimes in which anti-Semitism is part of the rationale of the state and the Jewish state is denied the right to existence.”  As a remedy, Lehrer proposed integration courses tailored to immigrants’ country of origin, with intensive teaching of such values as democracy and the treatment of women in society.

In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism.  EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 1,233 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of Germany responded to the online survey.  Twenty-nine percent said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 41 percent reported being harassed over the same period.  Thirty-seven percent said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief.  Eighty-nine percent said anti-Semitism had increased during the previous five years.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 German-speaking residents released in September by the Social Science Institute of the Protestant Church, 54 percent did not agree with the statement that “Islam fits into German society,” and 31 percent agreed.  While 69 percent agreed that Muslims were part of everyday life in the country, only 27 percent said they were well or very well informed about Islam.  A third of respondents approved of Islamic religious instruction in schools.

PEGIDA continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden.  Journalists said PEGIDA supporters pushed and threatened them when they were reporting on the demonstrations.  On September 3, police detained a PEGIDA demonstrator who had allegedly attacked a journalist, according to Deutschlandfunk online.  On September 24, several PEGIDA demonstrators attacked two journalists, hitting one reporter in the face and kicking the other, while other PEGIDA supporters stood nearby and cheered, according to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.  Some members of the crowd then reportedly helped the perpetrators escape.  Amid calls to curb immigration, PEGIDA supporters regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wear religious head coverings.

The number of participants at PEGIDA marches remained constant at approximately 1,500-2,000 protesters per rally, according to several media reports.  An exception was the October 21 rally in Dresden, when 4,500 supporters marked the group’s fourth anniversary.  On the same day in Dresden, approximately 10,000 persons marched in support of tolerance and against PEGIDA.  Among the participants in the counterdemonstration were Saxony Minister-President Kretschmer, Dresden Mayor Dirk Hilbert, and several state ministers.  The October 21 demonstrations were largely peaceful, but police reported five incidents of assault.  Early in the year AfD parliamentarians gave multiple speeches at PEGIDA rallies.  In January the magazine Der Spiegel cited AfD Bundestag member Siegbert Droese as stating that in Saxony there was close cooperation between his party and PEGIDA.

In what organizers said was a sign of solidarity with Jews in Germany, hundreds of persons wearing yarmulkes demonstrated against anti-Semitism in several cities around the country, including in Berlin, Cologne, Erfurt, Magdeburg, and Potsdam, in April and May.  During the Berlin demonstration, where there were approximately 2,500 participants, authorities reported incidents in which counterprotesters spit on demonstrators, called them terrorists, and violently removed an Israeli banner.

Between May and August Realitaet Islam (Reality Islam), a group that said it aimed to strengthen the Islamic identity of Muslims in the country, campaigned in Frankfurt and other cities in Hesse against a headscarf ban.  The group said it targeted young Muslims and had collected more than 140,000 signatures from throughout the country.  The Hesse state OPC stated to media on August 29 that, while the campaign itself was not illegal, the group rejected the country’s liberal democratic order and was striving for a theocracy, and a “high Islamic radicalization potential” for the group “could not be excluded.”

On January 17, approximately 300 persons demonstrated against the construction of a mosque by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt.  The AfD leadership in Thuringia supported the demonstration, and state AfD Chairperson Bjoern Hoecke said the mosque’s construction was “part of a long-standing land grab project.”  Mosque opponents subsequently organized a series of smaller demonstrations against the construction.  For example, in June David Koeckert, who press reported was a former member of the National Democratic Party, widely described as a neo-Nazi group, organized an event at an Erfurt market where protestors staged a fake execution, shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) and pretending to cut a woman’s throat using imitation blood.  Left Party state MP Steffen Dittes called the act disgusting.  According to police, authorities filed charges against the organizers for insult and damage to property.

In September demonstrators against the construction of the mosque wore masks depicting what they considered to be stereotypical Middle Eastern faces and “Arab” garb.  Numbering fewer than 20 participants, the demonstrators also marched in front of Green Party state MP Astrid Rothe-Beinlich’s home.  Rothe-Beinlich criticized local authorities for authorizing a demonstration directly in front of her house, which she described as a personal threat.  Authorities permitted the masks’ use, stating there was no violation of the ban on face coverings during demonstrations, because protestors could be identified with their identification documents.  Critics stated there was no exception to the ban on face coverings during demonstrations.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt moved forward with the construction and celebrated the laying of the foundation stone on November 13.  The ceremony was accompanied by loud protests from approximately 60 opponents of the mosque, as well as a counterdemonstration by persons calling for religious freedom and tolerance.

Construction of a mosque in Sulzbach, Saarland was ongoing at year’s end.  The citizen’s group Sulzbach wehrt sich (Sulzback Fights Back) continued to protest the construction of the mosque.  In April the group organized a protest as well as a concert with the band Kategorie C/Hungrige Wolfe that the OPC said it was monitoring for its connection to right wing extremists.  The city tried to prevent the concert in a municipal building, stating the group had misled it in registering the event without the band’s name.  The Saarland Higher Administrative Court ruled in April the city had to allow the concert to take place since it could not show sufficient cause for cancelling it.  Approximately 200 representatives of political parties, trade unions, and churches protested against the concert.

In June Ruhrtriennale, a cultural festival receiving state financial support in NRW, invited the Scottish band Young Fathers to play a concert.  The private company Kultur Ruhr GmbH organizing the festival said it cancelled the appearance when it learned the band supported the BDS movement.  The organizers stated they later reversed their decision and reinvited the band so they could publicly explain their views, but the band declined.  State Minister of Culture and Science Isabel Pfeiffer-Poensgen criticized the organizer’s reinvitation of the band in a press statement, and the minister-president cancelled his attendance.  Jewish organizations criticized the scheduling of a panel discussion at the festival about the BDS debate because it took place on the Sabbath and featured Jewish artists who supported BDS.  A Jewish activist, Malca Goldstein-Wolf, organized a demonstration headlined “No support for BDS with taxpayers’ money.”  The demonstration took place in Bochum on August 18, and there were approximately 250 participants.

In August the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called for a boycott of the Berlin Pop-Kultur Festival, and several artists from the United Kingdom and the United States cancelled their appearances.  The Israeli embassy had supported the festival with 1,200 euros ($1,400) and appeared on the festival’s website as a “partner.”  During the festival, the BDS movement put up posters in Berlin that mimicked the festival’s logo, stating “pop culture – sponsored by apartheid.”  BDS activists also disrupted the festival’s opening event.

According to a study the Technical University of Berlin issued in July, anti-Semitic online hate speech reached record levels on social media, blogs, websites’ comment sections, and thematically unrelated websites and online forums.  The researchers stated that, since online communication was becoming more important, acceptance of anti-Semitism could increase.  The study, which distinguished between anti-Semitism and political criticism of Israel, evaluated 30,000 German language online statements made between 2014 and 2018 on Twitter, Facebook, and the comment sections of mainstream media outlets.  The study also evaluated 20,000 emails sent to the Israeli embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.  According to the report authors, between 2007 and 2017, anti-Semitic content in the texts had tripled “in some instances.”  The study identified an increased use of comparisons of Israel to Nazis; fantasies of violence targeting Jews, e.g., references to asphyxiating Jews in pig excrement and to hunting and killings Jews; and dehumanizing or demonizing characterizations of Jews, such as “pest,” “cancer,” or “filth.”  Almost half of the texts used centuries-old anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as portraying Jews as strangers, usurers, exploiters, vindictive intriguers, blood cult practitioners, robbers, and murderers.  According to the authors, anti-Semitism related to Israel was encountered in a third of all texts.

In April the German Music Federation awarded rappers Farid Bang and Kollegah, whose songs include anti-Semitic lyrics, the country’s Echo music award based on high record sales.  Civil society groups, artists, politicians, and Jewish groups criticized the award.  Several musicians who were past recipients of the Echo, returned their awards in protest, and singer Peter Maffay and Foreign Minister Maas both said awarding the prize on Holocaust Remembrance Day was “shameful.”  After the award ceremony, 11 persons reported the rappers to police for “incitement of hatred.”  In June the Duesseldorf public prosecutor’s office declined to prosecute them.  The Duesseldorf prosecutor stated that, while their songs contained anti-Semitic and misogynist lyrics, the lyrics were characteristic of their genre and a form of protected artistic freedom.  Following the controversy, the federation revoked the Echo prize given to Farid Bang and Kollegah, and the organizers announced they would discontinue the award.

In April a satirical play based on Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf was performed in Constance, Baden-Wuerttemberg.  The play’s organizers promised free entry to spectators who wore the swastika, and those who paid for a ticket had to wear a Star of David “as a sign of solidarity with the victims of Nazi barbarism.”  Several legal complaints were filed against the theater.  Although the law prohibits the public display of Nazi symbols and several legal complaints were reportedly filed against the theater, local prosecutors allowed the theater to present the play and allow free entry for those wearing swastikas, citing free speech laws that permit artistic performances.  The region’s German-Israeli Society called for a boycott of the play.

On April 20, approximately 1,300 neo-Nazis gathered in the town of Ostritz in Saxony to commemorate Hitler’s birthday.  Thorsten Heise, chairman of the National Democratic Party of Germany, organized the event.  On the same date, also in Ostritz, opponents held a peace festival, a counterrally of approximately the same size.  Police were present in force, and both events were largely peaceful.  According to press reports, one person was slightly injured during scuffles between the opposing groups, and police detained one man for making the Nazi salute.  The same organizers organized a neo-Nazi Shield and Sword (SS) rock festival in Ostritz on November 1-4.  In another peace festival, approximately 3,000 opponents protested again.  Police stopped another right-wing rock concert in Ostritz on December 1, after neighbors reported hearing the participants yell the Nazi slogan, “Sieg Heil.”  Authorities were investigating the incident at year’s end.

On September 21, an estimated 100 neo-Nazis rallied in Dortmund, NRW, chanting anti-Semitic slogans, such as, “He who loves Germany is anti-Semitic,” and carrying symbols such as the “Reich” flag.

At a Unification Day demonstration on October 3 in Berlin with approximately 2,000 participants, media reported a few participants performed the Nazi salute, and several dozen displayed neo-Nazi tattoos, inscriptions on their clothes, or posters.  Several counterdemonstrations with a similar total number of participants took place in Berlin at the same time.  All the demonstrations were peaceful.

In May authorities arrested 89-year-old Ursula Haverbeck after she failed to appear to serve her prison sentence for Holocaust denial.  In 2017, the Regional Court Verden sentenced Haverbeck to two years’ imprisonment after convicting her on eight counts of incitement of hate.  In February the Celle Higher Regional Court rejected her appeal.  In August the Federal Constitutional Court refused to accept her complaint that Holocaust denial was covered by the protected constitutional right of freedom of expression and not a punishable offense.  At year’s end, Haverbeck was serving her sentence and publishing messages from prison on her website, Freedom for Ursula.

In May unknown perpetrators spray-painted a swastika on a house in the town of Kirchhain in Hesse and covered commemorative cobblestones for Nazi victims (Stolpersteine) with black paint.

According to state authorities and local media, religious establishments in Ulm in Baden-Wuerttemberg experienced increased vandalism over the course of the year.  In September unknown individuals painted swastikas and other pro-Nazi symbols or writing on the door and pews of the Protestant cathedral in Ulm.  State authorities said they had found similar anti-Semitic graffiti in Ulm and the surrounding area in the preceding months, including at a local synagogue and a Turkish mosque.

In September unknown persons targeted the Al-Nour Mosque in Hamburg, just before its opening, with anti-Muslim graffiti.  The mosque was converted from a former Protestant church.  According to a mosque official, the mosque had held open days for city residents in an effort to engage with non-Muslims and be as transparent as possible with the project.

In February the Duesseldorf Memorial and Education Center, a museum, research center, and archive of the Holocaust, started a research project aimed at identifying the number of victims in NRW of the November 1938 Pogromnacht (Kristallnacht) pogrom, as well as how the victims had died.  The center published a report of its findings on the 80th anniversary of the pogrom, on November 9.  The report detailed the cases of the approximately 127 persons from NRW who lost their lives as a result of the pogroms.

According to local officials, legal proceedings against a bus driver in Emden, Lower Saxony for refusing a pregnant woman wearing a full-face veil onto his bus on three occasions, were continuing at year’s

In May Hamburg’s Jewish Community ordained five rabbis, its first ordination since World War II.  Hamburg Mayor and Minister-President Peter Tschentscher (SPD) attended the ceremony.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to engage closely with the government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance.  Embassy officials regularly met with the Ministry of Interior’s federal government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.  Consulate general officials in Frankfurt and Munich met with the Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria commissioners for anti-Semitism to express concern about anti-Semitism and discuss ways of ensuring anti-Semitic incidents were correctly recorded.

Embassy and consulate general representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups about their concerns related to freedom of worship.  Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns about what they characterized as the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism through the country’s changing political landscape (for example, the cooperation of the AfD with extreme right groups, especially in Chemnitz), the rise of the BDS movement, and concern that refugees and other migrants might be bringing concepts of anti-Semitism into the country.  Embassy and consulate general representatives also discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and tolerance with the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant churches; COS; ZMD; Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the Central Council of Jews in Germany; Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Alevi Muslims; Council of Religions Frankfurt; Jehovah’s Witnesses; and human rights NGOs.

In January the Charge d’Affaires met with the head representative of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Jewish Claims Conference) in Frankfurt am Main to discuss the status of claims negotiations.

In March the embassy sponsored the visit of 11 young Muslim leaders from Berlin and Heilbronn to participate in a program in the United States on community outreach and engagement.  Program topics included community efforts to combat violent extremism, particularly of Muslim youth, strengthening civil society and citizen participation, combating hate speech, and developing leadership skills to connect with and engage Muslim youth.

The embassy funded the participation of a U.S. photographer in a photography project titled A World of Faith – 4 Perspectives on Religion, in which four photographers presented pictures highlighting aspects of the beliefs of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  A display of the project at a Berlin art gallery in January and February encouraged interreligious dialogue among visitors and media.  During a visit to the exhibition, the Charge d’Affaires stressed to organizers the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and commended the gallery and participating photographers for their efforts to promote understanding among people of different faiths.

To commemorate Religious Freedom Day on January 16, the Charge d’Affaires visited the photography exhibition Religion behind Bars that discussed religiosity in prison.  The embassy supported the exhibition with a travel fund for one of the photographers.  During the visit, the Charge stressed the importance of religious tolerance and freedom of religion.

On April 18, the Charge d’Affaires hosted a Celebrate Diversity Month reception for approximately 100 religious, government, and civil society leaders from a variety of backgrounds to encourage them to find common ground and engage in productive dialogue over shared values.  In his remarks, the Charge spoke of religious diversity and freedom.

In June the Ambassador discussed Jewish life in the country and the community’s concerns about anti-Semitism and intolerance with Rabbi Gesa Ederberg of the New Synagogue on Oranienburger Street in Berlin and Rabbi Joshua Spinner, Executive Vice President of the Ronald Lauder Foundation in the country.

In July the Ambassador met with the Kreuzberger Initiative against anti-Semitism (KIGA), a Berlin-based NGO that trains students from Kreuzberg (a neighborhood with a high number of Muslim immigrants) to work with students and talk to school classes to promote tolerance and combat anti-Semitism.

In September the Ambassador hosted a screening of Yezidi activist Duezen Tekkal’s documentary Hawar – My Journey to Genocide, which focused on the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yezidi people in Iraq in 2014.  The Ambassador delivered remarks on the importance of religious freedom and commended the work that Tekkal and fellow Yezidi activist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nadia Murad have done to highlight abuses by ISIS.  The Ambassador said the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government’s efforts to resettle approximately 2,500 Yezidi women and children were “courageous,” and cited it as an example of Germany’s commitment to defend religious freedom.

In October the Ambassador hosted a 20th anniversary celebration in honor of international Jewish NGO AJC’s Berlin Ramer Institute.  In his speech, the Ambassador highlighted the significance of religious freedom and efforts to combat anti-Semitism.  He stressed the importance of German government restitution of Jewish property seized in World War II, compensation for Holocaust survivors, and promotion of Holocaust education.

In October the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues visited Berlin and Magdeburg and met with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss how to best combat anti-Semitism.  In Magdeburg, the special envoy attended a board meeting of the German Lost Art Foundation, which focused on provenance research for art and cultural assets the Nazis confiscated from Jews.

On November 9, the 80th anniversary of the Pogromnacht (Kristallnacht) pogrom, the Ambassador met with the head of Deutsche Bahn’s (German Railway’s) historical section at the Track 17 memorial, one of three deportation points for Berlin Jews during World War II, and toured the memorial.  Embassy officials also cleaned defaced commemorative cobblestones for Nazi victims (Stolpersteine) throughout Berlin.

In November the Ambassador participated in a roundtable with KIGA peer trainers and program participants to discuss the importance of tolerance and religious freedom.  The Ambassador also listened to the participants’ views on KIGA’s training, as well as their experiences with combatting anti-Semitism in their communities.

On November 13, the U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and State Secretary at the German Ministry of Finance Rolf Bosinger hosted a discussion at the AJC’s Berlin Ramer Institute on the U.S. Treasury’s role in assisting Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, as well on Germany’s contributions to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

In November the Charge d’Affaires delivered remarks on religious freedom and the importance of restitution for Holocaust victims and their heirs at the German Lost Art Foundation’s Conference.  On the margins of the conference, the German government signed a joint declaration with the U.S. government that reaffirmed both governments’ commitment to find just and fair solutions for the return of stolen artwork to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

On December 2, the Ambassador gave remarks on religious tolerance and nondiscrimination at an embassy reception to mark Hanukkah, in advance of an annual menorah lighting ceremony in central Berlin.

The embassy and consulates general provided small cash grants to support programs promoting religious tolerance, such as the Jewish Cultural Days in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, Jewish Week in Leipzig, Saxony, and Yiddish Summer in Weimar, Thuringia.  These events featured music, dancing, film screenings, exhibitions, and speakers that raised awareness about the Jewish community and Jewish culture.

Iraq

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the official religion and states no law may be enacted contradicting the “established provisions of Islam.”  The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief and practice for Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, and Sabean-Mandeans, but not for followers of other religions or atheists.  The law prohibits the practice of the Baha’i Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.  The constitution also provides for freedom from religious coercion and requires the government to maintain the sanctity of religious sites.  Institutional and societal restrictions on freedom of religion as well as violence against minority groups remained widespread, according to religious leaders and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) focused on religious freedom.  NGO leaders said the government continued to use the antiterrorism law as a pretext for detaining individuals without due process.  Community leaders continued to state forced conversion was the de facto outcome of the national identity card law mandating children with only one Muslim parent, even children born as a result of rape, be listed as Muslim.  Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) security forces closed some roads between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) and areas subject to territorial disputes between the KRG and the country’s central government for much of the year, impeding the movement of Yezidis between Dohuk Province and the Sinjar area.  Most roads were reopened by year’s end.  Yezidis, Christian leaders, and NGOs reported harassment and abuses by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored organization composed of more than 40 mostly Shia militias, which also includes Sunni and other minority units originally formed to combat ISIS.  Christians reported harassment and abuse at numerous PMF-operated checkpoints, restricting their movement in and around several Christian towns on the Ninewa Plain.  Christians in PMF-controlled towns reported harassment of Christian women by PMF members.  They also said elements of the central government in Baghdad were attempting to facilitate demographic change by providing land and housing for Shia and Sunni Muslims to move into traditionally Christian areas.  Representatives of minority religious communities said the central government did not generally interfere with religious observances, but some faced harassment and restrictions from local authorities.  Advocacy groups and religious minority representatives reported increased emigration.

According to Yazda, an NGO focused on Yezidi issues, more than 3,000 Yezidis still remained missing following ISIS’s assault on northern Iraq in 2014.  In November the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the United Nations Human Rights Office documented the existence of 202 mass graves in the provinces of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, and Anbar, and cautioned that there may be “many more.”  The UN offices stated they believed the graves held anywhere from eight to as many as “thousands” of bodies.  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “These graves contain the remains of those mercilessly killed for not conforming to [ISIS’s] twisted ideology and rule, including ethnic and religious minorities.”

Although according to media and human rights organizations security conditions in many parts of the country improved somewhat from 2017, there were continued reports of societal violence, mainly by sectarian armed groups.  Non-Muslim minorities reported continued abductions, threats, pressure, and harassment to force them to observe Islamic customs.  On July 23, three gunmen, who KRG authorities said had links to a terrorist group, forcibly entered a government building in downtown Erbil.  Unable to gain entry to the Erbil governor’s office, they killed a Christian employee whom authorities believed was targeted because of his religion, before police killed the attackers.  In March local media reported the killing of a Christian family in Baghdad.  Some Christian leaders, including Chaldean Catholic Cardinal Louis Sako, said they considered the killing a hate crime; others said the killers sought to force Christian owners of prime real estate to surrender their property.  In February several gunman shot and killed a Christian man in front of his house in Baghdad.  According to Christian sources, the victim had received threats to stop working in the alcohol business near a Muslim neighborhood.  Sabean-Mandean leaders continued to report threats, abuses, and robberies.  In Friday sermons, Shia religious and government leaders urged PMF volunteers not to commit such abuses.  Armed groups continued to target Sunnis for execution-style killings and the destruction of homes and businesses.  Christian leaders in the Ninewa Plain reported multiple instances of theft and harassment of Christians by the PMF.

The U.S. government continued to raise religious freedom concerns at the highest levels in the country through frequent meetings with senior government officials, speeches, coordination groups, and targeted assistance programs for stabilization projects.  Visits by the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator, representatives of the office of the Vice President, and other senior U.S. officials to minority areas reinforced the U.S. government’s commitment to preserve and support religious diversity through increased support to minority communities.  The Ambassador and other embassy and consulates general officials continued to meet regularly with national and regional government officials, members of parliament, parliamentary committees, and Shia, Sunni, and minority group representatives, to emphasize the need for the security, full inclusion, tolerance, and protection of the rights of religious minorities.  The Department of State issued a press statement on U.S. support for vulnerable minorities in Iraq on June 11, saying, “This Administration has made the protection of Iraq’s diversity of faiths and its threatened religious minorities a top and unceasing priority.  Those who survived genocide, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities, as well as those who perished as a result of these acts, deserve nothing less.”  The United States announced over $178 million in new U.S. foreign assistance to support ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq on October 16.  On December 11, President Trump signed the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act.  The act promotes justice for the victims and survivors of those minority communities, particularly Yazidis and Christians, targeted by ISIS.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 40.2 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to 2010 government statistics, the most recent available, 97 percent of the population is Muslim.  Shia Muslims, predominantly Arabs but also including Turkoman, Faili (Shia) Kurds, and others, constitute 55 to 60 percent of the population, while Sunni Muslims are approximately 40 percent of the population.  Of Sunnis, Sunni Kurds constitute 15 percent, Sunni Arabs 24 percent, and Sunni Turkomans the remaining 1 percent.  Shia, although predominantly located in the south and east, are the majority in Baghdad and have communities in most parts of the country.  Sunnis form the majority in the west, center, and north of the country.

Christian leaders estimate there are fewer than 250,000 Christians remaining in the country, with the largest population – at least 200,000 – living in the Ninewa Plain and the IKR.  The Christian population has declined over the past 16 years from a pre-2002 population estimate of between 800,000 and 1.4 million persons.  Approximately 67 percent of Christians are Chaldean Catholics (an Eastern Rite of the Roman Catholic Church), and nearly 20 percent are members of the Assyrian Church of the East.  The remainder are Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Anglican and other Protestants.  There are approximately 2,000 registered members of evangelical Christian churches in the IKR, while an unknown number, mostly converts from Islam, practice the religion secretly.

Yezidi leaders report most of the 400,000 to 500,000 Yezidis in the country reside in the north, and approximately 360,000 remain displaced.  Estimates of the size of the Sabean-Mandean community vary.  According to Sabean-Mandean leaders, 10,000 remain in the country, mainly in the south with between 750 and 1,000 in the IKR and Baghdad.  Baha’i leaders report fewer than 2,000 members, spread throughout the country in small groups, including approximately 500 in the IKR.  The Shabak number between 350,000 and 400,000, three-fourths of whom are Shia and the rest Sunni; most are located in Ninewa.  Armenian leaders report a population of approximately 7,000 Armenian Christians.  According to Kaka’i (also known as Yarsani) activists, their community has approximately 120,000 to 150,000 members, traditionally located in the Ninewa Plain and in villages southeast of Kirkuk, as well as in Diyala and Erbil.  The Jewish representative in the KRG Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs (MERA) reports 70 to 80 Jewish families reside in the IKR, though he noted that some Jewish families do not openly acknowledge their religion for fear of persecution.  According to a Baghdad Jewish community leader, there are fewer than six adult members of the local Jewish community.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of December, nearly 1.8 million persons remained displaced within the country.  Population movements are multi-directional, with some persons fleeing their homes and others returning home.  According to the IOM, as of May, approximately 67 percent of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) population were Arab Sunni, 13 percent Kurdish Sunni, 8 percent Yezidi, 6 percent Turkoman Shia, 2 percent Arab Shia, 1 percent either Syriac, Chaldean, or Assyrian Christian, 2 percent Shabak Shia, and less than 1 percent Turkoman Sunni, Shabak Sunni, or Kurdish Shia.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes Islam as the official religion of the state, and a “foundational source” of legislation.  It states no law may be enacted contradicting the “established provisions of Islam,” but it also states no law may contradict the principles of democracy or the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in the constitution.

The constitution protects the “Islamic identity” of the Iraqi people, although it makes no specific mention of Sunni or Shia Islam.  The constitution also provides for freedom of religious belief and practice for Christians, Yezidis, and Sabean-Mandeans, but it does not explicitly protect followers of other religions, or atheists.  According to the penal code, Jews may not hold jobs in state enterprises or join the military.  The law prohibits the practice of the Baha’i Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam.

The constitution states each individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief.  Followers of all religions are free to practice religious rites and manage religious endowment affairs and religious institutions.  The constitution guarantees freedom from religious coercion and states all citizens are equal before the law without regard to religion, sect, or belief.

Personal status laws and regulations prohibit the conversion of Muslims to other religions, and require administrative designation of minor children as Muslims if either parent converts to Islam, or if one parent is considered Muslim, even if the child is a product of rape.  Civil status law allows non-Muslim women to marry Muslim men, but it prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims.

The following religious groups are recognized by the personal status law and thereby registered with the government:  Islam, Chaldean, Assyrian, Assyrian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Roman Catholic, National Protestant, Anglican, Evangelical Protestant Assyrian, Seventh-day Adventist, Coptic Orthodox, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandean, and Jewish.  Recognition allows groups to appoint legal representatives and perform legal transactions such as buying and selling property.  All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues.  According to the government, however, there is no personal status court for Yezidis.

There are three diwans (offices) responsible for administering matters for the recognized religious groups within the country:  the Sunni Endowment Diwan, the Shia Endowment Diwan, and the Endowment of the Christian, Yezidi, and Sabean-Mandean Religions Diwan.  The three endowments operate under the authority of the Office of the Prime Minister to disburse government funds to maintain and protect religious facilities.

Outside of the IKR, the law does not provide a mechanism for a new religious group to obtain legal recognition.  The law prescribes 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone practicing the Baha’i Faith.  For the practice of unrecognized religious groups other than Baha’i – including Wahhabi Muslim, Zoroastrian, Yarsanism, and the Kaka’i faith – the law does not specify penalties; however, contracts signed by institutions of unrecognized religious groups are not legal or permissible as evidence in court.

In the IKR, religious groups obtain recognition by registering with the KRG MERA.  To register, a group must have a minimum of 150 adherents, provide documentation on the sources of its financial support, and demonstrate it is not anti-Islam.  Eight faiths are registered with the KRG MERA:  Islam, Christianity, Yezidism, Judaism, Sabean-Mandaeism, Zoroastrianism, Yarsanism, and the Baha’i Faith.

In addition to the Christian denominations recognized by the government, the KRG has registered 11 evangelical Christian and other Protestant churches:  Nahda al-Qadassa Church in Erbil and Dohuk, Nasari Evangelical Church in Dohuk, Kurd-Zaman Church in Erbil, Ashti Evangelical Church in Sulaimaniya, Evangelical Free Church in Dohuk, the Baptist Church of the Good Shepherd in Erbil, al-Tasbih International Evangelical Church in Dohuk, Rasolia Church in Erbil, as well as United Evangelical, Assemblies of God, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Erbil.  The KRG allows new Christian churches to register with a minimum of 50 adherents.

In the IKR, Christian groups may register separately with the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders, an independent group formed by Christian church leaders, which includes six evangelical Protestant churches.  Registration with the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders provides Christian churches and leaders with access to the KRG MERA and to the KRG’s Christian endowment.

The KRG MERA operates endowments that pay salaries of clergy and fund construction and maintenance of religious sites for Muslims, Christians, and Yezidis, but not for the other six registered religions.

The law requires the government to maintain the sanctity of holy shrines and religious sites and guarantee the free practice of rituals for recognized religious groups.  The penal code criminalizes disrupting or impeding religious ceremonies and desecrating religious buildings.  The penal code imposes up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of 300 dinars (26 cents) for such crimes.

By law, the government provides support for Muslims outside the IKR desiring to perform the Hajj and Umrah, organizing travel routes and immunization documents for entry into Saudi Arabia.  The Sunni and Shia endowments accept Hajj applications from the public and submit them to the Supreme Council for the Hajj.  The council, attached to the Prime Minister’s office, organizes a lottery process to select pilgrims for official Hajj visas.  Lottery winners pay differing amounts to the government for their visas prior to Hajj depending on their mode of travel:  3.5 million dinars ($3,100) for Hajj travel by land, and five million dinars ($4,400) for travel by air.  In the IKR, the KRG MERA organizes Hajj and Umrah travel, carrying out a lottery to choose the pilgrims for official Hajj visas allotted to the IKR.

The constitution guarantees minority groups the right to educate children in their own languages.  While it establishes Arabic and Kurdish as official state languages, it makes Syriac, typically spoken by Christians, and Turkoman official languages only in the administrative units in which those groups “constitute density populations.”  In the IKR, there are 56 Syriac and 21 Turkoman language schools.  The constitution provides for a Federal Supreme Court made up of judges, experts in Islamic jurisprudence, and legal scholars.  The constitution leaves the method of regulating the number and selection of judges to legislation that requires a two-thirds majority in the Council of Representatives (COR) for passage.

The constitution provides citizens the right to choose which court (civil or religious) will adjudicate matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and endowments.  Islam takes precedence when one of the parties to the dispute is from an unrecognized faith.  The law states civil courts must consult the religious authority of a non-Muslim party for its opinion under the applicable religious law and apply the religious authority’s opinion in court.  In the IKR, the Personal Status Court adjudicates personal disputes between Muslims, and the Civil Status Court handles all other cases.

New national identity cards do not denote the bearer’s religion, although the online application still requests this information.  The only religions that may be listed on the national identity card application are Christian, Sabean-Mandean, Yezidi, Jewish, and Muslim.  There is no distinction between Shia and Sunni Muslim, or a designation of Christian denominations.  Individuals practicing other faiths may only receive identity cards if they self-identify as Muslim, Yezidi, Sabean-Mandean, Jewish, or Christian.  Without an official identity card, one may not register one’s marriage, enroll children in public school, acquire passports, or obtain some government services.  Passports do not specify religion.

The law provides constitutional guarantees for the reinstatement of citizenship to individuals who gave up their citizenship for political or sectarian reasons; however, this law does not apply to Jews who emigrated and gave up their citizenship under a 1950 law.

Civil laws provide a simple process for a non-Muslim to convert to Islam, but the law forbids conversion by a Muslim to another religion.

The law in the IKR formally recognizes the Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Sabean-Mandean faiths, and promotes equal political, cultural, societal, and economic representation of all minority groups.  It forbids “religious, or political, media speech individually or collectively, directly or indirectly that brings hate and violence, terror, exclusion, and marginalization based on national, ethnic, or religious or linguistic claims.”

The law reserves nine of the COR’s 329 seats for members of minority communities:  five for Christian candidates from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Dohuk; one for a Yezidi; one for a Sabean-Mandean; one for an ethnic Shabak; and one for a Faili Kurd from Wasit.  Usually one of the COR rapporteur positions is designated for a Christian MP and the other a Turkoman.  The Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP) reserves 11 of its 111 seats for ethnic minorities:  five for Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Assyrians; five for Turkomans; and one for an Armenian.

Islamic education, including study of the Quran, is mandatory in primary and secondary schools, except in the IKR.  Non-Muslim students are not required to participate in Islamic studies.  The government provides Christian religious education in public schools in some areas where there are concentrations of Christian populations, and there is a Syriac curriculum directorate within the Ministry of Education.

The antiterrorism law of November 2005 defines terrorism as “Every criminal act committed by an individual or an organized group that targeted an individual or a group of individuals or groups or official or unofficial institutions and caused damage to public or private properties, with the aim to disturb the peace, stability, and national unity or to bring about horror and fear among people and to create chaos to achieve terrorist goals.”  Anyone found guilty under this law is sentenced to death.

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

Government Practices

International and local NGOs said the government continued to use the antiterrorism law as a pretext for detaining individuals without due process.  Observers reported the current antiterrorism law did not allow for the right to due process and a fair trial.  Sunni leaders said authorities referenced the law in their arbitrary detentions of young Sunni men on suspicion of ISIS links but provided no corroborating evidence.

According to international human rights organizations, some Shia militias, including some under the PMF umbrella, committed abuses and atrocities and were implicated in several attacks on Sunni civilians, allegedly to avenge ISIS crimes against Shia.  Following the return of central government control in Kirkuk in late 2017, Kurds, Turkomans, Kaka’i, Christians, and other minorities faced discrimination, displacement, and in some cases, violence from PMF and Iraqi security forces.  Media outlets carried numerous reports of Shia PMF groups invading, looting, and burning the houses of Kurds, Sunni Turkomans, Sunni Arabs, and other ethnic minorities in Kirkuk Governorate.  Kurds faced similar violence in Khanaqin, a majority Kurdish city in Diyala Governorate that also passed from KRG to central government control in 2017.  Analysts stated that discrimination continued to stoke ethno-sectarian tensions in the disputed territories throughout the year.  In August four Kurds, including a Peshmerga, were beheaded in Khanaqin by unknown attackers.  The Kaka’i community in Daquq, Kirkuk Governorate, continued to suffer harassment and intimidation, which Kaka’i civil society groups said accelerated under PMF occupation of the area.

The religious status of children resulting from rape became a more prominent issue because of the number of minority children resulting from gender-based violence perpetrated by ISIS.  Yezidi community leaders reported that Yezidi captives of ISIS who were repeatedly raped and bore children were forced to register those children as Muslims and convert to Islam themselves to obtain ID cards, passports, and other governmental services.  Yezidi sources reported the number of these children range from several dozen to several hundred.  They said societal stigma made it difficult to obtain accurate numbers.  According to Christian leaders, in some cases Christian families formally registered as Muslim but privately practicing Christianity or another faith were forced to choose to register their child as a Muslim or to have the child remain undocumented.  Remaining undocumented would affect the family’s eligibility for government benefits such as school enrollment and ration card allocation for basic food items, which depends on family size.  Larger families with legally registered children received higher allotments than those with undocumented children.

Representatives of minority religious communities said that, while the central government did not generally interfere with religious observances and even provided security for places of worship and other religious sites, including churches, mosques, shrines, and religious pilgrimage sites and routes, minority groups continued to face harassment, including sexual assault, and restrictions from local authorities in some regions.  Christian religious leaders continued to publicly accuse the Iranian-backed Shabak Shia PMF militia 30th Brigade, controlled by Iraqi parliament member Hunain Qado and his brother Waad, of harassment and sexual assaults on Christian women in Bartalla and elsewhere in Hamdaniya District.  The chair of the municipal council of Bartalla made public court documents from several cases involving militiamen charged with theft, harassment, and sexual harassment.  Shabak Sunni leaders in Hamdaniya made similar allegations.

According to Christian and other minority community leaders, Shabak parliamentarians, including Qado, with the support of some other Shia elements within the central government in Baghdad, had directed the 30th Brigade to harass Christians to drive out the area’s dwindling Christian population and allow Shabak and other Shia Muslims to settle in the area’s traditionally Christian town centers.  Christians in Tal Kayf made similar claims that the nominally Christian but majority Sunni Arab PMF 50th “Babylon” Brigade actively sought to prevent and disrupt the return of the displaced Christian community to facilitate the settlement of Sunni Arab and Shia Shabak populations in that town.

The Ninewa provincial government ordered that all district governments comply with a 2017 federal law granting land to the families of mostly Shia Muslim PMF martyrs of the war against ISIS as compensation for their loss.  The order included those districts with Sunni and non-Muslim majorities.  In September Hamdaniya District Mayor Essam Behnam issued an order suspending such grants in the historically Christian majority district, citing the constitution’s prohibition of forced demographic change.  Throughout the year, Behnam successfully resisted political pressure at both the federal and provincial levels to issue such land grants in Hamdaniya.  Iraq’s National Investment Commission, under the presidency of the Council of Ministers, approved the building of large housing development projects on government-owned land in the outskirts of Bartalla.  Pointing to a surplus of houses in Christian town centers, Christian community leaders alleged that virtually all the future occupants of this housing would be Shabak and Arab Muslims not native to Bartalla.

Some Yezidi and Christian leaders continued to report harassment and abuse by KRG Peshmerga and Asayish forces in the KRG-controlled portion of Ninewa; some leaders said the majority of such cases were motivated by politics rather than religious discrimination.  According to various NGOs, central government, and KRG sources, KRG security forces and ISF blocked major roads between the IKR and central government-controlled Iraq, including roads serving minority communities such as the roads between Dohuk and Sinjar, al Qosh and Tal Kayf, and Sheikhan and Mosul.  The closure of these roads forced minorities to take long, circuitous detours, restricted their access to markets for their goods, and left them vulnerable to harassment and extortion at numerous checkpoints.  After lengthy negotiations, the KRG and GOI opened most of these roads during the year, including the al Qosh-Tal Kayf and Shaykhan-Mosul roads in October and the Dohuk-Sinjar road in December.

In June elements of the PMF Imam Ali Brigade refused to allow the Yezidi Sinjar District Council to return to Sinjar City from its temporary location in Mosul, even with an official letter from the Office of the Prime Minister.  In October a combination of PMF and popular protest again prevented the Yezidi mayor of Sinjar and the district council from returning to Sinjar.  Christians reported continued harassment, abuse, and delays at numerous checkpoints operated by various PMF units, impeding movement in and around several Christian towns on the Ninewa Plain, including the Shabak Brigade in Qaraqosh, Bartalla, and Karamles, and the 50th “Babylon” Brigade in Batnaya and Tal Kayf.

According to multiple sources, some government forces and militia groups forced alleged ISIS sympathizers or family members of suspected members from their homes in several governorates.  For example, there were reports the PMF militia group Kataib Hizballah kidnapped and intimidated local Arab Sunni residents in Diyala and Babil Governorates and prevented Arab Sunni IDPs from returning to their places of origin.

The KRG continued to actively support and fund the rescue of captured Yezidis and provide psychosocial support services at a center in Dohuk Province.  According to the KRG MERA director general for Yezidi affairs, since 2014 3,322 Yezidis kidnapped by ISIS had been rescued or released, but 3,015 Yezidis were still missing as of October.  Rescued captives reported being sold multiple times and subjected to forced conversions to Islam, sexual exploitation, and violence.  The Iraqi Independent Human Rights Commission reported in August that 600 Turkomans kidnapped by ISIS, including more than 120 children, remained missing, none of whom had been reported rescued by the end of the year.  A Turkoman NGO, however, stated in December that more than 1300 Turkomans were still missing and said it had evidence that ISIS had trafficked Turkoman women to Chechnya, Turkey, and Syria.  The KRG MERA also reported that 250 Christians were rescued, leaving an estimated 150 missing.

In October the KRG MERA director general for Yezidi Affairs reported the KRG had paid more than $7 million in ransom and payments to middlemen to secure the release of approximately 2,000 Yezidis from ISIS since 2014.  In July the Ninewa Provincial Council established two offices, one in Mosul and the other in Sinjar, responsible for investigating the fate of Yezidis still missing or held captive by ISIS.  Yezidi groups said the presence of armed affiliates of the PKK, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, and PMF militias in Sinjar continued to hinder the return of IDPs.

According to Yazda, a global Yezidi organization, Yezidis in the IKR were discriminated against when they refused to self-identify as Kurdish; only those Yezidis who considered themselves Kurdish could obtain senior positions in the IKR leadership.  In the IKR, those not identifying as Kurdish said actions such as obtaining a residency card or a driver’s license were challenging.  The KRG continued to offer support and funding to some non-Muslim minorities, but other minorities in the IKR, including evangelical Christians, said they continued to face difficulties in changing their registration from Muslim to Christian if they were converts, or engaged in in proselytizing.

In some parts of the country, non-Muslim religious minorities, as well as Sunni and Shia in areas where they formed the minority, continued to face harassment and restrictions from authorities.  In July ISF forces and local police forcibly entered Mar Gorgees Syriac Catholic Church in Bartalla, cut the internet network of the church and adjacent cultural center, and destroyed the church’s internet server equipment.  While authorities accused the church of unauthorized distribution of an IKR-based internet service to the Christian community in Ninewa Province, Syriac Catholic Church leaders said the action represented an attack on the church, and they accused the security forces of acting on behalf of a rival, politically connected internet provider.

The KRG MERA reduced the number of mosques delivering weekly Friday sermons from 3,000 to 2,000 by combining mosques located in the same neighborhoods.  MERA Spokesman and Director of General Relations Mariwan Naqshbandy said MERA was formulating a policy to produce and distribute pre-approved content for Friday sermons in MERA-funded mosques to prevent the spread of extremism.  The KRG MERA banned eight imams from delivering Friday sermons, citing extremist ideology and incitement to violence.  The imams continued to receive MERA salaries and were ordered to undergo a rehabilitation course to regain permission to preach in MERA-approved mosques.  MERA also banned 10 books by well-known Islamic scholars because they encouraged violence and extremism.  MERA also introduced a mandatory training program for new imams that included instruction on religious pluralism and tolerance and against extremist preaching and hate speech.

According to the international human rights NGO Heartland Alliance, KRG law protecting the rights of religious freedom was undermined by vague wording and did not provide implementation mechanisms or penalties for violations.

In September Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Dawood Matti Sharf said the central government had not opened an investigation into the alleged ISF and PMF destruction of the second century tomb in Qaraqosh of religious notable Youhana al-Delimi, despite a lawsuit filed by the archbishop in 2017.

Advocacy groups and religious minority representatives reported increased emigration.  Estimates, including those cited by several Christian parliamentarians (MPs), the daily number of Christian families leaving the country, including the IKR, ranged from 10 to 22.  A director of an Assyrian NGO reported that four Syriac language schools closed in Dohuk due to lack of students.  Some Yezidis and Christians maintained their own militias.  Some of these received support from Baghdad through the PMF, while others received assistance from KRG Peshmerga units.  Some representatives of religious minority groups, such as Yezidi and Sabean-Mandean MPs, stated they must have a role in their own security and requested government support to create armed groups from their own communities; others asked to join regular law enforcement units.  Other minority leaders in the Ninewa Plain expressed hope that the Ministry of Interior would hire minorities to serve in local police forces to absorb and replace the minority militias in the region.  Some leaders conducted recruitment drives to demonstrate the considerable interest among minority communities in joining police units, including among current members of minority militias; however, no local police positions were available at year’s end.

One of the remaining members of the Jewish community in Baghdad described the prevalence of anti-Semitic rhetoric from both Muslim and Christian leaders.  Although the sermons did not advocate for violence against the Jewish community, the community member expressed concern that more priests were including anti-Semitic rhetoric in their sermons, comparable to the anti-Semitic rhetoric often heard from some Muslims.  He presented pictures of the continued desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the Shia-majority Sadr City section of Baghdad.  The small community did not file any reports on the desecration with local authorities due to reported fear of retribution.  Despite Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s decision to speak out in favor of the return of Jews in a June 2 response to a follower’s question, the member of the Jewish community said Jews continued to avoid publicly self-identifying for fear of violence.

A group of IKR- and Ninewa Plain-based religious leaders from established apostolic Christian churches sent a letter to the IKR MERA director general of Christian affairs stating MERA made it too easy for new Christian groups to become established in the IKR.  The letter accused the newcomers of damaging the churches’ relationship with the Muslim community by proselytizing, and demanded MERA provide the names of adherents submitted by the new churches.  MERA refused to change the requirement for new churches to register but complied with the apostolic churches’ request to compile a list of adherents of evangelical and other Protestant churches.  Apostolic church leaders said the list would allow them to remove from their rolls the names of former members now attending other churches so the apostolic churches would not be blamed for any proselytizing performed by former members now belonging to evangelical or other Protestant churches.

NGOs continued to state constitutional provisions on freedom of religion should override laws banning the Baha’i Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam; however, during the year, there were no court challenges lodged to invalidate them and no legislation proposed to repeal them.  According to a December article on the website Al Monitor, Deputy Justice Minister Hussein al-Zuhairi stated during a dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the Baha’i Faith was not a religion, emphasizing the government’s commitment to legislation prohibiting the Baha’i Faith.

The KRG and the central government continued to provide increased protection to Christian churches during the Easter and Christmas holidays.  Followers of the Baha’i and Yezidi faiths reported the KRG allowed them to observe their religious holidays and festivals without interference or intimidation.  Provincial governments also continued to designate these as religious holidays in their localities.

Government policy continued to require Islamic instruction in public schools, but non-Muslim students were not required to participate.  In most areas of the country, primary and secondary school curricula included three classes per week of Islamic education, including study of the Quran, as a graduation requirement for Muslim students.  Christian religious education was included in the curricula of at least 150 public schools in Baghdad, Ninewa, and Kirkuk.  Private Islamic religious schools continued to operate in the country, but had to obtain a license from the director general of private and public schools and pay annual fees.

In the IKR, private schools were required to pay a registration fee of 750,000 to 1.5 million dinars ($660 to $1,300) to the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Higher Education, depending on the type of school.  To register with the KRG, private schools needed to provide information on the school’s bylaws, number of students, size, location, facility and safety conditions, financial backing, and tax compliance, and undergo an inspection.  The Catholic University in Erbil continued to operate with full accreditation from the KRG Ministry of Higher Education and remained open to students of all faiths.

The government continued not to require non-Muslim students to participate in religious instruction in public schools, but some non-Muslim students reported pressure to do so from instructors and classmates.  Reports continued that some non-Muslim students felt obliged to participate because they could not leave the classroom during religious instruction.  Christian and Yezidi leaders outside the IKR reported continued discrimination in education and lack of minority input on school curricula and language of instruction.  By year’s end, schools still had not universally adopted the 2015 Ministry of Education curriculum incorporating lessons of religious tolerance.  Many Christians who spoke the Syriac language said it was their right to use and teach it to their children as a matter of religious freedom.  Seeking to establish private Christian schools, the Chaldean church in Basrah said local authorities mandated the inclusion of Islamic religious instruction in their curricula for Muslim students.

The KRG Ministry of Education continued to fund religious instruction in schools for Muslim and Christian students.  The ministry also continued to fund Syriac-language public elementary and secondary schools, which was intended to accommodate Christian students.  The curriculum did not contain religious or Quranic studies.  The KRG MERA and Ministry of Education partnered with Harvard University to develop a religious studies curriculum that would present information on all recognized faiths from a nonsectarian, academic perspective to replace the existing religion classes.  The curriculum was still under development at year’s end.

The central government extended by one year the contracts of several hundred Christian employees who faced violence in Baghdad in 2010.  They were allowed to relocate from the south to the IKR and transfer their government jobs from the central government to the KRG, while the central government continued to pay their salaries.

There were reports of KRG authorities discriminating against minorities, including Turkomans, Arabs, Yezidis, Shabaks, and Christians, in territories claimed by both the KRG and the central government in northern Iraq.  For example, courts rarely upheld Christians’ legal complaints against Kurds regarding land and property disputes.  The director general of Christian affairs in the KRG MERA said that of 59 long-pending property dispute cases between Christians and Kurds, the KRG courts had only ruled on five cases, although in four of the five they ruled in favor of Christian plaintiffs.  In one such case in the Nahla Valley area of Dohuk , a court sentenced Kurds convicted of taking Christian-owned land to a three-month suspended sentence, a token fine, and a requirement the Kurds make a written pledge they would not encroach on the land again.  The KRG MERA director general, however, said authorities made no attempt to follow up on the case, and some of the Kurds continued to occupy land the court ruled belonged to the Christian community.  A land dispute dating from 2003 when the KRG seized 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of farmland near Ankawa owned by 220 Christian farmers for the construction of the Erbil International Airport remained unresolved.

Christian leaders reported the KRG continued to provide land and financial support for construction of new and renovation of existing structures for use as educational facilities, although budget cuts halted some projects.  The KRG spent approximately 2.5 billion dinars ($2.2 million) on the construction of an Armenian Apostolic church in the Ankawa neighborhood of Erbil, and another 500 million dinars ($439,000) on a community center for the Assyrian Church of the East.  The KRG said in 2017 that it planned to allocate land for a Jewish cultural center in Erbil, a Baha’i religious and cultural center near Erbil, and a Zoroastrian temple in Sulaimaniya.  According to KRG MERA Director of Co-Existence Amir Othman, his ministry passed its recommendation for lands to the Ministry of Municipalities, which reviews such recommendations and allocates appropriate public land parcels, but by year’s end, no land had been allocated for any of the three projects.  The Zoroastrian representative in MERA said Ministry of Municipalities officials had refused to implement the government directives for religious reasons.

While there remained no legal bar to ministerial appointments for members of religious minorities, in practice there were few non-Muslims in the Council of Ministers (COM) or the KRG COM, a situation unchanged from the previous year.  Members of minority religious communities continued to hold senior positions in the national parliament and central government, although minority leaders said they were still underrepresented in government appointments, in elected positions outside the COR, and in public sector jobs, particularly at the provincial and local levels.  Minority leaders continued to say this underrepresentation limited minorities’ access to government-provided economic opportunities.  The Federal Supreme Court’s nine members included Sunni and Shia Muslims and one Christian.  Although there are no reliable statistics, minorities stated they believed they continued to be underrepresented in the ranks of police, senior military, and in intelligence and security services.

Some Sunni Muslims continued to speak about what they perceived as anti-Sunni discrimination by Shia government officials in retribution for the Sunnis’ favored status and abuses against Shia during the Saddam Hussein regime.  Sunnis said they continued to face discrimination in public sector employment as a result of de-Baathification, a process originally intended to target loyalists of the former regime.  Sunnis and local NGOs said the government continued the selective use of the de-Baathification provisions of the law to render many Sunnis ineligible for choice government positions, but it did not do so to render former Shia Baathists ineligible.  Some Sunnis said Sunnis were often passed over for choice government jobs or lucrative contracts from the Shia-dominated government because the Sunnis were allegedly accused of being Baathists who sympathized with ISIS ideology.

Although the IKP has 11 seats reserved for ethnic minority candidates, the law does not restrict who may vote in quota seat races.  Citing reports of Kurds voting for minority parties that align with major Kurdish parties, some members of the IKR’s minority voters said these votes undermined the intended purpose of the nine minority quota seats and diluted the voice of minorities in government.  Minority political party leaders said they were unsuccessful in their campaign to amend the law to restrict voting in quota seat races to voters of the same ethnicity of the candidate.

Human rights NGOs and Yezidi leaders stated KRG authorities discriminated against Yezidis by closing the Dohuk-Sinjar road and continuing to restrict commercial traffic after opening the road to passenger traffic in December.  Yezidi activists reported the deaths of several Yezidi women in Sinjar because of lack of access to medicine and medical care, primarily due to the road closure.  Since the October 2017 withdrawal of Peshmerga from the Sinjar area, it was possible, although not necessarily safe, to access Sinjar from central government-controlled areas.  KRG security forces, ISF, and the PMF had closed the road between the neighboring Christian towns of Telskuf and Batnaya, slowing the return of IDPs.  A local priest in Telskuf said KRG security forces refused requests from humanitarian organizations to pass through their roadblock to conduct relief and reconstruction work in Batnaya.  Authorities reopened the Telskuf-Batnaya road in October and the Dohuk-Sinjar road in December, but both roads remained closed to commercial traffic at year’s end.

Christians said they continued to face discrimination that limited their economic opportunities, such as “taxation” on their goods transported from Mosul into the Ninewa Plain by the PMF Shabak Brigade.  Sabean-Mandeans and Christians continued to report fear of importing and distributing alcohol and spirits despite receiving permits.  The legal ban on alcohol consumption by Muslims, according to local sources, prevented Muslim store owners from applying for permits allowing them to carry and sell alcohol.  Community sources reported Muslim businessmen sometimes used Christians as front men to apply for these permits and operate the stores.

On March 21, the tomb of a Kaka’i religious leader was destroyed by an explosion in Daquq, south of Kirkuk.  A local Kaka’i NGO said members of the PMF were responsible.

Kaka’i leaders said the central government’s Shia Endowment had forcibly taken over several places of Kaka’i worship in Kirkuk and converted them into mosques.

In observance of World Religion Day on January 21, the then speaker of parliament hosted 350 government officials, ethnic and religious leaders, and the international community in a celebration to urge interfaith dialogue and promote religious pluralism.  Although representatives from several religious minorities welcomed the event, they said it was unlikely discrimination against their communities would end anytime soon.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Mass graves containing victims of ISIS continued to be found.  According to KRG MERA’s Office of Yezidi Affairs, a total of 87 mass graves containing the bodies of over 2,500 Yezidis had been found in Sinjar District and other predominantly Yezidi areas of Ninewa Province since 2014.  On November 6, UNAMI and the United Nations Human Rights Office released a report documenting the existence of 202 mass graves in the provinces of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, and Anbar and cautioned there may be “many more.”  The UN offices stated they believed the graves each held anywhere from eight to as many as “thousands” of bodies.  On November 6, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, “These graves contain the remains of those mercilessly killed for not conforming to [ISIS’s] twisted ideology and rule, including ethnic and religious minorities.”  Estimates available to the UN ranged from 6,000 to more than 12,000 victims buried in these graves.

According to the KRG MERA director general of Christian affairs, ISIS abducted 150 Christians from the Batnaya, Qaraqosh, and Tal Kayf areas in 2014; their fate remained unclear at year’s end.

In April Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa, Syria rescued a young Christian woman kidnapped by ISIS in 2014 from Qaraqosh.  She said she was sold four times to different ISIS fighters, each of whom raped her and subjected her to torture and other forms of mistreatment.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On July 23, three gunmen who KRG authorities said had links to a terrorist group forcibly entered a government building in downtown Erbil.  Unable to gain entry to the Erbil governor’s office, they then killed a Christian employee whom authorities believed was targeted because of his religion before police killed the attackers.

In February several gunman shot and killed a Christian man in front of his house in Baghdad.  According to Christian sources, the victim had received threats to stop working in the alcohol business near a Muslim neighborhood.  In March local media reported the killing of a Christian family in Baghdad.  Some Christian leaders, including Chaldean Catholic Cardinal Sako, said they considered the killing a hate crime.  Others said the killers wanted to force Christian owners of prime real estate to surrender their property.

There were continued reports of societal violence, mainly by sectarian armed groups, in many parts of the country, but few reports of religious violence in the IKR.  Non-Muslim minorities reported continued threats, pressure, and harassment to force them to observe Islamic customs.  Kaka’i activists and religious leaders reported harassment and discrimination by the PMF in Kirkuk and Diyala, who identified Kaka’i men by their distinctive mustaches.  Sabean-Mandean leaders continued to report threats, abuses, and robberies.  In regular Friday sermons, Shia religious and government leaders urged PMF volunteers not to commit these abuses.

During May court proceedings, a judge demanded the Zoroastrian representative in the IKR MERA swear on the Quran before testifying.  She refused and asked to swear on a copy of the Gathas, the hymns of Zarathustra, but the judge did not allow it.

In June media continued to report political parties, criminal networks, and some militia groups seized more than 30,000 Christian properties in Baghdad, as well as areas of Anbar, Babil, Basrah, Diyala, and Wasit with impunity, despite pledges by the prime minister’s office to open investigations into the seizures.

In December, in response to the central government’s announcement that Christmas would be an official Iraqi holiday, prominent Sunni cleric and self-proclaimed “Grand Mufti” of Iraq Abdul-Mehdi al-Sumaidaie issued a fatwa that Muslims should not take part in New Year celebrations or congratulate Christians during Christmas.  Both the central government and the KRG Sunni Endowments rejected his fatwa and posted criticisms of it online.

Christians in the south and in PMF-controlled towns on the Ninewa Plain, as well as Sabean-Mandeans in Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Maysan Governorates, reported they continued to avoid celebrating their religious festivals when they coincided with Islamic periods of mourning, such as Ashura.  There were continued reports that non-Muslim minorities felt pressured by the Muslim majority to adhere to certain Islamic practices, such as wearing the hijab or fasting during Ramadan.  Non-Shia Muslims and non-Muslim women continued to feel societal pressure to wear hijabs and all-black clothing during Muharram, particularly during Ashura, to avoid harassment.  According to representatives of Christian NGOs, some Muslims continued to threaten women and girls, regardless of their religious affiliation, for refusing to wear the hijab, for dressing in Western-style clothing, or for not adhering to strict interpretations of Islamic norms governing public behavior.  Outside the IKR, numerous women, including Christians and Sabean-Mandeans, said they opted to wear the hijab after continual harassment.  According to media and other sources, extensive security efforts helped to ensure that there were no violent incidents disrupting the large Shia commemorations of Ashura in Najaf and Karbala.

Minority religious leaders continued to report pressure on minority communities to cede land rights to their businesses unless they conformed to a stricter observance of Islamic precepts.

Leaders of non-Muslim communities said corruption, uneven application of the rule of law, and nepotism in hiring practices throughout the country by members of the majority Muslim population continued to have detrimental economic effects on non-Muslim communities and contributed to their decision to emigrate.  Sunni Muslims reported continued discrimination based on a public perception the Sunni population sympathized with terrorist elements, including ISIS.

In November the Catholic Patriarchs of the East held a four-day conference in Baghdad to bring attention to the challenges threatening the survival of Christian communities in the region.  Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Sako, who hosted the meeting, said the patriarchs wanted to encourage “families to stay in our homeland keeping up our faith, identity, ethics, traditions, and language.”  This was the first time the conference was held in the country.  Catholic rites representatives included Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara al-Rahi, Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, the representative of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Monsignor William Hanna Shomali, and Cardinal Sako, who delivered the opening speech.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. government continued to address at the highest levels a full range of religious freedom concerns in the country through frequent meetings with senior government officials, including Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi and his predecessor former Prime Minister Haider Abadi, and through speeches and U.S. embassy coordination groups promoting religious and ethnic minority community stabilization and humanitarian assistance.

On December 11, President Trump signed the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act.  The act promotes justice for the victims and survivors of those minority communities, particularly Yazidis and Christians, targeted by ISIS.  Embassy efforts centered on identifying the most pressing concerns of religious minorities – insecurity, lack of jobs, and road closures – and obtaining government and KRG commitments to assist these concerns.  Efforts included agreeing to recruit minorities in two Emergency Response Battalions, one for Sinjar and one for the Ninewa Plain, and reopening roads connecting persecuted religious communities to economic and urban centers.  The embassy’s interagency coordination group on minority stabilization also engaged with Yezidis, the KRG, central government, and other organizations and groups to coordinate efforts to ensure exhumations of Yezidi mass graves were performed to international standards.  U.S. government humanitarian assistance efforts, including in areas with religious minority populations, centered on providing tents, food, medicine, and medical supplies.

The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate officials continued to meet regularly with national and regional Ministries of Education, Justice (which includes the functions of the former Ministry of Human Rights), Labor, and Social Affairs, and the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.  They also met with members of parliament, parliamentary committees, and minority group representatives serving in government positions to emphasize the need for full inclusion of religious minorities and protection of their rights.  On January 15, the Ambassador hosted an event to observe Religious Freedom Day that promoted religious pluralism and reconciliation.  A wide range of representatives from the country’s many religious communities attended, including the Chaldean Catholic Church, Syrian Church, Assyrian Catholic Church, Coptic Church, as well as members of the Yezidi, Kaka’i, Baha’i, Jewish, Sabean-Mandean, and Islamic faiths (both Sunnis and Shia).  On January 16, the embassy convened an interfaith dialogue with a former participant of two U.S.-sponsored exchange programs that focused on the promotion of religious diversity.  On October 16, the embassy hosted the Deputy Secretary of State for a roundtable with representatives of Iraq’s minority religious communities.

The U.S. government continued to develop, finance, and manage projects to support all religious communities, with special emphasis on assistance to IDPs and returnees.  As part of the continued commitment by the Vice President, Secretary of State, and the USAID Administrator to support ethnic and religious minorities, the United States announced over $178 million in U.S. foreign assistance to support these vulnerable communities in Iraq in October.  This brought total U.S. assistance for this population to nearly $300 million since fiscal year 2017, implemented by both the Department of State and USAID.  These efforts, implemented in close partnership with local faith and community leaders, included USAID’s Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response program totaling $133 million, funding of approximately $37 million to clear explosive remnants of war, $8.5 million for social, economic, and political empowerment of minority communities, and $2 million for the preservation of historic and cultural sites.  In July USAID also appointed a Special Representative for Minority Assistance Programs, based in Erbil, to oversee U.S. assistance for Iraq’s minority communities.

Senior advisors to the Vice President accompanied the Ambassador to the Ninewa Plain to discuss with community leaders how the United States could improve support to endangered minorities recovering from ISIS’ genocide campaign against them.  In separate visits, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the USAID Administrator visited the Ninewa Plain and met with Christian, Yezidi, and Shabak leaders to assure them of the U.S. government’s commitment to preserve and support religious diversity through increased support to minority communities.  The Ambassador, senior embassy officers, Consuls General in Erbil and Basrah, and the USAID Administrator’s Special Representative for Minority Assistance Programs made regular visits to minority areas to meet with minority community leaders, religious leaders, and local and provincial authorities to underscore U.S. support for their communities and assess the needs and challenges they continued to face.

U.S. officials in Baghdad, Basrah, and Erbil also continued to hold regular discussions with government officials, endowment leaders, and UN officials coordinating international assistance to IDPs and recent returnees to address problems identified by religious groups related to the distribution of assistance.

The Ambassador and the Consuls General in Erbil and Basrah met leaders of minority religious groups and civil society groups to address their concerns, particularly regarding security and protection.  Embassy officials met religious leaders on a regular basis to discuss broader religious freedom issues and to demonstrate U.S. interest in and support for resolving issues with the provision of assistance.  In particular, they met with Yezidi, Christian, Shabak, Turkoman, Jewish, Sabean-Mandean, Kaka’i, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and other religious and minority leaders to promote reconciliation within their communities and to advocate for religious minority needs with the government.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL (BELOW) | WEST BANK AND GAZA


This section includes Israel, including Jerusalem.  In December 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.  The Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises no authority over Jerusalem.  In March 2019, the United States recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  A report on the West Bank and Gaza, including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the PA, is appended at the end of this report.

The country’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation, and the 1992 “Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty” protects additional individual rights.  Citing a need to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law, on June 19, the Knesset passed the “Basic Law:  Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People.”  According to the government, the “law determines, among other things, that the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”  Druze leaders, other non-Jewish minorities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the new law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of minorities.  Supporters said it was necessary to balance the 1992 basic law and restate the country’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, noting the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality.  The government continued to control access to religious sites, including the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  Some Members of the Knesset (MKs) and civil society organizations called for reversing the practice of banning non-Muslim prayer at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples) and the Haram al-Sharif (site containing the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque), based on post-1967 status quo understandings.  Police closed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif for several hours on July 27, following clashes with Muslim protesters.  The government permitted persons of all faiths to pray individually and quietly at the main Western Wall plaza in separate gender sections, and Jewish men to conduct Orthodox Jewish prayer in groups.  The government continued, however, to enforce a prohibition on performance of “a religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, which harms the feelings of the public towards the place,” which authorities interpreted to include mixed gender Jewish prayer services and other ceremonies that did not conform to Orthodox Judaism.  The government continued to implement policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law.  Following an appeal by the State Attorney’s office, the Supreme Court added 18 months to a four-year sentence for Yinon Reuveni, who vandalized a church in Tabgha in 2015.  In June police officers injured an Ethiopian monk while evicting him and other monks from their church in Jerusalem, and in October police arrested a Coptic monk and removed others from the Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after they refused to allow the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to enter and perform restoration work.  Some minority religious groups complained of what they said was lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities.  The government maintained its policy of not accepting new applications for official recognition from religious groups, but members of nonrecognized religious groups remained free to practice their religion.  Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community, police, and other Israelis, particularly related to service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), resulting in clashes such as those on March 22 between ultra-Orthodox protesters and police.  On December 2, the Supreme Court granted the Knesset (parliament) an extension into 2019 to pass legislation regulating ultra-Orthodox military service.

Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity.  Jehovah’s Witnesses reported in February an unknown man pepper-sprayed two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ashdod.  According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in October vandals damaged tombs and broke crosses at the cemetery of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jimal near Beit Shemesh, the third attack on the monastery in three years.  Following the attack, the Israeli government offered to pay for repairs.

Visiting high-level U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, met with government officials, religious groups, and civil society leaders to stress the importance of tolerance and dialogue and ways to reduce religiously motivated violence.  Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  In meetings with government officials and public speeches, embassy officers stressed the importance of religious freedom and respect for all religious groups.  Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated for a shared society for Jewish and Arab populations.  Embassy officials participated in religious events organized by Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian, and Baha’i groups to show U.S. support for religious pluralism.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.4 million (July 2018 estimate), including residents and citizens.  According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) classification system, approximately 75 percent of the population is Jewish, 18 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, and 1.6 percent Druze.  The remaining 4 percent consists of those the CBS classifies as “other” – mostly persons, including many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who identify themselves as Jewish but do not satisfy the Orthodox Jewish definition of “Jewish” the government uses for civil procedures – as well as relatively small communities of Samaritans, Karaites, Ahmadi Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Messianic Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Baha’i Faith.  The majority of non-Jewish citizens are of Arab origin.  This includes approximately 78 percent of the country’s 175,000 Christians, according to the CBS, as of December.  Non-Arab Christians are mainly those who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s as descendants of Jews or alongside Jewish family members, and their descendants.

According to a poll by the local NGO Hiddush published in September, 58 percent of Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious stream, 17 percent are “Zionist Orthodox,” 12 percent “ultra-Orthodox” (including 2 percent “Zionist ultra-Orthodox”), 7 percent “Reform,” and 6 percent “Conservative.”

Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities are located in the Galilee region, some of which are homogenous; others feature a mix of these groups.  There are also dozens of Muslim-majority communities in the Negev.  In addition to an Alawite community in Ghajar, there are several Druze communities in the Golan Heights.

The CBS estimates 546,100 Jews, 328,600 Muslims, and 15,900 Christians live in Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 901,300, as of September.

According to government and NGO data, as of October, foreign workers included approximately 113,000 documented foreign workers in the caregiving, agriculture, and construction sectors, including a few thousand in the “skilled worker” category and 39,000 who arrived under bilateral work agreements; 100,000 documented Palestinian workers; 40,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; and 100,000 were undocumented workers, mostly from countries of the former Soviet Union, who remained in the country after overstaying a visa-free entry or a work visa.  According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are approximately 31,000 African migrants and asylum seekers residing in the country, in addition to children born in the country to those migrants.  Foreign workers and migrants included Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.  According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Catholics among the foreign worker population included 30,000 Filipinos, 8,000 Indians, 2,000 Sri Lankans, 2,500 Colombians, and 1,100 workers from South American countries.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Although the country has no constitution, the unicameral 120-member Knesset enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights, which it states will become the country’s constitutional foundation.  The “Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty” describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which protects freedom to practice or not practice religious beliefs, including freedom of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religion.  The law incorporates religious freedom provisions of international human rights covenants into the country’s body of domestic law.  Authorities subject non-Israeli residents to the same laws it applies to Israeli citizens.  Detention of Palestinians  on security grounds falls under military jurisdiction as applied by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (see “West Bank and Gaza” section), even if detained inside Israel.

On June 19, the Knesset passed a new basic law referred to as the “Nation State Law.”  The new law changed the status of Arabic from an official language, a standing it held since Israel adopted then prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.”  The law also recognized only the Jewish People as having a national right of self-determination and called for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel.

On April 30, the Knesset passed a law recommending – but not requiring – that judges use Jewish jurisprudence and heritage as a source of legal principles in cases in which there is no relevant legislation or judicial precedents.

The Chief Rabbinate retains the authority to issue certificates of conversion to Judaism within the country under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law.  The Council of the Chief Rabbinate consists of Orthodox rabbis chosen by an assembly of rabbis, local government leaders, government ministers, and laypersons appointed by the government.

The government provides funding for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversion programs.  Relatives of Jewish converts may not receive residency rights, except for the children of male or female converts born after the parent’s conversion was complete.

The law recognizes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze Faith, and the Baha’i Faith.  Christian religious communities recognized according to the adopted Ottoman millet (court) system include:  Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Chaldean Uniate Catholic), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Evangelical Episcopal.  The Anglican and Baha’i communities are recognized through a British Mandate-era law adopted by the government.  The government does not recognize other religious communities, including major Protestant denominations with a presence in the country, as distinct ethnoreligious communities.  There are two legal pathways to formal recognition, according to laws adopted from the British Mandate period:  by petitioning either the Prime Minister’s Office according to the Order in Council or the Ministry of Interior (MOI).  Groups may appeal rejected applications to the Supreme Court.

Recognized religious communities are exempt from taxation of places of worship and may have separate courts to apply their religion’s personal status law.  Municipalities may levy property taxes on religious properties not used for prayer, such as monasteries, pilgrim hostels, and soup kitchens.

Legislation establishes religious councils for Jewish communities and for the Druze.  The Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) has jurisdiction over the country’s 133 Jewish religious councils, which oversee the provision of religious services for Jewish communities.  The government finances approximately 40 percent of the religious councils’ budgets, and local municipalities fund the remainder.  The MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups and oversees the religious council for the Druze.  The Department of Non-Jewish Affairs convenes an interreligious council of all recognized religions, including Judaism, which serves as a discussion forum for recognized religious communities.

The law criminalizes the damage, destruction, or desecration of religious sites (subject to seven years’ imprisonment) and actions to “harm the freedom of access” of worshippers to religious sites (subject to five years’ imprisonment).  Certain religious sites considered antiquities receive further protection under the antiquities law.  The Ministry of Tourism (MOT) is responsible for the protection and upkeep of selected non-Jewish religious sites, while the MRS protects and maintains selected Jewish religious sites.  The law also provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for actions “likely to violate the feelings of the members of the different religions” with regard to their religious sites.  The law grants the government, not the courts, the authority to decide the scope of the right to worship at certain religious sites.

The law criminalizes willfully and unjustly disturbing any meeting of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship or assaulting someone at such a meeting.  It also criminalizes intentionally destroying, damaging, or desecrating any object held sacred by any group of persons, with punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment.

The law criminalizes calling for, praising, supporting, or encouraging acts of violence or terrorism where such actions are likely to lead to violence, including calls for violence against religious groups.  The law criminalizes statements demeaning, degrading, or showing violence toward someone based on race, but provides an exception for statements citing a religious source, unless there is proof of intent to incite racism.

The law requires citizens to obtain a permit from the MOI or the Prime Minister for travel to “hostile” countries, including Saudi Arabia, which is the destination for those participating in the Hajj.  Illegal travel is punishable by a prison sentence or fine if the traveler does not request prior approval.

It is illegal to proselytize to a person under 18 years of age without the consent of both parents.  The law prohibits offering a material benefit in the course of proselytizing.

The government provides separate public schools for Jewish children, conducted in Hebrew, and Arab children, conducted in Arabic.  For Jewish children there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families.  Individual families may choose a public school system for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.  Minors have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference.  By law, the state provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semi-private) ultra-Orthodox religious schools, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System.  Churches, however, receive only partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools.  Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction.  Israeli education authorities use the PA curriculum in some public schools in Jerusalem.  Religious education is part of the PA curriculum for students in grades one through six in these schools, with separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.  Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religion courses.

The law provides the right for any Jew, including those who converted to Judaism, or any child or grandchild of a Jew, to immigrate to the country from a foreign country with his or her spouse and children.  The minor children of a grandchild of a Jew receive humanitarian status, but are not automatically granted citizenship.  Non-Jews who are not descendants of Jews do not have this route to immigration.  Under the Law of Return, those who completed an Orthodox conversion inside or outside the country are entitled to immigration, citizenship, and registration as Jews in the civil population registry.  Those who completed conversion to Judaism outside the country, regardless of affiliation, are eligible for these benefits even if they are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate; this would include Reform, Conservative, and other affiliations of Judaism.  Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration under the Law of Return regardless of the religious beliefs under which they were raised.  The law considers those who were eligible for immigration and as adults converted to another religion, including Messianic Judaism, as no longer eligible for benefits under the Law of Return.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, renewed annually, prohibits residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the MOI makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

The Chief Rabbinate determines who may be buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish standards.  The law provides for the right of any individual to burial in a civil ceremony, and requires the government to establish civil cemeteries in various areas around the country.  The law criminalizes the intentional desecration of, or trespass on, places of burial, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment.

Laws inherited from the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate periods establish the legal authority of religious courts operated by officially recognized religious communities over their members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial.  The law allows for civil registration of two persons as a married couple outside of the religious court system only if they married outside the country, or if the partners are of different religions and their respective religious courts do not object to a civil registration, or if both partners are listed as “lacking religion” in the population registry.  A law mandating women’s equality contains language that explicitly exempts matters of marriage, divorce, and appointments to religious positions.

The only domestic marriages with legal standing and that may be registered are those performed according to the religious statutes of recognized religious communities.  Members of nonrecognized groups may process their personal status documents, including marriage licenses, through the authorities of one of the recognized religious communities if those authorities agree.

The law imposes a two-year prison sentence for persons who conduct, or are married in, a Jewish wedding or divorce outside the Chief Rabbinate’s authority.

Religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction over divorce cases when the husband and wife are registered with the same recognized religion.  Members of religious groups not permitting divorce, such as Catholics, may not obtain a divorce.  Paternity cases among Muslim citizens are the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts.  Civil courts have jurisdiction over personal status cases when religious courts lack jurisdiction, as in cases of interfaith and same-sex couples.

Matters stemming from divorce proceedings, including alimony, child support, child custody, guardianship, and property division, are under parallel jurisdiction of both religious courts and civil courts.  The first court to receive a case acquires exclusive jurisdiction over it.

In accordance with halacha (Jewish religious law), a Jewish woman whose husband refuses to give her a get (Jewish legal writ of divorce) may not legally remarry in the country.  While a rabbinical court may order a husband to give a get, it does not have the power to terminate the marriage if he refuses.  In such cases, rabbinical courts may impose community-based punishments on the husband, including avoiding financial dealings with a get-refuser, excluding him from community activities, and advertising these decisions to the public.  On June 25, the Knesset passed a law allowing rabbinical courts to hear cases of get refusals in which the spouses are not Israeli citizens, if certain other conditions are met (for instance, if the couple live abroad in a location where there is no rabbinical court).

Secular courts have primary jurisdiction over questions of inheritance, but parties may file such cases in religious courts by mutual agreement.  Decisions by these bodies are subject to Supreme Court review.  The rabbinical courts, when exercising their power in civil matters, apply religious law, which varies from civil law, including in matters relating to the property rights of widows and daughters.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish citizens, male Druze citizens, and male Circassian citizens (Muslims originally from the northwestern Caucasus region who migrated in the late 19th century).  Orthodox Jewish women and Arab Christian and Muslim citizens remain exempt from mandatory military service, although they may voluntarily enlist.

Membership in a recognized religion is recorded in the National Registry and generally passed from parents to children, unless a person changes it through a formal conversion to another recognized religion.  Approximately 400,000 citizens who identify as Jewish but do not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” under Jewish religious law, as well as members of religious groups that are not recognized, are recorded as “lacking religion.”  The vast majority are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who gained citizenship under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate because they cannot prove they meet the Orthodox definition of Jewish through matrilineal descent.  All citizens who meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” are recorded as Jewish, whether Orthodox or not (unless they convert to another religion).  Of the approximately 30,000 immigrants who arrived to Israel during the year, 17,700 of them did not qualify as Jewish under the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria, according to a press report citing CBS data.

For those who did not wish to be identified with a religion, there was no mechanism to change one’s registration to “lacking religion.”

Religious identification is listed in the National Registry but not on official identity cards.

There is no legal requirement regarding personal observance or nonobservance of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), from sunset on Fridays until sunset on Saturdays, and on Jewish holidays.  The law, however, declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest.  The law criminalizes those who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat but not workers, except those who are self-employed.  There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries.  On June 18, the Knesset passed a law prohibiting hiring discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest, based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant.  The law takes effect on January 1, 2019.  An existing law instructs the labor and welfare minister to take into account “Israel’s tradition,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat.

On January 8, following 2013 and 2017 court rulings permitting municipalities to legislate bylaws allowing commercial activity on Shabbat, the Knesset passed a law granting the minister of interior wider discretion to approve or reject bylaws on this matter.

The law states public transportation may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities, and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services.  Halacha prohibits the use of motorized vehicles on Shabbat, except in emergencies.

The Chief Rabbinate has sole legal authority to issue certificates of kashrut, which certify a restaurant’s adherence to Jewish dietary laws.  Alternatively, restaurants are permitted to display “a true presentation regarding the standards it observes and the manner of supervising their observance” without using the word kashrut.

The Mufti of Jerusalem issued “fatwas” (religious edicts) prohibiting Palestinian participation in Jerusalem municipal elections, and sales of land by Palestinians to the Israelis.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a reservation stating that matters of personal status are governed by the religious law of the parties concerned, and the country reserves the right to apply that religious law when inconsistent with its obligations under the Covenant.

Government Practices

On July 27, Muslim protestors threw rocks and fireworks at Israeli police officers near the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  According to the government, violent acts and danger to Israeli security forces forced police to “use appropriate means to scatter the riots” and keep the peace and the public safety.  Police closed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif for several hours.  These clashes led to the arrest of more than 20 individuals and injuries to four police officers, according to media reports.

Following an investigation for more than one year, State Attorney Shai Nitzan announced on May 1 he was closing, without charges, the government’s investigation into a January 2017 incident in which a police officer and a Muslim citizen died during a police action to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran.  Nitzan wrote he decided not to bring criminal charges against police officers after concluding police shot Abu al-Qian because they feared for their lives; however, he recommended disciplinary action against some officers due to “professional mistakes,” according to media reports.  In votes on May 9 and June 13, the Knesset rejected a proposal by MK Taleb Abu Arar, one of three Bedouins in the Knesset, to establish a Knesset inquiry into the events and all subsequent investigations leading up to Nitzan’s decision.  The Arab legal rights organization Adalah stated the decision was evidence of “whitewashing” and that the government treated Arab citizens’ lives as unequal to those of Jewish citizens.

On August 16, following an appeal by the State Attorney’s office, the Supreme Court added 18 months to a four-year sentence for Yinon Reuveni, who burned and vandalized a large section of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha in 2015.

On April 4 in Jerusalem, two police officers reportedly hit an ultra-Orthodox man with a mental disability on the head after he briefly stopped in the road and waved his hands while walking with a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters toward a demonstration, according to the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.

On November 22, the Jerusalem District Court acquitted Jerusalem police officer Gil Zaken of charges he choked and hit in the head an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator in 2016.

Christian clergy in Jerusalem said police officers treated them with unnecessary force on two occasions.  First, in June an Ethiopian monk sustained injuries from police officers when they were they evicting him and other monks from their church.  According to media reports, police had suspected the monks of trespassing because they did not provide identification cards.  Second, on October 24, police physically removed several Coptic monks from outside a chapel in the Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, arresting one of them when the monks refused to allow the IAA to enter and perform restoration work.  The government stated the injured monk’s refusal to obey police instructions left police with no choice but to remove him, using necessary and appropriate physical force.  Ownership of the monastery remained the subject of an ongoing dispute between the Coptic and Ethiopian churches.

On August 13, police arrested a senior official in the Chief Rabbinate for allegedly accepting a bribe to expedite issuance of kashrut certificates.  A 2017 report from the state comptroller called for comprehensive reform of the kashrut regulation system and criticized the MRS, Chief Rabbinate, and local religious councils for structural failures that enabled fraud, waste, poor supervision, and nepotism.

On July 6, a court ordered the head of the banned Northern Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, released to house arrest.  In 2017, police had arrested him on suspicion of incitement and supporting the activities of an illegal organization.

Some religious minority groups complained of lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities.  Data from the NGO Tag Meir and media reports indicated in recent years authorities had indicted few suspects in attacks on religious sites in the country.

On July 19, police in Haifa briefly detained and questioned Conservative Rabbi Dov Hayun on suspicion he conducted Jewish marriage ceremonies outside of the Chief Rabbinate’s authority.  The attorney general subsequently instructed police to stop investigating the rabbi before they had determined “whether his actions raise suspicion of a criminal offense.”  As of year’s end, police had not taken any further action against the rabbi.

According to data from the MRS, out of 70,326 individuals who registered for a Jewish marriage in 2018, rabbinical courts instructed 3,996 who self-identified as Jewish to prove their Jewish lineage.  Of these, 122 were unsuccessful.

Prior to marriage, the Chief Rabbinate required Jewish women to complete bridal counseling sessions.  Existing instructions from the Chief Rabbinate required these sessions address only the wedding ceremony, but in practice the content varied widely and often included marital relations and “family purity” in accordance with halacha, according to a report in Ma’ariv newspaper.  Neither halacha nor civil law mandated such counselling sessions, according to the NGO ITIM.

On May 3, the rabbinical courts, which are government institutions, reported they had issued nine arrest warrants against men who refused to give a get and succeeded in securing 216 gets from intransigent husbands in 2017.  In a speech to new rabbinical court judges on October 15, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef urged them to “have the courage to render judgment” in cases of get refusal, stating, “Do whatever is necessary to make sure a divorce is granted.”

Ultra-Orthodox parties continued to block legislative changes to the status quo regarding issues of halacha and state, which opponents said perpetuated practices that infringed on religious freedom.  For example, on November 21, the Knesset defeated a bill to allow limited public transportation on Shabbat for municipalities that so chose.  Bus cooperatives, however, continued to operate lines on Shabbat in several cities.

The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize as Jewish some citizens who self-identified as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others who could not prove Jewish matrilineage.  As a result, the government prohibited those individuals from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country.  Some Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis, however, officiated at a growing number of these ceremonies outside of the Chief Rabbinate.  Likewise, the government continued not to allow Jewish men with priestly patrilineage (kohanim) to marry converts or divorcees, in accordance with halacha.

On October 29, the Supreme Court ordered Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to explain, within 60 days, why the government had not held a disciplinary hearing for Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu, a government employee.  This order followed a 2016 petition to the Supreme Court by the Israel Religious Action Center, Tag Meir, and other NGOs to initiate disciplinary hearings against Eliyahu, alleging he made a series of racist and offensive statements against Arabs, Druze, women, and the LGBTI community.  The government did not hold a disciplinary hearing for Eliyahu by the end of the year, and the case was ongoing.

The government continued to control access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  The post-1967 status quo pertaining to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif allows non-Muslim visitors but prohibits non-Islamic worship on the compound, despite the fact that no law or published policy prohibits non-Islamic prayer there.  The Jordanian Government Islamic Religious Endowment (Waqf) in Jerusalem maintained the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supported maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem.  The 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan recognized Jordan’s “special role” in relation to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.  Supporters of the status quo stated that, while not perfect, the post-1967 arrangement allowed the holy sites to be open to visitors from all faiths for the first time in Jerusalem’s millennia-old history.

Israeli police continued to be responsible for security, with police officers stationed both inside the site and outside each entrance.  Israeli police conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and inside buildings on the site and regulated pedestrian traffic exiting and entering the site.  Israeli police continued to maintain exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance, the entrance through which non-Muslims may enter the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and allowed visitors through the gate during set visiting hours; however, police sometimes restricted this access due to security concerns.  Israeli police maintained checkpoints outside other gates to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, preventing non-Muslims from entering these other areas, but they did not coordinate with Waqf guards inside.  Some Jewish groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif despite the ban on non-Muslim prayer.  NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount advocacy groups continued to report that changes in relations between police and the Temple Mount advocacy movement created a more permissive environment for non-Muslim religious acts on the site.  In response, the government reiterated that non-Muslim prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Muslim prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site, and public figures, including MKs, whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions.  The government stated that police have no specific policy regarding barring individuals from entering, but police respond both to intelligence information they receive in advance as well as events that unfolding on the ground, without distinguishing between Muslim and non-Muslim visitors.  The government added it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site.  Police continued to screen non-Muslims for religious articles.  Police allowed Jewish male visitors who were visibly wearing a kippah (head covering) and tzitzit (fringes), and those who wished to enter the site barefoot (in accordance with interpretations of halacha) to enter the site with police escort.

The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif from entering the Dome of the Rock and other buildings dedicated for Islamic worship, including the Al-Qibli/Al-Aqsa Mosque.  It also lodged objections with Israeli police concerning non-Muslim visitors wearing religious symbols or religious clothing.  Israeli police sometimes acted upon these objections.

Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints over their lack of control of access to the site.  Waqf officials stated Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions regarding entry and barring of Muslim and non-Muslim visitors to the site.  Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza, but Waqf officials said they were able to exercise only a limited oversight role.  The Waqf reportedly objected to non-Muslims praying or performing religious acts on the site and to individuals who dressed immodestly or caused disturbances, but they lacked authority to remove such persons from the site.  The government stated that most of the time, police and the Waqf worked in full coordination, including regular joint sessions regarding routine activities.

On August 20, the Supreme Court ordered the government to respond within 60 days to a petition by the NGO Moked Israeli Center for the Advancement of Democracy and Protection of Human Rights, which objected to a sign near the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif discouraging non-Muslim visitors from entering the site.  The court later granted government requests to extend the deadline for a response into 2019.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again reiterated his support for the post-1967 status quo understandings at holy sites in Jerusalem, including in a statement following his meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan on June 18.  Many Jewish leaders, including the government-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall, continued to say Jewish law prohibited Jews from entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif for reasons of ritual purity.  Some MKs, however, including members of the governing coalition, called for reversing the policy of banning non-Muslim prayer at the site to provide equal religious freedom for all visitors.  Some government coalition Knesset members continued to call on the Israeli government to implement time-based division at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to set aside certain days or hours for Jewish access and/or worship, similar to the arrangement used at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.  MK Yehuda Glick and other members of the Temple Mount movement continued to advocate for reversing the status quo prohibition on non-Muslim prayer at the site, describing it as a restriction on religious freedom.

In accordance with previously instituted practices, Israeli police announced a temporary closure of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to non-Muslim visitors during the last 10 days of Ramadan; however, the police permitted non-Muslim visits to the site during the first two days of this period.  The government stated that each year police assess the security situation and decide whether it is necessary to close the site to non-Muslims during this period, “in order to allow for a proper course of prayer for Muslim worshipers during Ramadan.”  In July Prime Minister Netanyahu rescinded his 2015 blanket prohibition of MKs and ministers visiting the site and allowed these officials to visit once a month, after obtaining approval of the Chairman of the Knesset and according to police  security assessments.

The Waqf expressed its continued concern over calls by some Jewish activists to build a third Jewish temple on the site, as well as increased numbers of visits by Jews whom the Waqf described as Jewish “Temple Mount activists.”  The Waqf also objected to increased attempts by activists to pray on the site or conduct other religious activity on the site in violation of the status quo.  Waqf officials also stated Israeli police restricted the Waqf’s administration of the site by prohibiting building and infrastructure repairs.  For example, police prevented the Waqf from carrying out repairs without advance approval and oversight from the IAA and refused to permit the entry of most maintenance equipment onto the site, according to the Waqf.  The government stated maintenance of the site was supervised by police and coordinated in advance, adding that larger scale renovations required approval and supervision by the IAA and of a ministerial committee to ensure the site is properly preserved and no archeological findings are destroyed or covered by the renovators.  In August Israeli authorities briefly detained four Waqf employees attempting to carry out repairs, but they subsequently permitted the repairs.

Waqf officials reported Israeli police on occasion detained Waqf employees (typically guards) or expelled them from the site and from the vicinity of visiting non-Muslim groups.  The government stated that on some occasions, Waqf employees with suspected connections to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Shabab al-Aqsa, instigated “provocations,” which police handled either by issuing a directive limiting the proximity of the Waqf employees to visiting Jewish groups, or in extreme cases, removing them from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

The Temple Mount Sifting Project and other group and individuals criticized the Waqf for the “destruction of the heritage of Jews as well as Christians and Muslims” for moving soil, stones, and artifacts from dirt mounds in the courtyard the Waqf had previously dug up during controversial excavations.  According to a media report, the mixed pile of dirt had limited archaeological value because it was already out of its original archeological strata; however, artifacts in the dirt could be of historical value.

On March 26, for the first time, authorities allowed Temple Mount activists to conduct a ritual slaughter of sheep for Passover in the Davidson Center Archaeological Park, below the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

At the main Western Wall plaza, the place of worship nearest Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to permit persons of all faiths to pray individually and quietly and Jewish men to conduct Orthodox Jewish prayer in groups, with separation of women and men.  The government, however, continued to prohibit at the main plaza the performance of “a religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.”  Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services and other ceremonies not conforming to Orthodox Judaism.

Members of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements continued to criticize gender segregation and rules governing how women may pray at the Western Wall.  Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site.  Authorities, however, permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions.

Police continued to allow the group Women of the Wall to enter the women’s area of the main Western Wall plaza for its monthly service.  In June, following a request from the police and the government-sponsored Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Attorney General’s Office ruled the Women of the Wall must hold their monthly service in a barricaded area in the women’s section, which police set up on a side of the women’s section not touching the Western Wall.  Representatives of Women of the Wall complained of a lack of effort by police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the Western Wall site, to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted their monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing.  In response, the government stated that large numbers of Israeli police, ushers, and security personnel maintained order on occasions when Women of the Wall prayed there.  Women of the Wall filed a petition to the Supreme Court in March 2017 to require ushers and police to prevent disruption to their services.  The case was ongoing as of the end of the year.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall plaza, for non-Orthodox egalitarian (mixed gender) Jewish prayers.  Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs.  In response to an ongoing Supreme Court case from 2013 on the issue of prayer access at the Western Wall, the government stated in January it intended to upgrade the egalitarian prayer space.  In June 2017, the government “froze” a 2016 agreement with non-Orthodox Jewish groups that offered symbolic recognition to the Conservative and Reform Judaism movements in addition to upgrading the egalitarian prayer space.  The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill the agreement.  In August a special government committee approved expansion of the platform through a fast-track planning process.  The court case was ongoing as of the end of the year.

On May 13, the government allocated 200 million shekels ($53.35 million) to the MOT for the planning and establishment of a cable car from the First Station cultural complex in Jerusalem to the Dung Gate of the Old City.  The plan included building a roof over a Karaite cemetery under the path of the cable car to resolve Orthodox Jewish concerns about use of the cable car by Jewish men with priestly patrilineage (kohanim), for whom it is halachically forbidden to contract ritual impurity by “sheltering” over a corpse.  The Karaite community objected to the plan, saying building a roof over the cemetery would render it ritually impure according to Karaite beliefs, preventing further use of the cemetery.

The security barrier dividing most of the West Bank from Israel also divided some Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, affecting access to places of worship.  The Israeli government previously stated the barrier was highly effective in preventing attacks in Israel.

Several groups, including religious minorities and human rights NGOs, criticized the July passage of the new Nation State Law.  The law called for promoting “Jewish settlement,” which non-Jewish organizations and leaders said they feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and land issues.  Druze leaders decried the law for relegating what they termed a loyal minority that serves in the military to second-class-citizen status.  Opponents, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, also criticized the law for failing to mention the principle of equality in order to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities.  Supporters stated it was necessary to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which anchored the country’s democratic character with protection of individual rights, noting the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality.  According to press reports, on August 4, a demonstration in Tel Aviv comprised of approximately 90,000 members of the Druze community and Jewish supporters protested the law.  A week later, press reported that 30,000 Arab citizen protestors and their Jewish supporters also took part in a protest against the law in Tel Aviv.  Political leaders conceded the need to address the criticisms of the Druze community.  As of the end of the year, multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law were pending with the Supreme Court.

On May 5, the government announced it had begun recruiting women as legal advisors in rabbinical courts, following a petition to the Supreme Court by ITIM and Bar Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women.  In 2017, the Rabbinical Courts Administration named a female deputy director-general for the first time.  Because only men may become rabbis under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law, there were no female judges in rabbinical courts, although some women have acted as rabbinic pleaders (equivalent to lawyers) since 1995.

The MOI continued to rely on the sole discretion and approval of the Jewish Agency, a parastatal organization, to determine who qualified to immigrate as a Jew or descendant of a Jew.  The government continued to deny applications from individuals whom the government said became ineligible when they converted to another religion, including those holding Messianic or Christian beliefs.

A group of Orthodox rabbis continued to operate a private conversion court for children of families whom the state or rabbinical courts did not recognize as Jews.  In August, for the first time, the Jerusalem District Court recognized a non-Rabbinate Orthodox conversion through the NGO Giyur k’Halacha.  The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Jews, although they remained eligible for immigration under the Law of Return if they converted outside the country.

A Supreme Court case to grant immigration rights to those who completed Reform or Conservative conversions inside the country continued through year’s end.

On June 3, a committee headed by former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim made recommendations for proposed legislation on a new conversion law.  Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed the committee in 2017 in response to the 2005 Supreme Court petition by the Conservative and Reform Jewish movements for recognition of non-Orthodox conversions inside the country.  The recommendations did not receive political support from any of the Jewish Knesset factions, and the government did not act on them by the end of the year.  At a Supreme Court hearing on December 17, the government requested a six-month extension for the presentation of its plan.  By year’s end, the court had not rendered a decision on the extension request.

On January 15, the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs discussed incidents in which the Population and Immigration Authority incorrectly registered as Christian immigrants from the former Soviet Union who self-identified as Jewish.  Ha’aretz reported in September 2017 that the Chief Rabbinate had changed the registration status of 900 persons from Jewish to non-Jewish or “pending clarification” in 2015 and 2016.  ITIM petitioned the Supreme Court against these changes and the case continued at year’s end.

In October an individual petitioned the District Court in Haifa to change his registration from Jewish to “lacking religion.”  The court scheduled a hearing for January 2019.

Several municipalities filed legal challenges in the Supreme Court against the January 8 law granting the minister of interior wider discretion to approve or reject bylaws allowing commercial activity on Shabbat.  These challenges followed Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s rejection from June to August of five municipalities’ bylaws that would have legalized commerce on Shabbat, according to media reports.  Sources stated some non-kosher restaurants that opened on Shabbat paid fines that varied according to local laws.

On July 19, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev signed a regulation conditioning government funding of Israeli sports associations, except soccer associations, on their accommodation of Shabbat-observant athletes.

The MRS listed 21 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and the West Bank for persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” but only two were available for use to the broader general public regardless of residence.  The one MRS-administered cemetery in the West Bank was available only for the burial of Israel citizens.  Additionally, 13 MRS-administered cemeteries in 10 agricultural localities were authorized to conduct civil burial (i.e., not affiliated to a religion) for these localities and nearby residents.  Some persons, however, who sought a civil burial for a relative reported several civil cemeteries near Tel Aviv were unusable because they were full or restricted to local residents.  On May 29, the MRS published a call for proposals to develop or expand cemeteries for civil burials, following a 2016 report by the state comptroller that criticized the MRS for not implementing the civil burial law and thereby preventing the right of citizens to civil burial.

On February 19, the government passed a motion to recognize more Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders (keisim) and integrate them into Jewish religious councils.  According to recommendations published November 7 by a special government committee, keisim would be allowed to conduct some community religious functions but not marriages and funerals, unless they underwent the rabbinical ordination process and applied individually to the Chief Rabbinate.  On October 7, the cabinet approved a plan to facilitate immigration of approximately 1,000 parents from Ethiopia’s Falash Mura community whose children were already in Israel.

In 2017, the government cable and satellite-broadcasting regulator fined Channel 20, the “Heritage Channel,” 100,800 shekels ($26,900) for excluding the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements from its programming, because its license described the outlet as a platform for all streams of Judaism.  Channel 20 appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.  On May 9, the court ruled an administrative court would adjudicate the appeal.  The case was ongoing in the Court for Administrative Affairs in Jerusalem as of the end of the year.

In June, following a Supreme Court challenge by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the government announced attendance at a presentation to introduce an expedited Orthodox Jewish conversion course would no longer be mandatory for IDF soldiers who self-identified as Jewish but were not recognized by the Rabbinate as Jewish.  The government stated the IDF would instead send invitations to IDF soldiers for the presentation; those who do not wish to participate could be excused.

In September 2017, the Supreme Court struck down the existing arrangement to exempt ultra-Orthodox men from military service, and it set a deadline of one year to pass new legislation to reduce inequality in the burden of military service between ultra-Orthodox and other Jews.  Some ultra-Orthodox communities stated that mandatory conscription was a violation of the right to conscientious objection on the basis of their religious beliefs.  On October 14, the Ministry of Defense sent a letter to the Eda Haredit community rejecting this argument.  Following a request from the government for more time to pass a new draft law, on December 2, the Supreme Court agreed to postpone the deadline to 2019.

Those exempt from compulsory military service continued to have the option to join the National Service, a civilian alternative in which volunteers work for two years to promote social welfare in schools, hospitals, or NGOs.  According to government officials and NGOs, this alternative was more popular among women from “national religious” Jewish Orthodox backgrounds than other exempt groups.

The government continued to operate a special police unit for the investigation of “ideology-based offenses” in Israel and the West Bank, including “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests.  The government continued to classify any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense.  On March 29, the Lod District Court convicted one person of “membership in a terrorist organization” for a 2015 price tag attack, according to media reports.

The government maintained an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no member of the Church “will engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, according to the website of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center.  Some other nonrecognized Christian communities reported the MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs discouraged them from proselytizing or holding large public gatherings outside their houses of worship.

In April the Watchtower Association of Israel (Jehovah’s Witnesses) sued the government in the Supreme Court to process its application for a tax exemption from capital gains transactions, which it submitted in 2012.  In 2016, the tax authority had approved its application and forwarded it to the Knesset Finance Committee, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for January 16, 2019.

Public Hebrew-language state schools taught Jewish history, culture, and some basic religious texts.  Many ultra-Orthodox religious schools in the “recognized but not official” category continued not to offer the basic humanities, math, and science curriculum.  However, the government included the basic curriculum in public ultra-Orthodox schools.  This category included 43 schools with 5,652 students in the 2017-2018 school year, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year, according to media reports.  Public Arabic-speaking schools continued to teach religion classes on the Quran and the Bible to both Muslim and Christian Arab students.  A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also offered religion classes.  For example, the curriculum at the nonprofit school Hand-in-Hand:  Center for Jewish-Arab Education, which received a third of its funding from the government, emphasized commonalities in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

According to the NGO Noar Kahalacha, dozens of Jewish school girls were unable to attend ultra-Orthodox schools due to discrimination based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East), despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls.  A 2017 report from the state comptroller criticized the Ministry of Education (MOE) for failing to respond effectively to discrimination in educational institutions, including discrimination against girls in ultra-Orthodox schools.  The government stated the MOE did not tolerate any form of discrimination, and schools that refused to accept students for discriminatory reasons were summoned to hearings, sometimes leading to delays and denial of their budgets until the schools resolved the discrimination.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the budget of Christian school systems in the “recognized but not official” category, in which schools have autonomy over hiring teachers, admitting students, and the use of school property, according to church officials.  The government repeated its offer made in previous years to fund fully Christian schools if they became part of the public school system, but the churches rejected this option, stating they would lose autonomy over those decisions.  Church leaders criticized the disparity in government funding between their school system and those affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, which were also categorized as “recognized but not official” but received full government funding.

The government maintained its policy of not accepting applications for official recognition from nonrecognized religious groups, including evangelical Christian churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The government stated no religious community had attempted to apply for recognition during the year.  In April the Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting official recognition as a religious community.  A hearing was scheduled for January 2019.  The government stated some leaders of nonrecognized religions were invited and participated along with the leaders of recognized religions at official events or ceremonies.

Seventh-day Adventists stated they faced difficulty traveling to their houses of worship in cities in which public transportation was unavailable on Shabbat, including Jerusalem.  Some nonrecognized religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, received a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhists and the Church of Scientology, did not.  The government has stated local authorities conducted tax collection from nonrecognized religions in accordance with the law.  The government stated it was unaware of any recent case in which a religious house of worship in Israel was not granted a property tax exemption.

In February the Jerusalem municipality began to enforce collection of taxes on church properties used for nonworship activities, such as friars’ residences and parish halls, issuing retroactive fines and placing liens on bank accounts belonging to several churches.  Then-Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said the city was owed 650 million shekels ($173.4 million) in uncollected taxes on church assets.  On February 25, leaders of 14 Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox Churches, issued a joint letter condemning the decision, after the Jerusalem municipality announced it would start collecting back taxes on church-owned property and freeze financial accounts used by churches for their day-to-day operations.  Church leaders also expressed concern over the introduction of a draft Knesset bill that would allow the government to expropriate lands sold by a church to private investors, with compensation to the investors for the price they paid for the land.  In their joint statement, the church leaders accused the government of a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land.”  The bill’s sponsor stated the purpose of the bill was to protect thousands of residents living in buildings built on church lands that private developers purchased from a church.  Those residents reportedly feared massive price hikes or eviction when their leases expired.

In protest against the tax collection and the property expropriation bill, church leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on February 25, the first such closure since 1990.  They reopened the church on February 28 after Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the government would freeze the tax collection and suspend consideration of the property expropriation bill and establish a working group led by Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi to examine the two issues.  In a statement following Minister Hanegbi’s meeting with the working group on October 23, the MFA stated the government “has no intention to confiscate church lands or to cause any economic damage to the churches.”  When church leaders learned the bill would come before the Knesset on November 11, they pressured the government, which again froze debate on the bill.  Church leaders again expressed outrage when the bill was scheduled to be read in the Knesset on December 24, Christmas Eve.  The bill did not progress further before the Knesset voted to dissolve itself on December 26.

Christian leaders reported little difficulty obtaining visas for clergy to serve in the country, except for Christian clergy from Arab countries, some of whom reported long delays and periodic denials of their visa applications.  The government stated Christian clergy from Arab countries were subject to the same entry laws and similar security procedures as clergy from other parts of the world.  The government also said there were some “unavoidable delays” in cases of applicants from states that did not have diplomatic relations with Israel.  Church officials noted the clergy visa did not allow the bearer access to basic social benefits such as disability insurance or national health insurance, even for those who have served in the country for more than 30 years.

The government continued to approve annual “delays” of conscription to military service for individual Jehovah’s Witnesses upon presentation of documentation of their continued affiliation with their religious community, although without acknowledging their right to conscientious objection.  Because members of the community were not exempt from military service, they could not participate in the national civil service program as alternative service.

On June 28, the Supreme Court rejected a petition from the organization Yesh Gvul demanding the government give equal weight to military exemption requests based on conscientious objection as for those based on religious beliefs.  The court ruled the two kinds of exemptions were based on different parts of the Security Service Law; exemption for Orthodox Jewish women based on their religious beliefs was a right, while exemption of conscientious objectors was at the discretion of the defense minister.

The MOI continued to train Druze and Muslim clerical employees of the state on how to work with government ministries.  The MOI appointed and funded approximately half of the Druze and Muslim clerics in the country.  Muslim leaders again said the MOI routinely monitored and summoned for “talks” those whom the ministry suspected of opposing government policies.  According to the government, the government did not monitor clerics, but government employees of all faiths were “expected not to incite against the state in their official capacities.”  The government stated the remaining Druze and Muslim clerics were nonstate employees due to either the preference of the local community or lack of MOI budget.  Muslim leaders stated sharia court judges, who were Ministry of Justice employees, were their preferred religious representatives.  No Islamic seminaries remained in the country, and students of Islam traveled elsewhere, primarily Jordan or the West Bank, to study.  The government stated there were “Islamic colleges” in Umm al-Fahm, Baqa’a al-Gharbia, and Kfar Baraa.  Muslim leaders rejected this assertion, stating the institutes in Umm al-Fahm and Kfar Baraa, operated by an NGO that teaches some Islamic studies, were not recognized as educational institutions by the Israeli Council for Higher Education.  The Muslim leaders also said Al-Qasemi College in Baqa’a al-Gharbia was a teachers’ college that includes a program for teaching Islam in schools.  The leaders stated that none of those institutes was an Islamic seminary.

According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), 115 of the 126 Jewish communities in the Negev maintained admission committees to screen new residents, effectively excluding non-Jewish residents.  Following objections by multiple NGOs, authorities canceled plans for new Jewish communities called Daya, Eshel HaNasi, and Neve Gurion to replace existing Bedouin villages.  In August the National Planning and Building Council recommended that the government proceed with the establishment of a town called Ir Ovot, which was to include a zone for approximately 50 Bedouin Israelis to remain in their current locations.

On April 11, Bedouin residents of Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to self-demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura.  This decision followed years of legal battles and negotiations, in preparation for replacing Umm al-Hiran with a Jewish community called Hiran.  Jewish families sponsored by the OR Movement (an organization dedicated to expanding the Jewish population of the Negev region), who planned to move to Hiran, remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran, living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund, while waiting for the village land to become available.

Some former mosques and cemeteries remained sealed and inaccessible, including to Muslims.  These sites belonging to the defunct prestate Waqf (not to be confused with the Jordanian-administered Waqf of the Haram al-Sharif) until confiscated by the state after the 1948 War of Independence.  Other former mosques continued to be used for secular purposes.  On December 5, following a decades-long legal battle between the Jaffa Muslim community and a real estate developer, the government approved a request from the Tel Aviv Municipality to recognize Tasou cemetery in Jaffa as a Muslim cemetery.  This decision included authority for the Muslim community to manage the cemetery but did not transfer its ownership.  The Islamic Council in Jaffa welcomed the decision, publicly calling it “a just decision that’s been waiting for more than 70 years.”  In November MK Ayman Odeh raised 160,000 shekels ($42,700) to help the Haifa Muslim community repurchase a section of the Independence Mosque in Haifa that government-appointed trustees had previously sold.

Muslim community leaders reported no difficulties obtaining municipal approval for construction of mosques in Muslim-majority localities, but they sometimes faced difficulty in Jewish-majority localities.  For example, Be’er Sheva’s Muslim population of approximately 10,000 continued to travel to nearby Bedouin towns to pray because e they could not use an Ottoman-era Be’er Sheva mosque the government previously converted to a museum of Islamic culture and the government would not authorize the construction of another mosque.

On July 30, the Ministry of Transportation ordered the expropriation of land previously allocated to a Karaite synagogue in Ramle for the purpose of building a highway interchange.  The Karaites said the loss of land and the new interchange would disrupt their religious and communal activity.  On December 11, the Supreme Court dismissed their appeal on procedural grounds, stating the case should be submitted to a lower court.  The government subsequently reported the government and community reached an agreement that would minimize the amount of land expropriated and optimize use of the land for the synagogue’s needs.

The IDF continued to have only Orthodox Jewish chaplains; the government employed civilian non-Jewish clergy as chaplains at military burials when a non-Jewish soldier died in service.  The MOI continued to provide imams to conduct military funerals according to Islamic customs.  In 2017, the IDF issued new regulations allowing secular military funerals.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men.  The local municipality of Beit Shemesh failed to comply with court orders from 2015 and 2016 to remove the signs, leading the Jerusalem District Court to rule in 2017 that the municipality would face a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,700) per day if the signs remained posted.  In December 2017, the municipality took down six of the eight signs, but did not then remove the remaining two due to a protest.  Local residents put up new signs to replace those the municipality removed.  On February 18, the Supreme Court ordered the municipality to install security cameras and take action against individuals posting the signs.  As of September police had not made any arrests.  The municipality had not installed cameras as of November, according to media reports.  The court case continued through December.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, vandals repeatedly tore down or defaced billboards showing pictures of women, including commercial advertisements, public awareness campaigns, and political advertisements.  In July police arrested six ultra-Orthodox men for vandalizing campaign signs of a female candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, according to media reports.

In response to NGO Secular Forum’s petition against a ban on bringing leavened bread and similar foods into public hospitals during Passover, the government told the Supreme Court in July that it would expand the role of hospital security guards on Passover to include checking visitors’ belongings for such foods.  The case was ongoing at year’s end.

The government continued to enforce the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry prohibiting non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the MOI made a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.  The government stated it has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allowed entry to a disproportionate number of persons who were later involved in acts of terrorism.  The NGO HaMoked said that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation.

According to HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the citizenship and entry law, with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families.  There were also cases of Palestinian residents’ Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status.  Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency.  According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry foreign Christians (Christians who hold neither citizenship nor residency).  Christian religious leaders expressed concern this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively impacted the long-term viability of their communities.  Other factors included political instability; the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry; limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions; difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits; loss of confidence in the peace process; and economic hardships created by the establishment of the security barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions.  The government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restriction on the Christian community.

While the law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of the country in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.  The application of ILA restrictions historically limited the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who are not citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem.  In recent years, however, an increasing number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have acquired property built on ILA-owned land.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that during the year the government positively addressed two longstanding visa cases involving foreigners married to citizens.

NGOs reported incidents in which authorities violated the freedom not to practice religion, particularly in the secular public education system and the military.  For example, the Secular Forum criticized the MOE’s “Jewish Israeli culture curriculum” for students in first to ninth grade, referring to it as “religious indoctrination to young children.”  The Secular Forum also opposed religious programs in those schools by private religious organizations, such as presentations about Passover in March by the Chabad ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement.  The government denied students were subjected to religious indoctrination or coercion, stating the secular public school curriculum included lessons “on the culture of the Jewish people,” including elements of the Jewish faith and traditions, such as the Jewish calendar and holidays.

In some instances, the IDF did not permit soldiers to cook or heat water for a shower on Shabbat, according to media reports.  The government stated soldiers were expected to respect Shabbat and kashrut in IDF base kitchens “in order to accommodate religious and kosher-observant soldiers.”  The government said it was not aware of limitations on heating water for showers on bases.

Women’s rights organizations cited a growing trend of gender segregation reflecting increased incorporation of Jewish religious observance in government institutions, including in the IDF, as accommodation to increase the enlistment of participants who follow strict interpretations of Jewish law prohibiting mixing of the sexes.  For example, IDF commanders sometimes asked female soldiers serving in leadership or instructor positions to allow a male colleague to assume their duties when religious soldiers who objected to interacting with females were present, according to the Israel Women’s Network.  In response to this claim and similar allegations in media reports, IDF Chief of Personnel Director Major General Almoz said such practices “are in violation of Army orders and policy, do unnecessary harm to large groups serving in the Army, and are inconsistent with IDF commanders’ responsibility.”  According to many observers, the trend in recent years has been toward greater inclusion of women in the IDF, including in combat roles and senior leadership positions.

NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the IAA emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions.  In 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the MRS’ declaration that the Western Wall tunnels were an exclusively Jewish holy site, but ruled that the MRS and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation must ensure those sections of the tunnels significant to Muslims and Christians – including excavations of a Christian chapel, an Islamic school, and Islamic Mamluk-era buildings – were properly managed to protect the antiquities and to ensure access for members of other religions.  The government stated the IAA conducted impartial evaluations of all unearthed archeological finds and by law the IAA must document, preserve, and publish all findings from excavations.  It added that IAA researchers “have greatly intensified their research of ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.”

The interreligious council convened on May 8 and discussed the integration of Bedouin Muslims into the Israeli economy and higher education, according to the government.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to missionary organizations, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative.  Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Messianic Jews.  For example, security camera footage showed ultra-Orthodox men vandalizing the Beit Hallel Messianic Jewish house of worship in Ashdod in September, and members of the Ashdod Messianic Jewish community complained of stalking, verbal abuse, and harassment from anti-missionary organizations.

Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that on February 17, a man pepper-sprayed two Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked on the door of his home in Ashdod.  Police closed the case on the grounds the suspect was unknown, even though the victims provided police with the address of the house where the attack occurred.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said a television reporter conducted an “ambush interview” on June 14 in front of a Jehovah’s Witnesses literature display in Tel Aviv, selecting a member of Yad L’Achim, a Jewish group that opposes conversion of Jews to other religions, to comment about the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Yad L’Achim activist made numerous discriminatory and derogatory statements about them.

Lehava, described by press as a radical right-wing Jewish group opposing romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews, continued to assault Arab men whom they perceived to be consorting with Jewish women, according to the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).  Following a 2017 IRAC petition to the High Court demanding Lehava leader Ben-Tzion Gopstein be indicted on a series of offenses, the Jerusalem District Attorney held a pre-indictment hearing for Gopstein on March 8 on charges of incitement to violence, racism, terrorism, and obstruction of justice.  On March 14, IRAC withdrew its petition after the government stated to the court that it would decide whether to indict Gopstein.  In August IRAC wrote a letter to the state attorney requesting a decision regarding an indictment.  Prosecutors had not filed an indictment as of the end of the year.

In April authorities indicted seven Jewish Israelis on charges of terrorism targeting Arab (Muslim or Christian) citizens of Israel in a series of attacks, including a stabbing, in Be’er Sheva that began in 2016, according to media reports.  According to the indictment, on several occasions the defendants assaulted men whom they believed were Arab to deter them from dating Jewish women.  In a plea bargain, the Be’er Sheva District Court issued a five and a half year sentence to Raz Amitzur, the “main spirit of a group that perpetrated these attacks with a racist motive,” according to prosecutors.  The court sentenced four other members of the group to community service, according to media reports.

There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public areas of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods harassing, with verbal abuse, spitting, or throwing stones, individuals who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as by not wearing modest dress or driving on Shabbat.  For example, on July 15, a widely publicized video showed a group of ultra-Orthodox men in Beit Shemesh chasing and yelling at a girl for dressing in a way they perceived as immodest.  There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting at individuals wearing Christian clerical clothing, according to church leaders.  In Jerusalem, these incidents often occurred in the Old City and near the shared holy site of the Cenacle (devotional site of the Last Supper)/David’s Tomb outside the southeastern wall of the Old City.

Muslim activists reported hijab-wearing women sometimes experienced harassment by non-Muslims on public buses in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the IDF, housing, public transportation, and participation in the workforce.  On March 22, in a demonstration by the ultra-Orthodox Hapeleg Hayerushalmi group against the arrest of a military deserter, clashes broke out between demonstrators and police.  According to media reports, demonstrators threw stones and other objects at police, used tear gas against police officers, and vandalized cars.  Police dispersed protesters with “skunk water” (a foul-smelling, nonlethal liquid used by the government for crowd control) and arrested more than 30 protesters.  In a separate incident on April 4, police used stun grenades against ultra-Orthodox protestors who threw objects at cars, according to media reports.

In June Yad L’Achim posted videos of their activists harassing alleged proselytizers.  The organization also claimed to have “rescued” individuals from Messianic Jewish congregations and continued to offer assistance to Jewish women and their children to “escape” cohabitation with Arab men, sometimes by “launching military-like rescues from hostile Arab villages,” according to Yad L’Achim’s website.  Media reported in October, in the context of municipal elections, that the Ramle branch of the Jewish Home party posted billboards warning against marriages between Jews and Muslims.  The national Jewish Home party reportedly disavowed the billboards.  The October wedding of Muslim news anchor Lucy Aharish and Jewish actor Tzahi Halevi drew rebukes from Jewish politicians who opposed marriage between Jews and non-Jews.

Unknown suspects vandalized a Conservative synagogue in Netanya in three incidents in May.  According to media reports, an unidentified individual spray-painted Nazi symbols on the Mikdash Moshe Synagogue in Petakh Tikva on August 13, and vandals placed a pig’s head at the entrance to the Sukkat Shaul Synagogue in Ramat Hasharon on November 9.

The most common “price tag” offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, damage to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands.  For example, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in October vandals damaged tombs and broke crosses at the cemetery of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jimal near Beit Shemesh, the third attack on the monastery in three years.  An October 18 statement from the Latin Patriarchate criticized Israeli authorities for failing to apprehend the culprits in any of the preceding cases.  The same day, the MFA condemned the desecration of the cemetery.  The MOI offered to pay for the repair of the damaged cemetery markers and headstones.

On April 25, vandals burned two cars and spray-painted anti-Arab graffiti in the village of Iksal in the northern part of the country in a suspected “price tag” attack.  Police had not arrested any suspects as of October.  On October 26, vandals punctured tires and spray-painted “revenge” and “price tag” in Hebrew on 20 cars in Yafia, near Nazareth, according to media reports.  The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where “price tag” attacks occurred and sponsored activities to promote tolerance in response to the attacks.

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site due to concerns relating to Jewish religious beliefs, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible .  Increasing numbers of the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in setting foot on the site.  Groups such as the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there, as well as the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site.  In some cases, Israeli police acted to prevent individuals from praying and removed them, but in other cases reported on social media and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the acts.  Some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers, wedding rituals, and prostration.  According to the Jerusalem Waqf and Temple Mount activist groups, visits by activists associated with the Temple Mount movement increased during the year to record levels, including a single day record of 1,451 visits on “Jerusalem Day” in May, a national holiday commemorating Israel’s establishment of control over all Jerusalem in the 1967 war.  According to Temple Mount activist groups and the Waqf, during the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot, activists conducted 3,009 visits, a 25 percent increase over 2017.

Individuals affiliated with the Northern Islamic Movement, which the government declared illegal in 2015, continued to speak of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif as being “under attack” by Israeli authorities and an increasing number of Jewish visitors.  Some small Jewish groups continued to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque to enable the building of a third Jewish temple.

In October, following press reports Jews had purchased property in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter owned by Adeeb Joudeh al-Husseini, the representative of a Muslim family historically entrusted with safeguarding the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, members of the Palestinian community called on al-Husseini to relinquish the keys to the church.  According to Ha’aretz, in November every cemetery in East Jerusalem refused to bury a victim of a car accident because his name was associated with the sale of a house to Jews.

NGOs reported that some LGBTI minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization from rabbis as suffering from mental illness, leading some to attempt suicide.  Other NGOs noted increasing numbers of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTI minors.

On February 6, Tzohar, a network of Zionist Orthodox rabbis, announced it was opening a nongovernmental certification authority for businesses adhering to Jewish dietary laws.  Tzohar’s decision followed a September 2017 Supreme Court ruling allowing a business to display “a true presentation regarding the standards it observes and the manner of supervising their observance,” but without using the word “kashrut,” which the court affirmed only the Chief Rabbinate had authority to determine.

In June media reported the Barkan kosher winery had removed workers of Ethiopian descent from their positions in the production of wine after the NGO Badatz Eda Haredit expressed doubt that Ethiopian-Israelis were Jewish.  Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef criticized the winery and the Badatz Eda Haredit, and stated categorically that Jews of Ethiopian descent were Jewish.  Barkan Winery subsequently issued a statement that their products with a Badatz Eda Haredit kashrut certificate would be destroyed, according to Kan Radio.

According to sources who conducted Jewish weddings outside the Rabbinate’s authority (i.e., did not register them), the vague wording of the law dealing with those who conducted such weddings and the government’s nonenforcement of the law enabled non-Rabbinate Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish weddings to occur openly, often as an act of protest against the Rabbinate’s authority.  According to the NGO Panim, more than 2,400 Jewish weddings took place outside of the Rabbinate’s authority in 2017, an increase of 8 percent from 2016.  Most Jewish citizens, including those who were secular, continued to use Rabbinate-approved Orthodox rabbis to conduct their weddings.  The only mechanism for Jews to gain state recognition of a non-Orthodox wedding or a non-Rabbinate Orthodox wedding, however, remained to wed outside the country and then register the marriage with the MOI.  Approximately 15 percent of marriages registered with the MOI in 2016, the most recent year available, occurred abroad, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.  According to data from the MRS, most of these weddings involved Israelis who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union.

In July, after police detained and questioned a Conservative rabbi in Haifa for conducting weddings outside of the Rabbinate, dozens of officiants and couples who had married outside of the Rabbinate turned themselves in at police stations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and others “confessed” their crime on social media.  Police declined to arrest any of the individuals involved.

According to the Rackman Center, thousands of Jewish women were “trapped” in various stages of informal or formal get refusal, especially in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities.  In two cases of get refusal, the NGOs Center for Women’s Justice and Mavoi Satum helped women receive marriage nullification decrees from nongovernmental Orthodox rabbinical courts in June and July.

The Rackman Center stated that in some instances a woman’s husband made granting a get contingent on his wife conceding to extortionate demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody.  One in three Jewish women who divorced faced such demands, according to the Center for Women’s Justice.  A child born to a woman still married to another man is considered a mamzer (child of an unpermitted relationship) under Jewish law, which restricts the child’s future marriage prospects in the Jewish community.

In June the Israel Women’s Network asked the Tel Aviv Municipality and the deputy attorney general not to allow an ultra-Orthodox group to hold a gender-segregated event in Tel Aviv.  The municipality canceled the event, and then accepted a Tel Aviv District Court suggestion to allow the event with partial gender segregation on June 24.  According to a media report citing government data, the Office for Development of the Periphery, Negev, and Galilee funded more than 80 gender-segregated events during the year to accommodate strict interpretations of halacha.

A variety of NGOs continued to try to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities, including Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Givat Haviva, the Hagar and Hand-in-Hand integrated Jewish-Arab bilingual schools, Hiddush, Israeli Religious Action Center, Mosaica, and Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA).  For example, IEA held 245 interfaith encounters in Israel (including Jerusalem), of which 120 included Palestinians residents of the West Bank.  The number of children studying at integrated Jewish-Arab schools in the school year beginning in September was 1,700, up from 1,100 five years earlier, according to media reports.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

During a visit in January, the U.S. Vice President met with the prime minister, the president, and other government officials.  Discussions included combating religious-based violence and building a future of trust, harmony, tolerance, and respect for members of all faiths.  The Vice President visited religious sites and the Yad Vashem memorial for Holocaust victims in Jerusalem.

Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.  In meetings with government officials and at public events, embassy officials also stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups, including in two embassy-hosted live discussions of religious freedom on social media in November.  The online discussions addressed topics including religion in public schools, democracy and religious freedom, and prevention of societal attacks on religious minorities.

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations, including conferences at which embassy officials advocated for the right of persons from all faiths to practice their religion peacefully, while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.

Throughout the year, embassy officials participated in religious events organized by Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian, and Baha’i communities and used embassy social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.

Embassy-hosted events included an interfaith Ramadan iftar, an interfaith Rosh Hashanah reception, and an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner.  The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience.  Embassy programs supported mixed Jewish-Arab educational and community initiatives to reduce societal tensions and violence, including a project by the Citizens Accord Forum that brought together ultra-Orthodox, Muslim, and Christian citizens to create a shared civic agenda and implement activities related to social issues of common concern in their communities.  Another project supported dialogue between religious Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women.

The embassy worked to mitigate interreligious and intercommunal tensions between the country’s non-Jewish and Jewish citizens through the greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy.  For example, the Ambassador and Minister of Social Equality Gila Gamliel hosted an investment conference promoting Arab high-tech startups with Israeli Jewish and international investors in Nazareth on December 11.

The embassy supported a project to bring together Jewish, Muslim, and Christian female artists in Haifa, Jerusalem, and Lod to foster economic empowerment and encourage interfaith dialogue.

The embassy and consulate jointly provided a grant to the Abu Tor Good Neighbors project to advance cooperation and mutually beneficial community services for Jews and Arabs living in the mixed Jerusalem residential neighborhood of Abu Tor, where Jews and Arabs live on opposite sides of a road without much interaction.


IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL (ABOVE) | WEST BANK AND GAZA

Jordan

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam the religion of the state but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  The constitution stipulates there shall be no discrimination based on religion.  The constitution does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  The constitution and the law, however, allow sharia courts to determine civil status affairs for Muslims and allow these courts to prohibit Muslims from converting to another religion.  Under sharia, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  According to the constitution, matters concerning the personal and family status of Muslims come under the jurisdiction of sharia courts, while six of the 11 recognized Christian groups have religious courts to address such matters for their members.  The government continued to deny official recognition to some religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  In December the attorney general ordered the detention of media personality Mohammad al-Wakeel and an editor working at his website, Al-Wakeel News, for posting on Facebook a cartoon deemed offensive to Jesus.  The post was taken down a few hours later, and al-Wakeel published an apology to the public.  Authorities released the two men two days later.  The government continued to monitor sermons at mosques and to require preachers to refrain from political commentary and stick to approved themes and texts during Friday sermons.  An official committee chaired by the grand mufti regulated which Islamic clerics could issue fatwas.  Converts to Christianity from Islam reported that security officials continued to question them to determine their true religious beliefs and practices.  Members of unregistered groups continued to face problems registering their marriages, the religious affiliation of their children, and renewing their residency permits.  Security forces increased their presence in and protection of Christian areas, especially during special events and holidays, following an August 10 attack targeting security forces near a music festival outside the predominantly Christian city of Fuhais.  Christian leaders said they regarded this presence as part of a government effort to provide additional security at public gathering places, including security for worshippers.

Interfaith religious leaders reported continued online hate speech directed towards religious minorities and moderates, frequently through social media.  Social media users also defended interfaith tolerance, condemning videos and online posts that criticized Christianity or tried to discourage interfaith dialogue.  Some converts to Christianity from Islam continued to report ostracism as well as physical and verbal abuse from their families and communities, and some converts worshipped in secret as a result of the social stigma they faced.  The government did not prosecute converts from Islam for apostasy, but some reported persistent and credible threats from family members concerned with protecting traditional honor.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officers continued to engage with government officials at all levels to support the rights of religious minorities to practice their faiths freely and to promote interfaith tolerance, raising issues such as the renewal of residency permits for religious volunteers.  The Charge and other embassy officers met with Muslim scholars and Christian community leaders to encourage interfaith dialogue.  The embassy supported exchange programs promoting religious tolerance as well as civil society programs to preserve the cultural heritage of religious minorities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to U.S. government estimates, Muslims, virtually all of whom are Sunni, make up 97.2 percent of the population and Christians 2.2 percent.  Groups constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists, Baha’is, Hindus, and Druze (who are considered Muslim by the government).  These estimates do not include migrant workers or refugees.  According to the Ministry of Labor (MOL), there are approximately 670,000 migrant workers in the country, mostly from Egypt, South and East Asia, and Africa.  Migrant workers from Africa and South and East Asia are often Hindu or Christian.  There are more than 757,000 refugees in the country registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 57 countries of origin, including approximately 670,000 Syrians and 67,000 Iraqis.  The Syrian and Iraqi refugee populations are mostly Sunni Muslim.  Shia Muslims and Christians account for less than one third of the Iraqi refugee population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam “the religion of the state” but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  The constitution stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion.  It states the king must be a Muslim.  The constitution allows for religious courts, including sharia courts for Muslims and courts for non-Muslim for religious communities recognized by the government.

The constitution does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  The constitution and the law, however, allow sharia courts to determine civil status affairs for Muslims and allow these courts to prohibit Muslims from converting to another religion.  Under sharia, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  Neither the penal code nor the criminal code specifies a penalty for apostasy.  Sharia courts, however, have jurisdiction over marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and individuals declared to be apostates may have their marriages annulled or be disinherited, except in the presence of a will that states otherwise.  Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against such individuals before the Sharia Public Prosecution.  The Sharia Public Prosecution consults with the Council of Churches before converting a Christian to Islam, to avoid conversions for purposes of marriage and/or divorces only, and not religious conviction.  The penal code contains articles criminalizing acts such as incitement of hatred, blasphemy against Abrahamic faiths, undermining the regime, or portraying Jordanians in a manner that violates their dignity, according to government statements.

Authorities may prosecute individuals who proselytize Muslims under the penal code’s provisions against “inciting sectarian conflict” or “harming the national unity.”  Although these prosecutions may occur in the State Security Court, cases are usually tried in other courts.  Both of these offenses are punishable by imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to 50 Jordanian dinars ($71).

Islamic religious groups are granted recognition through the constitution and do not need to register.  Non-Islamic religious groups must obtain official recognition through registration.  If registered as “denominations,” they may administer rites such as marriage (there is no provision for civil marriage).  They may also own land, open bank accounts, and enter into contracts.  Religious groups may also be registered as “associations” and if so, they must work through a recognized denomination on matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance, but may own property and open bank accounts.  They must obtain government approval to accept foreign funding.  Recognized non-Islamic religious groups are tax exempt but do not receive the government subsidies granted to Islamic religious groups.

Nonrecognized religious groups lack legal status and may not undertake basic administrative tasks such as opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, or hiring staff.  Individuals may exercise such activities and as such may designate an individual to perform these functions on behalf of the unrecognized group, however.  To register as a recognized religious group, the group must submit its bylaws, a list of its members, its budget, and information about its religious doctrine.  In determining whether to register or recognize Christian groups, the prime minister confers with the minister of the interior and the Council of Church Leaders (CCL), a government advisory body comprising the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian denominations.  The government also refers to the following criteria when considering recognition of Christian groups:  the group’s teachings must not contradict the nature of the constitution, public ethics, customs, or traditions; the Middle East Council of Churches, a regional body comprising four families of churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical), must recognize it; its religious doctrine must not be antagonistic to Islam as the state religion; and the group’s membership must meet a minimum number of citizens, although a precise figure is not specified.

The law lists 11 officially recognized Christian religious groups:  Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Anglican, Maronite Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, United Pentecostal, and Coptic.  In 2018, five additional evangelical Christian denominations, formerly registered under the Ministry of Justice, were recognized by the Ministry of Interior as well, but have not been permitted to establish a court:  the Free Evangelical Church, Nazarene Church, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Baptists.  The government has continued to deny official recognition to some religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The government granted legal status to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2018.

The CCL consists of the heads of the country’s 11 historically recognized Christian denominations and serves as an administrative body to facilitate tax and customs exemptions, as well as the issuance of civil documents (marriage or inheritance).  In other matters, such as issuing work permits or purchasing land, the denominations interact directly with the relevant ministries.  Religious groups that do not have representatives on the CCL handle administrative tasks through the ministry relevant to the task.  Nonrecognized Christian groups do not have representatives on the CCL, have no legal status as entities, and must have individual members of their groups conduct business with the government on their behalf.

According to the constitution, a special provision of the law regulates the activities and administration of finances of the Islamic awqaf (religious endowments).  Per this provision of the law, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs manages mosques, including appointing imams, paying mosque staff salaries, managing Islamic clergy training centers, and subsidizing certain mosque-sponsored activities, such as holiday celebrations and religious observances.  Other Islamic institutions are the Supreme (Sharia) Justice Department, which is headed by the Office of the Supreme (Sharia) Justice (OSJ) and is in charge of the sharia courts, and the General Ifta’ Department, which issues fatwas.

Since 2017, the government requires imams to adhere to officially prescribed themes and texts for Friday sermons.  According to the law, Muslim clergy who do not follow government policy may be suspended, issued a written warning, banned from delivering Friday sermons for a certain period, or dismissed from Ministry of Awqaf employment.  In addition to these administrative measures, a preacher who violates the law may be imprisoned for a period of one week to one month, or be given a fine not to exceed 20 dinars ($28).

The law forbids any Islamic cleric from issuing a fatwa unless officially authorized by an official committee headed by the grand mufti in the General Ifta’ Department.  This department is independent from the Ministry of Awqaf with the rank of mufti being equal to that of a minister.

The law prohibits the publication of media items that slander or insult “founders of religion or prophets” or are deemed contemptuous of “any of the religions whose freedom is protected by the constitution,” and imposes a fine on violators of up to 20,000 dinars ($28,200).

By law, public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum; non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out.  Private schools may offer alternative religious instruction.  The constitution provides “congregations” (a term not defined in the constitution, but legally including religious groups recognized as denominations and associations) with the right to establish their own schools provided “they comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to the control of government in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.”  In order to operate a school, religious institutions must receive permission from the Ministry of Education, which ensures the curriculum meets national standards.  The Ministry of Education does not oversee religious courses if religious groups offer them at their places of worship.  In several cities, recognized Christian groups – including Baptists, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics – operate private schools and are able to conduct classes on Christianity.  The schools are open to adherents of all religions.

Knowledge of the Quran is required by law for Muslim students in both public and private schools, but it is optional for non-Muslims.  Every student, however, must pass an Arabic language exam in his or her final year of high school, which includes linguistic mastery of some verses of the Quran.  Islamic religion is an optional subject for university entrance exams for non-Muslim students following the standard curriculum or for Muslim students following international curricula.

The constitution specifies the judiciary shall be divided into civil courts, religious courts, and special courts, with religious courts divided into sharia courts and tribunals of other recognized religious communities.  According to the constitution, matters concerning personal status, which include religious affiliation, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the jurisdiction of religious courts.  Matters of personal status in which the parties are Muslim fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the sharia courts.  A personal or family status case in which one party is Muslim and the other is non-Muslim is heard by a civil court unless both parties agree to use a sharia court.  Per the constitution, matters of personal status of non-Muslims whose religion the government officially recognizes are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific courts of religious communities.  Such courts exist for the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican communities.  According to the law, members of recognized denominations lacking their own courts must take their cases to civil courts, which, in principle, follow the rules and beliefs of the litigants’ denomination in deciding cases, unless both parties to a case agree to use a specific religious court.  There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of nonrecognized religious groups.  Such individuals must request a civil court to hear their case.

The OSJ appoints sharia judges, while each recognized non-Muslim religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal.  The law stipulates the cabinet must ratify the procedures of each non-Muslim religious (known as ecclesiastical) courts.  All judicial nominations must be approved by a royal decree.

According to the constitution, sharia courts also exercise jurisdiction with respect to cases concerning “blood money” (diya) in which the two parties are Muslims or one of the parties is not a Muslim and the two parties consent to the jurisdiction of the sharia courts.  Sharia courts also exercise jurisdiction with regard to matters pertaining to Islamic awqaf.  Muslims are also subject to the jurisdiction of sharia courts on civil matters not addressed by civil status legislation.

Sharia courts do not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status.  Sharia court judges may annul the marriages of converts and transfer child custody to a Muslim nonparent family member or declare the children “wards of the state” and convey an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members.

According to sharia, marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not permitted; the man must convert to Islam for the marriage to be considered legal.  If a Christian woman converts to Islam while married to a Christian man, her husband must also convert for their marriage to remain legal.  There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce for members of nonrecognized religious groups.  Members of nonregistered Christian groups, as well as members of groups registered as associations, may obtain marriage certificates from any recognized Christian denomination such as the Anglican Church, which they then may take to the Civil Status Bureau to receive their government marriage certificates.

Sharia governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father.  Historically, if a Muslim husband and non-Muslim wife divorce, the wife loses custody of the children when they reach seven years of age.  In December an amendment to the Personal Status Law was passed, stipulating that mothers should retain custody of their children until age 18.  The new amendment contains no mention of religious affiliation.  Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims and are not legally allowed to reconvert to their father’s prior religion or convert to any other religion.  In accordance with sharia, adult children of a man who has converted to Islam become ineligible to inherit from their father if they do not also convert to Islam, unless the father’s will states otherwise.  All citizens, including non-Muslims, are subject to Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance if no equivalent inheritance guidelines are codified in their religion or if the state does not recognize their religion.

National identification cards issued since May 2016 do not list religion, but religious affiliation is contained in records embedded in the card’s electronic chip and remains on file in other government records.  Passports issued since May 2016 do not list religion.  Atheists and agnostics must list the religious affiliation of their families as their own.  Per the ban on conversion from Islam under sharia, converts from Islam to Christianity are not allowed to change their religion on the electronic records.  Converts from Christianity to Islam may change their religion on their civil documents such as family books (a national registration record issued to every head of family), and on electronic records.

According to the electoral law, Christians are allocated nine out of 130 parliamentary seats or 6.9 percent.  Christians may not run for additional seats.  No seats are reserved for adherents of other minority religious groups.  The government classifies Druze as Muslims and permits them to hold office.

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

Government Practices

On December 10, the Attorney General ordered the detention of media personality Mohammad al-Wakeel and an editor working at his website, Al-Wakeel News, for posting on Facebook a cartoon deemed offensive to Jesus.  Authorities charged the men with sectarian incitement and causing religious strife per the article of the penal code stipulating hate speech, as well as with violations of the cybercrimes law and the press and publications law.  The cartoon, posted on December 8, depicted Turkish chef “Salt Bae” – real name Nusret Gokce – sprinkling salt on the food at the Last Supper of Jesus.  Social media users commented to the website that the drawing was religiously insensitive and would cause strife between Muslims and Christians in the country.  The post was taken down a few hours later, and al-Wakeel published an apology to the public.  Authorities released Al-Wakeel and the editor, Ghadeer Rbeihat, two days later.

Converts to Islam from Christianity continued to report security officials questioning them about their religious beliefs and practices, as well as surveillance, as part of the government’s effort to prevent conversions of convenience for the purpose of receiving advantageous divorce or inheritance benefits.  Some converts to Christianity from Islam reported they continued to worship in secret to avoid scrutiny by security officials.  Because of the ban on conversion under sharia, government officials generally refused to change religion listed on official documents from Islam to any other religion.  Accordingly, the converts’ religious practice did not match their official religion, opening them up to claims of apostasy and personal status issues involving marriage, divorce, and inheritance.  During the year, several adult Christians reported discovering that because of a parent’s subsequent conversion to Islam, the individuals had been automatically re-registered as Muslims in some government files, leading to inconsistencies in their records and causing bureaucratic obstacles and administrative holdups when trying to apply for marriage licenses or register for university.

Members of religious groups who were unable to obtain religious divorces converted to another Christian denomination or to Islam to divorce legally, according to reports from religious leaders and the Ministry of Justice.  The chief of the OSJ reportedly continued to try to ensure that Christians wanting to convert to Islam did not have a pending divorce case at one of the Christian religious courts to prevent them from converting for the sole purpose of obtaining a legal divorce.  The OSJ reportedly continued to enforce the interview requirement, introduced in 2017, for converts to Islam to determine whether their conversion reflected a genuine religious belief.

According to journalists who cover religious topics, the government continued to monitor sermons at mosques and to require that preachers refrain from political commentary, which the government deemed could instigate social or political unrest, and to counter radicalization.  Authorities continued to disseminate themes and required imams to choose from a list of recommended texts for sermons.  Imams who violated these rules continued to risk being fined or banned from preaching.  According to the grand mufti, the Ministry of Awqaf discovered some unregistered imams leading prayers in mosques during the year.  In these cases, the government ordered all attendees and imams to cease their activities and gather in a designated mosque in their area for the Friday sermons led by a registered imam.  In light of concerns expressed by religious minorities regarding intolerant preaching by some Muslims, the government called for the consolidation of Friday prayers into central mosques over which they had more oversight.  There continued to be unofficial mosques operating outside Ministry of Awqaf control in many cities, as well as imams outside of government employment who preached without Ministry of Awqaf supervision.

In March the government began enforcing a new residency policy enacted in October 2017 to limit the ability of churches to sponsor religious volunteers for residency, suggesting that the volunteers were illegally proselytizing Muslims.  Authorities previously allowed the churches to obtain residency status for religious volunteers with the approval of the Ministry of Interior and a letter of sponsorship from the church.  Volunteers must now obtain additional approvals, including the MOL, lengthening the average renewal process by several months.

The government policy of not recognizing the Baha’i Faith continued, but the government continued to allow Baha’is to practice their religion and included them in interfaith events.  Sharia courts and the courts of other recognized religions continued not to issue to Baha’is the marriage certificates required to transfer citizenship to a foreign spouse or to register for government health insurance and social security.  The Department of Civil Status and Passports also continued not to recognize marriages conducted by Baha’i assemblies, but it issued family books to Baha’is, allowing them to register their children, except in cases of marriages between a Baha’i man and a Baha’i woman erroneously registered as Muslim.  In those cases, the children were considered illegitimate and were not issued birth certificates or included in the family and subsequently were unable to obtain citizenship or register for school.  The Baha’is were able to obtain some documents such as marriage certificates through the civil courts, although they reportedly were required to pay fees which sometimes amounted to more than 500 dinars ($710) for documents normally available for five dinars ($7) through religious courts.

Other nonrecognized religious groups reported they continued to operate schools and hospitals, and also to hold services and meetings if they were low profile.

According to observers, recognized Christian denominations with the rights and privileges associated with membership in the CCL guarded this status, and continued to foster a degree of competition among other religious groups hoping to attain membership.  Despite efforts to alter their status, some evangelical Christian groups remained unrecognized either as denominations or as associations.  Leaders from some CCL-affiliated churches continued to say that there were “recruitment efforts” against their members by evangelical churches and that evangelical churches were disrupting interfaith harmony and the CCL’s relationship with the government and security services.

Some Christian leaders continued to express concern the CCL did not meet regularly and lacked the capacity to manage the affairs of both recognized and nonrecognized Christian groups effectively and fairly, especially in relation to their daily lives.  Most CCL leaders remained based in Jerusalem.

Security forces confirmed they devoted extra resources to protect Christian neighborhoods and churches for holidays and special events, increasing security even further after an August 10 attack targeting Jordanian security forces near a music festival outside the predominantly Christian town of Fuhais.  Christian leaders said they regarded this presence as part of the government effort to provide additional security at public gathering places, including security for religious worshippers.  The church leaders stated they especially appreciated the extra protection during religious holidays and large events.

Druze continued to worship at and socialize in buildings belonging to the Druze community.  The government continued to record Druze as Muslims on civil documents identifying the bearer’s religious affiliation, without public objection from the Druze.  Religious minorities, including Christians and Druze, served in parliament and as cabinet ministers.  Druze continued to report discrimination in reaching high positions in government and official departments.

The government continued to permit non-Muslim members of the armed forces to practice their religion.  Christians and Druze achieved general officer rank in the military, but Muslims continued to hold most senior positions across the security and intelligence services.

Members of non-Muslim religious groups continued to report occasional threats by the government to arrest them for violating the public order if they proselytized Muslims.  Security officials continued to refuse to renew residency permits for some foreign religious leaders and religious volunteers living in the country after raising concerns their activities could incite extremist attacks.  Others were refused on the basis of proselytization accusations and additional requirements were imposed on residency renewals for religious volunteers in general.

There continued to be two recognized Baha’i cemeteries registered in the name of the Baha’i Faith through a special arrangement previously agreed between the group and the government.  Baha’i leaders reported they continued to be unable to register other properties under the name of the Baha’i Faith but remained able to register property under the names of individual Baha’is.  In doing so, the Baha’i leaders said, they continued to have to pay new registration fees whenever they transferred property from one person to another at the death of the registered owner, a process constituting a large financial burden.

The Ministry of Education did not undertake school curriculum revisions during the year, following a rolling back of curriculum revisions that met with resistance in 2017.  Intended to promote tolerance, parents and teachers’ groups stated that the changes were distancing students from Islamic values and promoted normalization of relations with Israel.  The curriculum continued the past practice of omitting mention of the Holocaust.

In August amendments to the cybercrimes law were introduced to parliament including increased penalties for a broadened definition of online hate speech, defined as “any statement or act that would provoke religious, sectarian, ethnic, or regional sedition; calling for violence and justifying it; or spreading rumors against people with the aim of causing them, as a result, physical harm or damage to their assets or reputation.”  After sustained public protest, the amendments were withdrawn and re-submitted to parliament with a tighter definition that excluded mention of religion.  The new amendment, still under consideration by parliament at the end of the year, defines hate speech as “any statement or act intended to provoke “sectarian or racial tension or strife among different elements of the nation.”

In June the Templeton Foundation announced that King Abdullah would receive the 2018 Templeton Prize, which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.  In the award announcement, the foundation said the king “has done more to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions than any other living political leader.”  The king received the award in a ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral on November 13.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Converts from Islam to Christianity reported continued social ostracism, threats, and physical and verbal abuse, including beatings, insults, and intimidation from family members, neighbors, and community or tribal members.  Some converts from Islam to Christianity reported they worshipped in secret because of the social stigma they faced as converts.  Some converts from Islam reported persistent and credible threats from family members concerned with protecting traditional honor.

Interfaith religious leaders reported continuing online hate speech directed towards religious minorities and those who advocated religious moderation, frequently through social media.  Mohammad Nuh al-Qudah, a member of parliament and prominent Muslim preacher, on his online television show criticized females, especially young women, who did not wear the hijab, calling them blasphemous and stupid.

There was also an uptick in hate speech in social media and in the press directed at the Jewish faith after the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Articles frequently appeared in mainstream media outlets such as Al Ghad that referred to Judaism in Arabic as “the heresy of the Zionist people,” described estimates of the number of Jews as fabricated, celebrated a perceived decline in the number of Jews, and ended with statements such as “the future is ours.”

Some social media users defended religious freedom, including a mostly critical reaction to al-Qudah’s remarks and calls for his show to be cancelled.  Thousands of Christians and Muslims also left comments online condemning a University of Jordan professor’s lecture in March which criticized the Bible along with the Christian and Jewish faiths.  Following this incident, which provoked condemnation from Speaker of Parliament Atef Tarawneh and other members of parliament, the professor ended his many-year practice of posting lectures online.   

Criticism online and in social media continued to target converts from Islam to other religions.  Religious minorities expressed concerns some Muslim leaders preached intolerance; Christians reported they self-segregated into Christian enclaves to escape social pressure and threats.

Church leaders continued to report incidents of violence and discrimination against religious converts and individuals in interfaith romantic relationships.  Some converts from Islam expressed interest in resettlement abroad due to discrimination and threats of violence.  Individuals in interfaith romantic relationships continued to report ostracism and, in some cases, feuds among family members and violence toward the individuals involved.

The Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute, Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center (JICRC), Community Ecumenical Center, and Catholic Center for Media Studies continued to sponsor initiatives promoting collaboration among religious groups.  In September the JICRC and National Council for Family Affairs hosted a Family and Societal Harmony Conference, which compared the family and institutional experiences of Muslims and Christians in Jordan and explored ways to work together to counter violence, extremism, and terrorism.  Baha’is continued to be included by other religious groups in interfaith conferences, religious celebrations, and World Interfaith Harmony Week in February, which included activities across the country and within the armed forces.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officers continued to engage with government officials at all levels, including the minister of awqaf, the grand mufti, the minister of foreign affairs, and officials at the Royal Hashemite Court to raise the rights of religious minorities, the protection of cultural resources, interfaith tolerance, and the legal status of religious workers and volunteers.  In June the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith iftar during Ramadan with the expressed purpose of highlighting religious diversity, increasing engagement with civil society about tolerance and religious freedom, and building partnerships to advance minority rights.  The gathering brought together a diverse set of religious leaders including evangelical Christian pastors, the director of the Baha’i Faith Community, heads of interfaith cooperation nongovernmental organizations, sharia judges, and the grand mufti.

Embassy officers continued to meet frequently with representatives of religious communities, including nonrecognized groups, religious converts, and interfaith institutions such as the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, to discuss the ability to practice religion freely.  In September the embassy hosted the Jordanian delegation to the summer Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. to discuss follow-up from the conference and general religious freedom trends in the country.  Representatives from the embassy attended the JICRC’s conference on Societal Harmony and engaged with conference leaders on potential programmatic collaborations.

The embassy continued its sponsorship of the participation of religious scholars, teachers, and leaders in exchange programs in the United States designed to promote religious tolerance and a better understanding of the right to practice one’s faith as a fundamental human right and source of stability.  In October the embassy granted a $750,000 award for a project to preserve religious and cultural heritage, focusing on protecting the country’s interfaith tradition and highlighting the heritage of religious minorities.  The nonprofit organization Search for Common Ground is scheduled to implement the project, building interfaith youth coalitions in six communities to promote and preserve religious heritage sites.

Lebanon

Executive Summary

The constitution states there shall be “absolute freedom of conscience” and guarantees the free exercise of religious rites for all religious groups provided they do not disturb the public order.  The constitution also states there shall be a “just and equitable balance” in the apportionment of cabinet and high-level civil service positions among the major religious groups, a situation reaffirmed by the Taef Agreement, which ended the country’s civil war and mandated equal representation between Christians and Muslims in parliament.  Parliamentary elections in May resulted in the confessional balance of parliament remaining unchanged.  The government continued to enforce laws against defamation and contempt for religion.  On July 19, the cybercrime unit interrogated online activist Charbel Khoury when one of his Facebook posts raised public controversy for allegedly mocking a popular Maronite Christian saint.  On May 15, a judge dropped all criminal charges against poet Ahmad Sbeity for reportedly insulting the Virgin Mary in an online post.  According to Human Rights Watch, some municipal governments of largely Christian cities have, since 2016, forcibly evicted mostly Muslim Syrian refugees and expelled them from localities.  Some members of unregistered religious groups, such as Baha’is and nonrecognized Protestant faiths, continued to list themselves as belonging to recognized religious groups to ensure their marriage and other personal status documents remained legally valid.  Government officials repeatedly and publicly reiterated the country’s commitment to religious freedom and diversity.  At least 30 cases of interreligious civil marriage remained pending following the government’s continuation of the halt on their registration.  Hizballah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, continued to exercise control over territory, particularly the southern suburbs of Beirut and southern areas of the country, both of which are predominantly Shia.

There was one report of a religiously motivated killing when a Sunni sheikh and his two brothers allegedly killed another Sunni man on August 25 over a blasphemy allegation.  Muslim and Christian community leaders reported the continued operation of places of worship in relative peace and security and said relationships among individual members of different religious groups continued to be amicable.  Once again, the Jewish Community Council reported acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Beirut and Sidon.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officers engaged government officials to encourage tolerance and mutual respect among religious communities, and to highlight the importance of combating violent religious extremism.  The Ambassador and other embassy officers met with religious leaders and members of civil society to engage in dialogue on religious tolerance and the role of confessional dynamics in the country’s society and politics, and also investigated claims of religious discrimination in the provision of assistance to Iraqi Christian refugees.  Embassy public outreach and assistance programs continued to emphasize tolerance for all religious groups; these included projects to counter violent extremism related to religion, and interfaith summer exchange programs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 6.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations estimate the total population includes approximately 4.5 million citizens and an estimated 1.3 million refugees fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the vast majority of whom are Syrian, as well as a Palestinian refugee population present in the country for nearly 70 years.

Statistics Lebanon, an independent firm, estimates 61.1 percent of the citizen population is Muslim (30.6 percent Sunni, 30.5 percent Shia, and small percentages of Alawites and Ismailis).  Statistics Lebanon estimates that 33.7 percent of the population is Christian.  Maronite Catholics are the largest Christian group, followed by Greek Orthodox.  Other Christian groups include Greek Catholics (Melkites), Armenian Orthodox (Gregorians), Armenian Catholics, Syriac Orthodox (Jacobites), Syriac Catholics, Assyrians (Nestorians), Chaldeans, Copts, Protestants (including Presbyterians, Baptists, and Seventh-day Adventists), Latin (Roman) Catholics, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

According to Statistics Lebanon, 5.2 percent of the population is Druze and is concentrated in the rural, mountainous areas east and south of Beirut.  There are also small numbers of Jews, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Hindus.  The Jewish Community Council, which represents the Lebanese Jewish community, estimates that approximately 100 Jews remain in the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are approximately 1.3 million refugees from Syria in the country, mainly Sunni Muslims, but also including Shia Muslims, Christians, and Druze.  UNRWA estimates that there are between 250,000 and 280,000 Palestinians still living in the country as UN-registered refugees in 12 camps and surrounding areas.  Comprised of refugees who entered the country in the 1940s and 1950s, including their descendants, they are largely Sunni Muslims but also include Christians.

UNHCR estimates there are just under 30,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon.  Refugees and foreign migrants also include largely Sunni Kurds, Sunni and Shia Muslims and Chaldeans from Iraq, and Coptic Christians from Egypt and Sudan.  According to the secretary-general of the Syriac League, an NGO that advocates for Syriac Christians in the country, approximately 10,000 Iraqi Christians of all denominations and 3,000 to 4,000 Coptic Christians reside in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states there shall be “absolute freedom of conscience” and declares the state will respect all religious groups and denominations, as well as the personal status and religious interests of persons of every religious group.  The constitution guarantees free exercise of religious rites, provided they do not disturb the public order, and declares the equality of rights and duties for all citizens without discrimination or preference.

By law, an individual is free to convert to a different religion if a local senior official of the religious group the person wishes to join approves the change.  The newly joined religious group issues a document confirming the convert’s new religion, and allowing the convert to register her or his new religion with the Ministry of Interior’s Personal Status Directorate.  The new religion is included thereafter on government-issued civil registration documents.

Citizens have the right to remove the customary notation of their religion from government-issued civil registration documents or change how it is listed.  Changing the documents does not require approval of religious officials.

The penal code stipulates a maximum prison term of one year for anyone convicted of “blaspheming God publicly.”  It does not provide a definition of what this entails.

The penal code also criminalizes defamation and contempt for religion, and stipulates a maximum prison term of three years.

By law, religious groups may apply to the government for official recognition.  To do so, it must submit a statement of its doctrine and moral principles to the cabinet, which evaluates whether the group’s principles are in accord with the government’s perception of popular values and the constitution.  Alternatively, an unrecognized religious group may apply for recognition by applying to a recognized religious group.  In doing so, the unrecognized group does not gain recognition as a separate group, but becomes an affiliate of the group through which it applies.  This process has the same requirements as applying for recognition directly with the government.

There are 18 officially recognized religious groups.  These include four Muslim groups (Shia, Sunni, Alawite, and Ismaili), 12 Christian groups (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Copt, Evangelical, and Latin Catholic), Druze, and Jews.  Groups the government does not recognize include Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, and several Protestant groups.

Official recognition of a religious group allows baptisms and marriages performed by the group to receive government sanction.  Official recognition also conveys other benefits, such as tax-exempt status and the right to apply the religious group’s codes to personal status matters.  By law, the government permits recognized religious groups to administer their own rules on family and personal status issues including marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.  Shia, Sunni, recognized Christian, and Druze groups have state-appointed, government-subsidized clerical courts to administer family and personal status law.

Religious groups perform all marriages and divorces; there are no formalized procedures for civil marriage or divorce.  The government recognizes civil marriage ceremonies performed outside the country irrespective of the religious affiliation of each partner in the marriage.  While some Christian and Muslim religious authorities will perform interreligious marriages, clerics, priests, or religious courts will often require the non-belonging partner to pledge to raise their children in the religion of their partner and/or to give up certain rights such as inheritance or custody claims in the case of divorce.

Nonrecognized religious groups may own property and may assemble for worship and perform their religious rites freely.  They may not perform legally recognized marriage or divorce proceedings and they have no standing to determine inheritance issues.  Given agreements in the country’s confessional system that designate percentages of senior government positions, and in some cases specific positions, for the recognized religious confessions, members of unrecognized groups do not have any opportunity to occupy certain government positions, including cabinet, parliamentary, secretary-general, and director general positions.

The government requires Protestant churches to register with the Evangelical Synod, a self-governing advisory group overseeing religious matters for Protestant congregations, and representing those churches to the government.

The law allows censorship of religious publications under a number of conditions, including if the government deems the material incites sectarian discord or threatens national security.

According to the constitution, recognized religious communities may have their own schools, provided they follow the general rules issued for public schools, which stipulate schools must not incite sectarian discord or threaten national security.  Approximately 70 percent of students attend private schools, which despite many having ties to confessional groups, are often open to children of other religious groups as well.  The Ministry of Education does not require or encourage religious education in public schools, but it is permitted, and both Christian and Muslim local religious representatives sometimes host educational sessions in public schools.

The constitution states “sectarian groups” shall be represented in a “just and equitable balance” in the cabinet and high-level civil service positions, which includes the ministry ranks of secretary-general and director general.  It also states these posts shall be distributed proportionately among the recognized religious groups.  This distribution of positions among religious groups is based on the unwritten 1943 National Pact, which used religious affiliation data from the 1932 census (the last conducted in the country), and also applies to the civil service, the judiciary, military and security institutions, and public agencies at both the national and local levels of government.  Parliament is elected on the basis of “equality between Christians and Muslims.”  Druze and Alawites are included in this allocation with the Muslim communities.

The constitution also states there is no legitimacy for any authorities that contradict the “pact of communal existence,” thereby giving force of law to the unwritten 1943 National Pact, although that agreement is neither an official component of the constitution nor a formally binding agreement.  According to the pact, the president shall be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of parliament shall be a Shia Muslim, and the prime minister shall be a Sunni Muslim.

The Taef Agreement, which ended the country’s 15-year civil war in 1989, also mandates equal Muslim and Christian representation in parliament, but makes changes to the powers of the Maronite Christian presidency, including subjecting the designations of the prime minister and other cabinet ministers to consultations with parliament.  In addition, the agreement endorses the constitutional provision of appointing most senior government officials according to religious affiliation, including senior positions within the military and other security forces.  Customarily, a Christian heads the army, while the directors general of the Internal Security Forces and Directorate of General Security are Sunni and Shia, respectively.  Several other top positions in the security services are customarily designated for particular confessions as well.  While specific positions are designated by custom rather than law, deviating from custom is rare and could provoke a political crisis if an acceptable swap or accommodation were not mutually agreed by the confessions concerned.  The Taef Agreement mandates a cabinet with seats allocated equally between Muslims (to include Druze and Alawites) and Christians.  The Taef Agreement’s stipulations on equality of representation between members of different confessions do not apply to citizens who do not list a religious affiliation on their national registration, and thus they cannot hold a seat designated for a specific confession.

In June 2017 parliament approved a new electoral law replacing the country’s winner-take-all system for parliamentary elections with a proportional vote.  The law does not affect the Christian-Muslim proportionality of parliament.

By law, the synod of each Christian group elects its patriarchs; the Sunni and Shia electoral bodies elect their respective senior clerics; and the Druze community elects its sheikh al-aql.  The government council of ministers must endorse the nomination of Sunni and Shia muftis, as well as the Druze sheikh al-aql, and pay their salaries.  The government also appoints and pays the salaries of Muslim and Druze clerical judges.  By law, the government does not endorse Christian patriarchs and does not pay the salaries of Christian clergy and officials of Christian groups.

The government issues foreign religious workers a one-month visa; in order to stay longer a worker must complete a residency application during the month.  Religious workers also must sign a “commitment of responsibility” form before receiving a visa, which subjects the worker to legal prosecution and immediate deportation for any activity involving religious or other criticism directed against the state or any other country, except Israel.  If the government finds an individual engaging in religious activity while on a tourist visa, the government may determine a violation of the visa category has occurred and deport the individual.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to enforce laws against defamation and contempt for religion.  On July 19, the Internal Security Force’s cybercrime unit interrogated online activist Charbel Khoury when one of his Facebook posts generated public controversy for allegedly mocking a popular Maronite Christian saint.  The judge in the case ordered Khoury to sign a pledge to abstain from his Facebook account for one month and not to criticize religions.  On May 15, a judge dropped all criminal charges against poet Ahmad Sbeity for a Facebook post that reportedly insulted the Virgin Mary.  In September government censors banned the screening of the U.S. film The Nun for insulting Christianity.  For the third year in a row, there was no judicial action on the lawsuit filed in 2015 by Member of Parliament Ziad Aswad of the Free Patriotic Movement against “You Stink” activist Assad Thebian for “defamation and contempt of religion” for comments he made about Christianity.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in April that, since 2016, some municipal governments engaged in forcibly evicting Syrian refugees from their homes and expelling them from their localities to other locations in Lebanon.  The HRW report stated that religious affiliation was among several reasons for the evictions.  Most of those interviewed by HRW said that their eviction was due, in part, to their religious identity.  According to UNHCR, the municipalities identified as being involved in forcibly evicting and expelling Syrian refugees were predominantly Christian.  Monthly community tension reports prepared jointly by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and UNHCR along with NGO and implementing partners using population survey data from UNDP, however, did not identify religious discrimination as the key driver of tension between refugees and host communities.  NGOs and international organizations, including the UNDP, UNHCR, and other UN agencies, also reported that perceptions of competition for jobs, resources, and land were the predominant factors driving refugee evictions, along with security concerns and Lebanon’s history with Syria.

Some members of unregistered religious groups, such as Baha’is and members of nonrecognized Protestant faiths, continued to list themselves as belonging to recognized religious groups in government records in order to ensure their marriage and other personal status documents remained legally valid.  Many Baha’is said they chose to list themselves as Shia Muslims in order to effectively manage civil matters officially administered by Shia institutions.

The government again failed to take action to approve a request from the Jewish community to change its official name to the Jewish Community Council from the Israeli Communal Council (the group’s current officially recognized name).  Additionally, the Jewish community faced difficulty importing material for religious rites, as customs agents were reportedly wary of allowing imports of any origin containing Hebrew script given the ban on trade of Israeli goods.

Following the May 6 parliamentary elections, non-Maronite Christian groups reiterated criticism that the government made little progress toward the Taef Agreement’s goal of eliminating political sectarianism in favor of “expertise and competence.”  Members of these groups, which include Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholics, and Chaldeans, among others, said the fact that the government allotted them only one of the 64 Christian seats in parliament, constituted government discrimination.  The Syriac League continued to call for more representation for non-Maronite and non-Greek Orthodox Christians in cabinet positions, parliament, and high-level civil service positions, typically held by members of the larger Christian religious groups.

Members of all confessions serve in all military, intelligence, and security services, including in high-ranking positions.

During his September 26 remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York, President Michel Aoun repeated his call to make Lebanon a regional hub for religious dialogue.  During the July 24-26 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil reiterated the government’s commitment to religious freedom and pluralism, stating that religious diversity strengthened the country.

During the year, there was no movement on the 30 or more cases of civil marriage that awaited registration with the Ministry of Interior since 2013.  The cases remained unresolved, with no evidence of forthcoming action.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Hizballah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, continued to exercise control over territory, particularly the southern suburbs of Beirut and southern areas of the country, both of which are predominantly Shia.  There, it provided a number of basic services such as health care, education, food aid, infrastructure repair, and internal security.  There continued to be reports of Hizballah controlling access to the neighborhoods and localities under its control, including in Beirut’s southern suburbs and areas of the Bekaa and South Lebanon.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On August 25, a Sunni sheikh and his two brothers allegedly killed another Sunni man in the northern town of Minieh.  Media reported that the dispute began when the sheikh accused the man of making a blasphemous remark in a market, after which the sheikh and his two brothers followed the man outside where they attacked and killed him with knives and cleavers.  Police arrested the men involved and their case was ongoing at year’s end.  Human rights NGOs and activists criticized the lack of an immediate condemnation by the grand mufti or other high-level Sunni or government authorities.

The Jewish Community Council reported acts of vandalism at the Jewish cemetery in Sidon, including the destruction and desecration of gravesites.  Authorities granted the Jewish Community Council a permit to restore the Sidon cemetery following the acts of vandalism.  The council’s 2011 lawsuit against individuals who constructed buildings in the Jewish cemetery in Tripoli continued, pending additional court-ordered analysis of the site, and was unresolved by year’s end.  The council made little progress with the municipality of Beirut regarding construction debris and other garbage dumped in the Beirut Jewish cemetery.

Religious leaders stated that relationships among individual members of different religious groups remained amicable.  On August 28, Christian and Muslim religious leaders met with the Swiss president at the summer residence of Maronite Patriarch Rai and appealed to the international community to work toward protecting peace in the region and the dignity of refugees.  During the meeting, Rai said “this presence of high Muslim and Christian dignitaries clearly reflects the uniqueness of Lebanon as a country of convergence and interfaith dialogue.”

Christian and Muslim religious leaders from the major denominations continued to participate in interfaith dialogues throughout the year and to call for unity against extremism.  At a February 26 conference in Vienna, the highest leaders of some of the country’s major religious communities, including Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, Grand Mufti of the Republic Abdel Latif Deryan, and Armenian Orthodox Catholicos Aram I Keshishian, joined 23 high-ranking Arab Muslim and Christian authorities to commit to work together to rebuild and protect their communities from the effects of religiously motivated violent extremist rhetoric and actions.  The group launched the first interreligious platform to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all communities in the Arab world, combat ideologies instigating hatred and sectarianism, and jointly address the challenges their communities face.

A survey by the Adyan Foundation found that nearly 70 percent of first-time voters among all religious groups between 21 and 28 years old identified “being open to all people of different beliefs and fraternizing with them in order to live their values and promote the common good” as the most important daily embodiment of their faith.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officers continued to engage government officials on the need to encourage tolerance, dialogue, and mutual respect among religious groups.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers met with individual politicians representing different religious groups to discuss the views of their constituents and promote religious tolerance.  The Ambassador met with the leadership of the Sunni, Shia, Druze, and Christian communities to promote interfaith dialogue and urge them to take steps to counter violent extremism.  Embassy officers met with civil society representatives to convey similar messages.  On June 2, the Ambassador participated in an iftar with prominent leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities in Tripoli to promote an embassy-supported program to prevent youth religious radicalization.  The Ambassador stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue and the need to provide opportunities to vulnerable youth across confessions.

On May 20, a senior embassy officer delivered remarks at the graduation ceremony for participants of an embassy-supported program bringing together 750 religiously diverse students from 42 high schools across the country to increase their understanding of religious diversity.  Religiously mixed students also collaborated to develop and lead community service projects serving geographically and religiously diverse communities across the country.

The Ambassador and other embassy officers met with Iraqi Christian refugees, Chaldean Church officials, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in November to assess complaints of religious-based discrimination in the provision of refugee assistance.  While finding no evidence of widespread religious discrimination in the provision of services to refugees, the Ambassador facilitated agreement on a number of steps UNHCR and the Chaldean Church could take to improve communication and cooperation in their provision of assistance.  For the eighth consecutive year, the embassy selected five students between 18 and 25 years old to participate in a five-week visitor exchange program at Temple University where they learned about religious pluralism in the United States, visited places of worship, and participated in cultural activities in order to apply this knowledge to issues in Lebanon.

Libya

Executive Summary

The interim constitution states Islam is the state religion and sharia the principal source of legislation.  It accords non-Muslims the freedom to practice their religion and bans discrimination based on religion.  The activities of non-Muslims remained curtailed by legal prohibitions on the distribution or publication of information aimed at changing Libya’s “social structure,” which were used to prohibit circulation of non-Islamic religious materials, missionary activity, or speech considered “offensive to Muslims.”  Human rights activists said freedom of conscience for converts to Christianity, atheists, and Sunni Muslims who deviated from Salafist interpretations of Islam was not respected in practice, particularly in areas of the country controlled by Salafist groups.  The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) remained in office, but it did not exercise control over large parts of the country, including in the South and East.  The GNA relied on armed groups to provide security and administer some detention centers for migrants and refugees in the country, where, according to multiple international human rights organizations, Christians said they faced a heightened risk of physical assault, including sexual assault and rape than other migrants and refugees.  In the West, the Tripoli-based Rada Special Deterrence Force (SDF), a GNA-aligned Salafist armed group integrated into the Ministry of Interior by GNA decree in May, was involved in several arrests and detentions of individuals whom it accused of violating Islamic law.  Some detainees reported they were tortured and abused.  In February the SDF arrested a woman it accused of practicing sorcery.  According to a Refugees International Field Report, an Ethiopian Christian woman said she and other Christians hid their crosses from police in the detention center where they were being held “because the Libyan police working in that place didn’t appreciate Christians.”  According to the same report, a 26-year-old Christian refugee who was held in a detention center in central Tripoli said guards provided better treatment to migrants from majority-Muslim Morocco than others.  Domestic human rights activists continued to report a restrictive environment, including efforts designed to prevent women from traveling alone outside the country.  In Tripoli some militias associated with the GNA reportedly imposed restrictions on women’s dress and movement and punished men for behavior they deemed un-Islamic.  A draft constitution issued by the Libyan Constitutional Drafting Assembly in 2017, not yet passed by the House of Representatives and put to a referendum, would prohibit non-Muslims from serving in high offices of state.

The East operated under a separate, unrecognized governmental administration, with security provided by the “Libyan National Army” (LNA) and LNA-aligned Salafist armed groups.  Nonstate actors and militias continued to operate and control territory throughout the country, including in Benghazi, parts of Tripoli, and Derna, where there were numerous reports of armed groups restricting religious practices, enforcing compliance with sharia according to their interpretation, and targeting those viewed as violating their standards.  According to the Christian rights advocacy group Open Doors USA, Islamic militant groups and organized crime groups targeted religious minorities, including Christian migrants, converts to Christianity, and foreign residents for physical attacks, sexual assaults, detentions, kidnappings, and killings.  Salafist and Islamist groups aligned with the GNA and the unrecognized government in the East took on law enforcement functions.  U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations that included Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM), and ISIS continued to operate within the country.  Human Rights Watch reported that on January 23, an unidentified armed group or groups detonated two car bombs in front of the Baya’at al-Radwan Mosque in Benghazi as worshippers were leaving after evening prayers, killing at least 34 males, including three children, and wounding more than 90 others.  In December the Reuters news service reported local authorities said they had exhumed from a mass grave near Sirte the bodies of 34 Ethiopian Christians executed by ISIS in 2015.

According to international media, former Muslims faced intense social and economic pressure to renounce their faith to return to Islam.  Sources also reported converts to other religions, as well as atheists and agnostics, were threatened with violence or dismissal from employment because of their beliefs.  According to an atheist from Benghazi, he had to reaffirm publicly faith in Islam (which contradicted his private beliefs) due to threats against his person by coworkers and Salafist militia groups.

The U.S. Embassy to Libya continued to operate from Tunis, Tunisia.  The U.S. government continued to raise issues of religious freedom in conversations with the GNA, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other interlocutors.  U.S. officials raised these issues in the context of confronting violent extremist groups such as ISIS, as well as condemning acts of physical mistreatment of religious minorities in detention; destruction of religious property; and calling for ending discrimination in the religious education curriculum, particularly discrimination against religious minorities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.7 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to reports by the International Organization for Migration, 12 percent of the population (approximately 804,000 persons) are migrants.  Sunni Muslims represent 97 percent of the population, and the remaining 3 percent includes Ibadi Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Baha’is, Ahmadi Muslims, and Buddhists.  Many members of the Amazigh ethnic minority are Ibadi Muslims.  Human Rights Watch reported in 2017 that, according to the Libyan Tamazight Congress, an organization that advocates on behalf of the Amazigh community, Ibadi Muslims account for between 4.5 and 6 percent of the population.  Nearly all non-Muslim residents in the country are foreigners.

Estimates of the number of Christians in the country vary.  According to the Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List Country Profile (which covers 2018), there are 37,900 Christians in the country.  In 2015 Open Doors USA estimated 150 to 180 of these were Libyan nationals who converted from Islam.

Foreign Christian communities consist almost exclusively of sub-Saharan African migrants and Filipino foreign workers, with smaller numbers of Egyptian migrants and a small number of other foreign residents of European nationality.  According to Christian groups in Tripoli, most of the Egyptian Christians are Copts.  Most sub-Saharan African and Filipino migrants are Catholic, and the Catholic diocese of Tripoli estimates its followers include 5,000 sub-Saharan and 3,000 Filipino individuals.  Estimates on the numbers of other Christian groups vary.  According to Open Doors USA, these include Anglicans, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and nondenominational Christians.

According to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem, no Jewish individuals reside permanently in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The 2011 Constitutional Declaration functions as the interim constitution.  It states Islam is the state religion and sharia is the principal source of legislation, but it accords Christians and Jews the freedom to practice their religions and guarantees state respect for their personal status laws.  Christian and Jewish familial religious matters, such as divorce and inheritance, are governed according to the mandates of the religious community to which the individual belongs.  The interim constitution also states “there shall be no discrimination among Libyans on the basis of religion or sect” with regard to legal, political, and civil rights.  Religious minority communities other than Christians and Jews, however, are not accorded equal rights under the law.  The GNA remains bound by the constitutional declaration until a new constitution is passed by the House of Representatives and a public referendum held.  The laws governing religious practice predate the internal conflict and provide a national legal framework for religious freedom.

There is no law providing for individuals’ right to choose or change their religion or to study, discuss, or promulgate their religious beliefs.  There is no civil law explicitly prohibiting conversion from Islam to another religion or prohibiting proselytization; however, the criminal code effectively prohibits missionary activities or conversion.  It includes prohibitions against “instigating division” and insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, charges that carry a maximum sentence of death.  The criminal code prohibits the circulation of publications that aim to “change the fundamental principles of the constitution or the fundamental rules of the social structure,” which are used to criminalize the circulation of non-Islamic religious material.

The GNA and the East each have a Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA).  The MEIAs administer mosques, supervises clerics, and has primary responsibility for ensuring all religious practices conform to state-approved Islamic norms.  Religious instruction in Islam is required in public and private schools.  Attendance at religious instruction is mandatory for all students with no opt-out provisions.

Sharia governs family matters for Muslims, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property.  Under sharia, a Christian or Jewish woman who marries a Muslim man is not required to convert to Islam; however, a non-Muslim man must convert to Islam to marry a Muslim woman.  Marriages between Muslim men and women of non-Abrahamic faiths are illegal under sharia, and such marriages are not recognized, even when contracted abroad.  The MEIA administers non-Muslim family law issues, although there is no separate legal framework governing non-Muslim family law.  The ministry draws upon neighboring countries’ family law precedents for non-Muslims.

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

Government Practices

Due to the fact that religion, politics, and security are often closely linked in the country, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

The internationally recognized GNA remained in office, but did not exercise control over large parts of the country, including in the East and South.

The United Nations Development Program reported the judicial system was functioning, albeit at different levels depending on the location of the courts within the country.  Human Rights Watch, however, said key institutions, “most notably, law enforcement and the judiciary,” were dysfunctional or had stopped working in most parts of the country.  The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) reported courts in the areas controlled by the GNA continued to sentence defendants to corporal punishment in accordance with its interpretation of sharia, including flogging for adultery and amputations for theft; however, according to UNSMIL, the government did not routinely carry out these punishments in practice.

According to international NGOs working in the country, a variety of groups – revolutionary brigades, tribal militias, and local strongmen – provided security in and around courts.  The GNA incorporated several of these armed groups into the Ministry of Interior, but observers said the GNA’s control over these groups remained limited.  Christian groups operating in the country identified the SDF as among the Islamic militant groups involved in the harassment of Christians.  The GNA’s response to instances of violence against members of minority religious groups was limited to condemnations of acts of violence.  For instance, in September, the GNA condemned clashes that broke out between armed groups in Tripoli that caused the displacement of thousands of non-Libyan migrants in the capital.

The SDF, while formally a counterterrorism force, also engaged in other functions including policing on moral and religious issues.  According to human rights activists, SDF continued to be involved in a number of arrests and detentions of individuals whom it accused of violating Islamic law.  Detainees reported torture and abuse at the hands of the SDF while being held in official and extrajudicial detention facilities.  Christian groups pointed to the example of a Coptic Christian man who said that in 2017, the SDF detained him at Mitiga Airport Prison facility in Tripoli for two weeks.  The man said he was flogged twice a day during his detention.

According to media reports, on February 22, the SDF arrested a Moroccan woman, Ghizlane Soukane, in Tripoli, on charges of practicing sorcery and magic.  There was no update on her whereabouts or the status of her case at year’s end.

The National Committee for Human Rights in Libya reported that in October, following the committee’s intervention, an Egyptian Coptic resident, Kirlus Hani Abdulmalik, was released from detention at the SDF-run Mitiga Airport Prison facility.  Abdulmalik, a pharmacist, was detained since December 2016 without charge, reportedly because SDF forces believed it was illegal for Abdulmalik to practice medicine and provide treatments to Libyans because he was non-Muslim.

On February 26, the Office of Islamic Endowments and Islamic Affairs in Misrata, a regional affiliate of the GNA’s MEIA, arrested Abdulaziz al-Siawi, a member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council, for explicitly calling for terrorist operations in Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, in response to those governments’ anti-Muslim Brotherhood policies.  Earlier in February a surreptitiously recorded video was released of a December 2017 Friday sermon al-Siawi delivered at the Mosque of Al-Sheikh Mohammad in Misrata in which he said “Let me say [clearly] that I want to call for terrorism.”  On March 2, members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, together with members of the Council of Elders and Shura, which is headed by Ibrahim bin Ghashir, demonstrated at the courtyard of the Sheikh Amhamed Mosque against the decision of the GNA to prohibit al-Siawi from delivering sermons.  Authorities subsequently released al-Siawi.

The GNA relied on armed groups to provide security and administer some detention centers for migrants and refugees in the country, where, according to multiple international human rights organizations, Christians said they faced a higher risk of physical assault, including sexual assault and rape, than other migrants and refugees.  According to the Refugees International Field Report published in April, a 23-year-old Ethiopian Christian woman identified as Sara said she and other Christians hid their crosses from police in the detention center where they were being held “because the Libyan police working in that place didn’t appreciate Christians.”  In the same report, a 26-year-old Christian refugee from South Sudan identified as David, who was held in a detention center in central Tripoli, said guards provided better treatment to migrants from majority-Muslim Morocco than to others.

In September seven Christian migrants who, along with 173 others were repatriated to Nigeria on August 30, told Black Christian News Network One they had been detained in Osama Prison in Zawiya.  One of the men said guards hung him in chains overnight and left him to die.  In the morning they took his body to a shallow grave in the forest, but, upon discovering he was still alive, brought him back to the prison, and put him in solitary confinement.  Authorities returned the men to Nigeria following the intervention of the International Organization for Migration.

The government permitted religious scholars to form organizations, issue fatwas, and provide advice to followers.  The fatwas did not have legal weight but conveyed considerable social pressure, according to Libyan tribal and religious leaders.  The GNA, however, did not exercise effective administrative control of mosques and supervision of clerics outside the limited areas under its control.

In Tripoli, according to civil society contacts, women’s rights activists, and human rights NGO officials, some militias, such as the GNA-associated SDF and the Nawasi Brigade, imposed restrictions on women’s dress and movement and punished men for behavior they deemed “un-Islamic.”  There continued to be no laws, however, imposing restrictions on dress.

In August the Ministry of Education issued a decree suspending admission to special religious schools, including the Religious Academy in Tajoura.  During the suspension, the ministry conducted a review of the curriculum at these schools to ensure its interpretation of the Quran and Islamic hadith did not contain hateful or incendiary language toward other religions.  Former Grand Mufti of Libya Al-Sadiq Abdulrahman al-Ghiryani and Salafist religious figures condemned the suspension, which remained in place at year’s end.  The Ministry of Education worked with the U.S. embassy to promote religious tolerance in the country through the dissemination of new civil education curricula for grades four to nine that promote inclusivity and tolerance.  The curricula aimed to replace previous material containing discriminatory language directed at non-Muslims.

Government officials at airports throughout the country continued to prevent women from traveling alone outside the country without a male guardian, although there was no law or government regulation restricting such travel.  NGOs with local staff reported women often had male relatives accompany them to the airport and carried written permission from their male guardians to enable them to leave the country.

According to human rights activists, the role of Islam in policymaking remained a major point of contention among supporters and opponents of political Islam, Salafist groups, and those who wished for a greater separation between religious practice and political issues.  The draft constitution would maintain sharia as “the source of legislation.”  The draft constitution would also ban non-Muslims from key offices of state including the presidency, legislature, and prohibit non-Muslims from being appointed cabinet ministers.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

During the year, nonstate actors and militias continued to operate and control territory throughout the country, including Benghazi and parts of Tripoli.  In Derna, prior to the LNA operations to take the city, there were numerous reports of armed groups restricting religious practices, enforcing compliance with sharia according to their interpretation, and targeting those viewed as violating their standards.

Multiple sources state Islamic militant groups and organized crime groups targeted religious minorities, including Christian migrants, converts to Christianity, and foreign residents for physical attacks, sexual assaults, detentions, kidnappings, and killings.  Christian groups operating in the country identified the LNA-aligned Madkhali Salafist groups operating in Benghazi as among the Islamic militant groups involved in harassment of Christians.  Academic studies and media describe the Madkhali movement as a form of very strict Salafism.

According to a Christian group operating in the country, Christian residents continued to report abuse at the hands of militant Muslim groups, including members of the former Libya Shield Force affiliated with the Libyan Dawn battalion, whose physical mistreatment of detainees included floggings, exposure to cold weather, and other abuses; they also reportedly threatened Christians with execution by beheading.  Christian residents reported similar abuses by other groups, including the Benghazi Revolutionary Brigades (BRB), a jihadist Salafist militia coalition.  Christian groups pointed to the example of a Coptic Christian man who, in 2017, was repatriated to Egypt after the BRB kidnapped him and held him for 18 days.  He was released after payment of a ransom.

Human Rights Watch reported that on January 23, an unidentified armed group or groups detonated two car bombs in front of the Baya’at al-Radwan Mosque in Benghazi as worshippers were leaving after evening prayers, killing at least 34 males, including three children, and wounding more than 90 other individuals.  According to spokespersons for the two main hospitals for emergency and trauma services in Benghazi, the majority of victims were civilians.

In December Reuters news service reported local authorities said they had exhumed from a mass grave near Sirte the bodies of 34 Ethiopian Christians executed by ISIS.  According to Reuters, in April 2015 a video posted on social media appeared to show ISIS members shooting and beheading the Christians, who were migrant workers.

Reuters also reported the government returned to Egypt the bodies of 20 Coptic Christians in May.  Reuters reported that in January 2015 a video released online appeared to show ISIS members beheading the individuals, together with one Ghanaian Christian, on a beach near Sirte and burying them in a mass grave.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in January that the Madkhali movement grew more influential.  The Christian Science Monitor said Madkhali units associated with LNA-affiliated groups functioned as informal police forces.  The newspaper said in January members of the Madkhali movement patrolled the streets of Tripoli to stop crime and what they viewed as “vice” contrary to Islam and to disrupt ISIS cells and attacks.

The MEIA of the nonrecognized governmental administration in the East exercised its ability to issue fatwas.  According to local human rights activists in Benghazi, followers of the Madkhali movement exercised influence over academic institutions, in addition to overt control of MEIA.

On November 12, Mousa Abdalsalam Taieb, Director of Cultural and Religious Conversion Affairs for MEIA in the East, issued a circular calling for takfir (a pronouncement that someone is an unbeliever [kafir] and no longer a Muslim) as the penalty for individuals who celebrated the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday; cooked a porridge traditionally prepared for this holiday; or engaged in ritual praise of Mohammed.  Sources noted all of these practices were part of traditional Islamic practice in the country.

According to Human Rights Watch, the 2017 MEIA religious edict by the “eastern interim government” based in Tobruk remained in effect against Ibadi Muslims, accusing the group of deviance and following an infidel doctrine.

According to Libyan academic researchers, the General Administration for Criminal Investigation in Benghazi continued to conduct investigations of citizens for denigrating Islam and for converting others to Christianity, and proselytizing on social media.

According to human rights activists and political analysts, the MEIA in the East continued to provide texts for Friday services to imams, often including political and social messages.  According to media reports, the LNA continued to appoint several imams with Salafist beliefs in areas of its control throughout the East.

U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations, including Ansar al-Sharia, AQIM, and ISIS, continued to operate within the country, although there were no reports during the year of explicitly religiously motivated attacks.  Sources indicated Ansar al-Sharia maintained connections with extremists in other parts of the country, including AQIM.  Following expulsion from Sirte in December 2016, ISIS was believed to be largely confined to nonpopulated areas outside of major cities, as well as to ungoverned regions in the South.

On June 28, the LNA took control of the eastern city of Derna from the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna (SCMD), an umbrella organization consisting of Salafist groups opposed to ISIS, including Ansar al-Sharia.  According to human rights activists, when SCMD controlled Derna, it restricted the freedom of Sunni Muslims to worship or engage in what SCMD considered heterodox religious expression.

In October Ali al-Subaiy, a former Libya Islamic Fighting Group member and an unsuccessful candidate for the House of Representatives seat for the Hayy al-Andalus Neighborhood of Tripoli, gave an interview on the Turkey-based Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Channel 9 television station.  Al-Subaiy called Jews “the descendants of apes and pigs” and called for “offensive jihad” against Jews and Christians.  In September al-Subaiy said in an interview on the same channel that “history informs us that [the Jews] are treacherous and deceitful.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Multiple sources, including international media, and the Arab Organization for Human Rights – Libya (AOHRL) continued to report a restrictive social environment for religious freedom throughout the country.  This included intense social and economic pressure on former Muslims to return to Islam.  NGOs and a UN agency stated Salafist interpretations of sharia increasingly contributed to this restrictive environment.  Religious minorities said converts to other religions, as well as atheists, agnostics, and other nonreligious persons, were threatened with violence or dismissal from employment because of their beliefs or lack of belief.  An atheist from Benghazi said he faced discrimination and had to publicly reaffirm faith in Islam (which contradicted his private beliefs) due to threats against his person by coworkers and Salafist militia groups.

Sources said Christians who converted from Islam practiced their faith in semi-secrecy.  Open Doors USA stated Christian citizens who were former Muslims faced violence and intense pressure from their families and communities to renounce their faith.  Christians said they felt pressure to refrain from missionary activities because of security threats and social pressure from the local community.  Catholic authorities also stated Christian migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were more likely to experience discrimination or extortion than Muslims from the same region.

Christian communities continued to exist in Tripoli, where Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches operated for foreigners.  Christian communities were also present in Misrata, al-Baida, Benghazi, Tubruq, Sebha, Ghat, Ubari, and Murzuq, among other cities.  In some cases, such as in Benghazi, Catholic communities continued to worship in places other than church buildings after ISIS destroyed church properties there in 2015.  The Catholic cathedral in Benghazi remained damaged and inaccessible after fighting occurred in 2013-15.

According to Human Rights Watch, in late 2017 unidentified individuals attacked two historic Sufi mosques in Tripoli.  Unidentified individuals set fire to the Sufi mosque, Zawiyat Sheikha Radiya, causing extensive damage, and destroyed the Sidi Abu Gharara Mosque.  There were no reported arrests related to the attacks by year’s end.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Following the U.S. embassy evacuation from Tripoli and suspension of operations in July 2014, U.S. diplomats have operated out of Tunis, Tunisia, making periodic trips into the country when security conditions permitted.  The U.S. government discussed religious freedom on a number of occasions with a variety of local and national leaders, particularly in the context of confronting violent extremist groups such as ISIS.  Embassy officials frequently met with human rights activists, including the National Commission for Human Rights in Libya and the AOHRL, to address religious freedom issues.  The U.S. government also condemned acts of physical mistreatment of religious minorities in detention and destruction of religious property.  The U.S. embassy partnered with the Ministry of Education to disseminate new civil education curricula for grades four to nine that promote inclusivity and tolerance.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and designates Islam as the sole religion of the citizenry and state.  Only Muslims may be citizens.  In April the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code to remove the discretion of the courts in imposing death sentences for apostasy or blasphemy.  The amendment removed all references to repentance, essentially making the death penalty a mandatory sentence in both cases.  Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheytir, a blogger sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy after he allegedly posted statements on social media critical of the Prophet Muhammad, hereditary slavery, and discrimination, remained detained in an unknown location, despite a 2017 appeals court decision that he be released.  On May 28, government authorities closed a Shia religious center, the Ali bin Abi Talib complex in Nouakchott’s Dar al-Na’im district, after which the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education (MIATE) confiscated the property.  In September authorities closed a religious training center and Abdallah Ibn Yasin University, a private Islamic studies graduate school, that had affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamist political party, Tawasoul.  For the first time in the country’s history, the government accredited an ambassador of the Holy See to the country.  The MIATE continued to collaborate with independent Muslim religious groups as well as with foreign partners to combat extremism, radicalization, and terrorism through a series of workshops in all 15 provinces.

During the annual Eid al-Adha observance, Imam Ahmedou Ould Lemrabott Ould Habibou Rahman, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Nouakchott, renewed his warnings about the growing influence of Shia Islam in the country and stated the government should sever ties with Iran in order to stop the spread of Iranian-backed Shia Islam.

U.S. embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, discussed religious tolerance with senior government officials, such as the minister of Islamic affairs.  Embassy officials raised apostasy and religious freedom-related issues with authorities on multiple occasions and urged them to follow through on the court decision concerning Mkheytir.  The Ambassador and embassy officials hosted two iftars, during which they discussed religious tolerance with government officials and religious and civil society leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the country at 3.8 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to official sources, Sunni Muslims constitute an estimated 99 percent of the population.  Unofficial estimates, however, indicate that Shia Muslims constitute 1 percent of the population and non-Muslims, mostly Christians and a small number of Jews, make up a further 1 percent.  Almost all the Christians and Jews are foreigners.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as an Islamic republic and recognizes Islam as the sole religion of its citizenry and the state.  Only Muslims may be citizens.  Persons who convert from Islam lose their citizenship.  The law and legal procedures derive from a combination of French civil law and sharia.  The judiciary consists of a single system of courts that uses principles of sharia mainly in matters concerning the family and secular legal principles in other matters.

The law prohibits apostasy.  The criminal code, as amended in April, requires a death sentence for any Muslim convicted of apostasy, although the government has never applied capital punishment in this regard.

The amended criminal code also treats blasphemy as a capital offense and subject to the death penalty.  The amendments remove the possibility that courts may take into account an individual’s repentance as a mitigating factor in determining the punishment for offenses related to blasphemy and apostasy.

The penal code stipulates that the penalty for unmarried individuals of any gender caught engaging in sexual activity is 100 lashes and imprisonment of up to one year.  The penalty for married individuals convicted of adultery is death by stoning, although the last such stoning occurred more than 30 years ago.  The penal code requires death by stoning for those convicted of consensual homosexual activity.  These punishments apply only to Muslims.

The government does not register Islamic religious groups, but all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including humanitarian and development NGOs affiliated with religious groups, must register with the Ministry of Interior.  Faith-based NGOs must also agree to refrain from proselytizing or otherwise promoting any religion other than Islam.  The law requires the Ministry of Interior to authorize in advance all group meetings, including non-Islamic religious gatherings and those held in private homes.

By law, the MIATE is responsible for enacting and disseminating fatwas, fighting “extremism,” promoting research in Islamic studies, organizing the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, and monitoring mosques.  The government also appoints the High Council for Fatwa and Administrative Appeals, which advises the government on conformity of legislation to Islamic precepts, and which has sole authority to regulate fatwa issuance and resolve related disputes among citizens and between citizens and public agencies.

The law requires members of the Constitutional Council and the High Council of Magistrates to take an oath of office that includes a promise to God to uphold the law of the land in conformity with Islamic precepts.

Public schools and private secondary schools, but not international schools, are required to provide four hours of Islamic instruction per week.  Religious instruction in Arabic is required for students seeking the baccalaureate.

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

Government Practices

On April 27, the National Assembly voted to amend Article 306 of the penal code to remove the discretion of the courts in imposing death sentences for apostasy and blasphemy.  The amendment removed all references to repentance, essentially making the death penalty a mandatory sentence for such crimes.  The government has never carried out a death sentence pursuant to Article 306 and has not carried out any death sentences since 1989.

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheytir, a blogger sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy after he allegedly posted statements on social media critical of the Prophet Muhammad, hereditary slavery, and discrimination, remained detained in an unknown location.  In November 2017, before passage of the amendment removing the courts’ discretion in sentencing under Article 306, an appeals court ordered that Mkheytir be freed after determining that he had repented and therefore was not subject to the death penalty.  During the year, Mkheytir had contact with his family and attorney and at least one visit from human rights officials.

On May 28, government authorities closed a Shia religious center, the Ali bin Abi Talib complex in Nouakchott’s Dar al-Na’im district, in what media sources said was an attempt to hinder public expressions of Shia Islam.  Government officials said a large quantity of Shia literature sent to the center was seized at the airport on the grounds that its dissemination was not authorized by the state.  Following the closure, the MIATE confiscated the property.

During the year, the government took a series of actions against the Islamist opposition political party, Tawasoul.  On September 24, after Tawasoul won 14 seats in the parliament to become the second-largest party overall and the dominant opposition party, authorities closed a religious training center led by Imam Cheikh Mohamed El Hassen Ould Dedew, the spiritual leader of the party.  On September 26, the government closed Abdallah Ibn Yasin University, a private Islamic studies graduate school also led by Dedew.  These actions were based on a 2017 law that imposes a criminal penalty of between one and five years in prison against anyone who speaks in a manner “contrary or hostile” to the dominant Maliki school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, which sources stated was generally regarded by citizens as endorsing a more tolerant interpretation of Islam than competing Sunni schools of thought.

Many NGOs, particularly those campaigning against slavery, reported that the government failed to register their organizations, leaving them vulnerable to government harassment.  Several international Christian NGOs reported they continued to operate successfully in the country.

The MIATE continued to collaborate with independent Islamic religious groups and other foreign donors to combat extremism, radicalization, and terrorism through a series of workshops in all 15 provinces.  On March 18, the MIATE organized a scientific symposium entitled, “Scientists’ responsibilities to combat the phenomena of extremism and intellectual deviation.”  The Minister of MIATE, Ahmed Ould Ehel Daoud, opened the symposium, which the Grand Imam of Nouakchott and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb attended.  On May 27, the MIATE organized a seminar on terrorism and extremism, emphasizing the causes and methods of treatment according to the “Mauritanian approach,” which is to fight terrorism based on interfaith dialogue.

Although there remained no specific legal prohibition against non-Muslims proselytizing, the government prohibited such activity through a broad interpretation of the constitution that states Islam shall be the religion of the people and of the state.  Any public expression of religion except that of Islam was banned.

Authorized churches were able to conduct services within their premises but could not proselytize.  An unofficial government requirement restricted non-Muslim worship to the few recognized Christian churches.  There were Roman Catholic and other Christian churches in Nouakchott, Kaedi, Atar, Nouadhibou, and Rosso.  Citizens could not attend non-Islamic religious services, which remained restricted to foreigners.  The Ministry of Interior did not act on requests by a group of foreign Protestant Christians for authorization to build their own place of worship in Nouakchott.  The group first sought authorization to construct a place of worship in 2006.  They renewed their efforts in 2012 and 2016, and were still awaiting approval at year’s end.

On October 23, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz accepted the credentials of Michael Banach as the nonresident Ambassador (Nuncio) of the Holy See to the country.  This marked the first time in the country’s history that the government accredited an ambassador from the Holy See.

The possession of non-Islamic religious materials remained legal, although the government continued to prohibit their printing and distribution.  The government maintained a Quranic television channel and radio station.  Both stations sponsored regular programming on themes of moderation in Islam.

The government continued to provide funding to mosques and Islamic schools under its control.  The government paid monthly salaries of 5,000 ouguiyas ($140) to 200 imams who passed an examination conducted by a government-funded panel of imams and heads of mosques and Islamic schools.  It also paid monthly salaries of 2,500-10,000 ouguiyas ($70-$280) to 30 members of the National Union of Mauritanian Imams, an authority established to regulate the relationship between the religious community and the MIATE.

Islamic classes remained part of the educational curriculum, but class attendance was not mandatory and not required for graduation.  The results in the classes did not count significantly in the national exams that determine further placement.  Additionally, many students reportedly did not attend these religious classes for various ethnolinguistic, religious, and personal reasons.  The Ministry of National Education and the MIATE continued to reaffirm the importance of the Islamic education program at the secondary level.  In this regard, the government reportedly considered religious education a tool to protect children and society against extremism and to promote Islamic culture.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On August 21, during the annual Eid al-Adha observance, Imam Ahmedou Ould Lemrabott Ould Habibou Rahman, the imam of the Grand Mosque of Nouakchott, renewed his warnings about the growing influence of Shia Islam in the country.  Rahman stated for a third successive year that government authorities should sever ties with Iran in order to stop the spread of Iranian-backed Shia Islam.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, discussed religious tolerance with senior government officials, including with MIATE officials.  Embassy officials raised apostasy, blasphemy, and other religious freedom issues with authorities on multiple occasions.  The Ambassador urged authorities to ensure that judicial proceedings were transparent, and he pressed for the release of the detained blogger Mkheytir as ordered by the court in 2017.

The Ambassador met regularly with religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance.  On May 23, the Ambassador hosted an iftar in Nouadhibou in the northern part of the country, which local officials, journalists, religious leaders, and civil society representatives attended.  On May 31, the Ambassador hosted an iftar in Nouakchott attended by the minister of Islamic affairs, other senior government officials, journalists, and civil society leaders.  On September 1, Abba Mohamed Mahmoud, president of the local human rights NGO Association for Tolerance and Dialogue of Civilizations, which spearheaded highly visible public campaigns to denounce religious extremism and violence, traveled to the United States on a U.S. government exchange program to promote interfaith dialogue and religious freedom.  In November a U.S. imam visited the country on a U.S. government exchange program to promote the importance of moderate Islam and the Islamic faith in the United States.  The imam gave a presentation on Islam in the United States at the International Annual Conference for Moderate Imams held in Nouakchott on November 16 and facilitated a session on “Islam in America” at the High Institute for Research and Islamic Studies.

Morocco

Executive Summary

According to the Moroccan constitution, Islam is the religion of the state, and the state guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly.  The constitution also says the state guarantees to everyone the freedom to “practice his religious affairs.”  The constitution states the king holds the Islamic title “Commander of the Faithful,” and he is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country.  It also prohibits political parties founded on religion and political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments that denigrate or infringe on Islam.  Moroccan law penalizes the use of enticements to convert a Muslim to another religion and prohibits criticism of Islam.  According to the 2017-2018 Moroccan Association of Human Rights Report, the only non-Muslim citizens who could freely practice their religion were Jews.  Local Christian and Shia leaders reported the government detained and questioned some Christian and Shia citizens about their beliefs and contacts with other Christians and Shias.  Christian and Shia Muslim citizens also stated their fear of government and societal harassment led to their decision to practice their faiths discreetly.  According to press reports, in April police in Rabat detained a Christian citizen for 24 hours after finding Christian literature in his backpack.  On April 3, a group calling itself the Moroccan Christian Coordinating Group met with the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH) to submit a petition calling for the government to recognize rights for Christian citizens such as freedom to worship, celebrate civil marriages, establish and operate cemeteries, use biblical names for children, and the right of children to decline Islamic classes at school.  In May human rights organizations and media reported local authorities denied two citizens who had converted to Christianity the necessary documents to register to marry because of their religious beliefs.  Foreign clergy, because of fear of being criminally charged with proselytism, said they discouraged the country’s Christian citizens from attending their churches.  Although the law allows registration of religious groups as associations, some minority religious groups reported the government rejected their registration requests.  The authorities continued to introduce new religious textbooks during the school year following a review they said was aimed at removing extremist or intolerant references.  The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism.  According to media reports, in September the government requested regional MEIA representatives identify and monitor imams (morchidines) and female Muslim spiritual guides (morchidates) who have accounts on social media to ensure only official religious positions were conveyed through these personal accounts.  The government restricted the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.  On June 14, Minister of State for Human Rights Mustafa Ramid stated in an interview that “freedom of belief does not pose a short-term threat to the state but is certainly a long-term danger” to national cohesion.  On June 19, Minister of Justice Mohamed Aujjar denied the existence of Christian, Baha’i, and Ahmadi citizens on national television, but he said throughout history, Morocco has allowed Jewish citizens and visiting Christians from Europe and Africa to practice their religious affairs freely.  In May the Archives of Morocco signed a cooperation agreement with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).  The government hosted the second International Conference on Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue in Fez from September 10 to 12, where King Mohammed VI delivered remarks underscoring the tradition of coexistence in Morocco between Muslims and Jews and openness to other religions.

According to the Assabah newspaper, in July Christian citizens in the city of Nador received death threats, which the government investigated and reported were unfounded allegations.  According to media reports, activists, community leaders, and Christian converts, Christian citizens face pressure from non-Christian family and friends to convert to Islam or renounce their Christian faith.  They also reported the government did not respond to complaints about frequent societal harassment.  Members of the Baha’i Faith said they were open about their faith with family, friends, and neighbors, but feared extremist elements in society would try to do them harm.  According to an interview with TelQuel magazine, however, Baha’i citizens reported they did not feel they were treated differently from the average Moroccan.  Shia Muslims said in some areas, particularly in large cities in the north, they did not hide their faith from family, friends, or neighbors, but many avoided disclosing their religious affiliation in areas where their numbers were smaller.

The Charge d’Affaires, other embassy and consulate general officials, and other U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and tolerance in visits with key government officials, members of religious minority and majority communities, religious leaders, activists, and civil society groups, where they highlighted on a regular basis the importance of protection of religious minorities and interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 34.3 million (July 2018 estimate) and more than 99 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.  Less than 0.1 percent of the population is Shia Muslim, according to U.S. government estimates.  Groups together constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Christians, Jews, and Baha’is.

According to Jewish community leaders, there are an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 Jews, approximately 2,500 of whom reside in Casablanca.  Some Christian community leaders estimate there are between 2,000 and 6,000 Christian citizens distributed throughout the country; however, the 2017-2018 Moroccan Association of Human Rights Report estimates there are 25,000 Christian citizens.  Moroccan Shia Muslim leaders estimate there are several thousand Shia citizens, with the largest proportion in the north.  In addition, there are an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 foreign-resident Shia from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.  Leaders of the Ahmadi Muslim community estimate their numbers at 600.  Leaders of the Baha’i community estimate there are 350-400 members throughout the country.

Foreign-resident Christian leaders estimate the foreign-resident Christian population numbers at least 30,000 Roman Catholics and several thousand Protestants, many of whom are recent migrants from sub-Saharan Africa or lifelong residents of the country whose families have resided and worked there for generations but do not hold Moroccan citizenship.  There are small foreign-resident Anglican communities in Casablanca and Tangier.  There are an estimated 3000 foreign-residents who identify as Russian and Greek Orthodox, including a small foreign-resident Russian Orthodox community in Rabat and a small foreign-resident Greek Orthodox community in Casablanca.  Most foreign-resident Christians live in the Casablanca, Tangier, and Rabat urban areas, but small numbers of foreign Christians are present throughout the country, including many who are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

According to the constitution, the country is a Muslim state, with full sovereignty, and Islam is the religion of the state.  The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says the state guarantees every individual the freedom to practice his religious affairs.  The constitution states the king holds the Islamic title “Commander of the Faithful,” and he is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of the freedom to practice religious affairs in the country.  The constitution prohibits the enactment of laws or constitutional amendments infringing upon its provisions relating to Islam, and also recognizes the Jewish community as an integral component of society.  According to the constitution, political parties may not be founded on religion and may not denigrate or infringe on Islam.

The constitution and the law governing media prohibit any individual, including members of parliament normally immune from arrest, from criticizing Islam on public platforms, such as print or online media, or in public speeches.  Such expressions are punishable by imprisonment for two years and a fine of 200,000 dirhams ($21,000).

The law penalizes anyone who “employs enticements to undermine the faith” or convert a Muslim to another faith, and provides punishments of six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($21 to $52).  It also provides the right to a court trial for anyone accused of such an offense.  Voluntary conversion is not a crime under the law.  The law permits the government to expel summarily any noncitizen resident it determines to be “a threat to public order,” and the government has used this clause on occasion to expel foreigners suspected of proselytizing.

By law, impeding or preventing one or more persons from worshipping or from attending worship services of any religion is punishable by six months to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($21 to $52).  The penal code states any person known to be Muslim who breaks the fast in public during the month of Ramadan without an exception granted by religious authorities is liable to punishment of six months in prison and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams ($21 to $52).  Owners have discretion to keep their restaurants open during Ramadan.

The High Authority for Audiovisual Communications established by the constitution requires all eight public television stations to dedicate five percent of their airtime to Islamic religious content and to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer five times daily.

Sunni Muslims and Jews are the only religious groups recognized in the constitution as native to the country.  A separate set of laws and special courts govern personal status matters for Jews, including functions such as marriage, inheritance, and other personal status matters.  Rabbinical authorities, who are also court officials, administer Jewish family courts.  Muslim judges trained in the country’s Maliki-Ashari Sunni interpretation of the relevant aspects of sharia administer the courts for personal status matters for all other religious groups.  According to the law, a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman; a Muslim woman may not marry a man of another religion unless he converts to Islam.  Non-Muslims must formally convert to Islam and be permanent residents before they can become guardians of abandoned or orphaned children.  Guardianship entails the caretaking of a child, which may last until the child reaches 18, but it does not allow changing the child’s name or inheritance rights, and requires maintaining the child’s birth religion, according to orphanage directors.

Legal provisions outlined in the general tax code provide tax benefits, land and building grants, subsidies, and customs exemptions for imports necessary for the religious activities of recognized religious groups (Sunni Muslims and Jews) and religious groups registered as associations (some foreign Christian churches).  The law does not require religious groups to register to worship privately, but a nonrecognized religious group must register as an association to conduct business on behalf of the group or to hold public gatherings.  Associations must register with local Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials in the jurisdiction of the association’s headquarters in order to conduct financial transactions, hold bank accounts, rent property, and address the government in the name of the group.  An individual representative of a religious group neither recognized nor registered as an association may be held liable for any of the group’s public gatherings, transactions, bank accounts, property rentals, and/or petitions to the government.  The registration application must contain the name and purpose of the association; the name, nationality, age, profession, and residential address of each founder; and the address of the association’s headquarters.  The constitution guarantees civil society associations and nongovernmental organizations the right to organize themselves and exercise their activities freely within the scope of the constitution.  The law on associations prohibits organizations that pursue activities the government regards as “illegal, contrary to good morals, or aimed at undermining the Islamic religion, the integrity of the national territory, or the monarchical regime, or which call for discrimination.”

Many foreign-resident Christian churches are registered as associations.  The Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican Churches maintain different forms of official status.  The Russian Orthodox and Anglican Churches are registered as branches of international associations through the embassies of Russia and the United Kingdom, respectively.  The Protestant and Catholic Churches, whose existence as foreign-resident churches predates the country’s independence in 1956, as well as the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, maintain a special status recognized by the government.

By law, all publicly funded educational institutions must teach Sunni Islam in accordance with the teachings and traditions of the Maliki-Ashari school of Islamic jurisprudence.  Foreign-run and privately funded schools have the choice of teaching Sunni Islam or of not including religious instruction within the school’s curriculum.  Private Jewish schools may teach Judaism.

According to the constitution, only the High Council of Ulema, a group headed and appointed by the king with representatives from all regions of the country, is authorized to issue fatwas, which become legally binding only through the king’s endorsement in a royal decree and subsequent confirmation by parliamentary legislation.  If the king or parliament decline to ratify a decision of the Ulema, the decision remains nonbinding and unenforced.

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

Government Practices

The government at times reportedly detained and questioned Moroccan Christian and Shia citizens about their beliefs.  According to press reports, in April police in Rabat detained a Christian citizen for 24 hours after finding Christian literature in his backpack.  In May and June human rights organizations and media reported local authorities denied two Christian converts the necessary documentation to register to marry because of their religious beliefs.  The couple hosted a small symbolic wedding ceremony in a human rights organization’s headquarters in Rabat in June, but the couple stated they feared being accused of fornication, which is punishable under the penal code, because they did not have a government-issued marriage certificate.  According to activists and members of the religious minority community, authorities also detained and questioned several Shia Muslims for hours about their religious beliefs and about members of their religious community.  According to activists, during these instances, police did not document the detention and, according to media reports, denied such events transpired.

According to press reports, a group called the Moroccan Christian Coordinating Group met with the CNDH on April 3 to submit a petition calling for the government to recognize a series of rights for Christian citizens including freedom of worship, celebration of civil marriages, establishment and operation of cemeteries, being able to use biblical names for children, and the right of children to decline Islamic classes at school, as well as the legal normalization of Christian churches.  CNDH informed the group that CNDH welcomed official complaints where violations of human rights occurred.  CNDH was not aware of a government response to the petition.

Press also reported that on November 22, the Court of Appeals in Taza upheld a Court of First Instance ruling in favor of a defendant who was acquitted of “shaking the faith of a Muslim,” a crime under the penal code, after he reportedly handed a book explaining the Bible to another individual.  The appeals court ruling mentioned the ICCPR, which guarantees “the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs.”

Nonregistered religious groups reported receiving varying treatment by authorities; however, during the year, there were no reports of authorities prohibiting these groups from practicing their religion in private.  A number of religious groups reported they cooperated with authorities and occasionally informed them of planned large gatherings, for which authorities sometimes provided security.

According to religious leaders and legal scholars, the government’s refusal in past years to allow Shia Muslim groups to register as associations continued to prevent these groups from gathering legally for public religious ceremonies.  There were no known Shia mosques.  Shia representatives reported they had not attempted to register during the year.

According to representatives of the Moroccan Association for Religious Rights and Freedoms, on May 3 government authorities refused to accept the application for registration of their association under the determination the association aimed to undermine Islam.

A Christian group applied to register as an association in December 2018; it was awaiting a response from MOI at year’s end.

The government allowed the operation of registered foreign-resident Christian churches.  Church officials reported Christian citizens rarely attended their churches, and they did not encourage them to do so to avoid official accusations of proselytizing.  According to some reports from activists, authorities at times pressured Christian converts to renounce their faith by informing the converts’ friends, relatives, and employers of the individuals’ conversion.  According to community leaders, Christian citizens said authorities made phone or house calls to demonstrate they monitored Christian activities.  Foreigners attended religious services without restriction at places of worship belonging to officially recognized churches.

According to media reports, on June 20, the Collective for Democracy and Liberties cancelled a long-planned seminar on individual rights, including “sexual rights” and religious freedom, immediately before it was scheduled to begin.  A statement from the Ministry of Justice explained the Ministry of Interior had informed the seminar organizers they lacked the appropriate registration to hold the event.  Assabah reported the Head of Government Saadeddin El Othmani, Minister of State for Human Rights Ramid, Minister of Justice Mohamed Aujjar, and Secretary-General of the Party of Progress and Socialism Mohamed Nabil Benabdallah withdrew from participating in the seminar after cabinet and party members were reportedly ordered not to participate in any meetings encouraging sectarianism.  According to a Telquel article, Minister Aujjar said that after reviewing the agenda for the seminar, he cancelled his participation because “speaking about individual liberties does not bother [him], but it is a difficult question to assume politically.”

In an interview on June 14, Minister Ramid stated “freedom of belief does not pose a short-term threat to the state but is certainly a long-term danger” to national cohesion.  On June 19, Minister Aujjar denied the existence of Christian, Baha’i, and Ahmadi citizens, but said throughout history Morocco had allowed Jewish citizens and visiting Christians from Europe and Africa to practice their religions freely.  The Moroccan Christians Coordinating Group issued statements rejecting Minister Aujjar’s denial that they, whose numbers they maintained exceed those of Morocco’s recognized Jewish population, exist.

According to a human rights association, on November 26, it hosted a conference in Rabat on the situation of the country’s religious minorities.  During the event, leaders of human rights organizations said they were beginning to follow the issue more closely; however, limited information was available and official data on Moroccan religious minorities was not available.

The ban on the import, production, and sale of the burqa imposed in 2017 remained in effect.  The MOI cited security concerns as justification for the ban.  The ban did not prevent individuals from wearing burqas or making them at home for individual use.  Authorities, however, continued not to allow police and army personnel in uniform to wear a hijab.

The MEIA remained the principal government institution responsible for shaping the country’s religious sphere and promoting its interpretation of Sunni Islam.  It employed 1852 morchidines and 804 morchidates in mosques or religious institutions throughout the country.  The morchidates taught religious subjects and provided counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning.  It continued to provide government-required, one-year training to imams, training an average of 150 morchidines and 100 morchidates a year.  It also continued to train foreign imams, predominantly from sub-Saharan Africa.  The training sessions fulfilled the requirement for religious leaders to acquire a certificate issued by the High Council of Ulema to operate in the country.  The High Council of Ulema also continued to host continuing training sessions and capacity-building exercises for the religious leaders.

According to the government, the MEIA did not interfere with the topics the religious leaders chose to address during sermons; however, religious leaders were required to abide by the guidelines outlined in the MEIA-issued Guide of the Imam, Khatib, and the Preacher when they operated in the country.

The MEIA monitored Quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considered inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and ensure teaching followed approved doctrine.  The government required mosques to close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for what it termed “unauthorized activity,” including gatherings intended to promote extremism.  Construction of new mosques, including those constructed using private funds, required authorization from the MEIA.

The MEIA continued to guide and monitor the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by broadcast media, actions it said were intended to combat violent extremism.

The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.  Its policy remained to control the sale of all books, videotapes, and DVDs it considered extremist.  According to media reports, in September the government requested regional MEIA representatives identify morchidines and morchidates with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Plus social media to monitor and ensure only official religious positions were conveyed through these personal accounts.

MOI and MEIA authorization continued to be a requirement for the renovation or construction of churches.  In October the St. John’s Anglican Church in Casablanca began the construction of a community center with approval from government authorities.  The government also gave the Anglican Church approval to renovate and expand the church upon completion of its community center.

The government permitted the display and sale of bibles in French, English, and Spanish.  A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible were available for sale in a few bookshops for use in university religion courses.  Authorities confiscated bibles they believed were intended for use in proselytizing.

During the year, the government organized four national and regional training sessions on instruction based on “values” and “respect for religious principles.”  The government also introduced 13 new textbooks on the subjects of religion and legal sciences at the primary, junior and high school levels following a review by the MEIA and the Ministry of Education to remove extremist or intolerant references and promote moderation and tolerance.  As of year’s end, the government was also drafting an educational charter mandating traditional education be based on “values” and the “respect for religious and legal studies.”  Modifications to textbooks continued through the end of the year.

Jewish and Christian citizens stated elementary and high school curricula did not include mention of the historical legacy and current presence of their groups in the country.  The government continued to fund the study of Jewish culture and heritage at state-run universities.

The government continued to disseminate information about Islam over dedicated state-funded television and radio channels.  Television channel Assadissa (Sixth) programming was strictly religious, consisting primarily of Quran and hadith (authoritative sayings and deeds ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad) readings and exegesis, highlighting the government’s interpretation of Islam.

According to observers, the government tolerated social and charitable activities consistent with Sunni Islam.  For example, the Unity and Reform Movement, the country’s largest registered Islamic social organization, continued its close relationship with the Party of Justice and Development, the largest party in the governing coalition, and continued to operate without restriction, according to media reports.  The Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), a Sunni Islamist social movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated.  It remained the largest social movement in the country despite being unregistered.  The JCO continued to release press statements, hold conferences, manage internet sites, and participate in political demonstrations.  The government occasionally prevented the organization from meeting and restricted public distribution of JCO’s published materials.

The monarchy continued to support the restoration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, efforts it stated were necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance.  Since 2012, an estimated 170 Jewish cemeteries across 40 provinces have been restored.  According to the government, the MEIA did not interfere in the operations or the practices in synagogues.

The Prison Administration (DGAPR) said it authorized religious observances and services provided by religious leaders for all prisoners, including religious minorities.

Two adoul (notaries), typically religious men, are needed to perform marriages.  In January the School of Islamic Thought and Testimonies convinced the Supreme Scientific Council to amend the law so the king could permit women to become adoul.

During the annual commemoration of the anniversary of the king’s reign, the king bestowed honors on the heads of the Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and other Christian churches in recognition of their contributions to religious tolerance in Moroccan society.

In May the Archives of Morocco signed a cooperation agreement with the USHMM, to facilitate the sharing of documentation on Jewish history in Morocco.  The delegation met with country’s leaders to discuss continuing collaboration between the museum and the country’s National Archives to promote religious tolerance and awareness.

On September 10-12, the government hosted the second International Conference on Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue in Fez in collaboration with the International Organization of La Francophonie.  According to media reports, at the conference King Mohammed VI delivered remarks describing the tradition of coexistence in the country between Muslims and Jews and openness to other religions.

On September 26, Head of Government El Othmani delivered a message from the king at a UN roundtable table on “The Power of Education in Preventing Racism and Discrimination:  The Case of Anti-Semitism” in New York on the margins of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly.  The message highlighted the country’s preservation of its synagogues and noted the importance of “shedding light not only on humanity’s glorious moments, but also its darkest hours.”  It stated, “Anti-Semitism is the antithesis of freedom of expression.  It implies a denial of the other and is an admission of failure, inadequacy and an inability to coexist.”

In November the Ministry of Culture, in partnership with the Essaouira-Mogador Association, opened the Bayt Al Dakyra (House of Memory), a research center built from the remains of an old synagogue in Essaouira.  On December 11-12, UNESCO and the Aladdin Project in partnership with Mohammed V University, a public university in Rabat, hosted an international conference in Marrakech titled, “The Importance of History Teaching in Education: The Case of the Holocaust and Great Tragedies of History and 75 Years after the Holocaust, Honoring the Righteous in the Muslim World.”  The organizers paid tribute to the “Muslim Righteous” from Morocco and other countries that helped Jews during the Second World War and discussed the importance of education for highlighting the different phases and experiences of coexistence in the region.  Public officials from Mohammed V University, the Ministry of Education, the Archives of Morocco, and other public institutions participated in the conference.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some activists in minority religious communities reported the government did not respond to complaints about societal harassment.  According to a report in Assabah, in July Christian citizens in the city of Nador reported facing intimidation, including one death threat.  The MOI investigated the claims and reported they were unfounded.

Representatives of minority religious groups, especially Christian, Shia Muslim, and Baha’i citizens, said fear of societal harassment, including ostracism by converts’ families, social ridicule, employment discrimination, and potential violence against them by “extremists,” were the main reasons leading them to practice their faiths discreetly.  According to the 2017-2018 Moroccan Association of Human Rights Report, the only non-Muslim citizens who could freely practice their religious rituals were Jews.

There were reports from the media, activists, community leaders, and Christian converts that Christian citizens faced social pressure to convert to Islam or renounce their Christian faith from non-Christian family and friends.  Young Christians who still lived with their Muslim families did not reveal their faith because they believed they might be expelled from their homes unless they renounced Christianity.

Members of the Baha’i Faith said they were open about their faith with family, friends, and neighbors, but they feared extremist elements in society would try to do them harm.  According to an interview with TelQuel, however, some Baha’i citizens did not feel they were treated differently from the average Moroccan.

Shia Muslims said in some areas, particularly in large cities in the north, they did not hide their faith from family, friends, or neighbors, but that many avoided disclosing their religious affiliation in areas where their numbers were smaller.

Jewish citizens said they lived and attended services at synagogues in safety.  They said they were able to visit religious sites regularly and to hold annual commemorations.  On November 13-18, the Moroccan Community Abroad Council and the Israelite Community of Morocco Council cohosted a conference on Moroccan Judaism.  The public conference convened primarily Moroccan-born Jews residing in Canada, France, and Israel, with the leadership of the local Jewish community and Moroccan civil society groups.

Media continued to report women had difficulty finding employment in some private businesses, as well as with the army and police, if they wore a hijab or other head covering.  When women who wore a hijab did obtain employment with the police, army, and in some private businesses, they reported employers either encouraged or required them to remove their headscarves during working hours.

In December interfaith academics and an unregistered religious freedom organization coordinated a seminar on religious minorities and interfaith dialogue between Islamic schools of thought in Marrakech.

Muslim citizens continued to study at private Christian and Jewish schools, reportedly because these schools maintained a reputation for offering superior education.  According to school administrators, Muslim students continued to constitute a significant portion of the students at Jewish schools in Casablanca.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Charge d’Affaires, other embassy and consulate general officials, and visiting U.S. government officials met with government officials, including from MOI and MEIA, to promote religious freedom and tolerance, including the rights of minority communities.  Embassy and consulate general officials met members of religious minority and majority communities throughout the country.  The embassy also fostered and supported programs designed to highlight religious tolerance.

In October embassy officials attended one of a series of public seminars on the Holocaust and of the historical legacy of Moroccan Jews, hosted at a university in Rabat.  The USHMM and Mimouna, its local Islamic NGO partner, developed the curriculum they presented at the seminar.  In November embassy officials also attended the conference on Moroccan Judaism cohosted by the Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad and the Council of the Israelite Communities of Morocco.  On November 26, an embassy official attended a conference in Rabat on the situation of the country’s religious minorities.  On December 14, the Charge d’Affaires hosted a lunch for representatives of the Jewish community to discuss recent developments related to religious freedom and the preservation of the country’s Jewish history.

Sudan

Executive Summary

The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of religious creed and the rights to worship, assemble, and maintain places of worship.  Some laws and government practices are based on the government’s interpretation of a sharia system of jurisprudence, which human rights groups state does not provide protections for some religious minorities, including minority Muslim groups.  The law criminalizes apostasy, blasphemy, conversion from Islam to another religion, and questioning or criticizing the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet.  While the law does not specifically address proselytizing, the government has criminally defined and prosecuted proselytizing as a form of apostasy.  According to international reports, on October 13, a group of security agents raided the private home of Tajedin Yousif in South Darfur and arrested 13 Christian men who were participating in a series of prayer meetings.  Nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports stated that of the 13 persons arrested, 10 were of Darfuri origin and converts from Islam.  The reports said the individuals were abused in detention, threatened with apostasy charges, and forced to denounce Christianity.  Authorities released the detainees within two weeks and dropped the charges against them.  Human rights groups continued to accuse the government of interfering in internal religious community disputes over the sale of church lands to investors, including on cases related to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) and the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC), and to highlight the inability of these Christian groups to seek legal recourse.  According to church leaders, authorities continued to influence the internal affairs of churches through intimidation, harassment, and arrests of those opposed to government interference within evangelical Christian churches.  In February authorities demolished a church belonging to the SCOC in the Haj Youssef neighborhood of Khartoum North and confiscated the property of the church, including Bibles and pews.  As of year’s end, the government had not provided compensation for the damage nor provided an alternative space for worshipping, according to church leaders.  While the law does not prohibit the practice of Shia Islam, authorities took actions against Shia Muslims.  Some Shia Muslims reported authorities continued to prevent them from publishing articles about Shia beliefs.  According to multiple sources, authorities again regularly charged and convicted Christian and Muslim women with “indecent dress” for wearing pants and fined and lashed them.  The Ministry of Education for Khartoum State continued to mandate that Christian schools operate on Sundays in order to meet minimum required instruction hours.

Muslims and non-Muslims said a small and sometimes vocal minority of Salafist groups that advocated violence continued to be a concern.  Some Christian leaders noted the lack of representation of minority religious groups within government offices and the lack of a strong Council of Churches to advocate for the legal rights of churches and their members.

In high-level discussions with the government, U.S. officials encouraged respect for religious freedom and the protection of minority religious groups.  The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials raised specific cases of demolitions of houses of worship and court cases against religious leaders with government officials, including officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  They also emphasized the government’s need to take concrete steps to improve religious.  Embassy officials stressed that respect for religious freedom is crucial to improved relations with the United States and a precursor to peace in the country.  In meetings with the minister of foreign affairs, the Charge d’Affaires raised the denial of licenses for new churches, the demolition of houses of worship without an alternative, the harassment of Muslim religious minorities, government interference in internal church affairs, and enforcement of “indecent dress” laws.  The embassy maintained close contact with religious leaders, faith-based groups, and NGOs, and embassy representatives monitored and attended many of the legal proceedings for those prosecuted in connection with their religious beliefs.  In May the embassy cohosted a workshop on interreligious dialogue with the Canadian embassy in Khartoum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  In his opening remarks, the Charge d’Affaires stressed the importance of leaders from different faith backgrounds and professions ensuring that their laws and actions are in line with international guiding principles of religious freedom.

Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  On November 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Sudan as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the restriction in the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on making certain appropriated funds available for assistance to the Government of Sudan, currently set forth in section 7042(i) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2018 (Div. K, P. L. 115-141), and any provision of law that is the same or substantially the same as this provision, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 43.1 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Sudanese government, approximately 97 percent of the population is Muslim.  It is unclear whether government estimates include South Sudanese (predominantly Christian or animist) who did not leave after the 2011 separation of South Sudan or returned after conflict erupted in South Sudan in 2013, or other non-South Sudanese, non-Muslim groups.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports more than 927,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, including 768,819 South Sudanese refugees.  Some religious advocacy groups estimate non-Muslims make up more than 20 percent of the population.

Almost all Muslims are Sunni, although there are significant distinctions among followers of different Sunni traditions, particularly among Sufi orders.  Small Shia Muslim communities are based predominantly in Khartoum.  At least one Jewish family remains in the Khartoum area.

The government reports the presence of 36 Christian denominations in the country.  Christians reside throughout the country, primarily in major cities such as Khartoum, Port Sudan, Kassala, Gedaref, El Obeid, and El Fasher.  Christians also are concentrated in some parts of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State.

Relatively small but long-established groups of Coptic Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians are located in Khartoum, El Obeid in North Kordofan, River Nile and Gezira States, and eastern parts of the country.  Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox communities, largely made up of refugees and migrants, are located in Khartoum and the eastern part of the country.  Other larger Christian groups include the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Anglican Church, Sudan Church of Christ, Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian Church of the Sudan.  Smaller Christian groups include the Africa Inland Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Sudan Interior Church, Sudan Pentecostal Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Government statistics indicate less than 1 percent of the population, primarily in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, adheres to traditional African religious beliefs.  Some Christians and Muslims incorporate aspects of these traditional beliefs into their religious practice.  A small Baha’i community primarily operates underground.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Interim National Constitution, passed in 2004, provides for freedom of religious creed and worship, and grants individuals the right to declare their religious beliefs and manifest them through worship, education, practice, or performance, subject to requirements of laws and public order.  The constitution prohibits the coercion of individuals to adopt a faith they do not believe in or to engage in rites or services without consent.  The constitution also states that nationally enacted legislation shall be based on sharia.  The government has not amended the constitution to reflect the 2011 independence of South Sudan.

The law does not permit Shia Muslims to hold worship services; however, they are allowed to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

The constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain humanitarian and charitable institutions, acquire property and materials related to their religious rites and customs, write and disseminate religious publications, teach religion, solicit public and private contributions, select their own leaders, observe days of rest, celebrate religious holidays, and communicate with constituents on matters of religion.

The constitution denies recognition to any political party that discriminates based on religion and specifically prohibits religious discrimination against candidates for the national civil service.  Constitutional violations of freedom of religion may be pursued in the Constitutional Court; however, cases of discrimination often originate and are addressed in lower courts.

National laws are based on a sharia system of jurisprudence.  The criminal code states the law, including at the state and local level, shall be based on sharia sources and include hudood, qisas, and diyah principles (specific serious crimes and related restitution and punishment).  The criminal code takes into consideration multiple sharia schools of jurisprudence (madhahib).  The Islamic Panel of Scholars and Preachers (Fiqh Council) determines under which conditions a particular school of thought will apply.  Other criminal and civil laws, including public order laws, are determined at the state and local level.

The president appoints the Fiqh Council, an official body of 40 Muslim religious scholars responsible for explaining and interpreting Islamic jurisprudence, to four-year renewable terms.  The council advises the government and issues fatwas on religious matters, including levying customs duties on the importation of religious materials, payment of interest on loans for public infrastructure, and determination of government-allotted annual leave for Islamic holidays.  The council’s opinions are not legally binding.  Muslim religious scholars may present differing religious and political viewpoints in public.

The criminal code does not explicitly mention proselytizing, but it criminalizes both conversion from Islam to any other faith (apostasy) and acts that encourage conversion from Islam.  Those who convert from Islam to another religion as well as any Muslim who questions or criticizes the teachings of the Quran, the Sahaba (the Companions of the Prophet), or the wives of the Prophet may also be considered guilty of apostasy and sentenced to death.  Those charged with apostasy are allowed to repent within a period decided by the court but may still face up to five years in prison.  The law does not prohibit individuals from converting to Islam from another religion.

The criminal code’s section on “religious offenses” criminalizes various acts committed against any religion.  These include insulting religion, blasphemy, disturbing places of worship, and trespassing upon places of burial.  The criminal code states, “whoever insults any religion, their rights or beliefs or sanctifications or seeks to excite feelings of contempt and disrespect against the believers thereof” shall be punished with up to six months in prison, flogging of up to 40 lashes, and/or a fine.  The article includes provisions that prescribe penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and 40 lashes for any non-Muslim who curses the Prophet Muhammad, his wives, or members of his respective households.

The Ministry of Guidance and Endowments (MGE) regulated Islamic religious practice, including activities such as reviewing Friday sermons at mosques, supervised churches, and was responsible for guaranteeing equal treatment for all religious groups.  The MGE also provided recommendations to relevant ministries regarding religious issues government ministries encounter.  In September President Omar al-Bashir dissolved the previous government and established a restructured government that eliminated the MGE.  The next month Bashir created a Higher Council for Guidance and Endowments (HCGE) and appointed the former minister of the MGE to be the council’s chairperson.  The HCGE maintains the same mandate as the former ministry.

In October the government formed a new interagency committee to discuss religious coexistence and religious issues more broadly with a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chairing the committee and members from the security services, HCGE, Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Education, and other bodies.

To gain official recognition by the government, religious groups must register at the state level with the HCGE, or a related ministry such as the Ministry of Culture, or the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), depending on the nature of the group and its activities.  The HAC oversees NGOs and nonprofit organizations.  Religious groups that also engage in humanitarian or development activities must register as nonprofit NGOs by filing a standard application required by the HAC for both local and international NGOs.  Only religious groups that register are eligible to apply for other administrative benefits, including land ownership, tax exemptions, and work permits.

The law does not permit Shia Muslims to hold worship services; however, they are allowed to enter Sunni mosques to pray.

The state-mandated education curriculum requires that all students receive religious instruction.  The curriculum further mandates that all schools, including international schools and private schools operated by Christian groups, provide Islamic education classes to Muslim students, from preschool through the second year of university.  The law does not require non-Muslims to attend Islamic education classes, and it mandates that public schools provide Christian students with other religious instruction if there are at least 15 Christian students in a class.  According to the Ministry of Education, following the separation of South Sudan, this number was not reached in most schools.  Non-Muslim students therefore normally attend religious study classes of their own religion outside of regular school hours to fulfill the religious instruction requirement.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for determining the religious education curriculum.  According to the ministry, the Islamic curriculum must follow the Sunni tradition.

The HCGE determines, along with the state-level entities responsible for land grants and planning, whether to provide authorization or permits to build new houses of worship, taking into account zoning concerns such as the distance between religious institutions and population density (the allocation of land to religious entities is determined at the state level).  The HCGE is mandated to assist both mosques and churches in obtaining tax exemptions and duty-free permits to import items such as furniture and religious items for houses of worship; the HCGE also assists visitors attending meetings sponsored by religious groups and activities to obtain tourist visas through the Ministry of Interior.  The HCGE coordinates travel for the Hajj and Umra.

Public order laws, based largely on the government’s interpretation of sharia, vary by state.  These laws prohibit “indecent” dress and other “offenses of honor, reputation, and public morality.”  Authorities primarily enforce such laws in large cities and enforce laws governing indecent dress against both Muslims and non-Muslims.  The criminal code states that an act is contrary to public decency if it violates another person’s modesty.  In practice, the special Public Order Police and courts, which derive their authority from the Ministry of Interior, have wide latitude in interpreting what dress or behaviors are indecent and in arresting and passing sentence on accused offenders.

Some aspects of the criminal code specify punishments for Muslims based on government interpretation of sharia punishment principles.  For example, the criminal code stipulates 40 lashes for a Muslim who drinks, possesses, or sells alcohol; no punishment is prescribed for a non-Muslim who drinks or possesses alcohol in private.  The criminal code stipulates if a non-Muslim is arrested for public drinking, or possessing or selling alcohol, he or she is subject to trial, but the punishment will not be based on hudood principles.  The penalty for adultery with a married person is hanging and for an unmarried person is 100 lashes.  An unmarried man could additionally be punished with expatriation for up to one year.  These penalties apply to both Muslims and non-Muslims.  Adultery is defined as sexual activity outside of marriage, prior to marriage, or in a marriage that is determined to be void.

Under the law, the justice minister may release any prisoner who memorizes the Quran during his or her prison term.  The release requires a recommendation for parole from the prison’s director general, a religious committee composed of the Sudan Scholars Organization, and members of the Fiqh Council, which consults with the MGE to ensure decisions, comply with Islamic legal regulations.

Under the law, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman (although most Sudanese sharia schools of thought advise that the non-Muslim women must be “people of the book,” i.e., either Christian or Jewish).  A Muslim woman, however, legally may marry only a Muslim man.  A Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim man could be charged with adultery.

Separate family courts exist for Muslims and non-Muslims to address personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and child custody, according to their religion.  By law, in custody dispute cases where one parent is Muslim and the other is Christian, courts grant custody to the Muslim parent if there is any concern that the non-Muslim parent would raise the child in a religion other than Islam.

According to Islamic personal status laws, Christians (including children) may not inherit assets from a Muslim.

Government offices and businesses are closed on Friday for prayers and follow an Islamic workweek of Sunday to Thursday.  The law requires employers to give Christian employees two hours off on Sundays for religious activity.  Leave from work is also granted to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, an official state holiday, along with several key Islamic holidays.

An interministerial committee, which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), and in some cases Military Intelligence, must approve foreign clergy and other foreigners seeking a residency permit.

The constitution’s bill of rights says all rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants, and instruments ratified by the country are integral parts of the constitution’s bill of rights.

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

Government Practices

According to international reports, on October 13, a group of security agents raided the private home of Tajedin Yousifa, a Christian pastor, in South Darfur and arrested 13 Christian men who were there for a series of prayer meetings.  Of those arrested, reports stated 10 were of Darfuri origin and converts from Islam.  NISS was reportedly monitoring the home and had two pickup trucks parked outside the home.  NISS agents reportedly took the individuals to an unknown NISS facility in Nyala, where they were interrogated.  NISS then transferred the detainees to a Nyala police station on October 18.  Authorities initially charged the men with disturbing public peace but released 12 of the detainees on October 21 with no charges.  All detainees were reportedly in poor health upon release and required medical attention for injuries sustained in police detention.  Authorities kept the pastor in detention for additional questioning.  Initial reports indicated that authorities also charged him with apostasy and crimes against the state, which carry a death sentence if convicted.  Authorities released the pastor on October 23 and dropped all charges.  Authorities stated they also considered the group to be supporters of the leader of an armed Darfuri rebel movement.

In August the Omdurman Criminal Court convicted Samson Hamad Al-Haras, a member of the government-backed Presbyterian Evangelical Community Committee (ECC), of murder in the killing of SPEC elder Yonan Abdullah during an April 2017 altercation between ECC supporters and opponents within SPEC over control of the SPEC-operated Omdurman Evangelical Church School.  Al-Haras was sentenced to death.  The other 60 or more SPEC leaders arrested in opposition to the ECC’s efforts to sell the school remained in various stages of prosecution.

On December 28, government security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at a group of 300-400 worshippers leaving a mosque associated with the opposition National Umma Party in Omdurman following Friday prayers.  The incident occurred on the 10th day of antigovernment demonstrations and protests of rising food prices, and activists had urged protesters to gather in large numbers following Friday prayers.

According to reports, the Public Order Police frequently charged women with “indecent dress” and “indecent behavior,” and there were numerous court convictions.  Religious leaders and government officials again reported the Public Order Police fined and lashed Muslim and Christian women on a daily basis in Khartoum for wearing pants and other dress the police considered indecent.  In November the Public Order Police arrested a Coptic singer after she performed at a concert for which the organizer had not received the proper permit.  The police searched the singer’s private phone while she was in custody and charged her with indecent behavior because of photographs they found on her phone.  A judge convicted her and sentenced her to 10 lashes and a fine of 5,000 Sudanese pounds ($110).  Authorities lashed her immediately following the conviction.

Minority religious groups, including Muslim minority groups and especially Shia Muslims, expressed concern they could be convicted of apostasy if they expressed beliefs or discussed religious practices that differed from those of the Sunni majority group.  Some Shia reported they remained prohibited from writing articles about their beliefs and religious issues remained a redline for news media to address.  Many individuals from Muslim minorities, such as Shia or Quranist groups, reported that their places of worship had remained closed since 2014.  According to lawyers working on the Quranists’ issues, the Constitutional Court dismissed the court case against them due to mounting international pressure and ordered that the group not gather again.  The lawyers also stated the Quranists needed to keep a low profile regarding their places of worship, as well as religious events and gatherings.

SPEC leaders continued to face lengthy and prolonged trials for charges including “criminal mischief” and “trespassing,” after they continued to use properties belonging to the SPEC.

In early July, the Pentecostal Cultural Centre, located in downtown Khartoum opposite Unity Catholic School, reopened.  The government had closed the center in 2014 and temporarily turned it into a NISS office after the government claimed the church did not have legal documentation proving ownership of the building.

In September an Omdurman court ruled the SCOC national leadership committee led by Moderator Ayoub Tilliano had ownership of the SCOC headquarters in Omdurman.  The leadership committee was engaged in a legal case over ownership of the property following a 2015 raid by security forces on SCOC headquarters, after which the security forces confiscated all their legal documents and brought charges against the leadership council for trespassing.  The committee received the legal documents back from security services on September 24.

Government security services were reported to continue to monitor mosques closely for Friday sermon content.  Multiple sources stated authorities provided talking points and required imams to use them in their sermons.  If an imam’s sermon diverged from the government-provided talking points, the imam would be removed from his position.  Some individuals from minority religious groups expressed concern that the Friday sermons encouraged discriminatory or hateful beliefs against the minority groups.

Prisons provided prayer spaces for Muslims, but sources stated that authorities did not allow Shia prayers.  Shia prisoners were permitted to join prayer services led by Sunni imams.  Some prisons, such as the Women’s Prison in Omdurman, had dedicated areas for Christian observance.  Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular.

The government continued to state it did not have non-Muslim teachers available to teach Christian courses in public schools.  Some public schools excused non-Muslims from Islamic education classes.  Some private schools, including Christian schools, received government-provided Muslim teachers to teach Islamic subjects, but non-Muslim students were not required to attend those classes.  Most Christian students attended religious education classes at their churches based on the availability of volunteer teachers from their own church communities.  Their families reported that the children’s schools did not usually recognize the classes, and students in those cases did not receive credit.

On February 11, authorities demolished the SPEC church in the Haj Youssef neighborhood of Khartoum North.  Police arrived at the scene following Sunday worship services and ordered congregants to vacate the premises immediately.  Police then confiscated the property inside the church, including the pews and Bibles, and razed the building with a bulldozer.  Church leaders said they had no advance warning of the demolition.  The church had already been seized by a local businessman, who claimed ownership of the church despite ownership deeds in the name of the church dating back to 1989.  At year’s end, the church was engaged in an appeal of the decision and the confiscation of the church’s property, but authorities repeatedly postponed court sessions.  At year’s end, church leaders had yet to receive compensation for damages or been given an alternative site for worship.

In May a Muslim human rights lawyer fled the country after he was arrested and interrogated by security services for his work advocating for minority religious groups.  He had already faced repeated incidents of harassment and intimidation from NISS, including two break-ins of his home the previous year.  Human rights activists expressed concern about the departure of the lawyer from their community, as he was a vocal proponent of religious freedom and worked to defend the rights of religious minorities.

According to various church representatives, the government continued to favor mosques over churches in the issuance of permits for houses of worship.  Some churches reported they were less willing to apply for land permits or to construct churches given the government’s previous repeated denials.  The government attributed its denial of permits to the churches not meeting government population density parameters and zoning plans.

Local parishioners reported that, compared to Islamic institutions, Christian places of worship continued to be disproportionately affected by zoning changes, closures, and demolitions.  The government said places of worship that were demolished or closed lacked proper land permits or institutional registration and that mosques, churches, schools, hospitals, and residences were all affected equally by the urban planning projects.  Sources estimated at least 24 churches, Christian schools, libraries, and cultural centers were “systematically closed,” demolished or confiscated by the government between 2011 and 2017.  During the year, only one church demolition was reported.  Government authorities also stated that mosques were affected and provided photographs of mosque demolitions; however, lack of detailed information on the alleged demolitions made it difficult to verify the information, according to observers.

The NISS noted the locations of churches and mosques it was tracking that were located on what the government referred to as “unplanned areas” in Khartoum State.  Christian leaders and lawyers said that gaining outright land titles remained very difficult given that the government legally owned all land, and thus the legal status of churches remained unclear.

During the year, 22 churches filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following an outreach campaign to Christian religious communities in the Khartoum area by the NHRC.  Most of the complaints related to land and administrative issues.  At year’s end, the commission was following up with the complaints and established a working group to investigate systematic issues related to the registration of and land permits for Christian places of worship.

Following a July 2017 order from the Ministry of Education for Khartoum State mandating that schools (except for Coptic schools) operate from Sunday to Thursday, non-Coptic Christian schools either continued to operate on Sundays to adhere to the national general education guidelines, or they increased instruction hours on other school days to avoid operating on Sundays.  Multiple members of the government, including the foreign affairs minister and the minister of education for Khartoum State, continued to publicly express concern that the order would damage the country’s international reputation and unnecessarily impeded individuals’ religious freedom.  Government officials stated, however, that they were unaware of how to overturn the order because its origins were unclear.

The government continued to restrict some religiously based political parties, including the Republican Brothers Party, which opposes the government’s use of sharia as a source of law.  The Political Parties Affairs Council, which oversees the registration of political parties, refused to register the party in 2014, and the party’s leader filed an appeal of the decision to the Constitutional Court in 2015, but the court refused the appeal.  A local community center and library associated with the party in Omdurman remained closed due to government restrictions on its operation.

Government officials continued to state Islamic principles should inform official policies and often pointed to sharia as the basis for the country’s legal framework.  President Bashir and other senior figures frequently emphasized the country’s Islamic foundation.  In a February speech responding to public opposition to subsidy cuts and a currency devaluation, Bashir said that anyone who protested the economic situation or his administration’s policies was an enemy of Islam and working against the Islamic faith.

The government denied Christian churches or their humanitarian institutions tax-exempt status, although the government granted this status to Muslim relief agencies.  Christian churches reported authorities required them to pay or negotiate taxes on items such as vehicles.

The government continued to restrict non-Muslim religious groups from operating or entering the country and continued to monitor activities and censor material published by religious institutions.  The MGE and the HCGE again said they had granted a limited number of Christian missionary groups permission to engage in humanitarian activities and promote Muslim-Christian cooperation.

Many officials from various churches reported the government refused to grant, or delayed renewing, work and residency visas to church employees of foreign origin, including missionaries and clergy, or to individuals the government believed would proselytize in public places.  Local members of the Catholic Church said these denials had a particularly negative impact on the Catholic Church, whose clergy are mostly of foreign origin, while most clergy of other Christian denominations are ethnically Sudanese or South Sudanese.  The government only granted residence permits with less than a year’s validity.  The government required clergy to pay a fine of 70 Sudanese pounds ($1) for every day they were not in residency status.

The government reportedly closely scrutinized those suspected of proselytizing and used administrative rationales, or other aspects of the law such as immigration status, to either deport or exert financial pressure on such individuals.

Some religious groups reported the government barred the import of unapproved religious texts and said most Christian denominations were unable to import teaching materials and religious texts as guaranteed by the constitution.  According to international reports, in September authorities released two shipping containers with Arabic-language Bibles destined for the Bible Society in Khartoum after they had been detained in Port Sudan for three years.

A small number of Christian politicians, the majority of whom were members of the Coptic Church, continued to hold seats in the government.

During the year, Christian groups called for a Christian director of the MGE Office of Church Affairs.  MGE officials said they agreed to appoint a Christian but had yet to do so because Christian communities could not agree on a representative.  Christian groups said the government never expressed a willingness to appoint a Christian, although government officials publicly stated such willingness on multiple occasions.  After the government dissolved the MGE and established the HCGE, the opportunities for non-Muslim representation were not clear.

In January the government convened a group of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former MGE, Inter-Religious Council, Ministry of Education, and others to discuss the state of religious coexistence.  The group identified several areas of concern, including religious education inequities, and resolved to establish an intragovernmental working group on religious coexistence.  In October the government formed a new higher-level interministerial group chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the same structure and mandate.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Individual Muslims and Christians reported generally good relationships at the societal level and stated that instances of intolerance or discrimination by individuals or nongovernmental entities were generally isolated.

The Sudan Inter-Religious Council, a registered nonprofit, nonpolitical organization consisting of scholars, half of whom were Muslim and the other half Christian, was mandated by its constitution to advise the MGE/HCGE and to encourage interfaith dialogue.

A segment about gender equality in the country on the Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Arabic-language talk show “Shabab Talk” went viral on September 21.  During the segment, a young woman, Weam Shawky, addressed Mohammed Osman Saleh, the chair of the Sudan Scholars Association, and criticized the widespread harassment and intimidation of women because of their clothing.  Immediately following the episode, Saleh gave a press conference in which he said the show was put on by “enemies of our culture.”  Muslim clerics responded by calling for protests and violence against DW’s production partner, television channel Sudania 24, in Khartoum.  Several Muslim clerics decried the show in their Friday sermons, and one cleric accused the host, Jaafar Abdul Karim, of “spreading atheism.”  Many human rights activists and other members of the local community defended the show and praised Sudania 24 for initiating an open discussion on the topic of women’s rights and the public order system.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings between the Charge d’Affaires and the minister of foreign affairs and the ministry’s director for human rights, women, and children, the Charge promoted religious freedom as a means of achieving peace and stability.  He emphasized that religious freedom formed a key basis for broader normalization of bilateral relations.  The Charge and other embassy officials also made this point repeatedly in regular meetings of the Joint Review Committee of the U.S.-Sudan engagement plan.  The Charge further emphasized that persons of different religions needed to be able to practice their religious beliefs freely and that creating an environment without fear of harassment based on religion was crucial to bringing peace and stability to the country’s conflict areas.  He also raised the issues of the denial of licenses for new churches, demolition of houses of worship without an alternative, court cases against religious leaders, harassment of Muslim religious minorities, government interference in internal church affairs, and enforcement of “indecent dress” laws.

The embassy held a weeklong series of meetings in May on religious freedom with civil society representatives, religious leaders, and journalists.  In the meetings, embassy officials raised religious freedom issues regarding property ownership, access to education and school days conflicting with Christian worship services, and women’s rights.

The U.S. embassy partnered with the Canadian embassy in Khartoum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hold a two-day workshop in May on interreligious dialogue.  Senior government officials, leaders of religious communities, diplomatic representatives, media, and nongovernmental organizations attended the workshop and shared their views on the state of religious freedom in the country.  The main topics discussed were education laws, laws governing religious freedom, and registration of religious properties.  An official from the Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom attended the workshop and met with government representatives, including Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour.  The official discussed ways the government could take concrete steps toward substantially improving the state of religious freedom in the country.

Embassy officials met regularly with imams and Sufi clerics, and clergy and parishioners of Catholic and Protestant churches to hear their views on the religious freedom situation.  Embassy officials attended religious ceremonies of different groups and underscored in regular meetings with leaders of Muslim and Christian groups the importance of religious tolerance.  U.S. government representatives closely monitored the legal proceedings concerning religious organizations and religious leaders.

The embassy regularly utilized its social media outlets to share articles and messaging related to religious tolerance and freedom.

Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  On November 28, 2018, the Secretary of State redesignated Sudan as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the restriction in the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on making certain appropriated funds available for assistance to the Government of Sudan, currently set forth in section 7042(i) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2018 (Div. K, P. L. 115-141), and any provision of law that is the same or substantially the same as this provision, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Tunisia

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

Turkey

Executive Summary

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It provides for freedom of conscience, religious belief, conviction, expression, and worship and prohibits discrimination based on religious grounds.  The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), a state institution, governs and coordinates religious matters related to Islam; its mandate is to promote and enable the practice of Sunni Islam.  The government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those not recognized under the government’s interpretation of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which includes only Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  The government continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and not to recognize Alevi houses of worship (cemevis), despite a Supreme Court of Appeals ruling in November that cemevis are places of worship.  The government did not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service.  Religious minorities reported bureaucratic and administrative impediments to religious freedom remained, including the prevention of governing board elections for religious foundations, which manage many activities of religious communities.  The government continued to restrict efforts of minority religious groups to train their clergy, the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, and the Diyanet announced plans to construct an Islamic educational center on the same island as the shuttered seminary.  Religious minorities reported experiencing difficulties resolving land and property disputes, operating or opening houses of worship, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools.  The legal challenges of churches whose lands the government previously expropriated continued; some members of the churches said they still did not have access to many of their properties.  The government provided security support for religious minority communities, returned some previously expropriated properties, including 56 to the Syriac community, and paid for the renovation and restoration of some registered religious properties.  Following the July 2016 coup attempt, the government arrested more than 80,000 individuals with alleged ties to Muslim cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen – whom the government blamed for the attempted putsch – including U.S. citizen and Pastor Andrew Brunson.  In October a court in Izmir convicted Brunson of supporting a terrorist group but suspended his sentence, allowing him to depart the country.

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

The Charge d’Affaires, visiting senior U.S. officials, and other embassy and consulate officials continued to engage with government officials and emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity and equal treatment under the law.  Embassy and consulate representatives and visiting U.S. government officials urged the government to lift restrictions on religious groups, make progress on property restitution, and address specific cases of religious discrimination.  Embassy and consulate officials also met with a wide range of religious community leaders, including those of the Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christian, Protestant, Alevi, and Syriac Orthodox communities, to underscore the importance of religious freedom and interfaith tolerance and to condemn discrimination against members of any religious group.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 81.3 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to the Turkish government, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, approximately 77.5 percent of which is Hanafi Sunni.  Representatives of other religious groups estimate their members represent 0.2 percent of the population, while the most recent published surveys suggest approximately 2 percent of the population is atheist.

Alevi foundation leaders estimate Alevis comprise 25 to 31 percent of the population; Pew Research Center reporting indicates five percent of Turkish Muslims state they are Alevis.  The Shia Jafari community estimates its members make up 4 percent of the population.

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

There is no separate blasphemy law; the penal code provides punishment for offenses related to “provoking people to be rancorous and hostile,” including showing public disrespect for religious beliefs.  The penal code prohibits religious leaders such as imams, priests, and rabbis from “reproaching or vilifying” the government or the laws of the state while performing their duties.  Violations are punishable by prison terms of one month to one year, or three months to two years if the crime involves inciting others to disobey the law.

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

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

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

Military service is obligatory for males; there is no provision for conscientious objection.  Those who oppose mandatory military service on religious grounds may face charges in military and civilian courts and, if convicted, are subject to prison sentences ranging from two months to two years.

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

A 1935 law prohibits the establishment of foundations based on the religion or ethnicity of members but grants exemptions to foundations existing before the enactment of the law.  These longstanding foundations belong to non-Muslim Turkish citizens; 167 of them continue to exist, the majority of which are associated with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities.  A religious group may apply to register as an association or foundation provided its stated objective is charitable, educational, or cultural rather than religious.

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

If a foundation becomes inactive, the government may petition the courts to find the foundation no longer operational and transfer all its assets to the state.  Only a court order may close a foundation of any category, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close foundations by decree.  The state of emergency instituted in 2016 ended in July.

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

Associations by definition must be nonprofit and may receive financial support only in the form of donations.  To register as an association, a group must submit an application to the provincial governor’s office with supporting documentation, including bylaws and a list of founding members.  In addition to its bylaws, a group must obtain and submit permission from the Ministry of the Interior as part of its application if a foreign association or nonprofit organization is listed as a founding member; if foreigners are founding members of the group, the group must submit copies of their residence permits.  If the governorate finds the bylaws unlawful or unconstitutional, the association must change the bylaws to meet the legal requirements.  Under the law, the governorate may fine or otherwise punish association officials for actions deemed to violate the organization’s bylaws.  Only a court order may close an association, except under a state of emergency, during which the government may close associations by decree.  The civil code requires associations not to discriminate on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, or race.

By law, prisoners have the right to practice their religions in prison; however, not all prisons have dedicated places of worship.  The government provides Sunni Muslims mesjids (small mosques) in larger prisons and provides Sunni preachers; Alevis and non-Muslims do not have clerics from their own faiths serving in prisons.  According to the law, prison authorities must allow religious groups to offer books and other materials that are a part of the prisoner’s faith.

The constitution establishes compulsory religious and moral instruction in public and private primary, middle, and high schools, with content determined by the Ministry of National Education’s Department of Religious Instruction, which as of July falls under the authority of the Office of the Presidency.  Religion classes are two hours per week for students in grades four through 12.  Only students who marked “Christian” or “Jewish” on their national identity cards may apply for an exemption from religion classes.  Atheists, agnostics, Alevis or other non-Sunni Muslims, Baha’is, Yezidis, or those who left the religion section blank on their national identity card are not exempt from the classes.  Middle and high school students may take additional Islamic religious courses as electives for two hours per week during regular school hours.

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government continued to interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which refers broadly to “non-Muslim minorities,” as granting special legal minority status exclusively to three recognized groups:  Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians.  The government did not recognize the leadership or administrative structures of non-Muslim minorities, such as the patriarchates and chief rabbinate, as legal entities, leaving them unable to buy or hold title to property or to press claims in court.  These three groups, along with other minority religious communities, had to rely on independent foundations they previously organized, overseen by separate governing boards, to hold and control individual religious properties.  Members of religious communities said the inability to hold elections for foundation governing boards remained an impediment to managing their affairs.  In 2013, the government repealed regulations dealing with the election of foundation board members, which prohibited subsequent elections from taking place.  Without the ability to hold new elections, governing boards lose the capacity to manage the activities and properties of the community and run the risk of the foundations becoming inactive without newly elected leadership.

The government continued not to recognize the ecumenical patriarch as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so.  The government’s position remained that the ecumenical patriarch was only the religious leader of the country’s Greek Orthodox minority population.  The government continued to permit only Turkish citizens to vote in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Holy Synod or be elected patriarch, but continued its practice of granting citizenship to Greek Orthodox metropolitans under the terms of the government’s 2011 stopgap solution to widen the pool of candidates to become the next patriarch.  The Istanbul Governorate, which represents the central government in Istanbul, continued to maintain that leaders of the Greek Orthodox (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, and Jewish communities must be Turkish citizens, although coreligionists from outside the country in some cases had assumed informal leadership positions in these groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religious communities, particularly Alevis, raised concerns about several of the government’s education policies.  At year’s end, the government continued not to comply with a 2013 ECHR ruling that found the government’s compulsory religion courses in public schools violated educational freedom.  The ECHR denied the government’s appeal of the ruling in 2015 and upheld the Alevi community’s legal claim that the government-mandated courses promoted Sunni Islam and were contrary to the community’s religious convictions.  Authorities added material on Alevism to the religious course curriculum in 2011 after the ECHR decision, but Alevi groups stated the material was inadequate and in some cases incorrect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-Sunni Muslims said they continued to face difficulty obtaining exemptions from compulsory religious instruction in primary and secondary schools and often had to choose from electives concerning different aspects of Sunni Islam, particularly if their identification cards listed their religion as “Muslim.”  The government said the compulsory instruction covered a range of world religions, but some religious groups, including Alevis and members of Christian denominations, stated the courses largely reflected Hanafi Sunni Islamic doctrine and contained negative and incorrect information about other religious groups, such as some educational texts referring to the Alevi beliefs as mysticism.

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

The government continued to provide funding for public, private, and religious schools teaching Islam.  It did not do so for minority schools recognized under the Lausanne Treaty, except to pay the salaries for courses taught in Turkish, such as Turkish literature.  The minority religious communities funded all their other expenses through donations, including from church foundations and alumni.

The government continued to permit the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish religious community foundations to operate schools under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education.  Children of undocumented Armenian migrants and Armenian refugees from Syria could also attend.  Because the government continued to legally classify migrant and refugee children as “visitors,” however, they were ineligible to receive a diploma from these schools.  The curricula of these schools included information unique to the cultures of the three groups and teachable in the minority groups’ languages.  According to members of the Syriac Orthodox community, which has operated a preschool since 2014, the community was still unable to open additional schools due to financial reasons.  The government did not grant permission to other religious groups to operate schools.

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

Many public buildings, including universities, maintained small mosques in which Muslims could pray.  In June 2017, the Ministry of National Education issued a regulation requiring every new school to have an Islamic prayer room.  The government continued to deny Alevis the right to establish similar places of worship in government buildings that did not contain places of worship for non-Sunnis.  Alevi leaders reported the approximately 2,500 to 3,000 cemevis in the country were insufficient to meet demand.  The government continued to state that Diyanet-funded mosques were available to Alevis and all Muslims, regardless of their school of religious thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 25, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Ambassador Volkan Bozkir, chairman of the parliamentary foreign relations commission, attended.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a written statement commemorating the event.  In February the government again commemorated the nearly 800 Jewish refugees who died aboard the Struma, a ship that sank off the coast of Istanbul in 1942.  The Governor of Istanbul, MFA representatives, Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, other members of the Jewish community, and members of the diplomatic community attended the commemoration.  Speakers at the commemoration emphasized the importance of not forgetting such tragedies to preventing future atrocities.

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

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

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

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)


This section includes the West Bank and Gaza.  In December 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Jerusalem.  Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA did not have authority there, and Hamas continued to exercise de facto control over security and other matters.  The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation, but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality.  It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.  Violence between Palestinians and Israelis continued, primarily in the West Bank and the periphery of Gaza.  Continued travel restrictions impeded the movements of Muslims and Christians between the West Bank and Jerusalem.  Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling Fatah political movement, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence, at times referring to assailants as “martyrs.”  Several local Fatah chapters on social media referred to individuals who had engaged in terrorist attacks as martyrs and posted memorials, including photographs of suicide bombers.  The Fatah branch in the city of Tubas and the Fatah youth organization posted a photograph in March celebrating a suicide bomber from the second Intifada who killed one Israeli and injured 90 others.  Anti-Semitic content also appeared in Fatah and PA-controlled media.  In October Palestinian authorities detained a Palestinian-U.S. citizen Jerusalem identification card holder, prosecuted him for possible involvement in sale of Palestinian-owned property to a Jewish Israeli group, and found him guilty of “seizing/tearing away part of the Palestinian Territories to a foreign state,” sentencing him to life in prison with hard labor.  In April the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council reiterated an Islamic legal ruling (fatwa) reemphasizing previous rulings that sale of Palestinian-owned lands, including in Jerusalem, to “enemies such as the state of Israel,” is forbidden to Muslims according to sharia.  According to media sources, the ruling considered the land to be Islamic public property and not personal private property, based on previous rulings by Palestinian and other Muslim religious legal scholars.  Palestinian officials also condemned the sale of Palestinian land to Jewish Israelis in nationalistic terms.  Palestinian leaders did not always publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence.  PA President Mahmoud Abbas maintained a public commitment to nonviolence.  The PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act.  The PA and PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis.  President Abbas said he would use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”  Following the September fatal stabbing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank by a Palestinian, President Abbas told Israeli government leaders that “everybody loses from violence.”  On April 30, however, President Abbas delivered a speech at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, in which he said massacres of Jews, including the Holocaust, were related to their conduct in “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters,” and not their religion.  He issued a statement on May 4 apologizing to those offended by the remarks, condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in history.  Senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders condemned violent acts by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians, including property crimes.  The Israeli government arrested or detained alleged suspects in such attacks.  Local human rights groups and media stated that authorities rarely convicted alleged Israeli offenders.

Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with de facto control of Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other extremist groups disseminated anti-Semitic materials and incited violence through traditional and social media channels, as well as during rallies and other events.  Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia.

In some cases, perpetrators justified incidents of violence on religious grounds.  On January 9, a Palestinian shot and killed an Israeli rabbi at a traffic junction near the Israeli settlement outpost (a term used to describe a settlement that, under Israeli law, is illegal and unauthorized) of Havat Gilad, west of Nablus in the West Bank.  Israeli police opened an investigation into the death of Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank, killed October 12 when a thrown stone broke through her car windshield.  At year’s end, an Israeli police investigation continued into the possible involvement of yeshiva students from a nearby settlement.  On multiple occasions, Palestinians threw rocks at Jewish visitors to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.  Various Israeli and Palestinian groups opposed to interacting with members of other religions continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation.  Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “price tag” attacks (violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests), such as the uprooting Palestinian olive trees, as necessary for the defense of Judaism.

U.S. government representatives met with Palestinian religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities.  U.S. officials met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation.  U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship, and also met with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 2.8 million in the West Bank and 1.8 million in the Gaza Strip (July 2018 estimates).  According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims.  The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports an estimated 412,000 Jewish Israelis reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  According to various estimates, 50,000 Christians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and according to media reports and religious communities, there are approximately 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza.  According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has continued at rapid rates.  A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere.  Approximately 360 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) reside in the West Bank, primarily in the Nablus area.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

West Bank and the Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities.  Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordnances enacted by the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, PA law.  Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander and Israeli law and Israeli legislation.  Palestinians living in the portion of the West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo II Accord are subject to military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander.  Palestinians who live in Area B fall under PA civil and criminal law, while Israel retains the overriding responsibility for security.  Although per the Oslo II Accord, only PA civil and security law applies to Palestinians living in Area A of the West Bank, Israel applies military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander whenever its military enters Area A, as part of its overriding responsibility for security.  The city of Hebron in the West Bank – an important city for Jews, Muslims, and Christians due to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs – is divided into two separate areas:  area H1 under PA control and area H2, where approximately 800 Israeli settlers live and where internal security, public order and civil authorities relating to Israelis and their property are under Israeli military control.  In 2007, Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory, although the area nominally comes under PA jurisdiction.

An interim Basic Law applies in the areas under PA jurisdiction.  The Basic Law states Islam is the official religion, but calls for respect of “all other divine religions.”  It provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality.  The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.  The law states the principles of sharia shall be the main sources of legislation.  It contains language adopted from the pre-1967 criminal code of Jordanian rule criminalizing “defaming religion,” with a maximum penalty of life in prison.  Since 2007, the elected Palestinian Legislative Council, controlled by Hamas, has not convened.  The Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in December and called for new elections.  The President of the PA promulgates executive decrees that have legal authority.

There is no specified process by which religious organizations gain official recognition; each religious group must negotiate its own bilateral relationship with the PA.  The PA observes nineteenth century status quo arrangements reached with the Ottoman authorities, which recognize the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic Churches.  The PA also observes subsequent agreements that recognize the rights of the Episcopal (Anglican) and Evangelical Lutheran Churches.  The PA recognizes the legal authority of these religious groups to adjudicate personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.  Recognized religious groups may establish ecclesiastical courts to issue legally binding rulings on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities.  The PA’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is administratively responsible for these family law issues.

Islamic or Christian religious courts handle legal matters relating to personal status, including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support.  For Muslims, sharia determines personal status law, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians.  By law, members of one religious group may submit a personal status dispute to a different religious group for adjudication if the disputants agree it is appropriate to do so.

The PA maintains some unwritten understandings with churches that are not officially recognized, based on the basic principles of the status quo agreements, including the Assemblies of God, Nazarene Church, and some evangelical Christian churches, which may operate freely.  Some of these groups may perform some official functions such as issuing marriage licenses.  Churches not recognized by the PA generally must obtain special one-time permission from the PA to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters if these groups want the actions to be recognized by and registered with the PA.  These churches may not proselytize.

By law, the PA provides financial support to Islamic institutions and places of worship.

Religious education is part of the curriculum for students in grades one through six in public schools the PA operates, as well as some Palestinian schools in Jerusalem that use PA curriculum.  There are separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.  Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religious courses.  Recognized churches operate private schools in the West Bank, which include religious instruction.  Private Islamic schools also operate in the West Bank.

Palestinian law provides that in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council, six seats be allocated to Christian candidates, who also have the right to contest other seats.  There are no seats reserved for members of any other religious group.  A presidential decree requires that Christians head 10 municipal councils in the West Bank (including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Birzeit, and Beit Jala) and establishes a Christian quota for 10 West Bank municipal councils.

PA land laws prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian-owned lands to “any man or judicial body corporation of Israeli citizenship, living in Israel or acting on its behalf.”  While the law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of Israeli land in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.

Although the PA removed the religious affiliation category from Palestinian identity cards issued since 2014, older identity cards continue to circulate, listing the holder as either Muslim or Christian.

Government Practices

In October Palestinian authorities detained a Palestinian-U.S. citizen Jerusalem identification card holder and investigated him for involvement in brokering the sale of Palestinian property to Jewish Israelis.  After a one-week trial, the Palestinian Grand Criminal Court found him guilty of “seizing/tearing away part of the Palestinian Territories to a foreign State” and sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor.  Authorities also froze his bank accounts as well as those of the owners of the property, according to media.

Israeli police and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported investigating known instances of religiously motivated attacks and making arrests where possible.  In general, however, NGOs, religious institutions, and media continued to state that arrests in religiously motivated crimes against Palestinians rarely led to indictments and convictions.  Israeli NGO Yesh Din also reported Palestinian victims generally feared reprisals by perpetrators or their associates.  Both of these factors increased Palestinian victims’ reluctance to file official complaints, according to Yesh Din.

The Israeli government stated that authorities maintained a zero-tolerance policy against Israeli extremists’ attacks on Palestinians and have made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, including through taskforces, increased funding, and hiring additional staff members.  During the first six months of the year, Israeli police had investigated 115 allegations of nationalistic-based offenses committed by Israelis in the West Bank and 405 allegations against Palestinians.  In all of 2017, Israeli police investigated 183 and 609 allegations, respectively.  At the end of June, Israeli authorities had opened 35 new investigations of ideologically-based offenses and disturbances of public order by Israelis against Palestinians, compared with 29 in all of 2017.  By June Israeli authorities issued four indictments in these cases, two of which were from prior years’ investigations, while in 2017 four indictments were issued, including three from prior years’ investigations.  Offenses against property constituted 65 percent of these cases.  Israeli authorities investigated 15 cases of Israelis allegedly committing bodily harm against Palestinians.  As of the end of June, however, Israeli authorities had not investigated any cases involving Israeli stone-throwing at Palestinians in the West Bank.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 21 incidents of Israelis throwing stones at Palestinian homes and vehicles during the same six-month period.

As of October, Israeli authorities had issued 27 restraining orders against 25 Israelis from entering the West Bank and four orders prohibiting Israelis from entering specific areas in the West Bank.  In 2017, Israeli authorities issued one detention order and 55 restraining orders against 41 Israelis, including minors, prohibiting their presence in the West Bank to deter and prevent ideologically based offenses.  The Israeli government stated the special unit it established in 2013 in the West Bank’s Judea and Samaria Police District to combat nationalist crimes was fully operational, with 60 police officers, and 20 auxiliary officers.

The PA continued to provide imams with themes they were required to use in weekly Friday sermons in West Bank mosques and to prohibit them from broadcasting Quranic recitations from minarets prior to the call to prayer.  The Mufti of Jerusalem issued fatwas prohibiting Palestinian participation in Jerusalem municipal elections, and sales of Palestinian-owned lands to Israelis.  In April the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council reiterated an Islamic legal ruling (fatwa) reemphasizing previous rulings that sale of Palestinian-owned lands, including in Jerusalem, to “enemies such as the state of Israel,” is forbidden to Muslims according to sharia.

Nonrecognized churches, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups, faced a continued PA ban on proselytization but stated they were able to conduct most other functions unhindered by the PA.  Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis personal status documents issued by nonrecognized churches.  The PA, however, continued to refuse to recognize personal status legal documents (e.g., marriage certificates) issued by some of these nonrecognized churches, which the groups said made it difficult for them to register newborn children under their fathers’ names or as children of married couples.  Many nonrecognized churches advised members with dual citizenship to marry or divorce abroad to register the action officially in that location.  Some converts to nonrecognized Christian faiths had recognized churches with which they were previously affiliated perform their marriages and divorces.  Members of some faith communities and faith-based organizations stated they viewed their need to do so as conflicting with their religious beliefs.  During the year, Palestinian authorities established a procedure for registering future marriages involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would also enable couples to register their children and protect the children’s inheritance rights.  Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis documents from a small number of churches that were relatively recently established in the West Bank and whose legal status remained uncertain.

Religious organizations providing education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians in and around East Jerusalem continued to state that the security barrier that was begun by Israel during the second Intifada (2000-2005), impeded their work, particularly south of Jerusalem in the West Bank Christian communities around Bethlehem.  Clergy members stated the barrier and additional checkpoints restricted their movements between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregants between their homes and places of worship.  Christian leaders continued to state the barrier hindered Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  They also said it made visits to Christian sites in Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who lived on the west side of the barrier.  Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers also reported difficulty or delays accessing Christian religious sites in the West Bank because of the barrier.  The Israeli government previously stated it constructed the barrier as an act of self-defense, and that it was highly effective in preventing attacks in Israel.

In addition, Bethlehem residents said political instability affected tourism, Bethlehem’s key economic sector.  Christians also criticized the PA for failing to better protect their communities and way of life, which was under pressure from lack of economic opportunities and other drivers of emigration.  During the year, Bethlehem had the highest unemployment rate among West Bank cities, which sources stated was a factor compelling many young Christians to emigrate.  Community leaders estimated Bethlehem and surrounding communities were only 12 percent Christian, compared with more than 70 percent in 1950.

Palestinian leaders often did not publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence.  Media and social media regularly used the word “martyr” to refer to individuals killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces.  Some official PA media channels, social media sites affiliated with the Fatah political movement, terrorist organizations, and individuals glorified terrorist attacks on Jewish Israelis, referring to the assailants as “martyrs.”  Several local Fatah chapters on social media referred to individuals who had engaged in terrorist attacks as martyrs and posted memorials, including photographs of suicide bombers.  The Fatah branch in the city of Tubas and the Fatah youth organization posted a photograph on March 11 of Wafa Idreis, a suicide bomber who carried out an attack during the second Intifada, and which killed one Israeli and injured 90 others.

The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act.  The PA and the PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis.  These payments and separate stipends for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and have continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel.  President Abbas said he would use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”

The PA Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs continued to pay for construction of new mosques, maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank.  The ministry also continued to provide limited financial support to some Christian clergy and Christian charitable organizations.

The Israeli government and the PA sometimes prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting Jewish religious sites in PA-controlled territory in the West Bank for security reasons.

The Israeli government continued to prohibit Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the PA (Area A).  While these restrictions in general prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting several Jewish religious sites, the IDF provided special security escorts for Jews to visit religious sites in Area A, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a site of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  Some Jewish religious leaders said this policy limiting travel to parts of the West Bank prevented Jewish Israelis from freely visiting several Jewish religious sites in the West Bank, including Joseph’s Tomb, because they were denied the opportunity to visit the site on unscheduled occasions or in larger numbers than permitted through IDF coordination.  IDF officials said requirements to coordinate Jewish visits to Joseph’s Tomb were necessary to ensure Jewish Israelis’ safety.  Palestinian and Israeli security forces coordinated some visits by Jewish groups to PA-controlled areas within the West Bank.

Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims under Israeli jurisdiction in Area C, remained separated from the West Bank by the security barrier built during the second Intifada, and Palestinians could only access it if Israeli authorities permitted them to cross the barrier.  Residents and citizens of Israel continued to have relatively unimpeded access.  Israeli police closed the site to all visitors on Saturdays, for the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat).

The IDF continued to limit access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, another site of significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham.  Palestinian leaders continued in statements to local media to oppose the IDF’s control of access, citing Oslo-era agreements that gave Israel and the PA shared administrative responsibility for the site, although Israel retained full security responsibility for the site.  Some Muslim leaders publicly rejected a Jewish connection to the site.  The IDF again restricted Muslim access on 10 days corresponding to Jewish holidays and Jewish access on 10 days corresponding to Islamic holidays.  The Israeli government said these restrictions allowed a greater number of worshipers to access the site on special days for the two faiths.  The IDF restricted Muslims to one entry point with IDF security screening.  The IDF granted Jews access via several entry points without security screening.  The Israeli government said police guard posts were located at both crossings, and manned by soldiers and equipped with metal detectors.  Entrance was denied to individuals identified as posing a threat to the security of the site or its worshipers.  Citing security concerns, the IDF periodically closed roads approaching the site, and since 2001 has permanently closed Shuhada Street, the former main Hebron market and one of the main streets leading to the holy site, to Palestinian-owned vehicles.  The Israeli government said the road closure was to prevent confrontations.  Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously in separate spaces, a physical separation that was instituted by the IDF following a 1994 attack by an Israeli that killed 29 Palestinians.  Israeli authorities continued to implement frequent bans on the Islamic call to prayer from the Ibrahimi Mosque, stating the government acted upon requests by Jewish religious leaders in Hebron regarding the needs of Jewish worshippers at the site.

Following the September fatal stabbing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank by a Palestinian, President Abbas told Israeli government leaders that “everybody loses from violence.”  On April 30, however, Abbas spoke at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, stating the  massacres of Jews, including during the Holocaust, were related to their “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters,” and not their religion.  He issued a statement on May 4 apologizing to those offended by his remarks, condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in history.

Religiously intolerant and anti-Semitic material continued to appear in official PA media.  On October 5, the official Palestinian TV aired a speech by PA Islamic Law Judge Muhannad Abu Roomi describing Jews as “fabricators of history” who “dance and live on the body parts and blood of others.”  In another instance, a guest on a Palestinian TV program on April 10 stated that the Holocaust was a lie, and that many Jews “colluded with Hitler to create a gateway to bring settlers to Palestine.”  On December 14, Osama al-Tibi delivered a Friday sermon at the Taqwa mosque in al-Tira, near Ramallah, broadcast on Palestine TV.  In his sermon, al-Tibi said he was not able to mention all of the Jews’ despicable traits, and that “Allah … turned them into apes and pigs.”

There continued to be anti-Semitic and militaristic and adversarial content directed against Israel in Palestinian textbooks as well as the absence of references to Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion, according to Palestinian Media Watch and the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.  The two NGOs also reported that PA schoolbooks for the 2017-2018 school year contained material glorifying terror and promoting violence.  In September media reported a European Parliament committee voted to freeze more than $17 million in aid to the PA over incitement against Israel in its textbooks.

NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in the West Bank continued to state the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), an Israeli government entity, exploited archaeological finds to bolster Jewish claims, while overlooking other historically significant archaeological finds of other religions or the needs of Palestinian residents at these sites.  Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the ministers of culture, justice, and religious affairs.  The government stated that the IAA conducted impartial evaluations of all unearthed archeological finds, and the IAA was obligated by law to document, preserve, and publish all findings from excavations.  It added that IAA researchers “have greatly intensified their research of ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk and Ottoman periods.”

The Israeli government retained its previous regulations regarding visa issuance for foreigners to work in the West Bank, regulations Christian institutions said impeded their work by preventing many foreign clergy from entering and working.  The Israeli government continued to limit Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank to single entry visas, which local parish leaders in the West Bank said complicated needed travel to other areas under their pastoral authority outside the West Bank or Jerusalem, such as Jordan.  Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries said they continued to face long delays in receiving visas and reported periodic denials of their visa applications.  The Israeli government stated visa delays or denials were due to security processing, and visitors from states without diplomatic relations with Israeli could face delays.  Officials from multiple churches expressed concerns that non-Arab visa applicants and visa renewal applicants also faced long delays.  Christian leaders said Israel’s visa and permit policy for individuals wishing to work and reside in the West Bank adversely impacted faith-based operations in the West Bank.  While clergy generally were able to obtain visas, Christian leaders said this policy adversely affected school teachers and volunteers affiliated with faith-based charities working in the West Bank.  NGOs and religious leaders said this policy did not appear to specifically target faith based organizations, but rather, appeared to be part of a broader Israeli tightening of visa issuance in response to the international “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.”  Israeli authorities issued permits for some Christians in Gaza to exit Gaza to attend religious services in Jerusalem or the West Bank.  Christian leaders said Israel issued insufficient permits to meet the full demand, and the process was lengthy and time consuming.

According to some church officials, Israel continued to prohibit some Arab Christian clergy from entering Gaza, including bishops and other senior clergy seeking to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority.  Israel facilitated visits by clergy, including bishops from non-Arab countries, to Gaza on multiple occasions, including delegations from Europe, North America, and South Africa.

At year’s end, Christians held minister-level positions in three PA ministries (Finance, Economy, and Tourism) and the cabinet-level office of deputy prime minister for public information.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Hamas, PIJ, and other militant and terrorist groups continued to be active in Gaza.  Hamas remained in de facto political control of Gaza.

Hamas leaders continued to call for the elimination of the state of Israel, and some Hamas leaders called for the killing of Zionist Jews.  Some Hamas leaders condemned, however, the terrorist attack on a U.S. synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia, including a separate judicial system from the PA courts.  At times Hamas courts prohibited women from departing Gaza due to ongoing divorce or family court proceedings, despite having Israeli authorization to travel.  Human Rights Watch issued a report in October regarding accusation of torture and abuse of detainees in PA and Hamas detention, based on 86 cases and dozens of interviews with former detainees, lawyers, and family members.  The report included an example from 2017 of Hamas police detaining a social worker and investigating him for “offending religious feelings.”  Media reported the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University of Gaza required hijabs for all females.  Gazan civil society leaders said Hamas in recent years had moderated its restrictions on dress and gender segregation in public.

Christian groups reported Hamas generally tolerated the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force Christians to abide by Islamic law.  According to media accounts, Hamas continued to neither investigate nor prosecute Gaza-based cases of religious discrimination, including reported anti-Christian bias in private sector hiring and in police investigations of anti-Christian harassment.  Media quoted Gazan Christians as saying that Hamas generally did not impede private and communal religious activities for the Christian minority in Gaza, but continued to not celebrate Christmas as a public holiday, unlike in the West Bank.

Some Muslim students continued to attend schools run by Christian institutions and NGOs in Gaza.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were incidents of deadly violence that perpetrators said was justified at least partly on religious grounds.  Because religion and ethnicity or nationality were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity.  Actions included killings, physical and verbal attacks on worshipers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites.  There was also harassment by members of one religious group of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and anti-Semitic content in media.

On January 9, a member of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades shot and killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach at a traffic junction near the Israeli settlement outpost of Havat Gilad, west of Nablus in the West Bank.  On March 28, an Arab Israeli, Abed al-Hakim Asi, was charged in Central District Court for the February 5 fatal stabbing of Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal at a bus stop near the Ariel settlement, located between Nablus and Ramallah.  Following these two attacks, Israeli settlers from neighboring areas threw stones at Palestinian vehicles and houses, destroyed olive orchards, sprayed anti-Palestinian graffiti, and blocked road access to Nablus.

On October 12, Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of Bidya village, died when an unidentified individual threw a two-kilogram (4.4 pound) stone through her car windshield.  Israeli police opened an investigation and at year’s end continued to investigate the possible involvement of yeshiva students from the nearby Israeli settlement of Rehelim.

In July a Palestinian teenager climbed over the wall of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank near Ramallah and stabbed three Israelis, killing one.  Neighbors of the victim killed the 17-year-old.  In response, the Israeli defense minister tweeted, “The best answer to terror is the accelerated settlement of Judea and Samaria.”

Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited holy sites in the West Bank, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.  Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails and clashed with IDF escorts during visits of Jewish groups to Joseph’s Tomb (located in Area A) on several days during the year.  The IDF used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire to disperse Palestinian protesters, secure the site, and/or evacuate Jewish worshippers.

According to local press and social media, some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “price tag” attacks, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, as necessary for the defense of Judaism.  NGO Tag Meir reported that in April unknown assailants attempted to set a mosque near Nablus on fire, leaving graffiti on the building that stated “price tag and revenge.”

According to local human rights groups and media, Israeli authorities rarely prosecuted Jewish attacks against Muslims and Christians successfully, failing to open investigations or closing cases for lack of evidence.  The Israeli government stated it maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards “price-tag” offenses by Israeli extremists and other violence against Palestinians in areas of the West Bank under its responsibility.  It also stated it had made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, which led to a decrease in ideologically-based offences, and an increase in the numbers of investigations and rates of prosecution.

A crowd of Christian Palestinians threw stones, bottles, and eggs at Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III on January 6-7 when he arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square to preside over midnight Mass on Orthodox Christmas.  Members of the crowd, who also pounded the patriarch’s car with their fists, chanting “traitor, traitor,” accused the Greek Orthodox Church of selling Palestinian-owned property and land to Israeli Jewish groups.  According to media, the controversy dated back to 2004, when three companies associated with a settler group obtained a long-term lease on three buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The church launched a legal battle against the agreement, calling it “illegal” and “unauthorized.”  In 2017, a district court in Israel rejected the church’s argument.  The church appealed the decision to the Israeli Supreme Court in November 2017, and the appeal was still pending at year’s end.

According to members of more recently arrived faith communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, established Christian groups opposed their efforts to obtain official recognition from the PA because of the newcomers’ proselytizing.

Political and religious groups in the West Bank and Gaza continued to call on members to “defend” Al-Aqsa Mosque.

According to Palestinian sources, most Christian and Muslim families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip pressured their children, especially their daughters, to marry within their respective religious groups.  Couples who challenged this societal norm, particularly Palestinian Christians or Muslims who sought to marry Jews, encountered considerable societal and family opposition.  Families sometimes reportedly disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith.

In an article published by the independent Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, former Hamas official Mustafa al-Lidawi invoked the blood libel to describe how Jews prepared pastries for the Purim holiday.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government representatives met with representatives of a range of religious groups from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and when possible, the Gaza Strip.  Engagement included meetings with Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and Reform rabbis, as well as representatives of various Jewish institutions; regular contacts with the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox patriarchates; and meetings with the Holy See’s Custodian of the Holy Land, leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, the Syrian Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and leaders of evangelical Christian groups.  These meetings included discussions of the groups’ concerns about religious tolerance, access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship.

U.S. government representatives met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote tolerance and cooperation to combat religious prejudice.  They also met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship and with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.


IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL | WEST BANK AND GAZA (ABOVE)

Yemen

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam the state religion and sharia the source of all legislation.  It provides for freedom of thought and expression “within the limits of the law” but does not mention freedom of religion.  The law prohibits denunciation of Islam, conversion from Islam to another religion, and proselytizing directed at Muslims.  The conflict that broke out in 2014 between the government, led by President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and Houthi-led Ansar Allah, a Zaydi Shia movement, continued through year’s end.  While the president, vice president, and foreign minister remained in exile in Saudi Arabia, the remainder of the cabinet moved to Aden in October.  The government did not exercise effective control over much of the country’s territory.  Although causes for the war were complex, sectarian violence accompanied the civil conflict, which observers described as “part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.”

In January the Houthi-controlled National Security Bureau (NSB) sentenced to death Hamed Kamal Muhammad bin Haydara, a Baha’i, on charges of espionage.  He had been imprisoned since 2013, accused of apostasy, proselytizing, and spying for Israel.  He remained in prison awaiting execution at year’s end.  According to the Baha’i International Community (BIC), in October armed soldiers in Sana’a arrested Baha’i spokesperson Abdullah Al-Olofi and detained him at an undisclosed location for three days.  According to the BIC, in September a Houthi-controlled court in Sana’a charged more than 20 Baha’is with apostasy and espionage.  A group of UN independent experts reported that authorities arrested 24 individuals in the incident, at least 22 of whom are Baha’is.  Amnesty International reported the charges could possibly result in death sentences.  The five UN experts said charges “must be dropped and discriminatory practices based on religion outlawed” and added, “We reiterate our call to the de facto authorities in Sanaa to put an immediate stop on the persecution of Baha’is.”  According to the BIC, as of October there were six Baha’is in prison in the country for practicing their faith.  During a speech in March, Houthi leader Abd al-Malik al-Houthi called on his followers to defend their country from the Baha’is, who he described as infidels.  According to media reports, Houthi authorities modified the University of Sana’a student and faculty identification cards to include the Houthi flag and slogan “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam.”  Houthi Cultural Supervisor Yahya Abu Awadah introduced a mandatory course into the university curriculum called “The Arab-Israeli Conflict.”  Course material included the glorification of Hezbollah and condemnation of Zionism.  Sectarian polarization stimulated by the war with the Zaydi Houthis attracted recruits to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  United Arab Emirates (UAE) government forces aligned with local tribal fighters forced AQAP out of Mukalla during the year.  While in control of the city, AQAP institutionalized and enforced its interpretation of sharia.  It continued to have an operational presence in Wadi Belharith and Azzan in Shabwah, Wadi Obaidah in Ma’rib, Radda’a city in Bayda’, and Lawdar, Wadi and Mudiyah in Abyan.  The estimated number of AQAP operatives inside the country was between 6,000 and 7,000.  On January 23, Khaled Batarfi, a senior AQAP leader, recorded a video calling for knife and vehicle attacks against Jews in response to the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

According to media reports, as of August, unknown gunmen killed 27 Muslim clerics in Aden during the last two years.  Anti-Semitic material continued to appear in print.  Jewish community members reported their declining numbers made it difficult to sustain their religious practices.

On May 14, the Department of State spokesperson issued a statement expressing U.S. government concern about the treatment of the Baha’i population in the country and called on the Houthis to end their unacceptable treatment of the Baha’is.  On November 8, the Yemen Affairs Unit, based in Saudi Arabia, posted a statement cosigned by the governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom expressing deep concern about the worsening treatment of Baha’is in Yemen.  On November 28, the Secretary of State designated the Houthis as an “Entity of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 28.6 million (July 2018 estimate).  More than 99 percent of the population is Muslim (2010 estimate), belonging either to the Shafi’i order of Sunni Islam or the Zaydi order of Shia Islam.  While there are no official statistics, the U.S. government estimates 65 percent of the population to be Sunni and 35 percent Shia.  There is an indeterminate number of Twelver Shia (residing mainly in the north), Ismailis, and Sufis.  Jews, Baha’is, Hindus, and Christians, many of whom are refugees or temporary foreign residents, comprise less than 1 percent of the population.  Christian groups include Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

Ismailis include both the al-Makarem and Bohra communities.  Following the outbreak of the conflict, many Bohras fled the country for India.

Due to the continuing political instability and violence in the country, the once sizable population of Indian nationals continued to decrease.  There is no firm estimate of persons of Indian origin or of those who practice Hinduism residing in the country; according to one source, the population of Indian nationals numbers fewer than 3000.

The Jewish community is the only indigenous non-Muslim minority religious group.  Reports estimate approximately 50 Jews remain, concentrated in Sana’a and Raydah.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion.  It provides for freedom of thought and expression “within the limits of the law” but does not mention freedom of religion, belief, or conscience.  The constitution states sharia is the source of all legislation, although it coexists with secular common law and civil code models of law in a hybrid legal system.

Sharia serves as the basis of the legal system.  The courts of the first instance address civil, criminal, commercial, and personal status cases.  Informal tribunals, operating mostly in rural areas, administer customary law in addition to sharia to resolve disputes.

The constitution states the president must be Muslim (“practices his Islamic duties”); however, it allows non-Muslims to run for parliament, as long as they “fulfill their religious duties.”  The law does not prohibit political parties based on religion, but it states parties may not claim to be the sole representative of any religion, oppose Islam, or restrict membership to a particular religious group.

The criminal code states “deliberate” and “insistent” denunciation of Islam or conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy, a capital offense.  The law allows those charged with apostasy three opportunities to repent; upon repentance, they are absolved from the death penalty.

Family law prohibits marriage between a Muslim and an individual whom the law defines as an apostate.  Muslim women may not marry non-Muslims, and Muslim men may not marry women who do not practice one of the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, or Judaism).  By law, a woman seeking custody of a child “ought not” to be an apostate; a man “ought” to be of the same faith as the child.

The law prohibits proselytizing directed at Muslims.  The law prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment for public “ridicule” of any religion, and prescribes up to five years if the ridiculed religion is Islam.

There is no provision for the registration of religious groups.

By law, the government must authorize construction of new buildings.  The law, however, does not mention places of worship specifically.

Public schools must provide instruction in Islam but not in other religions.  The law states primary school classes must include knowledge of Islamic rituals and the country’s history and culture within the context of Islamic civilization.  The law also specifies knowledge of Islamic beliefs as an objective of secondary education.  Public schools are required to teach Sunni and Shia students the same curriculum; however, instructional materials indicate that schools in Houthi controlled areas are teaching Zaydi principles.

The Houthis and officials residing in Houthi-controlled areas representing the largest secular political party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), jointly established the Supreme Political Council (SPC) in July 2016.  The SPC is a 10-member entity organized to establish and determine a governing structure for Yemen under the Houthi-led regime in Sana’a.  The government and the international community have deemed the SPC unconstitutional and illegitimate.

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

Government Practices

The cabinet, with the exception of President Hadi, Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who remained in Saudi Arabia, returned to Aden under the leadership of the new Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in late October.  The government, however, did not exercise effective legal or administrative control over much of the country.

Although causes for the war are complex, sectarian violence has accompanied the civil conflict.  Since March 2015, the government has engaged in a military conflict with Ansar Allah (Houthis).  After the Houthis established control over Sana’a in September 2014, and expanded their control over significant portions of the country, senior government officials fled to Saudi Arabia, where they requested assistance from Saudi Arabia and other regional states.  As noted by the BBC, “Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring [President] Hadi’s government.”  The BBC report later described the conflict as “part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes damaged places of worship and religious institutions and caused casualties at religious gatherings, according to the UN, nongovernmental organizations, and media.

Prior to the outbreak of the current military conflict, the government permitted the use of Hindu temples in Aden and Sana’a as well as existing church buildings for religious services of other denominations.  Due to the conflict, information on the use of these religious sites was not available during the year.

The government was unable to verify the content of the religious curriculum taught in some private schools, although the government said it was aware of the forced introduction of Zaydi Shia teaching into the curriculum of schools within Houthi-controlled areas.  Some Muslim citizens attended private schools that did not teach Islam.  Most non-Muslim students were foreigners and attended private schools.  According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, schools were open for only a few hours a day in many areas and over 2,000 were closed because of damage or because displaced persons or armed groups had occupied them.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom